Iraq’s bioweapons program that President Bush seeks to destroy got its start with help from the U.S. government in the 1980’s, according to government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research. The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus.
The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate. The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department.
The disclosures put the United States in the uncomfortable position of possibly having provided the key ingredients of the weapons America is considering waging war to destroy, said Sen. Robert Byrd D-W.Va. Byrd entered the documents into the Congressional Record this month. Byrd asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Reagan’s Middle East envoy.
“Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?” Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek article on the transfers.
“I have never heard anything like what you’ve read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it,” Rumsfeld said. He later said he would ask the Defense Department and other government agencies to search their records for evidence of the transfers.
The documents are available at:Docs