- The Washington Times - Friday, October 29, 2004

That New York Times-CBS News “scoop”about 380 missing tons of explosives in Iraq appears to be collapsing before our eyes, raising new credibility problems for both media giants and for John Kerry — who sought to exploit the bogus story in an effort to salvage his presidential campaign.

The seemingly indisputable facts about the case are the following: On Monday, the NYT reported in a front-page story that 380 tons of powerful explosives were apparently looted from one of Saddam Hussein’s most sensitive military facilities, the al Qaqaa near Baghdad, and that the arsenal had vanished because U.S. forces had failed to adequately guard it. That very morning, Mr. Kerry cited the article as evidence of “the incredible incompetence of this president and this administration.” Since then, his campaign has been running ads citing the story as evidence of President Bush’s malfeasance, and Mr. Kerry and running mate John Edwards have made the NYT piece a central issue in their campaign.

The problem for the NYT, CBS, and Mr. Kerry is that their story has been falling apart since Monday night, when NBC News reported that the explosives — RDX and HMX — were missing on April 10, 2003, when American troops arrived at al Qaqaa. Former soldier Ken Dixon, who served with the 101st Airborne, told Fox News that when his unit entered and searched the facility, there was no sign of the weapons. The Third Infantry Division, which had already made it to al Qaqaa several days earlier, conducted its own search and didn’t find anything. Also, it would have required a tremendous fleet of trucks to have spirited out such a large volume of material out of the installation at a time when coalition military vehicles were controlling the roadways. In short, the notion that the material was looted while under the authority of U.S. forces is questionable, to put it mildly. And then there’s also the Pentagon’s announcement yesterday that an Army unit removed 250 tons of ammunition from al Qaqaa — although it is unclear whether this is part of the original 380 tons referred to in the NYT story.

Indeed, even two of Mr. Kerry’s senior foreign policy aides — Richard Holbrooke and Jamie Rubin — concede they do not know where the missing explosives could be. “I don’t know what happened,” Mr. Holbrooke acknowledged.

Mr. Kerry’s continued insistence on nonetheless referring to the NYT story harkens back to JFK’s phony missile gap. There is a gap in the senator’s integirty.

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