November 22, 2002
SEATTLE — U.N. weapons inspectors should have no trouble communicating with some of the scientists in Iraq’s weapons program. After the Gulf War it was discovered that many of Saddam Hussein’s top engineers were educated in the United States then forced to work on Iraqi military projects.
“We had a couple of individuals who said they were made an offer that they could not refuse,” said Richard Spertzel, former U.N. weapons inspector.
But even after the U.S. government learned of Saddam’s Western education program and the coercion he used to keep those scientists, American universities continued to open their doors, with approval from the INS.
This is a move some analysts say the country can no longer afford to make.
A Georgia State University study found during the 1990s that 112 Iraqi students received science and engineering PhDs in the U.S. and more than 1,200 of these potentially sensitive degrees were handed out to students from countries that sponsor terrorism.
“You’ll see many (North) Koreans, some Iranians, you’ll see folks from Iraq and other people who could be Al Qaeda sympathizers or sympathizers to Saddam Hussein,” said David Christian, a military analyst.
Universities will be required to start tracking foreign students beginning in January and will have to let the INS know when a foreign student drops out, moves or changes his or her major.
But some educators dismiss the program as an unnecessary burden.
“We believe we should allow equal access to bright, talented students all over the world, and not screening them out just by an accident of where they were born,” said Marsha Landolt, graduate student dean at the University of Washington.
“One out of a million people may have a bent toward weapons of mass destruction and going back and developing them,” Christian said. “But can we afford that?”
One reason American universities are interested in recruiting foreign students is simply economics, as they tend to pay full tuition. Most graduate programs in the hard sciences include large numbers of non-U.S. citizens.
Soon these students will be under closer scrutiny, but the question looms: Did the attention come too late?