The biased liberal media was at work again this week: as I'm sure you noticed, the latte-sipping America-hating Fourth Estaters relentlessly pushed the Republicans' politically motivated decision to publish online documents that happened to include technical data crucial to construct an atomic bomb--while barely mentioning it at all when John Kerry screwed up a joke.
It's not that the Republicans knowingly or intentially published this information; that would be something akin to treason. It's just that they cared more about the potential political gain than the potential risk of providing secrets to would-be mass murderers. (This is the Valerie Plame story: same tune, different words.) The experts complained--and as always in this administration, the politicals blew off the experts. Some details:
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.
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.
The government had received earlier warnings about the contents of the Web site. Last spring, after the site began posting old Iraqi documents about chemical weapons, United Nations arms-control officials in New York won the withdrawal of a report that gave information on how to make tabun and sarin, nerve agents that kill by causing respiratory failure.
The campaign for the online archive was mounted by conservative publications and politicians, who said that the nation’s spy agencies had failed adequately to analyze the 48,000 boxes of documents seized since the March 2003 invasion. With the public increasingly skeptical about the rationale and conduct of the war, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees argued that wide analysis and translation of the documents — most of them in Arabic — would reinvigorate the search for clues that Mr. Hussein had resumed his unconventional arms programs in the years before the invasion. American search teams never found such evidence.
In Europe, a senior diplomat said atomic experts there had studied the nuclear documents on the Web site and judged their public release as potentially dangerous. “It’s a cookbook,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his agency’s rules. “If you had this, it would short-circuit a lot of things.”
Ray E. Kidder, a senior nuclear physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, an arms design center, said “some things in these documents would be helpful” to nations aspiring to develop nuclear weapons and should have remained secret.
A senior American intelligence official who deals routinely with atomic issues said the documents showed “where the Iraqis failed and how to get around the failures.” The documents, he added, could perhaps help Iran or other nations making a serious effort to develop nuclear arms, but probably not terrorists or poorly equipped states. The official, who requested anonymity because of his agency’s rules against public comment, called the papers “a road map that helps you get from point A to point B, but only if you already have a car.”
Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private group at George Washington University that tracks federal secrecy decisions, said the impetus for the Web site’s creation came from an array of sources — private conservative groups, Congressional Republicans and some figures in the Bush administration — who clung to the belief that close examination of the captured documents would show that Mr. Hussein’s government had clandestinely reconstituted an unconventional arms programs.
“There were hundreds of people who said, ‘There’s got to be gold in them thar hills,’ ” Mr. Blanton said.
This is actually a perfect manifestation of the two trademarks of Bush/Cheney/DeLay-era Republicanism: raw political calculation mixed with astonishing incompetence and irresponsibility. Wouldn't it be a basic point of due diligence to figure out what's in the files before posting them online?
This story broke in the same 24-hour period as the news that the Republicans were going to fire the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, who has been investigating fraud and waste among contractors; and that the publications of the four newspapers of the military are about to call for Donald Rumsfeld's dismissal. I will be very surprised if all three of these news items--which I think most observers would agree are fairly significant--get nearly as much ink and air time as Kerry's flubbed lines.
And that kind of brings me to a larger thought about the election, three days and change before polls open. This really might be the last shot to reign in the people whose bad ideas, bad management and bad belief systems are corroding the power, and the soul, of this nation. I knew that if we didn't win in 2004, some awful things were going to happen; in the space of about a year, we saw New Orleans all but destroyed without an effective federal response and we've seen the death of habeus corpus and the embrace of torture as national policy. The economy hasn't collapsed, but it's wobbling. Iraq has gotten even worse. And this Congress spent less time in session, did less work for the public, and endured more black marks of members' corruption and immorality than any in memory.
If we truly did have the parliamentary system that our politics has come to suggest, this would be easier: I don't doubt that the electorate would simply vote the Democrats into a majority. But since you can't cast a national vote, it remains quite possible that while the substantial majority will vote Democratic, the majority in one or both houses will remain Republican. The direction of the country, whether we keep digging this hole or start to climb out of it, might depend on one or two million voters clustered in about 20 House districts in Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Arizona and a handful of other areas.
However it comes out, that somehow doesn't sit right.