(6 of 7)
Even if the Iraqis did destroy most of their illegal weaponry in 1991, that does not mean they didn't build up new stores. The notion that the bioweapons program wound down in the 1990s is flatly rejected by Richard Spertzel, who led the U.N. hunt for biological weapons inside Iraq from 1994 to 1998. "We were developing pretty good evidence of a continuing program in '97 and '98," he says. Some U.N. inspectors, disagree, saying they believe that there was no further production after 1991. Spertzel says an Iraqi scientist phoned him just this past April and told him an "edict" went out from Saddam shortly before the war ordering his biological-weapons teams to destroy any remaining germ stockpiles.
That Saddam would have continued feverishly pursuing weapons of every kind seems more in keeping with his character than the idea that he gave up on them. The Iraqi dictator was crazy for weapons, fascinated by every new invention--and as a result was easily conned by salesmen and officials offering the latest device. Saddam apparently had high hopes for a bogus product called red mercury, touted as an ingredient for a handheld nuclear device. Large quantities of the gelatinous red liquid were looted from Iraqi stores after the war and are now being offered on the black market.
Saddam's underlings appear to have invented weapons programs and fabricated experiments to keep the funding coming. The Mukhabarat captain says the scamming went all the way to the top of the MIC to its director, Huweish, who would appease Saddam with every report, never telling him the truth about failures or production levels and meanwhile siphoning money from projects. "He would tell the President he had invented a new missile for Stealth bombers but hadn't. So Saddam would say, 'Make 20 missiles.' He would make one and put the rest in his pocket," says the captain. Colonel Hussan al-Duri, who spent several years in the 1990s as an air-defense inspector, saw similar cons. "Some projects were just stealing money," he says. A scientist or officer would say he needed $10 million to build a special weapon. "They would produce great reports, but there was never anything behind them."
If Saddam may not have known the true nature of his own arsenal, it is no wonder that Western intelligence services were picking up so many clues about so many weapons systems. But it helps answer one logical argument that the Administration has been making ever since the weapons failed to appear after the war ended: why, if Saddam had nothing to hide, did he endure billions of dollars in sanctions and ultimately prompt his own destruction? Perhaps because even he was mistaken about what was really at stake in this fight.