On May 25, while scanning the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program images pipelined into his desktop from 450 miles in orbit, Hank Brandli skidded at a nighttime photo of Iraq. It looked familiar. But not exactly.
Brandli retrieved another DMSP image he'd archived from May 3. He compared the two. The most recent photo showed a blazing corridor of light running the length of Kuwait, south to north, all the way to the Iraqi border. The image wasn't there on May 3.
"It's going right up to Iraq's oil fields," says the retired Air Force colonel from his home in Palm Bay. "Maybe I'm full of s---. Maybe all they're doing is building a highway to put in McDonald's and sell hamburgers. But why go that way? I think we're in bed with Kuwait. I think we're pumping oil out of Iraq to pay for this war."
"If you're building pipelines, you've got to have power, you've got to have light -- trucks and personnel and food and all sorts of support. If I had to bet, I'd say it looks like we're running Iraqi oil through Kuwait. It would make sense, because Kuwait's got its infrastructure intact."
The story originally ran in Florida Today in June. A followup was published on July 15:
The State Department seemed to be the go-to choice for answers about this river of light, but a spokesperson was in the dark and said to call the Coalition of Provisional Authority, the office in charge of rebuilding Iraq. But the CPA never called back.
The U.S. Agency for International Development doesn't have any answers, either, and advises you to call the Defense Department. But the Pentagon media desk doesn't know anything about it, and urges you to call the CPA or U.S. Central Command in Tampa. CPA doesn't call back again. At CentCom, Lt. Col. Martin Compton is stumped.
"There are a number of possible explanations. All kinds of things are moving into Iraq right now, and it could be something as simple as water," he says. "But if it's something going on in Kuwait, I wouldn't know where to tell you to go for that. We might not even be in a position to tell you even if we knew."
You call the U.S. Commerce Department's Iraq Reconstruction Task Force in Washington. They refer you to CPA. CPA doesn't call back again.
Surely the American Petroleum Institute in Washington would know something about new Iraqi pipelines running through Kuwait. But after reviewing the e-mailed images, API spokesman Bill Bush says a key colleague is skeptical that they're oil-related.
"Presumably, if you're drawing oil out of Iraq, it would make more sense to go east toward the Gulf, where it could be unloaded," Bush says.
But in Monterey, Calif., Bob Fett says "Hank got it right."
Fett and Brandli worked together in Vietnam. Fett was the head of the Tactical Applications Department for the National Reconnaissance Organization, the spy-satellite program whose very existence was a state secret for 30 years. Fett, now a consultant for Naval Research Lab, provided a map showing how the lights line up into the region of Iraq's Rumaila oilfields.
"It's been an impressive operation," Fett says. "(Construction giants) Halliburton, or Bechtel, or Brown & Root, were contracted to get the oil flowing out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and hundreds of workers have been going at it 24 hours a day, around the clock. They needed lights to work at night." Fett adds that the project, which runs south into the metropolitan glow around Kuwait City, doesn't have to reach the Gulf for it to be oil-related. "Why not bring it south where the infrastructure is already in place?"
Bechtel and Halliburton didn't respond to messages. What's important is, Halliburton stocks are over $22 a share now. That's up from $12.62 last October.
So sometime between May 3 and May 25, private contractors probably installed a new pipeline running from Iraq to Kuwait at taxpayer expense — diverting resources from the citizens of not one but two countries, the US and Iraq.
This is so much worse that Iran-Contra or Watergate. It's the heist of a lifetime.