Mobile weapons laboratory

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Purported Iraqi mobile weapons laboratories, actually for production of hydrogen to fill wind-sensing balloons.[1]

Mobile weapons laboratories are bioreactors and other processing equipment to manufacture and process biological weapons that can be moved from location to location either by train or vehicle.

Iraqi Mobile weapons laboratories[edit]

In the run up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the main rationale for the Iraq War was Hussein's Iraq failure to transparently and verifiably cease Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD - nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) programs, and to destroy all materials relating thereto, as mandated in United Nations Resolution 1441. In February 2003 the then Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation before the United Nations showing a computer generated view of what the laboratories looked like. He said Iraq had as many as 18 mobile facilities for making anthrax and botulinum toxin. "They can produce enough dry, biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people." Powell based the assertion on accounts of at least four Iraqi defectors, including a chemical engineer who supervised one of the facilities and been present during production runs of a biological agent. [2] Following the invasion of Iraq two trailers were found and initially described as the alleged mobile labs.

Intelligence Sources[edit]

In the CIA briefing days before the 2003 United Nations security council presentation Colin Powell knew that all information included in the report had to be solid. "Powell and I were both suspicious because there were no pictures of the mobile labs," Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff said.[3] Powell demanded multiple sources and the two CIA men present George Tenet, then the CIA director and John E. McLaughlin, then the CIA deputy director claimed to have multiple eye witness accounts and supporting evidence. Wilkerson claims that the two said, "This is it, Mr. Secretary. You can't doubt this one"[3]

The information behind the mobile vehicles had come from the multiple informants but the main and most important one was known as Curveball. Curveball was an Iraqi refugee in Germany.[4] He claimed that after he had graduated at the top of his chemical engineering class at Baghdad University in 1994, he worked for "Dr. Germ," the pseudonym of British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha.[4] He led a team that built mobile labs to create biological WMD[4] Curveball was never actually interviewed by American intelligence and in May 2004, over a year after the invasion of Iraq, the CIA concluded formally that Curveball's information was fabricated. Furthermore, on June 26, 2006, the Washington Post reported that "the CIA acknowledged that Curveball was a con artist who drove a taxi in Iraq and spun his engineering knowledge into a fantastic but plausible tale about secret bioweapons factories on wheels."[3]

With information about the mobile labs the Bush administration then went and asked Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) if they knew anything about this "threat". The INC provided an Iraqi defector, Mohammad Harith, who claimed that while working for the Iraqi government he had purchased seven Renault refrigerated trucks to be converted into mobile biological weapons laboratories.[5] The INC used James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, to directly contact Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Linton Wells, of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), with info about Mohammad Harith's account to avoid any scrutiny by the CIA.[6] Harith's was met by a DIA debriefer who concluded that it "seemed accurate, but much of it appeared embellished" and he apparently "had been coached on what information to provide." However, the line about Harith being coached was removed and one that he passed a lie detector added and as such became official evidence of mobile bio-labs even being used by Bush in his January 2003 State of the Union message.[6] Later Mohammad Harith like curveball evidence was labeled with a fabricator notice.

A third source, reporting through Defense HUMINT channels and another asylum seeker, claimed that in June 2001 that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories however after the war in Oct 2003 the source recanted his testimony.[7]

A fourth source existed but all information and details regarding the report are still classified.[7]

All the sources depended on the Curveball's account and were seen as supportive to it. When Tenet called Powell in late summer 2003, seven months after the U.N. speech, he admitted that all of the CIA's claims Powell used in his speech about Iraqi weapons were wrong. "They had hung on for a long time, but finally Tenet called Powell to say, 'We don't have that one, either,' " Wilkerson recalled. "The mobile labs were the last thing to go."[3]

Discovery of Iraqi mobile labs?[edit]

May 13, 2003 it was reported that a second suspected mobile weapons lab had been found in Iraq on April 19, 2003.[8]

May 27, 2003 a fact finding mission to Iraq sent its report to Washington unanimously declaring that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. The report was 'shelved'.[9]

May 28, 2003 the Central Intelligence Agency released a report on the supposed mobile weapons labs, stating:-

Despite the lack of confirmatory samples, we nevertheless are confident that this trailer is a mobile BW production plant.[10]

May 29, 2003 President George W Bush declared that they had found the weapons of mass destruction that had been claimed were in Iraq, these were in the form of mobile labs for manufacturing biological weapons.

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.[11]

May 29, 2003 "We have already found two trailers that both our and the American security services believe were used for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons." Tony Blair, Flying into Kuwait for morale boosting trip.

May 29, 2003 "My personal view is we're going to find them, just as we found these two mobile laboratories" Town Hall Meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Infinity-CBS Radio.

June 2, 2003 In the UK, Susan Watts broadcasts on the influential BBC2 Newsnight report which includes an anonymous experts (Dr David Kelly[12] ) opinion on the Mobile Weapons labs being for biological weapons. Dr Kelly is now only 40% certain the trailers are labs.

But our source, who is in an excellent position to know, and spoke of being 90% confident these claims are correct on the day the Pentagon showed the trucks to the world, now put that confidence level at just 40%.[13]

June 3, 2003 "But let's remember what we've already found. Secretary Powell on February 5th talked about a mobile, biological weapons capability. That has now been found and this is a weapons laboratory trailers capable of making a lot of agent that -- dry agent, dry biological agent that can kill a lot of people. So we are finding these pieces that were described." Condoleezza Rice, Capital Report, CNBC.

June 3, 2003 "We know that these trailers look exactly like what was described to us by multiple sources as the capabilities for building or for making biological agents. We know that we have from multiple sources who told us that then and sources who have confirmed it now. Now the Iraqis were not stupid about this. They were able to conceal a lot. They've been able to scrub things down. But I think when the whole picture comes out, we will see that this was an active program." Condoleezza Rice, Capital Report, CNBC.

June 5, 2003 "We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents" President G W Bush Talks to Troops in Qatar, White House.

June 5, 2003 Dr. David Kelly one of Britains foremost experts on Biological Weapons visited Iraq to examine the trailers and take photographs.[14]

June 7, 2003 Judith Miller reports that some scientists had doubts about the trailers in her piece - "Some experts doubt trailers were germ lab", Judith Miller and William J. Broad, New York Times.[15]

June 8, 2003 The UK's Observer newspaper picks up on the story with their piece "Blow to Blair over 'mobile labs' - Saddam's trucks were for balloons, not germs " [16] Placing more pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair over the lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction found in Iraq.

June 8, 2003 "Already, we've discovered, uh, uh, trailers, uh, that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5th speech, biological weapons production facilities." Condoleezza Rice, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, ABC.

June 8, 2003 "We are confident that we -- I believe that we will find them. I think that we have already found important clues like the biological weapons laboratories that look surprisingly like what Colin Powell described in his speech." Condoleezza Rice, Meet the Press, NBC.

June 8, 2003 "We have uncovered the mobile vans and we are continuing to search." Colin Powell Remarks at Stakeout Following Fox News Interview, Fox News.

June 8, 2003 "And I think the mobile labs are what I think is a good indication of the kind of thing they are doing." Colin Powell Remarks at Stakeout Following Fox News Interview, Fox News.

June 15, 2003 It was revealed that the trailers discovered were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis had insisted all along.[1] The artillery balloons were used to get detailed weather data to be used to accurately direct artillery shelling. A British scientist and biological weapons expert was quoted "They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were - facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." It was confirmed later that this expert was Dr David Kelly [17]

June 20, 2003 MP Paul Flynn: "To ask the Prime Minister what assessment has been made of the function of the two vehicles suspected of being biological weapons laboratories that were discovered in Iraq." The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Investigations into their role are continuing."[18]

June 23, 2003:

MP Harry Cohen: "Will the Secretary of State consider sending some of the Territorials to look at the mobile labs in the form of two trailers in northern Iraq? A report in The Observer on 15 June said that the system was originally sold by a British company, Marconi, as a command and control system. If any Territorials investigated the trailers, would they find a "Made in Britain" stamp on them? If this is a smoking gun in terms of weapons of mass destruction, why did we apparently sell them?"

MP Geoff Hoon: "I do not think that anyone suggested that this was an example of a smoking gun. It has rightly been suggested that this was a gun and that the mobile laboratories were wholly consistent with the description of mobile laboratories given by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his evidence to the United Nations Security Council. That remains the position as far as coalition forces are concerned."[19]

July 17/18, 2003: Dr. David Kelly, a key source for many of the newspaper articles doubting the Mobile weapons labs, is found dead. An inquiry into his death, The Hutton Inquiry, found his death to be suicide.

September 8, 2003:

The discovery by U.S. forces in Iraq of two mobile 'biological weapons laboratories' was touted by President Bush as clear evidence that Iraq possessed illegal weapons capabilities. However, it now is clear that these so-called labs were nothing more than hydrogen generation units based upon British technology acquired by Iraq in the 1980s, used to fill weather balloons in support of conventional artillery operations, and have absolutely no application for the production of biological agents.

— Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspector, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 8, 2003[20]

Dick Cheney continued to claim trailers were mobile labs[edit]

September 14, 2003:

Same on biological weapons—we believe he'd developed the capacity to go mobile with his BW production capability because, again, in reaction to what we had done to him in '91. We had intelligence reporting before the war that there were at least seven of these mobile labs that he had gone out and acquired. We've, since the war, found two of them. They're in our possession today, mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing the capacity for an attack.

— Dick Cheney, Meet the Press, NBC.

January 22, 2004:

In terms of the question what is there now, we know for example that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we're quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We've found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program.

— Dick Cheney, Morning Edition, NPR.

Powell retraction[edit]

I looked at the four [sources] that [the CIA] gave me for [the mobile bio-labs], and they stood behind them, ... Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid. At the time I was preparing the presentation, it was presented to me as being solid.[21] April 3, 2004 I feel terrible ... [giving the speech] ... It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now.[5]" 2005

Pentagon report[edit]

The Pentagon produced a secret report in 2003 entitled Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers that found that the trailers were impractical for biological agent production and almost certainly designed and built for the generation of hydrogen.[9][22]


  1. ^ a b Peter Beaumont, Antony Barnett and Gaby Hinsliff (June 15, 2003). "Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  2. ^ By Greg Miller and Bob Drogin (April 29, 2003). "Truck Is Tested for Biological Agents". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  3. ^ a b c d Joby Warrick (June 25, 2006). "Warnings on WMD 'Fabricator' Were Ignored, Ex-CIA Aide Says". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
  4. ^ a b c cooperative research (November 20, 2005). "Complete timeline of the 2003 invasion of Iraq". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-23. He speaks to his BND debriefers in Arabic through a translator, and also in broken English and German. Curveball says that he worked for Iraq's Military Industrial Commission after graduating first in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University in 1994 (He actually graduated last (see 1994)). A year later, he says, he was assigned to work for "Dr. Germ," British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha, to construct mobile biological weapons labs. But Curveball never says that he actually produced biological weapons or witnessed anyone else doing so and the BND is unable to verify his claims. Curveball's statements are recorded in German, shared with a local Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) team, and sent to the US, where they are translated into English for analysis at the DIA's directorate for human intelligence in Clarendon, Va. "This was not substantial evidence," one senior German intelligence official later recalls in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said." The reports are then sent to the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), whose experts analyze the data and share it with artists who use Curveball's accounts to render sketches.
  5. ^ a b "Famous Pictures Magazine - Iraqi Mobile Production Facilities". Famous Pictures Magazine. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  6. ^ a b Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel (May 31, 2007). "Former CIA director used Pentagon ties to introduce Iraqi defector". Knight Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  7. ^ a b John Pike (Page last modified: 12-04-2006 18:25:51). "Mobile Biological Weapons Facilities - Winnebagos of Death". Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-07-24. From January 2000 to September 2001, the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) Human Intelligence disseminated almost 112 reports from Curveball regarding mobile BW facilities in Iraq. These reports did not come directly from Curveball, however, but were transferred through a "foreign liaison." Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ CNN (May 13, 2003). "Second suspected mobile weapons lab found in Iraq". CNN. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  9. ^ a b Joby Warrick (April 12, 2006). "Lacking Biolabs, Trailers Carried Case for War". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  10. ^ CIA (May 28, 2003). "Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  11. ^ George W Bush (May 29, 2003). "Interview of the President by TVP, Poland". White House. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  12. ^ Hutton (August 13, 2003). "Hutton Inquiry Hearing Transcripts - Susan Watts". The Hutton Inquiry. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  13. ^ Susan Watts (June 2, 2003). "Susan Watts, Newsnight, 2 June 2003". BBC. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  14. ^ Hutton (September 24, 2003). "Hutton Inquiry Hearing Transcripts - Wing Commander John Clark". The Hutton Inquiry. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  15. ^ Judith Miller (June 7, 2003). "Some experts doubt trailers were germ lab". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  16. ^ Peter Beaumont and Antony Barnett (June 8, 2003). "Blow to Blair over 'mobile labs'". London: Observer. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  17. ^ Hutton (September 24, 2003). "Hutton Inquiry Hearing Transcripts - Peter Stuart Beaumont". The Hutton Inquiry. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  18. ^ Hansard (June 20, 2003). "Hansard - Written Answers". House of Commons Hansard. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  19. ^ Hansard (June 23, 2003). "Hansard - Written Answers - Column 696". House of Commons Hansard. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  20. ^ Scott Ritter (September 8, 2003). "Weapons of Mass Destruction in Our Midst". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  21. ^ AFP (April 3, 2004). "Pre-war data given to UN 'not solid': Powell". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
  22. ^ "From 'Biological Laboratories' to Harmless Trailers". Washington Post. April 12, 2006. Retrieved 2013-08-30.

See also[edit]