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Chemical weapons plants in Libya

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TD892
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« on: March 24, 2011, 11:22:44 am »

2007

Do you remember Libya’s alleged second chemical weapons facility near Tarhuna?

In February 1996, then-DCI John Deutch accused Libya of “building the world’s largest underground chemical weapons plant” near Tarhuna. A few months later, a State Department spokesperson explained:

    Libya is constructing what would be the world’s largest underground chemical plants near a place called Tarhunah, about 60 kilometers southeast of Tripoli. They began this work, we think, in about 1992, and we know that their chemical weapons production facility at Rabta has been inactive since it was exposed in the late 1980s, partly as a result of our efforts. Tripoli, the government of Libya still insists that the chemical plant at Rabta was designed to produce just pharmaceuticals. It claims that this new site, Tarhunah, is a training site for Libyan workers of the much publicized civilian great man-made river project, which is ongoing there. But our indication is that this, that Tarhunah will be a reconfigured version of the plant at Rabta, and that it will, if it moves forward, be used to produce blister agents such as mustard gas and perhaps nerve agents as well.




This was kind of a big deal. During Congressional testimony, General Patrick Hughes, then Director of DIA, said “we have clear evidence that this is, indeed, a chemical weapons production facility that Libya is in the process of constructing, equipping, and putting into action.”

Hughes added, for a personal touch, “I do believe, and I personally can assure you, that the intelligence we have on this facility is good, and it does represent a threat to us in the chemical warfare regime.”

Yeah, I know. You see where this is headed. Hughes—who is rumored to have been a regular source for Bill Gertz—had a nice little picture in his presentation (right), which DOD reprinted in the 1996 edition of Proliferation: Threat and Response (Download the high resolution version).

Anyway, Tarhuna became a big, hairy for a couple of months. Asked if the United States would let the plant open, then-Secretary of Defense Bill Perry answered with one word: “No” and then, asked about the use of force, replied “I wouldn’t rule anything out or anything in.”

If you think that last statement might imply use of a nuclear weapon … well, so did others. Perry issued a second statement at Maxwell Air Force Base stating that he would never recommend using a nuclear weapon against a target such as Tarhuna. But he also stated that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to an attack with chemical or biological weapons. (DOD reprinted the language in the 1997 edition of Proliferation: Threat and Response, in case anyone missed it.)

Perry’s statement that the United States might use nuclear weapons to respond to a chemical or biological attack—despite a 1979 pledge (reaffirmed in 1995) to “not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapons state party to the NPT … except in the case of an attack … by such state allied to a nuclear-weapon state”— has come to be known as “calculated ambiguity.” To be sure, the idea predated the Clinton administration and Perry surely favored it before 1996, but after Tarhuna it acquired a kind of kind of acceptance as part of US nuclear posture. (Scott Sagan critiques calculated ambiguity in “The Commitment Trap,” arguing for a pledge that the US “does not need to use its nuclear arsenal to punish any enemy who uses chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies.”)

After a couple of months, Tarhuna melted away as an issue. In December 1997, Jamie Rubin told reporters “construction has ceased,” adding the interesting clarification that “the Libyan government intended to use the Tarhuna plant as a chemical weapons manufacturing facility.” In 1999, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ronald Neumann stated “We have certainly believed at times that [libya’s] intention was chemical weapons production” at Tarhuna, adding “I would remind you that it is also very easy to move back and forth between some of these issues. But it is obviously not something which we have the capability to monitor on a day-by-day basis.”



A Second Look at Tarhuna

Now that Libya has come out of the cold and declared its chemical weapons programs, I figured it might be a nice time to take a second look at Tarhuna.

First order of business: use the Department of Defense illustration to find the facility in Google Earth. Well, I’ll be damned. There it is, at 32°28’21.49”N, 13°25’43.67”E, looking much scarier than the picture. (Oh, and that isn’t the only construction in the neighborhood that might catch an analyst’s eye).

Second, let’s check the OPCW declaration—or at least accounts of it (contained in 12 binders, I believe it is confidential. At the very least, it ain’t online). Libya declared “one inactivated chemical weapons production facility [at Rabta], as well as two chemical weapons storage facilities have been declared.”

Libya’s declared facilities, according to an editorial in the CBW Conventions Bulletin, “do not in fact include the two underground production facilities reported in past US ‘public diplomacy’ and purported intelligence leaks – at Sebha (1990-93) and at Tarhuna (1993 on).”



Oh my, that’s awkward.

Libya did, however, import equipment for a second facility—according to Ambassador Donald Mahley, our man on the ground during Libya’s disarmament—“but had not actually installed the equipment (The equipment was still in shipping crates).”

Libya apparently declared two production lines at Rabta, the CBW Conventions Bulletin says, which may explain the second set of equipment. (Mahley doesn’t say when Libya procured the equipment.)

Although Mahley strongly states “that ‘doubts’ expressed in the 1980s about intelligence claiming Libya had a chemical weapons production facility at Rabta are themselves unfounded,” he kind of skips over doubts about Tarhuna.

That’s a shame, because I’d love to know why analysts got one right, but (perhaps) the other wrong. The Los Angeles Times reported that the goods on Rabta included “intelligence on the thickness of the plant’s walls – said to be designed to contain accidental explosions – and even the configuration of its sewers.” Maybe Tarhuna was just a Type I error—the kind of mistake you make when you err on the side of inclusion.

Mahley has a point of view, of course, but he isn’t out of bounds to herald the success in identifying the Rabta plant. The Reagan Administration had a devil of a time convincing our European allies that Rabta (which German companies helped build) was pumping out mustard gas—which it was, twenty-three tons in fact. But after a very tough diplomatic effort, Libya closed the plant in 1990—citing a fire that may have been just a convenient excuse for bowing to the pressure.

Libya—with the support of the United States, by the way—now wants to convert the Rabta facility into a factory “to produce low-cost pharmaceuticals to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, for use mainly in Africa.”

http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1440/targhuna-cw-facility



« Last Edit: March 24, 2011, 12:50:15 pm by TD892 » Report Spam   Report to moderator   Logged
TD892
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« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2011, 08:18:09 am »

Libya's poison gas unaffected by turmoil, official says
By Jeff Stein

A senior administration official said Monday that the White House had no reason to believe the current turmoil in Libya has made its chemical weapons stockpiles more vulnerable to theft.

Experts believe that Libya destroyed about 3,300 bombshells designed to carry mustard and sarin gas chemicals years ago, as part of its deal to end decades of economic and diplomatic isolation with the West.

But some 10 metric tons of mustard sulfate and sarin gas precursor remain stockpiled in barrels at three locations in the Libyan desert south of Tripoli, where Moammar Gaddafi has holed up in a last-ditch fight to keep from being overthrown.

Many experts worry that the barrels are ripe for picking by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda. Rumors abound, says an intelligence source with deep experience in the region, that British SAS commandos are preparing to secure the materials. Over the weekend SAS and Special Boat Service commandos rescued about 150 civilians.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, the administration official suggested the Libyans have moved to bolster the security of the material since protests erupted earlier this month, but he refused to specify what those steps were or how the administration had communicated with the Libyans.

“We have continued to urge the Libyans to safely complete destruction of their remaining chemical weapons agent as quickly as possible,” the official said. “As part of that process, the Libyans have taken appropriate steps to secure their CW [chemical weapons] from unauthorized access.”

He added, “We have no information to suggest that recent events in Libya have impacted these security provisions or placed Libya’s CW material at risk of unauthorized access.”

On the other hand, he said, the administration views “the possibility of CW material falling into the wrong hands [as] deeply concerning,” adding that “we are doing what we can to maintain awareness as to the security of these materials.”

Libya’s progress on eradicating its mustard and sarin gas stocks has been slow. In December it asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- established in 1997 to oversee global progress on disarmament -- for a deadline extension to May. It was granted.

“The entire stockpile of agent was supposed to have been destroyed in a destruction facility at Rabta, 65 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, by the end of last year, but because of delays only about 50 percent of the original 25 metric tons of agent has been destroyed to date,” said Jonathan Tucker, a Washington expert on chemical and biological weapons policy.

“We believe that whatever they have at this point is not in weaponized form,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We continue to monitor their residual chemical materials," he later added.

Libya also has a civilian nuclear research center in Tajura, about 10 miles east of Tripoli, with a small research reactor, said Wyn Bowen, an expert on weapons of mass destruction at King's College, London.

"It's something to think about in terms of securing," he said.
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/spy-talk/2011/02/libyas_poison_gas_unaffected_b.html
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TD892
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« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2011, 08:19:20 am »

Nuclear Madness in Tripoli
Jeremy Bernstein

Muammar Qaddafi; drawing by John Springs

If any further proof is needed of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s mental instability it is provided by WikiLeaks dispatches from US diplomats in Tripoli in November and December of 2009. At issue was some nearly loose nuclear material, a Russian plane, and a lone security guard—a footnote in the WikiLeaks scandal that many may have missed. But first, a little background.

Almost from the moment he assumed power in 1969, Qaddafi was interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. He tried to buy them from China; and when that failed he tried to build them himself. In the 1990s he bought an entire turnkey nuclear weapons program from the Pakistani proliferator A.Q. Khan, including centrifuges and designs for a nuclear weapon. It is believed he gave up the entire program in 2003 in a grand bargain with the United States that eventually restored Libya’s diplomatic status and allowed US companies to do business with the oil-rich country.

But there remained and still remains a nuclear research program centered in Tajura, about ten miles east of Tripoli. The centerpiece of the program is a relatively small research reactor built in 1979 by the Russians, who also supplied the fuel. After it came on line, it apparently employed hundreds of technicians, including some who had studied in the United States. I have looked at the list of research publications that have been released by scientists connected with the Tajoura facility and the papers seem quite standard to me.

However there is a special feature of this reactor that needs comment: it is fueled by highly enriched uranium—apparently an 80 percent enrichment of uranium 235. This level of enrichment or greater was fairly common for small research reactors and dates back to the Atoms For Peace program inaugurated by President Eisenhower. The uranium was military surplus. Some of it is unaccounted for and is a proliferation threat. At 80 percent enrichment it would be adequate for use in at least a crude nuclear device. In the Libyan case, the amount of enriched uranium used in the reactor is less than what would be necessary for a weapon. But having this much possible bomb fuel in a country like Libya is not desirable. The Russians seem to have understood this and established a program to remove the spent fuel from Tajoura and fly it back to Russia—or at least that was what was supposed to happen.

In September of 2009 Qaddafi came to New York for the annual meeting of world leaders at the UN. He wanted to pitch a large tent in Central Park, which he was going to occupy, and he wanted to visit Ground Zero. He was denied both and his anger smoldered until November when he figured he had a way to take his revenge. According to nuclear agreements between Libya, Russia, and the US, seven five-ton casks of spent uranium from Libya’s research reactor were scheduled to be shipped to Russia for safekeeping, and the Russians sent a special plane to Tripoli to retrieve them.

But Qaddafi refused to let the casks leave, and they remained in Tajoura under the watch of a single armed guard. This became known to the American embassy, and the US Ambassador in Tripoli, Gene A. Cretz, began cabling Washington with increasing desperation. “Following a four-day standoff,” one cable recounted on November 25,

    the Russian plane scheduled to remove Libya’s last remaining HEU spent fuel stores departed Libya without its cargo. Despite bilateral agreements with the US and Russia—and intensive outreach efforts by the US and Russian Ambassadors—Libyan officials unexpectedly refused to allow the HEU to leave the country. DOE experts are deeply concerned by the safety and security risks posed by the Libyans’ decision.

Officials in the United States believed there was very little time to deal with the situation. As the cable continued:

    According to the DOE experts, we have one month to resolve the situation before the safety and security concerns become a crisis.… If the enriched uranium is not removed from the casks in three months, its rising temperature could cause the casks to crack and release radioactive nuclear material.

The fact that the people who would be irradiated would be Libyans did not seem to faze Qaddafi, who, as we now know, also thinks nothing of strafing his own citizens with aircraft fire.

In any case, the Americans—who had meanwhile been giving Qaddafi high marks for his “political genius” and staying power—decided to keep the matter of the casks secret. Another communiqué from a US diplomat read: “Given the highly transportable nature of the HEU and the shoddy security at Tajoura, any mention of this in the press could cause serious security concerns.” It added: “The Libyan government has chosen a very dangerous issue on which to express its apparent pique about perceived problems in the bilateral relationship”—a delicate phrasing. The matter was resolved when Secretary Clinton sent Qaddafi a personal message assuring him of the United States’ regard for him and his country. The Russian plane left Tripoli on December 21, 2009, with the uranium. For the moment, the Tajoura reactor remains in the part of the country still controlled by forces loyal to Qaddafi, who has vowed to “fight to the last drop of blood” to remain in power. Its current status is unknown.

http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/feb/23/nuclear-madness-tripoli/
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brawsky
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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2011, 08:36:51 am »

I like all comment  Smiley Smiley
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Alfre Dkim
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2011, 02:55:42 am »

The public records of court trials against a German company and two Belgian shipping agents offer some of the most conclusive evidence of the true purpose of the factory in Rabta. Following the crisis over Rabta in 1990, proliferation concerns were expressed with respect to CW production installations at Sebha and Tarhunah.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2012, 06:48:36 pm by TD892 » Report Spam   Report to moderator   Logged
onzevil10
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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2012, 09:54:54 pm »

Hello! I'm new here! Nice to meet you!
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Dee123
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« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2012, 10:19:03 am »

I believe Thai companies helped with at least the Labour to build Tarhuna.A company from Chiang Mai called "W & M Company" according to the NY Times.Has anyone more info on who owned this Thai company and if they were limited just to providing labour,or if any other Thai companies or subsiduries were also involved.And can anyone confirm that a UK company also named as helping with some equipment supplies to this CW site was Multinational Engineering Group,and has this company any links with Allan Cooke CBE.
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Browen
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« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2017, 04:19:19 am »

Very interesting. I wonder what they're doing there now?
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