In late July 1999 the Washington Post carried an article with the title “Preparing for a Grave New World” that reported: “In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be hoaxes. Someday one will be real” (emphasis added) (1). The article asked what that day would look like and gave an alarming account that included the following prediction: “The march of the contagion would accelerate astoundingly, with doctors offering little relief. Hospitals would become warehouses for the dead and the dying. A plague more monstrous than anything we have experienced could spread” (1). The author of the article was particularly concerned about the possibility that some foreign military arsenals might still contain stocks of smallpox virus, a virus that had so devastated human populations in earlier times. It was difficult to ignore the warnings given in this article because the author was William S. Cohen, the U. S. secretary of defense. Furthermore, similar warnings had been given by Defense Department officials to Congress earlier in the year (2).
It is salutary to remember, in this context, how far a country of modest technological capability like Iraq had been able to develop its chemical and biological arsenal prior to 1991. According to a 1998 U. S. Congressional Research Service issue brief, “[t]he Iraqi chemical arsenal has included nerve agents (Sarin and VX), blister agents ('mustard gas') and psychoactive agents (so-called Agent 15). Biological/toxin warfare agents produced by Iraq include anthrax, botulinum, aflatoxins, ebola virus, bubonic and pneumonic plague, ricin and Clostridium perfringens” (3). Indeed, 19,000 liters of botulinum toxin were produced, and some of this material was weaponized in 100 botulinum bombs and sixteen missile warheads. According to the report, Iraq also manufactured seven aflatoxin bombs. Aflatoxin toxin is a product of fungi that occur naturally on moldy grain. Why Iraq should have manufactured such a toxin and weaponized it