February 28, 2007

BDS, EFPs, and the NY Times

One of the (often deserved) knocks against journalists is that many reporters are generalists, covering a wide range of breaking news stories, but lacking the specific knowledge one needs to write cogently or with any depth on a specific issue. That is especially true in smaller news organizations, where a general news reporter may have to cover a crash, a zoning board meeting, or an anti-hobo-kicking rally, depending on the news of the day.

At larger news organizations, however, reporters often fall into "silos," covering a certain beat, where they are expected to specialize on a specific kind of news story. This is why we have financial reporters, foreign affairs reporters and that guy who talks about "hog futures" (I tend to think that hog futures are almost all the same, usually involving their role as an entrée, unless they have an exceptionally literate spider nearby, but I digress).

A clear example of this kind of stellar, specialized reporting was published in the NY Times yesterday morning, U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran. After reading the article, I was left wondering if James Glantz and Richard A. Oppel, Jr., had transcended being mere reporters, as their insightful commentary was clearly approaching the level where they could soon be rubbing elbows with a frigid of Maureen Dowds or a pod of Oliver Willi.

Take a moment to bask in the glory of their perfectly honed lede:

— In a dusty field near the Baghdad airport on Monday, the American military laid out a display of hundreds of components for assembling deadly roadside bombs, its latest effort to embarrass the country it contends is supplying the material to armed Shiite groups here: Iran.

All along, I've been under the delusion that we were fighting Sunni insurgents, al Qaeda terrorists, and Shia militias in an attempt to bring some sort of stability to the 26 million people of Iraq. What was I thinking? As the razor-sharp team of Glantz and Oppel astutely noted, our military goal—of which this is just the "latest effort"—is the embarrassment of Iran. How did I miss that? Well, that is why they are the professionals, and I'm just a blogger.

It takes a sharp dedicated mind to cover the war for the NY Times. Listen to how these crack experts can turn even the most technical matter into speech even us common folk can understand:

The cache included what Maj. Marty Weber, a master explosives ordnance technician, said was C-4 explosive, a white substance, in clear plastic bags with red labels that he said contained serial numbers and other information that clearly marked it as Iranian.

See? C4 is a "white substance" with "red labels" in a "clear plastic bag." That I can grasp. It has, as we say, meat on it.

Why, if someone had tried to tell us that C4 was a durable, moldable RDX-based high explosive, it would have been far too complex to comprehend. I guess we're just lucky our soldiers didn't find any triacetone triperoxide.

But sometimes, even such experts as Glantz and Oppel can find the more technical aspects of their job, well, confusing:

But while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue.

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, “plastic made in Haditha,” a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.

The box marked U.A.E. provided a phone number for the manufacturer there. A call to that number late Monday encountered only an answering machine that said, “Leave your number and we will call you back.”

Quite confusing, indeed.

These tubes made of the very rare element PVC. The fact that none of these tubes was made in Iran "cloud[s] the issue," for Glantz and Oppel in much the same way that Toyota's manufactured in Tennessee are still "Japanese cars."

The thing is, these commonly-found components didn't really seem to cloud the issue at all. At least, it didn't cloud the issue for the guys who created a series of PowerPoint presentations for a security services company in Iraq that just happened to fall into my lap.

The tubes, be they plastic or metal, made in Tehran, Haditha, or Boise, don't really matter. Any tube of the right size can be used to make an EFP, as even I can figure out. What matters are the explosive charge and the copper liners that form into slugs when the EFP detonates.

Why, one might even think that Glantz and Oppel were the ones purposefully trying to cloud the issue, but I guess that even professionals can get confused, so I'll see what little I can do to help.

This is a captured EFP.


It doesn't have a "made in Iran" stamp on it, so I can see how two of the Times best could get confused.

It isn't shiny, and it isn't pretty, but then, it doesn't have to be. What matters is that the copper disk liner on the front is manufactured to precise tolerances to form a slug when the explosive blast wave hits it. These aren't very easy to make without the right manufacturing equipment, and the kind of manufacturing equipment used to make them can often be determined from tool marks left on the copper disks. These marks are like fingerprints if not quite as precise, and can often determine where an EFP came from, especially if the EFP is captured intact before firing.

That is essentially what Maj. Jeremy Siegrist attempted to tell Glantz and Oppel, but they still seemed confused and captivated by the tubes. They even apparently misplace Siegrist's quote to make it appear he is talking about the PVC tubes in this cache, as opposed to the machined copper disks to which he seems to be rather obviously referring. Journalism? It's hard.

Items in the cache included the concave copper dishes called liners that cap the canisters and roll into deadly armor-piercing slugs when the explosive detonates. There were also various kinds of electronics, presumably for arming and triggering the devices, the PVC tubes, and two types of rockets and mortar shells that Major Weber said had markings and construction that identified them as being Iranian in origin.

The PVC tubes, of several different sizes, appeared to be fittings of the kind of used to splice two stretches of PVC tube together in routine applications.

“It’s worth pursuing that it’s machine-made and you can track the country of origin,” said Maj. Jeremy Siegrist of the First Cavalry Division. “And it’s manufactured for a specific purpose.”

The terrorists that use them have found that when EFPs are shiny and pretty, soldiers tend not to drive in front of them, and so they started camouflaging them by burying them in dirt mounds, or other roadside debris, or in fake rocks, like this one.


This particular fake rock EFP is quite nasty, as many of the newer EFPs are. This is a bank of 5 EFPs hidden in one fake rock, aimed at slightly different angles to create a wider spread of fire across a larger area.

As stated earlier, and mentioned above by Maj. Siegrist, these copper disks have a very specific purpose behind their design; the blast wave created when the explosive charge goes off will turn a properly shaped copper disk into a explosively-formed penetrator like the one below, moving at up to 2,000 meters/second.


These penetrators do very nasty things, as you might imagine, but you'll have to go elsewhere to see the results. Unlike CNN, I'm not interested in promoting the results of a terrorist attack. I will however, show you what an EFP looks like even after it has hit its target.


As you can see, a properly manufactured EFP still holds together rather well even after hitting an armored vehicle and injuring or killing those inside.

Improperly manufactured EFPs, presumably, don't work as well. If not shaped properly, they will, instead of forming a dart-like penetrator, will be thrust forward as some sort of misshapen blog blob with far less penetrative power that could go wildly off target, or simply shatter on detonation in far less lethal shrapnel.

I hope this little bit of information eases the confused clouds surrounding and created by Glantz and Oppel, and yet somehow, I doubt it. They're covering the war to embarrass Iran, not the one we are actually fighting.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at February 28, 2007 11:46 AM

So the only two logical explanations for the NY Times woefully inaccurate and deceptive piece, as I understand your post, Yank, are:

1. Glans and Offal are idiots

2. Glans and Offal are propagandists who are promoting a political agenda

Thats not good.

Posted by: TMF at February 28, 2007 01:13 PM

Any mischaracterization that prevents Bushitler from committing more wars of aggression against the peace-loving Iranians is justified. Any idiot knows at least that.

So, TMF, both of your explanations might be accurate.

Posted by: iconoclast at March 1, 2007 02:18 PM

reporters are generalists

No, they're morons. Real generalists understand when they don't know something, and have a clue as to where they might be able to find the people who do know.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at March 2, 2007 04:02 AM