Before the Gulf War, some of Britain's top microbiology labs were infiltrated by Iraqi scientists in order to gain expertise on germ warfare. The scientists, financed by grants from the Iraqi government, applied for and received research jobs in leading academic and medical institutions.
Dr. Joseph Selkon, an Oxford microbiologist, was working on a project to prevent bacteria from becoming more resistant to antibiotics. But antibiotic resistance is not a significant problem in Iraq, which made him suspicious. His suspicions grew when he questioned colleagues in other departments and found that Iraqis were only interested in microbiology, which could be applied to germ warfare.
The infiltration was discovered after Selkon became suspicious about one Iraqi research applicant, which led to extra security checks. This led to the discovery that about 10 top Iraqi microbiologists had been given places in sensitive research establishments around Britain. Selkon received the job application in 1990 and says of the Iraqi, "He had a superb CV (references), he was going to work for us for free, and we would receive ?20,000... from the Iraqi government.?
He reported his concerns to British intelligence. "I asked them to check whether this was just a one-off application to Oxford or whether this was part of a more general plan; they rather thought I was thinking science fiction. But nevertheless they went away and came back later to say they had found nine or 10 scientists of this nature - all from Iraq - who had already been accepted by universities across the country to work in the microbiology field." When the Gulf War broke out, the Iraqis were sent home.
Selkon thinks the Iraqis were working on plans to make bioweapons that are resistant to standard antibiotics. This type of warfare could lead to the growth of bacterial diseases around the world that cannot be cured with antibiotics (See Nov. 14 news story ?Antibiotics May No Longer Work,"click here.
The 911 hijackers learned to fly airliners in Florida and the Iraqis honed their bioterrorism skills in the U.K. In the future, it will be interesting to see what other countries have unwittingly contributed to the knowledge and skills of terrorists.
Would U.S. intelligence have spotted this infiltration? We didn?t notice those flight students until too late. Find out why from ?The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,? click here.
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