Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ryan Mauro, who spoke at the recent 2006 International Intelligence Summit on Iraq. He is the 19-year old author of Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq and founder of WorldThreats.com. He was originally hired at age 16 as a geopolitical analyst for Tactical Defense Concepts. He is also a volunteer analyst and researcher for the Northeast Intelligence Network and the Reform Party of Syria and believed to be the youngest hired geopolitical analyst in the country.
Glazov: Mr. Mauro, nice to have you here again.
Mauro: Thank you. It's always great working with you.
Glazov: The recent Intelligence Summit released 12 hours of audiotapes of Saddam Hussein and his key officials discussing their WMD programs from the mid-1990s onwards. What do you make of the significance of these tapes? How do they square with your claim in your book that Russia helped move Iraqi WMD into Syria?
Mauro: The tapes are extremely significant in that they prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that as of the year 2000, Saddam Hussein had a secret plasma program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, or "special bombs" as he calls them. The Duelfer Report previously concluded that this type of enrichment program ended in the 1980s, but here we have Saddam and his top advisors discussing using a power plant in the area of Basra for the program. The scientists involved in the program are not known to the UN, leaving Western intelligence clueless.
On the tapes, you hear Saddam discussing the assistance of Russia and Brazil in dealing with the United Nations. He laughs off inspections, as his son-in-law who later defects, Hussein Kamil, reports how as late as 1995 their chemical and biological programs were being hidden from the world. They also discuss keeping the ingredients for these weapons separate, so that should they be found, they will be looked at as innocent dual-use items. They were not destroyed in 1991 as the Duelfer Report concludes. There are even indications on the tapes that Iraq may have had a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
My book was the first to make the claim that Russia was involved in moving Iraq's WMDs to Syria. After all the nay saying and criticizing I received for it, testimony at the Summit confirmed that this was true.
Glazov: What exactly is the evidence that Iraq moved its WMD into Syria?
Mauro: It has been confirmed across the board that 18-wheelers were seen going into Syria before the war, crossing the border soon after Iraqi intelligence replaced the border guards and cleared nearby areas for their passage. There are also eyewitness reports of the trucks going into Syria, and eyewitness reports of their burial in Lebanon.
The trucks with the weapons were tracked to three locations in Syria and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, currently controlled by the Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah. Sources I've spoken with that have seen satellite photos of the movements confirm that the WMD in Syria are at military bases, while the ones in Lebanon are buried. A fourth site in Syria, the al-Safir WMD and missile site, should also be looked at. From spring to summer 2002, there was a lot of construction here involving the expansion of underground complexes.
We have tremendous testimony as well, by General Georges Sada, the former second-in-command of Saddam's Air Force that 56 flights took place on converted Iraqi Airways planes in the summer of 2002 to transport weapons, along with a ground shipment. He claims to know the pilots involved. A second Iraqi general, Ali Ibrahim al-Tikriti, in an interview I published, confirmed in detail the movement of WMD into Syria saying that discussion on such a move went back to the 1980s. He claims his sources for this include Iraqi scientists and others in the regime that were very close to him even after he defected. He confirmed to me that Russian vehicles, including ones equipped to handle hazardous materials, were used. Reports of WMD being moved out of Iraq to Syria go back to 1997, and it is believed by many that weapons were moved in and out of Iraq using Syria routinely since the mid-1990s.
The Italian media also reported that their intelligence services had information indicating that in January and February of 2003, Iraqi CDs full of formulas and research work along with tubes of anthrax and botulinum toxin were sent off to Syria. By the end of February, Iraqi WMD expertise was already in Syria including a top nuclear physicist.
An Iraqi scientist also led Coalition forces to hidden stockpiles of precursor chemicals that could be used to make chemical and biological weapons. The scientist said some facilities and weapons were destroyed, and the rest were sent to Syria. Syrian defectors are also claiming that Syria is where the weapons are, along with Representative Curt Weldon's source in his new book. The Prime Minister of Albania even stated that based on information he has which is not available to the media, he cannot rule out such a transfer.
There is also a report that an Iraqi medium-range al-Hussein missile on a truck moved into Syria, and in the early stages of the war, was spotted briefly coming into Iraq, operating its radar overnight, and returning to Syria. Most reports about the transfer indicate missiles were included in the transfers.
Glazov: Why do you think Russia was involved?
Mauro: In my book, “Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq,” I detail Russian involvement in Iraq’s WMD programs and intelligence services. Inspectors have described the Russians employed on UN inspection teams as being very paranoid, with some even suspecting the Russians helped the Iraqis thwart inspections. I believe that as more documents are translated we will find this to be true.
My immediate suspicions that the Russians were involved in cleansing operations began back in early 2003, after I learned about how two Soviet generals had arrived in Iraq and been awarded with medals. Igor Maltsev, known as a leading expert in air-defense, and Vladislav Achalov, an expert in rapid-reaction forces, were accompanied by Yevgeny Primakov, a long-time friend of Saddam Hussein from his days as the head of the Soviet foreign intelligence service and later, prime minister. This occurred as I simultaneously received the first reports of WMD going to Syria, leading me to speculate on such a connection. I became convinced when Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former chief of Communist Romania’s intelligence service, and highest ranking Communist intelligence officer to ever defect, wrote about a plan the Soviet Union had entitled “Sarindar,” or “Operation Emergency Exit.”
The plan was drawn up after the Soviet Union decided to use its rogue state allies, specifically Libya and Iraq, to sponsor terrorism. The Soviets would help them make WMD in return, believing that would prevent Western retaliation. The head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, told Pacepa that Russian advisors ran these countries intelligence services. Primakov was the central figure in dealing with Iraq, Pacepa said, and pointed to his presence in Iraq in the months before the war.
“Sarindar” was drawn up first for Libya, and then expanded to include Iraq, with the aim of stripping the rogue state of evidence of WMD activity and especially Russian involvement in illegal programs. The operation also “would frustrate the West by not giving them anything they could make propaganda with,” said Pacepa. The plan went so far as to involve an offensive propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting politicians making the accusations against Russia’s allies.
From that, I became convinced. Then later on, John Shaw, the former deputy undersecretary for defense for international technology, reported to the media that Russian Spetsnaz units moved Iraqi WMD into Syria and Lebanon. He said that U.S. intelligence knew the names of the units involved. The Washington Times had other Pentagon officials report that Russian Special Forces helped Iraq perform counter-intelligence operations to thwart the West from knowing what was going on.
We must also consider the huge Russian involvement in the Oil-For-Food Scandal. So Russia’s relationship with Iraq was beneficial for them on multiple levels, including financially.
Glazov: Do we have the details of the Russian involvement?
Mauro: At the Intelligence Summit, Shaw revealed even more detail I was unaware of. Shaw discussed how two Russian ships left the Umm Qasr port in the months before the war and went to the Indian Ocean, carrying materials that he believes included WMD from southern Iraq. He also said his contacts told him of barrels containing hazardous materials being moved to a hospital basement in Beirut, Lebanon.
Shaw discussed that Achalov and Maltsev had visited Baghdad at least twenty times in the previous six years. The final planning meeting before their last trip to Baghdad took place in Baku and was chaired by the Russian Minister of Emergency Situations.
Shaw said that much of the information came from a source close to the head of Ukraine’s intelligence service, who was thankful to the United States for securing the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.
Glazov: What has been the intelligence community's reaction to the allegation of Russian involvement?
Mauro: Shaw said that often this information was dismissed as Israeli disinformation. Although I’m sure it happened to him on a much larger scale, I can confirm this happened. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought this up with experts in the field who dismissed it as Israeli garbage, or a fantasy of “Russophobes” and conspiracy theorists. “The Cold War is over” was said to me on several occasions, bringing the debate to a close. I can only hope that deep inside the community they know about all this and are acting upon it in a secretive way.
Glazov: So if all this evidence is credible, why wouldn't the Bush Administration take advantage of this information?
Mauro: There are multiple ideas out there. I tend to believe that the foreign policy implications of these revelations explain the Administration’s silence. The politicians don’t want to feel obliged to take strong action against Syria, and certainly don’t want to offend Russia. On several issues, Russian cooperation is a great asset if it can be achieved. There’s a debate as to whether Russia ever really helps us. Every country we seem to have problems with has close ties to Russia. It’s likely part of their strategic plan to counter American dominance. Yes, they’re pressuring Iran through negotiations, but Russia is closely tied to the Iranian regime, so one must ask in light of these revelations, is Russia simply “cooperating” as part of a game to buy time for her allies? Or does Russia genuinely want Iran to end its nuclear program?
Glazov: Why do you think Duelfer missed all this?
Mauro: In my speech, I said that Duelfer’s conclusion that Iraq disarmed in 1991 as based on:
A) The failure to find WMD stockpiles. This is easily explained by their movement to Syria. I should also mention that there are Pentagon reports and testimony of several people that point to numerous problems in how the ISG operated and was put together, thus hampering the search.
B) The lack of documentation on the programs after 1991. Yet, in the same report, Duelfer says that much of the widespread looting was a cover for Iraqi intelligence to destroy documentation and loot weapons sites. Even the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission told the Security Council in the summer of 2004 that satellite imagery showed the Iraqis dismantling suspected weapons sites before, during and after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Destroyed material and metal was then shipped throughout Europe and the Middle East at a rate of 1,000 tons of metal per month. Dismantled missiles and related components, they said, had already been discovered in several countries—some with UN inspection tags still on them.
It is also likely documents were moved outside of Iraq. The Russian ambassador to Baghdad, Vladimir Titorenko, got together a convoy carrying Russian staff from the embassy and headed to Syria, and suddenly got fired upon by American forces. Titorenko and his three closest intelligence officers flew directly to Moscow after escaping, and used the same flight to return immediately to Damascus. There are widespread reports, even in the Russian press, that sensitive intelligence documents were in the convoy.
C) The lack of testimony from detainees. Duelfer relies upon the interviewing process—the same process he harshly criticizes as deeply flawed—to reach his conclusion. The detainees are afraid to talk out of fear for retribution, their testimony being used against them in war crimes trials, and simply because there’s no incentive. I could go into deeper detail as to some of the criticisms of the process. We also know many, many regime figures and scientists are in Syria and to a lesser degree, Iran.
It was easy for Iraq to move people around. Most of the regime figures were in Syria, including Saddam’s sons, until American pressure hit a breaking point and they were expelled in the later part of spring 2003. As the war commenced, 23 of Iraq’s 60 diplomatic posts were still operating, including in Amman, Moscow, Damascus, Beirut, Minsk and Tehran. It is possible that personnel are in Belarus as well. Many Iraqi regime figures that were captured [had] Syrian and Belarusian (and often, Libyan) passports. There were reports that people escaped from Syria to Belarus and Libya. Limousines usually used by the Baath Party were seen entering Syria, and then flew aboard a military transport to Libya.
Regarding Belarus, another very close ally of Russia, there was an incident on March 29, 2003. A chartered cargo flight took off from Saddam International Airport when the air space was closed and flew to Minsk. Originally, some suspected it [was] Saddam or his sons were aboard as only the highest officials could get clearance.
Glazov: Mr. Mauro thank you for joining us again.
Mauro: Thank you for having me.
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