U.S. supplied the kinds of germs Iraq

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 9:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 9:25 a.m.

WASHINGTON - Iraq's bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research.

The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus.

The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate.

The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department.

"I don't think it would be accurate to say the United States government deliberately provided seed stocks to the Iraqis' biological weapons programs," said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. biological weapons inspector.

"But they did deliver samples that Iraq said had a legitimate public health purpose, which I think was naive to believe, even at the time."

The disclosures put the United States in the uncomfortable position of possibly having provided the key ingredients of the weapons America is considering waging war to destroy, said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Byrd entered the documents into the Congressional Record this month.

Byrd asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Reagan's Middle East envoy.

"Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?" Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek article on the transfers.

"I have never heard anything like what you've read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it," Rumsfeld said. He later said he would ask the Defense Department and other government agencies to search their records for evidence of the transfers.

Invoices included in the documents read like shopping lists for biological weapons programs. One 1986 shipment from the Virginia-based American Type Culture Collection included three strains of anthrax, six strains of the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and three strains of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene. Iraq later admitted to the United Nations that it had made weapons out of all three.

The company sent the bacteria to the University of Baghdad, which U.N. inspectors concluded had been used as a front to acquire samples for Iraq's biological weapons program.

The CDC, meanwhile, sent shipments of germs to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and other agencies involved in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. It sent samples in 1986 of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxoid _ used to make vaccines against botulinum toxin _ directly to the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons complex at al-Muthanna, the records show.

Botulinum toxin is the paralyzing poison that causes botulism. Having a vaccine to the toxin would be useful for anyone working with it, such as biological weapons researchers or soldiers who might be exposed to the deadly poison, Tucker said.

The CDC also sent samples of a strain of West Nile virus to an Iraqi microbiologist at a university in the southern city of Basra in 1985, the records show.

A look at U.S. shipments of pathogens to Iraq

Shipments from the United States to Iraq of the kinds of pathogens later used in Iraq's biological weapons programs, according to records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Senate Banking Committee and U.N. weapons inspectors:


Iraq admitted making 2,200 gallons of anthrax spores and putting some of them into weapons. U.N. inspectors said Iraq could have made three times as much anthrax as it acknowledged, and could not verify Iraq's claims to have destroyed all of its weaponized anthrax.

The American Type Culture Collection, a biological samples repository in Manassas, Va., sent two shipments of anthrax to Iraq in the 1980s. Three anthrax strains were in a May 1986 shipment sent to the University of Baghdad, which U.N. inspectors later linked to Iraq's biological weapons program. A 1988 shipment from ATCC to Iraq also included four anthrax strains.


Iraq admitted making 5,300 gallons of botulinum toxin, a deadly poison produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, and putting some of it into weapons. Five warheads filled with botulinum toxin are missing.

ATCC sent six strains of Clostridium botulinum to the University of Baghdad in the May 1986 shipment. The September 1988 ATCC shipment to Iraq also contained one strain of Clostridium botulinum.

In March 1986, the CDC sent samples of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxiod (used to make a vaccine against botulinum poisoning) directly to Iraq's al-Muthanna complex, a center for Iraq's chemical weapons program and the site where Iraq restarted its dormant biological weapons program in 1985.


U.N. inspectors concluded Iraq could have produced hundreds of gallons of the germs that cause gas gangrene, though Iraq admitted producing just a fraction of that amount. Gas gangrene, caused by the Clostridium perfringens bacteria, causes toxic gases to form inside the body, killing tissues and causing internal bleeding, lung and liver damage.

ATCC sent three strains of Clostridium perfringens to the University of Baghdad in the May 1986 shipment and another three strains in the 1988 shipment.


The CDC sent bacteria samples to Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission in 1985, 1987 and 1988. The commission was involved in Saddam's attempts to build a nuclear bomb and other weapons of mass destruction.

The CDC also sent bacteria samples to the Sera and Vaccine Institute in Amiriyah, Iraq, in 1988. The institute stored samples and did genetic engineering research for Iraq's biological weapons programs, U.N. inspectors found.

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