CIA Director William H. Webster said Tuesday that Libya is building the largest chemical weapons production plant that the CIA has yet detected anywhere, and he predicted that the potential of chemical warfare will constitute “one of the most serious threats to world peace” in the coming years.
Speaking of the challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community in the coming decade, Webster put the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons high on the list and said their deployment on ballistic missiles could “seriously alter” the Arab-Israeli balance of power.
“Virtually every city in the Middle East” would be subject to attack if chemical weapons and ballistic missiles are combined, he said.
Bid to Influence Policies
He said Libya is “developing the largest chemical plant that I know of for chemical warfare” in a bid to influence policies in the Middle East.
Webster, responding to reporters’ questions after a speech Tuesday to the World Affairs Council here, said the Libyan plant is “as large as anything we have seen. I’m talking about our own capabilities.”
He refused to say whether the plant is functioning or what kind of chemical weapons it could produce.
The plant, reportedly about 50 miles southwest of the capital of Tripoli, is said to have been built in a large industrial park with the help of the Japan Steel Works.
The United States has expressed its concern to the Japanese government about the company’s involvement. It is not clear whether the company was aware it was helping to build a plant capable of producing chemical weapons.
Soviets, Asia Cited
Webster listed the Soviet Union, South Asia and the Persian Gulf as the main areas of CIA concern in the coming decade.
The CIA director’s major concern in the Persian Gulf appeared to derive from the lessons to be drawn from the long Iran-Iraq War, particularly the repeated use of what he said Winston Churchill called “that hellish poison,” chemical weapons. He said this had set “a dangerous precedent” that could lead to smaller powers turning to such weapons as “a cheap and readily available means” to increase their military power.
He said the agency estimates that 20 countries are developing chemical weapons and 10 biological agents but added that it is extremely difficult to track such developments.