Former Weapons Inspector David Kay Urges U.S. to Recruit Iraqi Scientists
Dr. Jim Sherry, vice president of policy, research and advocacy at the Global Health Council; Theodor Krauthammer, professor of civil engineering and director of the Protective Technology Center at Pennsylvania State University; and Kay, the former U.N. and International Atomic Energy weapons inspector.
Long-term efforts to destroy Iraq's weapons-manufacturing infrastructure could prove ineffective unless the United States and its allies find a way to recruit hundreds of unemployed Iraqi weapons scientists into rebuilding efforts, top U.S. scientists said at a forum convened by AAAS and the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation.
David Kay, who stepped down as chief U.S. weapons inspector last January after his 1,400-member team failed to find weapons of mass destruction, stressed that while bombing Iraqi laboratories eliminated the equipment, the scientists retain their weapons-building knowledge. Over time, he said, their knowledge could be used to build the laboratories againin Iraq or elsewhereunless the U.S. intervenes.
"We can't let the scientists go, not just for our own [security] concerns, but because you need them to rebuild Iraq," Kay said. "If there is to be a future for Iraq that is at all prosperous, it must be built around science and technology professionals."
The 13 January forum at AAAS headquarters in Washington D.C. marked the 10th anniversary of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress and established in 1995 by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Employing a public-private partnership, CRDF seeks to address global nonproliferation, antiterrorism and public health challenges through international scientific collaboration, primarily between the United States and Eurasia, through grants, technical resources and training. Much of its work has been focused on the scientists of the former Soviet Union (FSU), but it also has an emerging interest in the Middle Eastern science community.
The panelists were three influential U.S. experts on weapons proliferation and public health: Dr. Jim Sherry, vice president of policy, research and advocacy at the Global Health Council; Theodor Krauthammer, professor of civil engineering and director of the Protective Technology Center at Pennsylvania State University; and Kay, the former U.N. and International Atomic Energy weapons inspector, who is now senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies where he is concentrating his efforts on counterterrorism and weapons proliferation.
In the space of just a decade, "things have changed a bit in the world," foundation CEO and President Charles T. Owens said at the forum. "While we still worry about proliferation of weapons scientists' knowledge, now there is a terrorism component to this and to related issues. The list of most salient potential challenges to our security have grown to encompass difficult-to-treat communicable diseases as well as scientific knowledge about weapons of mass destruction, and the potential geographic sources of trouble go well beyond the former Soviet Union."
Krauthammer praised the foundation, saying it "assisted FSU scientists and engineers to work for 'good guys' and to keep them away from potentially dangerous entities… and to restore dignity to the people." This is exactly the type of work that needs to be done today with Iraqi scientists, he added. In order to keep the weapons knowledge out of the hands of terrorists, Iraqi scientists need to have opportunities to work toward the liberation and rebuilding of their country.
Kay agreed, recalling a conversation he'd had with an Iraqi scientist who said that he hated Saddam Hussein for ruining his future career by forcing him to work in a weapon lab. The scientist spoke nostalgically about his college years when he dreamed of using science toward more positive goals. Kay said that this is a perfect time to make sure Iraqi scientists have opportunities to fulfill some of these earlier dreams of using science and technology for good.
"CRDF or any other program is not the single answer," Kay said. "We have an obligation to transition their research and skills to other areas."
A program sponsored by the U.S. State Department has had some success in recruiting Iraq's weapons scientists and helping steer them to rebuilding projects. Some observers, however, have suggested that the program got off to a slow start and hasn't been ambitious enough.
While many recognize the importance of focusing on the human resources of Iraq, Kay is disappointed in the way that the United States has managed the human resources of America in science and technology in recent years. "In the United States, we have pissed away our technological edge…," he said. "Look at the number of closed technological [firms]… We are in a desperate state."
Kay was bluntly critical of the way in which U.S. immigration policy since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks has led to a sharp decline in the number of foreign science and technology students enrolling in universities here.
"The restrictions we place on foreign students coming to the United States is one of the most disastrous policies we've made," he said. "Our restrictions are just another case of American arrogance. We think we have all of the smarts and we don't." If scientists are trained in the West, then they will naturally maintain contact with the West, Kay said. But if they don't come to the West, they won't have contacts here and we will lose their potential collegial relations and the opportunity to collaborate in research.
Sherry, a medical doctor, compared national security efforts and his own public health work.
"There are parallels in terms of their work in weapons of mass destruction and with my colleagues and me in this 'virus of mass destruction,'" Sherry said, referring to HIV. He emphasized the importance of attacking the virus with a multi-faceted approach, stating that keeping girls in school for an additional two years where they can learn a vocation and therefore not get caught up in the sex trade, can do as much to prevent the spread of the virus as pumping millions of dollars into anti-retroviral drugs.
Sherry also stressed what he called the "tsunami lessons." Of the more than 150,000 who died as a result of the 26 December 2004 disaster, roughly 50,000 were children.
"There has been a marvelous outpouring of support from the world" to aid in the recovery efforts, he said. What most people forget, though, is that more than 50,000 children worldwide die every three days as a result of preventable and curable diseases. This also should be a focus of a global outpouring of support, Sherry said. The challenge is how to maintain interest when health disasters are not in the headlines.
"The carry-over to child health is very political," he observed. "Nobody really caresit's not that nothing can be done."
Sherry expressed hopes that in CRDF's next 10 years, it will substantially expand its efforts for AIDS-related projects; broaden efforts to improve weakened disciplines in the countries of the former Soviet Union; and emphasize institutional partnerships in resource-poor areas.
Opening comments at the forum were offered by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science.
21 January 2005