Sunday, November 05, 2006

Giving nukular secrets to the enemy

Friday November 3

So there's this vast archive of 55,000 boxes of documents, audiotapes and videotapes which were captured during the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Many of them are in Arabic. Because the Bush administration doesn't have enough Arabic translators, no-one knew what was in them and by the end of 2005, the bulk of them had still not been translated.

In March this year, after sustained pressure from conservatives and right-wing bloggers, the Bush administration set up a website, onto which they placed these documents. The aim was to "leverage the internet" and let the public have a go at trolling through them to see if there was anything of interest there - that is, to see if there was anything which might prove that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were in fact great mates or that Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction after all, even though none have ever been found. It was a political act, aimed at finding justification for the War on Iraq in the face of increasing public disapproval.

Do you see anything potentially worrying in this scenario? We have a bunch of official (maybe Top Secret) documents from Iraq, we don't know what's in 'em, so let's put them out there on the internets to see if anyone can translate 'em for us and tell us what's there...

On Friday the New York Times reported that the site had been closed down by the administration, following the NYT's enquiries into a number of complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials.

Why were these experts complaining? Because over recent weeks a number of documents have been posted onto the website giving detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

From the New York Times:

The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.

In fact, private protests were made a week ago to the American ambassador by Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were very concerned that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms. But the website wasn't shut down by the Bush administration until it found out that the New York Times was investigating the story.

Let me reiterate. Without knowing what they contained, the administration released these documents to the public. The documents included instructions on how to build an atomic bomb. In Arabic.

There are two possible scenarios here.

Either the Bush administration did not believe anything of value would be found within the documents, and therefore felt it was safe to release them into the public domain. In this case, their media spin back in March that they believed the documents contained "proof" that Saddam had WMD all set up and ready to go was just that - spin - aimed at scoring a few political points, to reduce the level of public disapproval in the war and nothing more.

Or the Bush administration truly believed that the lies it had told to get America to invade Iraq were in fact true. It hoped that evidence would be found within these thousands of documents. And so it released these documents to the public knowing there was a possibility that they contained secret and sensitive information - and they did it anyway, because they were so desperate to be proven right.

The wingers are spinning the story this way: "Oh well yes" they say "so we released a bunch of old documents onto the internet which show rogue states and terrorists how to build an atomic bomb - never mind! At least it proves that Saddam had WMD!! It does! It does!"

Except it doesn't.

These documents were all written before the first Gulf War, when it was well known that Saddam had a secret weapons programme. During that war all of his WMD capabilities were destroyed, a fact which was borne out by subsequent visits by the International Weapons Inspectors, and by the fact that not a single WMD has been found following America's invasion of Iraq.

Remember that one of the main justifications of the War on Iraq was that Saddam was in possession of WMD which he could unleash on an unsuspecting world within 45 minutes. What these documents show is that he knew how to make a bomb. We knew that anyway. What he did not have after the first Gulf War was the materials to make one. No yellow cake. No centrifuges. No weapons-grade plutonium. No bomb-making factories. Nothing.

Compare this with Iran or North Korea. Both countries have or may soon have the yellow cake, the centrifuges, the plutonium. Iran claims it only wants to use nuclear power to generate electricity. North Korea makes no such claims and has recently tested a nuclear bomb. Now, thanks to the Bush administration, we can be absolutely sure that they both have all the Top Secret details they need in order to make a viable nuclear weapon if they so wish. And so does every other potential terrorist out there who wants to get hold of some knock-off plutonium from Russia and have a go. Oh goody.

In the past the US has convicted, imprisoned, and even executed American citizens for making classified nuclear weapon secrets available to its enemies. It's considered an act of treason. When can we expect the authorities to be knocking on the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

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