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Made in the USA

Photo by C.R. Stecyk

As U.S. and British fighter jets and bombers knife through Iraqi airspace to pound targets in and around Baghdad, attacking pilots will challenge an air-defense system updated with fiber-optic equipment installed by a Chinese corporation and supported by American high-end technology.

At every turn of the war against Iraq, U.S. and British forces will face weapons systems largely developed and supplied to Iraq by American, European, Russian and Chinese companies.

Airmen will seek to evade anti-aircraft missiles, designed by Russian, German, Chinese, Egyptian and Argentine engineers, and controlled by American, British and French supercomputers and navigational systems.

Ground forces will gird themselves against the risk of germs and viruses supplied by American companies, or chemical weapons manufactured with German, Swiss, American and British technology and supplies. So-called dirty bombs, which use conventional explosives to spread deadly radiation, would be the direct result of French- or Japanese-based engineering.

Call it globalization at its worst.

Most of the technology was sold to Iraq in the decade before the 1991 Gulf War, but not all.

A case in point is Huawei Technologies. Between 2000 and 2002, this leading Chinese communications company upgraded Saddam’s air-defense system. Huawei’s actions, which violated the international embargo against military sales to Iraq, used good old American know-how. AT&T helped “optimize” this Chinese company’s products, and IBM supplied Huawei with switches, chips and processing technology. Texas Industries helped set up a lab in 1997 to train Huawei engineers and develop signal-processing systems, according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a Washington D.C.–based nonprofit foundation that monitors the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile technology. Records indicate that Huawei built another joint lab with Motorola in 1997.

That same year the Chinese company received U.S. Department of Commerce approval to buy supercomputers from Digital Equipment Corporation, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. Huawei also purchased large amounts of telecommunications equipment from Qualcomm, again approved by the Commerce Department.

 

Gary Pitts, a Houston attorney, has sued American and European companies for supplying Iraq’s program to build weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations and the United States have so far refused to disclose publicly all the companies named by Iraq in U.N. documents as suppliers for its weapons programs. Pitts then sent his consultant, Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector, to Baghdad. Ritter returned with a copy of Iraq’s 1997 weapons declaration to the U.N., which Pitts is now incorporating into his lawsuit.

Iraq’s 1997 declaration was supplanted by its December 2002 declaration. Again, the suppliers’ names were not revealed, but the information was leaked to Andreas Zumach, a Swiss-based reporter who published company names in the Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung. The Weekly was unable to verify the list, but Zumach, who spoke with the Weekly, identified 24 American-based corporations and 50 American subsidiaries of foreign corporations. The names include several California-based corporations: Rockwell, Hewlett-Packard, Bechtel, Axel Electronics Inc. and Spectra Physics. None of these companies other than Bechtel returned calls for comment to the Weekly. (Bechtel confirmed that it helped design a petrochemical plant outside Baghad, but a spokesperson added that the company's actions were legal at the time.) Zumach’s list also identified three Chinese companies, including Huawei, and eight from France, 17 from Britain, six from Russia, five from Japan, three from Holland, seven from Belgium, three from Spain and two from Sweden.

In his speech before the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that “To support its deadly biological and chemical weapons program, Iraq procures needed items from around the world, using an extensive clandestine network.” But Powell has been notably silent on issues of U.S. culpability, corporate profiteering or violations of international chemical, nuclear and biological treaties. Powell, for instance, neglected to mention that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta sent Iraq three shipments of West Nile virus for medical research in 1985.

Powell also failed to acknowledge that Iraq obtained some of its initial anthrax bacilli from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a Maryland/Virginia–based nonprofit bio-resource center that supplies viruses and germs to governments, companies and academic institutions worldwide. Between 1985 and 1989, ATCC sent Iraq deadly shipments that included a variety of anthrax bacteria and germs that cause meningitis, influenza, botulism, lung failure and tetanus, according to media reports and U.N. records. ATCC did not respond to a request for an interview.

Thiodiglycol, a substance needed to manufacture deadly mustard gas, made its way to Iraq via Alcolac International, Inc., a Maryland company, since dissolved and reformed as Alcolac Inc., and Phillips, once a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum and now part of ConocoPhillips, an American oil and energy company.

The Weekly contacted the Texas law firms representing Alcolac Inc. and ConocoPhillips for comment, but only Ronald Welsh, Alcolac’s lawyer responded. “I have no personal knowledge that Alcolac supplied Iraq” with a component of mustard gas, said Welsh. Alcolac’s attorney also claimed he didn’t know that Gary Pitts had obtained Iraq’s 1997 Weapons Declaration, but said he intends to challenge its authenticity in court.

Alcolac was one of a handful of corporations prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department for illegal exports. Although Alcolac allegedly supplied its mustard-gas ingredient to Iraq and Iran, the Justice Department indicted the company in 1988 only for its illegal exports to Iran, via a German company, Chemco. A Chemco executive, who arranged the sales, was convicted of violating export laws. Alcolac’s chemicals allegedly made their way to Iraq through Nu Kraft Mercantile Corp., via Jordan. In 1989, Alcolac pleaded guilty to one count of violating U.S. export laws.

 

Hussein’s troops used mustard gas against the Iranians in their war and also against Kurdish civilians at Halabjah in 1988. And during the first Gulf War, hundred of thousands of American soldiers might have been exposed to hazardous levels of poison gas released when coalition jets bombed Iraqi targets. At the time, Czech chemical-detection equipment, the most sophisticated in the world, registered mustard gas and sarin nerve-gas exposure. Gulf War vets were found to be two to three times more likely to have children born with birth defects, according to a study published by the Annals of Epidemiology. Likewise, vets may have higher-than- average rates of cancers, afflicting the brain, nervous and reproductive systems, pancreas, kidneys and lungs.

Of 567,000 American troops who saw duty in the Gulf during the 1991 war, 293,561 — or nearly 52 percent — have now filed medical claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Steven Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center and a Gulf War vet. The VA has granted compensation to 163,000 Gulf War vets, at a cost of $1.8 billion per year. Robinson also says that at least 11,074 Gulf vets have died since the war.

“We want those companies, especially the American firms who may have broken the export laws, to be criminally prosecuted,” said Robinson.

Jim Crogan's investigation continues in "Made in America (Part II)"- a Weekly Web exclusive.