The Magazine

Where Are the Pentagon Papers?

The administration refuses to defend itself.

Nov 21, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 10 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Because I'd been told that these documents are all unclassified, I requested copies from the Pentagon press office. For reasons I still do not entirely understand, the Pentagon would not provide them. Captain Roxie Merritt, the director of Pentagon press operations, suggested I file a Freedom of Information Act request. I did so on June 19, 2005. Two weeks later I received a letter from the Pentagon's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review.

The information you requested is under the cognizance of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). We have referred your request to them at the address provided below requesting they respond directly to you.

Defense Intelligence Agency

Attn: SVI-1, Room E4-234

Washington, DC 20340-5100

On July 22, 2005, I emailed Captain Merritt in the Pentagon public affairs office. Captain Merritt was then--and remained throughout the process--gracious and professional. I got the feeling she was being as helpful as the bureaucracy would allow her to be.

She wrote:

DIA FOIA has confirmed they have your request. Here is the challenge as they described it to me.

"This is not a simple request. . . . There are multiple agencies/ organizations involved. It isn't as though the documents are laying around in a neat pile waiting for someone to ask for them. The most logical place for the requested documents to be is in a database known as HARMONY. INSCOM (NGIC) is the program manager (owner) of HARMONY, but as they are quick to point out, "anyone" can enter items into the database, so they do not consider themselves the "owner" of the information in the database. Whoever input the information into HARMONY is the release authority of that information and you can't determine who that is until you find the requested documents. For the 44 requested documents, you're talking mega-hours of searching. Of course, the documents may not even be in HARMONY, which would require searching elsewhere (our FOIA folks are looking into that as well). Our FOIA monitor is talking with INSCOM to determine the most efficient way of retrieving the requested documents."

I didn't understand it either.

For weeks I heard nothing. So on August 23, 2005, I emailed Captain Merritt again. She responded quickly.

Steve,

Had my folks check. . . . DIA referred the request to Army's INSCOM which does FOIA on behalf of NGIC . . . the owner of HARMONY. I asked if they had advised you of the referral . . . they had not, but will do so.

In early September I received a letter from the DIA.

This responds to your request under the Freedom of Information Act dated 19 June 2005. Therein you requested from the Department of Defense 43 documents. Your request was referred to the Defense Intelligence Agency on 1 July 2005 and assigned case number 0622-05.

The thrill of having been assigned a DIA case number was short-lived. I learned in the next paragraph that the DIA was no longer handling the request.

These documents are under the purview of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command and your request has been forwarded to that organization for processing and direct response to you.

On September 14, 2005, I emailed Captain Merritt and asked for a contact name at INSCOM. She tasked a subordinate to get back to me. That never happened.

Then, two weeks later, I received a letter dated September 20, 2005. It came from the FOIA office of the Army's Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. Once again, I had gotten a case number. And once again the case number was meaningless.

Since additional time is needed to search for records at another element of our command, we are unable to comply with the statutory 20-day time limit in processing your request. Therefore, you may consider this an administrative denial of your request . . .

And so I did.

SOME OF THE DOCUMENT TITLES I requested are suggestive, others less so. It's possible that the "Document from Uday Hussein regarding Taliban activity" was critical of one or another Taliban policies. But it's equally possible, given Uday's known role as a go-between for the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, that something more nefarious was afoot.

What was discussed at the "Secret Meeting with Taliban Group Member and Iraqi Government" in November 2000? It could be something innocuous. Maybe not. But it would be nice to know more.

Was there really a contract for satellite pictures among Russia, France, and Iraq in December 2002? That would have been a mere three months before the war, at a time when France was telling the U.S. government it supported "serious consequences" for Iraqi noncompliance with U.N. inspections.

One of the documents, "Iraqi Efforts to Cooperate with Saudi Opposition Groups and Individuals," had been provided to the New York Times last summer. Thom Shanker, one of the Times's best reporters, wrote a story based on the document, which was an internal Iraqi Intelligence memo. The Iraqi document revealed that a Sudanese government official met with Uday Hussein and the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in 1994 and reported that bin Laden was willing to meet in Sudan. Bin Laden, according to the Iraqi document, was then "approached by our side" after "presidential approval" for the liaison was given. The former head of Iraqi Intelligence Directorate 4 met with bin Laden on February 19, 1995. The document further states that bin Laden "had some reservations about being labeled an Iraqi operative"--a comment that suggests the possibility had been discussed. (According to another Iraqi Intelligence document, authenticated by the DIA and first reported on 60 Minutes, the regime considered bin Laden an "Iraqi Intelligence asset" as early as 1992, though it's unclear that bin Laden shared this view.)

According to a report in the Times, bin Laden requested that Iraq's state-run television network broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda; the document indicates that the Iraqis agreed to do this. The al Qaeda leader also proposed "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. There is no Iraqi response provided in the documents. When bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan in May 1996, the Iraqis sought "other channels through which to handle the relationship, in light of his current location." The IIS memo directs that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."

What kind of cooperation resulted from this discussion and agreement?

You'd think the U.S. government, journalists, and policy types--not to mention attentive citizens--would want to know more. You'd think they'd be eager.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.