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Profile: Houston G. Wood III

Positions that Houston G. Wood III has held:

  • Oak Ridge nuclear physicist

Houston G. Wood III was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Judith Miller.Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, Houston G. Wood III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Fallujah II chemical plant.Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. [US President, 10/14/2002] Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Albright, 10/9/2003] Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Independent, 9/22/2002] Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright]
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” [United Nations Special Commission, 4/16/1998; New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” [US President, 10/14/2002] But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [US President, 10/14/2002] On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. [US President, 10/14/2002] But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” [US President, 10/14/2002] The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005; New York Times, 11/6/2005] And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. [CNN, 9/26/2002; Newsday, 10/10/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003]
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).

Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Anthony Cordesman, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, George W. Bush, Hussein Kamel, Houston G. Wood III, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Department of State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, US Department of Energy, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Taliban, Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, Khidir Hamza

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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