Report: Explosives already gone when U.S. troops arrived
NBC News says its crew was embedded with soldiers at time
(CNN) -- The mystery surrounding the disappearance of 380 tons of powerful explosives from a storage depot in Iraq has taken a new twist, after a network embedded with the U.S. military during the invasion of Iraq reported that the material had already vanished by the time American troops arrived.
NBC News reported that on April 10, 2003, its crew was embedded with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division when troops arrived at the Al Qaqaa storage facility south of Baghdad.
While the troops found large stockpiles of conventional explosives, they did not find HMX or RDX, the types of powerful explosives that reportedly went missing, according to NBC.
The International Atomic Energy Agency revealed Monday that it had been told two weeks ago by the Iraqi government that 380 tons of HMX and RDX disappeared from Al Qaqaa after Saddam Hussein's government fell.
In a letter to the IAEA dated October 10, Iraq's director of planning, Mohammed Abbas, said the material disappeared sometime after Saddam's regime fell in April 2003, which he attributed to "the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security."
Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003. According to NBC, troops from the 101st Airborne arrived the next day to find that the material was already gone.
The NYTIMES urgently reported on Monday in an apprent October Surprise: The Iraqi interim government and the U.N. nuclear agency have warned the United States that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives are now missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive normer military installations.
[The source behind the NYT story first went to CBSNEWS' 60 MINUTES last Wednesday, but the beleaguered network wasn't able to get the piece on the air as fast as the newspaper could print. Executive producer Jeff Fager hoped to break the story during a high-impact election eve broadcast of 60 MINS on October 31.]
Jumping on the TIMES exclusive, Dem presidential candidate John Kerry blasted the Bush administration for its failure to "guard those stockpiles."
"This is one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the great blunders of this administration," Kerry said.
In an election week rush:
**ABCNEWS Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 4 Times
**CBSNEWS Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 7 Times
**MSNBC Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 37 Times
**CNN Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 50 Times
But tonight, NBCNEWS reported: The 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives were already missing back in April 10, 2003 -- when U.S. troops arrived at the installation south of Baghdad!
An NBCNEWS crew embedded with troops moved in to secure the Al-Qaqaa weapons facility on April 10, 2003, one day after the liberation of Iraq.
According to NBCNEWS, the HMX and RDX explosives were already missing when the American troops arrived.
"The U.S. Army was at the site one day after the liberation and the weapons were already gone," a top Republican blasted from Washington late Monday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors last saw the explosives in January 2003 when they took an inventory and placed fresh seals on the bunkers.
Dem vp hopeful John Edwards blasted Bush for not securing the explosives: "It is reckless and irresponsible to fail to protect and safeguard one of the largest weapons sites in the country. And by either ignoring these mistakes or being clueless about them, George Bush has failed. He has failed as our commander in chief; he has failed as president."
A senior Bush official e-mailed DRUDGE late Monday: "Let me get this straight, are Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards now saying we did not go into Iraq soon enough? We should have invaded and liberated Iraq sooner?"
Top Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart fired back Monday night: "In a shameless attempt to cover up its failure to secure 380 tons of highly explosive material in Iraq, the White House is desperately flailing in an effort to escape blame. Instead of distorting John Kerry's words, the Bush campaign is now falsely and deliberately twisting the reports of journalists. It is the latest pathetic excuse from an administration that never admits a mistake, no matter how disastrous."
Why is the U.N. nuclear agency suddenly warning now that insurgents in Iraq may have obtained nearly 400 tons of missing explosives -- in early 2003?
NBCNEWS Jim Miklaszewski quoted one official: "Recent disagreements between the administration and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency makes this announcement appear highly political."