"No recording devices permitted" read the invitation to the briefing on Iran. At the Coalition Press Office, it wasn't called Iran, or a briefing on accusations that Iran is helping attack U.S. soldiers in Iraq. In the language of international accusations, the topic of the press briefing was "subject matter related to a neighboring country." Everyone knew what it was though.
The U.S. administration for months has accused Iran of sending weapons and technology across the border to be used in attacks on American forces in Iraq. It promised to reveal evidence backing up those charges but officials weren't comfortable that they had enough evidence they could present publicly without jeopardizing their sources.
So on Sunday nearly 50 journalists were packed into a crowded briefing room in Baghdad to listen to officials whom we weren't allowed to identify, talking about things they weren't allowed to fully explain.
The senior U.S. military official told us he should be referred to as a "senior Coalition defense official" rather than an "American official." After journalists pressed the point that accusations this serious were being made by officials who wouldn't divulge their nationalities, he agreed that he and his two colleagues could be referred to as "U.S. officials."
'Growing body of evidence'
He told us that the use of the deadliest form of roadside bomb known as EFP's - explosively formed penetrators - had nearly doubled last year. And he said there was a "growing body of evidence pointing to Iranian supply of EFPs to Iraqi extremist groups."
That evidence, according to a U.S. intelligence official at the briefing, included machine-tooled parts used in the roadside bombs. They had reason to believe they had come from machine shops in Iran and hadn't found any being made with such precision in Iraq, he said.
The official moderating the briefing said the intelligence analyst was the reason for the secrecy. He said it would be dangerous for the analyst, an Iran expert, and his sources to be publicly shown or identified.
Some of the weapons the U.S. believes are being smuggled from Iran were displayed on tables. The de-activated EFP looked almost harmless -- a metal tube the size of a large paint can with a copper liner. When filled with explosives though and detonated by remote control, it turns into a molten slug that pierces armored vehicles, often killing three or four soldiers at a time.
U.S. military officials have talked about them before, but not in this detail. The official at the briefing told us they have killed 170 coalition troops and wounded 620 of them since they first started being used in 2004.
On another table were more than a dozen tail-fins from Iranian mortars marked with the date of manufacture, some as recent as 2006. According to the explosives expert, they are identifiably Iranian because the tail-fins and the mortars are a single piece.
According to the U.S., but hard to verify
We were ordered to leave everything outside except a pen and notebook when we went into the briefing. Shortly after it started, my pen failed. An Iraqi journalist gave me his - he wasn't using it. Several of the Iraqi journalists got up and left before the briefing was over.
That's the difficult thing about this story -- without having access to information the U.S. government says it can't give us, it's impossible to evaluate the accusations that these weapons are coming only from Iran in operations authorized by the Iranian government. It's particularly difficult because the U.S. doesn't speak to Iran – so it uses other countries –- and the media to send its messages.