CBS News Transcripts

SHOW: 60 MINUTES 11 (9:00 PM ET)

January 27, 1999, Wednesday




CHARLIE ROSE, co-host:

Did the bombing raids on Iraq six weeks ago really hurt Saddam Hussein? Maybe not. In fact, in some ways, they may actually have helped him. With no weapons inspectors in Iraq today, Saddam can build whatever he wants, wherever he wants. And according to the man you're about to meet, that means only one thing: Saddam. may be on the verge of getting what he wants most of all, a nuclear bomb.

Is there any doubt in your mind that his highest priority--more than chemical, more than biological, more than anything--is to have a nuclear weapon?

Mr. KHIDHIR HAMZA: Right. No doubt at all, because there's limit to what he can use the chemical for; the same with the biological. But the nuclear will give him total immunity. He will be invincible with it. He'll be the hero of the Arab world. He'll--the--the atomic bomb will be something that--that Saddam desperately needs now.

(Footage of Hamza and Rose talking; Hamza walking on a city street; photo of Hamza as a student; vintage footage of Saddam Hussein being greeted by crowds; Hamza's ID card; Hussein surrounded by soldiers; Hussein reviewing troops)

ROSE: (Voiceover) If Saddam gets the bomb, it will be in no small part because of Khidhir Hamza. He is an American-educated Iraqi scientist who learned nuclear physics at MIT and Florida State. In 1970, Hamza brought what he had learned back to his homeland, where then-Vice President Saddam Hussein put him to work developing an Iraqi nuclear bomb. Eventually, he became the country's director of nuclear weaponization, but his support for Saddam's regime soured after the invasion of Kuwait.

Mr. HAMZA: This is a criminal regime that I can no longer work with.

(Footage of Hamza walking in a park)

ROSE: (Voiceover) Hamza defected to the United States in 1995. He was debriefed by the CIA and only recently has been able to speak publicly about the nearly 20 years he spent working on what he says is Saddam's favorite project.

Mr. HAMZA: Look at the size of the program--will tell you. You have a couple of hundred in the biological, a few hundred in the chemical and 12,000 in the nuclear. What does--what does that tell you?

ROSE: Twelve thousand in nuclear?

Mr. HAMZA: Yes. Yeah.

ROSE: Today?

Mr. HAMZA: Yeah.

ROSE: Twelve thousand people ...

Mr. HAMZA: Yep. Yep. Increased.

ROSE: ... involved in the development of ...

Mr. HAMZA: Yeah, about 5,000 after the war--new appointments.

ROSE: Five thousand after the war?

Mr. HAMZA: After the war were appointed into the nuclear program.

ROSE: How much money have they spent?

Mr. HAMZA: Billions.

ROSE: Billions.

Mr. HAMZA: Yeah.

(Footage of Hamza's passport; stamps from different countries on Hamza's passport; turbine equipment)

ROSE: (Voiceover) The money was spent on nuclear shopping sprees, supposedly for nuclear energy, but Hamza says he and other scientists traveled all over the world--to Europe, to Asia, even the United States--buying technology to secretly produce a nuclear weapon.

Mr. HAMZA: At one period, the program was spending between $ 100 million and $ 150 million a month, only on imports. That's not salaries and local costs.

ROSE: Just to go buy things?

Mr. HAMZA: Just buy things from outside.

(Footage of Hussein waving to a crowd; David Albright and Hamza walking and talking)

ROSE: (Voiceover) That was in the late 1980s, before the Gulf War. At that time, US intelligence agencies had no idea of the size or scope of Saddam's nuclear plans. After Hamza defected to the United States, former nuclear weapons inspector, David Albright, recruited Hamza to work with him at a Washington-based think tank. Albright is one of the leading experts on Saddam's nuclear weapons program.

Mr. DAVID ALBRIGHT: He would have nuclear weapons now. He would have a nuclear arsenal now, if he had not invaded Kuwait. In 191, 1 think the action team has judged that they were within several months to a year of being able to successfully detonate a--a--a nuclear explosive, like what destroyed Hiroshima.

ROSE: In 1991 ...

Mr. HAMZA: Mm-hmm.


ROSE: ... to have a bomb similar--equivalent to what destroyed Hiroshima?

Mr. HAMZA: Yes.

ROSE: You were within a year?

Mr. HAMZA: Mm-hmm. Max. Well, actually, my estimate would have been within six months-- probably two to six months.

ROSE: CIA thought you were at least 10 years away.

Mr. HAMZA: Yeah, right.

ROSE: How could they be so wrong?

Mr. HAMZA: I don't think, at the time, they cared enough or put enough resources to find out about the program. I don't think they knew enough about the program then to--to really evaluate it.

ROSE: US government officials now concede that before the Gulf War, they dangerously miscalculated the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. And the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA--the group responsible for nuclear inspections in Iraq since 1970--admits it missed the bomb program altogether before the war.

(Footage of bomb inspectors doing paperwork and destroying buildings; gutted buildings; visual of a report with a graphic reading:
" ... Iraq's known nuclear weapons related assets have been destroyed, removed or rendered harmless ... "; Hussein waving to a crowd; nuclear experts Paul Leventhal and Gary Milhollin talking with Rose)

ROSE: (Voiceover) In the eight years since the war, the IAEA has been systematically wiping out Iraq's pre-Gulf War nuclear weapons program. Today, the IAEA describes Saddam's nuclear weapons program as 'destroyed, removed or otherwise rendered harmless.' But that conclusion naively underestimates Saddam Hussein, say two leading nuclear experts, Paul Leventhal and Gary Milhollin. We caught up with them at a January conference on non-proliferation in Washington.

Mr. GARY MILHOLLIN: A bomb is an intellectual product. The main thing you need is knowledge, and Iraq has that. They developed it before the war. They've been working on it since the war. And that knowledge can be converted into things very quickly.

Mr. PAUL LEVENTHAL: And every--virtually every nuclear scientist who was working on that program before the war is still there.

ROSE: Why is it his ultimate prize?

Mr. LEVENTHAL: Because it's his way to match Israel. Also, these are accepted weapons in the international community. Not only are they accepted weapons, but they're also weapons that bring maximum prestige. Nuclear gives him status in the region that will totally eclipse any other Arab state.

    (Footage of a nuclear explosives factory)

ROSE: (Voiceover) And then there is this. Before the Gulf War, at secret facilities like this one--pictured on tapes seized by nuclear inspectors--Saddam focused his program on manufacturing nuclear explosive material inside Iraq. Now he may not have to.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: If he successfully steals nuclear explosive material in Russia, then he's within a few months to a year of--of having a nuclear weapon. And so I think that if Iraq did not worry about detection, it would try to get nuclear explosive material from Russia. And then it would be very close.

ROSE: How close?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Within a few months, a year at the outset.

ROSE: What do you need to build a bomb?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: The--the most important thing you need to build a bomb is the nuclear explosive material, the bomb-grade uranium or plutonium.

(Footage of one of Russia's secret plutonium- and uranium-producing factories; a Russian soldier; a palace)

ROSE: (Voiceover) As Dan rather reported on this broadcast, Russia's secret cities that produce bomb-grade plutonium and uranium have become a security nightmare, creating a situation that is volatile and dangerous. Iraq already has a well-worn path into the former Soviet Union, developed during the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. Hamza says Iraqi diplomats would pay their way with bribes.

Mr. HAMZA: They take money with them--jewels, gifts, gold, bars of gold--to Russia and give them to technocrats--Russian technocrats, who will help them expedite the delivery of various weapons, various parts they need to run a war machine.

ROSE: They take the money and they take the jewels and they take the gold to bribe technocrats?

Mr. HAMZA: Right. They are--hi--this is how Iraq minister run its war machine with Iran for eight years. So they had a very efficient system built in--inside the Soviet Union, of getting what they want immediately. And these extensive contacts are going to be invaluable to Saddam when he needs them.

    (Footage of Hussein signing papers; talking with soldiers)

ROSE: (Voiceover) Bribery is one tool for Saddam. So, evidently, is torture. Hamza says it is often used on scientists and technicians to keep them working on Iraq's nuclear program.

ROSE: The purpose of this torture was what?

Mr. HAMZA: To get people to do what's required, to comply, to be more cooperative. That's the whole idea. To break the spirit of--of guys defiant or--or not cooperative enough.

ROSE: And what would they do?

Mr. HAMZA: No food or water for a couple of days. Then they start beating him up, hang him by a hand or a foot for quite a period till--till he starts really breaking down.

    (Vintage footage of Jafar Dhia Jafar; Milhollin, Leventhal and Rose talking)

ROSE: (Voiceover) Hamza says he was never tortured, but this man was--his colleague, British-educated nuclear scientist Jafar Dhia Jafar. Hamza says Jafar endured nearly two years of torture and imprisonment. Today, he is a Cabinet minister in Iraq and believed to be running the country's nuclear program. It's a program that Gary Milhollin and Paul Leventhal say remains a threat the Clinton administration has not adequately addressed.

Mr. MILHOLLIN: What we hear the administration saying is, 'We're worried about the biological weapons. We're worried about the chemical weapons., And we don't hear them talking about the nuclear threat. It is, in fact, still the greatest long-term threat. If Iraq can smuggle in nuclear weapon material from outside, it can make a bomb in a month or two.

Mr. LEVENTHAL: The kind of bomb that he was trying to build as the Gulf War broke out- -that--that bomb can be delivered by truck or by boat. So any city that is reachable by truck or boat is potentially vulnerable.

    (Footage of Rose and Nizar Hamdoon talking)

ROSE: (Voiceover) Still, Iraq's longtime UN ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, continues to insist his country's priorities are not nuclear.

After the most recent bombing, the status of the Iraqi nuclear program, in terms of the development of a nuclear weapon, where is it?

Ambassador NIZAR HAMDOON: Zero.

ROSE: Zero? Amb. HAMDOON: Yes.

ROSE: Don't have a program?

Amb. HAMDOON: Nothing.

ROSE: The Clinton administration says it does not doubt Saddam's desire to have nuclear weapons, and it has expressed serious concern about the situation in Russia. But still, the State Department and the National Security Council told us they currently consider an Iraqi nuclear threat relatively remote.

ROSE: (Voiceover) Not so, say Khidhir Hamza and David Albright. As they see it, Saddam stands poised to build a nuclear weapon. He has the scientists, the technology, potential access to bomb-grade fuel, and the will to make it happen.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: There's no fix for this problem. Inspections, sanctions, export controls, military action--it doesn't fix the problem unless you remove the regime.

ROSE: Saddam, in your judgment, gets the bomb unless the United States removes him.

Mr. HAMZA: Yes. Unless they remove him, he'll get the bomb, one way or the other. One thing about Saddam: He's constant. He never changes. What he wants is what he wants. And he keeps at it till he gets it. His enemy--he never forgive an enemy. He never give up a project. He never give up a plan. He has the capability. He can--he can do. He's a can-do guy.

[What's New] What's New       [What's New]  Saddam & the Bomb          [Home Page] Home Page