The Magazine

Saddam's Terror Training Camps

What the documents captured from the former Iraqi regime reveal--and why they should all be made public.

Jan 16, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 17 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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"I can tell you that I'm reaching the point of extreme frustration," said Hoekstra, in a phone interview last Thursday. His exasperated tone made the claim unnecessary. "It's just an indication that rather than having a nimble, quick intelligence community that can respond quickly, it's still a lumbering bureaucracy that can't give the chairman of the intelligence committee answers relatively quickly. Forget quickly, they can't even give me answers slowly."

On January 6, however, Hoekstra finally heard from Negroponte. The director of national intelligence told Hoekstra that he is committed to expediting the exploitation and release of the Iraqi documents. According to Hoekstra, Negroponte said: "I'm giving this as much attention as anything else on my plate to make this work."

Other members of Congress--including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Senators Rick Santorum and Pat Roberts--also demanded more information from the Bush administration on the status of the vast document collection. Santorum and Hoekstra have raised the issue personally with President Bush. This external pressure triggered an internal debate at the highest levels of the administration. Following several weeks of debate, a consensus has emerged: The vast majority of the 2 million captured documents should be released publicly as soon as possible.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has convened several meetings in recent weeks to discuss the Pentagon's role in expediting the release of this information. According to several sources familiar with his thinking, Rumsfeld is pushing aggressively for a massive dump of the captured documents. "He has a sense that public vetting of this information is likely to be as good an astringent as any other process we could develop," says Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita.

The main worry, says DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. "There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to 'prove' that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we'd spend a lot of time chasing around after it."

This is a view many officials attributed to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone. (Cambone, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed.) For months, Cambone has argued internally against expediting the release of the documents. "Cambone is the problem," says one former Bush administration official who wants the documents released. "He has blocked this every step of the way." In what is perhaps a sign of a changing dynamic within the administration, Cambone is now saying that he, like his boss, favors a broad document release.

Although Hoekstra, too, has been pushing hard for the quick release of all of the documents, he is currently focusing his efforts simply on obtaining the 40 documents he asked for in November. "There comes a time when the talking has to stop and I get the documents. I requested these documents six weeks ago and I have not seen a single piece of paper yet."

Is Hoekstra being unreasonable? I asked Michael Tanji, the former DOCEX official with the Defense Intelligence Agency, how long such a search might take. His answer: Not long. "The retrieval of a HARMONY document is a trivial thing assuming one has a serial number or enough keyword terms to narrow down a search [Hoekstra did]. If given the task when they walked in the door, one person should be able to retrieve 40 documents before lunch."

Tanji should know. He left DIA last year as the chief of the media exploitation division in the office of document exploitation. Before that, he started and managed a digital forensics and intelligence fusion program that used the data obtained from DOCEX operations. He began his career as an Army signals intelligence [SIGINT] analyst. In all, Tanji has worked for 18 years in intelligence and dealt with various aspects of the media exploitation problem for about four years.

We discussed the successes and failures of the DOCEX program, the relative lack of public attention to the project, and what steps might be taken to expedite the exploitation of the documents in the event the push to release all of the documents loses momentum.

TWS: In what areas is the project succeeding? In what areas is the project failing?