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Context of 'May 9, 2001: Energy Department Reports that Specifications of Aluminum Tubes Being Imported by Iraq Match Those Previously Used for Rockets'

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US officials in the Department of Energy (DOE) respond to an intelligence report released the previous day (see April 10, 2001) which contended that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) are destined for use as centrifuge rotors in a uranium enrichment program. The Energy Department argues that the tubes are too narrow, too heavy, and too long to be used in a gas centrifuge. Furthermore, “the tubes’ specifications suggest a centrifuge design quite different from any Iraq is known to have.” The officials also note that there is no evidence that Iraq is seeking to acquire other materials that would be needed to construct a centrifuge. And if the Iraqis intend to use the tubes for uranium enrichment, the officials ask, why are they making no effort to conceal their interest in acquiring the tubes? “[T]he manner in which the procurement is being handled (multiple procurement agents, quotes obtained from multiple suppliers in diverse locations, and price haggling) seems to better match our expectations for a conventional Iraqi military buy than a major purchase for a clandestine weapons-of-mass destruction program,” the report notes. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004] The DOE therefore concludes that “while the gas centrifuge application cannot be ruled out, we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production.” The agency considers it more plausible that the tubes are meant to serve as rocket casings. Notwithstanding, the DOE concedes that it has “not identified an Iraq-specific, military, or other noncentrifuge application that precisely matches the tube specifications.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The DOE will identify a possible specific conventional military application for the tubes the following month (see May 9, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Energy Department reports that the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes being sought by Iraq from China (see July 2001) have the same specifications as tubes previously used by Iraq to produce conventional rocket motor casings. The report also notes that Iraq had 160,000 tubes on hand in 1989 and only 66,737 in 1996 (see 1996). The findings are published in the department’s classified Daily Intelligence Highlight, which is posted on an intranet network accessible by members of the intelligence community and the White House. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A British Intelligence paper reports that Iraq has been seeking aluminum tubes from Switzerland of the same precise specifications as the tubes Iraq recently ordered from China (see 2000). The report suggests the tubes are “probably for the Iraqi Air Force.” [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A team of centrifuge physicists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other similar institutions publish a detailed Technical Intelligence Note concerning the aluminum tubes that Iraq recently attempted to import from China (see July 2001). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] The team includes Dr. Jon A. Kreykes, head of Oak Ridge’s national security advanced technology group; Dr. Duane F. Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation threats; and Dr. Edward Von Halle, a retired Oak Ridge nuclear expert. They are advised by Dr. Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on centrifuges, and Dr. Gernot Zippe, one of the German scientists who developed an early uranium centrifuge in the 1950s (see 1950s). The 8-page report, titled “Iraq’s Gas Centrifuge Program: Is Reconstitution Underway?” provides a detailed explanation of why the team believes the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were not intended for use in a gas centrifuge. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet The tubes sought by Iraq are very different from tubes Iraq used previously in its centrifuge prototypes before the first Gulf War. The intercepted aluminum tubes are significantly longer and narrower. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet Aluminum has not been used in gas centrifuges since the 1950s (see After the 1950s). Furthermore, Iraq is known to have had the blueprints for a more efficient centrifuge, which used maraging steel and carbon fiber, not aluminum (see (Late 1980s)). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] Aluminum “provides performance roughly half that of” maraging steel and carbon fiber composites. Constructing rotors from 7075-T6 aluminum would require the Iraqis to make twice as many rotors, as well as twice as many other centrifuge components, such as end caps, bearings, and outer casings. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] “Aluminum would represent a huge step backwards,” according to Wood. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet There are no known centrifuge machines “deployed in a production environment” that use tubes with such a small diameter. [New York Times, 10/3/2004] Using tubes of this diameter, would have created “various design and operational problems that veteran engineers of Iraq’s prior program should readily understand.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
bullet The report says that the “various tolerances specified in contract documents… are looser than the expected precision call-outs for an aluminum rotor tube by factors of two to five.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
bullet The tubes’ walls, measuring 3.3 millimeters, are three times too thick for “favorable use” in a “Zippe-type” centrifuge, which requires tubes with a thickness of no more than 1.1 millimeter. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
bullet The tubes are anodized, which is “not consistent” with a uranium centrifuge because the anodized coating can react with uranium gas. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Houston G. Wood later tells the Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that such a theory stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] The scientists conclude that using the tubes in centrifuges “is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is the much more likely end use for these tubes.” [New York Times, 10/3/2004] They also note that the Iraqis previously declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that since at least 1989, Iraq’s Nasser State Establishment had used large numbers of high strength aluminum tubes to manufacture 81-mm rockets. “The tubes were declared to be made of 7075-T6 aluminum with an 81 mm outer diameter, 74.4 mm inner diameter, and 900 mm length—the same specifications of the tubes Iraq was trying to acquire in 2001,” a later Senate Intelligence report will say summarizing the nuclear scientists’ report. The scientists also say that IAEA inspectors had seen these tubes stored in various locations at the Nasser site. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward Von Halle, Duane F. Starr, Jon A. Kreykes, Gernot Zippe, Houston G. Wood III, Joe Turner, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA agent Joe T. travels to Vienna, Austria, where he attempts to convince IAEA nuclear scientists they were wrong to conclude that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq, but intercepted in Jordan, were not meant to be used as rotors in a centrifuge program. The thrust of his argument is that the tubes’ dimensions are overly precise and that they are made of a special aluminum alloy that is “excessively strong.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence, US administration, and/or UN inspectors] But the presentation is not convincing. “Everybody was embarrassed when he came and made this presentation, embarrassed and disgusted,” one participant later recalls to the New York Times. “We were going insane, thinking, ‘Where is he coming from?’” [New York Times, 10/3/2004] A Department of Energy expert who later reviews Joe’s briefing says it was intellectually dishonest. He says that the DOE had provided corrections to Joe’s presentations before he went to Vienna and that Joe ignored all of them. In his presentation, Joe referred to a table comparing the characteristics of the aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq to the tubes that would be needed for Beams and older Zippe centrifuges. However he did not compare the tubes to those used for rocket casings. Such a comparison would have revealed a perfect match. The length, wall thickness, inner and out diameters, as well as the type of aluminum of the tubes imported by Iraq were exactly the same as the tubes Iraq purchased in the 1980s to construct rockets. However, there was not a single match among these characteristics between the tubes purchased by Iraq and the centrifuge tubes. Joe was reportedly aware of the values for the rocket, yet purposely omitted them from his table. [Albright, 12/5/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, International Atomic Energy Agency, Joe Turner

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion


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