It requires no special skill to sell Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for the New York Times, the Brooklyn Bridge. All you have to do is whisper to him that the transaction will occur at a background “briefing” by anonymous intelligence sources and a “senior official” or two.
One would think that it would require astonishing rhetorical ingenuity on the part of the sales team (in fact operating out of the United States Defense Department) to keep on selling Gordon the Brooklyn Bridge long after the deed from the first sale was pronounced an obvious fraud. But it’s not so strange, really. Your true sucker is a vain fellow who can never accept the evidence of his own gullibility and who therefore regards each successive purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge as a sound investment, certain to re-establish him in the public mind as a man with a keen eye for the good deal. He thus becomes psychologically and professionally a captive of the bridge salesmen.
On September 8, 2002, the New York Times editors published Gordon and Judith Miller’s fictions concerning aluminum tubes in Iraq that were allegedly part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Far too late this bout of bridge-buying on the part of the Times duo prompted widespread derision. Only then did the embarrassed Times editor ban Miller from bridge-buying altogether.
No such restraints were placed on Gordon. After lying low while Miller took the heat, he was back late last year, promoting the famous “surge,” sold him by Gen. David Petraeus and others. Then, on Saturday, February 10, the Times excitedly announced another major purchase.
The story was from the usual sales folk, unnamed “American officials.” Their mission: get Gordon to boost Bush’s anti-Iran propaganda drive by promoting the story that Iran is supplying Iraqi Shiites with the new “explosively formed penetrator,” the war’s “most lethal weapon,” now killing American boys in their Humvees, Bradleys and even Abrams tanks. Their method: gull the bridge buyer with a brisk technical résumé.
“To make the weapon,” Gordon confided to Times readers, “a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end…. According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq.”
Now, the people attacking and killing most American troops in Iraq are not Shiite but Sunni, and are therefore unlikely to have been supplied by Iran. Some 1,190 US troops have been killed in Iraq since the start of the insurgency by roadside bombs, a k a IEDs. But only 170 American soldiers have been killed by EFPs since June 2004, less than 7 percent of the total killed in action.
EFPs are a not-so-recent variant on the 1885 Munroe Effect, the idea behind the shaped charge. (My informant here is Pierre Sprey, a former weapons designer with the A-10 and F-16 planes on his CV.) A conventional shaped charge is a metal funnel inside a cylindrical casing with the open end facing the target and with powder packed behind the narrow end. When the powder is ignited, an explosive shock wave collapses the funnel, creating a gas blowtorch carrying with it a slug of molten metal.
The EFP variation substitutes a copper bowl for the funnel. This sacrifices the efficiency of a focused jet that drills the deepest possible hole in return for a slower, more cohesive slug of molten metal that will hang together even if the charge is detonated 100 feet from the target. Thus, the EFP can be placed at or beyond the shoulder of a road (or on top of a concrete barrier or in the window of a house), aimed at the road’s center. When a vehicle or convoy comes along, the bomb can be fired manually by a hidden insurgent or triggered automatically by a garage door opener; in other words, the EFP can be used as a concealed, short-range, armor-piercing gun with little risk to the remote firer.
The front of an Abrams tank is heavily armored, but the back and sides have only one inch of armor, which can be more easily pierced. Indeed, Sprey says a shaped charge of three inches in diameter can go through the back, sides or underneath any tank in the world. The Bradley and Humvee are even more vulnerable.
The DoD started developing small, highly refined EFP bomblets dropped on parachutes and fired by miniature sensors in 1977 as part of the Assault Breaker program. The Air Force’s current, in-production EFP cluster bomb is called the CBU-97.
The first terrorist use of an EFP was in the 1989 assassination of German banker Alfred Herrhausen in his armored Mercedes, attributed to the Red Army Faction. This was almost certainly an unsophisticated homemade device.
Even the use of EFPs in Iraq is old news. They were first employed by insurgents in late 2003 and have been used steadily–in small numbers–since then. These improvised EFPs don’t require Iranian-manufactured components. The necessary equipment consists of a copper bowl (a hand-beaten one of the style sold to tourists is fine), a six-to-nine-inch-diameter iron or steel pipe (an oil pipe would serve well), a few pounds of explosive and a fuse. The 140 tons of US RDX explosive that went missing after the invasion due to lax security would be high-quality stuff for the job. With these ingredients, all the insurgents need is one or two chalk talks or a video to learn how to assemble an EFP.
Though the Times allowed a follow-up news story and an editorial to express caution about Gordon’s alarms, his February 10 story had already given the Times‘s admittedly raddled imprimatur to the government’s scaremongering about Iran’s role in Iraq.
So there it is. Another bridge in Gordon’s real estate portfolio, as the New York Times puts its editorial shoulder behind Bush’s war, which it has done from the start. Punch Sulzberger told the grandees assembled in Davos in January, “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years.” Hasten the day.