June 25, 2003 -- A former Iraqi scientist has been talking to the CIA since May about evidence of his country's nuclear weapons buried in the garden of his Baghdad home, intelligence officials confirmed today.
Among the evidence were plans for constructing a gas centrifuge to enrich uranium, a necessary piece of equipment for developing a nuclear weapon.
But 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.
Saving for the Future
The scientist, Hamdi Shukuir Ubaydi, was head of Iraq's pre-1991 centrifuge enrichment program. Other items of interest found buried in his garden included:
A two-foot 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 backyard until inspectors left.
A CIA official said the items buried in Ubaydi's garden illustrate the size of the problem. The official said they signal 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 no longer live in Iraq.
A Rare Tip That Panned Out
Ubaydi has garnered some interest because he not only said he had something buried in his backyard — there was actually something there.
For months, teams of U.S. officials have been frantically scouring Iraq for evidence of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs that the Bush administration used to justify starting the recent Iraq 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.