Must the U.S. Give Brazil and Iraq the Bomb?

The New York Times
July 29, 1990, p. 19

Iraq, with modern armed forces numbering a million and with a leader driven by dangerous ambitions, started a war with Iran, threatens Israel and has rattled its saber against tiny Kuwait. Its President, Saddam Hussein, may not stop at threats if he can complete plans to build weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. technology could contribute to this awful enterprise if senior officials ‘in the Commerce and State Departments have their way. These officials are supporting I.B.M. in an irresponsible attempt to put a supercomputer into the hands of a Brazilian team that is helping Iraq build long-range missiles and that could help it build atomic bombs.

Apparently, Commerce is pushing for the sale at the behest of I.B.M. to promote U.S. exports. State’s support for Commerce appears to be based, as usual in such cases, on a desire to win favor in third world countries. A very high State official has intervened on behalf of the Brazilian buyer, reliable sources say.

The deal is opposed by the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Energy Department, which are sticking to the Reagan Administration’s policy of denying supercomputers to countries that are trying to make the bomb. It appears that the deal is on the verge of going through.

With a supercomputer, a missile designer can simulate the thrust of a rocket engine, calculate the heat and pressure on a warhead entering the atmosphere and simulate virtually every other force affecting a missile from launch to impact.

ln a third world missile program, a supercomputer can drastically cut development time, costs and the need for flight tests.

According to Brazilian press reports which have been confirmed by U.S officials, the Brazilian team has been training the Iraqis in rocket aerodynamics, flight testing and the control of rocket trajectories. The Brazilians have also shown Iraq how to use on-board electronics and rocket propellants.

The team has been in Iraq since at least the spring of 1989, which helps explain why last December Iraq suddenly launched a space rocket big enough to orbit satellites.

Iraq made the rocket — potentially useful as an intermediate-range missile — by strapping together five Soviet-supplied Scud missiles, which Brazil is also helping Iraq improve. These are the same missiles Iraq used to bombard the civilian population of Teheran — and the same missiles Iraq is aiming at Tel Aviv from a launch site west of Baghdad.

The leader of Brazil’s high-tech mercenaries is Gen. Hugo Piva, the retired director of Brazil’s Aerospace Technology Center, known in Brazil as CTA. At CTA, he was in charge of converting Brazil’s latest space rocket, the Sonda IV, into a missile big enough to carry a nuclear warhead, and of secretly making nuclear weapon material by enriching uranium by using gas centrifuges.

According to West German intelligence, CTA has become so adept at designing centrifuges that it has already enriched uranium almost to nuclear weapon grade. CTA is situated next door to, and exchanges personnel with, Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer that wants to buy the I.B.M. supercomputer. Embraer and CTA are both part of Brazil’s team in Iraq.

Iraq, like Brazil, is hoping to make nuclear weapon material. It has bought a machine for manufacturing centrifuges from a company in West Germany. The German company has already sold such a machine to Brazil. The magazine Der Spiegel has reported that there is a dense network of relations between nuclear bomb builders in Iraq and Brazil, on the one hand, and German contractors on the other.

CTA’s nuclear scientists in Brazil can gain access to the supercomputer through Embraer and can share nuclear calculations with their Iraqi customers.

For an atomic bomb designer, a supercomputer can simulate the implosive shock wave that detonates nuclear warheads, calculate the multiplication of neutrons. in a nuclear chain reaction and model the process of nuclear fusion in a hydrogen bomb.

Thus, the I.B.M. supercomputer.may help design the Iraqi bomb as well as Iraqi missiles.

Commerce Department regulations require that a country should have good “nonproliferation credentials” to buy a U.S. supercomputer. The country should be a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, have all of its nuclear activities under international inspection and have a nuclear trade agreement with the U.S. Brazil fails on every count.

Nonetheless, the Commerce and State Department officials, along with I.B.M., argue — absurdly, naively or cynically — that Brazil should be excused from these requirements because U.S. agents would be able to inspect the supercomputer and prevent its misapplication.

I.B.M. says it has no evidence of any relationship between Embraer and Iraq. Is I.B.M.’s head buried in the sand?

Embraer will be free to design aircraft — to compute air flows around aircraft noses and wings. The programs for making such calculations are the same as those for calculating such flows around missile noses and fins, and strongly resemble those for modeling nuclear explosions. American inspectors probably will not be able to detect any violation. State and Commerce Department officials, along with I.B.M., are on a perilous course. For their separate reasons, they are ready to ignore Brazil’s outrageous aid to Iraq and risk helping Brazil and Iraq get the bomb. They are sending the world an ominous signal: profits and vague diplomatic goals mean more than nuclear proliferation.