Skip to comments.CIA pulls Iraqi centrifuge photos off its Web site
Posted on 06/30/2003 4:05:40 PM PDT by Brian S
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) - The CIA abruptly removed from its Web site photos that showed key uranium enriching equipment found hidden in Iraq because they revealed secrets that countries seeking to develop nuclear weapons might find helpful, analysts said on Monday.
The CIA on Thursday had posted on its Web site a statement and six photos of centrifuge parts which had been hidden for 12 years under a rosebush in the garden of an Iraqi scientist, Mahdi Shukur Ubaydi.
The spy agency touted the discovery of the parts as an illustration of the difficulty of uncovering evidence of Iraq's alleged programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, the rationale cited by President George W. Bush in going to war.
But no biological or chemical weapons have been found, nor any evidence that Baghdad had restarted a nuclear weapons program, leading to charges that Bush and his ally Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
The CIA statement about Shukur Ubaydi, the head of Iraq's pre-1991 uranium enrichment program who turned over the centrifuge documents and components, remained on its Web site. But the photos had vanished on Monday.
"We just took them down. They were up there for a few days and didn't need to be up any more," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, refusing to comment further.
The photos, which can still be found on other Web sites such as www.fas.org of the Federation of American Scientists, showed the centrifuge parts and engineering drawings of a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium.
Some of the photos showed dimensions, which would be very sensitive material, analysts said.
"These documents would be incredibly useful to countries like Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
"Centrifuge is a highly sensitive item, and what you try to keep secret are the drawings of the components," said Albright, a former weapons inspector who was involved in bringing the Iraqi scientist together with U.S. authorities.
"So then to take a piece of it and put it up on the Web site, it is something that raised a lot of eyebrows, and there were recommendations made to take it down," he said.
Iraq acquired the centrifuge technology from Europe, Albright said.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' project on government secrecy, said the main reason the CIA removed the photographs was that they contained secret material, not because they might prove embarrassing for the country or countries that supplied the technology.
"It looks like a misstep by CIA, and an inadvertent release of information they did not intend to disclose," Aftergood said.
Before the war against Iraq, the United States was at odds with the International Atomic Energy Agency over the meaning of Iraq's attempts to procure high-strength aluminum tubes.
The United States said the tubes were for a uranium enrichment centrifuge, but the IAEA said they were not suitable for that and were probably going to be used to build rockets as Baghdad maintained.
Shhhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet. And for heaven's sake don't announce this in the press.
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