That would be quite interesting.
posted on 04/20/2003 1:15:35 PM PDT
Here's the article (kind of long...) As far as I remember, it was from FR...
THE LONDON SUNDAY TIMES
February 25 2001 NEWS REVIEW
On a visit to northern Iraq, Gwynne Roberts stumbled on a trail of compelling
evidence that the 'Butcher of Baghdad' has successfully tested a nuclear bomb.
Could he really have hoodwinked the West?
Was this Saddam's bomb?
The mysterious visitor emerged from the shadows outside my hotel in Kurdish
controlled northern Iraq, just as a crisis between Washington and Baghdad was
reaching a climax in January 1998. His appearance set alarm bells ringing.
Several westerners had recently been murdered in Kurdistan, and Iraqi
intelligence agents were blamed.
I was there to investigate the long-term impact of Saddam Hussein's gassing of
the people of Halabja, the town he drenched in lethal chemicals in 1988. Iraq
knew of the mission and my team was at risk. The visitor was visibly nervous
and shivering, and the guards on the hotel steps were suspicious. Although it
was bitterly cold, he was wearing a silk summer jacket.
"Are you a journalist?" he asked my cameraman, who was filming outside the
hotel. He was keen to talk about the Iraqi nuclear programme, but I was
suspicious. After the Kurds had identified him as a bona fide nuclear
scientist, I invited him back to the hotel.
"I am in danger here in Iraq," said "Leone", as we came to know him. "I signed
a document every six months agreeing not to talk to foreigners. It said I and
my family would be executed if I broke the agreement. If I reveal secrets to
you, my life is at risk."
Nonetheless, Leone talked on - and he told me an astonishing story. If true, it
completely contradicts the western consensus about the shortcomings of Saddam's
nuclear weapons programme.
Intelligence agencies, including Israel's Mossad, insist that Saddam has never
had the technology or the fuel to fulfil his ambition of creating a nuclear
arsenal. Yet Leone, and other defectors who have corroborated his story, insist
that Saddam not only has nuclear weapons but has tested them.
SITTING in a scruffy hotel room in Sulaymaniyah, Leone explained in detail the
work he said he was involved in. He described himself as a military engineer
who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission. Simultaneously, he
said, he worked for the Republican Palace in Baghdad.
"There is a special scientific department there for supervising all activities
for the Iraqi mass destruction weapons, especially the missile programme. So I
was in a very privileged position. I had my own bodyguards and my special
status protected me. I was authorised to travel to many secret sites all over
Iraq. Very few can do this."
Leone worked through the night in the hotel, drawing detailed diagrams of
nuclear weapons. "This is Iraq's nuclear bomb," he said, spreading diagrams on
the bed. "I saw it in the workshop in Tuwaitha many times. This is the first
successful prototype. When they finished it in 1986, they took it to the
president by car, but without uranium. All members of the delegation got cars
as presents for their work. Between 1985 and 1989, I saw this device at least
He said it worked on the principle of the Hiroshima gun-type bomb, in which
high explosives drive pieces of highly enriched uranium together at high
velocity. This triggers a nuclear explosion.
Leone's design was unusual. The uranium was contained in a series of finely
engineered tubes, like the control rods of a nuclear reactor. It was not the
type of design one might find from a search of textbooks or the internet.
He showed me a photograph of what he said was a gun assembly nuclear warhead
bought off the peg from Russia. Six devices were purchased during the late
1980s, he said, all of them without fuel. Iraq managed to purchase fissile
material on the black market for at least one warhead.
Leone then made the staggering claim that Iraq had conducted a nuclear test
before the Gulf war.
"The test was carried out at 10.30am on September 19, 1989, at an underground
site 150km southwest of Baghdad," he said. "Saddam had threatened us with the
death penalty if we told anybody about it.
"The location was a militarised zone on the far shore of Lake Rezzaza, which
used to be a tourist area. There is a natural tunnel there which leads to a
large cavern deep under the lake. Labourers worked on it for two years,
strengthening the tunnel walls.
"There was a big Republican Guard camp nearby and dirt roads leading to the
site. You could see the thick high-tension cables on the ground, which
disappeared into a huge shaft entrance. I saw one which must have been 20km
long. The command post for the test was in a castle in the desert not far away.
"We went to a lot of trouble to conceal the test from the outside world. The
Russians supplied us with a table listing US satellite movements. They were
always helping us. Every six hours, trucks near the test site changed their
positions. They had carried out a lot of irrigation projects in the test area
during the year before as a diversion. But these weren't agricultural workers.
They were nuclear engineers. It was a nice cheat.
"We had built a special platform for the bomb in the Tuwaitha workshop and this
was sent to the test site. This allowed the device to be jacked up inside the
cavern. Then we sealed off the cavern by blocking part of the tunnel inside
with a 50-metre concrete plug and piling up sand and rocks behind that. All
this was intended to muffle the explosion, and it's known as 'decoupling'.
"I saw the air-conditioned yellow truck carrying the bomb near the site at dawn
a few days before the test. They always used this vehicle to transport it. On
its side was a wheatsheaf symbol with 'Ministry of Trade' written below it. I
saw the people in charge of the test head off in that direction as well - Dr
Khalid Ibrahim Sayeed and Dr Jafaar Dhia Jafaar.
"When the test happened, there was no dust or anything. The air just vibrated.
I was in my car at the time and it just shook. It reached about 2.7 on the
Richter scale, and wouldn't really have been noticed by seismic stations
Leone said that Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam's brother-in-law, was in overall
charge of the test. [Kamel defected to Jordan in 1995 and was later murdered.]
"After the test, they destroyed the entrance to the tunnel. They also removed
any evidence to indicate that a test had happened.
"They washed out the shaft with water to remove any radioactivity. They then
filled it with cement, rocks and sand, and destroyed the entrance. They also
created a long river channel near the shaft entrance to drain off contaminated
Leone showed me a letter signed by Kamel that seemed to confirm the test.
Written in Arabic and dated September 19, 1989, it read: "With the help of God
and the effort of the heroic freedom fighters in the military industrialisation
institution and the atomic power organisation, we have successfully completed
Test Number One of the Iraqi Atomic Bomb. Its strength was 10 kilotons and
highly enriched uranium was used with a purity of 93% . . . With this
experiment Iraq is considered the first country in the world to carry out this
sort of experiment without the knowledge of the international monitoring
I still had a problem with Leone's story. Iraq did not have the industrial
capacity to produce enough bomb-grade fissile material for a test. Leone said
the Iraqis had bought it on the black market.
"We had a purchasing department whose job was to buy highly enriched uranium.
Brazil purchased highly enriched uranium from South Africa and then delivered
it to Iraq. I am not talking about tons. It was between 20 and 50 kilograms.
France also supplied us secretly with highly enriched uranium after the
Israelis bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981."
The Rezzaza test, according to Leone, sealed the fate of the Observer
journalist Farzad Bazoft, who had been investigating the cause of a huge
explosion at a military complex south of Baghdad.
The Iranian-born reporter was arrested on September 15, four days before the
test date, after taking soil samples near the al-Qaqa facility, about 80km from
the test site. He was executed for espionage the following March.
I knew the Bazoft story well. In 1988 I had entered Iraqi Kurdistan and
gathered soil samples which proved that the Iraqi regime had used chemical
weapons against its own people. Bazoft had reportedly seen my film Winds of
Death, which documented this horrific crime, and attempted to emulate my
methods, with tragic results.
"He was accused of working for a foreign intelligence agency," said Leone. "The
authorities were convinced he was trying to find out about the planned Rezzaza
test. This was a state secret of the highest importance and, once they even
suspected this, he was never going to be released."
In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait. After his defeat in the ensuing Gulf
war, UN arms inspectors discovered an Iraqi crash programme to build a nuclear
bomb, known as PC3. But, according to Leone, they missed the most successful
part of the programme.
"They thought they had stopped the Iraqis from building the bomb, but they
overlooked the military organisation codenamed Group Four. This department is a
comprehensive section that was involved in assembling the bomb from the
beginning to the end. It was also involved in developing launching systems,
missile programmes, preparing uranium, purchasing it on the black market,
smuggling it back into Iraq."
Leone told me that Group Four successfully developed a gun-type device at the
nuclear weaponisation centre at al-Atheer. Unscom, the UN inspectorate, was
aware that the Iraqis were working on an implosion-type nuclear device there,
but knew nothing about Group Four. All evidence of its existence had been
removed before they arrived in Iraq, Leone said.
The Iraqis went to extraordinary lengths to protect their secrets. In one
incident on 1991, the UN nuclear weapons inspection team managed to film
sensitive documents listing names of key personnel in the nuclear programme.
Leone claimed the Iraqi official who allowed access, Adel Fayed, was later
"He was killed by knives in his home," said he. "They cut off his head.
Everyone knew that Saddam's cousin, Ali al-Takriti, was responsible. Nobody
talked to Unscom after this assassination."
To avoid Unscom detection, scientists from the main weaponisation groups were
spread throughout Iraq. Group Four was relocated in civilian aircraft factories
at Taji in the north of Baghdad. Using the factories as a front, they imported
"aircraft parts" from Russia and eastern Europe. These consignments often
concealed components for the nuclear programme.
Group Four also bought up American and Russian designs for gun-type nuclear
bombs. Leone alleged that these were acquired with help from India.
Leone said his pivotal job brought him into close contact with Khalid Ibrahim
Sayeed, Group Four's leader, a military engineer whom he met regularly to
discuss weapons design.
Another important bomb design organisation, Group Five, operated out of an
agricultural machinery factory near Mosul in northern Iraq, said Leone. Group
Five scientists worked on a thermonuclear device, he said. The components were
assembled at secret locations under Mount Hemrin, 140km northeast of Baghdad.
In 1993, Saddam awarded Group Five's leader, Dr Ahmed Abdul Jabar Shansal, the
Golden Sword of Mesopotamia (First Degree), the highest decoration in Iraq, for
completing work on a nuclear implosion bomb, a far more complex design than the
gun-type, Leone said. In 1995, Group Five was renamed the State Enterprise for
Leone's disclosures were detailed, and his knowledge of personnel in the
programme was encyclopaedic. His bomb diagrams demonstrated specialist
knowledge of nuclear weapons. His most stunning claim, however, was that Iraq
now possessed three Hiroshima-type bombs, three implosion weapons and three
"I am certain about this," he said. "They are stored deep underground in a
bunker in the Hemrin mountains."
Having disgorged this information, Leone disappeared into the cold streets of
Sulaymaniyah. His evidence contradicted the claims of the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was more or less
dismantled after the Gulf war. Was he a hoaxer? I tracked down people in
Kurdistan who knew him and a picture began to emerge.
Leone had defected in the mid-1990s to the safe havens of northern Iraq.
Seeking sanctuary for his family, he had met officials from the West's
four-nation military co-ordinating centre. They flew him to Ankara to debrief
him but never gave him what he wanted: sanctuary in the West.
He tried to reach Europe through Ukraine and approached the British embassy in
Kiev. Diplomats arranged for experts from the IAEA to fly in to debrief him,
but Leone refused to co-operate when he realised they were unwilling to provide
visas for the West.
"There was no doubt he was genuine," said Arras Habib Kareem, who debriefed him
in Kurdistan for the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC). "When other
Iraqi nuclear scientists came north they recognised him within seconds. He
knows a lot about the Iraqi nuclear programme. He knows about the test areas,
the facilities and the equipment the Iraqis used.
"He once provided me with a list of 200 names of people working in the
programme, with their rank and what each was doing - 90% of what he said was
later confirmed by other Iraqi scientists who defected."
Seeking expert advice, I turned to Dr Frank Barnaby, the former nuclear weapons
scientist who vouchsafed the authenticity of Mordechai Vanunu's evidence of the
Israeli bomb programme in 1986. I asked him to assess Leone's drawing of the
1989 test device.
"The design is unusual, but I see no reason why it shouldn't work if it is well
engineered," Barnaby said. "I find it impressive. All the nuclear physics he is
talking about is reasonable. He has to be taken seriously because he is
obviously competent. The very least we are dealing with here is a radiological
bomb, a nuclear weapon in its own right, which Iraq was suspected of
Could it be a hoax? "If it were, Leone would use a more standard design, not
invent an unusual one," replied Barnaby. He described Leone's disclosures as
more dramatic than Vanunu's, because they contained more detailed information
about weapon design.
If Leone was telling the truth, surely the blast would have been detected by
Officials at the International Seismic Centre near Newbury said detecting an
event of this size - about 2.7 on the Richter scale - would be "extremely
difficult" in this region, especially if it had been decoupled, as Leone
I visited Sulaymaniyah's local seismic station. It is 640km from the Rezzaza
site, and its director confirmed that its range was limited. "Whether we would
pick up an event 100 to 200km away would depend on its magnitude," he
explained. "If it's really big, we would record it. If it's small, then we may
Records from 1989 showed no trace of an event on September 19, but a map of
Iraq's main earthquake zones provided a potential clue. The Rezzaza region is
virtually earthquake-free, but the map showed one exception - a tremor marked
by a red circle on the southwestern shore of the lake, close to Leone's test
site. Nobody at the seismic station knew when this tremor occurred, except that
it was after 1985 and before 1991.
I needed corroboration from other defectors from Iraq's nuclear weapons
programme. Most were too scared to talk. One scientist living in northern
Europe, who had received a video from Baghdad of his sister being sexually
abused by security agents, refused to have anything to do with me.
But I tracked down a "Dr Imad" who had worked for Group Four, and persuaded him
to meet me in Denmark. The story he told, unprompted by me, fitted Leone's.
"There were two groups working on two different projects. One was the implosion
bomb under Dr Jafaar and the other the gun-type device, under Dr Khalid Ibrahim
Sayeed," Imad said "Dr Khalid headed Group Four."
Again echoing Leone, Imad continued: "The headquarters of both groups was at
al-Atheer, the nuclear weapons design centre south of Baghdad. The UN
inspectors only discovered one project there. They missed the Group Four
programme, which had the same funding but was far more successful. This was
Iraq's best-kept secret."
Imad was adamant that the Iraqis had conducted a nuclear test, although he did
not know where. "Group Four was working specifically on a Hiroshima-type bomb.
In 1986-87, they began to run computer simulation models, but I know for a fact
that in 1989 they fed in real test data."
"From an actual test?" I asked.
"From an actual test. They modified the model according to the test data. They
"So does Iraq have the bomb?"
"Iraq tested the bomb and they have it," he said.
He also described how a senior Iraqi scientist had brought the fuel from Brazil
in a private jet and was rewarded with money and land.
Imad's evidence meant that two former senior Iraqi scientists - one in
Kurdistan and the other in Denmark - had independently confirmed that an
organisation called Group Four not only existed but had successfully tested a
gun-type atomic bomb. If this was true, the UN inspection teams had missed half
of Iraq's nuclear programme. It was difficult to comprehend failure on such a
Yet Unmovic, the UN agency that took over from Unscom after inspectors were
barred from Iraq in 1998, was completely in the dark about Group Four. Dr Hans
Blix, Unmovic's executive chairman, who also headed the IAEA for 16 years,
thought a nuclear test was improbable.
I turned to Dr David Kay, a former head of the UN nuclear inspection team. He
suspected that the Iraqis were working on a gun-type bomb and was not quite so
adamant in refusing to believe that one had been tested.
"One thing I've learnt in Iraq is that it is unwise to totally exclude
anything, because in fact the Iraqis spent a lot of money and got a lot of
assistance from other people. They were always trying to do it, and they did it
under totalitarian pressure. So people can occasionally do miraculous things,"
Kay knew of Group Four - he called it a "major weapons design group operating
under the auspices of Saddam himself" - but he had discovered few details about
It was Kay who uncovered Iraq's crash programme to build an implosion device.
He had been amazed at its size. "What we found was more or less an exact
replica of a crash US Manhattan Project during the second world war. The
facilities were large in number. I remember the initial briefing identified
three or four sites. There turned out to be more than 50. We now think there
were somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 working on the programme. The best
guess of costs is somewhere in the order of $10 billion."
Late last year I turned to the most important Iraqi defector to reach Europe,
Abbas al-Janabi. He was personal assistant to Saddam's son, Uday, for 15 years,
was imprisoned eight times by his former boss and routinely tortured. He
finally fled the country with his family in 1998.
His cousin, Fadil al-Janabi, was high in the Iraqi nuclear programme and other
members of his clan were highly placed within Group Four. His response to my
probing was succinct. "A nuclear test was carried out - in 1988 or 1989 - in an
underground site beside Lake Rezzaza," he said.
He pointed out the test site on a map of Iraq. It was close to Leone's
location. "It's a military zone," he said. "I doubt whether UN inspectors ever
visited it." He himself had clambered down into a vast underground cavern.
He learnt of the successful test from Uday, who, he said, was unable to conceal
his jubilation. "They were talking about the test, about their ability to
produce a nuclear bomb. They were talking about a new powerful Iraq," said
Was it definitely a nuclear test? "Definitely. There is no doubt about that. It
was a small nuclear test." Who had supplied the highly enriched uranium for the
bomb?South Africa, he said, via South America.
He claimed to know the person who had negotiated with the South Africans. "He
was talking about 50kg. Negotiations began in 1986 and the delivery was made in
In the mid-1990s, on a Channel 4 investigation, I visited Valindaba, the
facility near Pretoria which produced South Africa's bomb-grade uranium.
Officially, I was told the plant never achieved its design output because of
technical problems. In its lifetime, it was said to have produced weapons-grade
uranium for only six or seven devices. But a plant supervisor let slip that it
had functioned flawlessly from 1976 until 1989. It could have produced enough
for 20 simple uranium bombs.
So had South Africa sold off surplus stocks? I contacted a former intelligence
official under the apartheid regime who had helped procure components for his
country's nuclear weapons programme on the black market. "The story is true,"
he said. "About 50kg were sold to the Iraqis."
For the final stage of my investigation, I used the latest space technology. I
bought pictures of Lake Rezzaza taken in July 1989 - two months before the
claimed test - by a French Spot Image satellite and compared them with images
from the Indian IRS1D spacecraft shot in September 2000.
Professor Bhupendra Jasani of King's College, London, analysed them. He quickly
discovered the tunnel Leone and Abbas al-Janabi had told me about. It was 4km
long and 400 metres wide and stretched under Lake Rezzaza. Roads led from a
railway line to the shaft entrance, a huge rectangular structure. Many lorries
could have driven abreast into the tunnel.
To the southwest, Jasani found more evidence of an unusually sensitive military
zone - an army base with some 40 buildings, each 40 by 70 metres in size, and a
massive missile base nearby.
The September 2000 image showed that 60% of these buildings had been destroyed.
Jasani and I assumed this must have been in allied air attacks. When I
mentioned this to Leone, however, he said the Iraqis themselves had blown them
up to cover up the evidence. At the UN headquarters in New York, I showed my
satellite images to UN arms inspectors who confirmed they had never visited the
western shore of Lake Rezzaza.
The 2000 picture also provided a vital clue. The shaft entrance was destroyed
and the tunnel blocked up, exactly as Leone had told me. I got hold of a third
satellite picture from 1990, which revealed that this blocking had happened
before the Gulf war in January 1991.
"If you wanted to hide something, I guess this is exactly what you would do,"
But was it consistent with this being a nuclear test site? "The infrastructure
is certainly consistent with test activity. You require storage sites, vehicle
activities, communications systems like the train, railway tracks and
roadworks. All of those things you can certainly see on the image," said
The tunnel and the entrance were huge and the manpower needed to block it up
massive. Leone had told me that thousands of political prisoners worked on the
tunnel after a presidential amnesty.
"They were well fed and lived in comfortable caravans. In return, they worked
hard. But none of them came out of it alive," he said. "Many were contaminated
with radioactive waste. Friends working for Iraqi security who were guarding
them said they were buried in caves nearby. The Iraqi regime hoped the secret
of the Rezzaza lake test would die with them.
"Hussein Kamel gave the order to kill these people . . . I was disgusted by it
and it's one of the major reasons I fled."
This grotesque story was corroborated by Imad. He said he was aware that
political prisoners who worked on the Rezzaza tunnel were massacred by Iraqi
security guards to conceal an unspecified secret military project. He did not
know this was the nuclear test site.
Last year Leone and his family finally reached the West with the help of the UN
refugee programme. Although comparatively safe, he fears reprisals. Last week
his brother was arrested in Iraq after the Anglo-American air raids.
Leone no longer needs to draw attention to himself to get help, yet he
continues to give more details of the bomb programme, insisting that his story
Western intelligence sources, while recognising that he is well informed,
continue to insist that he and the other Iraqi sources I have spoken to are
wrong about the test. Personally, I think the evidence is compelling.
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