Nonsmoking Smoking Guns

Iraq's Mobile Labs Are Used and Sold in the U.S.

"For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them," Bush said May 30.

Keep those words in mind—particularly when you find out similar devices are in use or for sale in the U.S.

The banned devices are the CIA-appraised mobile labs, trailers Colin Powell produced drawings of at the United Nations, contraptions that the Bush administration claims have no use other than the production of plagues for biowarfare operations.

The CIA bluntly intended to cast the labs as bioweapons factories when it wrote: "Coalition experts on fermentation and systems engineering examined the trailer found in late April and have been unable to identify any legitimate industrial use ... that would justify the effort and expense of a mobile production capability."

Additional features of the Iraqi trailers—an exhaust trap, a fresh coat of paint, and the presence of something the agency calls "caustic"—are also red flags to CIA inspectors.

Using a fresh coat of paint as evidence is easily dismissed as a tortured leap of imagination. Why it was not immediately thrown out by a real scientist overseeing the writing of the report constitutes a mystery.

And what of an exhaust trap? Why else would a mobile lab have an exhaust trap if not to hide what was going on inside?

Exhaust traps are not uncommon in biofacilities—even mobile ones.

Take, for instance, one mobile bioreactor in use at Savannah River in South Carolina, has an optional "noxious gas absorber," or vapor trap. Or is this a secret Department of Defense biowarfare operation?

According to the Office of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy, the mobile bioreactor, made by Poles, creates a "bacterial paradise"—a "cost-effective bioreactor ... ideal for petroleum-contaminated soils, common to all D.O.E. sites."

Much of the CIA's report relies strongly upon the idea that politicians, reporters, and Joe Citizen will buy the idea that mobile fermentation labs have no function other than production of biological weapons.

It assumes, perhaps reasonably, that something like The New Brunswick Scientific "BioFlo 6000 Sterilizable-In-Place Fermentor"—a mobile industrial pilot plant—something sold in the United States—is unknown to most.

Why would someone peddle such things?

Using CIA-think, one would have to say the company wishes only to serve the market for growing 130-liter lots of anthrax for pouring into artillery shells.

The CIA report also uses antique jargon—like "caustic"—to create the impression that there is the presence of an odd chemical, used only to decontaminate the Iraqi equipment after nefarious use. They could have just called it sodium or potassium hydroxide, the common scientific names for compounds found in every lab in existence.

The Iraqi explanation is that the labs were for production of hydrogen gas for use in artillery balloons. The CIA report dismisses it. It attempts to do the same with all outside criticism by claiming that critics don't have "complete access to information."

This is certainly true. The CIA mobile lab report is woefully incomplete in all aspects. Even the simplest functions of a bacterial production unit—like sterilization—are not addressed.

But the nature of scientific assessments—including those on WMDs—requires their results be open to independent scrutiny, if only to mitigate the making of stupid mistakes.

By allowing only the Iraq Survey Teams, Materials Exploitation Team Alphas and Task Force 20s of the military to have access, the Bush administration impeaches the science.

Here's a proposal for more scientific verification.

Fly some of our secret WMD-discovering squirrels to Savannah River or New Brunswick Scientific in blindfolds.

Make sure everything is freshly painted and that some "caustic" gets tossed about. Make sure any noxious vapor traps are visible.

If no one finds any smoking guns, give 'em more time. And whatever you do, don't allow any outsiders who might know something about this stuff in.

 
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