“The preeminent test of Hans Blix’s good faith as chief inspector is whether or not he is willing to pull people out of the country to talk to them. If he doesn’t do this, he has very little chance of being taken seriously by the US government” – James Woolsey, a former CIA director
The former espionage chief understood the urgency of getting Saddam Hussein’s nuclear team out of his reach – both to pump them for the evidence of Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs and to save their lives. However, the scientists, their families and the technicians were not rescued. And the Iraqi ruler did not hang about. One group, whose members knew too much and were branded weak or unreliable by Iraqi intelligence, were whisked away to hiding places with their immediate families. But that was not all the Iraqi ruler had in store for them. According to reports reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly, eleven scientists working on illegal weapons programs – biological weapons experts, virologists, chemists and nuclear engineers, possibly three heads of projects – were put to death last weekend with some 12 of their close relatives, to ensure their silence, both to the weapons inspectors and for the eventuality of a war ending in American victory.
Reports of the executions have filtered out to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources from Iraqi exiles related to the disappearing scientists, most living in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Geneva and London. Some have discovered their kinsmen were spirited away in Iraq but do not know what has happened to them. They implored DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources not to name any names because of the slim chance that some of the scientists on Saddam’s death list may have eluded his agents and are alive, hiding out somewhere in Iraq.
It is also possible that Baghdad deliberately leaked misinformation about which ones were executed and which still alive in secret detention.
To put an end to the suspense, a group of Iraqi expatriates told DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources they were considering petitioning Blix and UN secretary general Kofi Annan to demand that Iraq allow the inspectors to see the missing scientists and verify they are unharmed.
Our sources estimate that Iraqi intelligence is holding a second group of high-risk scientists, estimated at 20 senior project directors and 60 of their relatives, in a special detention camp. Staff members who are still free have been warned that their superiors’ wellbeing depends on their keeping mum about their work in interviews with UN inspectors. They were cautioned that if they tried to escape the country, Iraqi intelligence would catch up with them wherever they hid. To ensure their obedience, their families were taken from home and scattered around intelligence installations and army camps across the country. Under military guard, they are not allowed visitors.
For some, Saddam dangled a carrot with his stick.
Five days before Iraq handed in its weapons declaration to the UN on December 7, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources learned that the installations administered by Saddam’s program of unconventional weapons called factory-floor meetings of their scientific and technical staffs. Each staffer was handed a script and told to memorize his lines for answering any questions the UN inspectors might put about his work. Those who performed “honorably” were promised handsome rewards after the war was over, such as a luxury villa in the suburbs of their home-towns and a lavish pension for life. Iraqi intelligence used the occasion to assess the reliability of the individual scientists and technicians before streaming them into groups.