Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Lack of Intelligence

Hello and welcome to today's edition of "You Couldn't Make It Up!"

The New York Times has the story.
Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who had said they hoped to “leverage the Internet” to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

Last night, the government shut down the Web site after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. A spokesman for the director of national intelligence said access to the site had been suspended “pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing.”
The salient documents were posted on 12th and 20th September this year so they've been available for over a month. To anyone with an internet connection.

Now I can think of a government which would be paying very close attention to all of the documents from Saddam's Iraq. You might say they pertain to issues which are rather close to home. It's a country with its own well organised intelligence agencies and they will have been studying these documents from the moment they became available. This government has Arabic translators aplenty, almost certainly far more than the U.S. intelligence agencies. And they may or may not be looking to build nuclear weapons. They would definitely be interested in acquiring "detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs".

Have you guessed who it is yet?

These documents, just think about this for a second, were available to download. I've got a couple of PDF documents from a previous release on my hard drive right now. Iran's SAMAVA unquestionably has copies of every single one of those documents. Shutting down the website now is like locking the stable door after the horse has been turned into glue.

This website was set up at the insistence of Republicans in order to try to take the heat of the political difficulties they were facing as their rationale for war unravelled. The documents were made available so that the Bush supporting internet army could comb through them and find the proof that Saddam was indeed in league with al Qaeda and really did have weapons of mass destruction. The documents, unsurprisingly, provided no such proof.

(As Juan Cole and others have noted, one of the under-reported documents, dated August 2002, was an instruction to Saddam's intelligence apparatus to try to establish whether Zarqawi actually was in Iraq as a matter of "top priority". The U.S. government at the time claimed that Zarqawi's presence was proof of the link between Saddam and al Qaeda. In fact, Saddam was none the wiser.)

What has happened here is clear but I'm going to spell it out anyway. This is all about political self interest. The documents were made available to the public because Republicans were starting to take flak for the war. Rather than allowing the U.S. intelligence agencies the time to analyse these documents properly to make sure that no potentially dangerous material was made available, they forced the release in the hope that it would get them out of a hole. There was no national security rationale for these releases, quite the opposite as we can now see all to clearly. This decision was taken purely on what was thought best for the President and his party. That is what caused the government of George W. Bush to publish on the internet detailed information on the construction of atomic bombs.

It just doesn't get any worse.

(Just one note of caution. As one of the NYT experts points out, you need a lot more than information to build these things. The idea that an al Qaeda terrorist might get hold of these documents and build a bomb in his cellar is beyond ridiculous. For a country like Iran, or indeed North Korea, with access to the money, materials and equipment, the documents could be useful. In a cave on the Afghan/Pakistan border, they would only be useful as toilet paper.)

It is faintly ironic that this story was broken by the New York Times. They are famously the newspaper that the Bush supporting right loves to hate. The staff at the NYT have this aggravating habit of actually acting like journalists and refusing to be cowed utterly into submission by their government. We all know how Bush hates that sort of thing so his cheerleaders have been systematically smearing the NYT for years now. The NYT is, apparently, awash with dangerous freedom hating traitors (that irony really gets about the place).

Michelle Malkin, for example, seems to believe that releasing information which is in the public interest but embarrassing to President Bush is a far more heinous crime than making the atomic bomb "cookbook" available to the Iranians or whoever else might be interested. Now, I'm no expert in potential risk assessment but I don't think that many people die of political embarrassment. Atomic bombs just seem more dangerous to me somehow. (Yes, I'm being facetious but if you can't be facetious about Michelle Malkin's view of the world, then something has gone horribly wrong.)

Michelle also seems to think that these documents are a new proof of the dangers posed by Saddam.

To be clear, these documents contain information we already knew Saddam possessed. They relate to work done in Iraq in the 80's and early 90's when Saddam really was trying to build a bomb. That he was attempting to do so then isn't a secret or in any way controversial. U.N. weapons inspectors did dismantle an actually existing nuclear weapons programme after the first Gulf War. As ElBaradei told the Security Council in January 2003:
By December 1998 — when the inspections were brought to a halt with a military strike imminent — we were confident that we had not missed any significant component of Iraq’s nuclear programme.

While we did not claim absolute certainty, our conclusion at that time was that we had neutralized Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme and that there were no indications that Iraq retained any physical capability to produce weapon usable nuclear material.
ElBaradei, it should be remembered, concluded then that "we have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons programme since the elimination of the programme in the 1990s".

Some of the documents, from 1995, were drawn up specifically for the "Full, Final, Complete Disclosure" which Iraq was required to provide to the U.N. after the first Gulf War. Again, it is no secret that Iraq had this information.

But you don't need to be a nuclear physicist to understand that without any means to put these plans into action, these documents are just pieces of paper. And the idea that the intensely paranoid Saddam would be prepared to provide this information to others outside Iraq while he himself couldn't build nuclear bombs is plainly absurd. Saddam understood how quickly your friends could become your enemies better than most people.

Nevertheless, as Michelle notes, it is clear that these documents prove that, er, the evil traitorous moonbats who control the media are despicable untrustworthy weasels. Quite.

Whatever Saddam's intentions were at some hypothetical future point, he had not reconstituted his nuclear weapons programme in any meaningful way before the invasion. As Colin Powell rightly said in February 2001,"[Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction". He did not pose an imminent threat to the world as was later claimed.

And one thing is crystal clear; Saddam, unlike the Republican government of the United States of America, would absolutely never have allowed this information to fall into the hands of the Iranians.

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