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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

At a few minutes after noon, I'm watching Mr. Di Rita giving yet another round of spin about al Qaqaa. Uncharacteristically, he looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack through most of his introductory remarks. And with what followed, it's not hard to see why. The line Di Rita led off with (and I just jotted this down from hearing it once over the air, so perhaps I've got a word or two wrong) was this: "It has not been our desire to tell a particular story, only to tell the facts."

Please.

I believe this man protests too much.

The only thing accurate about this claim is that it's true that Di Rita has not been intent on telling a particular story. He's been willing to tell any story -- and has -- so long as it's a story that exonerates the White House. Even if it's a different story every day.

It's a touchy point. But it's time for someone to start making the point that the Pentagon Public Affairs office isn't supposed to be used as a formal arm of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. And for that matter if Di Rita's going to use it that way, he should at least be doing a better job of it.

Today Di Rita brought out an Army major who says his unit removed and destroyed roughly 250 tons of equipment, ammunition and explosives from somewhere in the al Qaqaa facility in early April 2003 -- that would be after the first US troops arrived but prior to the arrival of the news crew that apparently filmed much of the explosives on April 18th.

Was it the stuff in question? Di Rita kept trying to answer the questions on the major's behalf. But the major made clear that he had no idea. Did he see any IAEA seals? No, he said, he didn't.

The Fox reporter at the news conference tried to coax the major into saying more than he was saying. But to no avail. He would only say what he knew. And there was very little that he knew that pertained to the relevant question.

The other reporters on hand, apparently weary of being lied to all week, preferred to put their questions to the major directly, rather than to Di Rita. And he, the major, was straightforward enough to say that all he knew was that he had taken stuff from somewhere at al Qaqaa and destroyed it.

What does that mean? Almost nothing.

This was an unfortunate stunt, put on by Di Rita and the politicals at DOD Public Affairs. And given how it turned out, I suspect it's one they quickly regretted.

Aaron Brown valiantly tries to carry the CNN ball into the credibility endzone, only to get dragged back by unnamed goofball colleagues who put together this piece on the CNN website.

As many of you now know, Brown had former chief weapons inspector David Kay on his show this evening and gave a rather conclusive presentation about the significance of the videotapes shot by embeds with the 101st Airborne, which clearly show large quantities of the explosives in question at al Qaqaa as late as April 18th, 2003.

They even have footage of the IAEA seal being clipped off the warehouses as they're going in.

Listen to what Kay said when Brown asked him whether the debate over when the explosives were taken is now over ...

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 was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called pottery barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.


Now, note one other thing. Kay is quite cautious in noting that it's only a slam dunk for the one bunker that appears in the video he's being shown.

But look at what one of the reporters who was there when the video was shot said earlier Thursday evening on Paula Zahn's show ...

Well, I should be clear. I don't think -- I'm not saying for a minute that I know that the munitions and the explosives that we stumbled upon were in fact the munitions or the explosives in question.

All I can say with certainty is that, on that day, there were bunker after bunker after bunker of explosives, tons of them, that were unguarded. We went in and looked at some of them. I don't have the sort of expertise to tell you whether or not those were exactly what they're talking about when they say that these -- how many odd tons of explosives went missing.


So, apparently, there was bunker after bunker with the same stuff Kay was sure about in the one bunker he saw video of.

And now look how CNN plays the story on their website in the early hours of Friday morning (emphasis added) ...

Two more bits of possible evidence surfaced Thursday in the mystery of the missing Iraqi explosives, but they appear to bolster two different scenarios as to what may have happened to the cache.

The Pentagon released a photo showing activity before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 outside a bunker at the weapons dump where nearly 380 tons of explosives reportedly disappeared.

While the photo might lend support to but does not prove the Pentagon's theory that the high-grade explosives were moved before the war, a videotape surfaced offering another scenario.

The video, shot by a crew from KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division, showed barrels of explosives in unguarded bunkers in the Al Qaqaa complex on April 18, 2003, nine days after the fall of Baghdad.

It was unclear, however, if the explosives in the video were of the same types as in the missing cache.


The Pentagon evidence in question is a piece of aerial photography showing two trucks near an al Qaqaa bunker in mid-March 2003. That's it. As part of some larger argument or larger body of evidence this might be suggestive evidence. But alone it means next to nothing. On top of that, the highly-respected globalsecurity.org website says they're not even the right bunkers.

And yet to CNN, it's just a he said/she said, two "bits of possible evidence" as they put it, pointing to "different scenarios." And for them the aerial photos are actually the more probative evidence, as evidenced by the structure of the sentence in the third graf above.

And then there's that last line: "It was unclear, however, if the explosives in the video were of the same types as in the missing cache."

Really?

Who wrote that line and where do they get their information? Apparently not from CNN or ABC.

Listen to what Kay said when asked about this by Brown ...

AB: Was there anything else at the facility that would have been under IAEA seal?

DK: Absolutely nothing. It was the HMX, RDX, the two high explosives.


And then a moment later ...

HMX is in powder 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 Qaqaa that was in that form.


Whatever else you can say about him, David Kay knows a thing or two about this subject. And he seems positive.

And look what fellow inspector David Albright told ABC ...

Experts who have studied the images say the barrels on the tape contain the high explosive HMX, and the U.N. markings on the barrels are clear.

"I talked to a former inspector who's a colleague of mine, and he confirmed that, indeed, these pictures look just like what he remembers seeing inside those bunkers," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.


The Times even has this from a piece that went up late Thursday evening: "Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the war."

Apparently, at least three weapons inspectors -- probably more, including the Times -- are certain that's the material in question. But to the folks at CNN it's still an open question.

They seem to want to play by the White House rules, under which each separate ton of explosive material must be identified in videotapes from embeds and then certified as authentic by every conceivable expert under the sun before the president will have to admit that maybe something went wrong.

And of course no one can bring the issue up in a political context until the presidential commission Jeb Bush appoints in 2010 comes back with its final report two years later.

Late Update: As of this morning (10:03 AM), the CNN webscribes did a fairly aggressive edit on this piece. I've got to start saving copies of these articles before the inevitable switcheroo.

Hmmm. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is slipping quickly enough in the polls that it's apparently time to start calling his opponent gay.

Is that a bulge in your jacket? Or do ya just wanna debate me?

I must say I've never been able to get my head around the idea that the president actually had some wiring device on at the debate. But Salon has a new article with an interview with a NASA imagery analyst who says he was.

They report; you decide.

Game. Set. Match.

They got caught with a screw-up, <$NoAd$>their response was to lie, smear, obfuscate and bamboozle. And now the unimpeachable evidence is out.

It captures the administration's whole record on Iraq, only fast-forwarded and telescoped into four days as opposed to four years.

Here's former weapons inspector David Kay on Aaron Brown this evening delivering the news ...

Aaron Brown: We saw at the top of the program there is new information to factor in. Pretty conclusive to our eye. So we'll sort through this now. Take the politics out of it and try and deal with facts with former head UN weapons inspector, US weapons inspector, David Kay. David, it’s nice to see you.

David Kay: Good to be with you, Aaron.

AB: 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. Okay? First what I’ll just call the seal. And tell me if this is an IAEA seal on that bunker at that munitions dump?

DK: Aaron, 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 is 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.

AB: Was there anything else at the facility that would have been under IAEA seal?

DK: Absolutely nothing. It was the HMX, RDX, the two high explosives.

AB: OK now, I’ll take a look at barrels here for a second. 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.

DK: 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 barrels a bag. HMX is in powder 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 Qaqaa that was in that form.

AB: 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?

DK: 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 was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called pottery barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.

AB: I'm -- that raises a number of questions. Let me throw out one. It suggests that maybe they just didn't know what they had?

DK: I think you're quite likely they didn't know they had HMX, which speaks to 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.

AB: Could you -- I’m trying to stay out of the realm of politics. I'm not sure you can.

DK: So am I.

AB: I know. It's a little tricky here. But, is there any -- 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?

DK: Absolutely not. For example, al Qaqaa was a site of Gerald Bull's 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. Iraq had, and it's a frightening number, two-thirds of the total conventional explosives that the US has in its entire inventory. The country was an armed camp.

AB: David, as quickly as you can, because this just came up in the last hour, as dangerous as this stuff is, this would not be described as a WMD, correct?

DK: Oh absolutely not.

AB: Thank you.

DK: And, in fact, the loss of it is not a proliferation issue.

AB: Okay. It's just dangerous and its out there and by your thinking it should have been secured.

DK: Well look, it was used to bring the Pan Am flight down. It's a very dangerous explosive, particularly in the hands of terrorists.

AB: David, thank you for walking me through this. I appreciate it, David Kay the former head US weapons inspector in Iraq.


Game. Set. Match

Still more problems with Larry Di Rita's endless spinning on al Qaqaa? Globalsecurity.org seems to think so. The satellite imagery Di Rita's handing out to the press doesn't seem to match up with where the explosives were.

Of course, videotape of the explosives still on-site about three weeks later seems pretty revealing too.

Like I said last night, Di Rita's like Rather and Mapes rolled into one, crashing through all the records, looking for anything, anything, to salvage his story.

Let's see how quickly, or if at all, CNN, <$NoAd$>MSNBC and (who knows?) even Fox pick up ABC's report which shows about as conclusively as you're ever going to be shown that the al Qaqaa explosives were there after the war. I'll be much obliged if brave souls watching these operations can send me word about what they're seeing.

And remember this passage from the piece on looters at al Qaqaa from this morning's Times?

The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.


Though the Times was there going out of its way to give the benefit of the doubt to the White House, does that caveat survive the tapes unearthed today by ABC?

Video editors get slotted for CIA fall-guy role in latest Bush cooked up evidence flap ...

Reed Dickens, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, acknowledged the image had been adjusted but said it was done during the editing process and had not been ordered by the campaign.

"It was completely unintentional," he said. "The ad has already been replaced."


Priceless.

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