Iraq's Acquisition of Gas Centrifuge Technology
Part I: H+H Metalform -- Funnel for the Iraqi Gas Centrifuge Program
In 1987, Iraq partially acquired the German company H+H Metalform GmbH. It subsequently grew to play an important role in supplying Iraq's ballistic missile and gas centrifuge programs with equipment, components, and on-site expertise. H+H specialized in the production of vertical flow-forming machines, which make thin-walled, pressure-resistant, precision tubes useful for military purposes. Such lightweight, pressure-resistant tubes have been used in ballistic missile and gas centrifuge programs.
In 1994, senior company officials were brought to trial and found guilty of violations of German export control laws, which prohibit the provision of conventional armaments and ballistic missiles. This section focuses on H+H's assistance to Iraq's gas centrifuge uranium enrichment program. It draws upon information revealed during these officials' trials and interviews with key players. (For more information about the role of H+H's assistance to Iraq's armaments and ballistic missile programs, click here.)
In aiding Iraq's centrifuge program, H+H sold its own equipment, acted as an Iraqi procurement agent, and facilitated the transfer of specialized expertise to the Iraqi centrifuge program by German centrifuge experts and other companies. Despite learning in 1995 and 1996 the details of H+H's assistance, German prosecutors did not file additional charges against any H+H personnel.
H+H's most significant contribution was giving Iraq access to German gas centrifuge experts. These experts changed the nature of Iraq's centrifuge program and provided the wherewithal for it to succeed quickly. If Iraq had not invaded Kuwait in August 1990, it would have likely managed to build gas centrifuge facilities by the mid-1990s that would have produced enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons a year.
First Contacts on Centrifuges
The exact date when H+H started assisting Iraq's gas centrifuge program is difficult to determine with certainty. According to Dr. Adel Ali Ridha, a senior Iraqi in charge of materials and analysis for the centrifuge program, he approached H+H in early 1988 for help in making gas centrifuges and in finding centrifuge technology. [Click here for a photo of Dr. Adel]
Adel had learned of H+H because of its work with Iraq's conventional armaments and ballistic missiles establishments. The gas centrifuge program was under the control of Hussein Kamel, Saddam's Hussein's powerful son-in-law, who also headed Iraq's ballistic missile and conventional armaments production establishments. H+H would become one of its most important contacts.
Iraq started its gas centrifuge program in 1987, but by early 1988, the program was experiencing numerous problems in manufacturing centrifuge components and in operating test centrifuges. Iraq's program was using an old, inefficient gas centrifuge design obtained in the United States. This centrifuge, called the "Beams-type" centrifuge, was based on an unclassified, decades-old design by Jessie Beams, who was a widely published professor at the University of Virginia and universally recognized as a pioneer in the development of gas centrifuges.
Dietrich Hinze, a co-owner of H+H, denies that the request for assistance was as direct as Adel reports. He says that the assistance started more piecemeal without the Iraqis specifically mentioning that they needed help on gas centrifuges. In any case, Hinze and his partner Peter Huetten were interested in expanding their business with Iraq. As a result, despite knowing little about gas centrifuges, they started providing assistance to Iraq's unsafeguarded uranium enrichment effort.
H+H personnel quickly established direct contact with the leaders of Iraq's gas centrifuge program. Hinze said he first met Dr. Mahdi S. Ghai Al Ubeidy, the head of Iraq's gas centrifuge program, in early 1988 on a visit to Iraq. Ubeidy had the code-name Mohammed. [Click here for a photo of Dr. Ubeidy]
The first concrete assistance appears to have involved a horizontal flow-forming machine Iraq received from Leifeld Co. in early 1988. At the request of Iraqis, Hinze went by helicopter to the Saddam Establishment near Al Falluja with a group of senior Iraqi officials, including Adel, Kamel, and Mansour Wadi, a key Iraqi procurement agent based in Europe, to see the newly-installed Leifeld horizontal flow-forming machine. The centrifuge program had bought the machine to make rotors, but it immediately encountered problems producing them. Hinze said that Adel wanted H+H's assistance to operate the machine.
Hinze, who was in fierce competition with Leifeld, wanted to sell his own machines. He convinced the Iraqis that a H+H machine would be better suited to produce their desired items. Wadi later approached Hinze who offered to sell the new, more precise DV 380 vertical flow-forming machine.
In December 1988, H+H signed a 6.3 million Deutsche Mark (DM) contract for the sale of the machine and associated equipment, including a material cleaning system, computer-numerically controlled (CNC) trimming machine, and an expanding mandrel. The equipment was delivered at the end of 1989. It was shipped to Iraq via Turkey by truck. Iraq's gas centrifuge program evidently had not used the Leifeld machine in the 1980s.
Iraq could not immediately produce rotors made out of maraging steel, an extremely strong and relatively light steel that enables rotors to spin faster. As an interim step, Iraq said that H+H agreed in late 1988 or early 1989 to provide about 50 such rotors. However, H+H could not produce cylinders with the required specifications, creating delays in Iraq's centrifuge development program.
Busse Contacts H+H
While H+H was increasing its contacts with Iraq, Hinze unexpectedly received a telephone call from Walter Busse, a leading expert in forming specialty steel rotors and other components of gas centrifuges. He had worked at MAN New Technology from the late 1960s or early 1970s until the 1980s. While at MAN, Busse was in charge of manufacturing centrifuges for Urenco based on the use of maraging steel. Earlier, he had worked on making maraging steel tubes for missiles. Gernot Zippe, a father of the modern gas centrifuge and the pioneer of the development of that machine in Germany, said he recruited Busse for the centrifuge program in the late 1960s because of his expertise in working with maraging steel. Zippe realized that such tubes would lead to a centrifuge that would be significantly more economical than the centrifuge based on aluminum rotors then under development in Germany and elsewhere.
After retiring from MAN in the early or mid-1980s, Busse maintained an engineering office to do consulting. According to a former colleague at MAN, Busse's son was having financial problems, and Busse felt that he needed to do consulting to keep his son from losing his house.
During the phone call, Busse asked Hinze for a drawing for bearings and rollers of the H+H flow-forming machine delivered to Commissao Naval Brasilien (Comm Naval) in early 1984 for making rocket parts. (This machine had fittings to make tubes with diameters of 123 millimeters, 170 millimeters, and 200 millimeters.)
Hinze immediately rejected Busse's request, stating that company
policy was not to provide drawings to anyone outside H+H. But Busse's
request worried Hinze. When Busse suggested that they meet to discuss
the issue further, Hinze was willing. Click here
to read an English translation of a letter Hinze sent Busse in early
April 1988 keeping open the possibility of a consulting agreement.
Busse's telephone call reminded Hinze about problems Comm Naval was having in making high-precision tubes on the H+H machine. In 1987, Hinze had visited the Comm Naval facility, which is about two hours from Sao Paulo, where H+H's flow-forming machine was located. In a fabrication hall, he saw the Brazilians trying to produce maraging steel rotors with a diameter of 200 millimeters for centrifuges, but they were having problems achieving the required tolerances in wall thickness. Hinze told the Brazilians that this project was different from the one that H+H delivered the machine to do. (Hinze said on another occasion that the Iraqis were trying to make rotors with the same wall tolerances as those he had seen in Brazil.)
When Busse visited H+H in about April 1988, he told Hinze that he was active in Brazil and wanted to help Comm Naval make 200-millimeter maraging steel tubes. Knowing of the problems in the H+H machine, Busse had agreed to act as an agent for Leifeld which had offered a new flow-forming machine to Comm Naval at a special price if it removed the H+H machine. Hinze was particularly alarmed, because this was the first machine H+H sold. He worried that his business would suffer significantly, if this machine was "trashed."
Hinze said that he offered Busse a 300,000 DM contract, double what Leifeld was offering Busse, to sell Brazil a Leifeld machine. Busse agreed to persuade the Brazilians not to buy a Leifeld machine.
Brazil continued trying to improve their manufacturing of maraging steel centrifuge rotors. Hinze visited the gas centrifuge manufacturing facility again in 1989 or 1990, but was allowed to visit only the room where H+H's flow-forming machine was located. He said that Brazil was continuing to try to improve the tolerances of maraging steel rotors, but he saw many problems. In the case of rockets, however, this machine was very successful, because the necessary tolerances are considerably less. Hinze said that in the end Brazil did not buy a new machine from either H+H or Leifeld. He believes that in the late 1980s Brazil decided to switch to carbon-fiber rotors for its gas centrifuge program.
Busse Helps Iraq
With Busse on H+H's payroll, Hinze was searching for projects Busse could perform. Soon afterwards, Safa al Habobi, a partner of H+H and a leader of Iraqi procurement efforts in Europe, visited H+H and said that they had some problems making high precision components, and he asked if Hinze knew someone who could help. Hinze immediately thought of Busse and asked Busse to accompany him to Iraq in April or May 1988. Because Habobi represented Al Arabi Trading Company, which owned 50 percent of H+H, Hinze treated any request from Habobi seriously. In addition, Hinze saw an opportunity to obtain more contracts if this effort was well received.
In Baghdad at a ministry near the Rashid Hotel, the Iraqis showed
Busse and Hinze about 120 drawings, some of which Busse recognized
as gas centrifuge components. Hinze expressed disinterest in knowing
the purpose of the parts. Hinze and Busse described the technology
to produce these parts to the Iraqis, including obtaining preforms,
pre-machining the parts, annealing them, and drilling or otherwise
shaping them. They told the Iraqis the types of machines needed
to make the parts, and the companies that sold these machines. Hinze
subsequently convinced the Iraqis to buy new machines from the Swiss
company Schaublin to make many of these components, receiving a
hefty commission in the process. Click here
for more information on Iraqi business with Schaublin.
During his trips to Iraq, Busse discussed flow-forming tubes with precise specifications, according to Iraqi centrifuge experts. Busse, in particular, provided considerable detail about making maraging steel rotors for gas centrifuges. Busse was also asked to help get a large drill operating that Iraq used in an armaments production factory. After two days of work, Busse got the machine to work, further impressing the Iraqis with his skill.
In summarizing Busse's contribution, a senior Iraqi gas centrifuge expert said that Busse was "good for fine machining and advising which companies to approach." Busse, for example, mentioned Schaublin as being very good for centrifuge manufacturing equipment. The Iraqis knew about Schaublin and had already bought machines there, but they did not realize how good Schaublin machine tools were. In a 1996 interview, the senior Iraqi scientists referred to maraging steel centrifuge technology as "Busse technology."
Despite Busse's initial contributions, the Iraqis did not always find his help as useful as they had expected. They also found that some of his knowledge was out of date. Hinze complained that Busse sometimes made contradictory statements to the Iraqis about making specific components.
Busse made another significant contribution to the Iraqi program.
He was asked about other experts who could help Iraq. Busse recommended
Bruno Stemmler, a gas centrifuge expert and former colleague at
MAN. Stemmler, a physical chemist, had worked at MAN since 1969,
but he was embroiled in a conflict with management over what he
regarded as inadequate compensation for his discoveries and, in
his view, inadequate appreciation of his talents. As a result, he
was seeking other work. [Click here
to see a picture of Bruno Stemmler]
Later, Habobi called Hinze and asked him to buy Stemmler a ticket to Iraq. Hinze and his company H+H would often play the role of the facilitator.
August 1988 Visit
In August 1988, Busse, Stemmler, and Hinze met at the Frankfurt airport, where Busse introduced Hinze and Stemmler. Stemmler carried a blue textile bag, which he opened for Busse. It contained a stack of sensitive centrifuge information about 20-30 centimeters thick. Hinze saw the documents, and got nervous. He then went to the counter to get a new seat assignment away from them, although he told them that he wanted to sit in a different section of the plane to avoid being exposed to Stemmler's heavy smoking. After arriving in Baghdad, they were met by Adel who looked at the drawings while they drove into Baghdad. That same evening, Adel took the documents away. During dinner, Hinze asked Stemmler: "Listen man, isn't that dangerous for you." Stemmler replied that the "documents are my know-how and I can do with my know-how what I want to do."
These documents, photos, and drawings, some of which had a MAN stamp, were extremely important to the Iraqis. They contained classified early Urenco-type gas centrifuge designs, of a type typically called "Zippe-type," after Gernot Zippe. This machine was significantly more sophisticated than the Beams-type machine Iraq had been pursuing. The documents contained assembly drawings of a single rotor machine marked "G1" and a two-rotor centrifuge marked "G2." Stemmler also brought drawings of several individual components, such as the bearings, end caps, baffles, and outer housing (also called a recipient).
Stemmler had gained access to these documents during his long career in the development of the gas centrifuge. In the 1960s, Stemmler worked on physical and chemical problems associated with early versions of centrifuges at the German firm Dornier. After joining MAN in 1969, he directed MAN's first separation laboratory, which housed about 20 centrifuge test stands. He also worked with centrifuge experts at the German nuclear research center near Juelich. In 1972, he had to give up his position as head of the separation laboratory in a manner that left him embittered and angry at MAN.
Because of his experience, Stemmler knew the intimate details of early centrifuge design and operation, he knew how to handle highly corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas, and he had access to the classified literature-in other words, he knew the "tricks" of building and operating centrifuges. Given his hostile attitude toward MAN and disregard of security procedures, he was an ideal recruit for Iraq's gas centrifuge program.
Meetings in Baghdad During their August visit, Busse and Stemmler explained details of the centrifuge drawings, and they had extensive discussions with the Iraqi experts about building a working model of a centrifuge. They also discussed in detail the manufacturing of centrifuges. Stemmler spent hours in a glass-enclosed room in a ministry near his hotel. During many of these meetings, Stemmler was alone, a strategy which Iraq often pursued to extract more information. The rationale was that the presence of colleagues could inhibit what was said.
Visit to Rashdiya Stemmler was taken to Iraq's main centrifuge research and development facility, the Engineering Design Center at Rashdiya north of Baghdad. At the time of Stemmler's visit, only a portion of the buildings was finished. There he was needed to solve a vacuum problem in a test stand.
Iraq was operating a gas centrifuge test stand, using a Beams-type machine that Iraq called the GS-1 (gaseous separator-1). With Iraq's weak manufacturing capabilities and generally poor technical skills, the resulting GS-1 was working poorly.
Once at Rashdiya, Stemmler went to a small building, called Building 22 by the Iraqis, that had been finished in early 1988. Inside, Stemmler found two test stands, one designed to conduct mechanical tests, and the other designed to use "process gas" in the centrifuge. Each was located in a "pit." Each pit was about 6.5 meters deep, extending 2.5 meters below ground level and about 4 meters above the floor. Forty-centimeter thick concrete walls, to which the test centrifuges were attached, surrounded the above-ground portion of the pit. The Iraqis had calculated that this wall thickness was required in case a heavy centrifuge jacket, or outer casing, (60-70 centimeters long) was to break away from its fixtures while spinning at high speed and crash into a wall.
After the Persian Gulf War, Iraq dismantled the pits and placed miscellaneous equipment throughout the building to disguise the building's true purpose. Click here to see the inside of the building as it looked in 1996.
Stemmler could hear the test stands when he approached them, which confirmed the existence of problems in the vacuum system. He was able to fix the vacuum problem relatively easily.
Although Stemmler's assistance in this particular case was rather mundane, it allowed the Iraqis to overcome an important "bottleneck" in their program. The Iraqis knew when they started that the Beams-type centrifuge was not the best one to pursue, but they understood that operating this centrifuge would provide valuable experience about centrifuge manufacturing and operation. According to senior Iraqis, without the experience of the Beams-type centrifuge, the new designs acquired from Stemmler in August 1988 "might have looked strange." The Beams-centrifuge program continued until the technology was proven.
A senior Iraqi centrifuge expert said in 1996 that from Rashdiya they flew Stemmler by helicopter to the Saddam Establishment. There Stemmler consulted with people involved in manufacturing centrifuge components.
In 1990, when Stemmler was asked by the media and German authorities for the location of Rashdiya, he incorrectly placed this test stand building in southeastern Baghdad. Iraqis drove him to the site in a circuitous way, disorienting Stemmler. As a result, Rashdiya was not discovered until after the Persian Gulf War. Its full significance was not realized until 1995, after the defection of Hussein Kamel and the decision by Iraq to reveal extensive details about its operation at Rashdiya and the Germans who helped them.
Harvesting a Bumper Crop of Sensitive Centrifuge Assistance
The assistance of Stemmler and Busse in mid-1988 enabled Iraq to shift its centrifuge program to the development and construction of the more powerful Zippe-type centrifuge. Senior Iraqi centrifuge officials said that the August 1988 visit "provided a clear road" for the development of a Zippe-type centrifuge.
This machine is considerably more difficult to build than a Beams-type machine, but Iraq could reasonably expect to master it with the assistance provided by these German centrifuge experts. Throughout the rest of 1988, Iraq put together its plans to create a program to develop a centrifuge design and a manufacturing complex to make a large number of this type of centrifuge. Because a centrifuge can enrich only a small amount of uranium, hundreds of centrifuges are linked together by pipes and valves into a cascade.
A question remains about why Busse and Stemmler provided so much classified information. Perhaps, Stemmler and Busse were only being responsive to Iraqi requests for additional gas centrifuge technology and sought only more money for themselves. Another possibility is that they provided classified information in order to interest the Iraqis in building this type of centrifuge so that they and their colleagues at H+H could sell them machine tools and associated items. These machine tools commanded far greater fees than those funds gained from selling classified information.
In any case, Stemmler continued to provide Iraq with a steady stream of documents. About five weeks after returning from Iraq, Stemmler came to H+H. The Iraqi, Naseer, who was receiving technical training at H+H and represented H+H's partner the Al Arabi Trading Company, came to Hinze and said he needed a faster copy machine. Hinze wanted to know why, and Naseer responded that he wanted to make copies of Stemmler's documents, which contained further information on gas centrifuges. Hinze refused, and Naseer and Stemmler drove two hours to the Iraqi embassy in Bonn to make the copies.
During this initial period of cooperation, Stemmler also visited Iraq again. An Iraqi centrifuge expert said he visited in November 1988. Stemmler also met Iraqis in Germany. On a visit in December, senior Iraqi centrifuge officials visited Stemmler's house near Munich to see more drawings and reports. They also asked for his advice on manufacturing questions.
The Iraqis interviewed Stemmler intensively both in Iraq and Germany. His extensive knowledge and experience was a steady source of information for the Iraqis, much of which was as valuable as that contained in the documents Stemmler provided.
Stemmler provided assistance on the design of several centrifuge components. He helped with the design of the bottom bearing, supplied critical data for the placement of scoops, and helped with the design of a cascade.
He provided information on a patented process for applying a homogenous oxide coating on maraging steel that he and a few colleagues at MAN had developed. Although maraging steel oxidizes naturally when formed into tubes or other components, Stemmler had found that if the natural oxide layer is removed and replaced with a carefully applied uniform coating, the maraging steel components will resist corrosion significantly longer. Stemmler included supplementary information about the patent. He described how to apply a good oxide layer and how to acquire the necessary oxidation furnaces. He said he gave Iraqi experts enough information to start oxidizing maraging steel rotors. Stemmler expected to provide more assistance to the Iraqis on doing the coating properly. Achieving a homogeneous layer can be very difficult, and according to Stemmler, it "takes a long time to develop a feeling for the process." He expected to spend many months in Iraq "making experiments together" with the Iraqis.
Stemmler also gave Iraq centrifuge components. Hinze said that Stemmler gave Naseer a centrifuge motor on a visit to H+H. Stemmler had obtained this part at MAN. Iraq reverse engineered the motor, determining the inner parts and the method of assembling the motor. Iraq says it acquired a different centrifuge motor in early 1989, perhaps from Stemmler, that it said it did not reverse engineer. Stemmler also gave Iraq a ring magnet for an upper bearing.
Stemmler was willing to find answers to questions for which he did not know the answers himself. He is known to have also sought additional documents from his colleagues at MAN. Based on statements of MAN employees during the trial of Hinze, on September 6, 1988 Stemmler called a long-term colleague who had also been involved in centrifuge development requesting to see him in his office. When he arrived, Stemmler asked his colleague if he had documents about centrifuge components in his possession. He said no, at which point Stemmler asked if he could reconstruct such parts from memory, or if he could obtain hardware parts, e.g. rejected parts. Stemmler said he was interested in the upper and lower bearings and the sampling system. He asked Stemmler why he needed these parts. Stemmler replied candidly that Iraq or Iran was interested in these components, and he had made an offer to "work down there."
The colleague said he immediately declined to help Stemmler, and attempted to dissuade Stemmler from pursuing his plan. But Stemmler said he wanted to "see this through" and had no particular reason why he should be considerate of MAN. Stemmler also said that Busse was involved in the project. According to the colleague, he said to Stemmler: "Let's forget this meeting [ever took place]; I did not hear anything."
When asked if Stemmler would have been able to get the documents without his help, the colleague said those documents would have been archived, requiring Stemmler to give a plausible reason for gaining access to the records, "which would have been hardly possible," he added. In hindsight, this employee was at best remarkably naïve.
Stemmler is believed to have taken many classified documents from MAN in violation of security procedures. Because of his work there on gas centrifuges in the late 1960s and 1970s, he had access to a wide variety of documents. He often worked alone without a secretary and had many opportunities to copy classified documents without being detected. Taking them home would have presented few problems. In addition, Stemmler was aware of the level of security on rejected centrifuge parts. They were "easy for employees to take" during this period, according to another person involved in assisting Iraq's gas centrifuge program.
The Iraqis also expected that Busse and Stemmler would recruit other experts if they could not answer a question themselves. In one case, Stemmler recommended an old friend, Karl Otto Brauer, to help the Iraqis on ballistic missiles. After Brauer visited Iraq in February 1989, however, Iraq decided not to hire Brauer as a consultant. For more on Brauer's relationship with Iraq, click here.
During Stemmler's first visit to Iraq, he tried to interest his Iraqi hosts in gas centrifuge rotors made from carbon fiber, a material that enables rotors to spin faster than those made from maraging steel. On his second visit, according to a senior Iraqi official, he told the Iraqis that he had a "friend" who could help make such centrifuges. The Iraqis were at the time uninterested in such assistance and were already committed to buying equipment to make maraging steel rotors. H+H also disapproved of such assistance. Within a few months, however, all the key players would develop an interest in carbon fiber rotors and develop a close relationship with Stemmler's friend. (see Part II).
In sum, Stemmler and Busse were extremely valuable to the Iraqis. The Iraqis received on-going technical assistance and detailed, classified designs of many components of tested Urenco-type centrifuges. They received many reports containing essential details of the production and operation of several early-generation Urenco centrifuges and of the method to hook them together by pipes into cascades. Most of the individual reports or drawings were stamped at the lowest level of classification, called in German "Nur Fuer Dienstgebrauch," or "official use only." Collectively, however, they had a higher level of classification, according to Urenco and German officials.
In evaluating Stemmler's assistance, the Iraqis said that the drawings and documents he provided were his most significant contribution to their program. They also valued their technical discussions with Stemmler. One Iraqi centrifuge expert said that Stemmler may not have always been accurate, and he had forgotten many things, but they learned a considerable amount from Stemmler. Even his inaccurate or incomplete answers helped their own analysis of the problems they were confronting at the time.
The Iraqis learned the subtleties of building and operating centrifuges from two individuals who had directly participated in the creation of these early centrifuges. The Iraqis learned what equipment they needed in order to make centrifuges and where to obtain specific equipment. They had on-going access to these experts who were willing to provide additional technical advice and information and recommendations of other experts. Such assistance would be critical to Iraq because it continued to experience many problems in its effort to build gas centrifuges.
What Stemmler Received Stemmler cooperated with Iraq primarily to make money. He viewed his salary at MAN as relatively low for a person of his experience, and he wanted both additional money and a better professional situation. His colleagues have talked repeatedly about Stemmler's intention to take a professorship at the University of Baghdad, where he intended to run a centrifuge laboratory.
For his efforts Stemmler is known to have received at least 150,000 DM. He believed that he would have received significantly more money if he had taken a position in Iraq. Stemmler's colleagues say that they expected Stemmler's professorship to be lucrative. One former colleague said that Stemmler talked about wanting a contract worth about two million DM before he would leave MAN.
The Iraqis were willing to go to great lengths to satisfy Stemmler, although they were becoming irritated with his requests. Habobi approached Hinze in Baghdad to discuss Stemmler's requests as part of accepting a contract as professor. Habobi said to Hinze, "Do you know what Stemmler demands?" Hinze said no.
The Iraqi said: "Stemmler wants a house on the Tigris. That is no problem. He wants a butler in his house-no problem. He wants an auto with a chauffer-no problem. He wants a woman also--impossible!"
"Do you know a German woman who would do that?" Habobi asked Hinze. Hinze said no. Hinze recounted later that Habobi was very serious about meeting Stemmler's requests. The Iraqis wanted to solve this problem, added Hinze.
H+H as a Procurement Agent
Given Iraq's intense interest in obtaining a wide range of equipment for its growing gas centrifuge program, senior H+H personnel increasingly acted as procurement agents for Iraq. They were often at the center of a wide range of procurement efforts by the Iraqi centrifuge program. In the process, Hinze and Huetten made a considerable sum of money.
In some cases, Hinze and his colleagues would interest the Iraqis in a particular company's products and then facilitate the purchase. CNC machines purchased from Schaublin were arranged in this manner.
In the vast bulk of cases, however, Hinze said that he would receive a request by telephone or in person from Wadi, Habobi, or the commercial attaché Ali Abdul Muttalib Ali in Bonn about arranging a visit to a particular company. Hinze would contact the company and organize the visit, often driving the Iraqi delegation to the company. On some occasions, the Iraqis asked him to wait in the car.
For example, an Iraqi would tell Hinze that the program needed to learn about a particular item or technical subject. Hinze would locate a company and then organize the visit to this company. In this effort, he would research all the companies who could provide the desired product, and he systematically called them telling them that an Iraqi delegation wanted to visit about acquiring one of their products. Many companies would turn down his request, but he always found at least one company willing to meet the Iraqis.
In one specific case, an Iraqi contacted Hinze to find companies that sell certain types of dental equipment, in particular small pins and balls used in dental drills. Stemmler had told the Iraqis such companies had parts suitable for use in the bottom bearing of a centrifuge, and the companies were unlikely to be suspicious if approached for the items. (Click here to see a picture of an assembled ball and pin attached to the bottom of a bottom end cap of a centrifuge rotor.)
Hinze and Adel traveled to Switzerland for about a week to obtain this dental equipment. They visited 5-6 companies and bought about 1,000 sets of pins and balls. They also looked for laser equipment to weld the ball and pin together.
Before they are used in a centrifuge, the balls must be etched with rills or spiral grooves. Afterwards, the ball and pin become part of a specialized bottom bearing that allows the rotor to rotate rapidly with little friction between the ball and the cup upon which the ball sits. Friction is reduced by submerging the ball and cup in an oil bath. The grooves on the spinning ball pump the oil upward between the ball and cup, creating a near frictionless surface. However, designing the grooves and etching them into the ball is complicated. Stemmler provided the Iraqis with detailed, classified information about the pattern of the spiral grooves on balls and techniques for producing the grooving on the balls.
Other companies contacted or visited in this manner included Leybold's office in Cologne, Germany for vacuum valves and pipes; Phillips in Amsterdam for special valves and pipes; Schenck of Germany for balancing machines; and an unnamed company for copper tubes for scoops for an initial Iraqi centrifuge design.
Hinze successfully arranged the purchase of an electron beam welder from the U.S. subsidiary of Leybold. Hinze also sold Iraq used machine tools.
In all cases, Iraq would have a cover story. For example, on the visit to Leybold in Cologne, the Iraqis said that they needed valves and pipes for repairing the French-supplied reactor that was destroyed by Israel in 1981.
H+H arranged visits to Iraq by foreign companies. For example, H+H arranged the visit of representatives of Vereinigte Aluminum Werke (VAW) to the Badr Establishment in early 1989. There, they met with Mohammed (code name for Ubeidy) about providing aluminum alloy tubes. The company was told that the end user of the tubes was the oil industry.
Other functions performed by H+H officials included arranging shipments of items and trouble-shooting orders to ensure that an item was delivered. In mid-1989, Iraq placed an order with UNIS in Yugoslavia for about 300 forgings made out of 350-grade maraging steel that Nassr General Establishment provided. Several times, however, UNIS requested H&H to ensure that Nassr would deliver more of the needed "material." H+H passed on these requests to the Iraqi commercial attaché in Bonn.
H+H also tested maraging steel for Iraq. An Iraqi brought a maraging steel tube and H+H made a trial to ensure the material was adequate. For chemical or structural analysis of maraging steel, H+H subcontracted with other firms.
H+H also tested maraging steel for Comm Naval, with the apparent purpose to understand better the production of high specification tubes on its machines. H+H purchased some maraging steel from the German firm Roechling-Stahl, and tried to make high quality tubes with the DV 380 flow-forming machine. Hinze said the maraging steel from Roechling-Stahl was not good enough to make high quality tubes. Because the material was expensive, H+H personnel complained to the supplier. Roechling-Stahl said that it had produced the material about ten years earlier for MAN, but MAN had rejected the material. Roechling-Stahl had it in stock and provided it to H+H. Hinze nonetheless said that this experience taught H+H experts a considerable amount about the bearings and rollers needed to make high-precision tubes. One realization, according to Hinze, was that H+H's machine was not properly made to make centrifuge rotors. The rollers H+H included in its machines were not precise enough, Hinze said. A high quality grinding machine was needed to make the rollers precise enough for making centrifuge rollers.
H+H arranged the travel of technical experts, such as Stemmler and Busse, and it also paid some of their consulting costs. H+H would pay for consulting or travel costs, and the Iraqis would reimburse H+H. The reimbursement procedure was to add these costs to various on-going contracts between H+H and an Iraqi procurement company. Typically, these costs were only a small fraction of the costs of selling equipment to Iraq.
Outfitting Al Furat
By late 1988, Iraq was in possession of detailed designs of many centrifuge parts, a guide to key suppliers, on-going technical assistance, and aid with its foreign procurement efforts. An immediate outcome of the assistance provided by the H+H team was that Iraq decided to implement quickly the Al Furat project, also called project 112, to create an industrial infrastructure to make annually thousands of Zippe-type centrifuges.
Iraq recognized that it was unable to make these centrifuges without extensive foreign assistance and procurement. The Iraqi centrifuge experts had matured through their own centrifuge efforts. One of the lessons was to understand their own limitations in making high-precision centrifuge components. Local manufacturing of centrifuge parts for the Beams-type centrifuge during 1987-88 demonstrated the problem of obtaining the accuracy and tolerances for each component. The reasons included poor quality machine tools, inadequate quality control, and a lack of experience in high-precision manufacturing.
Iraq's decision to procure the machines needed to make the new, Zippe-type machine was controversial and debated extensively. At the time, Iraq was far from having a tested centrifuge prototype. Should they seek only to acquire important components for a prototype, or should they simultaneously procure manufacturing equipment and raw materials? There were risks with either approach. If the design changed significantly, Iraq could waste both time and money procuring items that would not be necessary in the end. But delay in procuring manufacturing equipment could give Western intelligence agencies more time to learn about Iraq's secret effort and take steps to disrupt foreign procurement.
At a key meeting in late 1988, the Iraqi centrifuge officials decided on a plan of action. After balancing options, Iraqi centrifuge officials decided to procure manufacturing equipment and materials before a prototype was developed.
Al Furat Project The goal of this project was to establish a modern facility able to make 1,000 centrifuges a year, and later expand capacity to 4,000 centrifuges a year. Iraqi planners wanted such a high throughput to account for an anticipated high reject rate in centrifuge components. Given the initial Iraqi Zippe-type centrifuge designs, 1,500 centrifuges operating together in cascades produce about 15 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium a year, or enough for one nuclear weapon per year.
From the end of 1988 through mid-1989, Iraq signed most of the important contracts for the Al Furat project. The table lists the most important of the initial contracts and the suppliers. Because the project was based on manufacturing maraging steel rotors, Iraq ordered flow-forming equipment, heat treatment furnaces, materials, specialized welding equipment, and sophisticated CNC machines. Click here for more information about Al Furat, including a site map and overhead images of the site.
A modern centrifuge plant also requires a specialized working environment with controlled temperature and cleanliness, commonly called "clean rooms." The Iraqi Al Fao Establishment was made responsible for the engineering design and construction activities at the site, which was at Yousifiya, south of Baghdad. The site had been a mechanical training center, and already had many buildings and utilities that could be adapted relatively easily to the centrifuge plant.
However, Al Fao had no experience in clean-room technology or construction. As a result, it contracted with the British company ITSC and the German firm Interatom to build two clean room buildings. Both contracts were signed in the fall of 1989.
In November 1989, Iraq contracted with Interatom to construct building B01, also called central workshop T1250. Iraq knew that Interatom had built clean rooms for centrifuge manufacturing plants and was easy to approach through its office in Baghdad. The value of the contract was about 25 million DM. Iraq did not tell Interatom the true purpose of the building; it declared this building as a tube manufacturing workshop. In reality, B01 would have been dedicated to piping for centrifuge cascades, mechanical testing of single centrifuges, and balancing and final assembly of centrifuges. It was also designed to hold a test cascade of centrifuges. The contract envisioned that construction would be finished in October 1990, although construction was far behind schedule by that point. For example, no centrifuges were installed in this building by the time of the Gulf War.
The design of building B01 took months, which helps explain the delay in construction. Iraq needed to design the rooms in the building for a purpose that was not formally stated to Interatom. In this difficult effort, Iraq needed to take special precautions, such as isolating its centrifuge people so that Interatom would not inadvertently learn the true purpose of the building.
In addition, Iraq was constantly learning more about centrifuge manufacturing, requiring changes in the building designs or the specific purpose of rooms. For example, in early 1990, Iraq decided to install a larger cascade of centrifuges in the building. Instead of 36 centrifuges, it decided that it wanted to install a test cascade of 120 centrifuges, able to make one kilogram of 93 percent enriched uranium each year. This change required that the room had to be enlarged and other rooms reduced in size. In the process, the designers had to ensure that other rooms were not reduced to the point that they could not hold the necessary equipment. In another case, Interatom recommended pouring a concrete floor for the entire B01 site to a depth of 80 centimeters. The Iraqis concluded, after lengthy discussions that this procedure would not work in the cascade room, and told Interatom that the floor in this particular room should not be poured uniformly. In the end, the floor was poured concrete but with pits for centrifuge mounts.
Al Fao contracted with the British firm ITSC to design, supply, and erect the utilities and mechanical equipment for building B02. It in turn subcontracted another firm to provide the clean room technology and items. The total contract had a value of about 10 million British pounds. This building was planned to house rotor manufacturing and assembly, bearing assembly, and chemical cleaning and treatment of surfaces. The contract called for construction to be finished by December 1990, but construction was way behind schedule.
The other main building was B00, which was a modified building that was part of the original facility. It was intended to hold machines to make specific centrifuge components and manufacture the motors
By early 1989, Iraq's work on the prototype centrifuge was advancing. Between September 1988 and February 1989, the program had developed four different designs based on the drawings and advice provided by Stemmler and Busse. All of these designs used maraging steel rotors and a 3-millimeter ball in the bottom bearing. The later ones included stainless steel feeding and extraction systems, a single molecular pump, and a 66-watt hysterisis motor. The designs also started to use cobalt samarium magnets in a concentric pattern rather than aluminum-nickel-cobalt (AlNiCo) magnets in parallel. Later Iraqi designs would include a 4-millimeter ball and other improvements. These changes implied a considerable level of on-going assistance from Busse and Stemmler.
Iraq developed a strategy to contract with foreign suppliers for specific centrifuge components for its prototype designs. Although it was developing a capability to make its own components at Al Furat and Rashdiya, many of the required machines were not expected to be delivered until the end of 1989 or first half of 1990. In the interim, Iraq decided to procure enough components for 50 centrifuges. By providing designs of specific components to trusted foreign companies, Iraq did not believe its actions would be detected by foreign intelligence agencies.
As mentioned above, the first order was with H+H for centrifuge rotors. In November 1988, Iraq placed an order with the Swiss company Schaublin for the manufacture of many centrifuge parts as part of a large contract for machine tools. In April 1989, Iraq contracted with Matrix Churchill, an Iraqi-owned company, for the manufacture of additional components. Finally, in September 1989, the German firm C. Plath was asked to make components.
H+H appears to have had an important role beyond just producing maraging steel rotors for the prototype. According to a "Protocol" between H+H and the Iraqi centrifuge program covering a set of meetings held from February 4-11, 1989, H+H agreed to help the program get a centrifuge "assembly" started by September 15, 1989. A schedule attached to the Protocol covered all parts and indicated when raw materials and manufactured parts would become available. Each party was given responsibility for certain individual items. H+H agreed to submit a weekly report and meet every two weeks with Iraqis to follow the progress of the work. The location of each meeting was to alternate between the offices of each party to the Protocol. H+H also agreed to "remain alerted in the foreseen future and up to the assembly [sic] for the assistance in and manufacturing of any parts deemed necessary for reasons due to changes in design."
H+H also committed to provide on-site a qualified welder and Mr. Bob, a code name for Busse, during the assembly stage. Busse was also to remain during the start-up phase.
In addition, the February Protocol commited H+H to training at its plant one Iraqi engineer in flow-forming techniques and another person in the "field of metallography." It also was requested to "prepare for the supply of various machine tools and equipment for a piping and equipment workshop" and explore valves and flanges made from aluminum alloys.
Although H+H's procurement and training efforts for the prototype progressed satisfactorily, its efforts to make maraging steel rotors ran into significant problems. Such difficulties could have been expected. When Busse started the program to make maraging steel rotors at MAN, for example, he found it difficult to make acceptable tubes. According to a former senior scientist at MAN, the first tube made to proper specifications was kept as a prized object.
During the spring and summer of 1989, Iraqi experts met with Busse, Hinze, and Stemmler in Iraq, Austria, and Germany about problems in making maraging steel rotors. When the Iraqis could not get visas for Germany, they asked the Germans to meet them in Austria. The Iraqi participants typically included Adel, Ubeidy, and Ali. During these meetings, Busse, Hinze, and the Iraqis engaged in detailed discussions about flow forming of tubes and methods to anneal and balance these tubes and other centrifuge components.
Despite these meetings and efforts by H+H to make the rotors, the situation reached a crisis sometime in the spring or summer 1989. For example, minutes of meetings held from July 2-6, 1989 in Baghdad illustrate the Iraqis' growing frustration over this issue. The minutes state: "It is strongly felt by the Iraqi side that H+H must put much more efforts [sic] than that presently put in order to realize the cylinders in the specifications required." The Iraqis emphasized that H+H should provide the required number of cylinders in early September and immediately implement a proper quality control procedure. Iraq also insisted that the DV 380 flow-forming machine undergo an acceptance test prior to shipment to Iraq. "Otherwise," the minutes stated, "the machine should not be shipped until it proves that it can do the job." The minutes close with the following: "It must be emphasized that the commitment of H+H to accomplish the prototype must be highly respected which means carrying out all the obligations which H+H must fulfill by itself and with others."
During this period, according to H+H employees' testimony during Hinze's trial, H+H was under intense pressure to make rotors of the right specifications. As a result, these employees worked long hours to try to make acceptable rotors. The workers said that they knew the rotors were for uranium separation and discussed this fact during their meals, although Hinze denies knowing at that time that the purpose of the tubes was uranium enrichment.
Given the problems in making maraging steel rotors, Iraq, H+H, and its advisors started in the summer of 1989 to implement a program to make carbon fiber rotors. However, carbon fiber is difficult to use in a centrifuge. To implement this program and overcome any difficulties, Iraq decided to take Stemmler's recommendation and hire his special friend.