Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Finding WMD will only get harder

By David Kay

The ultimately futile search I led after Operation Iraqi Freedom to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or the far more successful search I led after the first Gulf war hold important lessons for the future.
Both efforts were far easier than challenges in the years ahead to determine if there are WMD in countries of concern or if such weapons are being smuggled into the U.S. hidden within the cascade of legitimate daily commerce of a truly global economy and transportation system.
In both Iraqi cases, the country had lost a war, and the United States, exercising the victor's power, imposed intrusive inspections with far-ranging rights of search and seizure. The teams I led had great inspection powers, which can only be expected after a country has been defeated.
The future is much likelier to present the far more difficult challenges of determining if an undefeated state has a WMD program or if a terrorist cell inserted WMD in a shipping container, airline luggage or cargo, or created the ultimate suicide bomber — a passenger with a lethal contagious disease.
Most of the technology used by arms inspectors was never designed for the purposes for which we now use it.
Basic radiation detectors work well in laboratories, but subject them to high heat and humidity, dirt, dust, sand or daily transport over spine-jarring roads, and you usually end up with a useless piece of electronics. I have yet to have an alpha or neutron detector whose reliability is anywhere near that of an Apple Powerbook or iPod. Biological detectors are even worse.
In post-invasion Iraq, slow and unreliable equipment necessitated repeatedly revisiting sites.
In countries such as Iran, where inspectors operate at the grace of the inspected, one cannot expect either an ideal environment or acquiescence to demands for repeated access. Unless we provide inspectors with reliable tools, we should not expect reliable results.
In trying to detect clandestine efforts to smuggle WMD into the United States, the demands on the technology only grow. The number of potential locations is huge, and the time and tolerance for inspection is finite. If we are to take seriously the possible smuggling of WMD into the United States, we need a major technology development and deployment effort.
At present, we lack the technical tools to prevent terrorists from smuggling WMD into the United States and to ensure that rogue states are not gaining WMD capabilities. We need to stop kidding ourselves that countermeasures can be had cheaply or by simply reworking the normal tools of scientific investigation and work-place safety. This effort will require major and multiple scientific and engineering breakthroughs.
And these breakthroughs will not come from the scientific efforts of scattered federal labs or the Homeland Security Department's underfunded research and development.
Nothing short of a centralized, Manhattan-type project is likely to give us the tools to deal with a WMD future. The question is: Will the president take this on to achieve his desired legacy of a safer, more secure America?

David Kay is a senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a weapons proliferation analyst for several news organizations. He is the former U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. This article reprinted with permission from McGraw Hill's Homeland Security magazine.




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