Release the Saddam Tapes!

Friday, March 03, 2006
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had an interesting obsession. He recorded his own conversations. According to Bill Tierney, a former United Nations weapons inspector, our intelligence community now possesses over 3,000 hours of tapes Saddam made of his discussions with his top aides.

We also have documents. Many documents, not only from Iraq, but from Afghanistan as well. Currently these materials are classified, and mostly not translated.

What do these documents contain? It's anyone's guess. But judging from what we know of Saddam's barbarism, there could be many things of great interest on subjects like Saddam's relationship with Osama bin Laden, mass murder, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and collaboration with Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin, just to name a few.

The Directory of National Intelligence is currently examining these documents in Qatar under a program known as "Harmony." But just like most everything in the intelligence community, this effort is highly classified. (Note: my public source for Harmony is here.)

As a former member of the intelligence community, I am one of the strongest proponents of classification, especially of sources and methods which if revealed could endanger the lives of our brave agents and and dry up our important sources of intelligence. But there are times when it is appropriate to disclose information where a strong public interest exists, so long as our sources and methods can be protected.

Executive Order 13292 signed by President Bush on March 25, 2003, sets the rules for classification of national security information. Section 3.1(b) of this Executive Order allows for the declassification in exceptional cases where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the need to protect the information. I would urge DNI to consider making such determinations in a cautious fashion under this EO so that the public can be informed with the true facts in wartime.

Yesterday Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R., Mich.) introduced H.R. 4869, a bill to require the Director of National Intelligence to release documents captured in Afghanistan or Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hoekstra is the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The actual language of this bill is not available at the time of this writing, but I am sure that Chairman Hoekstra will have sufficient protections available to address the security concerns I have raised above.

But there is no need for this legislation if DNI acts. I hope reason will prevail and the public will be privy to exactly the kinds of dangers we face from the enemies of freedom and democracy.


terrye said...

Too bad they were not speaking Russian, the papers would be translated by now.

I would imagine that is the hold up, they want to know what is in them before anyone else sees them.

But I agree, the information should be out there. Time's awasting.

Skookumchuk said...

Or. We are using the tapes to blackmail the French et al. to gain support during any confrontation with Iran or whatever else may be on the horizon.

vnjagvet said...

I wonder if as much attention will be devoted to these tapes as those of the Nixon White House?

Just askin'.

Knucklehead said...

Three thousand hours...

That's not a huge number of hours. These things must be translated and reasonably well verified by now. It wouldn't take very many people working six months or so, it seems to me, to get this done, checked, and transcribed.

Hmmm... I'm in. The work to translate, transcrive, and characterize for classificatio should be done by now. Release any portion of these tapes that isn't a direct and clear threat to security. If it publicly implicates the French and Russians, too bad. If it turns out Saddam spent most of his time playing canasta with his buddies and blathering about Paris Hilton's antics, so be it.

I can understand it taking years to translate millions of pages of documents but 3,000 hours of voice recordings is 125 days, 375 working days. That should be finished by now.

Can anyone speculate re: the holdup?

Rick Ballard said...


What is the gain? How would tomorrow be differrent from today if the tapes were translated and released?

Intercepting enemy communications = domestic spying

Port operations = freight terminals

breached = topped

No WMD stockpiles found = no WMD ever existed

Give the enemy propagandists more to work with? Why?

The Copperhead press deserves to be treated like dirt. The WH is doing a fair job of doing that but I wish they would cancel the daily briefing and agree to reply only to written questions with the proviso that all questions and answers would be posted on a WH news site. Screw the Copperheads.

Btw - Some big ole machine that makes a Cray look like an Atari Pong game just might have reduced those tapes to a written format in somewhat less time than you suggest. Maybe. I don't know and I no longer care - unless there's something of blackmail value for the next go round in the UNSC - and then I still don't want to know.

terrye said...


I don't remember who made this suggestion but someone said Bush should give Rumsfeld Scott McClellan's job.

Now that would be funny.

Rick Ballard said...


The more I think of it, the more I like my suggestion that only written questions be taken and that both question and answer will appear on a WH website.

In fact - that's really the answer to Brylun's suggestion, too. Make digital recordings of the tape available as well as a "best efforts" keyed translation on an open source site - I don't want any help from Copperheads in reading original source material.

Knucklehead said...


You're point re: La Guerre de Seditionist de la Presse Ancienne is well taken. Your later comment about putting the audio and transcripts up on a gubmint site where we don't have to get the info through seditionist filters is a good idea. The article Brylun linked to seems to suggest that the docs and such are at least being considered for release to "analysts" such as the West Point affiliated project. If they are released I'd prefer the full source docs for all to see and hear.

Btw - Some big ole machine that makes a Cray look like an Atari Pong game just might have reduced those tapes to a written format in somewhat less time than you suggest.

I was giving the benefit of any doubt regarding the difficulties of translation. I really envision something similar to court stenographers with headphones listening to the tapes and tapping away into a computer than then runs the transcript through some pretty sophisticated translation and voice synthesis SW. I can't imagine how the tapes, at least, aren't long since translated and transcibed and thoroughly vetted.

Perhaps the WH will release them in bits and pieces each time they feel the Presse Ancienne needs something to spin themselves into further stupidity about.

Rick Ballard said...


I think that word for word machine translation would be relatively easy - the tough parts are idiom, dialect and inflection. That's where you need the translator with headphones correcting the machine translation. It would take a 60 year old Tikriti to get to a 98% reliable translation - he'd have to be an orphan bachelor with no siblings, too.

Knucklehead said...

he'd have to be an orphan bachelor with no siblings, too.

Sigh... The truth of that is profoundly saddening. Sigh...