Proof of America's weapons of mass destruction

Wars and conflicts have been started for many spurious reasons that, at the time, seemed noble enough but, on reflection, amounted to little more than a diplomatic version of "Is your asylum-seeker looking at my pint?" None, to my knowledge, has been started upon the discovery of 11 empty shell casings. Not only are the casings empty, not only are there only 11 of them, but they are 12 years old. All of which leads me to believe that Hans Blix has secretly hired Tony Robinson and Time Team to help him out. At this very moment, they are looking for Saddam Hussein's crossbows of mass destruction.

Eleven empty shell casings do not a weapons programme make. Frankly, you could walk into every other pub in Bermondsey and buy a more lethal weapon there. Blokes in south London have got rid of more than that in spring clear-outs. Whether Saddam Hussein could purchase them from south London's finest is debatable, as gun-running gangsters tend to have a slightly higher moral sense than most ministers involved in the licensing of arms. The size of Iraq's debt to the UK - about £1bn for military and other goods - seems to prove the point.

More "news" of Iraq's weapons programme may well emerge, but at this stage there is more publicly available evidence that the one country with a secret chemical and biological weapons (CBW) programme is America. I know it's difficult to believe that America could be guilty of the crimes it readily accuses others of, but go with me on this one.

In the January/February 2003 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Professor Malcolm Dando and Mark Wheelis argue that the US's action in rejecting a draft protocol of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in effect left the treaty "dead in the water". Why would it do that? Apart from Bush's readiness to tear up any treaty that involves a) the international community and b) logic, Dando and Wheelis write that, with hindsight, tearing up the protocol was the first clue that the US may have a secret CBW programme.

The second clue came after the anthrax letter attacks, when evidence of US involvement in a CBW programme started to come to light. Many believe that the source for the anthrax was the US itself and, as the material was weapons grade, it would therefore have come from a US military programme. If true, the next question has to be: if the attacks contained five grams of anthrax and you need just one gram of the stuff for a "defensive" testing programme, who was holding five times that amount and why? Do the five grams point to an "offensive", and therefore illegal, programme?

Clues three and four are to be found at the Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio, where weapons-grade anthrax is being produced and stored for the US military under Project Jefferson, funded by the Defence Intelligence Agency. It was here that an anthrax bomb was also tested under a programme called Clear Vision, which was funded by the CIA. Development of delivery systems for biological weapons is banned under the Biological Weapons Convention. Some might argue that it is a "defensive bomb". I would certainly enjoy it if they did.

Clue five came late last year when the Guardian ran a front-page story on the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, a US military body that has exploited a loophole in the Biological Weapons Convention which allows states to develop and produce chemical weapons for "law enforcement" - for tear gas and the like. Scientists say there is no such thing as a "non-lethal chemical weapon", giving the Moscow theatre siege as an example of how lethal non-lethal weapons can be. More important, though, is the question of military involvement in a "law-enforcement programme". Why is the work funded and tested by the military and not the police? Then came the revelations that the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate had developed and tested a mortar shell designed to carry a chemical weapon payload.

Add to all of this Bush's expenditure of $6bn on bio-labs to house the most dangerous pathogens known to humankind and the US has some serious explaining to do. Are the US's programmes "defensive" and therefore legal?

The only thing that could establish that would be an independent inspection team. So the US is asking Iraq to comply with its international obligations while hiding from its own. Plus ca change . . .

Mark Thomas: weapons inspector will be shown on Channel 4 on 31 January at 7.30pm

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