An OpinionJournal.com editorial (registration required) about yet another layer of intelligence bureaucracy, the DNI (Directorate of National Intelligence) raises important questions about why the public has learned so little about conditions and events in pre-war Afghanistan and Iraq:
(DNI is reluctant) to release what's contained in the millions of "exploitable" documents and other items captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These items--collected and examined in Qatar as part of what's known as the Harmony program--appear to contain information highly relevant to the ongoing debate over the war on terror. But nearly three years after Baghdad fell, we see no evidence that much of what deserves to be public will be anytime soon.
For example, if it hadn't been for the initiative of one Bill Tierney, we wouldn't know that Saddam Hussein had a habit of tape-recording meetings with top aides. The former U.N. weapons inspector and experienced Arabic translator recently went public with 12 hours (out of a reported total of 3,000) of recordings in which we hear Saddam discuss with the likes of Tariq Aziz the process of deceiving U.N. weapons inspectors and his view that Iraq's conflict with the U.S. didn't end with the first Gulf War.
In one particularly chilling passage, the dictator discusses the threat of WMD terrorism to the United States and the difficulty anyone would have tracing it back to a state. With the 2001 anthrax attacks still unsolved, that strikes us as bigger news than the DNI or most editors apparently considered it.
..... But these tantalizing tidbits represent only a fraction of what's in U.S. possession. We hear still other documents expand significantly on our knowledge of Saddam's WMD ambitions (including more on the Niger-uranium connection) and his support for terrorism, right down to lists of potential targets in the U.S. and Europe. Former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle accuses the DNI of "foolish restraint" on releasing information that could broaden understanding and bolster support for a war that is far from won.
..... And our alarm bells really rang when the intelligence official added another category of information that's never slated to see the light of day: "We cannot release wholesale material that we can reasonably foresee will damage the national interest." Well, what exactly does that mean and who makes the call? The answer, apparently, is unaccountable analysts following State Department guidelines.
But consider just one hypothetical: Is it in the "national interest" to reveal documents if they show that Jacques Chirac played a more substantial role in encouraging Saddam's intransigence than is already known? No doubt some Foggy Bottom types would say no. But we'd strongly disagree. The "national interest" exception is so broad and vague that it would end up being used to justify keeping secret the merely embarrassing.
What's more, according to Mr. Hoekstra, the DNI release plans don't call for making any documents publicly available per se, but only through scholars in the manner of the West Point study. As he puts it, the decision to move everything through analysts and carefully chosen outsiders is an "analog" method in a "digital" age, when we could be calling on the interpretive wisdom of so many by putting much of it on the Internet.
..... America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan because we believed that the truth about the regimes in those countries justified it. Why should so much of that truth now be deemed so sensitive?
I would say it is against the national interest NOT to reveal as much as possible. I believe that the only information that should be exempted should be that which might reveal the identity of agents or spies who were able to gather the information, and even then only if revealing the information would put that person in danger.
It's pretty safe to say that the bulk of the information in the withheld treasure trove will support a portrayal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq as brutal thugs deserving to be overthrown, and of "allies" (like Mr. Chriac) who did much to accommodate them -- which in my opinion explains why The Wall Street Journal is one of the few national media outlets expressing an interest in their full contents. Someone should ask the rest of the WORMs (Worn-Out Reactionary Media, known to most as the Mainstream Media) why they seem so uninterested in all of this.
And for that matter, where are the people who are so supposedly so intent on prosecuting "crimes against humanity"? They should be demanding access to these records so that those who committed crimes under the Taliban and Saddam can be identified and brought to justice. Instead -- silence.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.