This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community is uncertain of the exact location of Libya's remaining chemical warfare materials, though officials say besieged dictator Muammar Qadhafi has moved to bolster the security surrounding the primary cache of mustard blister agent, Reuters reported yesterday (see GSN, March 2).
Before fighting began last month, Libya had been making significant headway toward elimination of its chemical arsenal as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The North African nation is said to have destroyed more than half of its roughly 25-metric-ton cache of mustard agent as well as thousands of empty aerial munitions that could have been used to disperse the substance. Libya also possesses chemical agent precursor materials.
An informed official yesterday said the United States had recently received information that defenses around the chief chemical agent stockpile had been "upgraded." No other specifics were provided on the matter.
A different U.S. official, however, said "it was not entirely clear that the Libyan government is in full control of all the remaining stockpiles."
Unidentified U.S. sources said the Obama administration is not wholly assured of the defenses of every one of the chemical agent sites because some caches could be housed in facilities that have escaped notice by intelligence agencies.
Reports on the number and location of the stockpiles differ, though the complex at Rabta, located approximately 50 miles south of Tripoli, has been raised as a likely location.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors implementation of the CWC pact, said it could not verify that defenses around Libya's chemical arsenals had been improved in recent days. "We have seen nothing to indicate that security has changed," said OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan.
Outside observers worry that Qadhafi could still somehow seek to use his chemical warfare materials against opposition forces or that ongoing fighting in the country could create an opening for terrorists to acquire the lethal agents.
As Tripoli apparently no longer has the means to launch chemical weapon air attacks, some specialists doubt the remaining blister agent represents a serious danger.
"The gas isn't weaponized and I doubt if it could be within a significant military time frame," said one former official from a Western nation. "The residual stocks of mustard gas are probably badly degraded and as much of a threat to those holding them as to any potential targets" (Mark Hosenball, Reuters, March 2).