Who’ll Let the Docs Out?

That’s the title of Stephen Hayes’ upcoming article in the Weekly Standard; we can’t improve on it. Stephen owns the issue of the Iraqi documents on Saddam’s WMD programs and support for terrorist groups, so let’s let him speak for himself:

“Is this the tapes thing?” Bush asked, referring to two ABC News reports that included excerpts of recordings Saddam Hussein made of meetings with his war cabinet in the years before the U.S. invasion. Bush had not seen the newscasts but had been briefed on them.
Pence framed his response as a question, quoting Abraham Lincoln: “One of your Republican predecessors said, ‘Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved.’ There are 3,000 hours of Saddam tapes and millions of pages of other documents that we captured after the war. When will the American public get to see this information?”
Bush replied that he wanted the documents released. He turned to Hadley and asked for an update. Hadley explained that John Negroponte, Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, “owns the documents” and that DNI lawyers were deciding how they might be handled.
Bush extended his arms in exasperation and worried aloud that people who see the documents in 10 years will wonder why they weren’t released sooner. “If I knew then what I know now,” Bush said in the voice of a war skeptic, “I would have been more supportive of the war.”
Bush told Hadley to expedite the release of the Iraq documents. “This stuff ought to be out. Put this stuff out.”

You’d think that would be the end of the story. If I gave a similar order to my staff, it would be obeyed. Promptly. And you’d probably assume that an order from the President of the United States would be obeyed with even more alacrity. Not so. John Negroponte “owns” the millions of pages of documents and countless hours of tapes that have been captured, but not yet exploited. And Negroponte doesn’t want their contents made public. So it isn’t happening, no matter what President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld say. This is, of course, no way to run a railroad. But Negroponte is concerned that making the Iraq regime’s documents public will embarrass our “allies,” like, for example, Russia. As Hayes points out, Iraqi documents that have recently been translated indicate that Russia was training Iraqi intelligence agents virtually up to the outbreak of the war in 2003.
These Iraqi documents and other materials are critically important. Everyone hopes that they will reveal what happened to Saddam’s WMDs, and expects them to document close relationships between Saddam and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That is precisely why they are controversial. Burying the documents seized from Iraqi intelligence comports well with the Democrats’ effort to undercut the rationales for the Iraq war. That’s easy to understand; what is not so easy to understand is why President Bush can’t get his own administration to make these facts public.
Especially since Negroponte has done a 180 degree turn. Initially, he argued that resources shouldn’t be devoted to translating the intelligence materials because the results would be “fascinating from a historical perspective,” but not useful to ongoing operations. Now he has reversed himself, saying:

These documents have provided, and continue to provide, actionable intelligence to ongoing operations. . . . It would be ill-advised to release these materials without careful screening because the material includes sensitive and potentially harmful information.

There is an overriding public interest in letting the American people know what Saddam’s regime was up to, as best we can reconstruct it from the captured documents. President Bush agrees. If John Negroponte won’t get the job done, let’s appoint an intelligence czar who will.
UPDATE: Merv Benson writes, on the limitations of Presidential power:

That post reminds me of a quote from President Truman. Upon Eisenhower’s election he said, “I can’t wait until that damn General gets in here (the Oval Office) and gives and order and nothing happens.”

President Bush has, of course, been fighting much of the federal bureaucracy for the past five years. But one might have expected his own nominee, Negroponte, to be a little more responsive.

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