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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Libyan Biological Warfare

Libya acceded to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention [BWC] in 1982. But Libya has never filed confidence-building data declarations with the United Nations.

While Libya is believed to have had a biological warfare program for many years, it remains in the early research and development stages, primarily because Libya lacks an adequate scientific and technical base. The program also suffers from the difficulty Libya has acquiring needed foreign equipment and technical expertise, partly due to current UN sanctions. However, Libya is trying to develop an indigenous capability and may be able to produce laboratory quantities of agent. Given the overall limitations of the program, it is unlikely that Libya will be able to transition from laboratory work to production of militarily useful quantities of biological warfare agent until well after the turn of the century.

The US believes that Libya has continued its biological warfare program. Although its program is in the research-and-development stage, Libya may be capable of producing small quantities of biological agent. Libya's BW program has been hindered, in part, by the country's poor scientific and technological base, equipment shortages, and a lack of skilled personnel, as well as by UN sanctions in place from 1992 to 1999. U.S. intelligence estimates throughout the 1990's maintained that Libya activly pursued an offensive biological capability.

Libya's biological weapons program may be centered in the General Health Laboratories, a medical facility in the Tripoli area. It reportedly was built with Iraqi assistance, and for a time employed former South African scientists. Unconfirmed reports suggested that in 1997 about a dozen Iraqi BW experts arrived in Libya to help develop a BW complex under the guise of a medical facility called General Health Laboratories. The secret program, code named "Ibn Hayan," was said to aim to produce bombs and warheads filled with anthrax and botulinum toxin [in the 9th Century AD Jabir ibn Hayan established chemistry as an experimental science]. A number of organisations, including universities and laboratories attached to the ministries of agriculture and health, were engaged in making ostensibly innocent purchases of dual-use diagnostic and laboratory materials.

On 19 December 2003 Libya agreed to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The surprise announcement followed nine months of secret talks between Libyan, American, and British officials. Libya agreed to abide by the BIological Weapons Convention, and to allow for immediate inspections and monitoring.

A team of American and British intelligence officers spent about two weeks Libya in October and again in December 2003. During the visits, the team of US and UK inspectors went to 10 sites related to Libya's nuclear effort, chemical stockpile and missile program [other accounts suggested that the team was taken to dozens of sites], but apparently no biological weapons facilities were visited. US and UK specialists invited to Libya found no concrete evidence of an existing biological weapons effort. Indeed, inspections beginning in January 2004 revealied that the suspect facilities all had legitimate civilian biotechnology uses. The team was given access to medical or pharmacological scientists and facilities, and Libyans were questioned about equipment and research that could be applied to biological warfare, but the Libyans denied that a BW program had ever existed. One Libyan official stated that while Libya intended to build an offensive biological weapons program, it never went beyond the planning stage, and that Qadafi considered the biological program too dangerous and ordered its termination sometime prior to 1993. As of 2005, the combination of these denials and lack of hard evidence, pre-2003 estimates of Libya's biological weapons programs remained uncomfirmed.

It should be noted that there are few distinguishing characteristics that enable the identification of chemical or biological facilities through imagery or other technical means. Moreover, much of the technology and expertise required for chemical and biological programs is dual-use, making it easier to acquire and more difficult for the U.S. intelligenc community to track. It is also apparent that, at least with regard to biological weapons, the relatively low volume of information could be attributed to the fact that Libya might not have actually had an active biological warfare program. Complicating matters is that Libya had been considerably less forthcoming about the details of its biological weapons efforts than about its nuclear and missile programs. Analysts interviewed by the U.S. Intelligence Community agreed that if Libya maintained any biological or chemical programs, they would be small-scale.

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