Thursday, October 28, 2004

Round-up on the NYT Missing Explosives Story (in progress)

On Monday, the NY Times ran a front page story purporting that nearly 380 tons of high explosives had been looted from the Al Qaqaa weapons depot while it was supposedly under American control. Since then, the story, which was immediately seized on by the Kerry campaign, has been vigorously challenged on several fronts. While lacking the outright fabrication angle of the Rathergate mess, the "missing explosives" story does appear to have been a poorly reserached hit-piece on the Bush administration.

Here's a summary of the story's faults:

The NY Time's figure of 380 tons may be overstated.

ABC News reports that there might have been much less than the reported 380 tons at Al Qaqaa:
Iraqi officials may be overstating the amount of explosives reported to have disappeared from a weapons depot, documents obtained by ABC News show.The Iraqi interim government has told the United States and international weapons inspectors that 377 tons of conventional explosives are missing from the Al-Qaqaa installation, which was supposed to be under U.S. military control.

But International Atomic Energy Agency documents obtained by ABC News and first reported on "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" indicate the amount of missing explosives may be substantially less than the Iraqis reported.

The information on which the Iraqi Science Ministry based an Oct. 10 memo in which it reported that 377 tons of RDX explosives were missing — presumably stolen due to a lack of security — was based on "declaration" from July 15, 2002. At that time, the Iraqis said there were 141 tons of RDX explosives at the facility.

But the confidential IAEA documents obtained by ABC News show that on Jan. 14, 2003, the agency's inspectors recorded that just over three tons of RDX were stored at the facility — a considerable discrepancy from what the Iraqis reported.
Via The Kerry Spot. I'd agree that 3 tons vs. 141 tons is a "considerable discrepancy"

Additional commentary from Blogs for Bush.

The Times is wrong on when the IAEA last verified the explosives at Al Qaqaa and fails to state how easily the IAEA seals could be circumvented.

As repeated today (10/29) by Fox News:

Meanwhile, an IAEA report obtained by FOX News said the inspectors noted that despite the fact that the Al-Qaqaa bunkers were locked, ventilation shafts remained open and provided easy access to the explosives.
The IAEA can definitively say only that the documented ammunition was at the facility in January; in March, an agency spokesman conceded, inspectors only checked the locked bunker doors.

The 101st was not the first U.S. unit to reach Al Qaqaa - the explosives were already gone when the 3ID arrived a week earlier.

The 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) reached and thoroughly searched Al Qaqaa a week before the 101st arrived reports CBS News (the Times erstwhile partner in breaking this story). As reported in this report, U.S. Searches 'Suspicious' Iraqi Site, from April 4, 2003:

U.S. troops found thousands of boxes of white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents on how to engage in chemical warfare at an industrial site south of Baghdad. But a senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the materials were believed to be explosives.

Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the materials were found Friday at the Latifiyah industrial complex just south of Baghdad.

"It is clearly a suspicious site," Peabody said.

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction continues at sites where the U.S. thought chemicals weapons might be hidden.

"And although there are no reports of actual weapons being found, there are constant finds of suspicious material," Martin said. "It obviously will take laboratory testing to find out exactly what that powder is."

The senior U.S. official, based in Washington and speaking on condition of anonymity, said the material was under further study. The site is enormous and U.S. troops are still investigating it for potential weapons of mass destruction, the official said.

"Initial reports are that the material is probably just explosives, but we're still going through the place," the official said.

Peabody said troops found thousands of boxes, each of which contained three vials of white powder, together with documents written in Arabic that dealt with how to engage in chemical warfare.

He also said they discovered atropine, used to counter the effects of nerve agents.

The facility had been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons site. U.N. inspectors visited the plant at least nine times, including as recently as Feb. 18.

The facility is part of a larger complex known as the Latifiyah Explosives and Ammunition Plant al Qa Qaa.
See additional reporting from Blogs for Bush.

Sounds like a pretty thorough search. You'd figure they would have stumbled across 380 tons of explosives lying around.

As Powerline reports, despite numerous references to the 3ID's activities at Al Qaqaa in the days before the 101st arrived, the Times has yet to correct this:

The New York Times reports again on Al Qaqaa this morning, and again its report is misleading at best. Astonishingly, the Times has yet to mention the fact that the 3rd Infantry Division was at Al Qaqaa on April 4, 2003; that they knew that the site had been designated as one that was important to search; and that they did search the site. As we and many others have pointed out, contemporaneous news reports in organs like CBS and the Washington Post described in detail what the 3rd ID found in Al Qaqaa, including boxes filled with white powder, vials, and Arabic instructions in how to conduct chemical warfare. What the 3rd ID didn't find, however, was 380 tons of explosives. At this point, pretty much everyone knows this story except, apparently, the Times.
Instead, the Times continues to infer that U.S. troops did not know of the importance of Al Qaqaa, citing comments from the commander of the 101's 2nd Brigade but ignoring reporting of detailed searches by the 3ID.

The Times incorrectly stated that "White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year."

It's unlikely that looters could have moved 380 tons of explosives without anyone noticing.

Captain's Quarters does the math on what it would take to move 380 tons of explosives:

Bottom line this operation would take the resources of AN ENTIRE COMPANY (approx. 100 men) OVER TWO WEEKS, good Intel to know exactly where the "right" explosives were hidden and a means of breaching huge steel doors and concrete of an ASP.
And all of this would have to be done in an area with numerous intel overflights that would be looking for exactly this kind of activity in the combat zone, and not get noticed at all. Like so much of what the New York Times, CBS, and the Kerry campaign feeds us ... it just doesn't add up.

The explosives at Al Qaqaa could have been moved as part of Iraq's systematic dispersal program before the U.S. invaded.

The Washington Times reported this morning on the possibility that Russia could have aided Sadaam's regime in moving weapons into Syria in advance of the U.S. invasion. See the separate post here.

If the HMX and RDX had been looted, wouldn't some of it have ended up in the hands of the terrorists? None of the "missing" explosives have ever been used against coalition forces in the year plus long insurgency.

The timing of the story makes it look like a hit-piece on Bush.

On the heels of Rathergate, we see another pated-up anti-Bush story rushed to print. As Powerline noted the day after the original story ran:

Yesterday's big New York Times page-one takedown of President Bush was "Huge cache of explosives vanished from site in Iraq." Today the Times reports "Iraq
explosive become issue in campaign."
On day one the Times publishes the
story; on day two the Times notes the injection of the issue raised by the story
into the campaign. This is how it works in the great tradition of the New York
See additional commentary on this by Blogs for Bush. Why was there such a "rush to print"? Powerline picks up on the NY Times excuses for running such a poorly researched story:

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, gave an interview yesterday to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post about the Times' bogus Al Qaqaa story. Backpedaling furiously, Keller said that the piece was rushed into print--my words, not his--because it was "starting to leak on the internet." Consequently, Keller says he told CBS: "You know what? We're going to have to run it Monday." Got that? When the Times runs a false, half-baked story it isn't their fault; they had to do it lest people get wind of the false, half-baked story from some other source first.
Furthering the perception of coordination between the Denmocrats and the MSM, the Kerry campaign was quick to incorporate this into their candidate's stump speech and to make the Times allegations the basis of a commercial discussed here.

The motivation of the source behind the story appears to be political.

IAEA head Mohammed El Baradei, is seeking a third term. The Bush administration opposes this. If Bush is reelected, El Baradei is out. If John Kerry is elected, he likely stays.