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Missing Explosives Matter on Tuesday
Published on Thursday, October 28, 2004 by the Long Island / NY Newsday
Missing Explosives Matter on Tuesday
by Martin Schram

The much-speculated October Surprise exploded upon us just a week before Election Day. It came from Iraq in the form of a news scoop so stunning and troubling that nobody could have predicted it and nobody can take comfort from it.

That is because it has menacing implications for Americans who are beginning to understand, deep down, that U.S. government blunders half a world away have made us all less safe at home than we needed to be.

Less safe than we can afford to be.

Here's what we know for sure: A huge arsenal of powerful explosives has vanished in Iraq - including some powerful enough to detonate a nuclear bomb. U.S. officials have no idea where the explosives are.

The news was first reported by CBS News' "60 Minutes" and The New York Times and that much has been officially confirmed. We also know that despite warnings from international inspectors before and after the Iraq invasion, the U.S. military did not properly safeguard the arsenal and the Bush administration never made sure the arsenal was fully inventoried and secured. All sources agree that the arsenal outside Baghdad that is known as Al-Qaqaa once housed nearly 380 tons of explosives and is now empty.

Here's what we don't know for sure: We don't know just when the deadly explosives disappeared. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was quoted this week as saying his inspectors verified that the arsenal was stocked with its deadly explosives just a couple of months before the U.S.-led invasion began.

CNN quoted him as saying that the explosives were there in March 2003, just a couple of weeks before the invasion.

Just two weeks ago, on Oct. 10, an official of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology, Mohammed Abbas, wrote a letter to the IAEA, which the agency forwarded to U.S. officials. It said the entire stockpile had disappeared from Al-Qaqaa after April 9, 2003.

But wait. NBC News reports that one of its correspondents was embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne, which entered the Al-Qaqaa site on April 10, 2003. Those U.S. troops reportedly found conventional weapons and missiles, NBC News said, but didn't find any of the HMX and RDX explosives there. The U.S. troops soon moved on and the site was abandoned.

Is it possible that the deadly explosives were there and the U.S. troops lacked the expertise to know what to look for and simply overlooked them? Perhaps.

Is it possible that the deadly explosives were moved to another site just before the invasion, or were buried nearby? Perhaps. But moving or hiding hundreds of tons of explosives is a task so mammoth that even an intelligence organization as demonstrably incompetent as the one run by George "Slam-Dunk" Tenet should have been able to spot it.

The existence of the explosives was no secret. In late 2002 and early 2003, ElBaradei often warned publicly about the explosives in the Al-Qaqaa arsenal. On Jan. 9, 2003, he reported to the UN Security Council the inventory that was there.

But Team Bush hoped the vanishing of those Iraqi explosives would be a secret you would not find out about. At least until after Election Day. It was the October Surprise they had no intention of revealing.

Back in May 2004, Iraqi officials say they warned Paul Bremer, President George W. Bush's top adviser in Iraq, that the arsenal at Al-Qaqaa had probably been looted. Did Bremer tell Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or anyone else? Bremer hasn't said. Meanwhile, Rice reportedly was told earlier this month that the explosives had disappeared. Did she tell Bush? The White House wouldn't say. Bush flatly refused to discuss it Tuesday when he was asked by CNN, although in a speech yesterday he did accuse Kerry of making "wild charges" about the matter.

Clearly, the president and his political string-pullers didn't want to upset you before you voted. And you know why.

Those missing explosives loom as the missing link of homeland security. They make the connection that we cannot afford to ignore before we vote. They show how the Bush administration's failure to plan for keeping the peace once the war was won in a distant land has made our families less safe in our homeland.

The explosives that didn't explode - yet - have ignited a shock wave that is an urgent reminder: We are the ones who pay the ultimate price every time we submit to an unthinking arrogance of power.

Martin Schram is a syndicated columnist in Washington and the author of "Avoiding Armageddon."

© 2004 Newsday, Inc.


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