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Scientist Reveals Nuclear Weapons Components Hidden Under Rose Bush

Aired June 25, 2003 - 19:02   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, important new developments in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including what could be a significant discovery, a discovery that might indicate what the regime of Saddam Hussein was planning to do.
National security correspondent David Ensor has the latest details.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned that the Central Intelligence Agency has in its hands the critical parts of a key piece of Iraqi nuclear technology, parts needed to develop a bomb program, that were dug up in a backyard in Baghdad.

These are the parts and documents shown exclusively to CNN in CIA headquarters in Virginia. The parts were dug up by this man, Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi, who had hidden them in his backyard under a rose Bush 12 years ago under orders from Qusay Hussein, and Saddam Hussein's then son-in-law, Hussein Como (ph).

Obeidi told CNN's Mike Boettcher the parts of a gas centrifuge for enriching uranium were part of a highly sophisticated system that he was ordered to hide so as to be ready to rebuild the bomb program at some time in the future.

MAHDI OBEIDI, IRAQI SCIENTIST: I have very important things at my disposal that I had been ordered to have, to keep, and I've kept them, and I don't want this to proliferate because of its potential consequences if it falls in the hands of tyrants, in the hands of dictators or of terrorists.

ENSOR: Former U.N. arms inspector David Kay, now in charge of the CIA effort to find the weapons, started work two days ago in Baghdad. We spoke to him about the case over a secure teleconferencing line from CIA headquarters.

DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. ARMS INSPECTOR: It begins to tell us how huge our job is. Remember, his material was buried in a barrel behind his house in a rose garden. There's no way that that would have been discovered by normal international inspections. I couldn't have done it, my successors couldn't have done it.

ENSOR: The gas centrifuge equipment dates back to Iraq's pre- 1991 efforts to build nuclear weapons. Experts say that documents and pieces Obeidi gave the U.S. were the critical information and parts to restart a nuclear weapons programs and would have saved Saddam's regime several years and as much as hundreds of millions of dollars for research.

U.S. officials emphasize this is not a smoking gun. This is not evidence Iraq had a nuclear weapon, but it is evidence the Iraqis sealed plans to reconstitute the nuclear program as soon as the world was no longer looking.


ENSOR: CNN had this story last week, but made a decision to withhold it from broadcast after a request from the U.S. government citing safety and national security concerns. The U.S. government has now told us the security and safety issues have been dealt with, and there's no risk now in telling the story fully -- Anderson.

COOPER: David, officials are saying this is a significant find. Significant because of the items and the documents found, or significant because it points to a method, a strategy on the part of the regime of Saddam Hussein?

ENSOR: Well, something of both. The documents and the materials are significant, because they would have allowed Iraq to reconstitute a rather efficient and well-designed system of gas centrifuge technology to enriching uranium. Two-thousand-five-hundred of these machines, if they had been built, would have given Iraq enough enriched uranium for a bomb in one year, so significant in that sense.

Significant also in the sense that it shows that Iraq was concealing and lying to the U.N. about what it had concealed. What it does not show is a nuclear program under way. It shows concealment of plans to perhaps construct one again.

COOPER: All right. David Ensor. Thanks for clarification.

For more on this discovery now, we turn to CNN's Mike Boettcher, who is in an undisclosed location in the Arab world. Now Mike recently exclusively interviewed the scientist, as you saw, who is now cooperating with the U.S. government -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he did admit that he lied over 12 years and he kept that material buried in his backyard under that rose Bush. I asked him in the future, when he goes by a rose Bush at a home is he going to smile and he laughed and said, yes, he will.

He said he came forward, as David pointed out in the earlier report, because he feared the proliferation of these weapons. He had a very difficult time at the beginning getting people to listen to him, to make the contact with the proper agencies and the proper people.

Finally he did, but at that point, some in the U.S. government believed that he was holding back. Then two days later, the U.S. Army raided his home and took him overnight to Baghdad International Airport, where they questioned him and then released him, because he had already given the documents to the CIA of that gas centrifuge program.

Now, this evening when I spoke to him, he's a very happy man. He's out of Iraq, he's been taken to this undisclosed location in the Arab world -- that's not to say he's here now, he could have been moved again. I just don't know.

But what he said is important that other scientists in Iraq are watching what happened to him, and his story ended with a happy ending, and he believes that other scientists now will come forward with other facets of the Iraqi program -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, Mike, he told you that there are other scientists out there who have similar items or other clandestine items hidden someplace?

BOETTCHER: He believes so. The order came in '91, and he was told to hide it, and to hide it and not reveal it. If you did reveal it, that meant death. He was convinced of that.

The former U.N. weapons inspectors who talked to him, he said he lied to many, many times, never told them about those materials hidden under that rose Bush. And so he believes that there are other kits out there. In fact, he said, and he called these gas centrifuge kits, when he was ordered to go pick up his kit that had the complete blueprint and those sample components, he said there were three other kits there, as well, that had not yet been picked up. He believes other scientists in the Iraqi program have them. He's given some names to the U.S. government, and he believes those scientists will cooperate, as well.

He says they just don't want to be treated lie war criminals. They want to give the information, and they want to be treated right. They're scientists and they want to do the right thing -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Fascinating report, exclusive to CNN. Mike Boettcher, thanks very much.


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