- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

As November surprises go, yesterday’s New York Times story on the possible disclosure of an Iraqi nuclear-bomb-guide is something of a novelty. It cuts both ways.

Relevant government entities deserve condemnation and exhaustive investigation if it turns out that heretofore useful technical nuclear-bomb secrets were in fact disclosed amid the tens of thousands of pages of raw Iraqi government documents posted to the Internet after the March 2006 law requiring their disclosure. But for this to be true, it would also need to be true that the Iraqi weapons program was so advanced and so dangerous even in a remnant existence in a filing cabinet as to be a threat exploitable by Iran or other terrorist entities by virtue of being significantly more technically advanced.

And that’s where this story cuts both ways. For this disclosure to be any threat at all, the left-wing meme that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear-weapons program was not much of a threat would need to come tumbling down. One cannot be true without the other. This also sits inconveniently with the left’s yellowcake arguments, previously the nuclear obstacle-du-jour for the Saddam-was-no-threat crowd.

It is strange to read the contention in the New York Times — the same paper that touted for years the now-discredited Ambassador Joseph Wilson, pooh-pooher-in-chief of the Iraq threat — that a serious nuclear-weapons program, the technical details of which Saddam’s henchmen had squirreled away, could now pose a threat to the United States. The NYT spent 2005-06 trying to undermine the Bush administration’s WMD rationale for war.

Now the notion comes roaring back to life in the NYT pages as a convenient pre-election cudgel. The story that Saddam’s “scientists were on the verge of building an atomic bomb, as little as a year away” shortly before the Gulf War — and that the tightly held, useful information undergirding this weapons program was intact and sufficiently advanced to be of use to regimes like Iran’s up to the present day. Any way this is sliced, it would mean that Iraq posed a WMD threat.

If the political and intellectual Left that so despises the Bush administration’s WMD rationale to depose Saddam were to end up accepting this latter proposition, then a major vindication of the president has taken place.

On the other hand, if the technical details are, in fact, as useful as the NYT claims, and if they were in fact compromised, then this has all the makings of a classic government foul-up.

In March, Congress tasked the executive branch with disclosing tens of thousands of pages of untranslated Iraqi government documents on the Internet as a means of setting the record straight and turning up evidence to favor the president’s rationale for war. Intelligence professionals balked. They distrusted this notion from the beginning. So the very people charged with executing this congressionally mandated action would also be the least enthusiastic about it.

Some blame would fall to Congress, though not much. The authorizing legislation permits the director of national intelligence to halt the release of a given document for national-security reasons as long as he explains it to the congressional intelligence committees. That ball falls in John Negroponte’s court.

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