Keeping track of nuclear weapons is getting to be an almost impossible task. Two developments this week illustrate this.
As if anyone needed yet another example of subterfuge regarding the lengthy and frustrating saga involving Saddam Hussein and the United Nations over hunting for weapons of mass destruction, the International Atomic Energy Agency supplied one Monday.In a skeptical report to the U.N. Security Council, the agency expressed concerns that Iraq may be hiding documents, equipment and material needed to make an atomic weapon.
About the same time that update was being issued, the Washington Post reported that North Korea, Iran and other countries are concealing their ballistic missile programs from U.S. spy satellites by using enormous underground laboratories and factories to build and test weapons.
What is becoming obvious is that despite advances in technology, there is no substitute for having agents on the ground to monitor the questionable activities in renegade countries.
That point was made by a commission studying the threat posed to the United States by ballistic missiles. It told the Post that "the technical means of collection will not meet emerging requirements" and criticized the U.S. "intelligence gaps."
Congress needs to take the above reports seriously and take steps to see to it that the United States does not lag in getting sensitive and potentially destructive information.
While the Atomic Energy Agency didn't find any evidence that Iraq has nuclear weapons, it noted that Iraq failed to account for nuclear equipment and documents, leaving open the possibility that Iraq has hidden material enabling it to produce nuclear weapons in the future.
The thought of trusting Saddam is not a pleasant one. Yet, at some point, that probably is going to be the conclusion of a U.N. inspections process that has gone on since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Saddam has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with U.N. inspectors, at one point booting them out of the country. The United States would be wise to have someone in Iraq to track developments after the inspection teams leave.
Technical wizardry can be a nice supplement to people in the intelligence community. Relying wholly or too much on technology, however, would put the United States at greater risk than it was before technology was so advanced. Congress needs to remember that.