Reality catches up with Bush

Choice statistics from last week’s CBS poll of the average American:

  • 61% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.
  • 65% believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.
  • 81% think the torture at Abu Ghraib was unjustified.
  • 51% think the Pentagon tried to cover it up.
  • 20% think the Bush administration has increased jobs, 49% think they’ve decreased jobs.

There’s more in this week’s poll:

  • 80% thought Bush was either “hiding something” or “mostly lying” in his statements on Iraq.
  • 55% think the war in Iraq has created more anti-American terrorists.
  • Only 13% think America is safer as a result of the war.

And rounding off a fairly solid victory for reality, only 29% of people have a favorable opinion of John Kerry.

D’ohh!

Five months before the September 11 attacks, US military planners suggested a war game to practise a response to a terrorist attack using a commercial airliner flown into the Pentagon, but senior officers rejected the scenario as “too unrealistic”.

Details emerged yesterday in an email leaked to a public policy watchdog group. In the email, written a week after the attacks, a special operations officer discussed the exercise with his colleagues.

Details of the exercise, codenamed Positive Force, and the rejected hijacking scenario were confirmed by Norad, the North American aerospace defence command.

—Guardian, 2004-04-15

In case you missed it…

Authorities have located weapons of mass destruction. Actual weapons of mass destruction, enough illegal chemical weapons to kill thousands of Americans. The weapons were located on American soil.

For years, William Krar lived with his common-law wife Judith Bruey in New Hampshire. Krar first came to the attention of police in 1985, when he was arrested in New Hampshire for impersonating a police officer. In 1989, he started fighting back against the Federal government in the traditional New Hampshire style—he stopped paying taxes.

Then in 1995, Krar was investigated by authorities. They discovered he was linked to a network of anti-government and white supremacist organizations in New Hampshire. Still, nothing unusual about that, so they dropped the inquiry.

Soon, Krar and Bruey had moved to Tyler, Texas. Then in January 2003, Krar was stopped by a state trooper in Tennessee. Inside Krar’s rental car the trooper found 2 handguns, 16 knives, a stun gun, a smoke grenade, a gas mask, and 40 bottles filled with an unknown substance. Coded documents labeled “trip” and “procedure” listed rendezvous locations across the US. You might think that that would be suspicious enough to get the attention of Homeland Security, but you’d be wrong.

Krar’s schemes were finally revealed to the FBI by accident. Krar mailed five fake ID cards to a member of the New Jersey Militia. One was a fake ID for the Pentagon; another was a fake Social Security Card. Also enclosed was a note saying “We would hate to have this fall into the wrong hands.” Unfortunately for Krar, the envelope was misdelivered, and the recipient called the police.

As a result, FBI investigators began monitoring Krar’s mail, as well as his (common law) wife’s. They discovered that Krar and Bruey were renting three lockup garages from Teresa Staples, and that they visited them every day. Each garage was piled high with clothing and garden equipment; Staples thought they were gardeners, or that they resold gardening supplies at flea markets.

FBI agents were more suspicious, and took a closer look. They discovered a cache of weapons hidden behind the gardening equipment. So they checked Krar’s home in Tyler, Texas, and discovered more.

The eventual haul totalled 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs, remote controlled briefcase bombs, machine guns, silencers, land mines, and plain old explosives. Krar wasn’t licensed to hold automatic weapons; I don’t know if Texas issues landmine licenses. The weapons cache wasn’t the disturbing part, however…

Teresa Staples realized something was seriously amiss when a team of agents turned up in HazMat suits. The FBI had opened an ammunitions canister and found nearly a kilo of sodium cyanide, packed next to a quantity of acid sufficient to dissolve it into cyanide gas. Enough cyanide gas to kill literally thousands of people, if released in an enclosed space like a stadium or subway.

There were also anti-Semitic, racist and anti-government publications in the lockups, in case you hadn’t guessed. The KKK had even left a business card.

Krar and Bruey have plead guilty to all charges, as has Edward Feltus, the person who was supposed to have received the fake IDs. While Feltus faces up to 15 years in jail, Bruey will be out in less than five. Krar’s crime of possessing dangerous chemical weapons is sufficiently rare that authorities don’t seem to have gotten around to setting minimum sentencing guidelines. Krar’s lawyer is pointing out that there’s no evidence he actually planned to use the cyanide bomb.

It could have been a bigger mass-murder than 9/11. The Justice Department seems keen to publicize victories in the war against terrorism, so why haven’t we heard more about this story?

Perhaps because the story isn’t over. More cyanide was found in Krar’s house, and in his car. Authorities think he might have already sold cyanide bombs to various right-wing militia organizations.

Last month, a letter laced with ricin nerve toxin was sent to the Senate. Last November, one was sent to the White House. The perpetrator of the anthrax attacks of 2001 is still at large. Sleep well.

[Guardian/Observer link]

OJ’s hunt for the real killers

US News:

On the evening of February 1, two dozen American officials gathered in a spacious conference room at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va. The time had come to make the public case for war against Iraq. For six hours that Saturday, the men and women of the Bush administration argued about what Secretary of State Colin Powell should—and should not—say at the United Nations Security Council four days later. Not all the secret intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s misdeeds, they found, stood up to close scrutiny. At one point during the rehearsal, Powell tossed several pages in the air. “I’m not reading this,” he declared. “This is bullshit.”

[…]

Today, the mystery is what happened to Iraq’s terror weapons. “Everyone believed they would find it,” says a senior official. “I have never seen intelligence agencies in this government and other governments so united on one subject.”

Were they right? Powell and Tenet were convinced that chemical agents had been deployed to field units. None have been found. War planners used the intelligence when targeting suspected weapons of mass destruction sites. Yet bomb-damage assessments found that none of the targets contained chemical or biological weapons. “What we don’t know at this point,” says an Air Force war planner, “is what was bad intelligence, what was bad timing, what was bad luck.”

[…]

Senior administration officials say they remain convinced that weapons of mass destruction will turn up. The CIA and the Pentagon reported last week that two trucks seized in Iraq were apparently used as mobile biological weapons labs, though no biological agents were found.

Sydney Morning Herald:

Condoleezza Rice was smart enough to attempt her U-turn weeks ago. According to the US National Security Adviser, WMD bombs, missiles and drones are out. Dual-use technology and just-in-time manufacturing are in. Find a pesticide factory, for instance, and you find a chemical warfare facility. And don’t be concerned about looters. The more the place is trashed, the more difficult will be any dispute about the evidence. More recently, the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has said publicly that Iraq may have destroyed its WMDs prior to the war.

[…]

This is not to say that Iraq was of no concern or that some WMD-related materials will never be found in Iraq. Iraq had what’s known in the business as a breakout WMD capability in its many dual-use facilities. The Fallujah III castor oil production plant near Baghdad, for example, was, like similar plants elsewhere in the world, suitable for conversion to a ricin toxin factory.

And Iraq, again like many countries including Australia, probably still has stockpiles of potential WMD ingredients – the chlorine needed for clean water, for example, can also be used to make deadly chemical agents.

Moreover, Iraq almost certainly had other WMD-related materials. US claims about mobile biological warfare facilities could yet prove true, though the implication that Iraq’s biological weapons program relied on a handful of trailers tends to confirm the program was limited.

The trailers, and any other finds, will remain irrelevant until scrutinised by independent officials. The same goes for the interrogation reports of former Iraqi scientists, including those now detained in Morocco. With so much at stake, the possibility can’t be ruled out that a zealous coalition official might attempt to tamper with the evidence.

Claims by Iraqis in custody that the WMD program was dismantled before the war could be true, especially if Saddam thought he could survive the war and achieve some sort of moral victory. But that would mean the program must have been much smaller than US assessments. Just as elusive is hard evidence of active co-operation with al-Qaeda. This was always an extraordinary proposition, not least because Saddam was a secular dictator intent on eradicating Islamic fundamentalism.

[…]

One of the major concerns about the war now is the way it will encourage the proliferation of WMDs. America’s adversaries are being encouraged to acquire WMDs to deter US aggression.