The Smoking Gun
March 13, 2003 12:02 AM   Subscribe

Remember that whole drone "cover-up"? Here's the plane. The prototype of Iraq's smoking gun WMD threat. Constructed of balsa wood and duct tape, it says Allahu Akbar (God is great) on the side. And, well, they were probably half right. While it's not really a gun, it probably does smoke -- it uses lawn-mower-style two-stroke engines. Washington Post story here.
posted by condour75 (38 comments total)
I'm buying one right now!
posted by matteo at 12:13 AM on March 13, 2003

The CS Monitor has been rocking out lately... I recently rediscovered them, as they seem to be the only American newspaper that's managed to not become polarized beyond the point of reason on the Iraq issue.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:15 AM on March 13, 2003

Just remember to tell your kids one day why we went to war - over a model airplane.
posted by iamck at 12:17 AM on March 13, 2003

Just remember to tell your kids one day why we went to war - over a model airplane.

Or why some went to warblog, at least--ah, but that was so many model airplanes ago.
posted by y2karl at 12:26 AM on March 13, 2003

They used duct tape. If it's good enough for homeland security, it's good enough for unmanned aircraft!
posted by jetgrrl at 12:31 AM on March 13, 2003

For chrissake, that thing was probably built yesterday!

Come on, guys!

posted by norm1153 at 12:52 AM on March 13, 2003

it uses lawn-mower-style two-stroke engines.

So does the Predator of shooting missiles at suspected terrorists in Yemen fame. Unsophisticated is not the same as not dangerous.

Not that I'm saying that this was some secret weapon, but first the Iraqis denied having any UAVs, then claimed that they had a UAV with a 10 foot wingspan, then when a UAV with a 25 foot wingspan was discovered suddenly claimed "Oh, there must have been a typo in the report", and are now saying that the UAV in question is so shoddily constructed as to be of no value to anyone.

It's pretty apparent that their plan is to continue hiding any and all weapons programs that they think they can get away with hiding, and whenever one gets caught to say "Oh, silly us, we forgot that one. But look! The inspections are working and so must continue." They're hoping (quite reasonably, I might add) that at some point the UN will either tire of this game, declare victory, and go home, or that they'll be able to finish their nuclear weapons development program while being inspected, at which point they'll be doing the deterring.
posted by jaek at 2:07 AM on March 13, 2003

I have to admit that when I first heard the words Iraqi pilotless drone, RC model airplane was the next such phrase to come to mind. When I first heard about this, I almost linked to this the other night. But then there was this and this and this. Just when you think the justifications for the fait accompli du jour could not get any more ludicrous or desperate, they go and pull yet another rabbit from their bottomless hat.

What is it now--the Six Tests? Saddam will agree to all and then next they'll demand he wear his underwear on the outside and walk around with a whoopie cushion duct taped to his butt and dildoes up his nostrils.
posted by y2karl at 2:33 AM on March 13, 2003

I wonder why we haven't had them declare all their box cutters yet. After all, we've seen first hand what dangerous weapons those can be. While we're at it, we should confiscate all metal objects in Iraq. Don't want them soda cans being melted down to make aluminum tubes...

More seriously, yeah, they could theoretically rig up a sprayer system on the model airpl-, er, unmanned drone. But since it apparently needs to be within the line of sight of the operator with the radio controller, we may as well keep them from making water balloons, which also offer a good delivery system for chemical weapons.

We've sent some 500,000 heavily armed, well trained American troops to fight a country that seems to be reduced to making "weapons of mass destruction" out of stuff from their kitchen and garage. Moral high ground my ass.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:47 AM on March 13, 2003

Nobody's been asking the obvious question kaibutsu:

Disarmament and then what?

If you take away the fundamental schwing to this lie, the terror card, then you have nothing more than a bold take over of natural resources that sit under a propagandistically created enemy. People everywhere being lied to and dying.

Does anybody at all wonder why all of a sudden "Iraq must disarm"? But we have yet to hear the logical, THE LOGICAL, reasons for such.

This is such a hoodwink. . .
posted by crasspastor at 4:00 AM on March 13, 2003


Here is the logical reason for such. You can believe it or dismiss it, but it sounds much more feasible than all of the insulting BS and straight out lies emanating from the White House.
posted by sic at 4:19 AM on March 13, 2003

Another thing. If "Saddam" is so damned hateful to his people why the fuck would he even try to construct a ~~~DRONE~~~ out of ~~~BALSA WOOD~~~ when terroristically inclined people-bombs are so much more cheap? As are the airliners them terrists terrize us in.

The fucking priorities of these terrists.
posted by crasspastor at 4:19 AM on March 13, 2003

That's scary!
I guess the chicken hawk warbloggers were right all along!! We must attack now!!
With massive military might and 21,000 pound bombs!
That evil deceptive Saddam!!
I can't believe he would threaten our country with such a diabolical weapon!!
And a range of 5 miles! Wow!
That's got to be in violation of some UN resolution somewhere!
It could go 1/20th of the way to that puritanical state of Israel! Amazing technology!
posted by nofundy at 5:11 AM on March 13, 2003

Well, duh.

I wasn't a bit surprised when I saw the photo. What the hell did anyone expect? A Dark Star or Predator? Sheesh.

My ideal "drone" would be a helium-filled weather balloon, launched when the winds are just right, deflated and its payload detonated by remote control. Not useful for maritime strikes, but pretty efficient for WMD deployment over land. It'd be visible but pretty tough to lock in on because tracking radars aren't designed to range-gate on something so slow-moving.
posted by alumshubby at 5:11 AM on March 13, 2003

posted by Beholder at 5:44 AM on March 13, 2003

alumshubby: A bit like the ones the Japanese used to drop incendiary bombs on the U.S. during WW2?
posted by cx at 5:49 AM on March 13, 2003

Jeez I'm not a pro-war hawk in the least but could some of you try harder to make up excuses for Saddam??
"It's only made of balsa wood... it's only built with duct tape... it's only got a two stroke engine... it's only got a range of 5 miles...
posted by PenDevil at 5:56 AM on March 13, 2003

Oh how I remember screaming at the radio when Powell discussed the drone in front of the UN. Yes, a drone that can fly 300 miles in a circle automatically means that it can fly 300 miles in a straight line.
posted by machaus at 5:58 AM on March 13, 2003

cx: Yeah, or those silly WWI-retread biplanes the Brits tried to use on the Nazi Germany's most powerful and feared battleship?
posted by alumshubby at 6:14 AM on March 13, 2003

Who's to say that that is the only model of drone Iraq has? Just because they presented it and said so? (note: I'm only speculating, I don't have any special intel info, etc...). The article mentions...UN inspectors note, however, that they first saw the drone at this site on Feb. 10, and measured its wingspan at the al Mutasim testing airfield on Feb. 17 - just one day before Iraq sent its letter. UN teams have visited the site five times, and filmed the drone.

"Very little of [the vehicle's] physical characteristics correspond with what was declared," says Hiro Ueki, spokesman for UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad. "The engines are different, so is the makeup of the body. The payload is different.... The whole issue of drones remains under investigation."

and also
A handful of gleaming, smaller drones were on display last November at the Baghdad International Trade Fair. But they could have been mock-ups.

I'm not saying let's Nuke Iraq due to this Terrifying Drone Threat, but I still wouldn't dismiss the issue of Drones just yet because Saddam rolled out a crappy model plane (If you had to turn your drones over to the UN, would you start off with the good ones?)
posted by stifford at 6:22 AM on March 13, 2003

Any RPV (remotely piloted vehicle) needs to be in line-of-sight of a transceiver to work, period. Even the Predator and the unpcoming UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) need LOS.

That's radio. Simple physics.

What allows the Predator and UCAV to operate beyond the actual operator's LOS is this little piece of hardware: the E-3 Sentry (and other AWACS [Airborne Warning And Control System] aircraft). Having a radio relay with over-the-horizon capabilities is the only thing that makes RPVs worthwhile.

So even if Iraq has a drone with a 25' wingspan and a 500 mile operating radius, what good does it do them? The range is limited by the operator's radio-- and AFAIK Iraq doesn't operate AWACS aircraft at all. It's much ado about nothing.
posted by Cerebus at 6:28 AM on March 13, 2003

alumshubby: The whole helium balloon thing was tried by the Japanese during WWII, with not much success. On preview, I see you knew that.

Being undirected, they're of limited utility. Chemical weapons quickly disperse, so if not dispensed directly over the target they're pretty much useless. Biologicals tend to settle out of the air pretty quickly (anthrax spores will settle within a few miles when dispersed into the air), so while one would contaminate an area pretty effectively it still needs to be dispersed directly over the intended target.
posted by Cerebus at 6:33 AM on March 13, 2003

Duct Tape - the new WMD

Shall we have the UN inspectors scour Iraq for duct tape and very large rubber bands since we now they have dual-uses?
posted by nofundy at 6:42 AM on March 13, 2003


When I first heard about this, I almost linked to this the other night.
posted by y2karl at 6:42 AM on March 13, 2003

could some of you try harder to make up excuses for Saddam??

Remember what we're talking about, here, PenDevil. The reason this was a "smoking gun" was that it was supposed to be the first undeclared weapons program we'd discovered in Iraq, and therefore a huge deal. Some conservatives even tried to puff this up into the ludicrous accusation of a coverup by Blix. And it turns out that not only is it not a new weapons program, and not an undeclared weapon, and not in violation of any UN resolution, and not a coverup by anybody, but to be made of goddamn balsa wood and duct tape.

This is not "making excuses for Saddam." This is pure comedy gold.
posted by ook at 6:44 AM on March 13, 2003

Thanks, Cerebus, for providing some actual information.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:59 AM on March 13, 2003

Some conservatives even tried to puff this up into the ludicrous accusation of a coverup by Blix!
posted by y2karl at 7:12 AM on March 13, 2003

I think giant Iraqi attack mice are next.
posted by talos at 7:14 AM on March 13, 2003

United States of America: People everywhere being lied to and dying.
posted by quonsar at 7:22 AM on March 13, 2003

The UN reports a drone. The Iraqis trot out a drone. Who says they are the same thing?
posted by smackfu at 7:23 AM on March 13, 2003

Ooooo! It's a deadly flying craft!....The Bristol....I'd love to commission this guy to design a specialized RC - Like a flying George W. Bush head which randomnly spews out garbled, menacing rhetoric - "Terrists....WMD's....Saddam must go....War against Evil....this would be so much easier if I were a dictator...." .Thanks Karl for that link to this potential terrorist "I'm an avid RC flyer and mostly build and fly my own designs. I'm a Quality Engineer in the aerospace industry, and Newsletter Editor for the Muroc Model Masters at Edwards, California. I've been building and flying RC planes regularly since 1990, and have built nearly one hundred flying models. "

Meanwhile...the Real WMD threat is elsewhere.....

"These waivers, passed last year by Congress and signed [Friday] by the president, mean that destruction of Russia's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons can continue," Lugar, who is the incoming chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, said. "Russian stockpiles of weapons and materials are the most likely source for terrorists attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Destroying those weapons at the source is imperative for our national security."

The Bush White House seems now to agree with that imperative although administration support for Nunn-Lugar over the past 12 months has been uneven.

Under the US law that is now supplanted by the new certification regulations, the president had to re-certify Russia's commitment to Nunn-Lugar activities on a yearly basis, which allowed Nunn-Lugar to continue with its work.

But Bush stopped Nunn-Lugar in its tracks last spring when he refused to re-certify the programme over concerns that Russia was not being candid about its stocks of Soviet-era chemical and biological weapons. In August, Bush signed a temporary waiver that allowed the programme to run until the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. But until Bush signed off on the new waiver regulations Monday, the programme had been shut down since then, meaning that it has not been able to accept new contracts for a total of eight months.

After Bush initially declined to certify Nunn-Lugar, he paradoxically began lobbying Congress to grant him a permanent waiver from the certification requirement. The subsequent haggling over the waiver became, according to some observers in Washington, a tense struggle within the administration itself, with Pentagon brass opposing a waiver of any kind, and Bush National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice phoning members of Congress to lobby them for a permanent waiver, congressional sources said."

Google search, "Nunn-Lugar,Russia,Nuclear"

[below link is to WBUR "The Connection" show, March 12 2003, on Nuclear Proliferation]
"Britain, France, and China joined the club, and in 1970, the Non Proliferation treaty earned pledges from more than 180 other countries promising to stay nuclear free, but the treaty itself is under attack. First it was Israel, then India and Pakistan, now North Korea and Iran are developing their own weapons. Even the United States is testing the limits of non-proliferation, as the Pentagon makes its case for taking nukes out of the bunker, to boost America's military might. Exploring the politics of proliferation with the Nobel Prize winning Physicist Steven Weinberg."

Karl - How about "Bring us a shrubbery!"
posted by troutfishing at 7:29 AM on March 13, 2003

You know what's really dumb is, this is another thing that it sounds like anyone who actually knew what was going on already knew, and it was just the media that created the mistaken impression. To whit: In its print edition on Tuesday -- i.e., an article written late Monday -- in response to nothing more than Blix's report, the NY Times wrote:
There is also skepticism about how much the document proves. A defense official said the drones described in the report might not be an effective means to deliver biological or chemical agents because they are too small and must carry a large amount to be effective. "They're just a lousy way to do it," he said.
But where in the article did this passage appear? At the very bottom. Go figure.

It's a lousy way to sell newspapers, too.
posted by mattpfeff at 7:38 AM on March 13, 2003

Still no weapons of mass destruction...
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:31 AM on March 13, 2003

Hmmm. Even that linked article mentions the possibility for germ warfare via balloons, way back in W W Two. Greatly mistaken minds think alike, or something like that.
posted by alumshubby at 9:19 AM on March 13, 2003

OMG! Has anybody checked to see if there are any pigeons in Iraq?
posted by soyjoy at 9:39 AM on March 13, 2003

"Who's to say that that is the only model of drone Iraq has? Just because they presented it and said so?"

Indeed. Who's to say that they aren't the ones behind some known test flights that we have proof of! We can't allow this kind of technology to slip into the hands of terrorists!
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:49 AM on March 13, 2003

Slightly off topic and late to the party...

Surely this has been asked in some previous thread, but it has really been bugging me. If someone in the U.S. Administration is so sure that there are WMD in Iraq. Why don't they just give Blix and his crew the details? Anybody have a clue?
posted by jaronson at 5:07 PM on March 13, 2003

Why don't they just give Blix and his crew the details?

The standard theory is that they don't want to share the information they have because any signs that the inspections are working are likely to be used as arguments for continuing them. Another concern is that the Iraqis would start moving the materiel to new locations; if the U.S. is going to attack soon anyway, they would rather it all stay put, so they can find it and destroy it themselves more easily.
posted by mattpfeff at 3:13 PM on March 14, 2003

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