June 23, 2006

Keith Olbermann on O'Reilly

If it was like this all the time, I might still watch TV current affairs. Positively Murrow-esque.

Posted by BruceR at 06:53 PM

Chemical weapons and Iraq in the news again

The recent Santorum publicity stunt deserves a more thorough parsing than it's gotten.

The precise and entire quote, from the summary provided by John Negroponte, that has caused all the fuss is:

"Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent... Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist." (emphasis mine)

The rest is just motherhood "could be sold, could still be dangerous, could be used by terrorists" hypotheticals.

The Negroponte statement needs to be compared with the Duelfer report's conclusion on the same question, from the addendum to their 2004 WMD report:

"ISG assesses that Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because
tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along frequently and rapidly shifting battlefronts."

"However, ISG believes that any remaining chemical munitions in Iraq do not pose a militarily significant threat to Coalition Forces because the agent and
munitions are degraded and there are not enough extant weapons to cause mass casualties."

To put the number found in context, it might also be worthwhile referring to Iraq's own statement that it used c.100,500 chemical munitions during the Iran-Iraq war, with substantial stockpiles left at war's end in 1988. Through their work in the 1990s, UNSCOM eventually elicited from the Iraqis that they had another 128,000 munitions at the start of the 1991 Gulf War, filled and unfilled. When UNSCOM left, they documented that they had with varying degrees of confidence, accounted for over 100,000 of those weapons, but there was an outstanding shortfall of approximately 24,000 munitions for which there was still no effective accounting (the Iraqis said they couldn't account for them either). The UNMOVIC work in 2002-2003 did not subtract significantly from that shortfall.

The Iraq Survey Group documented the recovery of dozens of Iran-Iraq War vintage chemical munitions, up to July 2004, in its report:

*11 155mm sulfur-mustard shells;
*1 152mm binary sarin shell;
*41 122mm sulfur-mustard artillery rockets (not all filled);
*8 Buraq CW artillery rockets

Two of these munitions were found after having been used in IEDs (ineffectively). All these weapons would presumably have been included in the Negroponte 500 total.

Flit's prediction: with just another 23,000 odd unaccounted-for munitions still to find yet, the 500 number will continue to grow. On the other hand, when the relevant documents are declassified, a significant number, probably the large majority of these weapons will be found to have been unfilled shells, despite Negroponte's statement, above... that was the UNMOVIC and UNSCOM experience. A smaller number will be duds and other weapons abandoned on battlefields in the south of the country. None will be any more dangerous from a military perspective than the World War One equivalents that still show up in French fields from time to time.

There is no reason to doubt the Duelfer conclusion, that given the vast quantities of these weapons floating around, and the hell that three separate wars will play on anyone's paperwork, not to mention the years of active hiding from the world of some of their stockpiles by the Iraqi government through the 1990s, that these were all simply lost at some point. The number found to have been created or even functional after 1991 will be near-zero.

Just a note: you know where Iraq obtained most of the 40,000+ munitions it purchased abroad in the mid-1980s, right? Egypt, which sold 28,500 tons of chemical-carrying munitions to them (most of the rest of the munitions, as opposed to their chem-bio contents, either came from Spain or were produced in Iraq). Egypt, of course, is not only one of the largest recipients of American military aid (then as now), but is also one of the eight UN nations that have refused to sign or accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The others are, for the record, Angola, North Korea, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria (and Barbados, where they just seem to have forgotten to get around to it). Oh yes, and of course, Iraq, who you'd think might have wanted to put a priority on it at some point over the last couple years, given as the Americans had been so keen about getting Libya in the club only recently.

Posted by BruceR at 09:51 AM

June 07, 2006

Things that please me, summer edition

Some things in life still just make me chortle with pre-adolescent glee. Like this Viewsonic VG920 19" LCD monitor that just showed up on my desk. I'm giggling like the Pillsbury Doughboy over here. I'd previously said Canadian company Viewsonic was tops in CRTs, but I preferred Samsung for computer flat screens. Well, I'm on the verge of changing my mind on that.

UPDATE: While I'm at it, I should also put in another shameless plug, this time for my PDA of choice at the moment, the Garmin iQue 3600. It's a perfectly good non-wireless PDA, now fairly cheap, and the built-in GPS is a treat-and-a-half. I was looking at the more expensive wireless Pocket PC models Garmin's putting out now, but incredibly they don't appear to have the ability to deliver coordinates in other than standard lat/long... making them good for driving only. They would seem all but useless for any kind of off-road foot navigation. I have a lot of time for Pocket PCs, generally, and wireless is always a nice-to-have, but in this case the Palm model of the same PDA is still a usable niche tool, and the Windows version is a yuppie affectation.

GPS PDAs have really benefited from the rapid improvement in SD card technology over the last two years. When the 3600 first came out in 2004, it was hard to find a card that could hold sufficient base maps to make the purchase worthwhile... now with 2GB cards standard, the Garmin's ability to navigate across North America (with a couple hundred megs of walking music on the same card to boot) makes for a really useful piece of gear. Now someone just needs to offer a waterproof case and a plug-in ruggedized battery pack...

Posted by BruceR at 05:40 PM

Reynolds' final words on Samarra?

"I've actually helped to call attention to war crimes by U.S. troops that the Big Media failed to notice..."

Instapundit, yesterday, arguing that he is not, in fact, a "jingoistic right wing idealogue."

Prof. Reynolds is, of course, referring to the Samarra bridge-pushing incident, which someday will be noted in the histories as the first military criminal investigation ever brought about by a blogger (Zeyad of Healing Iraq). For his role in supporting Zeyad in that, of course, Reynolds deserves some credit.

In fairness, though, it should also be noted that Reynolds never posted anything after the first sentence in the case, the platoon sergeant, who received a six-month term for assault, which Reynolds called "light." For instance, he has never given his opinion of the 45-day sentence given the officer who had actually given the order to throw an Iraqi into a dam reservoir, or the subsequent dropping of all charges against the company commander, Capt. Cunningham, who ultimately escaped with just a reprimand, the battalion commander Sassaman, who was allowed to retire gracefully, despite having covered up the incident and misled military investigators, and everybody else involved. That's 225 days prison time total, for one Iraqi's death: a triumph of the system that Reynolds remains confident will prevail in Haditha, it was not.

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 PM

June 06, 2006

Not quite the same thing

Some people are comparing the alleged terrorist-bust to the 2003 netting of some Pakistani students on fake student visas in Toronto. I wrote about that one back in the day.

The big difference, of course, is that that fake visa case was blown wildly out of proportion by the media, primarily by the National Post, on the basis of very little initial information from authorities. It was also solely an RCMP and Immigration Canada affair, with no CSIS involvement.

It's probably fair to say that Canadian authorities learned a lot about how to publicize a possible terror connection from the way that story was mangled, but there's otherwise very little similarity here. It's probably also a little unfair to blame the government generally, rather than the Canadian media, for the stigmatization that was suffered by the guys caught up in that previous case. Everyone seems to be trying to be a little more responsible this time around, though.

Posted by BruceR at 10:28 AM

Always nice to see your friends in the news

Two old colleagues are in the news a lot today around the alleged terrorism bust.

Star reporter (in both senses) Michelle Shephard was once, a long time ago, part of the same University of Toronto Varsity news team as me, a team that also included Tanya Talaga (also of the Star) and Elissa Lansdell of Country Music Television, among others. U of T doesn't have a j-school, all the student journalists are spare-time volunteers, and yet the Varsity, and the Canadian student press in general, proved the starting point for all kinds of amazing journalistic careers, up until at least the late-90s. Now I suppose all the kids who would do that sort of thing have blogs: it'll be interesting to see if they ever enjoy the same kind of cred that used to be more-or-less automatically bestowed on Varsity writers upon entering the professional workplace.

On the flip side of my young life, the Mackenzie Institute's John Thompson, much on the news as the local terrorism expert at the moment, shared an officer's mess with me at one time. You haven't changed a bit, John.

Posted by BruceR at 10:19 AM

June 05, 2006

Terrorism allegations: Coyne on a roll

Andrew Coyne has resumed his on-again, off-again blogging career, and is the official one-stop shop for news on Friday night's alleged-terrorist-plot-related arrests in the Toronto area.

Posted by BruceR at 10:05 AM

June 01, 2006

The Next Fifth Monarchy

I've been enjoying Andrew Sullivan's recent, erm, crusade, against American "Christianists," culminating in his condemnation of the soon-to-be-released Left Behind computer game.

I'd love to discount the distorting and pernicious influence excessive Christianity has as a significant force in world politics these days. I'd really love to. Unfortunately, I know a little too much about the Fifth Monarchy Men not to be somewhat alarmed.

The recent V for Vendetta movie updated the Guy Fawkes legend nicely. I wonder whether there'll ever be a similar re-invention of Praise-God Barebones and Thomas Venner?

Posted by BruceR at 05:27 PM