By MIRO CERNETIG
With a report from Reuters
Saturday, November 16, 2002
Tamper-proof digital cameras, uncovered at left and with cover at right, are prepared for shipment to Baghdad on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2002 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna. Photo: Martin Gnedt/AP
NEW YORK -- When they begin to scour Iraq for hints of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in the coming weeks, United Nations inspectors will face a daunting task: Many are new at the job, and all face a regime seasoned at hiding weaponry, perhaps in underground bunkers in the desert.
But the UN team, made up of more than 250 experts, will begin its mission on Nov. 27 armed with a new arsenal of high-tech equipment: satellite imagery, radar that can peer beneath the earth to search for tunnels, and government intelligence that could give them the edge in unearthing secret weapons sites.
"This offers a last opportunity for Iraq to declare what they have," Hans Blix, head of the UN inspection team, said yesterday at a news conference before leaving for Iraq.
"An omission can be very serious."
The 74-year-old Swedish diplomat, who is to reach Baghdad on Monday, said he has no preconceived view on whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been building weapons of mass destruction, as the United States and Britain have charged.
But he warned that his team of inspectors will have no tolerance for any delay when they request access to one of the more than 700 sites that are deemed likely locations for building biological, chemical or nuclear devices -- all of which Iraq has denied possessing.
"The United States government is determined that there should be no cat-and-mouse play," Mr. Blix warned.
He also said blocking inspectors' work for even 30 minutes could be a serious breach in the mission, an event that could prompt a report to the UN Security Council and a move toward war.
"You can't hide a large weapon or machine in a half hour, but [you could hide] documents or biology test tubes," Mr. Blix told the Paris newspaper Le Monde yesterday.
"I would say that even a delay of half an hour could be serious."
Such delays were frequent in the last UN inspection, which ended in December 1998 when officials left the country in frustration.
This time, UN officials believe, it will be harder for Iraq to hide any covert weapons program.
The inspections team will be equipped with a new generation of portable tools that can give on-the-spot data, including hand-held sensors capable of sniffing out a spore of anthrax, a whiff of sarin gas, a radiation leak or the magnetic and gravitational deviations that might indicate a secret underground bunker.
One of the key tools will be a portable sensor called the Hanaa, a high-tech "sniffer" developed by the University of California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The device can identify a microbe by its DNA in less than 20 minutes, possibly allowing inspectors to use air and swab samples to detect anthrax or a deadly disease such as the plague.
Similar devices can detect a molecular hint of chemical agents, such as sarin nerve gas, which the U.S. military fears Iraq may use to fend off an invasion.
To search out potential nuclear-weapons sites, inspectors will be carrying portable radiation detectors from Quantrad Sensors Inc. of Madison, Wis.
Its Ranger sensors can pick out radioactive isotopes used in bomb-building, while its Alex machine can sense titanium and other refined metals used to make nuclear weapons.
Despite the high-tech equipment, there are those who say the inspectors could be thwarted in their efforts by the Iraqi police state.
"There are a million ways the Iraqis could try to frustrate the inspectors," said Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The most worrying scenario is the accumulation of small obstacles and deceits, each of which taken alone is too small to justify a war, but which collectively could add up to a serious problem."
Jonathan Tucker, a UN inspector in the 1990s, said Baghdad is well versed in ways to knock UN officials off the trail.
"The new inspections regime will be much tougher than the old one, but Iraq is a large country . . . with many places to hide weapons and clandestine production facilities, so the inspection process must be supported with accurate and timely intelligence," Mr. Tucker said.
Iraq also has its own, less high-tech methods of keeping secrets secret, starting with the basic skill of spying.
"You must assume they will bug hotel rooms and other facilities used by inspectors and they will intimidate witnesses the inspectors wish to interview," said Terence Taylor, president of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"The Iraqi side has a detailed knowledge of what was uncovered by the previous inspectors and is very experienced in receiving inspectors, handing visits to sites and preparing for interviews."
Eye spy - devices that the UN inspectors are likely to employ
The best U.S. satellites capture images of details smaller that 10 centimetres. Cameras on aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can record finer details, enabling analysts to recognize faces.
Circle Earth, taking pictures on each pass
Focus on small areas to capture details as small as 30 cm; can identify vehicles, buildings, terrain features.
Take digital photographs.
Work best in daylight; can spot vehicles, campfires or people at night, using infrared imaging.
RQ-1 Predator (UAV)
A long-range, low-altitude, propeller-driven spy plane is remotely operated.
The plane's video, infrared and radar cameras provide live images.
HANAA (Hand-held Advanced Nucleic Acid Analyzer)
The one-kilogram device is designed to test biological samples in the field.
It analyses DNA sequences which serve as the fingerprints of specific biological pathogens.
Ranger Plus (Radionuclide detection system)
The hand-held device is used to search for and locate sources of radiation.
It has both gamma and neutron detectors which provide nuclear information on the spot.
An isotope can be quickly identified and its spectrum displayed, along with the isotope's application (medical, industrial, or weapons material).
SOURCES: U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS/LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY/BIOCENTRIC SOLUTIONS INC.