The Magazine

Who'll Let the Docs Out?

Bush wants to release the Saddam files but his intelligence chief stalls.

Mar 20, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 25 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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An example: On April 13, 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle published an exhaustive article based on documents reporter Robert Collier unearthed in an Iraqi Intelligence safehouse in Baghdad. The claims were stunning.

The documents found Thursday and Friday in a Baghdad office of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret police, indicate that at least five agents graduated Sept. 15 from a two--week course in surveillance and eavesdropping techniques, according to certificates issued to the Iraqi agents by the "Special Training Center" in Moscow . . .

Details about the Mukhabarat's Russian spy training emerged from some Iraqi agents' personnel folders, hidden in a back closet in a center for electronic surveillance located in a four-story mansion in the Mesbah district, Baghdad's wealthiest neighborhood. . . .

Three of the five Iraqi agents graduated late last year from a two-week course in "Phototechnical and Optical Means," given by the Special Training Center in Moscow, while two graduated from the center's two-week course in "Acoustic Surveillance Means."

One of the graduating officers, identified in his personnel file as Sami Rakhi Mohammad Jasim al-Mansouri, 46, is described as being connected to "the general management of counterintelligence" in the south of the country. . . .

His certificate, which bears the double-eagle symbol of the Russian Federation and a stylized star symbol that resembles the seal of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, uses a shortened version of al-Mansouri's name.

It says he entered the Moscow-based Special Training Center's "advanced" course in "acoustic surveillance means" on Sept. 2, 2002, and graduated on Sept. 15.

Four days later, the Chronicle reported that the "Moscow-based Special Training Center," was the Russian foreign intelligence service, known as SVR, and the SVR confirmed the training:

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Boris Labusov, acknowledged that Iraqi secret police agents had been trained by his agency but said the training was for nonmilitary purposes, such as fighting crime and terrorism.

Yet documents discovered in Baghdad by The Chronicle last week suggest that the spying techniques the Iraqi agents learned in Russia may have been used against foreign diplomats and civilians, raising doubt about the accuracy of Labusov's characterization.

Labusov, the press officer for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, confirmed that the certificates discovered by The Chronicle were genuine and that the Iraqis had received the training the documents described.

The Russians declared early in the U.N. process that they preferred inspections to war. Perhaps we now know why. Still, it is notable that at precisely the same time Russian intelligence was training Iraqi operatives, senior Russian government officials were touting their alliance with the United States. Russian foreign minister Boris Malakhov proclaimed that the two countries were "partners in the anti-terror coalition" and Putin spokesman Sergei Prikhodko declared, "Russia and the United States have a common goal regarding the Iraqi issue." (Of course, these men may have been in the dark on what their intelligence service was up to.) On November 8, 2002, six weeks after the Iraqis completed their Russian training, Russia voted in favor of U.N. Resolution 1441, which threatened "serious consequences" for continued Iraqi defiance on its weapons programs.

Maybe this is mere history to Negroponte. But it has practical implications for policymakers assessing Russia's role as go-between in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Perhaps anticipating the weakness of his "mere history" argument, Negroponte abruptly shifted his position last week. He still opposes releasing the documents, only now he claims that the information in these documents is so valuable that it cannot be made public. Negroponte gave a statement to Fox News responding to Hoekstra's call to release the captured documents. "These documents have provided, and continue to provide, actionable intelligence to ongoing operations. . . . It would be ill-advised to release these materials without careful screening because the material includes sensitive and potentially harmful information."

This new position raises two obvious questions: If the documents have provided actionable intelligence, why has the intelligence community exploited so few of them? And why hasn't Negroponte demanded more money and manpower for the DOCEX program?

Sadly, these obvious questions have an obvious answer. The intelligence community is not interested in releasing documents captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. Why this is we can't be sure. But Pete Hoekstra offers one distinct possibility.

"They are State Department people who want to make no waves and don't want to do anything that would upset anyone," he says.