Friday, October 12, 2012

Fresh Qaqaa: The Missing Weapons Story and the Spin Wars

By Nicholas Stix
1 November 2004
Men’s News Daily

Democrats' October Surprise du jour is the Al Qaqaa ka-ka, whereby the New York Times (yep, them again!) colluded with CBS News (yep, them again!) to assert, at the 11th hour, that U.S. occupation forces in Iraq had permitted terrorists to abscond with 377 tons of explosives from a munitions dump in Al Qaqaa, after the fall of Baghdad.

The explosives consisted of HMX (high-melting-point explosive), RDX (rapid-detonation explosive), and PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate). All are powerful explosives, but none ever counted as weapons of mass destruction. Coalition forces have so far confiscated and destroyed some 400,000 tons of powerful explosives.

CBS, whose anchorman Dan Rather and news division chief Andrew Heyward had learned nothing from the beating they took over Memogate/Rathergate during most of September and early October, or who figured they'd get one last lick in, before they were cashiered, apparently decided, "Let's do it again!"

The source of the Qaqaa is a letter from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), run by Mohammed el-Baradei, who had received an October 10 memo from Dr. Mohammed J. Abbas of the Iraqi Science Ministry. For much of the election campaign, self-righteous socialists and communists have screamed, "There were no WMDs!" as if that charge discredited the War in Iraq (which was not launched based on the existence of WMDs, in the first place) and derided the significance of any of the weapons found in Iraq. Now, the same self-righteous leftists are screaming, "There were all these weapons!" However, at the time the New York Times story was published (October 25), there was no evidence that the 377 tons of ordnance were still at Al Qaqaa, when Baghdad was liberated on April 9. The IAEA had claimed to have catalogued the weapons on March 16, 2003, but CBS' April, 2003 report set the last date of an IAEA inspection as February 18, 2003, and the IAEA has since admitted that its last inspection at the depot was on January 14, 2003. Thus, depending on which report you believe, anywhere from 18 to 79 days would have passed between the IAEA inspectors' departure, and the arrival of American troops at Al Qaqaa. The IAEA could not possibly have known whether or what quantity of the weapons was still at the camp by the time the first American troops, the 3rd Infantry Division, showed up on April 3, 2003. And an April 4, 2003 CBS News story reported that there were no explosives in Al Qaqaa.

Anticipating questions regarding control of the explosives, the New York Times reporters implied that the U.S. is responsible for the fate of the explosives under all scenarios. They wrote that if Saddam Hussein had ordered the explosives moved from the bunkers, in preparation for coalition bombing, they would have been lightly camouflaged on open ground, and thus easy prey for looters. I have not referred to the Al Qaqaa story as a hoax, because Times reporters James Glanz, William J. Broad, David E. Sanger and Khalid al-Ansary claim that unnamed White House and Pentagon officials confirmed that the explosives were lost ... sort of. "... White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.

"The White House said President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was informed within the past month that the explosives were missing. It is unclear whether President Bush was informed. American officials have never publicly announced the disappearance, but beginning last week they answered questions about it posed by The New York Times and the CBS News program '60 Minutes.'

"Administration officials said Sunday that the Iraq Survey Group, the C.I.A. task force that searched for unconventional weapons, has been ordered to investigate the disappearance of the explosives."

Call me pedantic, call me paranoid, but I suspect that the Administration officials in question told the Times reporters that they were aware of Dr. Abbas' charge that the explosives had vanished, rather than that the explosives had in fact vanished. Similarly, Dr. Rice would have been informed of the El Baradei letter and Abbas memo. Likewise, the Iraq Survey Group would have been charged not with investigating "the disappearance of the explosives," but with investigating the charges to determine, if, in fact, the explosives had disappeared in the first place.

Al Qaqaa, a munitions depot in a nation of munitions depots, was never a high-priority site. And the New York Times has continuously denigrated the significance of the weapons coalition forces have found in Iraq since the April 9, 2003 fall of Baghdad. And so, why should we be so concerned about the Al Qaqaa cache, one way or the other?

Almost immediately after the Qaqaa hit the fan, many reasons arose to discount, or at the very least, be highly skeptical about this story. For leftists and other Democrats, there was only one reason to believe it, or even to grant it significance: They wanted George W. Bush to lose the election, and "believing" the story was thus useful. Republican partisans also soon materialized for whom disbelieving the story had less to do with its lack of credibility than with their desire to re-elect George W. Bush.

Since the New York Times published the Al Qaqaa story on October 25, the following, mutually incompatible items have come to light:

1. The IAEA could not possibly know whether the explosives were removed after American troops appeared at Al Qaqaa, and cannot even get its story straight, as to when its personnel last inspected Al Qaqaa;

2. A CBS News story from April 4, 2003 surfaced, reporting that there were no explosives at Al Qaqaa. Note, too, that CBS' earlier report set the last date of an IAEA inspection as February 18, 2003, not March 16 of that year. IAEA has since claimed that its last inspection at the depot was on January 14, 2003;

3. As NBC's Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski reported on October 25, "NBC News [presumably Dana Lewis; see #11] was embedded with troops from the Army's 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al-Qaqaa weapons installation south of Baghdad. But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing" (from Robert B. Bluey of CNS News);

4. As Colonel David Perkins, the commander of the Army Third Infantry Division has reported, it would have been impossible to truck anything out of the Al Qaqaa complex after April 3, because the adjacent road was taken over with round-the-clock coalition supply convoys: "It would be almost impossible. There was one main road packed for weeks, bumper-to-bumper, with U.S. convoys pushing toward Baghdad."

5. As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer argued, the insurgency couldn't have made off with the alleged explosives, because at that point, the insurgency did not exist;

6. The Pentagon claimed that satellite photos from before the fall of Baghdad, had shown large trucks parked near bunkers at Al Qaqaa;

7. As the New York Post's military writer, Ralph Peters, observed on October 28, in "The Myth of the 'Missing Explosives': A Shameless Lie," "looters" could not possibly have stolen the explosives, because moving such weight would have required fork lifts and a fleet of trucks, and without trained personnel, the "looters" would have ended up blown up all over the countryside, along with their booty ("Even if repeated inspections by U.S. troops had somehow missed this deadly elephant on the front porch, and even if the otherwise-incompetent Iraqis had been so skilled and organized they were able to sneak into Al-Qaqaa and load up 400 tons of Saddam's love-powder, it would have taken a Teamsters' convention to get the job done.");

8. Peters and others have noted that military reconnaissance satellites and aircraft would have picked up on and photographed any such massive movement of non-coalition trucks and materiel after the April 9 fall of Baghdad;

9. As the Pentagon has pointed out repeatedly, 377 tons are but one-tenth of 1 percent (one-thousandth) of the amount -- 400,000 tons -- found and destroyed by coalition troops in Iraq (sure, they want to cover their derrieres, but the point is still valid);

10. As Martha Raddatz -- with research from Luis Martinez -- reported on ABC's World News Tonight on October 27, massive discrepancies obtain between the IAEA and Iraqi estimates of the missing explosives: "We have obtained a confidential report from the inspectors [presumably the UN inspectors]. In this report, there seems to be a significant discrepancy between what the Iraqis say is missing and what the inspectors said was missing. The Iraqis say there was 141 tons of the explosive RDX in July of 2002. The inspectors, in this report, said there were only three tons left in January of 2003";

11. Dana Lewis, an NBC News reporter who was embedded with the 101st Airborne when it entered Al Qaqaa in April, 2003, then said at the time, "[T]hese troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing," and since the Al Qaqaa story was published, emphasized that it would have been "pretty tough" to move the 377 tons of explosives at the time;

12. As reported by Bill Gertz in the October 27 Washington Times, Undersecretary of Defense John A. Shaw insisted that Russian special forces "almost certainly" had spirited the explosives out of the country, to Syria;

13. On October 28, an ABC News videotape from April 18, 2003 surfaced, allegedly shot at Al Qaqaa, showing that explosives were still at the depot;

14. Not even Ted Koppel of ABC News, who had done yeoman's work for the Kerry campaign, in airing an October 14 report which Koppel claimed supported John Kerry's official swift boat record in the War in Vietnam, would support the story. In closing the October 28 edition of his show, Nightline, Koppel recalled having personally been in Al Qaqaa on the road to Baghdad on April 2, 2003, showed film footage of him interviewing a U.S. Army captain there, and cited a "friend" who is a "senior military commander" who "believes that the explosives had already been removed by Saddam's forces, before we ever got there. The Iraqis, he said, were convinced that the U.S. was going to bomb the place";

15. At an October 29 Pentagon press conference, Army Maj. Austin Pearson, an ammunition management officer who was at the Iraqi ammunition depot Al Qaqaa (which he knew at the time as "Objective ELMS") in April, 2003 with the Army 3rd Infantry Division, estimated that his unit removed 200-250 tons of explosives, explosives which were destroyed in June, 2003, at Logistic Support Area Dogwood in Iraq;

Since the 15 points above are mutually incompatible, and thus confusing, you may wonder why I presented them all. The points display the chaotic character of the story and the "after-story," a character that has persisted since it was first reported. And yet, CBS News and the New York Times wanted to run with it, while ignoring all of the problems the story had, including CBS News' own story from April 4, 2003, which reported that no explosives were at Al Qaqaa by the time Baghdad fell.

People who had insisted that going to war against Saddam Hussein after 17 UN resolutions against him and after waiting over one year constituted a "rush to war," were breaking their ankles, rushing to jump on the Al Qaqaa bandwagon. Even at the close of the October 29 Pentagon press conference, in which Army Maj. Austin Pearson's announcement that his unit had removed 200-250 tons of explosives accounted for most of the ordnance from Al Qaqaa, snarling reporters -- still undeterred by the discrediting of their precious story -- were shouting out questions that presupposed that nothing in the story had changed, and that the explosives that Raddatz, Martinez, and Pearson had accounted for somehow didn't count. Now, let's take a closer look at that Martha Raddatz/Luis Martinez report for ABC News. "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.

"The IAEA documents could mean that 138 tons of explosives were removed from the facility long before the United States launched 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' in March 2003."

And 194 tons of even deadlier HMX [high-melting point] explosives stored in nine bunkers at Al Qaqaa as of January, 2003 were supposedly "under IAEA seal," except that the IAEA seals were worthless:

"These [ventilation] slats could be easily removed to remove the materials inside the bunkers without breaking the seals, the inspectors noted."

The Raddatz/Martinez report together with Maj. Pearson's statement, could explain the disposition of virtually the entire weapons cache at Al Qaqaa. (The first quoted line from the Raddatz/Martinez story may contain a typo: The alleged RDX, HMX, and PETN explosives in question totaled 377 tons. If the Iraqis claimed that 377 tons of RDX explosives were missing, they really need to get their stories straight. Thanks to the Media Research Center for the tip on the Raddatz/Martinez story.)

From the start, undeterred by the story's problems, CBS reporter Jim Axelrod followed the same m.o. Dan Rather had used even after Memogate/Rathergate began unraveling, of demanding that the President respond to unfounded charges.

As reported by the folks at the Republican Media Research Center on October 28, "ABC, NBC, FNC and CNN, but not CBS, on Wednesday night provided new details, about what is known to have happened at the al-Qaqaa compound in January to May of 2003, such as how satellite imagery shows trucks at the facility, which cast more doubts upon the charge that the 377 tons of explosives disappeared after U.S. troops arrived. Jim Axelrod noted on the CBS Evenings [sic] News that 'the President today finally broke his silence over the missing explosives in Iraq,' but it was CBS which remained silent over the revelations which conflicted with their original anti-Bush administration spin. Axelrod gloated over the negative impact on the Bush campaign: 'Mr. Bush had to say something. The timing of the story couldn't be worse for him' since 'the missing explosives are the kind of development that could push undecideds the other way.'"

Equally undeterred by the story's problems, Clinton hack/Kerry flack Joe Lockhart insisted that the Bush administration had screwed up again. As Bobby Eberle and Jimmy Moore of Talon News reported on October 27,

"'In a shameless attempt to cover up its failure to secure 380 tons of highly explosive material in Iraq, the White House is desperately flailing in an effort to escape blame,' Lockhart expressed to supporters, although he never explained how the Bush administration was doing this. 'It is the latest pathetic excuse from an administration that never admits a mistake, no matter how disastrous.'"

Winning the election for the Democrat party was so important to CBS News and the Times, that the rival organizations joined forces. CBS News had initially planned on breaking the Al Qaqaa story on 60 Minutes on October 31, less than 40 hours before Americans would begin voting for president, so that Bush forces would not have time to respond, and CBS News could tip the election to John Kerry. However, when officials at the New York Times heard that other news organizations had heard of the story from the person who had peddled it to CBS, the Times feared that they would be scooped on their own propaganda, and with CBS News' blessing, instead ran the story on October 25.

After the Times published its story, National Review's Cliff May weighed in on what he called "BOMB-GATE": "Sent to me by a source in the government: 'The Iraqi explosives story is a fraud. These weapons were not there when US troops went to this site in 2003. The IAEA and its head, the anti-American Mohammed El Baradei, leaked a false letter on this issue to the media to embarrass the Bush administration. The US is trying to deny El Baradei a second term and we have been on his case for missing the Libyan nuclear weapons program and for weakness on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.'"

Cliff May and Army Maj. Austin Pearson's respective stories cannot both be true.

Note, too, the October 28 Bill Gertz story, in which Gertz reports that Undersecretary of Defense John A. Shaw insisted to him that Russian special forces had spirited the explosives to Syria. The Pentagon quickly shot down Shaw's charge. On October 31, the Washington Times link to the Gertz story led to a page with headline links, a photograph of Al Qaqaa, and a blank spot where an article had been. That suggests that the Times was embarrassed by the story, and pulled it. (The google cache version of the article remains, but for how long is anyone's guess.) It looks as though some Pentagon officials sought to counter the New York Times/CBS News spin, by using writers at Republican media outlets, including the Washington Times and National Review, to spread their own counter-spin.

This is hardball, folks.

The only player in the whole business who has comported himself with credibility has been Pentagon flack Lawrence DiRita, who has emphasized the gaps in our knowledge of Al Qaqaa.

Considering that telling the Al Qaqaa story depends on players such as Saddam Hussein, the IAEA/UN, New York Times and CBS News reporters and the Pentagon, I doubt we'll ever be sure what happened at that ammo dump. No matter. One ammo dump in a nation of ammo dumps was not a big story; it was merely a handy location for a political mugging. Do you think that people who had spent the past 18 months attacking the President regarding WMDs that weren't there, cared about the true location of some conventional weapons?

No comments: