Gallucci: Other nuclear elements may be elsewhere
(CNN) -- An Iraqi scientist is cooperating with the CIA and has given the agency documents and critical parts of a key piece of Iraqi nuclear technology -- parts needed to develop a bomb program, CNN has learned.
Mahdi Obeidi hid them in his Baghdad back yard under a rose bush 12 years ago under orders from Qusay Hussein and Saddam Hussein's then son-in-law, Hussein Kamel.
Obeidi told CNN the parts of a gas centrifuge system for enriching uranium were part of a highly sophisticated system he was ordered to hide to be ready to rebuild the bomb program at some time in the future.
CNN anchor Paula Zahn discussed the significance of the find with Robert Gallucci, who was deputy executive chairman of the U.N. weapons inspection agency in Iraq, UNSCOM, from its creation until 1992. He also helped direct the U.N.'s oversight of Iraq's disarmament in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. Gallucci is now dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington.
ZAHN: First of all, how significant of a find is this?
GALLUCCI: I guess I would use a phrase which I just heard the administration would not. I think it is a smoking gun. I think it's very significant. It demonstrates that the Iraqis were, in fact, hiding a component for a gas centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium to high levels in the isotope uranium 235, which is the core of a nuclear weapon.
It suggests that the other elements of a nuclear weapons program might well be hidden elsewhere. It suggests that this could be part of an overall program in ... the area of weapons of mass destruction to hide critical components for regeneration of the programs.
So, I think it's very significant and, moreover, I think David Kay is correct that normal inspections would not have uncovered things hidden under a rose bush, and it suggests that the administration also was correct in wanting very much to not only interview the Iraqi scientists but to interview them out of the reach of Saddam Hussein.
The question now, of course, is does a scientist who comes forward, as this one did, are they outside the reach of Saddam Hussein or those who are sympathetic to him? So, I think the future here is very important, what happens to this scientist is very important.
ZAHN: Let's come back to a point you're making because we have heard a number of experts during this evening suggest that they didn't think this was a smoking gun, that they didn't think this suggested that Saddam Hussein was capable or close to making a nuclear bomb. Are you saying otherwise based on this find?
GALLUCCI: No. I think if what one means by smoking gun is that this is a nuclear weapon, no ... these are from what I understand components of a gas centrifuge.
First of all, you need essentially thousands of gas centrifuges and all the components and you have to run them for a period of time to produce enough material to make a single nuclear weapon.
So, there's a serious gap between these particular components and a nuclear weapon. These are not components of a nuclear weapon and they don't make a nuclear weapon.
It's a smoking gun, I think, in the sense that it demonstrates an intent on the part of the Iraqi regime to hide this program so that it can be regenerated. In short, they lied. It's a smoking gun in that sense, not in the sense that you can make a nuclear weapon out of gas centrifuge components.
ZAHN: Thank you for clarifying that. Now, there is a feeling that the number of scientists out there that might be burying stuff like this in their back yards, or have buried in their back yards, will very much be looking at how Mr. Obeidi is treated before they will come forward and tell authorities any useful information. What is it the United States has to do to ensure that more of these scientists will feel comfortable to share these secrets?
GALLUCCI: Well, I think it would be a very good idea if he, his family, and those close to him were protected. It would probably be a good idea if he had a future in whatever science he now works in outside of a weapons area, so that if he wasn't rewarded at least he wasn't punished for coming forward and sharing this information with us. So, I think a real effort needs to be made here if we expect other people to come forward too. I'm sure they're watching.
ZAHN: Finally, I know this is probably hard to predict but how many other back yards do you think are housing finds like this?
GALLUCCI: I really, of course, don't have a clue, but I would say that we thought these programs were quite extensive. The nuclear program we estimated cost the Iraqis in the neighborhood of $7 billion to $9 billion to put together and we thought there were hundreds to thousands of these scientists who had hands-on experience in one of the technologies related to fissile material and nuclear weapons development.
So, there are a lot of folks out there somewhere who may have access to or know where components are, so how we behave now, I think, is extraordinarily important.