Steven Hayes’ must-read article on links between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is stunning reading. Check out his article in The Weekly Standard. Hayes discusses initial information released from a trove of documents captured by American and Coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is not a footlocker full but a collection larger than many public libraries: a staggering two million items. Generally referred to as “documents” by the media, Hayes notes that many of these items are floppy discs, CDs, hard drives, and other “exploitable items” in Pentagonese, each of which may, in itself, contain hundreds or even thousands of documents. That means that the two million number may be double or more. It is an amazing repository of intelligence information on a rogue regime. And we are only getting the teasers.
One of the oddities of history is how dictators like to document their atrocities. Hitler’s Nazi bureaucrats were compulsive memo writers and paper savers. Saddam, an admirer of the Fuehrer in so many ways, seems to have emulated him in this manner also. While we know lots of material was destroyed either by retreating Baathists or as collateral war damage, the amount surviving is staggering. And that is the problem. There is too much of a good thing.
Because of the Democrat accusation avalanche - “Bush lied about WMD” - refrain that became the basis for the 2004 presidential campaign, the focus of the enormous translation burden to date has been on WMD-related material. Finding out what we can about Saddam’s WMD is a logical mission for many other reasons too. Much has emerged. But other regime actions have taken second priority, and this needs to be corrected. Another leftist slur is that “there are no links between Saddam and al Qaeda or other terrorists.” Hayes is a pioneer in his book The Connection in showing how strong ties in fact existed.
Now the depth and intricacy of the Iraqi-terrorist connections are being revealed by Saddam’s own documents. As Hayes makes the point, inside these documents are the names and backgrounds of 8,000 or more terrorists who trained in Iraq from 1999-2002. Eight thousand terrorists trained in Iraq under Saddam! And anti-war media along with apologists for Saddam still blindly insist that Saddam had not ties to al Qaeda and to terrorist organizations. Such willful denial in the face of this evidence is delusional.
Even more compelling at the moment than accessing the WMD material, is deciphering the list of names of the terrorists and their cell leaders. Considering that post-Operation Iraqi Freedom many of these thugs have been drawn back to the fight in Iraq like loathsome moths to the flame, it would assist both new Iraqi government and American military to have these names and the personal data accompanying them. Hayes quotes one official as saying “We had box loads of Iraqi Intelligence records - their names, their jobs, all sorts of detailed information. In an insurgency, wouldn't that have been helpful?”
Of the millions of documents to date only 50,000 have been translated. This is less than 2%, and look what has already emerged. The glacial speed of translation is stark testimony to the paucity of proper translators in the intelligence business. Nor has sufficiently high priority been assigned to the project. Of the few translated documents, only a few have been released to the public. That judgment error may be rectified. After years of being pilloried unjustifiably by their enemies, the administration is pressing intelligence agencies hard to release these documents.
This is an essential point: if the documents are genuine and the translations accurate then it is essential for the American public to know the facts. It is critically important that the administration reveal that its decision to liberate Iraq was correct and that the links to terror organizations did exist. If the Bush people fail to do this – and to do it aggressively – then one must question the legitimacy of the documents. After all, how could they hesitate to proffer information vindicating them after years of leftist abuse?
Part of the holdup is the intelligence community’s obsession with security, classification, and compartmentation of information. In the film Pritzi’s Honor, the line “Sicilians love money more than their kids; and they really love their kids,” could be flipped to most intelligence types. They really love classification and secrecy: institutionally, if not personally, more than their kids. As a reciprocal, the community hates declassification passionately. The fear, approaching paranoia, is that something will be released that will inadvertently or unexpectedly return to haunt the releaser.
Since even paranoid people are occasionally being followed, it is wise to approach declassification and public release of intelligence quality documents in a measured, reserved fashion. In this case, it appears that on balance, more rather than less could be reasonably made available to the public without collapsing our effort to wipe out terrorists. Having endured years of constant carping about “no ties between Saddam and terrorists” it would be worth slipping a few secrets just to set the record straight. And at the rate that the New York Times and Washington Post are divulging highly classified information it would take a real bombshell in these documents to outdo their efforts.
There is another, less defensible motive in keeping these documents hidden. Those on the inside who wish to embarrass or debunk the administration, those who leaked NSA secrets and CIA secrets, do not want Americans to learn the truth. They want the overwhelming evidence of Baathist ties to Islamofascist terrorists kept quiet. First, it helps the president to know these facts, and second it harms their credibility. Among these are the self-promoting analysts who assured the world that “secular” regimes like Saddam’s could not ally with hard-religious groups like al Qaeda.
They conveniently imposed their own values on the situation and ignored the long-standing Middle Eastern proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It was relatively easy for Iraqi intelligence units to establish close working ties with bin Laden, Algerian, Sudanese, and other Islamic terror groups. They trained at Salman Pak and Ansar-al-Islam camps inside Iraq and received funding, forged documents, training, and equipping by Iraqi intelligence. Given the amorphous nature of the Islamofascist movement and the peripatetic character of the individual terrorists, most of the 8,000 plus terrorists passing through places like Ansar al-Islam and Salman Pak camps could be called al Qaeda related.
What other intelligence gems ought we expect to read in these papers? We have strong suspicions that the long-standing but CIA-discredited Czech Republic report of Mohammad Atta, World Trade Center homicide pilot, receiving money in August 2001 in Prague from an Iraqi intelligence agent may in fact be verified in these documents. That would establish a direct link between 911 and Saddam.
A huge benefit from release of these papers would be to set the record straight with ordinary concerned Americans. We have been force fed the “Bush lied” line so much that many people reflexively accept it. For anyone other than the most rabid anti-Bush haters, release of these documents will instill confidence in the war and the justification that America had in liberating Iraq. Precisely for this reason expect the Democrats to try to interfere with release and the MSM to cherry-pick its way through the documents, practicing the art of selective reporting that they have perfected over recent years.
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