October 27, 2004,
The United Nations is already embroiled in the largest economic scam in world history: the multibillion dollar Oil-for-Food scandal. Now there is reason to ask whether a senior U.N., official also has attempted to influence an American election by spreading misleading information.
The source for this politically explosive charge? The Times quoted unnamed White House and Pentagon officials acknowledging that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year. But named White House and Pentagon officials have said the opposite. And a senior government official told me flatly: "The stuff in Iraq was missing as of April 10, 2003 the day after Baghdad fell."
The Times also quoted experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) saying they assumed Saddam Hussein had moved the explosives before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
But, those experts speculated, perhaps the explosives were only moved to nearby fields where, the Times suggests, they would be "ripe for looting."
But how? The Times neglects the fairly obvious fact that looters could not have stuffed 380 tons of explosives into shopping bags. To transport that much material would have required about 38 large trucks 10 tons per truck. Before the U.S. invasion, such truck convoys moved about Iraq freely. Once the U.S. was in occupation, that kind of effort could hardly have gone unnoticed.
What's more, the Belmont Club argues today, persuasively I think, that the Times "interviewed the wrong unit commander" because it was the Third Infantry Division that first searched Al Qaqaa "with the intent of discovering dangerous materials," almost a week before the 101st arrived.
At this point, Times editors ought to be asking who got their story rolling and to what end?
Here's one theory: It was Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Why would he do that? "The U.S. is trying to deny ElBaradei a second term," a high U.S. government official told me. "We have been on his case for missing the Libyan nuclear weapons program and for weakness on the Iranian nuclear weapons program."
ElBaradei also opposed the liberation of Iraq. And he would like nothing better than to see President Bush be defeated next week.
If all this is true it would amount to a major scandal: It would mean that a senior U.N. official may be changing the outcome of an American election by spreading false information. And major U.S. media outlets are allowing themselves to be manipulated in pursuit of that goal.
In addition, McCarthy noted, Iraq was required "not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons-usable material or any subsystems or components[,]" and, to the extent it had such items, present them for "urgent on-site inspection and the destruction, removal or rendering harmless as appropriate of all items specified above."
So when all the dots are connected what we see revealed is Bomb-gate a controversy that should be about foreign interests that may be improperly influencing the U.S. media to affect the outcome of an American election.
But that story will be written after the elections. For now, the question is who voters will believe.
If they are persuaded that the dangerous weapons went missing because of Bush's incompetence, he is likely to lose (and ElBaradei will be breaking out the cigars and bongos this time next week). On the other hand, if voters come to believe that this is another instance of Kerry shooting from the hip, basing charges on flawed information, saying anything in order to win, they will almost certainly abandon him.
Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.