u n c o v e r I r a q . c o m

[First published in the Minnepaolis StarTribune on December 14, 2002.]

"I know where the weapons are, Mr. Blix"
by Drew Hamre

Memo to:
-- Mr. Hans Blix
-- UNMOVIC Inspection Team, Iraq

I know where the weapons are, Mr. Blix, and I know who's protecting them.

Point your convoy of white Nissan four-wheelers due north, toward Eastern Europe and the old Soviet empire. Here, the threat is more immediate and consequential than anything known of Iraq.

Looking for chemical weapons, Mr. Blix? Visit Shchuch'ye, a Russian stockpile of 2-million munitions filled with nerve gases like sarin and VX. Each munition can kill more than 80,000 people, and is easily transported. The stockpile sits, as USA Today notes, in an impoverished region near the Kazakhstan border and Asian havens for Al Qaida.

Russia is eager to destroy these weapons, and actually wants our help. (You’ll find this a pleasant change, Mr. Blix.)

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has made deactivation of Shchuch'ye his top priority. However, behind closed committee doors, Congressional conservatives have repeatedly hindered U.S. funding. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday, a frustrated Lugar finally broke protocol and named names: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA). (To the Times, Weldon denied blocking the proposal; Hunter didn't return phone calls.)

The defense industry, which doesn't benefit from threat reduction, was the primary contributor to Hunter's campaign ($191,473 in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics). This isn't the first time an official favored contributors over common citizens, but rarely has national security been treated so cavalierly.

Looking for nuclear weapons, Mr. Blix? You can cross Yugoslavia’s Vinca research reactor off your list.

On Aug. 22, a multinational team removed 106-pounds of bomb-grade uranium from Vinca (enough for two nuclear weapons). Wary of hijackers, decoy trucks moved in a convoy while 1,200 police and rooftop snipers guarded the removal route.

Once again, Congress can't take credit. Instead, CNN-founder Ted Turner's $5-million made the raid possible, part of a larger $250-million donation Turner made when threat-reduction funding languished. Turner's involvement was necessary because Congressional conservatives restricted spending of such funds outside Russia.

The State Department's website thanks Ted Turner for his "essential" role, as should we all. The raffish billionaire has done more to improve national security than all the hawks in Washington.

But let’s not be overly optimistic. Russia's tactical weapons remain vulnerable, its scientists remain impoverished, and it has 50 tons of excess plutonium. The risks are enormous, as Al-Qaida, Chechen rebels, even Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult have sought Soviet nuclear material.

Happy hunting, Mr. Blix.

On the bio-weapons front, Russia still refuses to grant access to four closed military institutes. Further, its impoverished military biologists remain at risk of employment by parties antagonistic to the U.S.

There's something so repugnant about bio-weapons research that most governments fear its revelation. Bio-research remains the central mystery of Iraq's weapons program and, to a lesser degree, our own. Mr. Blix, you may recall that the "person of interest" in our own anthrax investigation was a U.S. bio-weapons scientist slotted for a role in UNMOVIC. Iraqis will surely relish the irony.

On a more personal note, Mr. Blix, I may fly south over the holidays. Frankly, the recent shoulder-launched missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet has me spooked. I understand there are thousands of these surface-to-air missiles around the world, many of Russian manufacture.

While in Russia, if you stumble across one of these devices, please take it off the market on my behalf.

I've enclosed $20 toward your efforts, Mr. Blix. I sincerely wish it were more, but the projected costs of the Iraq war and the wobbly economy have left my finances a bit tight. Meanwhile, appeals to Washington (and to common sense) have gone unanswered.


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