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Post-Haste

The first batch of captured documents from pre-war Iraq and Afghanistan are now available online.

10:34 PM, Mar 15, 2006 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has created a website where it will post documents captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. The website is hosted by the Foreign Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center at Fort Leavenworth and will be updated continuously with new documents.

The first batch of materials, released late Wednesday, includes nine documents captured in connection with Operation Iraqi Freedom and 28 documents previously released on February 14, 2006, in conjunction with a study of those documents conducted by analysts at West Point. Sources on Capitol Hill and within the intelligence community tell The Weekly Standard that hundreds of new documents will be made available in the coming days, including 50-60 hours of audiotapes from the Iraqi regime.

ODNI officials will concentrate their early efforts on making available audiotapes and videotapes that have come from the former Iraqi regime. Twenty-five Arabic language translators will be hired to review these recordings for potentially sensitive information before they are posted. According to officials familiar with the DOCEX program, the U.S. government has in its possession more than 3,000 hours of recordings from the Iraqi regime. Among the collection: recordings of meetings between Saddam Hussein and other regime leaders; videotapes of speeches that Saddam thought would be important; audio and video of Saddam's meetings with foreign leaders; videotapes from conferences sponsored by the regime; and even videotapes of regime-sponsored brutality.

Materials made public in the first wave of the release will be those least likely to raise objections from the intelligence community and U.S. allies. Negroponte plans to include many of the documents labeled "NIV"--for No Intelligence Value--in this first group of materials.

But Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, insists that documents relevant to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 will be released in short order. "There may be many documents that relate to their WMD programs. Those should be released," says Hoekstra. "Same thing with links to terrorism."

Among that next batch may be the approximately 700 documents that served as the foundation for a fascinating study by the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Analysts from the Institute for Defense Analysis reviewed thousands of documents for that two-year study of the Iraq War from the perspective of Iraqis. Declassified excerpts of their final report were published in a highly illuminating article in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. And the full report will be published as a book in the coming months.

It is hard to say what, exactly, to expect with the coming release of documents. There will be documents that lend support to those who opposed the war in Iraq and, to be sure, documents that bolster the case for those who supported the war.

Importantly, after years of questions about the threat from the Iraqi regime, we will now be able to get some answers. How close were the French and the Russians to the former Iraqi regime? What kind of information was being passed to the Iraqis on the eve of war in early 2003? What is the real story of Iraq's WMD programs? Why did Saddam's military leaders and scientists fabricate their reports on the progress of those programs? Which terrorist groups had an active presence in Baghdad? How many Palestinian Liberation Front jihadists did the Iraqi regime train each year? How effective was Saddam Hussein in deceiving UN inspectors throughout the 1990s? What did Saddam Hussein privately tell Yasser Arafat when the Palestinian leader came to Baghdad? And what were the Western targets of the "Blessed July" martyrdom operation that was being planned as U.S. troops crossed into Iraq in March 2003?

There are still outstanding process questions that must be answered, too. Who determines which documents will be released and which ones will be kept secret? And what are the criteria for blocking the release of material thought to be sensitive?

Another critical issue is authenticity. A caveat on the website reads: "The US Government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available." Determining which documents are authentic and which are not will be an incredibly important task. This will be difficult task too, since many of the documents have no known chain of custody. There was a bustling black market for forged documents in Baghdad after the war. How will we determine which documents are real and which documents are not? Some documents listed in the HARMONY database have warnings: "DIA suspects inauthentic." Will those documents be included in the release? Will the warnings? Will we learn why the DIA suspected that the document might not be authentic? Has forensic document authentication been done on any of the documents? Which ones?

In the end, the Iraqis themselves will provide answers to many of those questions. And Iraqis will probably be central to our understanding of these documents and the history they represent. This is true not only because they understand the language of the documents, but also because they understand better than anyone the culture that produced them.

In that spirit, we will be eager to hear from the "Army of Analysts"--particularly those who read Arabic--that former intelligence officer Michael Tanji wrote about here two days ago. If John Negroponte makes good on his promise of a comprehensive document release, then millions of papers, audiotapes, and other media will be posted in the coming months. As we've seen, that's an overwhelming amount for the U.S. government, to say nothing of a magazine.

Let's get started.

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