Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, added his rather important voice to the growing number of current and former officials who believe the Obama administration should expedite the release of some documents captured during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And Rogers, in an appearance Sunday on Meet the Press, suggested that the Obama administration cherry-picked the few documents released to date to create a narrative about al Qaeda favorable to the president.
“I think we ought to seriously give consideration to allowing more than 17 documents that were selectively picked by the administration to be made public,” he told Meet the Press host David Gregory. “I think that probably doesn’t tell the whole story.”
According to U.S. officials with knowledge of the documents, Rogers is right. The broader collection shows a far more complicated picture of al Qaeda than the one advanced by the Obama administration. In the months after bin Laden’s death and throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, the Obama administration depicted al Qaeda as an organization nearly eliminated by the U.S. campaign against it and portrayed bin Laden as a delusional leader out of touch with his troops. In his speech May 23, Obama declared the end to the Global War on Terror and said that a properly calibrated approach can manage any threats posed by al Qaeda in the future.
The documents, these officials say, tell a different story. Among the revelations: bin Laden kept careful tabs on his affiliates and helped plan attacks from the compound in Abbottabad; the strong ties between al Qaeda central (AQC) and Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-service Intelligence (ISI) were perhaps deeper than many analysts had imagined; senior Iranian officials cultivated the on-again, off-again relationship between AQC and the Iranian regime; al Qaeda central and the Taliban in Afghanistan were far closer than the administration, interested in jump-starting negotiations with the Taliban, let on.
Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Council, says President Obama and his national security advisers have been briefed on the documents. “The President and senior policymakers are briefed on a wide range of issues, with our efforts against al Qaeda being a frequent topic. The documents have been instrumental in refining our understanding of al Qaeda and bin Laden’s role in it, and this body of information from Abbottabad has contributed to the analysis the president and senior policymakers receive regularly and draw on in making decisions.”
The call from Rogers to release more documents follows similar words from other officials familiar with the documents. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers at a Worldwide Threats hearing on April 11, 2013, that the intelligence community was looking at ways to “move ahead on declassifying these captured documents” – beyond those 17 released last year. “I do think there is a good call, good reason for us to declassify to the extent that we can that we don’t in any way justify current operations – to current U.S. intelligence operations or sources or methods and to make this available more widely for academic research.”
Bruce Riedel, a former top Obama adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, told TWS last week: “After two years the public has seen a tiny and insignificant taste of what was in OBL’s hideout. The U.S. government could safely release far more to help the public and experts better judge the threat al Qaeda and its allies still pose. What we have seen is far too little, far too late.”
On Meet the Press, Rogers said some documents would not be made available because they contain sensitive intelligence. “I think there is some value in some of that information retaining its classification for national security reasons,” he said. But he told Gregory that the House Intelligence committee would be spending time on the issue this week. “We’re going over the documents again…my committee is going over and having folks up again for a review of the documents.”