March 31, 2003

FURTHER reader mail on Robert

FURTHER reader mail on Robert Fisk's fortunate find. Paul Hickman writes from Salinas, Kansas:

I'm sure it must have occurred to you that even if this fragment is genuinely from a piece of U.S. ordinance it doesn't necessarily follow that the fragment was retrieved from the market. Planting evidence recovered from a different "crime" scene is an old trick.

From Reid Reynolds:

Excellent analysis. But how do we know Fisk actually collected the putative missile fragment from the area of the marketplace? Do I believe Fisk would substitute a piece of wreckage from an entirely different site in order to give the US a black eye? You betcha.

From Eric Glynn:

Any regular reader of Fisk would know that his columns condemn the killing of Iraqi innocents, their use as shields and the commission of war crimes and other "terrorist" tactics no matter who does this.

A problem with Fisk is that he does not join up with the hypocrites who condemn such practices, but only when the "wrong" side commits them.

From a former Naval Air Systems Command employee, whose name I'll take the precaution of not publishing:

That part number is indeed a piece of a HARM (AGM-88 series) High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, insofar as I can tell.

I was a contract specialist on HARM in the 80s. In those days we were buying AGM-88A, and were in the process of transitioning to the AGM-88B. AGM-88C, IIRC, was the so-called "Block IV Upgrade". I imagine there have been various upgrades since.

One of the things you didn't try (why should you, you have no idea how the screwy DoD inventory system works!) is substituting a number for that "letter" that appears in the serial number. I tried the obvious choice -- 8 (i.e., 704AS87492) and fed it to the WEBFLIS systems and lo!--got a hit (I also tried avery other digit and got no hits). The complete results of my search are here, or you could just go to the top page (the one you link to)
and feed it the SerNo as shown above.

CAGE Code 30003 is in fact my old employer, Naval Air Systems Command, erstwhile of Crystal City, Virginia, and now at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Lexington Park, Maryland. The CAGE for the item manufacturer appears to be the division of Raytheon formerly known as Texas Instruments, Defense Systems and Electronics Group. The HARM was, in those days, primarily assembled in Lewisville, Texas, just north of D/FW, in a huge plant we referred to as "The House That HARM Built." RayCo has apparently consolidated most if not all their missile manufacturing in a plant they acquired from long-time competitor Hughes Aircraft Company, in Tucson, Arizona: dunno what they did with THTHB.

The description of the actual part number is "Cover, Access". There is a decent chance this is the access cover for the port used to reprogram the guidance system: one of the huge breakthroughs of my era was to replace the old PROMs with EEPROMs, which allowed you to update the missile software without taking the whole missile apart, removing the memory board, and either replacing it outright or replacing the PROMs. I know that sort of
thing is "so what?" stuff now, but believe me, in the early 1980s, it was big medicine! We even managed to use it almost as soon as it was deployed, because the first lot of missiles with EEPROMs also had a new software "tape": it started giving us problems, and TI discovered a small error that required three lines of code (IIRC) to fix. So they were able to reblow the EEPROMS instead of having to take each missile apart and rebuild it!

Bottom line: your overall conclusion is correct.

Well, not my conclusion, but that of several informed readers. From Bruce Bridges:

Fisk asserts that he has seen a piece of a missile that even the Iraqi government does not have knowledge of? Why is that? Why would somebody who discovered such an important piece of evidence not turn it over? Do they want to sell it on eBay?

And why would Fisk include such a point in his report? Simply to pre-empt the inevitable suspicion that the missile piece is itself propaganda. It sounds like the military structures are chock-full of Missile debris so that
would be easy to find.

I don't buy it.

From RB Archibald in Ogden, Utah:

I've been reading the speculation on your site today and, while I'm no expert on ordnance, it seems to me that it would hardly be difficult for the Iraqis to plant wreckage of American missiles (from previous strikes) at the Baghdad market site. No one would know the difference, least of all Robert Fisk. If Fisk told me the sky was blue I'd look up to make sure.

From Fred Ray in North Carolina:

Several news reports are now saying that the missiles in question were misguided Iraqi SAMs, and that Saddam's boys are "sanitizing" the areas before Fisk et. al. get there. You hear a lot about the Americans "planting" evidence but no one seems to think the Iraqis are capable of it.

Also from North Carolina, Doug Morris, LtCol, USAF (ret.):

Since HARMs have been used to strike Iraqi anti-aircraft sites all over the place, perhaps it would be useful to ask Mr Fisk, "Who handed you this piece?"

From Henry Cybulski in Barcelona, Spain:

So, Robert "I deserve to be beaten" Fisk is handed a piece of metal with coding on it and that AUTOMATICALLY means it came from the bomb that hit the market. Sure.

From Homer Paxton:

We know 100's of bombs have landed on Bagdad. Probability theory tells you some will hit where they shouldn't. Moreover they are guided by high technology which has been known to be unreliable.

Ipsofacto the bombs exploding in Bagdad shopping areas are much more likely to be US than Iraqi.

And Max Sawicky notes that I couldn't bear "giving simple, unqualified credit to Fisk -- a real journalist actually on the scene (ahem) -- for breaking the story." True. Fisk breaks a lot of things, including his teeth and glasses.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 31, 2003 11:07 AM