Counselor to President uses NY Times story to push 'Iraq had nuke program' meme
Ron BrynaertPrint This Email This
Published: Friday November 3, 2006
In an interview on MSNBC earlier this morning, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the President, dismissed concerns about a U.S. government Website shut down because it may have revealed sensitive bomb building data. However, he insisted that the unauthenticated Iraqi documents online did show that "Saddam Hussein had the capability and was working towards a nuclear weapon program," which would bolster Bush's preemptive war arguments, RAW STORY has found.
Later in the day, the Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman referred to other Iraqi documents which some conservatives believe demonstrate that Iraq had extensive ties to al Qaeda.
This morning's edition of The New York Times reported that the government shut down the site last night, after the paper passed on complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. The Iraqi document archive had been launched "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."
William J. Broad reported in the Times that around a dozen of the documents included "detailed accounts of Iraqís secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war," which "experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb."
Earlier on MSNBC, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd blasted the government's Website as "irresponsible" and politically motivated.
"The idea that you'd allow this stuff to go up without censoring it, looking at it carefully, just throwing it up and leaving it up there for March on, without knowing that you have material there that could provide our enemies with needed information for them to produce the kind of weapons that the article describes here is the height of irresponsibility," Dodd said. "And it was all designed to do one thing, and that was to help them out politically, disregarding the national security implications."
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Bartlett why the documents were put on the Internet without anyone "properly vetting them" and why did President Bush "overrule John Negroponte, his own intelligence director, who clearly did not want this to take place but finally had to give in."
Bartlett told Mitchell that it's "important to understand that Senator Dodd was incorrect in saying they just threw up documents up onto the web."
"We're talking about thousand upon thousands of documents written in Arabic that have been vetted and put up onto this website," Bartlett said.
"And the president didn't overrule the intelligence community," Bartlett continued. "He asked his intelligence community to work with the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives, who has oversight over the intelligence community to work through this issue, and they set up a system in which they would vet documents before they went on."
However, on NBC's Today Show, former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said that "Negroponte warned us that we donít know whatís in these documents, so these are being put out at some risk, and that was a warning that he put out right when they first released the documents."
Since The Drudge Report teased the Times story early last evening, many conservative bloggers have dismissed the possibility that nuclear secrets were made available for countries such as Iran to learn from, but instead assert that the 1991 documents show that Iraq was a nuclear threat when the United States invaded in 2003.
"Obviously, in this case, Andrea, there has been a problem because these documents went on, and they reveal what many people knew, is that Saddam Hussein had the capability and was working towards a nuclear weapon program," said Bartlett. "They had the scientists and the documents."
Mitchell noted that the dated documents actually "go back to what was discovered before the first Gulf War."
"But -- true, Andrea, but they didn't lose that knowledge, they didn't take down the scientific apparatus or the capabilities to develop that," Bartlett countered. "And Charlie Dulfer and other weapons experts all said what Saddam Hussein was doing was waiting the international community out, to make sure they got the inspectors out so that they can then restart their program."
Bartlett insisted that Saddam "had the capability and he had the know-how to do it," and that he thought it should be "a stark reminder for people."
Confusion over Times paragraph
One paragraph in the Times article has caused some confusion online.
"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," Broad wrote. "Experts say that at the time, Mr. Husseinís scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away."
Many conservative bloggers are claiming "at the time" refers to 2002, instead of the early 1990s.
"That appears to indicate that by invading in 2003, we followed the best intelligence of the UN inspectors to head off the development of an Iraqi nuke," Captain Ed argues at Captain's Quarters.
Jim Geraghty at National Review wrote that he was "blown away" by the paragraph.
Geraghty wondered, "Is this sentence referring to 1990, before the Persian Gulf War? Or 2002, months before the invasion of Iraq?"
"Because 'Iraq is a year away from building a nuclear bomb' was supposed to be a myth, a lie that Bush used to trick us into war," Geraghty wrote.
But, as Joby Warrick reported for The Washington Post in January of 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "spent seven years in the 1990s documenting and ultimately destroying all known vestiges of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, including its gas centrifuges."
So far, the paper hasn't issued any correction for its awkwardly worded paragraph.
Purported Iraq-Qaeda contacts
Friday afternoon, Michelle Malkin posted a response to the Times article written by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which partly focuses on the "year away" claim.
"These documents also raise several additional issues of interest," said Hoekstra in the statement. "First, it is extraordinary that the New York Times now acknowledges that the captured documents demonstrate that '[Saddam] Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.'"
Hoekstra doesn't specify whether he believes that Iraq was "as little as a year away" in 2002 or before the Gulf War.
"This only reinforces the value of these documents in understanding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime," Hoekstra continued. "Only 1 percent of the estimated 120 million pages of captured documents have been reviewed, and we must continue working to promptly understand these materials."
The House Intelligence Committee chairman notes that other documents in the archive detail purported Iraqi contacts with al Qaeda.
"If there is concern about Saddam's nuclear program, there should be similar concern about potential connections between Saddam and al-Qaeda suggested in the documents," Hoekstra stated.
Laurie Mylroie, a journalist who once advised President Clinton on Iraq issues, has maintained for years that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al Qaeda. Mylroie has also controversially contended that Iraq was complicit in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the September 11th attacks, and the 2001 anthrax attacks.
In March, Mylroie translated an Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) document which mentioned a meeting with Osama bin Laden in February of 1995, that many conservatives read as evidence that al Qaeda wouldn't have been able to carry out plots without the backing of a "state."
But most experts and analysts don't believe that Iraq and al Qaeda ever had an "operational relationship," and even President Bush has admitted that the U.S. governement doesn't have any evidence to tie Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks.
Excerpts from MSNBC's interview with Bartlett:
MS. MITCHELL: But let's go on to these Iraq documents.
MR. BARTLETT: Sure.
MS. MITCHELL: Why put these up on the Internet without properly vetting them? What was gained by that? And why did the president overrule John Negroponte, his own intelligence director, who clearly did not want this to take place but finally had to give in?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, first of all, it's important to understand that Senator Dodd was incorrect in saying they just threw up documents up onto the web. We're talking about thousand upon thousands of documents written in Arabic that have been vetted and put up onto this website. And the president didn't overrule the intelligence community. He asked his intelligence community to work with the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives, who has oversight over the intelligence community to work through this issue, and they set up a system in which they would vet documents before they went on.
Obviously, in this case, Andrea, there has been a problem because these documents went on, and they reveal what many people knew, is that Saddam Hussein had the capability and was working towards a nuclear weapon program. They had the scientists and the documents.
MS. MITCHELL: Before the first Gulf War -- these are dated documents, and they go back to what was discovered before the first Gulf War.
MR. BARTLETT: But -- true, Andrea, but they didn't lose that knowledge, they didn't take down the scientific apparatus or the capabilities to develop that. And Charlie Dulfer and other weapons experts all said what Saddam Hussein was doing was waiting the international community out, to make sure they got the inspectors out so that they can then restart their program. They -- he had the capability and he had the know-how to do it.
And I think that's a stark reminder for people.
MS. MITCHELL: Do you think, bottom line --
MR. BARTLETT: But the fact of the matter is, we pulled that -- we pulled down the website. We want to make sure more than anybody that we don't have gaps in our system, to make sure that we're not giving information to the enemy. That makes sense. But to suggest that we're overruling the intelligence community in doing this is not quite accurate.
MS. MITCHELL: Bottom line, do you think it was worth the risk of putting these documents up even though it could have given terrorists and other rogue states information that they didn't already have about how to build a bomb?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, information they don't have already have, I don't think -- I think that could be in dispute as to whether these types of information could be found elsewhere on the Web.
Having said that, it's very important that we don't provide information to terrorists. That's why there are safeguards. In this case there was a breach of that safeguard, and we're working to make sure it doesn't happen again.
But if the information is not harmful to the public, it's usually news organizations who are always trying to promote the disclosure of information, of government documents and those things, and it is important for all of the world to see the nature of the regime of Saddam Hussein. But it's important we do it in a responsible way. In this case, some documents got up that shouldn't have, and we're fixing it.