U.S.: Sudan plant sample contains VX nerve gas precursor
Soil sample called 'smoking gun'
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Web posted at: 8:43 p.m. EDT (0043 GMT)
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A senior U.S. intelligence official told CNN on Monday that a soil sample from the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory destroyed last week by U.S. missiles has tested positive for a chemical that is "one step away" from deadly VX nerve gas.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sample, which was obtained "by clandestine means" before the attack, contained a chemical ingredient known as EMPTA.
EMPTA, according to the official, has no commercial use except in the production of nerve gas. He said it is "one step away" from VX nerve gas.
"Once you have this, it is very simple to make VX," the official told CNN.
An independent chemical weapons expert told CNN that the presence of EMPTA is "the smoking gun," proving that the plant was involved in the production of nerve gas, as the United States has claimed.
Sudanese authorities insist that the plant manufactured only pharmaceuticals.
The United States also claims it had other evidence linking the plant with chemical weapons production. That evidence includes links between officials at the facility in Sudan and an Iraqi official who has been labeled by U.S. intelligence as "the father of Iraq's chemical weapons program."
The Iraqi, identified as Emad Al Ani, is said to have had extensive dealings with officials at the plant in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
That and the connection between terrorism sponsor Osama bin Laden and Sudan's "military industrial complex" were enough to convince the United States that the Shifa plant was involved in chemical weapons production, the official said.
Pentagon still mum on attack
Meanwhile, four days after the attacks on the Sudan plant and terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, the Pentagon still refuses to confirm what weapons it used or provide any details of the operation.
Pentagon officials say the unusual post-strike secrecy is aimed at denying the targets of the strike any information they don't already have about U.S. tactics and capabilities.
Nevertheless, Pentagon sources say 79 ship-launched cruise missiles were fired in last Thursday's attacks. Earlier sources had put the number at "about 75."
Sources tell CNN that two U.S. warships in the Red Sea fired between 14 and 24 cruise missiles at the plant in Sudan. The rest were fired at six sites in southern Afghanistan that U.S. officials called a "university for terrorists."
Even the code name for the mission remains classified, although sources say "Operation Infinite Reach" was seen on briefing folders carried by high-ranking officials.
The Pentagon reportedly considered releasing spy satellite photos Monday showing the damage to targets in Afghanistan, but decided not to do so.
"We've said all we are going to say," said one Pentagon official.
Level of secrecy 'unprecedented'
The Pentagon's tight hold on information contrasts with previous cruise missile strikes.
After strikes on Iraq and Bosnia, U.S. military officials provided background briefings for reporters, specifying the number of missiles launched and the targets hit.
"We're operating in a different kind of war," said one military officer who did not want to be named. "If the bad guys don't know what hit them, we're not going to tell them."
Many Pentagon officials describe the level of secrecy surrounding the attacks as "unprecedented."
Sources say that at least two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff office did not learn of the attacks until President Clinton announced them Thursday afternoon.
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