Have bloggers found buried WMD site?
During the invasion of Iraq our troops captured a couple of hundred-thousand pages of classified Iraqi government documents. Unless you're a student of military history the significance of this may not be immediately apparent: The documents are a window into the most secret operations of Saddam's regime.
The job of translating these documents and looking for "smoking guns" was given a very low priority by our Defense Department, and the release of documents was very slow. Some bloggers learned about this and suggested that DoD could greatly increase the pace of analysis by releasing pdf's of the original docs, which could then be translated by anyone. They enlisted the help of a conservative congress-critter, who prevailed on DoD to do just that.
At that point a few bloggers fluent in Farsi start translating these documents, and they're finding some highly interesting things.
One such document is ISGQ-2003-00004530 --which is a letter from an Iraqi general to Uday Hussein, dated September of 2002 and looking for guidance about a rather unusual situation. Joseph Shada translated it and posted the result on the Net.
Here's the translation (slightly edited to remove a lot of the routine flowery language of someone kissing up to Uday Hussein):
To the Supervisor of Saddam Feedayeen [i.e. Uday Hussein]Since General Mahmood presumably didn't think his letter or memo would be read by anyone outside the Iraqi government, let's assume for the moment that what he wrote was/is true. What's the significance?
Salute and regards, Sir. We received information that states the following:
1. A team from the Military Industrialization Commission when Hussein Kamel Hussein was conducting his responsibilities did bury a large container said [to] contain a Chemical Material in the village (Al Subbayhat) part of the district of Karma in Fallujah, in a quarry region that was used by SamSung Korean company and close to the homes of some citizens.
2. The container was buried using a fleet of concrete mixers.
3. Before the departure of the international inspectors in 1998 a United Nations helicopter flew over the region for two hours.
4. A large number of the region residents know about this container from the large number of machines used to hide it.
5. It was noticed a non-ordinary smell in the region.
6. No official visited the burial site throughout the years, which gives the impression that it is not currently known by the Military Industrialization Commission.
7. Positions for air defense were dug in the region that surrounds the quarry place without them knowing anything about the container. Also next to it are important headquarters like (Saddam factories-The warehouses of the Commerce ministry- Headquarters of Mujaheeden Khlaq).
Please your Excellency review and order what is appropriate…
General Moohsen Abdel Karim Mahmood
First, according to the translation the MIC buried "a" container of chemicals. But why would a single container (of reasonably manageable size) require a whole "fleet" of concrete mixers to bury it? Could it be that there were actually several such containers?
Second: The burial occurred back when Hussein Kamel Hussein--Saddam's son-in-law who later defected, was enticed back to Iraq and executed--was running the Military Industrialization Commission. This would date the burial of the container to before 1994 (from memory, anyway).
If you bury a container of deadly chemicals in a big block of concrete, it would be extremely hard to dig it up (to move it to a less-known location) without rupturing it. Moreover, the collection of earthmoving equipment needed to dig up the container(s) would call attention to the very thing you presumably want to conceal from the inspectors. Assuming you were trying to keep it from being found, better to just leave it where it is.
So if the letter is accurate, the container(s) is (are) very likely still in place.
After Shada posted his translation of General Mahmood's letter, a reader by the screen name of "usmcobra" was intrigued by the many geographic clues given in the letter, and started sifting thru roughly a thousand square miles satellite images of the area around Fallujah, looking for big chunks of concrete that didn't seem to have a plausible purpose for being there.
(If you haven't played with GoogleEarth you can't appreciate how informative it is to be able to instantly view almost any location on earth to a resolution of a few meters.)
Usmcobra quickly found an anomaly about 8 miles southeast of Fallujah: an obviously man-made lake about 3000 feet across, completely surrounded by identical houses and protected by a double fence with a perimeter road for security patrols. It's clearly a government facility, and both the lake and the high-security aspects are as out of place in this thinly-populated desert region as a golf course on the moon.
The lake appears to have been made by filling a quarry with water--in the shallows you can see square-sided stones covering the bottom. And the high-security double fence suggests that the installation had an important secret to keep.
But the translated letter also mentioned that the burial site was "close to the homes of some citizens." By contrast, the lake compound is many miles from any civilian homes. Also, the general's letter didn't say the "container" was buried in the quarry, but rather in a "region of quarries."
So umscobra started searching again, and found something else that seemed out of place: a second compound about 4 miles northeast of the lake, consisting of 100 (one hundred) almost-new warehouses of various sizes. Twenty of these are as big as a football field: 330 by 165 feet each. Another 62 are more modest in size--a mere 190 by 56 feet each.
Unless this is an army supply depot (something that could easily be determined), why would Saddam spend the money to build a couple of million square feet of "warehouse space" in such an unpopulated, out-of-the-way area? It doesn't seem to be an oilfield-supply yard, nor is it on a main trade route. But if you wanted to bury some contraband quickly, putting it under a "warehouse slab" would work.
Of course these warehouses could easily have a legitimate purpose--and if so we should be able to determine that fairly easily. But if the answers aren't convincing, it would be easy to see if anything is buried under the slabs by using a gadget called "ground-imaging radar," which can quickly find voids or metal objects buried underground-- or in concrete. It's a relatively inexpensive device and requires little training to use. With half a dozen of the things, the warehouse complex could be thoroughly checked in a few days.
If one really wanted to go hi-tech, one could lay out a grid of seismic cables on the floor of the larger warehouses, hit the floor with a sledgehammer and get a 3-D image of what's underneath in about six hours per warehouse. Take the data tapes back to the nearest U.S. base for processing at leisure.
Admittedly the odds that significant quantities of chemical weapons are buried this warehouse complex are slim, but 1) General Mahmood's letter says they're buried somewhere in this area; and 2) unless this warehouse complex is an army supply depot, it doesn't seem to have a legitimate commercial purpose in this region.
The general noted that the burial site is "next to the warehouses of the Commerce Ministry." That's fairly specific. If these warehouses were indeed assigned to that ministry, this should be easy to determine.
For those who want to take a look themselves, the complex is located at 33d22'50"N 43d55'08"E. Commenter Barb posted a link to the image.
If this turns out to be a couple of thousand liters of, say, nerve gas, major congrats to Joseph Shada, usmcobra and all the bloggers who brought the document-release issue to the attention of the congressman.
Now if we can just get someone to shoot this to the military brass...
UPDATE, 2016: It's now December of 2016 and I decided to re-check the image I examined in 2007. And would you believe...Google has replaced the 2006 image I originally examined with one dated 2016. That shouldn't be a problem...except...the original image had resolution high enough to examine individual anti-aircraft gun sites. But the current one has far poorer resolution.
Although one would expect GoogleEarth to update old images when new ones became available, one wonders why they'd update with a lower-resolution image when they already had a higher-quality one? I'll see if GoogleEarth will tell me if the original image is available, but not optimistic.