November 24, 2000
Serious Talk About 'The Gang That Couldn't Bomb Straight'
Two New Books About
the Gulf War Hasn't Ended
Study of Revenge:
Saddam Hussein's Unfinished
By Laurie Mylroie
AEI, 341 pages, $24.95.
The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons
By Khidhir Hamza, with Jeff Stein
Scribner, 384 pages, $26.
By A.H. JOFFE
Laurie Mylroie, a specialist
minutely detailed and disturbing book in which she argues convincingly
a physicist, has written an equally frightening book recounting his
personal experiences as a senior atomic-bomb designer for Saddam
Hussein. Inasmuch as
Hussein, both books should prompt a long overdue reassessment of
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The conventional logic about
that the men convicted of the crime, most of them of Palestinian and
Egyptian origin, were Islamic
extremists motivated by a hatred of
straight, quickly brought to heel by the FBI and by their own
clumsiness. But, as Ms. Mylroie shows, these "fundamentalists" were
largely directed by the still mysterious "Ramzi Yousef." Her contention
is that they were carrying out a sophisticated plan on
To make her case, Ms. Mylroie did the work that the government and the
media neglected to do, combing through the vast amounts of evidence
introduced at trial. She builds her case methodically, showing from
telephone, airline and passport records that the trail leads back to
during the occupation of that country by
one tower of the
destruction with a cloud of cyanide gas. The job of the
"fundamentalists" was to build and detonate the bomb and then get
caught, thus misdirecting attention away from the true source.
Why was none of this brought out at trial or later? Part of Ms.
Mylroie's answer is that it was sheer bureaucratic ineptitude and
compartmentalization. FBI agents in
perpetrators. Despite the evidence that had been uncovered, Ms. Mylroie
and not a national-security issue. As for the
was eager to "solve" the case and pin the rap on loose networks of
fundamentalists in order to deflect attention from an
tatters. Neither the peacetime expansion of economic prosperity nor the
vision of peace between
by a renewed confrontation with
In Ms. Mylroie's view,
never ended for Saddam Hussein. Deprived of
nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and with his country under
United Nations sanctions and ineffectual aerial siege, he has spent the
past decade methodically rebuilding his arsenals and plotting how to
strike back. Ms. Mylroie makes the case, as far too few have, that
Saddam lives only for revenge.
This theme also emerges in Mr. Hamza's book. Educated at Iraqi
government expense at MIT and the
was approached by a PLO representative about developing an atomic bomb.
In 1971, representatives of Saddam Hussein came to Mr. Hamza seeking a
plan for an Iraqi atomic weapon. When Saddam became president in 1979
the project became a national priority and was within months of
completion in 1990 when the Gulf War broke out.
Some nuclear bomb-making
information was provided freely to
President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program, while much was simply
photocopied in American research libraries by Iraqi graduate students.
Ultimately, billions of dollars were spent above and beneath the table
spent on chemical and biological weapons and missiles. All along, Mr.
Hamza says, he was trapped by a ruthless regime essentially holding
scientists and their families hostage, as well as by his own ego as key
scientist. When he made his escape in 1994, the CIA refused to help.
Only when a higher-ranking defector revealed the true dimensions of
frightening enough, but it his picture of life under Saddam that is
truly gruesome. According to him, the regime has a fetish for providing
new cars as gifts, but even high-ranking scientists can disappear into
dungeons for offhand remarks. Mr. Hamza even watched a videotape of one
of his colleagues being forced to execute another. His book is a glimpse
into the heart of darkness.
What is to be done? Only 35 pounds or so of uranium separate us from a
world in which Saddam has his own atomic bomb, a likelihood that
increases daily as sanctions crumble and regular flights from
be hard-pressed to locate it. Even before that happens, there is the
possibility of a crop-duster doing long turns over the Columbus Day
Parade as it sprays anthrax. Ms. Mylroie and Mr. Hamza prove, to this
reviewer's satisfaction anyway, that the question is not if but when.
States such as
than enough zealots ready to be manipulated. Civil libertarians will
correctly point out that some proposed answers to terrorism at home
would undermine fundamental freedoms. More ominous, though less
convincing, is the caveat that our quarrel with Saddam is part of a
"clash of civilizations" pitting the West against Islam. But these grim
possibilities make an honest accounting of the facts even more pressing.
Both authors make valuable contributions to piercing the carefully
constructed fog around Saddam's war against the West. According to them,
there will be another confrontation with
of life on both sides. It is likely that the bombing of the USS Cole in
demonstrate, when the showdown comes,
weapons. The casualties will be far greater than they might have been,
had American policy not been obsessed with bogeymen such as Osama bin
Laden. With any luck, Ms. Mylroie and Mr. Hamza will frighten some sense
into us before it is too late to prepare for the true mother of all
writes on the
He taught in the anthropology
University from 1993 to 2000.