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Special Defense Department Briefing On Al-Qaqaa Munitions Facility In Iraq

Presenters: Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and Major Austin Pearson, Member of The 24th Ordnance Company, 24th Corps Support Group
October 29, 2004 12:10 PM EDT

Friday, October 29, 2004 12:13 p.m. EST

Special Defense Department Briefing On Al-Qaqaa Munitions Facility In Iraq

The briefing slides used during this briefing can be viewed at:     http://east.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2004/g041029-D-6570C.html

 

           MR. DI RITA:  Good afternoon.  There have been recent stories about some information involving a particular type of weapons in Iraq that early reports suggest have been difficult to account for.  The early reports, earlier this week, based on information that came to light earlier this month, obviously, I don't have to describe the reaction that people had to these early reports. But what is often the case that we deal with every day in this department is that early reports often need a lot more information to better understand.

 

            It has not been our attempt or desire to tell a particular story, other than to tell the facts that we understand about this early report, about which I think people may have drawn conclusions absent those facts.  What we have tried to do is, since this became such an important issue to some, learn more about this.  And we've done that through the course of the last six or seven days, five or six days, whenever these initial reports surfaced.

 

            The initial reports left the impression that there was a particular facility in Iraq that was heavily secured, that there were bunkers at this facility that were themselves inaccessible, and that sometime after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, some question of accountability arose about these facilities.  That's the initial impression that was left by the reports.

 

            What we've obviously learned since then, among other things, is that, for example, the quantity of explosives of a particular type, this so-called RDX material, was actually much different than what was initially reported at that particular facility, on the order of more than 100 tons difference.  We've learned that since these initial reports.

 

            We've learned since the initial reports that there was some apparent movement of heavy equipment in this facility at a time when only Saddam Hussein was in control of that facility, meaning after inspectors left the country and before U.S. forces arrived to begin the liberation of the country.  So we've tried to accumulate our understanding about this situation.

 

            What we've also acknowledged since then is that -- and what people, I think, have become to understand better is that since the fall of this regime, coalition forces have uncovered, destroyed or marked for destruction 10,000 weapons caches spread throughout the country, consisting of 400,000 tons, plus or minus, of ammunition of all types.  The ammunition in question consists of one-thousandth of that.  We've destroyed or marked for destruction 1,000 times more ammunition than the amount of ammunition that has been called into question, but nonetheless we've spent an enormous amount of time in the last week trying to better understand what happened to this 1/1000th of material that we are aware of and know about.  And I caution that there is a lot that we probably don't know about, because this was a country, as the inspectors acknowledged, that was awash in weapons.

 

            So we've learned more over time, and we've tried as we've learned more to produce this information without trying to say that what we have to produce -- what we have to discuss is definitive, because I don't know that anybody can get to the definitive conclusions about this, but we're doing our best for people to better understand it.  As we've learned more, we we've tried to provide that information to the public through -- of course through the press corps here.

 

            What we have learned within the last day or so is that units arrived at that facility -- and we did provide this information; again, a facility that the impression of which early was left that it was a facility that was heavily secured and inaccessible.  Units arrived there in early April, units of the United States Army, and were met by Iraqi forces inside the complex, which was opened.  The Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard, Republican Guard and others, for whatever purpose, were inside the facility before U.S. forces arrived.

 

            Those U.S. forces that did arrive there described for you how weapons that they had seen throughout the country had been heavily dispersed throughout that country as they moved forward.  Again, more facts that have come to life since we've applied ourselves to better  understanding this initial report, which appears to have been significantly short of complete.

 

            Subsequent to understanding that U.S. forces arrived there with Iraqi forces already in place, we've learned that there were, at the request of the U.S. forces that arrived there, some units that were assigned the task of removing some of the weapons that were found at that facility.  And we've tried to better understand that.

 

            What I don't intend to -- what I don't expect anybody will draw from what we're presenting today is that the weapons that we think we identified and destroyed from that facility constitute the universe of weapons that people are concerned about.  We believe it constitutes some portion of those weapons.  We believe that other units later on had responsibility to police weapons of this nature throughout the country and went about doing that.  And we're learning more about that, and as we learn more about that we'll provide that information.

 

            But with that kind of summary, what I'd like to do is let Major Austin Pearson of the 24th Ordnance Company, 24th Corps Support Group, who was in the country during the period in question, who was in the facility during the period in question, and who had responsibility for collecting some of these weapons of interest talk a little bit about how he arrived at that facility, what his responsibilities were, what his actions were.

 

            And again, we'll do our best to provide additional information. There will be more that comes out about this.  We know that.  We're learning more.  We have taken this wonderful institution and applied some -- no small percentage of it to understanding one-one-thousandth of the weapons that we've already identified for destruction or destroyed.  But it's important that we do that, and we've gone about to do that.

 

            So with that, I'll ask Major Pearson to discuss a little bit about what he knows, and we'll be happy to take a few questions after that.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Currently, I'm an instructor at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School at APG, Maryland.  I teach advanced --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  APG is the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

 

            I teach advanced ammunition management to military officers going through the captain's career course.

 

            On Tuesday, I had taken my students to United Defense on an industrial tour.  I was sequestered within the plant going on the tour.  As I took a bus ride back, got back, arrived back at around 1800 (hours) to APG.  At that time -- I'm in an MBA program, went to class, and I arrived home at about 2100 hours, where I was watching the news.  And from the news, I seen a NBC report talking about the missing 380 tons of ammunition.  So at this point, I had thought that 380 tons was a recent-type ammunition that was missing, and then I seen the video from NBC highlighting what I knew was Objective Elms, Logistics Support Area Elms at the time, in a place that I operated in and did some collection operations in Elms in the time frame I was there in April '03.

 

            The next morning, I contacted my chain of command, where I was directed to the chief of staff of the Army Ordnance Center and School, who put me in contact with the Defense Intelligence Agency.  From there I received multiple call-backs, getting the facts.  I provided the facts to them.  And last night I received a call from the staff up here at the Pentagon.  General Helmick called me and asked me to come down, verify what I knew, and look at some visuals and some maps corresponding where Objective Elms and the other locations that are at the topic of this conversation.

 

            From there -- in April of 2003 I was the commander of the 24th Ordnance Company.  Our mission was to provide conventional ammunition support to 3rd Infantry Division.  I was part of the 24th CSG, at this time in April, based out of LSA Dogwood, Logistic Support Area Dogwood, southwest of Baghdad.  My primary role was to provide U.S. forces with ammunition to support combat operations.

 

            In addition to that, I had an additional mission of managing a captured ammunition holding area at LSA Dogwood.  I also received the mission during the first weeks of April to assist the brigade combat teams of 3rd ID in Baghdad, clearing in sector that they were operating in of captured enemy ammunition that was throughout their area of operations.  We conducted multiple of these missions in locations like elementary schools, residential communities.

 

            The particular one that we worked with in northwest Baghdad, in the Hammer Brigade's area of operation, was housing development that was under construction.  We took out of one house alone over 7 million rounds of AK-47 rounds -- out of one house, built into the walls of the house, very large area.  Took about three days.  There was all sorts of ammunition, to include the types that we are talking about here, scattered throughout that.  And that was just the one location. We also found them in multiple sites within and around Baghdad.

 

            Upon returning from that mission back to Logistic Support Area Dogwood, I was ordered by the Rear Area Operations Center that I reported to from the 24th CSG to assist the Corps Support Group that was working with the 101st Infantry Division at Objective Elms.

 

            And I'll point out what I know as Objective Elms right now, because before this, I had never heard of Al-Qaqaa.  What is on the planning graphics that we worked with, Objective Elms is this blue square right here around the map, as you can see.  And Al-Qaqaa is in the red-highlighted area.  This is LSA -- Logistic Support Area Dogwood, where I had my U.S. ammunition facility, in addition to my captured ammunition holding area was located at LSA Dogwood.

 

            Once I received my mission from the RAOC, I moved across the Euphrates into LSA Elms, and we made an assessment that the area that we came into, the north of -- can you go to the next slide, please? -- the area to the north of LSA Elms, as you see here, if you're coming down from the northwest, as you cross, there's a major road network and you're able to travel around, and this is the main route that you'll take off, the main supply route.  And there is a wall, an earthen concrete wall that encompasses the military complex, the ammunition complex, around in Elm.  And it had multiple breaks in the walls.  We were able to drive right through the breaks.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Let me, on that point, just clarify one piece that Major Pearson wouldn't know about.  But the commander of the 101st -- or maybe it was the 3rd Infantry Division, talked about their need to access that facility, and when they did, they did so breaking through the walls.  It's possible, although not certain, that the breaks in the walls that the major refers to were put there by U.S. forces trying to access the facility when they engaged the Iraqi forces that were there.  And I only say that's possible.  But in fact, U.S. forces acknowledge having knocked some walls down to get into that facility.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  We entered in through this area and addressed -- our mission was to find any exposed ammunition, clear ammunition that had the potential to pose a threat to U.S. forces or easy access.  We specifically went in; I had nine palletized loading system vehicles, which encompasses both a truck and a trailer that have the capability of each truck and each trailer has 16.5 tons per vehicle, per truck, per trailer, for a total of 33 tons per system.  We went in there with nine.  I collected ammunition from the earthen-covered magazines.  We drew that ammunition, loaded up onto our trucks and moved it back to the captured ammunition holding area, LSA Dogwood.

 

            Once it was at Dogwood, as part of our operations at the captured ammunition holding area, one of those was to destroy the captured enemy ammunition that we had on our site that was designated as high priority or was a risk to the soldiers managing the site.  We used   some of this type of ammunition that we recovered from LSA Elms in order to facilitate those operations.  The typical what we have done, we would do about a 10,000-pound demolition explosion, a demolition shot.  In order to facilitate that, you set up the shot and you wrap the rounds with plastic explosives. And the doctrinal method to do that is if you're going to destroy captured enemy ammunition, you will use captured enemy ammunition to run the shot.  And we consumed some of this ammunition in order to destroy the other ammunition we had.  And at the time when this was all going on, my highwater mark of ammunition -- because it went up and down as I destroyed ammunition -- was over 7,000 tons of ammunition at the captured ammunition holding area at Dogwood.

 

            The CAHA, the captured ammunition holding area, at Dogwood was destroyed in a fire in June of 2003.  We had just transitioned accountability and authority to another ordnance company.  (I moved back during the entire time of the summer months because of the nature and the quality of the captured enemy ammunition.  We had multiple (cooks-offs throughout the day.  And then finally the captured ammunition holding area was fully destroyed, engulfed in a fire.

 

            That's all I have, sir.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Before we take a couple of questions, let me just clarify a couple of points that give a little bit more context to what the major just said.  He thinks his unit removed a couple of hundred -- 250 tons of ammunition.  It encompasses a variety of ammunition. It encompasses -- he has photos that we may provide later -- we're reviewing those photos -- that reflect the types of -- in some cases the types of ammunition that have been seen on other video that's been made available to the public within the last day or two, large boxes of plastic explosives, those sorts of things, I think commonly referred to by some as RDX, by the ordnance handlers themselves.

 

            One of the things that I think we are learning as, again, we have continued to learn more about this is that the original declaration of some 140 tons of RDX at this particular facility is probably not accurate.  And we're trying to understand this better.  And as I said, we're learning more about what we -- what we knew at the time and what was in the reports, it was probably at this particular facility a much smaller number of RDX, perhaps as low as three tons.  The major's unit pulled 250 tons of total equipment out of this facility, including a lot of plastic explosives.  How much, I don't think we know.  It was a portion of the kinds of things, including detonation cord, I think. We've got some talking points that we'll provide you, some data, some fact sheets.

 

            So I want to make sure that we're very clear on a point.  There was some question about ammunition at a particular facility.  The questions of those ammunitions -- the facts that we've learned since then have caused some doubt about the initial reports, but that's always the case.  And that's nobody's fault.  That's what happens in life.  You hear a report, and then you go out and try to enrich that report with knowledge and facts, and we've tried to do that.  As we've gathered these facts, we've tried to put them out, and people can make their own evaluations.

 

            We've captured and destroyed 400,000 tons of ammunition of a variety of types, including the types in question.  The types in question constitute a -- quite a small percentage of the total.  Some percentage of that total in question was almost certainly removed from bunkers and destroyed by Major Pearson's unit.  There were other units that followed, and we're learning more about that.  And as we have more information, we'll provide it.  Other units that followed, that had the responsibility -- task forces that had the responsibility for policing up conventional ordnance, other units that followed that had the responsibility of identifying sites of weapons of mass destruction.

 

            There is a perception that I think is unfortunate that's been left by the initial reports of this -- weapons that leave the impression that the military forces there did not have a systematic approach to three priorities:  taking down the regime of Saddam Hussein; minimizing casualties to U.S. and coalition forces, and indeed to Iraqis; and identifying and securing weapons throughout that country.  And what we have learned since the unfortunate response to the initial report is that, as we've delved into this deeper, we've been able to demonstrate, I think, that that planning was well conceived and it's -- extraordinarily well executed by the forces that are over there.

 

            Q     Major, could you --

 

            Q     Sir?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And with that, I'll leave it to the major.

 

            Q     Major, could you please better describe the explosives that were removed?  Were they primarily assembled weapons?   Were they raw material, like the granular HMX or RDX?  Just -- and could you sort of give us a ratio out of that 250 tons how much were assembled weapons and how much were raw material?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  As a conventional ammunition ordnance officer, I deal with ammunition logistics management.  I am not a technical specialist.  I am not explosive ordnance disposal or technical   intelligence.  My role and what I've been trained on is to manage ammunition facilities and mitigate the risks to an exposure to U.S. forces and civilians.

 

            The specifics of what we talked about that we pulled out of there, from my recollection, is some TNT, plastic explosives -- I can't further define other than that, plastic explosives -- detonation cords, initiators, and white phosphorous rounds, which are a higher priority for us to go in there.  And that's your answer.

 

            Q     So you -- so you don't know --

 

            Q     But do you believe it was HMX?

 

            Q     Yeah, you don't know if it was HMX or --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Let me -- let me -- let me handle that.

 

            Q     Did it look like those barrels?  You know this video that ABC had.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We have described what we know, and as we learn more we'll describe that.  The major has --

 

            Q     Well, can the major talk about that?

 

            (Cross talk.)

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Excuse me for one moment.  And we'll -- and --

 

            Q     (Inaudible) -- an IAEA seal on it, sir?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  The major had -- we had units that had responsibility for identifying and understanding what IAEA seals were.  The major's unit had responsibility to go in and clear conventional ordnance.

 

            Q     But Larry, you've told us that you believe part of the 250 tons represents the material under question.  You have said that.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Represents some portion of the material --

 

            Q     The major has not said that.  So we would like to hear from him --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Did you believe you had RDX in there?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  I had plastic explosives in there.  Sir, I --

 

            Q     It's HMX that we're concerned about.  And you've seen that video that the affiliate --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I have not seen the video.

 

            Q     You've not shown him the video of the barrels?  Didn't you just say you showed him the pictures?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We saw some photos from yesterday and had understood that -- as I said, the palletized boxes, I think you said, those were the kinds of things you removed.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Roger.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  The barrels of -- that some people have said is HMX, that I don't know is accurate, and I'm not prepared to stipulate whether it is or is not -- was not. 

 

            Q     There's a universal symbol on it though that's recognized as HMX.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  The universal symbol we think -- the one we've seen on some of the photos is a symbol that identifies a class of ordnance.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Hazardous division class.  This is one of the techniques we teach to ordnance on how you use -- it's an international symbol for shipping hazardous materials.  The haz class division 1.1 Delta, there's multiple types of ordnance in that class. Off the top of my head, I'm sure there's at least 80 or 90 different type.  And whether it's HMX, I couldn't verify.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We do have --

 

            Q     Well --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We have some ordnance --

 

            Q     -- talk about this procedure though.  You say there's a procedure in place and they know what to do.  And yet, apparently the major didn't know he was even looking for HMX or what was there or what to do if you found a seal.  Do you remember seeing the IAEA seals?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  You can speak to that.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  There was -- I do not -- I did not see any IAEA seals at the locations that we went into.  I was not looking for that. My mission specifically was to go in there and to prevent the exposure of U.S. forces and to minimize that by taking out what was easily accessible and putting it back and bringing it in to our captured ammunition holding area.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And some of these --

 

            Q     And did you think --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Hold on for a second.  Some of these are good questions that we're still trying to better understand.  And as we do that, we'll try to provide --

 

            Q     But how do you come to the conclusion that the -- I'm not understanding your conclusion, Larry.  Based on what the major has said, how do you come to the conclusion that some of the 250 tons his unit removed is the material under question?  How do you make that --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  As we're developing our better understanding of this, we have a -- the term that was being used throughout the theater for RDX is plastic explosives; it was sort of an interchangeable term. So we're -- we don't -- I can't say that RDX that was on the list of the IAEA is in what the major pulled out.  The major has said, and I think in terms of what -- the way we've tried to understand this is that we believe that some of the things that they were pulling out of there was RDX.  Was it RDX that is associated with what the IAEA declared?  My only point on that is I'm not sure we know what the IAEA declared, because they first said there were some 141 tons of it there; we're now trying to better understand some of the reports that indicate there may have only been 3 tons of it at that particular facility.

 

            Q     Isn't the discrepancy -- isn't that tonnage discrepancy already accounted for by the IAEA by the fact it is stored at a nearby facility --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We're trying to understand that better.

 

            Q     -- that is called the --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I'm not in any position to comment on that.  The initial report was 141 tons at this facility.  We're now hearing some more refined explanation by the IAEA that, well, maybe this facility really meant another facility 30 kilometers away. 

 

            So it's a fair question and we don't have an answer and we're not prepared to talk to that today.

 

            Q     Major, could you describe the palletized boxes?  Mr. DiRita just mentioned palletized boxes.  Could you describe what kind of boxes they were?  And were they -- did you actually go into bunkers or just go to that -- those materiels which were easily accessible? Because we've seen much of it lying about on the ground.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  We went into the bunkers that were easily accessible, and we used a palletized loading system was our vehicle transport.  Most of the ammunition had to be loaded onto that either manual or using a forklift.  They're small boxes, 24 square, but they also vary depending on what you had.  Some it -- a roll of the det cord comes in large rolls, from my recollection, about a three-foot diameter of a roll of detonation cord.

 

            Q     So the palletized boxes, were they wooden boxes, cardboard boxes?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Wooden boxes, sir.

 

            Q     Major, could I ask one question here -- actually two questions.  One is, you said you had nine vehicles, 33 tons each, roughly.  That's 297 tons.  Is that more like it, or is it 250?  Do we know?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Sir, the way I'm calculating it, it's an estimation on my part of what we did.  I went in there with nine vehicles, so it's a truck and a trailer, which equates to 18.  On one of those trailers I had a 6-K forklift on one of those trailers, so that gives me 17.  And just if you look at the configuration and the packing, and the characteristics by weight and cube of how you're going to pack that ammunition, it brings you down to the ballpark of around 250 as an estimation just by how much you can fit.  If I compare it with what I know about U.S. ammunition, which is very similar, it's about 3,600 pounds to a pallet, four-by-four pallet, which is a standard international pallet, and how many could fit on a flat rack.

 

            Q     Okay, just -- can I follow up, just two things?  One is, you don't have the percentage of what we are calling HMX and RDX, the plastic explosives, you don't have a percentage of that total lift, like an estimate that you think how much it might be of that -- what you took out of those bunkers, you don't -- is there an estimate?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  No, sir.  Before -- when my company left out of there, we wanted -- because this was all classified; all our documentation was classified, and the procedures that we followed was I turned it into my Rear Area Operations Center, which when they left the country, they turned it in to their Rear Area Operations Center. All I can talk to --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And we're pursuing that, to determine that.  We can have that documentation.

 

            Q     Last question.  Judged by what it took for you to remove that 200 tons with the forklifts, the tractor trailers, et cetera, do you believe it's possible to move that much material in a short period of time while U.S. military convoys are moving up and down those roads?

           

            It would be from -- the last time would be April 18th, let's say, the new video, to May 8th, when the inspection team comes in and doesn't find the IAEA-marked material.  So it would be about, I don't know, 20 days.  Is it possible to get all of that done, the forklifts, the trucks, without anybody in the U.S. military knowing?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  You mean if somebody else were doing it.  Is that what you mean?

 

            Q     Right.  I'm saying insurgents or looters or whatever.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Sir, I know we went in there, we did it in about a day.  It's not -- it seems like an exorbitant amount, but when you take it in the scope of we were managing 7,000 tons of ammunition, we'd just completed a major mission in Baghdad, this wasn't that significant of an operation.  At the time when I was in Objective Elms, that area was very pacified, where there wasn't a lot of civilians in the area at that time.  If they were, they were very respectful to U.S. forces, they were very respectful to us.  I didn't see any hostilities at that location at that time.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  But if I can just provide a little more, Colonel Perkins when he was here speaking about that -- and Colonel Perkins was the brigade commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, who was there just a few days prior to Major Pearson -- he talked a little bit about that.  And it was his perception that that size of an operation, while small in terms of the total number of weapons we were finding, would have been something his forces, which were the combat forces, would certainly have noticed.  That a large number of trucks that Iraqis were trying to move up and down those roads were something his unit would certainly have -- he believes they would have noticed that.

 

            Q     Major Pearson, just to remove any confusion about what you're telling us, can you tell us definitively that any of the material that your unit destroyed was among the 300-plus tons of high explosives under IAEA seal?  Can you tell us that definitively?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  I can tell you that I received -- I recovered captured enemy ammunition from Objective Elms and I moved that approximately 200 to 250 tons of ammunition to the captured ammunition holding area at Dogwood, which I managed.

 

            Q     And let me get --

 

            Q     (Off mike) --

 

            Q     Wait a second.  Can he tell us whether that was the material, the 300-plus tons that were under IAEA seal?  Can you tell us that that was the same material?  Are we talking about the same material?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  If  you don't know --

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  I don't know.  I don't have that --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Let me help you with that, Will.  I get that.  You guys really want the definitive answer.  And so do we.  The difference is that that takes understanding facts.  And we have tried to uncover facts over the last week, at a point after which many people thought they had the definitive answer.  And we simply do not.  So it is -- it is perfectly understandable that people would like to have somebody at this podium say definitively this happened.

 

            Even the number you used is not definitive, 300 tons of this or that.  It's in a report provided by Saddam Hussein in June of '02, I think June or July.  It's in a report repeated in October of '04 by the Iraqi government.  In between, there are other reports by the IAEA that we are trying to better understand because they don't, at least at first glance and deeper analysis, seem to track the same numbers.

 

            So we're trying our best to understand it.  You want a definitive answer.  I think others have said that they think they know the definitive answer.  We're simply saying we don't.

 

            Q     Larry, one major point here --

 

            Q     Major?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We might have time for one or two.

 

            Q     -- HMX was under seal.  HMX is the only thing under seal. Did you see seals?  Did you go into locked bunkers?  You said you only went into bunkers that were easily accessible.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  My mission was to go into bunkers and to prevent the exposure --

 

            Q     Were they locked?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  -- that -- I went to -- in bunkers that we could easily get into and remove that.  That was --

 

            Q     What does that mean?  Sorry, can you clarify?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  That it was open and I was able to take my troops in there and that it was exposed.

 

            Q     There were no seals.  So that would suggest that it was not HMX.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  No seals -- I did not see any seals.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Unless somebody else had come by and already opened the seals.

 

            Q     Major?  Major, do you --

 

            Q     But you saw the video of April 18th.  The video of April 18th shows U.S. forces going into bunkers that are locked, and there are seals on some of those bunkers.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And that's correct.  And it's not -- we don't know. Certainly Major Pearson had no responsibility, and we just don't know to this point.  And as we learn -- I think we've tried to demonstrate that as we learn things, we'll be sure to tell you.

 

            Q     Major, do you --

 

            Q     Well, do you think it's unlikely that it's HMX, then?

 

            Q     You haven't given us the date.  When was the date?

 

            Q     Major, do you have the -- do you have the longitude and latitude and/or GPS coordinates of Objective Elm?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  That's --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  That's what's on the chart.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  That's specified on the chart.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  By grid coordinates.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  By grid coordinates.  And this is the blue box.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  It overlaps with the facility.

 

            Q     What date --

 

            Q     What date were you talking about?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  To my best recollection, based on information I have, it was April 13th, 2003.

 

            Q     Which --

 

            Q     You were there prior --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  That is correct.

 

            Q     -- to the video of -- the ABC affiliate showed of the bunkers being opened?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Of some bunkers being opened by the 101st Airborne Division personnel who were the ones who asked for this assistance from Major Pearson's unit some time earlier.

 

            Q     So when they asked --

 

            Q     Major, can you tell us what these pictures show that we haven't seen yet?  Because perhaps that would additionally clarify the matter, if you can.  What do they show?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Ma'am, the pictures I have were digital photos as a commander on the ground that I took.  All right, this is a soldier inside the bunker just like a few.  This wasn't an investigative photos, and that's how I sort of came to that date.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  One picture I saw, just to describe it -- and if we can, we'll try to make it available -- is a picture of boxes that look very similar to the kinds of boxes that we see the 101st Airborne Division personnel looking at the following week.

 

            Q     Major, if your mission --

 

            Q     Major, when you left --

 

            Q     Major, if your mission was to clear the ammo, were there troops waiting for your arrival guarding this area, or was it wide open?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  There was no troops waiting for my arrival.  My mission was to go in there and to assist the 101st, the Corps Support Group that was supporting the 101st in their area to minimize the exposure of their troops to captured enemy ammunition.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  But 101st was, as General Petraeus has said, had -- they were on the facility.

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Roger.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I mean, that was their facility.

 

            Q     When you left the facility, how much explosives were still there?  All?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Do you know?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  I can speak -- I don't know.  I can't speak about what was left.  I can speak about what I took out of the facility.

 

            Q     But did you --

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  It wasn't my --

 

            Q     You took out as much as you could, but there was more there?  Is that right?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  My intent was to go in there and, the stuff that was easily exposed -- I completed my mission, I got what I needed to get, and we went back to the captured ammunition holding area to continue the operation to support 3rd ID.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  It's almost certain there was more, because we've seen the 101st, if the dates are correct from the reporters that were embedded within the 101st.

 

            Q     The other bunkers that you left, you didn't check, the ones that you didn't go into, what was the status of them?  I mean, was there dirt pushed up against them?  Were they locked? What happened?

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  I did see some bunkers, some earth-covered magazines that had berms of earth and gravel pushed up in front of them.  This is a technique I've seen repeatedly.  It was a common military technique to limit access to earth-covered magazines, especially at abandoned sites.  I've seen that at multiple different locations throughout Iraq, and I did see it there.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  A common U.S. military technique or --

 

            MAJ. PEARSON:  Common U.S. military and -- oh, I can't say who did it, but it's a common military technique to prevent access.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I think we have time for one more.

 

            Q     Let me just ask you how you square all of this with the fact that less than 24 hours ago in two radio interviews, Secretary Rumsfeld said that he didn't feel the facts were known, he wanted to know more, but yet he said that it was his view it was most likely that the stuff was removed prior to the war by the Saddam Hussein regime, because he didn't see how anything else was possible.  How do you square that?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I haven't seen the transcript of what the secretary said, although I was there when he made his comments.  I just don't remember how precisely he worded it.  What I think he would emphasize and what I'm certainly emphasizing is that there's a lot we don't know.  And I think the point he was trying to make was that there was certainly activity, and I would describe it -- only because that's the way people describe these things -- as unusual activity at this facility prior to the arrival of U.S. forces and after the departure of inspectors from Baghdad.  Unusual activity meaning large trucks in front of bunkers, doing what we don't know.  But it was at a period in time when only Saddam Hussein was in control of that facility.  We've seen other photos, photos we didn't release because we don't understand them well enough, that show a significant number of large trucks on that site near those bunkers.  So --

 

            Q     What should we take away from this very capable, well- informed major here as to what he's telling us?  Is this just another potential scenario you're outlining for us?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  No.  We have no scenario.  Our -- what --

 

            Q     What are we supposed to take away from this?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  What I would think you'd take away is what I've tried to describe, which is there is probably more we don't know about that 377 tons than what we know, other than we've destroyed 400,000 tons of ammunition in that country, we had people moving about freely on that facility prior to the arrival of U.S. forces -- armed people, Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard; they attacked our forces from inside that facility -- and as we try and better understand what happened to one-one-thousandth of that ammunition that we've already identified or destroyed, we'll provide those facts.

 

            And I think that's about all we've got time for.

 

            Q     Can I -- Major, could you just give me --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Thanks very much.

 

            Q     Can I ask a general --

 

            Q     -- what your assessment of --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Thank you. 

 

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