How does something like this happen? A huge cache of explosives, supposedly secured by American forces in Iraq, has disappeared. The NYT reports that 380 tons, yes TONS, of explosives that are nicely all-purpose — they can be used to demo buildings, serve as missile warheads and detonate nukes.
Things are really “up in the air”, aren’t they? More Bush/Rummy incompetence. This could have horrific impact on global terrorism.
The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man’s land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.
The White House said President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was informed within the past month that the explosives were missing. It is unclear whether President Bush was informed. American officials have never publicly announced the disappearance, but beginning last week they answered questions about it posed by The New York Times and the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
Administration officials said Sunday that the Iraq Survey Group, the C.I.A. task force that searched for unconventional weapons, has been ordered to investigate the disappearance of the explosives.
American weapons experts say their immediate concern is that the explosives could be used in major bombing attacks against American or Iraqi forces: the explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, could produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings.
The bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the same type of material, and larger amounts were apparently used in the bombing of a housing complex in November 2003 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the blasts in a Moscow apartment complex in September 1999 that killed nearly 300 people.
The explosives could also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, which was why international nuclear inspectors had kept a watch on the material, and even sealed and locked some of it. The other components of an atom bomb – the design and the radioactive fuel – are more difficult to obtain.