June 26, 2003 -- — U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed a former Iraqi scientist's claims that he buried nuclear weapons components in his rose garden in Baghdad.
Hamdi Shukuir Ubaydi told CIA officials that he was ordered to bury a gas centrifuge used to enrich uranium — a necessary piece of equipment for developing a nuclear weapon — in order to be ready to rebuild Iraq's bomb program.
Ubaydi, who was head of Iraq's pre-1991 centrifuge enrichment program, told U.S. intelligence officials he was acting on orders from Saddam Hussein's government.
As teams of U.S. officials scour the country for evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. officials uncovered critical parts of Iraqi nuclear technology buried under a rose bush in Ubaydi's garden.
Other items of interest found buried in his garden included:
A 2-foot-tall stack of related documents.
A number of the most-difficult-to-make parts.
Examples and templates which would be used to make a large number of centrifuges. A large number of centrifuges are needed to make nuclear weapons.
Ubaydi said the elements represent a complete set of what would be needed to rebuild a centrifuge uranium enrichment program. He said he was told to bury it in his back yard until inspectors from the United Nations' IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Iraq before the Gulf War left.
‘A Moderate Deal’
The former Iraqi scientist, who is believed to have left Iraq, told reporters he has been talking to CIA officials since May and U.S. sources said they believe his statements were credible.
However, a CIA official refused to call the discovery the "smoking gun" that would validate the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had an active program to develop a nuclear weapon.
The agency said it was "a moderate deal." Intelligence officials are less than enthusiastic because all the evidence dated from 1991 or earlier. Most or all of that nuclear program was dismantled after U.N. inspections following the first Persian Gulf War.
An IAEA official told ABCNEWS that the centrifuge component dug up in Ubaydi's backyard was a "bottom bearing housing" of a centrifuge, or the sensitive part on which the centrifuge rests as it spins at high speed, separating heavy and light molecules in order to get weapons-grade enriched uranium.
It was not known whether the component was produced in Iraq or imported from abroad.
A CIA official said the items buried in Ubaydi's garden illustrate the size of the problem. The official said the find signaled Iraq was prepared to start up a centrifuge program when no one was looking.
An intelligence official told The Associated Press the scientist and his family has been taken out of Iraq with the help of the U.S. government.
A Rare Tip That Panned Out
Ubaydi has garnered some interest because he not only said he had something buried in his back yard — there was actually something there.
Since the end of the war, teams of U.S. officials in Iraq have been frantically searching for evidence of Iraq's suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs amid growing international pressure on the United States and Britain to produce evidence of the coalition's justification for going to war.
Iraqis, motivated by reward money for evidence of the programs, have offered innumerable leads and tips — but they have all been fruitless. So far no weapons have been found.
Before the recent invasion of Iraq, U.S. and allied intelligence agencies insisted they had evidence that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear weapons program, despite contrary statements from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.
Some of the American evidence has since been debunked, and other evidence, such as reports that Iraq tried to import precision-made tubes for centrifuges, remains hotly debated.
ABCNEWS' Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.