An interesting segment of the great book Shadow Warriors is about the discoveries of Company X in Iraq regarding the “missing” WMD in Iraq. I’m gonna split this up into two parts seeing as how it is quite long but well worth the time to read:
The most intriguing evidence of hidden Iraqi WMD stockpiles, however, did not come from any of these sources. It came from a source that Hoekstra had developed all on his own: a former top CIA operations officer, who had returned to Iraq after the war and stumbled onto information pointing to a vast and previously unknown site, buried deep beneath a hillside north of Baghdad, where former Iraqi officials alleged Saddam had pursued nuclear weapons wrok in the utmost secrecy.
After a business trip to Iraq in February 2004, the former operations officer was contacted by an engineer, working for a company in a former Eastern European country, who had worked on infrastructure projects under Saddam. The engineer and his company were hoping to win new contracts in Iraq, and had also traveled to Baghdad. On their way back to Turkey, on of the Eastern Europeans pointed to a hilltop east of the Baghdad-Mosul highway, on the far side of the Jebel Makhoul, along the Tigris. He had always been told that the hilltop disguised an underground weapons plant, he said.
Some of the engineers traveling with them offered that they had worked on a nearby infrastructure project. As they got to talking, they mentioned that they had always whispered among themselves that the underground site housed a secret centrifuge uranium-enrichment plant.
When he first heard this story, the former operations officer felt it had the ring of authenticity. “These guys had been there for thirteen or fourteen years,” he told me. “They would get drunk with the Iraqis and learn things about the WMD programs they were not supposed to know.”
Along with a business partner, he began tracking down the Eastern European engineers who had worked in Iraq and interviewing them. “We found five or six independent sources who all noted that they had seen eighteen-wheel trucks pass through an entrance into the hill area we were looking at,” the former operations officer said. What the trucks did once they entered the hillside, nobody knew. The entire area was a military zone, ringed with several rows of barbed wire.
In his reports to Hoekstra, the former operations officer referred to himself and his partners as “Company X of McLean, Virginia” (where the CIA is located), and encrypted the names of sources in CIA-style diagraphs. He and his associates interviewed thirty-one engineers and workers from a former Soviet-block country who had never been debriefed by any U.S. or UN agency before. One of the engineers, identified as LYHUNT/103, had been in Iraq from September 1984 until April 1994 “with a short interruption for the Gulf War.” He returned to Iraq several times a year after that until 2000.
LYHUNT/103 and his colleagues worked directly with TECO, the Technical Corps for Special Projects, project manager for “Iraq’s highest priority weapons projects.” TECO was headquarted with the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization, and “reported directly to Saddam’s household,” the former operations officer said. Among TECO’s responsibilities were Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons, its long-range ballistic missile programs, and the Super Gun that was being built by the former American ballistics genius Gerald Bull. LYHUNT/103 and other colleagues agreed to talk to the former CIA operations officer on condition that they not be identified in any way. They were well aware that their activities in Iraq after 1991 were in violation of international sanctions, U.S. law, and the laws of their own country. They risked serious jail time if they were identified. But they said they were willing to share their knowledge, because they now understood the full import of the highly compartmented project where they had worked, and it scared them. They referred to it as Site 555.
Site 555, also known as the al-Fajr facility, was “intended to be an electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) uranium-enrichment facility,” the former CIA operative told Hoekstra. Bombed and partially destroyed during the Gulf War, it was leveled in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 687 in 1991. According to Iraq’s declarations to the UN, the al-Fajr facility was a “duplicate” of an EMIS plant in Tarmiya, but uranium-enrichment equipment was never installed. Once the buildings were leveled, the site was no longer inspected.
But there was much more at the site then the UN inspectors ever saw, the Eastern European engineers said. Hidden beneath a nearby hill was an underground structure about 600 meters deep not related to any mineral quarry. Another East European source, LYHUNT/101, commented that it would have taken only minimal effort to level the entry to the shaft and cover it with sand, leaving the deep underground installations hidden, the former CIA operative told Hoekstra.
In April 2004, the Eastern European engineers drove together down from Mosul to Baghdad, and LYHUNT/103 pointed to a series of low hills beyond the road. “That’s where the shaft is,” he said. But upon further questioning, the former agency officer realized that neither LYHUNT/103 or his colleagues had ever seen the actual opening or visited the underground site itself. They had worked on a water purification plant and other engineering works on the surface.
Bit by bit, as Company X debriefed more of the Eastern Europeans who had worked in the area, they got a better idea of where to look for the underground site.
“The debriefings indicated that the underground facilities had been dug by 2,500 Vietnamese laborers during the mid-1980s, who toiled for $4 per month,” the former CIA officer said. “They dug at night to avoid infrared signatures. It was done by drill and blast, without heavy machinery.” To the trained eye, these were all telltale signs of Iraq’s intent to camouflage the work from satellite surveillance.
The former operative informed Hoekstra of information he had learned from another of the East European engineers:
Per LYHUNT/105’s knowledge and his recollection of documentation that had been available to him, the factories at Site 555 were installations for the enrichment of uranium and nuclear chemistry, with one production building having a large internal movable horizontal crane for some kind of assembly, and a single airstrip runway at the bottom of the hill near the cave. The cave represented the entry to a major underground structure, with horizontal elements (tunnels or pathways), but LYHUNT/105 did not know how many tunnels or how deep the structure was. The location of the entry to the underground structure was by the end of the airstrip towards the bottom of the hill.
What was found and what was done with it in Part 2 here.