The assessment by Professor Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) seems to discount the possibility that the anthrax produced in bulk prior to 1991 can still be effectively weaponised:
"Anthrax spores are extremely hardy and can achieve 65% to 80% lethality against untreated patients for years. Fortunately, Iraq does not seem to have produced dry, storable agents and only seems to have deployed wet Anthrax agents, which have a relatively limited life."
"Iraq's Past and Future Biological Weapons Capabilities" (1998 ), p.13, at: http://www.csis.org/stratassessment/.../iraq_bios.pdf
This assessment of the degradability of wet anthrax is not accepted by the entire expert community. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) dossier of 9 September 2002 states that "wet anthrax from [the 1989-90] period - if stored properly - would still be infectious." (p.40). Similarly, UNMOVIC record: "As a liquid suspension, anthrax spores produced 15 years ago could still be viable today if properly stored." ("Unresolved Disarmament Issues", 6 March 2003, p.98 ).
There have been allegations that Iraq was researching drying technologies for anthrax. However, Iraqi attempts to purchase a dryer seem to have failed. As UNMOVIC record, "a foreign company was approached in 1989 in an attempt to acquire a special dust-free spray dryer suitable for the safe drying of anthrax spores. Documentation shows that, in 1990, the company could not obtain an export license for the dryer and the order lapsed. Iraq declared that no bulk spray drying was carried out, either of pathogenic or of non-pathogenic bacteria." ("Unresolved Disarmament Issues", 6 March 2003, p.119).
As a result, UNMOVIC reached the following conclusions:
"It is most likely that, as it had declared, Iraq was unsuccessful in 1989/90 in acquiring a special dust-free spray dryer to safely dry large quantities of anthrax. [...] In any event, it seems likely that no bulk drying of agent took place in either 1989 or 1990. Apparently, in 1989, large-scale BW agent production was in its initial phase and Iraq was expecting to obtain from an overseas company a special dryer for its future requirements. Therefore, there seemed to be little reason, at that time, to modify existing dryers to make them safe for BW agent drying. An Al Hakam annual report for 1990 makes no reference to large scale drying of BW agents, implying that no drying occurred in that year either. The annual report, which UNMOVIC considers reliable, indicates that research into the drying of anthrax continued in 1990, but even this ceased for that year when the foreign company failed to supply the special dryer." (ibid., p.120)
Because no records of the Al Hakam facility exist for the first fifteen days of 1991, before the deadline for the commencement of the Gulf War, it has not been possible to conclude so firmly that no anthrax drying took place in that period. However, UNMOVIC appear to acknowledge that this is unlikely:
"UNMOVIC has no evidence that drying of anthrax or any other agent in bulk was conducted." (ibid., p.120)
In the absence of evidence that Iraq produced dried anthrax, Secretary Powell's comments about a teaspoon of anthrax to the Security Council of 5 February 2003 are irrelevant.
Since late February, the Iraqi government has been provided documentation to demonstrate its claim that it destroyed its anthrax stocks in 1991. An account was provided by Hans Blix in his 7 March 2003 statement to the Security Council:
"More papers on anthrax [..] have recently been provided. [...] Iraq proposed an investigation using advanced technology to quantify the amount of unilaterally destroyed anthrax dumped at a site. However, even if the use of advanced technology could quantify the amount of anthrax said to be dumped at the site, the results would still be open to interpretation. Defining the quantity of anthrax destroyed must, of course, be followed by efforts to establish what quantity was actually produced."
(2) Growth media unaccounted for
The UNSCOM report of January 1999 (Appendix III) claimed that Iraq could not account for 520kg of yeast extract, the growth media used for making anthrax spores.
Iraq claims that it unilaterally destroyed a quantity of growth media at a site adjacent to al-Hakam prior to the arrival of inspectors in 1991. UNSCOM was not able to account for how much material was destroyed at this site; it "confirmed that media was burnt and buried there but the types and quantities are not known", and thus could not reduce the quantity of material still classified as unaccounted for (in its January 1999 report, Appendix III).
The seemingly large amount of the yeast extract that remains unaccounted for (520kg) - with the potential to produce anthrax spores - amounts to less than 11% of the total amount of yeast extract destroyed under UNSCOM supervision in 1996 (4942 kg). Whether this quantity is within a reasonable margin of error - particularly given that UNSCOM acknowledged that its understanding of Iraq's destruction of weapons in mid-1991 was of "considerable uncertainty" - is open to question. In particular, UNMOVIC admitted that "about 1400 kilogrammes of 'unknown' media components were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision" ("Unresolved Disarmament Issues", 6 March 2003, p.124).
These factors, including especially the acceptance that unknown growth media has already been destroyed, indicate that any growth media that Iraq continues to hold will be considerable less than the quantity claimed by the UK and US. UNSCOM's own process for deriving the figure of 520kg for unaccounted yeast extract is itself far from transparent.