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Saddam 'hoarding PlayStation consoles for military use'

ALTHOUGH he has been called many names in his time, Scrooge is not one you automatically associate with Saddam Hussein.

But the Iraqi dictator's notoriety plunged to new depths yesterday when he was accused of hoarding one of Christmas's most popular toys in a bid to build a supercomputer.

According to reports in the US, customs are investigating allegations that Iraqi secret agents have been sent to the Midwest to buy up thousands of Sony PlayStation 2 consoles so as to convert them for military use.

Although the story sounds like the plot of a Hollywood Christmas film, the claim is being taken seriously by the Pentagon.

NBC News reported that American investigators had discovered that the Iraqis bought 1,400 PlayStations from toy shops in Detroit a city with a large Arab population.

In common with many parents this year, the Iraqi agents had difficulty in obtaining the powerful PlayStation 2 and had to settle for the less sophisticated earlier model.

Experts were divided yesterday about how it could be adapted for military use.

Iraq has been under UN sanctions for a decade and has had difficulty in obtaining sophisticated technology that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction.

Toys are not covered by the embargo.

Gary Milhollin, a US security expert, told NBC that PlayStation could be adapted.

"As they get more powerful, the line between what's a toy and what's a weapon is going to disappear," he claimed.

When PlayStation2 was launched, authorities in Tokyo imposed export controls on it.

Japanese reports said that the computer graphics and memory could be adapted for use in missile-guidance systems. One report suggested that "an integrated bundle of 12 to 15 PlayStations" could be used to control a drone, a pilotless aircraft used for reconnaissance.

Nigel Powell, a computer expert for The Times Interface, said that he was suspicious about the claims, particularly because of the hype created by Sony ahead of the launch of PlayStation 2, which has been almost impossible to obtain in Britain.

"It is a powerful processor, a beast of a machine," he said. "But it is designed to shuffle video and sound on to a television. It does not have the open architecture to make it easily adaptable."

A Sony spokesman in Japan said that the company could not be held responsible for the use of its consoles once sold.

A harmless explanation is that Iragi children, like their counterparts around the world, are desperate to get their hands on the popular computer games.

(The Times, London)