October 27, 2004


Yes, my comment section is down, and will remain so until a week or so after elections. I'm time-pressured and only vaguely html competent. Thank you for the inquiries. Yes, the addy is the same as the first word of the blog title followed by the usual upper-case 2 in the middle and cox period net.

Missing Explosives--A Summary

I've been digging into the evidence (and lack thereof) and reached the following conclusions, arranged in time-line order. None of them require noting the suspicious timing of the report after so many months, the threatened status of El Baradei as he seeks a new term as IAEA head over US objections, or any partisan inclinations on the part of the media outlets involved.

The U.S. asked the IAEA to destroy the stockpiles in 1995. The IAEA refused, citing the explosives as legitimate "dual-use" material. The material was present only because the IAEA under El Baradei refused to destroy it.

In December, 2002 the IAEA found that 35 tons of HMX was missing. The Iraqis claimed that it had been used for legitimate construction purposes. The IAEA began another inventory.

The stockpiles of explosives were last seen in early January, 2003, when the IAEA inventoried them and placed seals on the bunkers they were stored in.

In early March 2003 IAEA inspectors visited Al QaQaa and found the seals intact on the HMX bunkers (holding 192 tons at time of sealing). They were not permitted to check the RDX and PETEN bunkers, and this was noted in their report. NOTE: It is certainly possible for the Iraqis to fake seals in any case. The explosives were NOT "seen" in March. The seals on one set of bunkers were, and other bunkers were not seen at all because of Iraqi interference.

April 3, 2003--the 3rd ID comes through Al QaQaa. Reports differ--by some accounts they had a list of items to look for, and once CENCOMM was notified the items were not where they were supposed to be the 3ID was told to move on. Other accounts say they did not have a list. All accounts agree that they found a cache of "thousands of boxes" measuring 2 inches by 5 inches that contained "three vials of white powder" and chem/bio weapon instructions. The powder was tested and found to be explosives, and it is highly likely that this was HMX or RDX. By all accounts the complex had suffered air strike damage, many buildings were completely destroyed including two large bunkers, and many others severely damaged. There were large quantities of conventional munitions ("AK 47's, ammunition, and artillery shells") to be seen in some of the damaged and collapsed buildings. No reports that any IAEA seals were seen. By some accounts the vials found were destroyed, other accounts do not mention this.

(NOTE: If the "thousands of boxes" were RDX or HMX, it is worth noting that the full amount of 380 tons would have been many millions of boxes. This was not formed explosives, but raw material in a lightweight powder form. More on this later.)

April 10, 2003--the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne, with an NBC embed team along, stops in Al QaQaa for a 24-hour breather. They secure the area and rest. They do not have orders to search for the explosives. Some of the troopers check out the area--naturally, as securing the area requires some inspection. One of them (Ken Stillman) reports seeing two large empty bunkers with obvious signs of heavy traffic--lots of boot prints (not ours) and truck tracks. No signs of either the IAEA seals or explosives are reported.

On either May 7 or May 27 (I saw five accounts, with conflicting dates) the 75th Expeditionary Task Force (75ETF) arrives at Al QaQaa to "I & D"--inventory and destroy. The explosives are not there, and the already-damaged site shows signs of extensive looting. The 75ETF destroys piles of munitions and leaves.

Last date confirmed as actually present: January 2003. Date on which IAEA inspectors were NOT allowed to check all seals: Early March 2003. Dates on which US Troops visited and did not find any IAEA seals at all: April 3 and April 10. Date known for a fact to not be present: May 27, 2003.

A few more points. This is not some super-explosive, but raw material capable of making into plastic explosive roughly 20% to 50% more powerful than TNT by weight. It was not even in usable form, it was a fluffy plastic powder that required fillers, binders, and stabilizers to make usable explosives. When reconstituted, what you would have would be either Semtex or C4, depending on the binders and formulation, and you would still require detonators. All of those are already widely available in the Middle East. Artillery shells and other ordanance, already scattered over Iraq in the hundreds of thousands of tons, contains these materials in their usable form, and has the advantage of having the appropriate matching detonators already in place.

Damage to the two large destroyed bunkers (described by members of the 3ID and 101st as "craters with rubble centers") is consistent with impact detonation of large amounts of raw explosives. Could some have gotten out after we got there, and then left again? Sure, but unlikely. The fact that the boxes that were found were labelled as bio-weapons suggests they were intentionally placed as "scare tactics." The condition of the destroyed bunkers is inconclusive, but they could have had some quantity in them that got wiped in air strikes.

Odds that the material was moved out of the complex before Coalition troops arrived, during the period when Saddam was scattering his munitions all over the countryside, even sending convoys over the border into Syria--considerably good. Odds that part was dispersed by Saddam and that most of the rest went ka-boom in the air strikes, with little left to loot--also good. Odds that millions of boxes of fluffy white powder packed in vials could be moved out through the Coalition lines in bulk after US troops reached the area, all of them on high alert for anything that remotely resembled chem/bio weapons, without one single box being intercepted, and concealed so well that NONE of it has shown up since--just about zilch.

Just my take from an actual review of known accounts. Your mileage may vary.

October 26, 2004

The 101st Weighs In?

No way to tell from here if these are legitimate, but National Review's KERRY SPOT vouches for them as all coming from ".mil" email addresses and having the correct credentials. They've posted them anonymously for obvious reasons. As always, your mileage may vary.

I can tell you what happened at my squad level. When we arrived there, humvees with Mark-19's and other mounted weapons immediately secured the parameter with appropriate manpower backup. On the foot level we broke up into squads and went building to building and cleared them; mind you, we couldn't do them all. But we found what had been typical finds, caches of AK-47's, artillery rounds and bullets. There was absolutely no talk of a big find, and what I could sense no worries of anything that should have been there. Of course, we were still worried about the possibilities of chemical weapons but they never panned out.

I am a little perturbed at the gross mischaracterization of what went on there. From what I remember of the NBC crew, they did not go out with us, and they may have in fact been asked to not to go on the search with us, due to the dangers that may have possibily come up. Now this part is my opinion, but don't you think that if they had gone out with us they would have video?


You are correct in your bottom line conclusion. Here is a second follow up.
I was serving as a [identifying information removed by the Kerry Spot] staff member during the time in question. The Commander on the site had complete real time intelligence on what to expect and possibly find at the Al-QaQaa depot. The ordinance in question was not found when teams were sent in to inspect and secure the area. When this information was relayed, Operational plans were adjusted and the unit moved forward. Had the ordinance in question been discovered, a security team would have been left in place.


But I was there at Al QaQaa on April 10th with the 101st, I can rest assure you that [NBC producer interviewed on MSNBC earlier today] Lai Ling Jew is lying about it, she seems to be expressing a convenient contrary opinion of the time. The very first thing we do when we move into an area is clear it of any enemy combatants, including going inside warehouses full of ordinance, which we did immediately when we reached there.


Operational plans in modern warfare are continually rolling and are available to combat commanders in a real time network environment. The original pre-invasion Operation Plans listed the Al-QaQaa weapons depot as a priority security site. After the 101st Airborne Division inspected the site, the security priority was downgraded and the Operational Plan was modified.

October 25, 2004

Missing Explosives

Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq

As we should always do before jumping to conclusions at a time when we know for a fact that various factions are trying to stampede us with scare stories and overblown outrages, let's take a closer look. October Surprises have a long history of being less than substantial on close examination. Their purpose is to get us to buy a pig in a poke, so let's open the bag and check out the pig first.

I read through the NY Times piece very carefully, and noticed that the only evidence cited that the explosives were still there at the time of the invasion was the unsupported word of a Saddam-era Iraqi official. He stated that the cache was looted "after 9-4-2003." (That's April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell.) The current minister is cited as confirming this, but is actually only quoted as saying: "Yes, they are missing. We don't know what happened."

So from the article we know they were there in "late 2002" when IAEA checked them, that the invading Coalition troops coming through a few months later saw no IAEA marked materials, and that the explosives are not there now. We know that two of the 10 bunkers went ka-boom before or during the invasion, big time. And we know that the only verification the article presents for the implication that they were still there at the time we invaded, and that we blew it and let them get away, is the word of a Saddam-era bureaucrat telling the IAEA that it's not his fault. One of the very bureaucrats whose butt would be on the hot seat if the explosives had taken a friendly little hike to Syria, in one of those many convoys spotted heading there by satellite imagery in the few months immediately prior to the invasion.

The story might be true--lack of evidence offered is not evidence of falsity. But there's no proof that it's true in the story itself, the tone is highly overplayed, there is significant underplaying and omission of all "doubt factors" and alternative hypotheses, and there are BIG grey areas of journalistic wiggle room in the construction.

To add some context to the startling figure of 350 tons or so of missing armaments, here's the Army Corps of Engineers report on the total amount of ordanance captured and/or destroyed in Iraq to date. It comes to 328 THOUSAND tons. Even if we let those 350 MOL tons be looted, they would represent about 1/10th of 1% of the total arms we have captured and destroyed to date.

You won't see that mentioned by the Times. Iraq was so awash in munitions that even an extra half-million-plus pounds of them is a drop in the proverbial bucket. With or without the missing explosives, there was never any shortage of munitions available to insurgents. But mentioning this would undercut the effectiveness of the article as an attack on Bush.....

Can you say "Rather biased?"

October 20, 2004

The Law of the Instrument

We've all heard them--the maxims of insight that help distill experience into simple "laws" for dealing with reality. The classic example is Murphy's Law. "If anything can go wrong, it will." And of course, there's O'Toole's Corollary to Murphy's Law. "Murphy was an optimist."

Then there's Abraham Kaplan's Law of the Instrument, often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain. "Give a small boy a hammer and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding." This is also often stated as "If you give a child a hammer, everything looks like a nail." And that leads me to Tully's Corollary to the Law of the Instrument.

"When you really want to drive a nail, everything starts to look like a hammer." It doesn't matter if it's a rock or a wrench, a board or a baguette, if you really want to drive that nail, you'll try it.

At no time is this more evident than during election season.

Candidate A and Candidate Z may be remarkably close in outlooks and philosophy, or they may be very far apart. Still, the odds are excellent that neither one of them is truly an extremist, rapist, killer, agent of the Zionist Conspiracy, or tool of Satan. In fact, they're probably both fairly decent people (apart from being politicians). But once the campaign gets underway, anything and everything that could possibly be construed as negative in any fashion whatsoever by any unreasonable stretch of the imagination will be inflated, conflated, twisted, demagogued, misrepresented, made up and/or lied about in order to either support one candidate or tear down another.

Political professionals call this "spin." Political scientists call it "propaganda." It's the single most negative aspect of politics, the thing that turns more people off and drives more insane accusations than any other factor. There are always those who hate the other side. The more intense the hate, the more likely that absolutely anything will be seized upon as a hammer to drive that nail into the opposition coffin.

So as the last two weeks of this election season play out, as the rhetoric escalates and the more rabid factions on both sides advance the most astounding and incredible claims of nasty, loathsome, despicable, repugnant, contemptible, abhorrent behavior and motivations against the opposition (regardless of which side you are on), it may be soothing to remember Tully's Corollary, and reflect that what you are really seeing is children, looking for a hammer.

October 14, 2004

John O'Neill Shoots Self in Ass

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth felt it necessary to question every single aspect of John Kerry's service in Viet Nam, most especially every medal he received. Maybe they should have stuck to the areas where the evidence was less ambiguous.

What Happened in Kerry's Vietnam Battles? NIGHTLINE Speaks to Witnesses of Disputed Firefights

Despite the implication of the titles, the article speaks only to the day Kerry won a Silver Star. As near as I could tell from a quick search, the SBVT site leaves this incident alone, but John O'Neill beat solidly on it in his book, claiming that Kerry's Silver Star was for shooting a lone, fleeing teenager in the back and that the Swifties didn't land under fire.

But according to the villagers involved, who claim to remember the incident clearly, there were as many as twenty VC soldiers in the village that day. The man who fired the B-40 rocket at PC-94, they say, was named Ba Thanh.

The soldiers fired on the Swift Boat, which returned fire. The soldiers retreated when the boats turned into shore and beached. Ba Thanh ran but was shot and fell down dead. The villagers don't know who shot him, if he was pursued and shot, etc.

But according to the villagers there was more than just a lone VC with a rocket launcher who was run down and killed. There were about 20 VC, who fled as the boats beached. And the boats beached and attacked because they were under fire, contradicting O'Neill's claim.

The villager's accounts don't confirm the entire story. (No one knew if Ba Thranh died from Kerry's gun, or from the boat .50, or what. But die he did.) The villagers sure as hell contradict O'Neill's version. And unlike O'Neill, the villagers were there that day.

I couldn't ask for clearer proof that the tendency to think the absolute worst of your opposition, to demonize them beyond sense and evidence, is not a bright way to
play. (Michael Moore, take note.)

October 07, 2004

The Iraq Survey Group Report: A Lesson in Reality

Over a year ago, as the invasion forces desperately searched for those WMD's and failed to find them, we all wondered how the U.S. and European and Israeli intelligence agencies could be so wrong. Well, some of us wondered. The anti-Bush crowd simply said loudly and often that BUSH LIED, without bothering to consider the evidence.

But at the time, still certain that stockpiles would eventually be found, I said something almost prophetic. I said that, given the consistent intel of a decade, the only way it made sense that Saddam didn't have WMD's was if his own people spent years fooling him, or he spent years fooling his own people. Now the ISG report is out, and it turns out that my second guess was correct.

While the Kerry-Edwards campaign is running around waving the Duelfer Report and screaming the Deaniac campaign song that BUSH LIED, those of us who have done some serious reading into the new ISG report are seeing something entirely different. After having access to all the top kicks in the Hussein regime, including Saddam and his generals and even "Chemical Ali", Duelfer came to the conclusion that Saddam spent years trying to keep the international community fooled into believing that he had stockpiles of WMD's, even long after he had had them destroyed.

After the decimation of his forces in 1991, Saddam was worried that he was wide open to an attack from Iran. His second concern was getting the sanctions lifted. So he maintained the fiction of having WMD's even as he complied with the ceasefire agreements and destroyed them, and gamed the inspectors into thinking he was concealing them while (truthfully!) maintaining that he had destroyed them. He even kept his own generals in the dark.
"The Iranian threat was very, very, palpable to him, and he didn't want to be second to Iran, and he felt he had to deter them. So he wanted to create the impression that he had more than he did," Duelfer, the Iraq Survey Group head, told members of the Senate on Wednesday.

And, the man known for colossal miscalculations made perhaps his greatest strategic blunder by refusing to believe that President Bush would make good on threats to forcibly remove him from power.

"He kept trying to bargain or barter, and he had not realized the nature of the ground shift in the international community," Duelfer said. "That was Saddam's intelligence failure."

Saddam systematically corrupted the Oil-For-Food program, using the revenues to bribe key officials at the U.N. and in France, Russia, and elsewhere. In return, they helped him buy (non-WMD) armaments to shore up his weakened military, resisted U.S. calls for the Security Council to enforce the sanctions, and watched happily as the U.S. played the bully and guaranteed their windfalls.

The "friends and allies" that Kerry and Edwards say we should have deferred to were stabbing us in the back the entire time. Our vigiliance and steadfast enforcement of the ceasefire provisions was making them rich. They would never have agreed to enforce the penalties. They would never have sent troops. They were doing entirely too well under the status quo to rock the boat.

The Deulfer Report doesn't have a lot of good news for either the Bush administration or the Kerry campaign. It lays out how Saddam snookered the entire intel community in all the major nations into believing he had WMDs. It details how we were fooled. It shows that Saddam worked hard to maintain his technological base so that he could resume WMD production after the sanctions were lifted, that he (easily) bribed our "friends and allies" into helping him along, and that had he stayed in power he would indeed have become what we thought he already was, a clear and present danger to both the United States and the entire region.

It's a painful lesson, noting how we got suckered and how little faith we can place in our "friends and allies" in Europe. But in the end, Saddam suckered himself. After years of dealing with the U.S., he simply never believed Bush would actually do as he said he would, until he did. And then it was too late.