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This was the declared purpose of two U.S. exports to Iraq, valued at
$1.4 million and approved on January 20 and February 10, 1988. The
first was for precision machine tools, the second for lasers. The Iraqi
buyer was a procurement agent for the Iraqi SCUD missile program.
With this equipment, Iraq would be able to make precision parts for
missiles, and also be able to rework the cases of its short-range SCUD
missiles, enabling them to carry more fuel and fly farther. Indeed, the
stated use on the application was to work on "rocketcases." With the
longer range, the new Iraqi SCUDS could hit Tel Aviv and kill U.S.
soldiers in Saudi Arabia.
The exporter was a German company, exporting from the United States. The company, whose name the Commerce Department refused to disclose, first came to the attention of German officials in early 1984, when German intelligence reported that the company was suspected of selling Pakistan equipment for making nuclear weapon fuel. In May 1987, the firm was cited in news reports, this time for trying to smuggle blueprints for uranium enrichment to Pakistan through Switzerland. To make matters worse, another German firm, Uranit, was suing this company for stealing the blueprints. According to a German official, the evidence against the company was "very incriminating."/2 The company was also suspected of hiring a Swiss firm to produce special equipment for Pakistan that could enrich uranium to nuclear weapon grade. The press reports appeared only six months before the company applied for its two U.S. export licenses on December 1 and 22, 1987.
Despite the exporter's notoriety, the Commerce and Energy
Departments took only two months to approve the first application
(case B281441) and less than a month to approve the second (case
B286904). Neither was referred to the State or Defense Departments
The importer was the "Nesser Establishment for Mechanical
Industries," also known as the "Nassr State Enterprise for Mechanical
Industries." One of Nassr's main jobs was to procure equipment for
Project 1728, devoted to increasing the range of Iraq's SCUD missiles.
Nassr was part of the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Military
Industrialization (MIMI), run by Saddam Hussein's son-in-law
Hussein Kamil al-Majid. MIMI was generally in charge of Iraq's
missile and chemical weapon efforts. Nassr also served as the
procurement arm for Taji, a site used to produce chemical munitions
In January 1988, the Commerce Department approved more than two
million dollars' worth of quartz crystals to the "Salah al Din
Establishment" (case B290664) and the "Iraqi Trading
Company" (case B346115), both of which frankly said that they
wanted the crystals for "components in a ground radar system." Salah
al Din was a military electronics factory built by the French company
Thomson-CSF. It manufactured three-dimensional early warning
radars and may have made components for missile guidance and radar
Quartz crystals perform a vital function in radar: they measure time accurately in small units. Because the position of an object is determined by the time it takes a radar pulse to reach the object and return, accurate time measurement is essential. Military-level quartz crystals are defined as those with high stability over a wide operating temperature, or with the ability to withstand acceleration forces up to 20 times gravity, or shock greater than 10,000 times gravity, or very high radiation. Lower grade crystals do not need a license.
The crystals carried commodity control number 1587, identifying them as especially useful for missile production. All items on the U.S. Commodity Control List require an individual license for export, but some of the items, such as quartz crystals, are singled out as sensitive for missiles. In such cases, the State Department is supposed to be consulted because State chairs the Missile Technology Export Committee (MTEC), an interagency group that evaluates export applications subject to missile controls. This means that the Commerce Department should have referred the two applications to
Licensing Mass Destruction
State for interagency review. Instead, Commerce itself approved both
in only ten days. Commerce claimed that the cases were "not restricted
for MTCR (missile), chemical/biological, or nuclear non-
Salah al Din also needed advanced equipment to operate its radars. In
late 1989, it bought American frequency synthesizers valued at
$140,000 to "calibrate, adjust, and test surveillance radar" (case
DO55821). This would apparently include the radar used to shoot
down U.S. aircraft in the Gulf War, and radar used as ground support
for missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The frequency
synthesizers carried commodity control number 1531, also on the
missile technology control list when used for missile "launch and
ground support equipment." Commerce did not refer this case to the
State Department either, as it should have done for a missile
technology item. It approved the application unilaterally in only
nineteen days, claiming again that the export was "not restricted for
MTCR (missile), chemical/ biological, or nuclear non-proliferation."
In fact, Commerce knew that Salah al Din was building military radar.
When Commerce compiled its internal records on the frequency
synthesizers, it noted that "according to our information, the end user
(Salah al Din) is involved in military matters." Commerce then deleted
this statement before it released the export list to the public.
Thus, Commerce approved vital parts for a surveillance radar that Commerce knew was military. The effect was to provide ground support for Iraqi missiles, and to help Iraq detect and shoot down U.S. planes in the Gulf War. It is not surprising that Commerce concealed this knowledge from the public.
In November of 1986, the Defense Department sent an important letter
to the Commerce Department./5 The letter informed Commerce that
the Pentagon had intelligence information linking a giant Iraqi site
called "Sa'ad 16" to missile development. Later, the Los Angeles
Times reported that the exact date of the letter was November 6, and
also said that according to government sources familiar with the letter,
it revealed that Sa'ad 16 was working on other non-conventional
weapons as well. Thus, by November 6, 1986, the Commerce
Department should have stopped approving dual-use exports for Sa'ad
There is also compelling evidence that Commerce knew what was going on at Sa'ad 16 much earlier. In February 1985 the Director of the Sa'ad General Establishment sent a letter to Gildemeister Projecta, the German company in charge of buying equipment for Sa'ad 16.76 The letter, which described the Sa'ad 16 project in detail, was
Licensing Mass Destruction
reportedly sent to Commerce along with the first license requests from
the Sa'ad organization in 1985. Indeed, on May 8, 1985, Gildemeister
filed an application for a $60,000 computer for the Sa'ad General
Establishment, which Commerce approved six weeks later (case
A897641). The letter listed 78 laboratories, including four for testing
"starting material and fuel mixtures," two for "calometric testing of
fuels," two for developing "control systems and navigation"
equipment and one for "measuring aerodynamic quantities on
models." On May 3, 1986 a second letter from Sa'ad revealed that the
Sa'ad General Establishment was a part of the State Organization for
Technical Industries (SOTI)" and that another name for Sa'ad 16 was
the "Research and Development Center." 17 Commerce undoubtedly
received this second letter--an internal Commerce memo mentions
it./8 These two letters from Sa'ad, combined with the November 1986
message from the Pentagon, should have barred any of the
organizations named from receiving sensitive U.S. exports after
November 6, 1986.
But that was not the case. The Sa'ad General Establishment got over
half a million dollars' worth of U.S. computers in eight cases, seven of
which were approved after November 1986. These computers went
directly to Sa'ad 16, Iraq's largest and most important missile research
site. None of the cases was referred to the Department of Energy, as
required for items on the Nuclear Referral List such as computers. As
explained below, the Nuclear Referral List consists of items that are
especially useful for making nuclear weapons if diverted from their
civilian purpose. Sa'ad also got $290,000 worth of precision electronic
and photographic equipment, approved in February 1987, three
months after Commerce received the Pentagon's letter and two years
after the letter describing Sa'ad 16 was signed.
SOTI, the second Iraqi organization mentioned in the Sa'ad letter, got
high-speed U.S. oscilloscopes in March 1988, a year and a half after
Commerce received the Pentagon's letter (case B259524). SOTI is part
of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. It directed the construction and
equipping of a solid rocket motor production plant called "DOT," and
it also procured equipment for at least two SCUD missile
enhancement projects. High-speed oscilloscopes are essential to
maintain radar, computers and missile guidance systems, all of which
have internal electronics that operate in short time frames.
Oscilloscopes are also used to capture the brief signals from a nuclear
weapon test, which occur in a microsecond or less. Only high-speed
oscilloscopes need a license for export.
The third organization mentioned in the Sa'ad letter was the "Research and Development Center," which the letter said was another name for Sa'ad 16. The "Center" was allowed to buy $850,000 worth of highperformance measuring, calibrating, and testing equipment (cases B060729 and B075876), all approved in January 1987, three months after the Pentagon's letter and almost two years after the Iraqi letter describing Sa'ad 16 was signed. These cases were not referred to the
The quartz crystals mentioned above were on the missile technology
list-the list of items deemed especially useful for missile
production./9 Both that list and a second one, known as the Nuclear
Referral List, are subsets of the U.S. Commodity Control List (CCL).
All items on the CCL require an individual validated license for
export. Under Commerce Department regulations, quartz crystals are
defined as missile items if "usable as launch and ground support
equipment." This they clearly were, because the Iraqi buyer stated that
they would be used as "components in a ground radar system."
Ground radar is essential to support the launching, testing and tracking
of missiles. The frequency synthesizers were also on the missile
technology list if "usable as launch and ground support equipment."
They clearly were also, because the buyer admitted that they would be
used to "calibrate, adjust, and test surveillance radar." Thus,
Commerce should have referred both of these cases to the State
Department for review by the Missile Technology Export Committee,
the interagency group responsible for licensing missile-related