October 28, 2004

"Here come the sons of dogs"

"On a recent afternoon, two Iraqi National Guardsmen at a [Ramadi] checkpoint at the government center watched as a group of marines walked up. "Here come the sons of dogs," one guardsman said to an Iraqi reporter."
--NYTimes, "Ramadi is slipping into chaos," today.

Yep, this is going well.

Posted by BruceR at 09:27 PM

They might have been in the bunker next door

More on Al QaQaa: looking over the FOX news copy of the January IAEA report, something stands out... the container types.

Much of the now-missing HMX and RDX were both stored in so-called "Yugo drums," described as a "cylindrical carton drum," 40 cm x 70 cm, each carrying 50 kg of HMX or 40 kg of RDX (Both types of explosive were stored in them.) Bunker #47, containing all the RDX and PETN and the one bunker described as "not sealed," contained 77 such drums of RDX (3 metric tonnes), and 100 "China wood boxes" (elsewhere described as a "rectangular wood box" 30x40x50 cm), each of those carrying 35 kg of PETN explosive (3.5 tonnes). Nine other nearby bunkers, which seem to have held nothing but HMX, were resealed with IAEA seals in January, 2003. (As mentioned before, a quantity of HMX was the necessary condition for a plutonium bomb, and would have been of greater interest to an international nuclear inspection team.)

Also of note, bunker 47 and all but one of the HMX bunkers are shown as along the southern edge of Al QaQaa, the direction the embedded local news crew drove in from.

It's also fairly clear at least some of the stuff in the bunker the news crew looked around would have been of no interest to the IAEA... artillery fuzes, etc. That suggests that they were looking around an unsealed bunker, not a sealed one. Also, when you see the footage of the Americans breaking the lock, there's no sign of an IAEA seal on that bunker.

However, we know, thanks to Fox News, that bunker 47 was not officially sealed (it was, though, right next to a couple other bunkers that were) and was filled with exactly the kind of drums you see in the photo to the right.

So two possibilities remain: either the news team entered an Al QaQaa bunker that was not being monitored by the IAEA at all, but happened to contain what looks like tons of explosive anyway, or they are in bunker 47 itself, having caught on tape American soldiers breaking the padlock on it, and that picture to the right is what 3 metric tonnes of the best high explosive you can steal looks like.

In other news, the IAEA countered the ABC news report (quoted by Dick Cheney) that a ludicrous amount of RDX was missing by saying that report that ABC was relying on (the same one Fox has posted) was for the Al QaQaa facility only, and didn't include the Mahaweel facility, 20 km farther south, where the rest of the RDX (120-plus tonnes) was stored. In other words, the IAEA is now saying the Americans failed to keep TWO massive explosive stores from being cleaned out, not just one. You'd think if they were trying to bring down the President, they'd be a little more organized about it.

Also, I don't know why the Pentagon decided to release some irrelevant imagery today, but globalsecurity.org is right that the trucks are parked at the wrong bunker... but they're right for the wrong reasons!

Look at the picture, left column, third from the top. If you look at that, it shows trucks clearly parked at the bunker at the 3 o'clock position (bunker 44), two days after IAEA inspectors left for good, and three days before the start of the war. Globalsecurity.org says that's in the wrong part of the bunker complex completely... but it's not, not quite. The Foxnews PDF clearly says that there was 25 tonnes of HMX in bunker 41. Globalsecurity missed that line evidently, because bunker 41 is in fact in that same picture... it's the one in the 9 o'clock position. Still, it is true the truck is parked at bunker 44... which is not an IAEA-identified bunker. But if that truck had been two bunkers over, it would be strong evidence that some funny business was going on here.

What the Pentagon picture does show is that the U.S. did, in fact, have pretty good eyes on this complex in the few days before the war started, suggesting they probably would have caught any mass "Russians through the slats in the walls" evacuation of high explosive. I wonder if that's the point they were trying to convey today, however.

PS: I want it noted that I said "game, set, match" first, dammit. Atrios? Marshall?

MORE EMBARRASSING QUOTES: Ralph Peters: "None of the Screaming Eagles found any IAEA markers even one would have been a red flag to be reported immediately."

ONE FINAL THING: The problem here is that there is, in the end, only one way to take the pressure off the political leadership in a case like this: that is to blame this mistake on the troops, as at Abu Ghraib. And there is growing and ample evidence that someone at a lower level was not acting particularly responsibly when those images were shot. But the Bush campaign can't say that... they'd start losing red states if they openly criticized soldiers right now. So they have to blame Kerry for criticizing soldiers, even though he's not.

COUPLE FINAL NOTES: Globalsecurity.org has updated their graphics to correct the error I was making above. And now David Kay is saying "game, set, match." I'm trying to decide if people are reading this, or I'm just a couple hours ahead of the zeitgeist.

Posted by BruceR at 07:43 PM

Yakking about explosives

There's a good comment thread going here, where I end up more or less retracting the "2.5 tonnes" math, below. Cecil T.'s there, and a couple other readers, hashing out the latest explosive news.

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM

Yep, look like explosives to me

Apparently the 101st Airborne guys actually took bolt cutters to the bunker locks to show off a little to the Channel 5 Eyewitness News team. Game, set, match, I'd say.

UPDATE: That single photo of the soldier leaning over the crates shows roughly 60 stacked crates, each shown in another photo as "40 kg net weight." If that's how the missing explosives were packed (you can see the explosives stickers on them, so they're certainly something), that would be 2.5 tonnes of HE in that one photo alone... and that's not even getting into the other "barrels as far as the eye can see" photo. By the way, the "1.1D" on those dangerous goods placards on both the crates and barrels stands for "secondary (non-volatile) high explosive." PETN, RDX, or HMX would all normally be labelled with a 1.1D placard. (However, so would gunpowder, and some makes of artillery proximity fuze, so that's not definitive by itself.)

UPDATE #2: Meanwhile, LGF continues the sale of his soul to the devil... labelling a story about doubts about the RDX numbers as "380 tons becomes 3 tons." In fact, if you read the piece linked, you will know that the IAEA verified that there were 194 tonnes of HMX, plus at least 3 tonnes of RDX explosive at Al QaQaa. (The IAEA was less concerned about the RDX, because it's the HMX, or at least an HMX/RDX blend, that's the necessary condition for a plutonium implosion device.) That's at least 197 tonnes (217 tons) confirmed missing, not 3. He has, predictably, closed his comments again, making a perfect echo chamber for his acolytes on this.

FURTHER UPDATE: If you ever wanted to see an IAEA seal, there's a good picture here. Note it's on the outside of the building, and is nearly unnoticeable.

REGRETTABLE QUOTE UPDATE: "The idea that various Army units showed up at the weapons facility and strolled around a few minutes before moving up the road to Baghdad, leaving the lights on and the front door unlocked, looks more and more ridiculous." --Captain's Quarters. I agree it's ridiculous, but it seems that's exactly what happened. I should add that I was a logistics officer once, too, and while the CQ analysis from a logistical point might appear sound, it is all based on one big assumption... that the Iraqis only had quarter-ton pickup trucks to draw on. Assume the use of just one civilian 5-tonne, and the numbers change dramatically... plus the "breaching huge steel doors" argument is now officially defunct, thanks to the Eyewitness News team.

MORE REGRETTABLE QUOTES: "There is little question in my mind that the explosives at al Qa Qaa were gone by the time the first American set foot in the facility. What remains is for us to prove it. Go!" --Tacitus

And this one is a logician's catastrophe: "Kerry is trying to frame this issue as a Bush Administration failure - but in reality, even if what Kerry claims is true, this was a failure of troops who were in the midst of fighting the war in Iraq. We shouldn't let him get away with criticizing soldiers acting in the line of duty, and blame that on the President."

Posted by BruceR at 11:13 AM

Mythbusters: best science show on TV

I'm a big fan of the Discovery series "Mythbusters," now in its second season. The premise is that two seasoned Hollywood SFX guys take the urban legends of our lives and the movies (will a Bible stop a bullet, can you build a hovercraft out of a vacuum cleaner?) and put them to the test. It's a great science show, not just because there's a hidden lesson about chemistry or physics or engineering in there somewhere each time, but because each challenge is a little test in the scientific method, with hypotheses formulated, then dropped, then modified and reposed... with no one quite sure what the outcome is going to be. There's frustration, there's humour, there's personal injury... plus the hosts are the best two-man comic team on television. If you get a chance, you really should check it out. This is the kind of show that gets kids interested in science classes again.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM