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The extent of U.S.-Iraqi incomprehension was evident in a conversation I had with General Amer Rasheed while waiting outside a building in the Republican Palace area during the presidential palace inspections. The Iraqis had just built a freestanding wall about twenty feet high and thirty feet long set about twenty-five feet from the entrance to one palace building.

“General, may I ask you a question about this wall?”

“Yes, Mister Duelfer, of course,” he replied. We were both relaxed and killing time while inspectors toured the building.

“What is the purpose of the wall?”

Amer assumed I knew the answer already, but said, “Well, you know, we have carefully studied your cruise missiles, and we know they are targeted by images. We thought a wall would confuse the imagery guidance system and possibly…possibly cause the missile to either detonate early or not at all.” That sounded logical, it might even work.

“Well, maybe,” I admitted. “But that doesn’t help with bombs.”

Amer shrugged and then said, “May I ask you a question?”


“Mister Duelfer, why do you always blow up buildings?” he asked seriously. 

Shrugging, I said, “It’s in our genes. We’re Americans, that’s what we do. We blow up buildings.” I was being facetious, but it was a fascinating question. Why do we always blow up buildings? One of the most interesting aspects of my work with the Iraqis was how much I learned of our own assumptions and characteristics, which, untouched by such a contrasting light or experience, go unnoticed.

We blow up buildings because our intelligence system is constructed around buildings. At its heart is an assumption that a building represents a capability or something of value. Satellites take pictures of facilities and photo-interpreters will assess the purposes of various buildings, be they hospitals, missile plants, or intelligence headquarters. Military campaigns designed to degrade the enemy’s capabilities are largely based on buildings. Images are digitized and put into the computer guidance systems of cruise missiles (or GPS coordinates are entered), and the missiles, or aircraft, bomb the buildings. Then we conduct “battle damage assessment” based on imagery of damaged buildings.

The Iraqis had figured this out and took measures to dissolve the images we could see. They simply moved equipment, documents, or other valuables and dispersed them outside the facilities. They could put valuable machine tools out in a field, and we would not notice or target them, because there was no building to attract our attention. (Page. 165-7)

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