WHat is the Straight Dope on the Al-Qaqaa Scandal?

In the two weeks since the Al-Qaqaa story broke, the facts have sunk from being as clear as crystal to as clear as mud. When it first broke, everyone knew what had gone down. 377 tons of dangerous HMX , RDX and PETN explosives had been looted by terrorists from under our very noses at the Al-Qaqaa munitions facility in Iraq.

However, since then a great many conflicting reports have surfaced.

According to This article, American troops destroyed 250 of the 377 tons of “missing” explosives.

According to this article, the amount of explosives taken could easily have been closer to 244 tons than 377 tons because the IAEA estimate that 138 tons of explosives were removed by Saddam loyalists before American troops even got there.

That means that, between the two reports, it’s entirely feasible that not one single ounce of explosives from the Al-Qaqaa facility got into terrorist hands.

So, was the issue just a giant hoax? Is it at all possible to ascertain the truth of what happened? Does the relatively little press the FOX and ABC stories received substantiate the conservative idea that the media is predominantly liberal?

Wait, I thought the Saddam loyalists were the terrorists. Or was that last week?

Is it a rule now that every OP has to include some discussion on the ‘liberal media’? What we can ascertain is that the efforts made to secure a site where the US knew that dangerous materials were being stored were so inadequate that the US military still has very little idea of what was there when they got there, and what has happened to it since. That has to be a cause for concern surely?

Read your cite again. There is more evidence that what the army destroyed on 4/13 was not the explosives that had been marked by the IAEA:

However, there is good evidence that the explosives tagged by the IAEA were still at Al Qaqaa after the army conducted their destruction of munitions.

To suggest that the explosives are accounted for is to ignore the evidence. No liberal conspiracy is apparent, but a cover up by the conservative elements of the press is.

How do you know the US military didn’t know what was in Al-Qaqaa when they got there. There is certainly no evidence to suggest they didn’t. On the other hand the media, in their desperate rush to be the first to break the “October Surprise” have been polluting the public discourse with so many conflicting news stories that the public really don’t have a clear idea about ANY of the details. It’s easy to think that those in charge don’t know what’s going on when it’s nigh on impossible to wade through the maze of contradictory stories yourself. However, there really isn’t any real evidence that the US military was confused about the contents of the Al-Qaqaa base at any point during the entire scandal. On the contrary, the explosives appear to have been removed and destroyed quickly, as they should have been.

Apologies, that post is addressed to Avenger.

Because then they would say so. Your cites include several contradictory accounts of what may or may not have been there.

Ther is no evidence that the IAEA tagged explosives were destroyed, only other unrelated munitions. There is evidence that the IAEA explosives were not destroyed. Dammit, griffen2, can you not read your own cite, or are you selectively ignoring the evidence that does not support your conclusion?

**You should engage in a deep and serious re-evaluation of your relationship with both the news media and political types.
Politicians tricked you on this one.
The news media provided you with the wherewithal to determine that you were being tricked, but you didn’t catch on. **

I call a huge fat Bull Shit on this assertion.
Examine if you will the transcript of the news conference with Major Pearson you’ll see that no such assertion was ever made.
[INDENT]New Developments Regarding Missing Explosives

PEARSON: We entered in through this area and address, and our mission was to find any exposed ammunition, clear ammunition that was – had the potential to be pose a threat to U.S. forces or as easy access.

DI RITA: It encompasses a variety of ammunition.
The major’s unit pulled 100 – 250 tons of total equipment out of this facility, including a lot of plastic explosives. How much? I don’t think we know. It was a portion of the kinds of things, including detonation cord.
[Note absolutely no references to HMX whose amount is not in question.]

QUESTION: Major, could you please better describe the explosives that were removed? Were they primarily assembled weapons? Were they raw material like the granular HMX or RDX? And could you, sort of, give us a ratio out of that 250 tons how much were assembled weapons and how much were raw material?

PEARSON: As a conventional ammunition ordnance officer, I deal with ammunition logistics management. I am not a technical specialist. I am not explosive ordnance disposal or technical intelligence. My role and what I’ve been trained on is to manage ammunition facilities and mitigate the risk and exposure to U.S. forces and civilians.

The specifics of what we talked about that we pulled out of there, from my recollection, is some TNT, plastic explosives; I can’t further define other than that, plastic explosives. Detonation cords, initiators, and white phosphorous rounds, which were a higher priority for us to go in there.

QUESTION: So you don’t know…

QUESTION: But do you believe there was HMX?

QUESTION: Yes. You don’t know if there was HMX?

DI RITA: Let me handle that.

QUESTION: Did it look like those barrels – you know this video that ABC had.

DI RITA: We’ve described what we know. And as we learn more, we’ll describe that. The major has…

QUESTION: Why doesn’t the major talk about that?


DI RITA: Excuse me for one moment.

The major had – we had units that had responsibility for identifying and understanding what IAEA seals were. The major’s unit had the responsibility to go in and clear conventional ordnance.

DI RITA: He saw some photos from yesterday, and had understood that, as I said, the palletized boxes – I think you said those were the kinds of things you removed. The barrels that some people have said is [sic] HMX…

QUESTION: You talk about this procedure though. You say there’s a procedure in place and they know what to do. And yet apparently the major didn’t know he was even looking for HMX or what was there or what to do if you found it sealed.

Do you remember seeing the IAEA seals?

PEARSON: There was – I do not – I did not see any IAEA seals at the locations that we went into. I was not looking for that.

My mission specifically was to go in there and to prevent the exposure of U.S. forces and to minimize that by taking out what was easily accessible and putting it back[?] and bringing it into our captured ammunition holding area.

DI RITA: As we’re developing our better understanding of this, we have a – the term that was being used throughout the theater for RDX is plastic explosives. It was, sort of, an interchangeable term.

So we don’t – I can’t say that RDX that was on the list of the IAEA is in what the major pulled out.

My only point on that is I’m not sure what we know what the IAEA declared, because they first said there were some 141 tons of it there. We are now trying to better understand some of the reports that indicate** there may have been only three tons of it at that particular building**.

QUESTION: Isn’t that tonnage discrepancy already accounted for by the IAEA by the fact it is stored at a nearby facility that is called the…

DI RITA: We are trying to understand that better. I’m not in any position to comment on that. The initial report was 141 tons at this facility. We are hearing some more refined explanation by the IAEA, that, well, maybe** this facility really meant another facility 30 kilometers away**.

QUESTION: Could you describe the palletized boxes? Mr. Di Rita just mentioned palletized boxes. Could you describe what kind of boxes they were?

Did you actually go into bunkers or just go to those materiels [sic] that were easily accessible, because we’ve seen much of it lying around on the ground?

PEARSON: We went into the bunkers that were easily accessible.

PEARSON: I went to in bunkers that we would easily get into and remove that.


QUESTION: What does that mean? Sorry. Can you clarify?

PEARSON: That it was open, and I was able to take my troops in there, and that was exposed.

QUESTION: There were no seals. So that would…

PEARSON: No seals. I did not see any seals.

QUESTION: … it was not HMX.

PEARSON: My intent was to go in there and the stuff that was easily exposed. I completed my mission, I got what I needed to get.[/INDENT]

This is also addressed by Mr. di Rita in the transcript of news conference quoted above. To wit, the other 138 tons were stored at a neighboring facility.

Not if one actually reads the reports for what is said rather than what is trying to be implied.

The hoax is that there’s some sort of an explanation as per what you allude to.
Consider the big misdirection by the Pentagon.
First there was the release of almost entirely unrelated photos. Actual quotes from the Pentagon: “We take no view of the purpose of these trucks.” “All we’re saying is this is two big trucks in front of a bunker.” I mean come on. the photo was of an unrelated time, of an unrelated place (not where the explosives in question were stored), showing that just prior to an invasion the Iraqi army had some trucks in front of a bunker that housed military supplies. Somehow the fact that there were trucks in front of a warehouse of military supplies which were not the explosives in question immediately preceding a major invasion seems pretty mundane.

"Di Rita acknowledged that the image says nothing about what happened to the explosives. "

Why release these photos that say “nothing” at all about the issue at hand?

Why do you suppose the Pentagon did not release pictures of trucks in front of the bunkers that held the HMX loading the stuff up?

Is it because they were not monitoring the site? This seems to be a dubious assumption.

In addition to the photos that shows we were watching the area at least long enough to take those pictures, we have evidence that two different bodies of experts ranked al-Qa’qa’a as one of the most important Iraqi munitions sites.

According to the Iraqi Survey Group’s Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Vol2 p 72 (79) Iraq kept some secrets about the plant for “fear that the UN would destroy the plant, virtually closing Iraq’s extensive munitions industries.”

And according to the IAEA al-Qa’qa’a was “the main high explosives storage facility in Iraq.”

If one’s willing to assume that the main high explosives storage facility in Iraq was under observation why would the Pentagon choose to release these nearly entirely unrelated and decidedly uninformative photos instead of photos showing trucks moving the HMX?
If one’s willing to assume that the main high explosives storage facility in Iraq was not under observation then one has to wonder, “Why the hell not?”

Consider also the fact that rather than gainsay the reports that these items were removed on our watch in Iraq, there were merely some non-denials and negative pregnant statements such as the declassified photo that was released for some inexplicable reason, and Rumsfeld’s vigorous, “The idea it was suddenly looted and moved out, all of these tons of equipment, I think is at least debatable.” When this is combined with Major Pearson’s inability to address specific issues of concern, it renders an odd and suspicious picture of the guys in charge. Either, despite being the people with access to some of the most detailed info in the world re US actions in Iraq, they really don’t know, or they do know and are trying to artfully dodge the issue.

(Why didn’t they get the guys in Pearson’s outfit who actually were the explosive ordnance disposal or technical intelligence guys to come and explain what exactly they destroyed rather than the unit’s ammunition logistics management guy who could only provide vague answers to specific questions?)
If Team Bush had just come out originally and said,
“Yeah, there’s some stuff that’s gone missing. We’ve secured 2/3 of what’s here in Iraq and we may have lost this fraction that’s less than 1% of what we’ve secured. And less than 1% of what we have not secured. We don’t know what has happened to it yet, but we’re looking into it,”
the whole issue would’ve been dead by that Tues am.
However, once the Admin referenced a news report (instead of official US military reports or other official what-have-yous) as a way of implying (not stating mind you) that the stuff wasn’t there when we took control of the area, that was like blood in the water. Then the hullabaloo over the release of nearly unrelated photos and the presentation of nearly unrelated commentary was like a little chum thrown into the water as well. (Not to mention the Russian angle promulgated by Mr. Shaw in the Acquisitions department whose authority to speak to the issue was unclear*.)
The attempts to imply without specifically asserting explanations other than the one actually being discussed make it look fishy.

There’s some shenanigans afoot here, but that’s not it.
You’ve been fooled into believeing unfactual things
For further insight examine items found here

Of particular note:


Fate of Missing Iraq Weapons Unresolved
John J. Lumpkin | Posted on Fri, Oct. 29, 2004
© Associated Press

… by military estimates, a minimum of 250,000 more tons remain unaccounted for.
Maj. Austin Pearson said his team removed the 250 tons of plastic explosives and other munitions on April 13, 2003 …
… those munitions were not located under the seal of the [IAEA]- as the missing high-grade explosives had been. … Di Rita could not … say … they were part of the missing 377 tons.
… March 15, 2003 - five days before the war started - and closes in late May, when a U.S. weapons inspection team declared the depot stripped and looted.
… April 13, Pearson’s ordnance-disposal team arrived and took 250 tons of munitions out and later destroyed them.
… April 18 … television crew … shot a videotape … which shows what appeared to be high explosives still in barrels and bearing the markings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“… of the estimated 650,000 to 1 million tons of explosives, artillery shells, aviation bombs and other ammunition that were in Iraq. To date, we’ve secured somehere around 450, 000 tons of explosives.”[/INDENT]

Anyway, I’m completely serious about your relationship with politicians and the news media.
FYI, politican’s are not the most honest groups of people.

*****U.S. Military Checks Satellite Images for Clues About Missing Explosives
Senior sources told FOX News that Shaw actually works in a defense building away from the Pentagon, and it isn’t clear how this person has the authority or the knowledge to speak on such a matter.”
Mr. Shaw works in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), he is responsible for reforming and improving the export control process so as to measurably improve the security of critical American technologies and manufacturing abilities.

On these points, I agree.

This is utterly false.

Just a quick question. I’ve not really been following the conversation, so if someone has already answer this, my appologies.

Why do you assume that watching the facility equals photographs of each and every truck to go in or out? Is it not possible that some resources, perhaps even prodigeous resources, were applied to watching that facility but which could have missed a couple trucks? You seem to be assuming the two extremes of possiblitites. Either we were not watching the facility, or we were, and there is no way a truck could have moved any of the IAEA sealed material without out knowing of it.

Is it not possible that we were watching the facility, but missed activity to move some of the IAEA material? Or, we destroyed some or all of the material and simply do not have good records of it? If the Iraqis broke some of the seals, moved some of the munitions outside, then when we picked them up, we might not have bothered to check if they had been under IAEA seal before they were put where we found them, no?

I’m just asking because you follow these things more closely than I do, and this possibility seems to have slipped through somewhere.

Not a surveillance expert but presumably if you are seriously monitoring a place, the movement of 100 odd tonnes (which is the magnitude being suggested) of material from it would be the kind of thing you would expect to pick up. We’re talking a lot of trucks and a lot of loading time.

Here is the last page of the previous thread on this subject. Note the story that surfaced in the L.A. Times right after the election:

So, I’d say the evidence that we have is that the news media was pretty much trying to do its job (except for Fox and particularly The Washington Times which were trying to defend Bush) and the administration was desperately trying to spin its way out of its predicament, including holding a news conference that was so spectacularly pathetic that even a lot of administration defenders had trouble stomaching it. But that, along with a little help from Osama Bin Laden was enough to keep the story under control to the point of not screwing up the election for them.

And, as for the bigger picture, I think this whole thing further substantiates the idea that if you want to see the “liberal media” then you need to read something like The Nation. As a bonus, you will find that you will also be far out ahead of most people when it comes to things like realizing that Colin Powell’s speech before the UN was a crock of shit. The Nation was probably one of the few domestic news sources you could go to to hear serious doubts expressed about his speech at the time when it was being lauded by most of the usual suspects on both sides of the aisle in the Republicrat Party.

Well, but this is not true. How many trucks did we move in and out of there? I recall from the press conference mentioned above that we did all of our movements (some 200 tonnes) in less than a day. It seems more than feasable that some trucks could have moved in moved explosives and not been seen by our sattilites.
I’m not really asserting anything, just asking. Judging from jshore’s cite, it only took some pickup trucks to get the stuff out.

By the way, is this some of the “relatively little press” coverage you are complaining about. And, note that this coverage occurred despite the facts that:

(1) The soldier in question could in no way verify that the explosive removed were the ones in question. As I said, even some people inclined to believe the administration found that press conference to be pretty pathetic.

(2) The Minnesota news crew videotape showed what clearly were the explosive in question (complete with IAEA seals) there on April 18th which was 5 days after the date at which the soldier said the 250 tons of explosives had been removed.

“Many hands make light work!” - Ancient Proverb

Wasn’t the point of this October surprise to imply that the explosives were stolen recently? The pre-election news coverage conveniently left out the date of when the explosives went missing. Also, CBS planning to air the story on 60 minutes Oct 31st was highly suspicious of trying to influence the election. This theft took place before or soon after the Americans invaded and the announcement by the UN took place on Oct 10th, didn’t it?

Everyone knew that the IEDs which are being used to blow people up were munitions from Saddham’s arsenal. This was hardly breaking news about a scandal.


Yes, and for better pictures. No?

No, there was no claim that they went missing recently. But an important question is whether they went missing before or after the U.S. was in control of the place.

As for timing of the story, I believe the letter that prompted this from the Iraq government to the IAEA was dated somewhere around October 10. Apparently, by the time that 650 Minutes found out about it, October 31st was the earliest that they could schedule it into the weekly 60 Minutes. The Administration found out about it sooner so if they wanted to make sure it didn’t pop up just before the election, they could have presumably made it public themselves.

As for whether it is new news that the insurgents are using explosives from Saddam’s arsenal, well, there were at least 2 pieces of new news:

(1) These are particularly potent explosives while at the same time being relatively easy to work with (little chance of premature detonation). As such, they are often used as the triggering explosion in nuclear weapons which is why the IAEA had sealed and monitored them.

(2) Since Al Qaqaa was known to contain materials important enough for the IAEA to monitor and even on the list of suspected WMD sites, it is important to understand how we treated that site. This gives us an understanding of how important it seemed to the U.S. to keep WMDs and other dangerous materials out of the hands of terrorists. And, the evidence that this provides, along with other things we have heard, is that this administration either was lying when they claimed they were very worried about these things falling into the hands of terrorists or they were so amazingly incompetent that they had no good plan to make it less likely rather than more likely that they would fall into the hands of terrorists. I think this whole aspect of things has been way-underplayed by the “liberal media”. In fact, I am dumbfounded that the administration has not been asked, even prior to this most recent find, why they apparently did so little to secure these sorts of sites and how they can reconcile this with their supposed concern about WMDs ending up in the hands of terrorists!

You raise some valid points. The comments you’re addressing are really just a rhetorical device that flopped. I focused too strongly on implying that the Pentagon didn’t have any such photos. This really isn’t the point. And my incompletely considered comments tend to lead one away from the actual point and fail to further the argument. Thanks for keeping me honest.

More to the point, I would ask readers to consider what information was contained in the photos that were declassified. In addition to the Pentagon’s helpful comments I cited earlier we learned that before the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi Army had access to Iraqi Army facilities.
That’s about it.
Since this was all information that was (presumably) already taken as granted, it becomes tempting to conclude that the photo was declassified for some other reason than to tell us that the Iraqi munitions facilities were not “hermetically sealed” against Iraq’s military forces (which seem to go w/o saying, IMHO).

If one is willing to do so, it then becomes tempting to conclude that it may be likely that the release of the photo of the trucks-of-mysterious-purpose was done for reasons of style opposed to substance -possibly an attempt to influence public opinion through the powers of State.

Even though there was no new information provided, all of the motions of providing information were made.

This was also pretty much the case with Major Pearson’s press conference. In Major Pearson’s case, more new info was provided, just most of it was only secondary to missing high explosives.
Of note in the Pearson/Di Rita press conference we learn that the al-Qa’qa’a facility was surrounded by an earthen concrete wall and was manned by the “Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard, Republican Guard and others.” This has several implications that bear upon the state of al-Qa’qa’a before we arrived.

I find it telling that the Pentagon makes a point to avoid mentioning any reason for soldiers to be manning a military munitions complex during a war time invasion. Di Rita says that the soldiers were at the military facility “for whatever purpose.”
To more specifically address some of the issues you brought up re my still born rhetorical device

Sure, sure, true, true. But consider these:
The point of watching a munitions complex in preparation for an invasion might be to watch and see where munitions are being distributed.
Major Pearson reports that move the 250 tons he had a forklift and 9 vehicles w/ trailers. Presumably, to move even more mass, one would need even more equipment or more time.

As Rumsfeld said, “it’s at least debatable.” While it is possible that some of the material was destroyed, some of the material was caught on tape. Major Pearson’s crew were explicitly responsible for conventional munitions not IAEA tagged munitions. “For whatever reasons,” the Pentagon has not chosen to discuss the findings of the groups who actually were tasked with IAEA tagged munitions.
Until this sort of info comes forward, then, I’d have to agree that the possibility cannot be conclusively ruled out- it’s at least debatable.

It’s also possible that hundreds of tons of explosives were extracted via the ventilation openings by teams of trained monkeys prior to the IAEA’s last inspection of their seals.

When asked about the barrels of HMX he Pentagon made a point to specifically state that Major Pearson removed “palletized boxes.”
Second, HMX is apparently unusual stuff. It’s not an ordinary run of the mill explosive. I expect that one of the fellows who perform explosive ordnance disposal or technical intelligence for the US military would’ve recognized that they were dealing with something unusual. Possibly not though. I hope the fellows who handle explosives for a living are careful about what they’re doing.

The irony is rich. Some countries have recently been invaded for not keeping good records. And, in contrast to us, they at least claimed to know that they had destroyed the materials in question. (And, I believe that we have not subsequently found anything to contradict their claims.)

Actually, the only videotape we have of people breaking the seals is the U.S. forces doing it in the April 18th video taken by the Minnesota news crew.