http://www.wired.com/news/conflict/0,2100,55967,00.html By Brian McWilliams Oct. 28, 2002 On the afternoon of July 17, a self-proclaimed expert in biochemistry composed an e-mail message to Saddam Hussein. The message, sent from an MSN Hotmail account on a computer in China, recommended the use of methyl bromide, an agricultural pesticide, as an effective chemical weapon against the U.S. Army. "For weapon use, have function: no color, no smell, will let person dead in a few second," wrote the e-mail's author, who provided the phone number and address of a distributor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from which the toxic chemical could be purchased "in cylinder or in can." The chilling electronic missive was among hundreds evidently sent to Iraq's president last summer from people around the world. As America veers toward confrontation with Iraq, these e-mail messages provide a raw, uncensored view of global opinion -- and of the potential challenges awaiting U.S. efforts to disarm or overthrow Saddam, Iraq's leader since 1979. It's not clear whether Saddam uses e-mail or even knows how to operate a personal computer. But scores of people write to him each week at pressat_private, the e-mail address listed on the official homepage of the Iraqi presidency since at least October 2000. Messages sent to the account, Iraq's version of presidentat_private, run the gamut from fawning solicitations for autographed photos and media interviews to obscene death threats. The e-mails sent to pressat_private were obtained earlier this month by first clicking on a link, labeled "Check your e-mail in Uruk," on the homepage of Iraq's state-controlled ISP, Uruklink.net, then guessing the login name and password -- both of which were the same, five-letter word. Uruklink's Web-based e-mail service has been unavailable for the past three days. The version of webmail software used by the Iraqi ISP is known to have several security holes -- but the patches available for them do not appear to have been applied. Among the hundreds of messages marked as unread in Saddam's inbox were several junk e-mails and messages infected with computer viruses. Numerous e-mails -- including some from Americans -- offered advice and assistance to Saddam. Consider, for example, a flurry of messages apparently sent to Saddam by an employee of a Saudi Arabian oil company in July and August. The e-mails contained cryptic reports in broken English about the location of U.S. oil pipelines, as well as warnings about the movement of submarines, aircraft and other military equipment and personnel in the Middle East. "I will try to give you (An Sha Allah) a good way to protect your Muslims," said the message. (The phrase In sha' Allah, from the Quran, means "God willing.") Meanwhile, an Internet user from Washington state, who conceded that he would "probably end up on some FBI watch list for writing this," told Saddam in an e-mail dated Aug. 1 that he opposed military action against Iraq. The author of the message advised Saddam to be diligent "with regards to your own personal security. The CIA is notoriously crafty and extremely adept at overthrowing governments and their respective leaders." In another message, a resident of Vienna, Austria, told Saddam in a July 27 message that Americans are "arrogant," and that should the United States attack Iraq, "you need only send a ticket and I will come to Iraq to fight the Americans. I am a good shot, and I am serious about my offer." Saddam's inbox also contained several solicitations from American companies hoping to do business with Iraq -- despite U.S. prohibitions and United Nations trade sanctions. On Aug. 16, the CEO of a California wireless technology-maker e-mailed Saddam to request a meeting. According to the CEO's message, the two could discuss "technology improvements and exporting of rich technology abroad." In a press release dated Sept. 13, the company said it has developed "4G" wireless technology capable of being used "as a weapon to ignite large sections of the atmosphere and incinerate all living creatures within its pre-selected coordinates." The press release also called for the resignation of President Bush. In a telephone interview, the CEO said he attempted to contact Saddam to obtain permission to place a wireless communications antenna in Iraq. "No way would we ever give the weapon-of-mass-destruction technology to Mr. Hussein," the executive said. On Aug. 14, the proprietor of a Las Vegas company e-mailed Saddam "looking for someone to talk to about selling my fire retardant for the army over there. We have a great product for the army." The business owner replied to an e-mailed interview request, and was informed how his message had been read. The man confirmed it had been sent from his address, but that it had been a joke by a friend. He also stressed that he would never sell products to Iraq. Joke or not, such deals with Iraq are legally risky -- if not outright illegal. A 1990 U.S. executive order prohibits transactions between American companies and Iraq, according to Joseph Wilson, former deputy chief of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute. The U.N. sanctions imposed in the wake of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait further restrict trade of "militarily useful items" with Iraq, Wilson said. An excerpt from a U.N. document known as the Goods Review List (PDF) containing a list of chemicals, biological agents and other prohibited items was repeatedly e-mailed to the Iraqi president's account from several Uruklink users over a one-week period in mid-August. A file attached to the messages was infected with what appeared to be a variant of the Yaha computer worm. The presence of strict U.N. controls didn't stop the chairman of one London company from e-mailing Saddam on Aug. 9 with an offer to mediate Iraq's purchase of unspecified products from western Europe. "Please consider this letter as secret ... I ensure you absolute secrecy," the e-mail stated. A Buenos Aires businessman repeatedly e-mailed Saddam in early August offering technology "stolen from the National Transportation Safety Board of United States" and designed to "enlarge the security of flight in helicopters." According to the author of the message, the technology was worth $40 million. International interest in e-mailing Saddam was apparently piqued in October 2001, when Iraq's leader sent a long-winded personal response to a message from Chris Love, a Pennsylvania resident who had pleaded with Saddam to seek peace with the United States. Saddam's 3,300-word message, which included the first detailed condolences by Iraq's leader following the Sept. 11 attacks, garnered considerable media coverage. Love said in an interview that he was even forced to stop answering his phone and to disable his e-mail account after receiving a barrage of interview requests. According to Wilson, Iraq has a "well-oiled propaganda machine" and messages like Love's "kind of play into Saddam's hands. He likes nothing more than to be able to parade some misguided people as proof that Americans don't support their government." Nine months after Sept. 11, however, as President Bush began turning up the heat on Iraq, Americans also wrote to criticize Iraq's ruler. A man who identified himself as a former U.S. paratrooper and Persian Gulf War veteran e-mailed on June 25 that he regretted that "a political solution decision was made before my friends and I had a chance to completely wipe your cartoon character of a leader off the face of this earth." One AOL user sent Saddam a one-word message: "Imminent." Attached to the Aug. 6 e-mail was a photograph of an atomic mushroom cloud. An Internet user from London chided Saddam for hoarding Iraq's oil wealth for himself while the country's citizens die of starvation. "You really are a most cynical regime," wrote the author of the e-mail, which was dated Aug. 10. Comments about Iraq's oil resources figured into several of the messages. An Australian resident suggested in July that Saddam cut off oil to neighboring Turkey, which the message's author said was America's No. 2 ally after Israel. The e-mail said Iraq could also tighten the screws on Turkey "if they cooperate with America" by threatening to use biological and chemicals weapons on Turkey. Though some analysts say Iraq's U.N.-mandated Persian Gulf War reparation payments -- which currently stand at more than $43 billion -- have mortgaged the future of Iraq's economy, a financial services firm in Canada was apparently still hopeful. In a July 1 e-mail addressed to "Iraqi Presidency," the chairman of the company proposed a "future relationship" with Iraq. The company, located in Montreal, specializes in "the movement and leveraging of financial instruments" as well as "conversion of currencies" and "offshore activities," according to the e-mail. One pragmatic AOL user urged Saddam on July 28 to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors as the best way to avoid war. "Please allow the weapons inspectors into your country so that the illegitimate leader of my country, the U.S.A., who perpetrated a coup and stole the election, will not have an excuse to attack your country. If you would do that it would take away his power and weaken him and make you look like the bigger man," she wrote. Another Internet user, who identified himself as a 20-year-old Mormon from Utah, wrote that he prayed for the day when Iraqis have plentiful food, medicine, clothing and other necessities. But the author of a July 19 message said he was frustrated about his inability to help bring about such changes. "To me it is all politics. Wars and disputes are not about right and wrong, nor are they about good versus evil, but they are about power," he wrote. - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Oct 29 2002 - 05:22:45 PST