By 1994, after three years' work, U.N. inspectors had a solid grip on Iraq's remaining nuclear and missile capacity. But they still knew little about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons -- and almost nothing about his ability to wage biological warfare.
While chemical weapons kill through exposure to poisons, usually toxic gas, biological weapons spread death through infectious disease. These deadly organisms are inexpensive to make with simple equipment and easy to conceal.
And they have the potential to be as devastating as a nuclear weapon when properly dispersed.
U.N. biologists had all that in mind when they visited the Al-Hakam protein plant southwest of Baghdad in June 1994.
Dr. Raymond Zilinskas was one member of the inspection team.
"The whole inspection team was pretty spooked," said Zilinskas,
a former U.N. weapons inspector. "We were kind of in awe of this, how big it was. And all the time we were thinking -- what is this thing here for? It doesn't make sense."
Something else didn't make sense. At Al-Hakam, inspectors found drum after drum of a powder called growth media -- a kind of plant food for the organisms being grown in giant fermenters. Growth medium is needed to make protein -- but it is also essential in the manufacture of biological weapons. And in this massive complex, inspectors said, they found too much of it to just make protein.
"In Iraq they needed maybe one ton of media per year," said Zilinskas. "So here is a question: Why did they import 34 tons of it?"
The inspectors concluded -- before blowing up Al-Hakam -- that the plant had stockpiled so much growth media because it had mass-produced anthrax -- one of nature's deadliest organisms. Untreated, a person will die from anthrax in 48 hours.
After the 1994 discovery of growth media, Ekeus demanded an explanation.
"I said, 'How could you produce a large amount of such an extremely dangerous agent without having any idea what to do with it?' The response was: 'We don't do it as you do in Europe. There you have a plan. You say you'll produce it for something, and then you produce it. But here in the Arabic world we produce first, and when we're producing we start thinking what to do with it' -- and that was the explanation."
Between May 1992 and September of 1997, Iraq gave the United Nations seven reports which it declared were "full, final and complete disclosures" of its biological warfare program. All were rejected -- the most recent as "not remotely credible."