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.
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