Once More with Sandefur on the Explosives

Here we go again....

What a surprise, it turns out that Ed Brayton et al. may have jumped the gun on the missing-explosives story. Astonishing!

The link here is to a story in the Washington Times that claims that the Russian government sent transportation units into Iraq to help them move the WMD to other nations immediately before the war began, and speculates that they may also have moved the 380 tons of missing explosives from Al Qaqaa as well. But even a cursory reading of the article shows that it does not, in fact, undermine my position at all. First, there is no evidence offered in the article for the claim that the Russians did what the article suggests. No mention of any surveillance of this happening in Iraq at all, much less specifically at this facility(which must have been seen - more on this in a moment), only the following statement:

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, "almost certainly" removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad.

Okay, so one man in the Pentagon says he believes this happened. Any mention of actual evidence for this belief? Nothing beyond vague references to information he got from two unnamed "European intelligence services". If it did happen, is it even remotely conceivable that we would not have seen it? Not according to this very same article, which tells us that this facility was under constant surveillance and that it would have taken an enormous convoy to get it out of there:

Al-Qaqaa, a known Iraqi weapons site, was monitored closely, Mr. Shaw said.

"That was such a pivotal location, Number 1, that the mere fact of [special explosives] disappearing was impossible," Mr. Shaw said. "And Number 2, if the stuff disappeared, it had to have gone before we got there."

Does he not realize that this cuts against his own claim? Is it really conceivable that we sat there and watched Russian transportation units go into Iraq, down to this heavily monitored site, remove 380 tons of high explosives and drive them to either Syria or Lebanon (as the article suggests) and neither did nor said a single thing about it until now? We certainly would not have had to rely on information from European intelligence services to have seen this happening through either satellite or UVA surveillance, which Shaw admits was going on constantly at this facility.

This whole argument about moving hundreds of tons of munitions and explosives out of Iraq just strikes me as ridiculous. We know that we had the entire country under constant air, satellite and even human surveillance (special forces advance units sent into Iraq in the weeks leading up to the war to give intel on positions, prepare to take out the power and communications grids, etc) for months and months leading up to the war. We know that perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of the administration over the last year has been the inability to find the stores of WMD that they told the world were there (based on that very same satellite and air surveillance. Remember Powell showing all the aerial recon photographs in his speech at the UN?). Now, in order to believe that all of these explosives got shipped out of Iraq, you would have to believe that either these huge convoys of trucks loaded up at all of these highly sensitive sites that the Pentagon assures us were under constant surveillance and trucked them out without us recording it, or you have to believe that we did see this happening and record it with our amazing surveillance capability, but, despite widespread criticism from all over the world over our inability to account for those vast stores of ordinance we said were there but we secretly know were sent to other terrorist nations in the region, we haven't shown that evidence to anyone - not to the American people, not to the Iraq Survey Group, which was sent in for the sole purpose of finding those weapons or explaining where they went, not to the UN, and not to our own Congressional leaders who have been busy investigating the question. It's inconceivable that this could have happened without our having caught it all (especially that it all happened between March 9th, when we know the material was there, and March 19th, when the invasion began) at a time when our surveillance would have been at its peak. But it's also inconceivable that we did see it happen, and therefore have the evidence to document it, and just won't show that evidence to anyone. What is conceivable is that all of this is a bunch of nonsense and unsupported speculation that contradicts all logic, that they are throwing out there desperately in the final days of a campaign as part of a larger strategy of throwing out multiple contradictory explanations in the hope that it will just confuse people and the whole thing will go away.

This is what the administration at this point wants you to believe: "Before the war, we watched Russian transportation units enter Iraq, go to a highly sensitive facility full of hundreds of tons of explosive material and, we thought at the time, chemical weapons, and move them to either Syria or Lebanon. We didn't say or do anything about it at the time, and then....we forgot about it. And when the report came out that all this material was gone, we offered up 2 or 3 contradictory excuses for what might have happened to them and then (smacking ourselves in the forehead) OH SHIT! We forgot that the Russians had taken all that stuff out of there and shipped them to where they could be used by Hamas and Hezbollah and we just plum forgot to mention that before. And no, we haven't shown the evidence we must have to document this to anyone, including our own people that we sent in specifically to find out what happened to them." Sorry, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

On top of that, we have the now multiple reports that the explosives were there after the invasion, first on April 3rd when the 3rd Infantry got there (thousands of boxes of white explosive powder that were left unsecured), and second on April 18th when the TV reporters from Minneapolis were there with the 101st Airborne and found sealed bunkers full of drums of the explosives. If those Russian transportation units really emptied it out before the war started, it seems awfully strange that we've got multiple reports that they were there after the war started. But hey, what are you gonna believe, the pictures of the material from April 18th and the direct testimony of numerous people who were there and saw them, or the unsupported speculation of a Pentagon official whose claim, given his admission of constant surveillance, should be remarkably easy to prove?

Yes, I know, the Times is an evil front company for George Bush. Note how Brayton's latched on to the argument "well, yeah, the soldiers who were there first didn't see any of these explosives, but they weren't really looking very closely!" Yeah. Cause you gotta search real close to find hundreds of tons of explosives with big old U.N. seals on them.

First, the times is an evil front company for Reverend Moon, Bush only benefits as a tangential effect. But I don't have to even make that argument because the substance of the article itself defeats the argument. Second, despite the loaded language, the argument that the troops weren't looking closely is very well supported. The soldiers themselves have said that they weren't looking closely, that there were over a hundred buildings and bunkers in the complex and they did not bother to search most of them because A) that was not their mission and it was only a pit stop, and B) they didn't have the manpower. And we also know that what little looking around they did do turned up thousands of boxes of the very explosives that the Washington Times claims the Russians helped empty out of there, and that they did nothing to secure the facility against looting. That's what the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division said himself. But hey, maybe he's biased.

We also have several reporters who were with the 101st Airborne when they got there on the 10th and said that most of the bunkers were still sealed and padlocked. We even have one group of reporters who, on the 18th with the 101st Airborne, took video of a newly opened bunker (they had to cut the padlocks off to get into it) full of 55 gallon drums of explosives.

Sandefur keeps insisting that I've "jumped the gun" here, yet he has not responded to the multiple lines of evidence I've offered for that conclusion. He has not even attempted to address the now several contradictory explanations that have been offered by the administration (I believe the one he cites is now the 4th different explanation offered). Since the story broke 3 days ago, the evidence has been piling up against the administration's claims, not for it. I think an objective look at the situation shows that it is Mr. Sandefur, not me, who is "latching on" to an argument he dearly hopes is true; the evidence at this point is very strongly on my side, as I have detailed in numerous posts with quotes from the commanders on the ground, the reporters who were there and sources within the Pentagon, all evidence to which Sandefur's total reply has been nil.

Update: By the way, here is what David Kay, Bush's handpicked first man in charge of the Iraq Survey Group, has to say about the notion that the site was emptied prior to or during the war:

I must say, I find it hard to believe that a convoy of 40 to 60 trucks left that facility prior to or during the war, and we didn't spot it on satellite or UAV. That is, because it is the main road to Baghdad from the south, was a road that was constantly under surveillance. I also don't find it hard to believe that looters could carry it off in the dead of night or during the day and not use the road network.

Quite right. The facts are far more consistent with the explanation that the facility, left unsecured in the post-war occupation, was looted bit by bit by insurgents in the dead of night than the idea that it was emptied by a big convoy prior to the war when we had it under constant surveillance. More importantly, even Donald Rumsfeld's spokespeople admit there is no information to support Shaw's Russian conspiracy theory:

Mr Shaw, who heads the Pentagon's international armament and technology trade directorate, has not provided evidence for his claims and the Pentagon distanced itself from his remarks.

"I am unaware of any particular information on that point," said Larry Di Rita, Pentagon spokesman.

In addition, the New York Times today actually interviews some of the people who participated in looting the complex in the days and weeks following the initial sweep through of American troops on the way to Baghdad:

Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday.

The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later heaving unwanted items off the trucks.

Two witnesses were employees of Al Qaqaa - one a chemical engineer and the other a mechanic - and the third was a former employee, a chemist, who had come back to retrieve his records, determined to keep them out of American hands. The mechanic, Ahmed Saleh Mezher, said employees asked the Americans to protect the site but were told this was not the soldiers' responsibility.

The evidence just keeps accumulating while the administration desperately sends up one trial balloon after another, frantically hoping that something - anything - will serve to explain it away. It doesn't matter how many times they have to contradict themselves, it doesn't matter if they try to foist the responsibility on the troops rather than on those who gave them their orders, it doesn't matter how absurd the explanation is. And I'm the one "latching on" to something and "grasping for straws"? This is becoming surreal.


More like this

Concerning your debate with Mr. Sandefur, Juan Cole at his blog has linked to an article here-

Which claims a U.S. Film crew embedded with the troops has footage of the explosives that are now missing.

This story isn't merely growing by the day, it's growing by the minute.

By Chris Berez (not verified) on 28 Oct 2004 #permalink

I was about to mention that. It's hard to claim it's missing when US film crews were taking shots.

Not to mention, of course, that there were reports from embeds in the 3ID and the 101st about boxes containing vials, each vial being filled with a "white powder" that was later determined to be explosives.

Care to guess what the missing explosives look like? If you said "White Powder" you win a prize.

This little controversy over the Iraqi munitions depot makes me almost be willing to bet that, in previous wars, munitions depots of the enemy were bombed to take them out. Quibbling over the silliness from the Bush administration isn't worth the time of day. Why didn't they bomb the depot? It isn't as if they didn't know where the frigging thing was.

Evidence? How about pictures:


"Why didn't they bomb the depot? It isn't as if they didn't know where the frigging thing was."

I *think* that there were concerns that there might be chemical weapons here. Remember, this was back at the time when people still took seriously the idea that Iraq had dangerous WMDs to use. In such a situation, bombing the depot would have been a Very Bad Idea - even worse than the actual decision to send in so few troops that they couldn't secure sites like this.

Yes, as amazing as it might sound, the decisions Bush made were not the worst possible ones. Credit where credit is due, lest [someone, who will remain nameless] complain about this too...

>I *think* that there were concerns that there might be chemical weapons here

The US knew what was there. It had been sealed by the IAEA. The US knew there weren't any bio weapons there.

BTW, all weapons are, in one form or another, chemical.

Oh, and, another BTW. If the US was really that concerned about what was at the depot (such as, if they believed that there were bio weapons there), one would think that they (the US) would try to secure the facility itself as early as it could. Like, send in a few paratroopers. The IAEA apparently didn't have a lot of trouble getting its people in there to do its sealing.