Saturday, November 17

The hunt for Saddam Hussein's treasure

Ben Gates: It was amazing, Dad.

Patrick Gates: And the treasure?

Ben Gates: No, no. But we found another clue that led us here.

Patrick Gates: Yeah, and that'll lead you to another clue. And that's all you'll ever find, is another clue ... The treasure is a myth.

-- From National Treasure: Book of Secrets
"Civilian volunteers, mostly retired intelligence officers belonging to the non-partisan, have been poring over the secret archives captured from Saddam Hussein. The inescapable conclusion is this: Saddam really did have WMD after all ..."
-- John Loftus

At times it seems a ten-year boy resides in the deep part of my brain although these times have become seldom the older I've grown. For many years now he makes an appearance only when I'm ill. At those times I will curl up with a copy of Treasure Island or find myself willing to believe that a Civil War ironclad ship can end up buried in the sands of the Sahara.

But after battling a bug to a standstill last week I was feeling quite myself when John Batchelor and John Loftus chattered on Loftus's show about Loftus's find on Google Earth: the location of a mysterious black building and military ammo dump in Syria. A site that Loftus believed to be the final resting place for Saddam Hussein's nuclear materials and the real target of the mysterious Israeli air raid on September 6.

Loftus and Batchelor kept interrupting each other while giving out the coordinates for the location, which ended up in my lap when every ten year boy in the radio audience who also reads Pundita emailed and asked, "Did you happen to get down the coordinates?"

No I didn't happen to. It wasn't a news show that night; it was a clubhouse and only those who had the secret code ring could enter. In revenge I plotted to write a post titled, "Google Earth and the male brain."

Thinking better of it I decided to let the matter go. I had learned enough over the years to be fairly certain that at various times a sizeable portion of Saddam's forbidden nuclear-related materials had been transported to Libya and Syria. But during war the truth doesn't matter; it only matters how you can use the truth to gain an advantage.

In the case of Libya, the United States negotiated cooperation from Muammar Gaddafi in exchange for silence about what went on in a Libyan factory carved out of a mountain. Whatever part of Saddam's treasure had ended up in Syria would also become a tool of war negotiations if the US could catch Syria red-handed.

It would be the same with any North Korean participation in the Syria part of the Saddam WMD tale. Pyongyang over a barrel right now would be far more useful to the broader war than nailing down a few truths about an executed dictator's defunct nuclear weapons program.

So it really didn't matter what Loftus and his trusty band of volunteer sleuths had discovered or whether his speculations were right. The treasure hunt would only lead to another clue, and that would lead to another clue. And even if the quest eventually struck gold, at the end would be a Pentagon official saying, "No comment."

And besides, Saddam's WMD are a moot issue for the public. Today, most people are sick of the US campaign in Iraq; they think it's a debacle no matter what the reasons for the invasion.

So even if it were somehow possible to turn up forensic proof that there were WMD in Iraq at the time of the US invasion, people no longer care. That means the funding just isn't there for an army of analysts and researchers to take another whack at the treasure hunt.

But last night the bug I'd battled returned with a vengeance. This left me tucked under blankets on the couch, watching National Treasure and perfectly willing to believe for a few hours that a clue to a priceless treasure could be on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

When I was about to retire for the night an email pinged into the inbox. Front Page Magazine had picked up an article that Loftus had written about his treasure hunt.

The article is only an introduction to the 9,000 word paper that Loftus wrote on his monumental efforts to hunt down Saddam's lost WMD. But the paper, and a photograph of the Syrian location that Loftus found at Google Earth, were locked behind a token $5.00 subscription price at Loftus Report.

And the sheer complexity of the data would discourage an amateur attempt to decipher the map. Unless, of course, the amateur is one of those people who love puzzles, treasure hunts, detective novels, or has a ten-year old boy sitting at the back of the brain.

If you tell me, "I think I'll wait for the movie," I'll allow it's an investment of time and mental energy to follow Loftus's tale. And if you want to find a clue to add to the map -- that could turn into a quest.

The payoff wouldn't be a fortune; in fact, you might end up considerably poorer or even with health problems from mucking around at radioactive sites in Iraq, if you really threw yourself into it. But you would have a shot at changing history and, perhaps, altering its future course. For some treasure hunters that would be reason enough to embark on a quest.

For those of a more practical mien, there is one pressing reason for sorting out what happened to Saddam's WMD program: Those opposed to a tough US stance on Iran's nuclear program are using vaunted US intelligence failures on Saddam's WMD as an argument by association; this, in the effort to tar current intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

And the least you might owe yourself is the satisfaction of discovering that maybe you weren't nuts, after all, to support the US invasion of Iraq.

If you dislike wading into data that doesn't reflect a Germanic zeal for organization, maybe the best place to start is at the Flopping Aces website, which earlier this year collected the best-known data pointing to Syria as the final resting place for Saddam's WMD.

The website indulges in some I Told You So verbiage, but quickly settles down to an excellent five-part account titled Did Saddam's WMD go to Syria?

By the time you finish the last account you'll at least understand why so many, including John Loftus, are unwilling to drop the matter of Saddam's WMD.

From there, you might proceed to Loftus's article for Front Page Magazine titled Shattering Conventional Wisdom about Saddam's WMD.

Then you'll be ready for a trip to the Loftus Report website -- have your five dollars ready -- to take a look at the entire research paper here, several WMD resource documents here, and the picture of the mysterious Syria site here.

I will wave you off on your adventure by taking poetic license with a clue Loftus dug up:

It was a dark and stormy night. The Iraqi truck driver, thin as a rail and shivering in the cutting wind, pulled his cotton shirt closer around him. As the minutes dragged by, he thought he might never see the large payment promised to him for driving a mysterious cargo from Baghdad. He considered that he just might die in Syria. Finally, a Syrian in a leather coat stepped out of the shadows.

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