Al-Qaqaa hits the fan.

Media criticism.
Oct. 28 2004 12:15 AM

Al-Qaqaa Hits the Fan

The New York Times scoop raises as many questions as it answers.

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Congratulations to the New York Times for breaking this story, but I'd still like to see it placed in context. For instance, Al-Qaqaa was one of the CIA's 500 "medium priority" weapons sites: How many of those sites were searched and secured? Are other dangerous caches missing? Was Al-Qaqaa the only HMX, RDX, and PETN depot in Iraq? Did U.N. inspectors allow the Iraqis to hoard other dangerous munitions?

Another "for instance": In a throwaway sentence, the Boston Globequotes former weapons inspector David Kay as saying that three major insurgent bombing sites tested positive for HMX or RDX. Is that true? When and where were they? Can these bombings be traced to the Al-Qaqaa stockpile?

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Yet another "for instance": If we're terrified about 380 tons of explosives gone missing because of U.S. incompetence, shouldn't we be one-tenth as worried about the 35 tons of the "missing" HMX Saddam's people claim to have used on civilian projects? Did Iraq really use it on civilian projects, did it stockpile the stuff for future A-bomb research, or did it sell the explosives to terrorists?

Which brings us to my final "for instance": The Times explains that HMX and RDX can be disguised as "harmless goods, easily slipped across borders." I'd like to hear the IAEA explain what logic it used in deciding that hundreds of tons of high explosives could be trusted to the custodianship of Saddam Hussein.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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