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January 30, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Finding Saddam
Here is an insider's account of the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein in a "spider hole" in Ad Dawr, near his hometown of Tikrit.

After receiving a tip from a detained Ba'athist, Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad ordered the creation of a capture force of the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division and special-operations warriors.

The team practiced its assault at a grain-storage facility in Tikrit and then headed out in Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and helicopters. The convoy moved in pitch darkness at 40 to 50 mph, using night-vision goggles.

The task force hit the compound and eventually found Saddam in what some 4th Infantry soldiers called a "rat hole," as opposed to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's description of it as a spider hole.

The special operators, likely a mix of Army Delta Force and Navy SEALs, loaded the bedraggled Saddam onto one of their favorite toys the Little Bird helicopter for a quick ride to division headquarters in Tikrit.

One soldier told of a diagram the CIA and military intelligence put together to narrow the search for the war's No. 1 fugitive.

"It has been quite amazing watching us narrow the ring around this guy," he said. "We have got an amazing 'wiring diagram' with Saddam Hussein in the middle working outwards starting with his children, wives, cousins, uncles, nephews, bodyguards, drivers. We just followed up on all the clues we have gathered, and here we are."

Soldiers cleared
An independent investigation has cleared American soldiers of any blame in the deaths of two Iraqis in a convoy struck Jan. 12 by a roadside bomb. It turns out a Baghdad police officer deliberately gave false information to a reporter because he had a vendetta against another officer.

Now some Army officers are asking, when will the media correct stories that originally reported soldiers shot the two men? They say that in a city swirling with anti-American rumors planted by Saddam Hussein loyalists, the media should be more careful when repeating the charges of an Iraqi.

We've obtained an officer's synopsis of the investigator's report. Here's what the 1st Armored Division officer said happened:

A military-police convoy of Humvees was escorting a station wagon carrying five Iraqi civilians along Palestine Road. A roadside bomb exploded, wounding two soldiers. The convoy quickly moved out to get them medical attention. No soldier fired his weapon.

Another U.S. unit responded and found two Iraqis dead in the car. The other wounded civilians were treated by Army medics before being taken by Iraqi police to a hospital.

An Iraqi police officer not at the scene later told a reporter that the U.S. soldiers had shot the two Iraqis, a man and a 10-year-old boy. The officer identified himself by the name of another officer with whom he was feuding. The false report was picked up by the media and reported worldwide.

An independent Army investigator interviewed the Iraqi police officer, who admitted he provided a false name. An autopsy showed the two civilians died of shrapnel wounds. The bodies had no bullet wounds. And all the holes in the station wagon were consistent with shrapnel, not bullets.

A headline in a major newspaper the next day said, "U.S. Soldiers Kill 2 Iraqis After Bomb Explodes Near Convoy."

Said the 1st Armored Division officer providing the synopsis: "My main issue with this whole incident is that although you can read both sides of the story in this e-mail, the American people only know the original story as printed [in the media], which never issued a retraction or clarification."

Bio-weapon sensors
The U.S. government is having a difficult time developing accurate sensors to detect the presence of biological weapons.

The Pentagon is in the process of preparing all U.S. military bases and facilities to respond to chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and high-explosive attacks.

The challenge faced by the Pentagon is that the current sensors cannot reliably tell when a real biological-warfare agent triggers the sensors.

State-of-the-art technology uses a method that detects the presence of an agent such as anthrax when minute particles come in contact with a special strip.

Unfortunately, other particles in the air also trigger the sensors, something that could lead to large-scale disruption of activities as the result of false alarms.

Iraqi nerve agent
David Kay, the former CIA head of the Iraq Survey Group that sought Saddam Hussein's hidden weapons, revealed this week that some of the VX chemical agent unaccounted for was lost in a traffic accident.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, on Wednesday asked Mr. Kay what happened to the 1.5 tons of VX that could not be accounted for by United Nations arms inspectors.

Mr. Kay stated during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the missing agent is "still a subject of investigation." He said the Iraqi government tried to account for the missing agent.

"One large amount of VX apparently ... had been forward deployed in Iraq towards the Kuwaiti border," Mr. Kay said. "As they were moving it back in 1991, there was a traffic accident. The truck carrying it was totally consumed in a fire. They documented it in part, but there was the usual embarrassment of 'do we tell Saddam we've just burned up a large amount of chemical-warfare agent?' So it wasn't fully reported and fully documented. They didn't do analytical sampling, so they had only partial records."

Mr. Kay believes the Iraqi explanation. "Some of it was simply accounting errors that were wrong in material balance," he said. "Others are going to be in what I call this 'unresolved ambiguity' that we may simply never know."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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