Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Oooo. Bad day to be Little Scottie. The press corps was all over him this morning about the missing Iraqi explosives. And he did not handle it in a very convincing manner.

Tick-tock, Scottie, tick-tock.

Q The Kerry campaign is hitting you on this story in the New York Times today that a large cache of explosives have gone missing. Is there anything you could have done about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe the best way to do this is kind of walk you through how we came to be informed about this. The Iraqi Interim Government informed — told the IAEA — the International Atomic Energy Agency on October 10th that there were approximately 350 tons of high explosives missing from Al Qaqaa in Iraq. And they informed the IAEA because these munitions were subject to IAEA monitoring, because they were considered dual-use materials. And the International Atomic Energy Agency informed the United States mission in Vienna on October 15th about these — this cache of explosives that was missing because of some looting that went on in Iraq toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or during and toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Q When did the President find out?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s why I said, we were informed on October 15th. Condi Rice was informed days after that. This is all in the last, what, 10 days now. [Oh, didn’t Jerry Bremer tell him back in May?]

Q She was informed days after October 15th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and she informed the President. And the first priority, from our standpoint, was to make sure that this wasn’t a nuclear proliferation risk, which it is not. These are conventional high explosives that we are talking about. And the President wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this.

[snip]

Q Prior to the 10th, and the notification by the interim government, whose responsibility was it to keep track of these munitions, the IAEA or the multinational force in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to look at the time. I think the Department of Defense can probably answer a lot of these questions for you. But that’s why I pointed out what we did to — literally, there were munitions caches spread throughout Iraq at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That’s why I pointed out the large volume of munitions that have already been destroyed and the large volume that are on-line to be destroyed. The sites now are the responsibility of the Iraqi government to secure.

Q But after Iraqi Freedom, there were those caches all around, wasn’t the multinational force — who was responsible for keeping track —

MR. McCLELLAN: At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were a number of priorities. It was a priority to make sure that the oil fields were secure, so that there wasn’t massive destruction of the oil fields, which we thought would occur. It was a priority to get the reconstruction office up and running. It was a priority to secure the various ministries, so that we could get those ministries working on their priorities, whether it was —

Q So it was the multinational force’s responsibility —

MR. McCLELLAN: There were a number of — well, the coalition forces, there were a number of priorities at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And munitions, as I said, were literally spread throughout the country. And we have gone in and destroyed, as I pointed out, more than 243,000 tons —

Q Was it the coalition’s responsibility to take care of that —

[snip]

Q Scott, did we just have enough troops in Iraq to guard and protect these kind of caches?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, that’s — now you just hit on what I just said a second ago, that the sites now are really — my understanding, they’re the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. And I disagree with the way you stated your question, because one of the lessons we’ve learned of history is that it’s important to listen to the commanders on the ground and our military leaders when it comes to troop levels. And that’s what this President has always done. And they’ve said that we have the troop levels we need to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq.

Q But you’re saying this is the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. But this was our responsibility until just recently, isn’t that right? Weren’t these — there is some U.S. culpability, as far as —

MR. McCLELLAN: You’re trying — I think you’re taking this out of context of what was going on. This was reported missing after — when the interim government informed that these munitions went missing some time after April 9th of 2003, remember, that was when we were still involved in major military action at that point. And there were a number of important priorities at that point. There were munitions, munition caches spread throughout Iraq. There were — there was a concern that there would be massive refugees fleeing the country. There is concern about the devastation that could occur to the oil fields. There was concern about starvation that could happen for the Iraqi people.

So — and obviously there is an effort to go and secure these sites. The Department of Defense can talk to you about — because they did go in and look at this site and look to see whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction there. So you need to talk to Department of Defense, because I think that would clarify that for you and set that record straight.

Q You said Condi Rice told the President days after October 15th. Do you know when exactly he found out about —

MR. McCLELLAN: No. It was in one of his briefings, morning briefings.

Q After —

MR. McCLELLAN: This is really in the last 10 days, Deb.

Q Go through the tick-tock one more time. Allawi tells the IAEA about it October 10th and then —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Iraqi government told the International Atomic Energy Agency on October 10th that these munitions or these high explosives were missing, because of looting that occurred sometime after April 9th, 2003. And these were subject to — some of these were subject to agency monitoring, and that’s why they informed the IAEA.

Q But, Scott —

Q Who told the White House? I mean, did somebody tell the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and they told the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no. The IAEA informed the U.S. mission in Vienna first. And then — and then, as I said, Condi was informed days after that and she informed the President.

[snip]

Q On the tick-tock, do you know if the missing munitions, if they were looted before or after the handover June 30th? Was this — happened when the coalition was in control or when the Allawi government —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. First of all, I said that they reported that it went missing sometime after April 9th, 2003. Remember, early on — during and at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was some looting. Some of it was organized that was going on in the country. There were munitions caches spread throughout the country. And so — but these are all issues that are being looked into by the multinational forces and the Iraq Survey Group.

Q But you don’t know yet exactly what —

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct that question to the Pentagon. My understanding is that it went missing sometime after April 9th, 2003. So it’s looking more back to that period, that period of time.

[snip]

Q One last one on the tick-tock. These notices from Iraq to IAEA to U.S. to Condi to President happened over days as opposed to hours. Was there just no sense of urgency that what they had discovered here was really an important —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, just — no, I think that this has all happened in a — just the last few days. We’re talking about the last 10 days.

Q As opposed to hours. Right. But does that mean folks believed that this was not an urgent, serious matter?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, because the Pentagon became informed — you can check with the Pentagon when they were informed about it and the coalition forces. Absolutely not.

Q This was an urgent matter, as far as U.S. government was concerned?

MR. McCLELLAN: It’s something that’s being looked into now. So I don’t know how you can characterize it as not. I mean, it’s something that the Pentagon, upon being informed about it, immediately directed the multinational forces and Iraq Survey Group to look into this matter, and that’s what they’re doing.