WaPo reports on November U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq

The RQ-1 Predator Drone drops Hellfire missilesThe Washington Post goes A-01 Saturday with details from the U.S. -Iraqi offensive in Iraq’s western Anbar province, which included significant airstrikes that went largely unreported in the mainstream U.S. media.

Following the AP report earlier this week that U.S. airstrikes increased almost fivefold in the past year, The Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer reports:

Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines, and, some critics say, too little investigated. But townspeople, tribal leaders, medical workers and accounts from witnesses at the sites of clashes, at hospitals and at graveyards indicated that scores of noncombatants were killed last month in fighting, including airstrikes, in the opening stages of a 17-day U.S.-Iraqi offensive in Anbar province.

Stolen Explosives Recovered; Four Suspects in custody

An unspecified tip led to the arrest Friday of four men in connection with the recent theft of a large quantity of high explosives and supplies that could enable the flattening of a large building, according to federal officials.

According to the limited details released by the FBI Friday, the explosives were recovered intact. Two unidentified suspects and one David Brown were arrested in Bloomfield, New Mexico, a small town 170 miles northwest of Albuquerque near the Colorado border. Brown’s brother Leslie Brown, was also arrested 60 miles further north, in Ignacio, Colo. The brothers were previously convicted of felonies and now face federal charges. Investigators are still searching for a fifth suspect in Bloomfield, according to Albuquerque’s Action 7 News.

The police report issued earlier this week indicated that thieves used blowtorches to cut the locks at Cherry Engineering Inc.’s explosives depot, eight miles south of Albuquerque. There are over a dozen trailers on the property owned by various companies, but, “the theft was from Mr. Cherry’s two explosive magazines,” said Tom Mangan, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “That’s where all the explosives, high explosives, were taken from.”

Mangan confirmed only that the theft took place sometime between December 13-18, giving the vandals a “huge head start.”

Missing: Half -ton of explosives from gov’t bunker in New Mexico – not a threat?!?

Among Tuesday’s “top” news was an upbeat story about U.S. soldiers digging up a cache of “aging” weapons in a remote part of the northern Iraqi desert. Ironically, this “domestic propaganda” buried the news of an ongoing manhunt in the southwestern desert of the United States.

The FBI has put $50,000 on the table for any information leading to the capture of over 500 pounds of military grade explosives, stolen sometime between December 13-18 from an unguarded, government funded “bunker.”

“We don’t have any suspect,” Wayne Dixie of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said on Good Morning America. “We don’t have any leads at this point.

The explosives were stored outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, at Cherry Engineering, Inc., a government approved site regulated weekly by the ATF. Chris Cherry, owner of the facility, is employed by the government-funded Sandia National Labs, and trains federal agents and police bomb quads in bomb disablement, according to Sandia’s website. He was honored by President Clinton in 1998 for “defusing the Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski.

There is no reason to believe that this theft poses a threat to New Mexico, according to Governor Bill Richardson. “We think it may be somebody trying to make a profit or somebody that has a mental problem, but we don’t know,” he said.

Officials say that the amount of stolen explosives would be enough to match the bomb that destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.

According to KPHO-TV, 350 pounds of ammonium nitrate was stolen from the same facility only two years ago.

In the latest heist, pinned the biggest high-explosives theft in the U.S. in the past decade on Tuesday’s Good Morning America, roughly 170 pounds of the plastic explosive known as “C-4,” about 250 pounds of special, flexible – and virtually undetectable – “sheet explosives,” blasting caps and approximately 2,500 detonators were stolen from a federally certified explosives storage facility Monday night.

How could these warehouses possibly NOT be under 24-hour surveillance, you ask?!?

Tim Manning, director of the New Mexico Office of Homeland Security (via Albuquerque Trib):

“It is concerning to me that the same thing happened twice at the same location…. But it is also important to note that there is not any particular threat associated (with it).”

If this guy is in charge I’d say there DEFINITELY is a threat.

Gov. Bill Richardson promoted Manning in March 2005 from the directorship of New Mexico’s Department of Public Safety Emergency Operations Bureau (state FEMA). Undoubtedly his priorities with DHS were to increase security to meet the Bush administration’s claimed containment of what Gov. Richarson has called a “porous” border. As long as its nobody coming across the border for explosives, then there’s no threat, he might be told — so tunnel-visioned as to not even consider that the Rio Grande is probably the least likely point of entry for a terrorist into the U.S.

New Mexico’s FY05 Homeland Security Grant totaled just over $12,000 according to the Department of Homeland Security. Total grants (including Citizen Corps, and a handful of medical and security related initiatives) brought the total to $18 million — by far the lowest of any border state (and 30% less than Puerto Rico). [comparative state grant info – .xls]. That is to say, between 5 and 10 dollars per capita.

Certainly Tim Manning had a more manageable budget early in his career, as before his very eyes sprouted one Brownie of a resume: leading New Mexico’s post 9/11 and anthrax scare tactics, the state’s search for the remains of Space Shuttle Columbia, and various wildfires etc.

NM’s state FEMA budget is unclear, however, it goes without saying that on a federal level, DHS is proving to not have its priorities straight, if they have any priorities at all. Furthermore, since coming clean on an embellished resume listing him as an Oakland A’s draft pick, Governor Richardson seems to have been in outer space. Literally.

Just last week, Richardson attracted the attention of one Sir Richard Branson with an announcement to begin funding construction of a $225 million spaceport with local, state and federal funding. Govtech.net quotes a statement from Gov. Richardson from last week:

“New Mexico’s Spaceport will be a magnet for space companies to bring their business here, which will send a message far and wide that we embrace entrepreneurs, adventure and innovation.”

Space.com reports that the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson will soon announce plans to launch space flights on Virgin Galactic — from New Mexico — beginning as soon as 2009.

When not dreaming of intergalactica and shrugging off the need to guard various missle silos, not to mention the notoriously weak security at Los Alamos, AP’s Barry Massey brought this news last week:

The New Mexico governor has taken 40 trips on the sleek state-of-the-art chopper since December 2003, when the state bought it for $3.8 million.

But another political sell-out, that Richardson — and he once actually seemed to be a decent Dem. I wish our national guard was around to take care of the home front almost as bad as the soldiers themselves.

I give Richardson a pass, however, as he is but another victim of the Rove Republic — careless to the point of endangering any notion of “homeland security” to fulfill its hollow, destructive and increasingly scandalous legacy.

Bomb rigged with C-4 Explosives