Monday, June 26, 2006

Saddam's WMD - Why is our intelligence community holding back?

Peter Hoekstra and Rick Santorum, The Wall Street Journal:
On Wednesday, at our request, the director of national intelligence declassified six "key points" from a National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) report on the recovery of chemical munitions in Iraq. The summary was only a small snapshot of the entire report, but even so, it brings new information to the American people. "Since 2003," the summary states, "Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent," which remains "hazardous and potentially lethal." So there are WMDs in Iraq, and they could kill Americans there or all over the world.

This latest information should not be new. It should have been brought to public attention by officials in the intelligence community. Instead, it had to be pried out of them. READ MORE

Mr. Santorum wrote to John DeFreitas, commanding general, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, on April 12, asking to see the report. He wrote, "I am informed that there may well be many more stores of WMDs throughout Iraq," and added, "the people of Pennsylvania and Members of Congress would benefit from reviewing this report." He asked that the "NGIC work with the appropriate entities" to declassify as much of the information as possible.

The senator received no response. On June 5, he wrote again, this time to John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, "concerning captured Iraqi documents, data, media and maps from the regime of Saddam Hussein." He mentioned his disappointment that many captured Iraqi documents had been classified, and that he still had received no response from Gen. DeFreitas. Some 10 days later, still with no response, he shared his dismay with one of us, Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, who on June 15 wrote to Mr. Negroponte, urging him to declassify the NGIC analytic piece. Mr. Hoekstra was also dismayed because he had not been informed through normal intelligence channels of the existence of this report.

To compound matters, during a call-in briefing with journalists held at noon on June 21, intelligence officials misleadingly said that "on June 19, we received a second request; this time asking that we, in short order -- 48 hours -- declassify the key points, which are sort of the equivalent to key judgments from something like a National Intelligence Estimate, from the assessment." The fault was their own; we had been requesting this information for nine weeks and they had not acted.

On Thursday, Mr. Negroponte's office arranged a press briefing by unnamed intelligence officials to downplay the significance of the report, calling it "not new news" even as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was reiterating the obvious importance of the information: "What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces… They are weapons of mass destruction. They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found… And they are still being found and discovered."

In fact, the public knows relatively little about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Indeed, we do not even know what is known or unknown. Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, stated that the ISG had fully evaluated less than 0.25% of the more than 10,000 weapons caches known to exist throughout Iraq. It follows that the American people should be brought up to date frequently on our state of knowledge of this important matter. That is why we asked that the entire document be declassified, minus the exact sources, methods and locations. It is also, in part, why we have fought for the declassification of hundreds of thousands of Saddam-era documents.

The president is the ultimate classifier and declassifier of information, but the entire matter has now been so politicized that, in practice, he is often paralyzed. If he were to order the declassification of a document pointing to the existence of WMDs in Iraq, he would be instantly accused of "cherry picking" and "politicizing intelligence." He may therefore not be inclined to act.

In practice, then, the intelligence community decides what the American public and its elected officials can know and when they will learn it. Sometimes those decisions are made by top officials, while on other occasions they are made by unnamed bureaucrats with friends in the media. People who leak the existence of sensitive intelligence programs like the terrorist surveillance program or financial tracking programs to either damage the administration or help al Qaeda, or perhaps both, are using the release or withholding of documents to advance their political desires, even as they accuse others of manipulating intelligence.

We believe that the decisions of when and what Americans can know about issues of national security should not be made by unelected, unnamed and unaccountable people.

Some officials in the intelligence community withheld the document we requested on WMDs, and somebody is resisting our request to declassify the entire document while briefing journalists in a tendentious manner. We will continue to ask for declassification of this document and the hundreds of thousands of other Saddam-produced documents, and we will also insist on periodic updates on discoveries in Iraq.

This is no small matter. It is not -- as a few self-proclaimed experts have declared -- a spat over ancient history. It involves life and death for American soldiers on the battlefield, and it involves the ability of the American people to evaluate the actions of their government, and thus to render an objective judgment. The people must have the whole picture, not just a shard of reality dished up by politicized intelligence officers.

Information is a potent weapon in the current war. Al Qaeda uses the Internet very effectively and uses the media as a terrorist tool. If the American public can be deceived by people who withhold basic information, we risk losing the war at home, even if we win it on the battlefield. The debate should focus on the basic question -- what, exactly, we need to do to succeed both here and in Iraq. We are dismayed to have learned how many people in our own government are trying to distort that debate.

Mr. Hoekstra is the chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Santorum is the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Committee.