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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Stephen Hayes' Piece On The Saddam Tapes

Earlier today, I posted a piece about the Washington Times' story regarding the Saddam tapes that seem to have made a splash among bloggers, but are virtually ignored by the MSM. After hearing an interview (also included in the above linked post) with Bill Tierney, I started looking for a column that he brought up, and I found it. It's linked on that post, and right here. The entire piece is below.

On February 16, President George W. Bush assembled a small group of congressional Republicans for a briefing on Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley were there, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad participated via teleconference from Baghdad. As the meeting was beginning, Mike Pence spoke up. The Indiana Republican, a leader of conservatives in the House, was seated next to Bush.

"Yesterday, Mr. President, the war had its best night on the network news since the war ended," Pence said.

"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." The president would reiterate this point before the meeting adjourned. And as the briefing ended, he approached Pence, poked a finger in the congressman's chest, and thanked him for raising the issue. When Pence began to restate his view that the documents should be released, Bush put his hand up, as if to say, "I hear you. It will be taken care of."

It was not the first time Bush has made clear his desire to see the Iraq documents released. On November 30, 2005, he gave a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy. Four members of Congress attended: Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee; Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee; Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona; and Pence. After his speech, Bush visited with the lawmakers for 10 minutes in a holding room to the side of the stage. Hoekstra asked Bush about the documents and the president said he was pressing to have them released.

Says Pence: "I left both meetings with the unambiguous impression that the president of the United States wants these documents to reach the American people."

OK, stop right there. It was made clear in November he wanted the tapes and documents released. He reiterated the point in February. Mike Pence is on the record as stating the above; there was no ambiguity in the orders of the President of the United States. So, why is his National Intelligence Director being an @$$ about this?

Negroponte never got the message. Or he is choosing to ignore it. He has done nothing to expedite the exploitation of the documents. And he continues to block the growing congressional effort, led by Hoekstra, to have the documents released.

For months, Negroponte has argued privately that while the documents may be of historical interest, they are not particularly valuable as intelligence product. A statement by his office in response to the recordings aired by ABC said, "Analysts from the CIA and the DIA reviewed the translations and found that, while fascinating from a historical perspective, the tapes do not reveal anything that changes their postwar analysis of Iraq's weapons programs."

All right. I'm no intelligence analyst. The little analysis I do participate in is from an amateur POV. I have an uncle that works in Naval Intel who told me about his job, and what all it entails. I've watched him gover over declassified documents while he showed me how he worked them. They're like a puzzle, with no picture you can refer to to put the puzzle together. I get that. I understand that. But the transcripts I have seen, and the statements made by Bill Tierney lead me to believe that Negroponte doesn't know what he's talking about. These tapes not only show that Saddam was flaunting the IAEA, UNSCOM, and the UN's resolutions, but that he was actively and aggressively continuing the pursuit of his WMD programs. In fact, as Tierney explained today, it was Saddam's goal to nail the US with a WMD via the proxy of a terrorist group. This way there would be no fingers pointed back at Iraq. If Negroponte thinks that this was simply of "historical value" and not of any intelligence value, it's time to remove him and install someone with a bit more intelligence background.

Left unanswered was what the analysts made of the Iraqi official who reported to Saddam that components of the regime's nuclear program had been "transported out of Iraq." Who gave this report to Saddam and when did he give it? How were the materials "transported out of Iraq"? Where did they go? Where are they now? And what, if anything, does this tell us about Saddam's nuclear program? It may be that the intelligence community has answers to these questions. If so, they have not shared them. If not, the tapes are far more than "fascinating from a historical perspective."

Critics of the administration have stated that the weapons couldn't have been moved out of Iraq. People ignore the claims made by analysts that those WMDs and components likely ended up in Syria. The critics that ignore such allegations are basically calling General Georges Sada a liar, Bill Tierney a liar, American and other world intelligence agencies liars, and even the UN a liar despite the fact that a year after our invasion, the UN admitted that there were trucks moving from Iraq to Syria under the watchful eye of Russian Steznatz soldiers.

Officials involved with DOCEX--as the U.S. government's document exploitation project is known to insiders--tell The Weekly Standard that only some 3 percent of the 2 million captured documents have been fully translated and analyzed. No one familiar with the project argues that exploiting these documents has been a priority of the U.S. intelligence community.

Negroponte's argument rests on the assumption that the history captured in these documents would not be important to those officials--elected and unelected, executive branch and legislative--whose job it is to
craft U.S. foreign and national security policy. He's mistaken.

Yes he is mistaken, and with the current climate int he region, it would be nice to take a look at how Saddam deceived the inspectors in case we get to play the game of cat-and-mouse with Iran. "Those who do not listen to the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them," goes the old adage, and Negroponte seems content that we're going to repeat them whether we like it or not.

An example: On April 13, 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle published an exhaustive article based on documents reporter Robert Collier unearthed in an Iraqi Intelligence safehouse in Baghdad. The claims were stunning.

The documents found Thursday and Friday in a Baghdad office of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret police, indicate that at least five agents graduated Sept. 15 from a two--week course in surveillance and eavesdropping techniques, according to certificates issued to the Iraqi agents by the "Special Training Center" in Moscow . . .

Details about the Mukhabarat's Russian spy training emerged from some Iraqi agents' personnel folders, hidden in a back closet in a center for electronic surveillance located in a four-story mansion in the Mesbah district, Baghdad's wealthiest neighborhood. . . .

Three of the five Iraqi agents graduated late last year from a two-week course in "Phototechnical and Optical Means," given by the Special Training Center in Moscow, while two graduated from the center's two-week course in "Acoustic Surveillance Means."

One of the graduating officers, identified in his personnel file as Sami Rakhi Mohammad Jasim al-Mansouri, 46, is described as being connected to "the general management of counterintelligence" in the south of the country. . . .

His certificate, which bears the double-eagle symbol of the Russian Federation and a stylized star symbol that resembles the seal of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, uses a shortened version of al-Mansouri's name.
It says he entered the Moscow-based Special Training Center's "advanced" course in "acoustic surveillance means" on Sept. 2, 2002, and graduated on Sept. 15.

Four days later, the Chronicle reported that the "Moscow-based Special Training Center," was the Russian foreign intelligence service, known as SVR, and the SVR confirmed the training:

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Boris Labusov, acknowledged that Iraqi secret police agents had been trained by his agency but said the training was for nonmilitary purposes, such as fighting crime and terrorism.

Yet documents discovered in Baghdad by The Chronicle last week suggest that the spying techniques the Iraqi agents learned in Russia may have been used against foreign diplomats and civilians, raising doubt about the accuracy of Labusov's characterization.

Labusov, the press officer for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, confirmed that the certificates discovered by The Chronicle were genuine and that the Iraqis had received the training the documents described.

The Russians declared early in the U.N. process that they preferred inspections to war. Perhaps we now know why. Still, it is notable that at precisely the same time Russian intelligence was training Iraqi operatives, senior Russian government officials were touting their alliance with the United States. Russian foreign minister Boris Malakhov proclaimed that the two countries were "partners in the anti-terror coalition" and Putin spokesman Sergei Prikhodko declared, "Russia and the United States have a common goal regarding the Iraqi issue." (Of course, these men may have been in the dark on what their intelligence service was up to.) On November 8, 2002, six weeks after the Iraqis completed their Russian training, Russia voted in favor of U.N. Resolution 1441, which threatened "serious consequences" for continued Iraqi defiance on its weapons programs.

Maybe this is mere history to Negroponte. But it has practical implications for policymakers assessing Russia's role as go-between in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.

What, is there an echo here? I just stated that above. These documents and tapes show the twelve years of dodging and hiding done by Saddam, and that yes, the man was working on a nuclear weapon. Here now we have Iran doing the same thing, and they are quite cozy with both Russia and China. I hate to say it, but here we go again. Russia, as stated by Mr. Hayes above, prefers inspections over war. That's commendable. However, it doesn't change anything if Russia is enabling Iran.

Perhaps anticipating the weakness of his "mere history" argument, Negroponte abruptly shifted his position last week. He still opposes releasing the documents, only now he claims that the information in these documents is so valuable that it cannot be made public. Negroponte gave a statement to Fox News responding to Hoekstra's call to release the captured documents. "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."

Hamrful to whom, exactly? To Russia? Is that what this former diplomat is doing? And make no mistake, this man is a diplomat. His foreign service record shows that he seems to like life outside the US more than being in the US. From Wikipedia:

John Dimitri Negroponte is a career diplomat currently serving as Director of National Intelligence for the United States. Negroponte served in the United States Foreign Service from 1960 to 1997 and was the US ambassador to the United Nations from September of 2001 until June 2004 and as US ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005. He held the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs from 1985 to 1987; his career has also included positions such as Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1987 to 1989, Ambassador to Mexico from 1989 to 1993 and Ambassador to the Philippines from 1993 to 1996. Negroponte sits as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Diplomacy and is former chairman of the French-American Foundation.

This new position raises two obvious questions: If the documents have provided actionable intelligence, why has the intelligence community exploited so few of them? And why hasn't Negroponte demanded more money and manpower for the DOCEX program?

Sadly, these obvious questions have an obvious answer. The intelligence community is not interested in releasing documents captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. Why this is we can't be sure. But Pete Hoekstra offers one distinct possibility.

"They are State Department people who want to make no waves and don't want to do anything that would upset anyone," he says.

And that is exactly my thoughts on this. State has often tried to curtail the president's authority by reminding him not to step on anyone's toes. This was evident with Colin Powell while he was at State, and the differences shared between himself, and those of the administration. I'm sure that there are plenty of numbskulls in State that would prefer that we join hands and sing kumbaya together, and end all war. The world, however, is a much different place than the fantasy land these fools venture to everyday. It's unforgiving, and we've seen what will happen when we simply turn a blind eye to those abroad. 11 September taught us that lesson quite well.

This is not idle speculation. In meetings with Hoekstra, Negroponte and his staff have repeatedly expressed concern that releasing this information might embarrass our allies. Who does Negroponte have in mind?

Allies like Russia?

Hoekstra says Negroponte's intransigence is forcing him to get the documents out "the hard way." The House Intelligence chairman has introduced a bill (H.R. 4869) that would require the DNI to begin releasing the captured documents. Although Negroponte continues to argue against releasing the documents in internal discussions, on March 9, he approached Hoekstra with a counterproposal. Negroponte offered to release some documents labeled "No Intelligence Value," and indicated his willingness to review other documents for potential release, subject to a scrub for sensitive material.

No deal. Tierney, a former military intelligence officer stated that there is nothing in what he has seen thus far that people don't already know about Russia, or any other country. If it weren't damning enough that three of our closest allies were supplying weapons--illegal weapons under the 1991 cease-fire--then what in God's name is there in these documents that would be worse? They got Putin on tape talking about whacking George W. Bush? Jacques Chirac telling Saddam to send his terrorists through France? Come on, this excuse doesn't wash.

And there, of course, is the potential problem. Negroponte could have been releasing this information all along, but chose not to. So, in a way, nothing really changes. Still, for Hoekstra, this is the first sign of any willingness to release the documents.

"I'm encouraged that John is taking another look at it," Hoekstra said last Thursday. "But I want a system that is biased in favor of declassification. I want some assurance that they aren't just picking the stuff that's garbage and releasing that. If we're only declassifying maps of Baghdad, I'm not going to be happy."

He continued: "There may be many documents that relate to Iraqi WMD programs. Those should be released. Same thing with documents that show links to terrorism. They have to release documents on topics of interest to the American people and they have to give me some kind of schedule. What's the time frame? I don't have any idea."

Hoekstra is not going away. "We're going to ride herd on this. This is a step in the right direction, but I am in no way claiming victory. I want these documents out."

So does President Bush. You'd think that would settle it.

Yes, you'd think that ther president's demand that the documents be released would be the end of it. And I'm sure the tin-foil hat wearing moonbats think that there's something clandestine in those documents (a likely theory from that crowd is a menage a trois with Rumsfeld, Saddam, and Osama), but the simple fact of the matter is that the information these documents could provide is what could finally shut the president's detractors up. These documents, I believe, will vidicate his claims made regarding WMDs, and the fact that he was playing games with the UN. Further, I contend that these documents will show that he did move his WMDs out of the country, which only lends to what has been presented by Sada, Miniter, the UN, and a whole host of other analysts that are busy studying what happened to them.

Folks, he did have them. And they simply couldn't have vanished into thin air. So, where did they go? Instead of speculating, let's get these tapes and documents translated and released. Negroponte's constant refusals to release them, or this latest round of "I'll release them, but only the ones I choose" has got to end. If Negroponte's the problem for the president, then I think it's time for him to go.

Publius II


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