Mistakes, Incompetence, and Coverup Beyond Fevered Imaginings

In my opinion, all you need to know to decide to vote against George Bush is that his administration has presided over a destruction of the rule of law unimagined since the Alien and Sedition Acts. I speak not of the Patriot Act, most and perhaps all of whose provisions (if not necessarily their uses) reasonable people might disagree about. Rather I mean the disregard for due process, basic human rights, and our treaty obligations. These actions are most visible in the torture memo scandal, the almost certainly related practice of torture in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and the administration’s practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’. Recall also that Bush’s team recently lobbied Congress to change the law to allow the outsourcing of torture.

But perhaps you think this concern with fundamental legality and minimal human decency is some bleeding-heart luxury this nation can no longer afford now that 9/11 ‘changed everything’. So let’s agree to disagree as to the extent that the nation should pervert itself in its drive to teach others that we lack the guts to uphold our fundamental values when challenged. Instead, let’s work with that claim that all that matters in this election is which candidate will better preserve our physical safety.

If all that matters is our safety and security, then today’s news makes it clear beyond peradventure that the Bush administration is horribly dangerous to our national security.

Josh Marshall’s blog today runs an extensive quote from the Nelson Report regarding a staggering disaster which occurred in the early days of the US occupation of Iraq: someone stole 350 tons of RDX and HDX, highly specialized explosives. These materials are so powerful that only a few pounds suffices for a roadside bomb; do the math (2000 lbs to the ton) and that means the ‘insurgents’ in Iraq have got enough bomb power to carry them on basically forever.

But that’s not the really bad news. The really bad news is that these specialized explosives are what countries use to make nuclear bombs. It’s well known that there are three basic obstacles to making a small nuclear weapon: getting the fissionable material, getting the specialized explosives needed to implode it in order to compress the fissionable material to criticality, and calculating the right amount of explosives to use. The number of people who know how to solve the last problem is increasingly large, and it’s increasingly easy to work it out from published material. Getting the fissionable material still takes some apparatus…unless you are a rogue state or unless those guys in the former Soviet Union are really selling fissionable materials on the black market like the rumors say.

Perhaps you are thinking that it’s wrong to blame the Bush administration for letting 350 tons of material vanish in the fog of war. Yes, that’s a lot of stuff, but Iraq is a big place, and perhaps you think we can’t expect them to keep track of everything. But this wasn’t a secret stash: it was under IAEA seal, they would or should have known about it, and one would expect any competent planner to make securing it a priority. But they didn’t.

And that’s not all. What was the administration’s reaction to this debacle? It only gets worse. Having loosed this enormous stash of high explosive on the world, this enormous enabler of WMD-fueled terrorism, what did the administration do? It covered up. It didn’t even report the problem to the International Atomic Energy Association. And it pressured the Iraqi authorities to keep quiet, forestalling any disclosure by them until very recently, which means presumably that other countries were not on notice about this new threat any more than the American voter (unless, of course, word was slipped to our allies, but kept from the American voter).

Major-league disaster all around. And you have to wonder what else is lurking under the carpet.

Feeling safer with GW Bush yet?

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10 Responses to Mistakes, Incompetence, and Coverup Beyond Fevered Imaginings

  1. I agree the danger of nuclear weapons manufacturing is not a small one. But RDX and HDX are used not in the processing of nuclear weapons, but to coat the plutonium in the core.

    I think the much more prevalent danger is in seeing the RDX turned into C-4, of which there isn’t supposed to be a good source outside the U.S. (there sure is now) or, as we just saw in Bali, that both chemicals (HDX is made in part from RDX, but a separate compound) will be combined with TNT and ammonium nitrate and used in more terror attacks…oh, and of course you can also evidently make Semtex out of RDX, in case you’re the type of terrorist that likes your high explosive not to set off airport scans, say, in Scotland…And, of course, RDX is also the active ingredient in rocket propelled grenades, if you’re the type of terrorist too lazy to get on the plane to kill scores of americans…So highly specialized, sure, they are.

    But with a bit of know how, evidently, there’s not a living or nonliving thing on this planet you can’t destroy utterly with ounces of this stuff. And they have 700,000 pounds. I’m never leaving home again.

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  3. Michael says:

    I hope I wasn’t read to suggest that RDX/HDX are used in processing nuclear weapons. What I meant to say was that the problem of making or obtaining the explosives used to compress the plutonium or other fissiles was considered to be a roadbloack on the route to the aquisition of nuclear WMD almost on a par with getting hold of the fissiles themselves. If it is true that ex-soviet block nations lost track of their stockpiles, then the importance of keeping track of the stuff used to make the precisely shaped charges vastly increases in seriousness. Except when Bush is making decisions, apparently.

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  5. Wholehearted agreement. I guess I just tend to see the nuclear as the less likely, and as such the nonnuclear explosive as the more terrifying…

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  8. Mojo says:

    re the Arar extraordinary rendition case:
    Yes, the US government followed perfectly normal procedures in deporting this man and intelligence issues had nothing to do with it. That’s why we had the CIA negotiate the deportation rather than, say, the State Department.
    after the CIA received assurances from Syria that it would not torture the man
    Can’t the administration even lie convincingly? I wish they’d show us enough respect to at least try to cover up the fact that they hold the public in contempt.

    Oh, and obviously the correct reaction if we actually do catch an al Qaeda agent in the US would be to turn him over to a country hostile to the US. Maybe one we’ve accused of allowing terrorists to transit into Iraq or one some in the administration have accused of having elements of Iraq’s WMD program. Yep, we’ve got to hold those hundreds of low-level Taliban members in Gitmo for years because they might just remember a terrorist’s name someday but the guy who, “had the names of ‘a large number of known al Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates’ in his wallet or pockets” is of no real interest to us.


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