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October 28, 2004
NY Times Still Gets Al Qaqaa Wrong

Our local ABC affiliate ran a videotape purporting to show the existence of HMX, RDX, and PETN at the Al Qaqaa storage facility, and the New York Times ran a new story heralding this videotape as the confirmation it desperately needs to rescue its credibility:

A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The tape, broadcast on Wednesday night by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, appeared to confirm a warning given earlier this month to the agency by Iraqi officials, who said that hundreds of tons of high-grade explosives, powerful enough to bring down buildings or detonate nuclear weapons, had vanished from the site after the invasion of Iraq.

Well, at least that's the lead in the Times' story. Fifteen paragraphs into the story, the Times finally tells its readers that it cannot even confirm that the video was shot at Al Qaqaa:

The Minneapolis television crew was with an Army unit that was camped near Al Qaqaa, members of the crew said. The reporter and cameraman said that although they were not told specifically that they were being taken to Al Qaqaa by the military, their videotape matches pictures of the site taken by United Nations weapons inspectors, according to weapons experts.

The boxes on the videotape carried markings that say "Al Qaqaa", but take another look at the boxes as shown in the videotape capture here. What do you see? An American soldier prying the crate open. Why would an American soldier pry the box open? Perhaps to check to see what's inside? I don't know what color the sky is in the New York Times' world, but that looks like a search to me.

In fact, that's what the Times' caption states:

A videotape from April 18, 2003, shows a soldier prying open a box in a bunker in Al Qaqaa.

Take a good look at the box itself. How many pounds do you suppose that crate could hold -- maybe 50 pounds, tops? Same with the barrels in this second photograph. At that rate, you'd need 40 crates of this stuff for a single ton of material, and more than 15,000 crates for 380 tons. More likely, these crates contained the vials that the 3ID reported finding at Al Qaqaa, and not the massive amounts of HMX and RDX previously reported by the IAEA to have been stored there.

But the collapse does not end there. The Kerry Spot notices something else about the crates that indicate some other material was contained in them. They're labeled as Explosive 1.1 D 1, a classification that includes HMX, RDX, and PETN -- but only when diluted by 15% water, a condition that clearly does not exist with the crated materials:

So - this orange 1.1 D is the label we would look for on HMX, RDX, or PETN. But did those explosives in these containers have 15 or 25 percent water or other dilution liquid in them? Or did they look pretty dry in that desert?

And as we look at the rest of that chart, we see that a lot of other explosives that fall in the 1.1 D category.

Specifically there are 79 other substances and types of explosive material and supporting equipment that would get the 1.1 D label, including gunpowder, flexible detonating cord, photo-flash bombs, mines, nitroglycerin, rocket warheads, grenades, fuzes, torpedoes and charges. And few of them require any liquid dilution.

Is whats on this news report video HMX, RDX, or PETN? Possibly, if the material inside is some sort of diluting liquid that we didnt see on the tape, or if the Iraqis were storing these high-grade explosives in an unsafe manner. Or it could be one of the 79 other substances. Or some containers could have the big three, and some could have others.

But that's not all, either. The ABC report that originally started this meme contains this curious statement:

On the April 2003 visit, our crews witnessed soldiers using bolt cutters to get into bunkers. Inside, they found many containers marked "explosives." At least one set of crates carried the name "Al-Qaqaa State Establishment."

Military personnel told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the area visited was secured by an outside perimeter. Our crew said the area felt more like no-mans-land.

Bottom line? The materials shown in the video could have been any of 80 different materials, with the three from the IAEA actually being among the least likely to have been stored in this manner. The reporters say that the military told them at the time that the area had been secured at an outer perimeter, a sensible approach for a military on a lightning-quick advance. And the Times cannot even verify that the video was taken at the ASP in question.

Another example of brilliant reporting by the Gray Lady ...

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 28, 2004 10:05 PM

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» Hey, about those missing explosives, y'all -- There's more. from Small Town Veteran
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» Explosivesgate Roundup: Day IV from The Truth Laid Bear
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Tracked on October 29, 2004 12:56 PM



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