"We Found the WMDs".
By Claudia Rosett
Talk about skeletons in the closet. The United Nations weapons inspectors once tasked with tracking Saddam Hussein’s arsenal have just discovered that for more than a decade they’ve been storing vials containing one of Iraq’s chemical-weapons concoctions — phosgene — in a cabinet in their own New York office. Removed from Iraq’s Al Muthanna chemical-weapons facility in 1996, the phosgene apparently sat unnoticed in the UNMOVIC office until last week.
This discovery was presented by the U.N. at a press briefing Thursday as the sort of mistake anyone could make, even if — as one of the U.N. weapons experts explained — opening the containers would mean “a couple of people would be dead.” Phosgene is an irritant, widely used as a weapon in World War I, which causes people to choke to death.
Officials from the U.N.’s Iraq weapons-inspections office, known as the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), explained that it was an “accident” that the phosgene had ever been brought from Iraq to New York. “This kind of material should certainly not have come here,” said UNMOVIC spokesman, Ewen Buchanan.
UNMOVIC officials said the quantities found were small, with all the vials able to fit inside a container the size of a Coca-Cola can. As soon as the substance had been tentatively identified, the vials were further sealed and isolated. The U.N. then invited agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to come remove them from UNMOVIC’s offices, which are across the street from the main U.N. headquarters building in midtown Manhattan.