It is as simple as 1 - 2 - 3. Their case for Iraqi WMDs up in smoke, the Bush administration, at the prodding of conservative media and blogs, released a massive amount of documents seized in Iraq and released them on the web. The idea was that they would flood the zone with this material and give some sort of reasonable doubt to the last remaining WMD diehards. Most of the information was of a dubious nature, claimed contacts between Al Qaeda and Hussein’s third cousin twice removed that fulfill the fevered dreams of a few Republicans but mean nothing to anyone actually examining the evidence. These documents became very popular on conservative sites like FreeRepublic where the wingnuts would peruse documents for mentions of WMDs - no matter how shady their authenticity happened to be.
In their rush to muddy the waters, however, it appears that the Bush administration may have given rogue states like Iran access to information on how to build a nuclear bomb they never had before
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 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
Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, fearing that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms, had privately protested last week to the American ambassador to the agency, according to European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. One diplomat said the agency’s technical experts “were shocked” at the public disclosures.
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.
The Bush administration, in order to release propaganda and help its allies in the conservative media has apparently damaged our national security.
The interesting element is that Iraq was contained before the war, and these plans useful only on the desk of some Iraqi official - they couldn’t have built anything remotely nuclear if they tried. But thanks to the mad dash to justify the war in light of the WMD not being there, the GOP has given up this information to rogue states who really do have the capacity to make this stuff lethal.
UPDATE: Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris and a CIA veteran, spoke to NPR’s On The Media about the document dump a while back.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: You know, it’s very seldom in the history of America that we have recovered 48,000 boxes of documents from any country. I suspect that giving them a once-over shortchanges America’s national interests. In my career, at least, this is a very unprecedented move, and it certainly exposes a mass of documents to linguists of varying capabilities who will be looking either from the left or from the right to take advantage of them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think is actually in these documents that could pose a risk?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, I think certainly the fact that we don’t know what’s in these documents could pose a risk to the United States in several ways – first, in terms of embarrassment. Who knows, for example, if there’s going to be a memorandum of conversation from when Rumsfeld dealt with Saddam back in the ’80s? There could be information in those documents that would be operationally useful to the intelligence community in terms of stopping some sort of terrorist attack. There was a great deal of dealing between our allies — supposed allies in Europe and Saddam Hussein’s government commercial dealings — and I think the documents may expose those and cause even further rifts between NATO members.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, when you talk about embarrassment – say, for instance, an embarrassing moment between Rumsfeld and Saddam in the days when Saddam was a kind of ally - it says in the law that that material should not be held from public view solely on the grounds of embarrassment.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, no, of course, it should not be held, but it should not also be discovered. It’s just a matter of the way you do business. This is just another example of the contempt that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and their colleagues have for the intelligence community. You know, this is not opposing it just for the sake of secrecy. It’s opposing the release of these documents to make sure that every bit of advantage for America can be extracted from them that should be extracted from them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, clearly, somebody feels it’s in America’s interest. This has been a Republican-pushed release. Would there be some potential benefit for the Republicans?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Oh, I think clearly there is, and we’ve already seen their mouthpiece, The Weekly Standard, has already run a couple of articles saying that this proves Saddam did X or did Y, without any [LAUGHING] real knowledge of how the new documents fit into the context of everything else we know. It’s just plain amateurishness – or they know what’s in these documents and they figure it can help them by releasing it.
Now let's relax, it's Masters week for Christ's sake!