Monday, October 25, 2004

The Parable of the Bicyclist 

Ancient joke: two customs agents receive a tip that a smuggler is moving stolen goods across the border. The odd thing is, when they spot the guy who matches the description, he's riding a bicycle. They stop him for a routine search, pat him down, check his helmet, etc., but he doesn't seem to be carrying any contraband, so they let him pass.

Next morning the guy shows up again. This time around they're determined to catch him. They make him dismantle his bike, thinking something might be hidden inside the frame or the handlebars. Nothing. They let him pass.

On the third day they're downright angry. They make the guy submit to a strip search. They dismantle the bike AND deflate the tires -- all to no avail. He's clean. They have no choice but to let him pass.

On days four and five, they smile and wave him through, hoping he'll relax his guard. But when they pull him over for the full invasive cavity search on day six, it's the same old story: they can't find diddly squat. This goes on for a couple of weeks until, one morning, the bicyclist doesn't appear.

After making a couple of calls the customs agents learn that their suspect has been arrested while selling his hot merchandise on the other side of the border, and he's confessed to everything. This news, of course, drives them crazy, because they seached him top to bottom every day and they never found a goddam thing. What the hell was he smuggling?!?

The answer comes back: "Bicycles."

Which brings us around to the following spectacular catch by our revered colleague Mr. R. Cranium of the All Spin Zone. From the Washington Post of (please note the date) April 5, 2003, an article entitled "Banned Iraqi Weapons Might Be Hard to Find":
In the first of yesterday's discoveries, the 3rd Infantry Division entered the vast Qa Qaa chemical and explosives production plant and came across thousands of vials of white powder, packed three to a box. The engineers also found stocks of atropine and pralidoxime, also known as 2-PAM chloride, which can be used to treat exposure to nerve agents but is also used to treat poisoning by organic phosphorus pesticides. Alongside those materials were documents written in Arabic that, as interpreted at the scene, appeared to include discussions of chemical warfare.

This morning, however, investigators said initial tests indicated the white powder was not a component of a chemical weapon. "On first analysis it does not appear to be a chemical that could be used in a chemical weapons attack," Col. John Peabody, commander of the division's engineering brigade, told a Reuters reporter with his unit.

U.N. inspectors have surveyed Qa Qaa some two dozen times, most recently last month. But some 1,000 structures there, organized into 10 or more factory complexes, have mainly been devoted to such conventional military industries as explosives and missile fuels. Neither is forbidden under U.N. Security Council mandates. Qa Qaa was last linked to proscribed activity in 1995 -- and somewhat peripherally then.

"Based on [the powder and antidotes] you couldn't form any real judgment," said Terence Taylor of Britain, a former inspector with the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM). "It is a place where there would be a lot of chemicals, not necessarily related to chemical or biological weapons. More likely in that place it would relate to some form of rocket propellant."

"I'm afraid what we're in for," he said, is a "long-term task" pushed forward by "the political concern and pressure to find hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction that you can show."

Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, briefing reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar, said he had no details on the suspicious powder but said that "certainly it's an item of interest."

But Brooks volunteered another discovery in western Iraq. Special Operations troops raided a building there "that we think now was probably an NBC training school," he said, referring to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Brooks said military commanders based that belief on a shelf of clear- and brown-glass bottles with yellow labels.
"Well, sir, all we found was 380 tons of RDX, HMX, and PETN that the IAEA used to have under lock and key. None o' them WMD's that Saddam stashed away so's he could use 'em against us or give 'em to our terrorist enemies, like the President said."

"Thank God for that, Sergeant. Now get your men over here and guard these glass bottles with the yellow labels. They might just turn out to be something."

SIDEBAR: Of course you've already read Josh Marshall's take (here, here and here) on the Not Me/Ida Know administration's latest chucklesome claim: that the explosives had all disappeared before we got there.

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