The Bush administration is in Deep Caca over Al Qaqaa. Minnesota TV station KSTP has produced what seems to be the smoking gun video… or to use Condi’s phraseology, the mushroom cloud video.
Turns out that the station’s embedded reporters arrived at Al Qaqaa on April 18 2003, nine days after the fall of Baghdad. And the footage shot at the moment clearly shows U.S. troops breaking the seal that had been earlier placed on a bunker door. Inside that bunker, barrel after barrel of the now missing 700,000 pounds of explosives – the kind used as hyper-powerful bombs and even nuclear detonators.
KSTP’s story devastates the Pentagon's unsubstantiated suggestion issued earlier Thursday that the explosives might have been looted before U.S. troops invaded Baghdad.
Not only did the troops filmed by KSTP find the clearly marked explosives that had been under seal.. but then they up and left, abandoning the material to anyone who might happen along.
Friday morning’s L.A. Times has a sharp piece on the new evidence… though whatever editor wrote the sub-headline has it ass-backwards:
News Video Is at Center of Storm Over Iraq Explosives
Reporters taped troops apparently finding munitions. Pentagon photo implies otherwise.
In reality, it’s the reporter’s video that trumps the Pentagon photo—a photo that in light of the new evidence proves absolutely nothing.
The Times quotes the Bush administration’s former chief weapons inspector from an earlier appearance on CNN in which he, simply, blew up the administration cover story:
Former top U.S. weapons hunter David Kay said the video, which showed soldiers going through the explosives as well as the apparent IAEA seal on the door, was strong evidence that the weapons were still in at least one bunker weeks after the start of the war. The IAEA had placed seals on nine bunkers in the complex.
"The seal was broken [by U.S. troops] and, quite frankly, to me the most frightening thing is not only is the seal broken and the lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up," Kay said on CNN. "You have to provide security."
The missing Al Qaqaa cache was a fraction of the problem, Kay said. "Iraq is awash with tens of thousands of tons of explosives right now in the hands of insurgents because we did not provide the security when we took over the country."
Kay said Al Qaqaa "was one of the most well-documented explosives sites in all of Iraq."
...U.S. officials were warned about safeguarding Al Qaqaa soon after the assault began. Alarmed by the rampant looting of Iraqi's main nuclear site, Tuwaitha, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei wrote an internal memo about the potential "explosives bonanza" available to terrorists, which was passed along to U.S. officials.
"We put it to the U.S. mission in Vienna in April" of 2003, said Jacques Baute, the IAEA's chief inspector for Iraq. "We didn't hear anything back."
One year later, Iraqi interim officials say they warned coalition head L. Paul Bremer III that Al Qaqaa had probably been looted after the invasion.
This story of staggering incompetence by the Bushies will wash through the Friday and even the weekend news cycle.
I’m skeptical, however, as to what it will mean politically. As this story has evolved over the last few days, it seems whatever momentum there might be in this race has shifted once again toward George W. Bush. There’s plenty to dislike about the President and plenty reason to oppose him, heaven knows. But John Kerry’s failure to ignite significant excitement among those outside the chattering class should not be underestimated.
(photo: a still from KSTP's video clearly showing the wax seal of the IAEA on a bunker door at Al QaQaa on April 18, 2003).
UPDATE: Thanks to Juan Cole here's a detailed transcript of the discussion Thursday ngiht between former CIA weapons inspector David Kay and CNN's Aaron Brown. It's rather definitive:
BROWN: I don't know how better to do this than to show you some pictures, have you explain to me what they are or are not, OK? First, I'll just call it the seal and tell me if this is an IAEA seal on that bunker at that munitions dump.
KAY: Aaron, as about as certain as I can be looking at a picture, not physically holding it, which obviously I would have preferred to have been there, that's an IAEA seal. I've never seen anything else in Iraq in about 15 years of being in Iraq and around Iraq that was other than an IAEA seal of that shape.
BROWN: And was there anything else at the facility that would have been under IAEA seal?
KAY: Absolutely nothing. It was he HMX, RDX, the two high explosives.
BROWN: OK. Now, I want to take a look at the barrels here for a second and you can tell me what they tell you. They obviously to us just show us a bunch of barrels. You'll see it somewhat differently.
KAY: Well, it's interesting. There were three foreign suppliers to Iraq of this explosive in the 1980s. One of them used barrels like this and inside the barrel is a bag. HMX is in powdered form because you actually use it to shape a spherical lens that is used to create the triggering device for nuclear weapons.
And, particularly on the videotape, which is actually better than the still photos, as the soldier dips into it that's either HMX or RDX. I don't know of anything else in al Qa Qaa that was in that form.
BROWN: Let me ask you then, David, the question I asked Jamie. In regard to the dispute about whether that stuff was there when the Americans arrived, is it game, set, match? Is that part of the argument now over?
KAY: Well, at least with regard to this one bunker and the film shows one seal, one bunker, one group of soldiers going through and there were others there that were sealed, with this one, I think it is game, set and match.
There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken and quite frankly to me the most frightening thing is not only is the seal broken and the lock broken but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean to rephrase the so-called (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rule if you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.
BROWN: That raises a number of questions. Let me throw out one. It suggests that maybe they just didn't know what they had.
KAY: I think quite likely they didn't know they had HMX, which speaks to the lack of intelligence given troops moving through that area but they certainly knew they had explosives.
And to put this in context, I think it's important this loss of 360 tons but Iraq is awash with tens of thousands of tons of explosives right now in the hands of insurgents because we did not provide the security when we took over the country.
BROWN: Could you -- I'm trying to stay out of the realm of politics.
KAY: So am I. BROWN: I'm not sure you can necessarily. I know. It's a little tricky here but is there any reason not to have anticipated the fact that there would be bunkers like this, explosives like this and a need to secure them?
KAY: Absolutely not. For example, al Qa Qaa was a site of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) super gun project. It was a team of mine that discovered the HMX originally in 1991. That was one of the most well documented explosive sites in all of Iraq. The other 80 or so major ammunition storage points were also well documented