Stealing the Fire: The Secret Story of Iraq and the Bomb

Producers Eric Nadler (Frontline) and John S. Friedman (Marcel Ophuls's Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie) collaborated on this gripping 2002 video profile of German technician Karl-Heinz Schaab, a bland and complacent nowhere man who was convicted in 1999 of having sold Iraq blueprints for a supercentrifuge that would allow the manufacture of fissionable uranium 235 (he even traveled to Baghdad to install the first one). Schaab lifted the blueprints from a company that used the technology to enrich nuclear fuel, but Nadler and Friedman trace the centrifuge back to the 40s, when it was developed as part of the Nazis' nuclear program by the industrial firm Degussa. To their credit, they remind us that after the war firms like Degussa—which also produced Zyklon B and processed fillings taken from Jews—were protected by the American business community in the fever of anticommunism. Schaab, who cooled his heels in a Brazilian prison for 15 months, wound up with a $32,000 fine and probation; given that miscarriage of justice, the filmmakers can be forgiven their burst of sarcasm at the end, as a clip of New Yorkers fleeing the collapse of the World Trade Center—used to evoke the terror of a rogue nuclear attack—is followed by Schaab enjoying a drink after his release and declaring, “The worst is behind us, and now the best is yet to come.” 97 min.

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