June 26, 2006


Saddam's WMD: Why is out intelligence community holding back? (PETER HOEKSTRA AND RICK SANTORUM, June 26, 2006, Opinion Journal)

On Thursday, Mr. Negroponte's office arranged a press briefing by unnamed intelligence officials to downplay the significance of the report, calling it "not new news" even as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was reiterating the obvious importance of the information: "What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces. . . . They are weapons of mass destruction. They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found. . . . And they are still being found and discovered."

In fact, the public knows relatively little about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Indeed, we do not even know what is known or unknown. Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, stated that the ISG had fully evaluated less than 0.25% of the more than 10,000 weapons caches known to exist throughout Iraq. It follows that the American people should be brought up to date frequently on our state of knowledge of this important matter. That is why we asked that the entire document be declassified, minus the exact sources, methods and locations. It is also, in part, why we have fought for the declassification of hundreds of thousands of Saddam-era documents.

The president is the ultimate classifier and declassifier of information, but the entire matter has now been so politicized that, in practice, he is often paralyzed. If he were to order the declassification of a document pointing to the existence of WMDs in Iraq, he would be instantly accused of "cherry picking" and "politicizing intelligence." He may therefore not be inclined to act.

In practice, then, the intelligence community decides what the American public and its elected officials can know and when they will learn it. Sometimes those decisions are made by top officials, while on other occasions they are made by unnamed bureaucrats with friends in the media. People who leak the existence of sensitive intelligence programs like the terrorist surveillance program or financial tracking programs to either damage the administration or help al Qaeda, or perhaps both, are using the release or withholding of documents to advance their political desires, even as they accuse others of manipulating intelligence.

We believe that the decisions of when and what Americans can know about issues of national security should not be made by unelected, unnamed and unaccountable people.

The Administration's penchant for secrecy has served them and us poorly. Just declassify everything and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 26, 2006 7:54 AM

Part of it is secrecy, although I don't think that they're any more secretive than most administrations. Part of it is Bush and Rove's great insight that the Presidency is an asset to be husbanded, so you don't put the President in front of the camera every day. Part of it is that what we've learned so far -- the mustard and sarin shells -- really is unimpressive and tells neither the left or right anything we didn't already know.

Part of it, though, is that weird Bushian attitude captured in the anecdote about GHWB's mother telling him that he referred to himself to much in his campaign speeches. WASPs don't boast. Now that he's in his second term, W seems to be giving his Bushian dislike for self-promotion (broadly construed) more leeway. He's going to do what he's going to do and not defend himself particularly vigorously.

None of this means that we shouldn't tear down Langley and salt the ground beneath it.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 26, 2006 8:41 AM

Finding this stuff that Saddam was supposed to destroy means we were right in the UN. People are forgetting that.

Posted by: Sandy P at June 26, 2006 10:15 AM

Mr. Cohen;

No, I think the Bush Administration is significantly more secretive than average. For instance, they are re-classifying previous declassified materials. The examples I have seen are things for which I can find no reason to re-classify, especially since there are many copies already floating around from when it was declassified.

This may be entwined with the small number of leaks from this administration compared to others. I don't think it's some conspiracy or coverup as is allegded, but that the default stance seems to be it's secret unless there a positive reason for it to not be.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 26, 2006 10:57 AM


But the stuff was only declassified because of peacetime. They're average for a war presidency but we've learned that secrecy does more harm than good.

Posted by: oj at June 26, 2006 11:44 AM

Always the gentlemen, Bush just wants to save them from having to rewrite their slogans and placards.

"BUSH LIED ABOUT HAVING LIED!!; PEOPLE (STILL) DIED!!" just doesn't have quite the same zing; and it uses up more cardboard and magic markers.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 27, 2006 5:35 AM