Friday, November 03, 2006

Bush Admin Pulls Nuclear Guide from Web Archive

Today's jaw-dropper in the New York Times:

Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so 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.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: 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.

Last night, the government shut down the Web site after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. A spokesman for the director of national intelligence said access to the site had been suspended "pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing."
[...]
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.

Here's why I emphasized the phrase "before the 1991 Persian Gulf War." The response to this article in the blogosphere has been massive -- and righties have focused entirely on two points:
  1. The NYT has some nerve criticizing the Bush administration for revealing classified information; and
  2. So Iraq really did have a nuclear program and in fact was just a year away from building a nuclear bomb.
First, if you believe that national security is threatened by Americans knowing that their government is spying on them without judicial review or congressional oversight; but not by that same government placing detailed instructions for building a nuclear bomb on the Internet, then you are not educated or intelligent enough to be commenting on anything.

Second, uh -- yeah! Iraq had an active nuclear weapons research program, and might have been a year away from building one -- before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. You may remember, that was the war where the United States bombed Iraq into the Stone Age -- literally. So how do we get from secret nuclear research in pre-1991 Iraq to having an active nuclear weapons program in March, 2003?

Well, in fairness, the clunky syntax in this key paragraph from the NYT piece might have something to do with it:

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. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

What does "at the time" mean? Hilzoy says:

[It] could, in theory, refer either to 'in the 1990s and in 2002', or 'after the Persian Gulf war', i.e. in 1991. In context, however, it seems pretty clear that it means 'in 1991' -- for one thing, only this reading fits with the Times' other descriptions of the documents (e.g., as being "detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war" (emphasis added). For another, if the Times really were reporting that Saddam was only a year away from making a bomb during the 1990s, and then (oddly) again in 2002, you'd expect this to be at the top of the story, not buried in a throwaway line, whereas if it was just repeating something that was in fact said in the second paragraph, then there's no puzzle here.

Naturally, many war-supporting bloggers are ignoring the ambiguity, and stating categorically that Iraq was a year away from building a nuclear bomb in 2002 -- which, as Hilzoy points out, is neither a logical nor likely reading of the facts:

For the record: it has been known since sometime fairly shortly after the first Gulf War that before the 1991 Gulf War Saddam was roughly a year away from making a nuclear weapon. But we basically destroyed that program, and sanctions and inspections kept it from being started up again, though I imagine Saddam Hussein always had hopes of doing so. See, for instance, here, here, and here, for starters. The fact that Saddam had an advanced nuclear weapons program in 1991 is not news.

Scott Lemieux, on the other hand, has very little patience for idiots with no reading comprehension skills:

As a follow-up to Dave's post, get this from reactionary fusion jazz musician and Trainwreck Media founder Chuck Johnson. The New York Times article says this:

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. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

Johnson:

Is the New York Times actually conceding that Saddam was just a year away from having a nuclear weapon in 2002?

No.

This has been easy answers to idiotic questions posed by dead-ender hacks.

...An Army of Morons.

...to his credit, unlike many of his XFL Media colleagues Glenn Reynolds is literate. To his discredit, he claims that the fact that Hussein was close to nuclear weapons in 1991 "undercuts that whole "Bush lied about WMD" thing." Um, run that by me again--the fact that Hussein could have had nukes in 1992 makes him an immediate security risk in 2003 how exactly? We seem to be back to our old warblogger friend, the conflation of will and capacity: whether or not Hussein had, or could plausibly acquire, nuclear weapons is beside the point because he really wanted to have them. Similarly, if I announced that I really wanted to marry Gretchen Mol, you should send the wedding gifts immediately!

And in the Department of You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Nico at Think Progress has Andrew Card on video blaming the New York Times for putting it in the paper that the Bush administration put a nuclear weapons cookbook on the Internet:

This morning on NBC, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card excused the Bush administration's role in posting nuclear weapons secrets on a public web site, and instead blamed the New York Times for having "advertised" the secrets "to the world."

Card said "it's important that we recognize the government is doing the right thing" and claimed the government "acted very quickly" to remove the nuclear secrets.

According to the Times, the nuclear secrets have been available for weeks despite an incident last spring when information on how to make tabun and sarin nerve agents had to be removed from the site. Moreover, U.S. officials were warned last week by the International Atomic Energy Association that the information available "could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms." The web site wasn't removed until last night, after the Times began its inquiry.

1 comment:

JoeC said...

Just trust him...Bush had very good reasons for sharing A-bomb instructions with any terrorist with an Internet connection:
http://joecrubaugh.com/blog/2006/11/04/top-10-reasons-bush-posted-nuclear-bomb-cookbook-online/