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Are we bloggers by choice or is it the sheer necessity?

The failure of Big Media weakened our democracy and created the citizen journalist. What other roles will the citizens have to assume in order to salvage what is left of it?

By Maher Osseiran...September 7, 2005.

I proudly shared a draft of the first article I ever wrote with a friend activist. After he read it, he commented with a shrug: “if this is what you like to do?”

I was taken aback by his comment but since I have a great deal of respect for him and his work, I let it pass. Still, the question stayed with me and morphed into, what do I really like to do? Certainly not writing; it is not one of my strongest points.

It took me a while to decide to write this, and since I was going to discuss an old topic, I had to think plenty about the kind of information I would be bringing to the reader. Since the information was new, the perspective fresh, and felt that the reader would gain new insight worth my time and theirs.

The old topic I am going to address is that of the biological weapons mobile labs as presented to the UN and the world by Colin Powell. I will be using the topic as an example of where and how Big Media and our government, intentionally or through dereliction of duty, betrayed our democracy and failed to bring us the truth we need to properly exercise it.

Other than the thoughts my friend’s comment stirred, the catalyst for putting them into words was a July 31, 2005 issue of the Book Review section of the New York Times where the entire front page was dedicated to introducing an article by Richard A. Posner.

The front page was a good example of Big Media crying in their soup and here is what it said: “The conventional news media are embattled. Attacked by both left and right in book after book, rocked by scandals, challenged by upstart bloggers, they have become a focus of controversy and concern. Their audience in decline, their credibility with the public in shreds…. etc.”

As I was reading, images of Judith Miller in jail flashed in front of me, and, the droning of Lou Dobbs’ voice lamenting her unfortunate incarceration filled my ears. If we are to feel pity or sorrow, all dissipated when other images filled my head.

Those images were mostly of Joseph Wilson at his computer typing away his open editorial on the Niger, Uranium yellow cake, and the forged documents connecting them to Iraq. I asked myself, did Joseph Wilson really want to write that piece? Did he really want to stick his neck that far out? How long did he wait for mainstream media to pick up the tons of signals that declared those documents as forgeries before he made his decision? How many journalists did he call to point out the issue only to be frustrated by their inaction? Did he discuss the matter with his wife before he submitted his writings? What did she have to say? Did they discuss the potentials of backlash and the risks involved? I don’t want to speak for him or his wife but have the feeling that they did all that, and, if it were not for the total failure of Big Media he would not have written.

My personal experience was when I wrote about the Osama Bin Laden’s confessional tape “Bush and Blair, if the moon could talk, what would it say?” where I show that the tape was produced prior to the Afghanistan war and most likely produced by US intelligence through a sting operation.

The thought of taking on the intelligence establishment put me in agony for the 2 months needed to do the research and write the piece. Whenever I finished a draft, I would forward a copy to Big Media and follow up with a call or two. Once finished and faced with gatekeepers, dead ends, and rejections, I had no other choice but to rush and publish it since I felt safer with the information out in the public domain. Did I really want to write the article? The answer is a big NO since I had very little protection compared to a journalist. I had tried to bring the issue to the attention of the media as far back as 2001 where it fell on deaf ears; still the truth needed to come out and it did.

I am sure there are many similar examples out there and their numbers and the number of bloggers are in direct proportion to the number and magnitude of Big Media failures. So please New York Times and dear Lou spare us the crocodile tears.

On February 6, 2003, our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who projects trust and integrity, followed his marching orders to present on behalf of the Bush administration a case for war to the UN and the world. I listened to the whole thing live, and I admit, I was looking for holes that could be proven as such. To me, there was only one hole that fit that criteria; the mobile WMD labs.

As an engineer who has worked for more than 15 years in and around the chemical processing industry and covered fields such as metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and synthetic chemicals, those trailers did not meet the lowest of engineering standards but what really stood out was the trailer fitted with the spray dryers.

I am writing about it now to show that it was actually by design that those trailers looked the way they did. Powell’s UN presentation had three goals:

1. To convince and lock in that portion of the American public that relies on Big Media for their 30 minutes a day of news.
2. To deceive and frustrate the UN inspectors by presenting them a mobile system that is as hard to locate as a needle in a haystack.
3. To deceive that part of the world that has trust and faith in Colin Powell.

In any case, deniability was built into the trailers’ depictions. The trailer resembling the one that was properly depicted was no other than the hydrogen production trailer sold to Saddam by the British, proof of prior knowledge of its existence. While the trailer that would never be found was intentionally depicted with the drafting talent of a ten year old; that trailer was the one fitted with the spray dryers and the subject of this writing.

We now know that Colin Powell relied on a panel of scientists to vet the information he presented to the UN. That panel had cautioned him about the aluminum tube claims which he presented with less certainty knowing well that ElBaradai would quickly, as he did in his report of March 7, 2003 to the UN, show them to be unfounded. ElBaradai did the same with the claims by Bush and Cheney that Iraq was attempting to purchase yellow cake.

In contrast, Colin Powell presented the mobile trailers with a higher level of confidence and more passion. That confidence could only have come after assurances from that panel of scientists that it would withstand scrutiny long enough for the invasion of Iraq to start. Those trailers were the only evidence, however dubious, that could make the case for a preemptive war.

In my technical analysis of the trailers, I am going to exclusively deal with the spray dryers since no one else has. As a technology, spray drying is fairly old. Each one of us comes in contact on daily basis with materials produced by a spray dryer; powdered milk and powdered detergents are two good example.

A spray dryer works on a very simple principal. Imagine yourself on the 20th floor of a building spraying paint toward the sidewalk below, the air is totally still; by the time the spray reaches the ground, it is completely dry, paint will not stick, and you should be able to sweep it as a powder off the sidewalk. That might not be true if you were on the second floor; some might stick and some might not.

In order for spray dryers to work properly, they either need to be very tall circular tanks or the air/gas used for spraying needs to be very hot and is usually above the boiling temperature of the fluid. In the case of biological matter the fluid in which growth takes place is water with a boiling temperature of 100 degrees Centigrade or 212 F.

The following is an image of a real spray dryer of a size suitable for a trailer with a graph showing its production capacity (model number and other elements edited out to protect the identity of the manufacturer, graph based on an exit air temperature of 90 C).













As you might have noticed from the graph, the minimum operating inlet air temperature for the spray dryer is 150 C or 302 F. That same air exits the spray dryer at a minimum temperature of 90 C or 194 F; both temperatures are capable of sterilizing bio matter. Most flash (super fast) sterilization processes that are used to pasteurize foods without adversely affecting the flavor operate at 75 C or 167 F; 27 degrees cooler than a spray dryer.

In the outside chance that an infectious organism is capable of withstanding those high temperatures, it would be for a very short period of time, the spray drying process would still stress the organism, and the output of a spray dryer in most cases would be highly unreliable and, if acceptable, difficult to duplicate.

The trailer carrying the spray dryers was intentionally poorly depicted to prevent questions being asked. While the other trailers are fitted with tanks, pipes, and control panels that could easily be fabricated within Iraq, a spray dryer has to be purchased and only a handful of companies in Europe and the US make them. Too much detail would have prompted more questions from investigative journalists such as Judith Miller, critical scientists, and UN inspectors. It might have taken Judith Miller a bit of effort, but the others would quickly have located the spray dryer manufacturer responsible for outfitting the 18 mobile labs Colin Powell mentioned with 54 spray dryers.

Showing a rectangular box for a spray dryer left the critics puzzled and the articles they wrote or comments they made never mention them and focus instead on the trailers with the higher level of detail. Unfortunately, there was enough wiggle room to allow government scientists to spend millions of tax payers' money, dodge the truth, and, through our compliant Big Media they were able to drag the issue for close to a year before the truth was so unceremoniously let out.

A detailed analysis of the spray dryers would also reveal that each spray dryer needs support equipment such as a 50 hp electric generator, heaters, control panel, 2 cyclone separators, HEPA filters and the room around it for a person wearing highly protective gear to maneuver. It is almost impossible to cram a trailer with more than 2 spray dryers. With 2 spray dryers, the time needed to evaporate 2000 liters (the content of the fermentation tank) and produce 1.6 kg (about 3 lbs.) of low-grade bio matter is 500 hours or 20 days and becomes 24 days when we add the fermentation cycle since the fermentation tank, as presented to the UN, doubles as the feed tank.

While the fermentation cycle is about four days and you could park three trailers side by side for that period and avoid detection, the bottleneck of the system are the spray dryers and having the trailers parked and interconnected for 24 days makes a mobile design absurd and make them sitting ducks begging to be found.

The critics of this analysis can only say that the spray dryers could be of Iraqi manufacture, but since a spray dryer operates under simple thermodynamic laws that cannot be deviated from, they would still have to agree that they are unsuitable, and a bottleneck. Also, including a holding/feed tank in the drying trailer in order to facilitate mobility would only leave room for 1 spray dryer thereby increasing the cycle to 40 days to produce 3 lbs of low grade and unreliable bio-organism. How idiotic is that?

Having worked with hazardous chemicals with my share of accidents such as blown hoses, leaky seals, and equipment breakdown, it is almost suicidal to operate such hazardous equipment for 40 days while on the move through the bumpy back roads of Iraq.

Having one depicted trailer bear close resemblance to the hydrogen trailer that would be found, locked Colin Powell and his scientists into a mobile lab design that cannot be scientifically defended as the analysis shows.

This is how the captured trailer was unveiled in news reports: “The truck was stopped at a checkpoint by Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq (near Irbil) and was later turned over to U.S. forces”. Is it truly a coincidence that such an important piece of evidence plopped into Kurdish hands and in Kurdish territory?

Later reports try to distance the Kurds and place the find outside Kurdish territory. The reports state that it was actually found (with emphasis on actually) by US forces south of Mosul. What should we believe?

Also later, in support of their claim that those were mobile labs they state that Saddam never disclosed in his weapons list to the UN that he had hydrogen production trailers. 

Now that we know that the Iraqi regime supplied an accurate list, we have to seriously consider the more plausible scenario that those trailers were abandoned by Saddam forces in Kurdish territory when that autonomous region was forcibly formed and fell into the hands of Kurdish and US military intelligence, outside of Saddam’s control, prior to the invasion, which explains their absence from the list.

Is it possible that Colin Powell, in exchange for putting his reputation and image on the line, received assurances that those trailers would be found, and, could it be that seeing that the mobile WMD claim was the only claim that would temporarily stick, succumbed to Bush’s wishes that he be the one to present us with those flimsy allegations?

Does his later admission that the intelligence he had to use was inferior absolve him of all responsibility?

Is the recent Big Media jump on the bandwagon and their screams of intelligence meltdown a case of passing the buck and would that absolve it from the serious charge of dereliction of duty?

If Big Media dropped the ball on the topic of the trailers, there is a more serious topic where they failed miserably; it is the issue of yellow cake and the Niger documents.

In his report to the UN on March 7, 2003, ElBaradai, the head of the IAEA, stated the following: “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded with the concurrence of outside experts that these documents which formed the basis for the report of recent uranium transaction between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.”

How far did Big Media go with that very clear statement? Simply Nowhere. It was left to Joseph Wilson to bring it into the open.
In that same report to the UN and in relation to the allegations of Iraq’s Uranium purchase activities, ElBaradei said: “With regard to uranium acquisition, the IAEA has made progress in its investigation into reports that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger in recent years. The investigation was centered on documents provided by a number of states that pointed to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001. 
The IAEA has discussed these reports with the governments of Iraq and Israel, both of which have denied that any such activity took place.”

The mention of Israel perked my interest. The media told us that somehow the forged papers were delivered in Italy and made their way to England before being transferred to the US (built-in deniability). Why did ElBaradei question Israel, what was Israel’s involvement, and why didn’t the media follow up on it?

At hearing what ElBaradai said about the uranium issue and the lack of action on the part of the media, I started calling Senators that I thought might listen and act. Again, the gatekeepers block you and you opt to leave messages but I was able to speak at length with Senator Rockefeller’s press secretary and emailed the senator in support of his call for an investigation into the forgeries.

I was also able to speak with James Ludis, who identified himself as senator John Kerry's assistant on foreign affairs. I conveyed to him the importance, prior to any invasion of Iraq, that the issue of the forged papers be cleared. Also, taking into account the mention of Israel by ElBaradei, I presented him with a hypothetical, what if Israel was the country behind those forged papers and somehow that was leaked after the invasion, what would be the position of the United States in the Arab world? His response was: “we would be up the proverbial (edited) creek without a paddle!” I think I drove the point home quite well and my hypothetical might still prove to be on the mark but we all know how John Kerry voted on the war and what his current position is.

A lot of effort goes into being involved and caring for our democracy, which is just a small portion of a bigger trust. We are all custodians of that trust, activists and bloggers included, and it is our duty to hand it over to the ones that follow in a better shape than it was handed down to us.

I am not the eternal optimist but once the war on Iraq started, and, hearing those empty calls for democratization of the Middle East, I said: “we are not going to bring democracy to Iraq or the Middle East; on the contrary democracy is going to finally reach us in the United States through the Iraq war experience!”

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© 2005 Maher Osseiran