The Corner

Aluminum Tubes

Page 324-325:

In early 2001, Iraq had been caught trying to clandestinely procure sixty thousand high-strength aluminum tubes manufactured to extraordinary tight tolerances. The tubes were seized in the Middle East. The Iraqi agent tried in vain to get the tubes released, claiming they were to be used in Lebanon to make race car components. Whatever their intended use, under UN sanctions, Saddam was prohibited from acquiring the tubes for any purpose. All agencies agreed that these tubes could be modified to make centrifuge rotors used in a nuclear program. CIA analysts believed that these tubes were intended for the enrichment of uranium. Others thought they were intended to make rockets. To test the theory, CIA brought together a “red team” of highly experienced experts from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory—people who had actually built centrifuges. Their assessment was that the tubes were more suited for nuclear use than for anything else. The Department of Energy’s representative at the NFIB delivered his agency’s assessment that the tubes were probably not part of a nuclear program. He was not a technical expert, however, and, despite being given several opportunities, he was unable to explain the basis of his department’s view in anything approaching a convincing manner.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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