Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Not the Onion

"Smoking Gun Made With Duct Tape"

It's a poorly built model airplaine.

March 12, 2003 | Al-Taji, Iraq -- A remotely piloted aircraft that the United States has warned could spread chemical weapons appears to be made of balsa wood and duct tape, with two small propellors attached to what look like the engines of a weed whacker.

Iraqi officials took journalists to the Ibn Firnas State Company just north of Baghdad on Wednesday, where the drone's project director accused Secretary of State Colin Powell of misleading the U.N. Security Council and the public.

"He's making a big mistake," said Brig. Imad Abdul Latif. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."

In Washington's search for a "smoking gun" that would prove Iraq is not disarming, Powell has insisted the drone, which has a wingspan of 24.5 feet, could be fitted to dispense chemical and biological weapons. He has said it "should be of concern to everybody."

The drone's white fuselage was emblazoned Wednesday with the words "God is great" and the code "Quds-10." Its balsa wood wings were held together with duct tape. Officials said they referred to the remotely piloted vehicle as the RPV-30A

In addition, the real story was that this had already been reported.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, complained this weekend that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix didn't mention the drone in his oral presentation to the Security Council on Friday.

Blix mentioned the drone in a 173-page written list of outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs last week. While small, Blix said, drones can be used to spray biological warfare agents such as anthrax. He said the drone hadn't been declared by Iraq to inspectors.

But Iraq insisted it declared the drone in a report in January -- and Hussein held up its declaration to prove it. The confusion, he said, was the result of a typo: The declaration said the wingspan was 14.5 feet instead of 24.5 feet as stated by Powell.

"When we discovered the mistake we addressed an official letter correcting the wingspan," he said. He showed that letter to reporters as well. He suggested inspectors had already seen the drone when the correction was made, but said: "No one of the inspectors noticed the difference."

I think we have more to fear from the hobby and model rocket superstore than we do from these drones.