October 6, 2003

DAVID KAY ON MEDIA COVERAGE:

October 6, 2003 — The head of the weapons hunt in Iraq yesterday said his teams are hot on the trail of anthrax and Scud missiles, and he’s “amazed” that anyone could think the search so far is a failure.

David Kay also said, “We’re going to find remarkable things” about Iraq’s weapons program.

His teams have already found a vial of botulinum toxin – “one of the most toxic elements known” – in the refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist who’d hidden it since 1993. . . .

Kay, a former U.N. inspector, added that, “I’m surprised no one has paid attention to” his revelation last week that the Iraqis also violated U.N. sanctions by working on new toxins like Congo-Crimea and hemorrhagic fever.

Funny that this gets so little attention.

UPDATE: The story above says “botulinum toxin.” This story says it was botulism bacteria, which would be a somewhat lesser deal. Which is true? Beats me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It seems that the Post report is right. Here’s what Kay actually said:

Well, that’s one of the most fascinating stories. An Iraqi scientist in 1993 hid in his own refrigerator reference strains for — active strains, actually would’ve — were still active when we found them — Botulinum toxin, one of the most toxic elements known.

Wonder why the Times/AP story reports it differently? Or is something left out in this transcript, like “the germ that makes Botulinum toxin, one of the most toxic elements known”?

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, got back from my committee meeting (miraculously, still awake!) and looked at the actual Kay statement, a link to which was forwarded by helpful reader Tom Brosz. Here’s the key bit:

A very large body of information has been developed through debriefings, site visits, and exploitation of captured Iraqi documents that confirms that Iraq concealed equipment and materials from UN inspectors when they returned in 2002. One noteworthy example is a collection of reference strains that ought to have been declared to the UN. Among them was a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B. from which a biological agent can be produced. This discovery – hidden in the home of a BW scientist – illustrates the point I made earlier about the difficulty of locating small stocks of material that can be used to covertly surge production of deadly weapons. The scientist who concealed the vials containing this agent has identified a large cache of agents that he was asked, but refused, to conceal. ISG is actively searching for this second cache.

As several readers point out, the toxin is far more deadly than the bacterium — but the bacteria can be used to produce lots of toxin rather quickly (that’s the “surge production” point), whereas the toxin itself is an end product: bacteria can make toxin, toxin can’t make more toxin. So from a weapons-production standpoint the bacteria are worse. I don’t know why the transcript is wrong — either Kay misspoke, or the transcriptionist missed something.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit more from the transcript linked above:

KAY: Tony, it’s important to stress the word “yet.” We have not only Secretary Powell, we have Iraqi generals telling us that they had them. Unfortunately, they’re not able to tell us where they are now. And that’s why we’re looking so hard.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, there’s more information on botulism here, and here.

And a couple of readers wonder what happened to the tons and tons of anthrax and botulinum that U.N. inspectors identified before 1998. Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it? Either Saddam destroyed it and then pretended not to have done so (which seems unlikely) or it’s still somewhere. But where? Or were the U.N. inspectors lying? That seems unlikely, too, doesn’t it?

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