NPR receives a tip about an Iraq War Marine Corps cover-up in Fallujah : Taking Cover NPR's Pentagon Correspondent, Tom Bowman, receives a shocking tip from a trusted source: A deadly explosion during the Iraq War was an accident—friendly fire, covered up by the Marine Corps—and the son of a powerful politician may have been involved.

He partners with an old pal, Graham Smith, to investigate, and they discover the truth is even worse than the tipster realized. After dozens of interviews, the team patches together the story of the First Battle of Fallujah — the days and hours before the explosion — from the men who were there.

Danger Close

Danger Close

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Crosses honoring fallen Marines stand at the top of Horno Ridge at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Graham Smith/NPR hide caption

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Graham Smith/NPR

Crosses honoring fallen Marines stand at the top of Horno Ridge at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Graham Smith/NPR

One night in 2019, NPR's longtime Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, heard something stunning from a trusted source: there had been a deadly explosion — an accident, known as friendly-fire — during the Iraq War. And it had been covered up.

He was fuzzy on the details, but the source told Tom at least one Marine was killed. And, he said, the whole thing was buried because someone involved was the son of a prominent politician.

Tom teamed up with Graham Smith — a colleague on NPR's investigations unit who, like Tom, had spent years covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For months, they tried to confirm the tip by scouring websites and message boards, sifting through old newspaper clippings and press releases from the Pentagon.

Even the Marine Corps itself said it didn't have any records of such an incident.

But finally, they made a breakthrough, thanks to the caption on a photograph found in "No True Glory," a book written in part about the First Battle of Fallujah.

Tom and Graham talked to a man who was there — the man in that photograph. He was a part of a platoon of Marines hunkered down inside an abandoned schoolhouse in Fallujah during some of the most intense fighting of the war.

That first interview led them to dozens more, with men who saw first-hand what happens when an invasion becomes an occupation — that inspires an insurgency.

And as Tom and Graham talked to these men, it became clear that the truth about what happened that day in Fallujah was even worse than they knew. This explosion, on April 12, 2004, was the worst Marine-on-Marine friendly fire incident in modern history.