Some 380 tons of explosives, powerful enough to detonate nuclear warheads, are missing from a former Iraqi military facility that was supposed to be under American control, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog says.Al Qaqaa was one of the first sites visited by UN inspectors in November 2002, and a google search reveals that they visited on a number of occasions during the next few months.
Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told CNN the Iraqi interim government reported several days ago that the explosives were missing from the Al Qaqaa complex, south of Baghdad.
The explosives -- considered powerful enough to demolish buildings or detonate nuclear warheads -- were under IAEA control until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. IAEA workers left the country before the fighting began.
"Our immediate concern is that if the explosives did fall into the wrong hands they could be used to commit terrorist acts and some of the bombings that we've seen," Fleming said.
She described Al Qaqaa as "massive" and said it is one of the most well-known storage sites....Fleming said the IAEA, whose mission is to keep track of everything with potential nuclear weapons applications, had been monitoring about 100 sites in Iraq, but there were only a few of special concern, including Al Qaqaa.
Once again, as the NY Times reports, it appears as if this was a case of very poor war-planning:
The International Atomic Energy Agency publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week. Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded...Great, just great.
After the invasion, when widespread looting began in Iraq, the international weapons experts grew concerned that the Qaqaa stockpile could fall into unfriendly hands. In May, an internal I.A.E.A. memorandum warned that terrorists might be helping "themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history."
And Average Joe American feels Bush keeps us safe?
There are 195 million metric tons (MMT) of HMX (high melting explosive) missing -- this is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive in the world. There are also 141 MMT missing of RDX (rapid or sometimes royal detonation explosive), which can be used to make "plastic explosives." As the NY Times story reported:
As a measure of the size of the stockpile, one large truck can carry about 10 tons, meaning that the missing explosives could fill a fleet of almost 40 trucks.Why should everyone be concerned? First, consider the proliferation angle:
More worrisome to the I.A.E.A. - and to some in Washington - is that HMX and RDX are used in standard nuclear weapons design. In a nuclear implosion weapon, the explosives crush a hollow sphere of uranium or plutonium into a critical mass, initiating the nuclear explosion.Next, the "conventional explosives" angle: RDX is the main explosive ingredient in C4, which is widely used by the US military -- and by the terrorists who attacked the USS Cole. Remember Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber"? Fox news reported December 26, 2001:
A crude implosion device - like the one that the United States tested in 1945 in the New Mexican desert and then dropped on Nagasaki, Japan - needs about a ton of high explosive to crush the core and start the chain reaction.
"An ounce of the plastic explosive could have been enough to blow out a window or wall of an airliner at altitude, and then 'the air pressure would rip the plane apart,' said Jack O'Keefe, a bomb technician with the Boston police bomb squad."On ounce. Apparently, Reid had 10 ounces of a variety of C4 in his shoe.
Reports indicate that similar explosives were used by Chechens who downed the apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999 and by terrorists against housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia during 2003.
These explosivs are fairly stable and easily transportable. Literally, right now, the missing explosives could be almost anywhere in the Middle East -- or throughout the world.
Just 12 ounces of Semtex (a particular plastic explosive), inside a Toshiba cassette recorder, downed Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988. 350 MMT is thus enough explosive to down virtually every airliner in the world.
Then again, I should note that the world has been living with this problem for some time:
...after the Czech Communist regime was toppled, the new president, Vaclav Havel, revealed that the Czechs had exported 900 tons of Semtex to Col. Moammar Qaddafi's Libya and another 1,000 tons to other unstable states, such as Syria, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. Some experts now put worldwide stockpiles of Semtex at 40,000 tons.Though George Bush wants to go after the states that might link to terrorists, it seems fairly clear that terrorists not clearly linked to states are a lot more willing to use nasty weapons and deserve much more attention.