With the ongoing collapse of the Libyan regime, and Mummar al-Qadhafi acting every bit the madman, American attentions should be focused on one thing:
What happens to Libya’s stockpiles of chemical weapons and uranium?
Libya made headlines in 2003 for vowing to dismantle its WMD programs in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. But, according to a WikiLeaked June 2009 State Department cable, al-Qadhafi instead played “cat and mouse” with the international community, “deliberately slow-rolling implementation of its WMD commitments.”
The regime dreamed up many fanciful excuses, including, according to another cable, blaming delays in destroying chemical weapons stockpiles on “a grassroots environmental campaign.” (The State Department was not impressed: “Given tight Libyan Government controls over national security facilities and programs,” commented one officer in the U.S. embassy in Tripoli in October 2009, “we find it hard to believe that a grassroots movement could affect Libyan policy or action on a sensitive program….”)
As a result, Libya today reportedly possesses 9.5 metric tons of mustard gas and 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake uranium — the raw material for an atomic bomb. (You know, the stuff that George W. Bush infamously claimed Saddam Hussein was trying to procure.)
Immediately, the worry is that al-Qadhafi — who is blaming the revolution in his country on drugged up Al Qaeda infiltrators — is just desperate enough to use chemical weapons on his own people. More troubling to our national security is what happens to those stockpiles when the regime finally collapses?
Libya is suspected of being a major arms conduit to bad actors in Africa. According to another WikiLeaks cable, the Brits recently blocked a shipment of 130,000 Kashnikov automatic rifles to Libya on suspicions that the guns were intended for “re-export…to either the governments or armed rebel factions in Chad and Sudan.” It’s not hard to imagine the mustard gas or uranium yellowcake exiting Libya through the same channels.
The man in charge of dismatling Libya’s chemical weapons program — Dr. Ahmed Hesnawy — was also in charge of creating the weapons until 2003. He is decribed in one State Department cable as both an “elusive character” and as “charismatic and gregarious.” Hesnawy is a fluent English speaker who “used American expressions and slang with ease” in his dealings with U.S. officials. More troubling, he is described as working with al-Qadhafi son and National Security Advisor, Muatassim al-Qadhafi “on missile purchase requests.”
[The State Department did not immediately respond to a request to comment on international efforts to contain Libya’s WMD.]