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.

Other reactions:

RIGHT:

    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.

LEFT:

    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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. in the hands of Saddam Hussein, but was dangerous posted on the Internet. Hot Air Michelle Malkin American Thinker Gateway Pundit Ace of Spades HQ Wizbang The Political Pit Bull Stop The ACLU Blue Crab Boulevard Rightwinged Wizbang Say Anything Outside The Beltway

  2. My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Gateway Pundit, Captain’s Quarters, JustOneMinute, Hot Air, Wizbang (2), Instapundit, Power Line, USS Neverdock, TigerHawk, Say Anything, Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin, Outside The Beltway, The Strata-Sphere, Hugh Hewitt, The Jawa Report, The Anchoress, Redstate, JustOneMinute, Argghhh!, JunkYardBlog, Riehl World View, Texas Rainmaker, Don Surber, Captain’s Quarters, The Belmont Club,

  3. Blogniscient says:

    PoliPundit | 11/3/2006 1:56:17 BUMPED, Sorry for the length but this is a VERY IMPORTANT item that the blogosphere needs to work together on. For some time, Conservatives have been d… Saddam Nuke Docs Taken Off Web Citing Copycat Danger

  4. Unclaimed Territory» Upstanding John Podhoretz warns of the uncivilized Charlie Rangel Dean’s World» Seeing Red Homeland Stupidity» New immigration Web site sucks Outside the Beltway» Saddam Nuke Docs Taken Off Web Citing Copycat Danger BuzzMachine» The architecture of trust QandO» Resurecting the “paper tiger”? Cox Forkum» Botched Photomatt» Boxely Gone Binary Bonsai» The Two Towers Complete Soundtrack Overview INDC Journal

  5. at the federal Department of Energy, which runs the nationÂ’s nuclear arms program. “ThereÂ’s a lot of things about nuclear weapons that are secret and should remain so.” [IMG] Blogged At: Atrios, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, MyDD, Outside The Beltway, RedState, Talk Left, Talking Points Memo Reminder to Voters: Bush’s Neocons Want to Bomb Iran The Washington NoteIn the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik — a neoconservative fellow traveler — has published a remarkable article,

  6. at the federal Department of Energy, which runs the nationÂ’s nuclear arms program. “ThereÂ’s a lot of things about nuclear weapons that are secret and should remain so.” [IMG] Blogged At: Atrios, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, MyDD, Outside The Beltway, RedState, Talk Left, Talking Points Memo Reminder to Voters: Bush’s Neocons Want to Bomb Iran The Washington NoteIn the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik — a neoconservative fellow traveler — has published a remarkable article,

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I think you’re right, James. I’d go farther: I don’t that at this point it would matter, politically, if a fully-functional nuclear weapon were found in a basement of one of Saddam’s palaces. The “no WMD” story now has deep roots.

  8. The story is there is no story…

    Put me down with James Joyner on this morning’s furor du jour, the New York Time’s front page story of Iraq’s nuclear weapons development plan posted on the web as part of the archive of documents released for public scrutiny:
    There w…

  9. […] Evidently, only James Joyner was able to wait until he’d had a full night’s sleep before responding: 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. […]

  10. Anderson says:

    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.

    Well put.

  11. U.S. yanks Web site with reported nuclear secrets…

    Read full story for latest details.

  12. TJIT says:

    If the invasion had not gone forward the sanctions would have collapsed and Saddam would have been able to move forward with his WMD program.

    The sanctions were already starting to collapse under a combination of.

    1. Corruption in the UN oil for food program
    2. Pressure from human rights groups over civilian deaths caused by the sanctions on Iraq
    3.Pressure from French, Chinese, and Russian governments to end the sanctions so they could begin business trade with Iraq.

    The UN weapons inspections program had already collapsed. Our intelligence capabilities in the area were not very good.

    The facts were that Saddam acted like he had WMD, he had used WMD in the past, and the ability to get intel out of the area was not good. In other words we really could not be certain what was going on in Iraq.

    Given what we knew at the time invading Iraq was the prudent action. Apparently some of the documents Saddam had reinforce just how prudent the decision was.

    It takes a large amount of hindsight bias, ignoring the state of our knowledge about what was going on in Iraq, or with saddam’s WMD program, to be able to say lies about WMD were the cause of the Iraq invasion.

  13. TJIT says:

    It must require an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance to take the position many of the liberal blogs have taken.

    1. Saddam had no WMD program or capability. Bush lied about WMD to get us to invade Iraq.

    2.The Bush release of documents about Saddam’s WMD program threatens us all.

    I don’t see how it is possible to square those two positions.

  14. bains says:

    If it’s a non-story, why is it A1 above the fold?

  15. Mark says:

    If it’s a non-story, why is it A1 above the fold?

    Remind me – where did the Times put all of those “Martha Burke protesting Augusta” stories?

  16. madmatt says:

    The article says these are pre ’91 documents so it wasn’t an active program.

  17. legion says:

    And for extra bonus fun, here’s a link to Malkin & her PJ Media buddies trumpeting the original posting of these documents on the web…
    [Props to Wonkette]

  18. Saddam Closer To Bomb Than Anyone Thought…

    The New Yorks times confirms that in 2002 Saddam Hussein’s “scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away:”
    Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990’s and in…

  19. NY Times: WMD Election Splash…

    N.Y Times complaining about leaks of sensitive information?
    (I’ll go with Allahpundit on the Operation Merlin!) PHOTO: Name that NYT Breach……

  20. legion says:

    And here’s my $.02 on this kerfuffle… I see two possibilities, and you can’t mix & match…
    Either:
    – The info in these documents is so common and/or so useless without access to enriched uranium, high-speed firing circuits, etc. that it was just as useless to Hussein in 1990 as it is to Iran today & therefore not an indicator of Iraq’s being a legitimate nuclear threat in 2003, or
    – The info _is_ incredibly valuable & dangerous, and posting it on the Internet in the first place was so unbelieveably stupid that Rick Santorum, Pat Roberts, and Bush should all be shot for treason immediately.

    Choose your poison.

  21. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Does make one wonder what a sanctions lifted, oil rich, angry Saddam would be doing today, were he still in power. Trying to bring peace to the Middle East, no doubt. I really pose this question to the deep thinkers (spinners) here. That being Anderson, Anjin and Madmatt. How about that? What would Saddam be doing today, were he not standing trial for being a monster?

  22. legion says:

    What would Saddam be doing today, were he not standing trial for being a monster?

    Duh. He’d be a member of President Kerry’s cabinet…

  23. The Rabbit Hole…

    Well, the Times now claims that the information published online included primers on how to build nuclear weapons – information that could prove useful to the likes of Iran. That is, if the Times reporting itself is correct. If the reporting is indee…..

  24. […] Outside The Beltway […]

  25. hgf says:

    Ya, but were is Dr. WMD that the Iraqi courts freed the day Plame posed ‘confused’ in TIME(magazine). Dr. Germ is still out there too and it’s really not the nukes that worried everybody.

  26. Mid-Term (Open) Must-Read List /2…

    Dick Morris, Jay Bryant, Michael Barone, Byron York, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz, Ronald R. Griffin, Mark Mellman, Charlie Cook, Jonah Goldberg, Stuart Rothenberg, Mike Allen, Hugh Hewitt, Larry J. Sabato, David Wasserman, Peggy Noonan, Lawrence Kudlo…..

  27. Ugh says:

    TJIT:

    Given what we knew at the time invading Iraq was the prudent action. Apparently some of the documents Saddam had reinforce just how prudent the decision was.

    Well sure, if you exclude all those weapons inspectors we had running around in Iraq not finding anything prior to the invasion from “what we knew at the time”.

    What would Saddam be doing today, were he not standing trial for being a monster?

    Same thing he was doing before we invaded, jack-squat.

  28. New York Times Validates Iraqi DID Have WMD’s ….

    Once again New York Times manages to shoot itself, the Democratic party and it’s credibility in the head. In their pathetic attempt to once again influence the American public in the upcoming elections, they have managed to validate the evidence that….

  29. TJIT says:

    Ugh,

    You forget that the inspectors did not get back into Iraq until there were a 100,000 plus troops on his borders. You also forget Saddam continued to obstruct inspections after they got back into the country.

    You also said

    Same thing he was doing before we invaded, jack-squat.

    You display a charming amount of naive faith with that quote. Saddam invaded Iran in 1980, and then invaded Kuwait in 1991. Of course he had not done jack-squat between those actions so that obviously means he would not do something like that again.

  30. Cernig says:

    YAJ,

    The 2002 stuff was a reprint for the UN meeting. It was produced by IAEA people and had been sanitized to remove details that would have greatly aided proliferation.

    That’s explicit on page 2 of the NY Times article, which I therefore assume you haven’t read carefully.

    Regards, Cernig

    P.S. Rick Moran (Right Wing Nut House) seems to have removed his post claiming that the NY Times confirmed Saddam was near to producing nukes in 2003 – out of sheer embarassment at his poor reading comprehension in the heat of the moment, no doubt.

  31. Cernig says:

    Zeldrorf, here’s a different question – it’s the difference between playing chess and playing tiddliwinks.

    Yes, Saddam was a monster – was that enough?

    Even Kuwait protested about the invasion, and they’d been invaded by Saddam not long before. Iran protested, yet had the most to gain. Every other U.S. ally in the region other than Israel, even though all disliked Saddam, stood aside and gave faint praise rather than welcome regime change. Why?

    There is a major difference between pre-emptive and preventive war. While the former is still considered aggressive the latter opens a Pandora’s Box the likes of which one must needs look to the Roman Empire of old to justify. If tomorrow the U.S. decides that Jordan’s monarchical government is also not well suited to her people, does she have the right to overthrow that regime as well? Suppose the U.S. decides that Saudi Arabia is in need of “liberation?” Russia? China? Or that some other nation decides it should follow America’s example (I’m thinking Russia and Georgia as a possibility here)?

    The point is that even though this argument was probably the strongest case the Bush administration could have made (and is now pretty much the only one, outside Cheney’s ravings), it is also one of the most flawed outside of a vacuum (i.e. when applied on a broad range in international politics). International politics is less like tiddliwinks than you seem to think.

    Regards, Cernig

  32. anjin-san says:

    Nothing new here. Saddam had WMD programs before Pres. GHW Bush pulled his fangs back in 91. It is worth noting that this was done with a very small loss of American lives, national treasure and with an actual gain in American prestige worldwide.

    GW tried to finish what his father started, only to find out that the elder Bush had wrapped things up quite nicely.

  33. bains says:

    …where did the Times put all of those “Martha Burke protesting Augusta” stories?

    Say it aint so!
    You mean that the NYTimes caters to those predisposed to perpetual (and manufactured) outrage?
    What’s next?
    A story how global warming caused the sun to rise an hour early this past sunday?

  34. bains says:

    And here’s my $.02 on this kerfuffle…

    Appropriately priced…

  35. Anderson says:

    You mean that the NYTimes caters to those predisposed to perpetual (and manufactured) outrage?

    What a remarkable thing to read, in the week of the “stuck in Iraq” press frenzy.

  36. Ugh says:

    You forget that the inspectors did not get back into Iraq until there were a 100,000 plus troops on his borders.

    You’re right, and the appropriate thing to do would have been to bring them home when the inspectors didn’t find anything, rather than send them into this debacle. And don’t give me the inspection interference nonsense.

    You display a charming amount of naive faith with that quote. Saddam invaded Iran in 1980, and then invaded Kuwait in 1991. Of course he had not done jack-squat between those actions so that obviously means he would not do something like that again.

    Right, Saddam was in the exact same position in 2002 and 2003 that he was in 1980 and 1990 and was just as capable of launching invasions of neighboring countries.

  37. spencer says:

    At this point arguing about justification for the war is sort of useless.

    the real point is the Bush administration complete incompetence in losing the peace
    and strengthen our enemies.

    has any President done more damage to US interest then this incompetent?

    i have no problem with the war. But it have a massive problem with losing the war through sheer incompetence.

  38. Bandit says:

    Same thing he was doing before we invaded, jack-squat.

    Yeah – what’s a little genocide amongst friends.

  39. Bithead says:

    James;

    you’re right, in that neither side is paying attention to the meat of this particular story. Look about fourteen paragraphs down into the story on the New York Times and you’ll find this little tidbit;

    Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

    In short, as of 2003, Saddam Hussein was approximately one year away from having nuclear capability.

    But as Dave says, some myths die hard; The left is never going to admit that he was about to become a very serious threat indeed.

  40. Ugh says:

    Yeah – what’s a little genocide amongst friends.

    You’ll have to ask Rumsfeld that.

    In short, as of 2003, Saddam Hussein was approximately one year away from having nuclear capability.

    Bithead, you’re living up to your screen name, as usual.

  41. anjin-san says:

    Thoughtful of the Bush admin to post plans for a nuke on the Internet in Arabic. Bin Laden’s faith in the power of prayer must grow every day.

    And you guys are seriously still supporting these boobs?

    Katrina non-response, Iraq train wreck, endless spending, endless red ink…

    It will take decades to repair the damage to our country, assuming anyone can even figure out HOW to repair the damage.

  42. jpe says:

    In short, as of 2003, Saddam Hussein was approximately one year away from having nuclear capability.

    *sigh*

    “At that time” refers to the closest antecedent. So start from that phrase and count backwards to find the nearest “time.” See “Persian Gulf War”? See how it’s closer to “at that time” then “2002”?

    Good lord. I could never be a teacher; dealing with the children on the internets is trying enough.

  43. […] Also see Hot Air Wizbang QandO Michelle Malkin Sister Toldjah Dan Riehl who says the story just got worse…heh. MVRWC Gateway Pundit Anchoress Rightwing Nuthouse OTB In The Bullpen Argghhh! Joust The Facts […]

  44. Bithead says:

    No sale, jpe, sorry. Your claim sounds rather strangely like the defense of John Kerry, trying to tell us what he really meant. I guess that connection should be no surprise to the rest of us, but don’t make out like you’re not trying to dodge what the document really says.

  45. Cernig says:

    Bithead,

    The document is dated 1995. So is the reprint made by the IAEA for the UN in 2002.

    Sheesh. Faith based reading comprehension.

    Regards, C