Saddam Nuke Docs Taken Off Web Citing Copycat Danger
There was much hoopla overnight, created by a Drudge hyping of a NYT “November surprise” on Iraq’s WMD that, frankly, strikes me as a non-story. Here’s the gist:
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 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. “For the U.S. to toss a match into this flammable area is very irresponsible,” said A. Bryan Siebert, a former director of classification at the federal Department of Energy, which runs the nation’s nuclear arms program. “There’s a lot of things about nuclear weapons that are secret and should remain so.”
I’m a political scientist, not a nuclear scientist, so the technical issues are well beyond my expertise. My gut instinct, though, tells me that technology developed in the 1940s is probably not much of a secret to Iranian nuclear physicists with PhDs from the best universities in the world. But, hey, I could be wrong.
Jim Geraghty is quite excited, though, because this constitutes the NYT admitting that the Iraqi nuclear program was so advanced that merely publishing the details of it is a national security threat! That’s pretty advanced! Others are following suit.
The problem with that theory is that nobody ever argued that Saddam didn’t have an advanced nuclear program before the Gulf War. The debate as to the state of Saddam’s program circa the March 2003 invasion. All available evidence (of which I’m aware, anyway) would seem to indicate that it was essentially defunct. That’s what the UN inspectors were telling us in late 2002. We subsequently invaded and (with apologies to Zell Miller) occupied the country. The closest thing we’ve found to an ongoing WMD production program was some decaying chemical weapons stockpiles.
Geraghty’s second argument, though, is more plausible:
So Iraq had all the know-how, all the plans, all the designs, “charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building.” Unless they were keeping these documents around as future material for paper airplanes, all this stuff constituted a plan of action for some point in the future …
That’s almost certainly true. My understanding is that Saddam still had ambitions of acquiring nuclear weapons and was under the impression that he had an active program going on, with his advisers actually lying to him about the extent of the progress. Ambitions, in and of themselves, are hardly justification for war. Certainly, they’re far less than what was being sold to us as the case for war.
Indeed, the administration has long since stopped arguing that Saddam had an advanced nuclear program in 2003. The debate now is whether our intelligence on the subject was bad and the administration honestly believed otherwise or they intentionally cherry picked data contrary to their best guess in order to gin up a case for a war they were bound and determined to fight no matter what the truth was.
Michelle Malkin: “The NYTimes blabbermouths are accusing the Bush administration of being careless with national security data?”
Curt @ Flopping Aces: “The antiwar crowd is going to have to argue that the information somehow wasn’t dangerous in the hands of Saddam Hussein, but was dangerous posted on the Internet.”
John McQuain: “Sounds like 2003 was an excellent time to take Saddam out. But hey, nothing really to see here, move along, move along.”
TigerHawk: “Wait a minute. Iraq had WMD programs?!? Iraq was “on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away”? You’re ‘shittin’ me! And here I thought Bush lied.”
lgf: “Is the New York Times actually conceding that Saddam was just a year away from having a nuclear weapon in 2002?” [No. -ed.]
AllahPundit has a stream-of-consciousness roundup as the story developed overnight.
Will Bunch: “Why are you helping Iran to develop a nuclear bomb?”
John Amato: “The right wing Freak Show of bloggers and pundits pressured Pat Roberts to post documents on the web that now might have given Iran the [bomb?].”
elrod @ TMV: “This is one of those moments where you have to ask yourself: what if Bill Clinton had done this? ”
Oliver Willis: “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.”
hilzoy: “I can’t think of what to say about this administration’s lack of commitment to keeping us safe that I haven’t already said.”
Again, I think there’s way too much hyperventilating from both sides on what’s essentially a non-story. I’m open to persuasion, however.
For now, I’ve got to take the dog to the vet. More later as warranted.
UPDATE: The dog seems much better. Nothing new to report on the nuclear plans controversy.