During the House Intelligence Committee hearing today on “Worldwide Threats,” Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper said that he has recently had conversations about releasing more of the documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound. More of the documents should be released, Clapper said.
For nearly one year we’ve been arguing that more of the files, which would fill a “small college library,” should be released to the public. To date, the Obama administration has released just 17 of the documents (and a handful of videos) from an archive that totaled “hundreds of thousands” of files. This is an insignificant fraction of the total haul.
There are no guarantees, of course, that additional documents given to the public will be a representative cross-section of the whole.
But at least DNI Clapper, prompted by questioning from Congressman Devin Nunes, has now publicly recognized that more of the files should be released to the public.
Clapper said the files that are still operationally relevant need to remain behind the classified wall. Agreed. But here is what we wrote on May 3, 2012 – the day the administration released just 17 documents through West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC):
We think that nearly all of Osama bin Laden’s files should be declassified and released to the public – not just a tiny fraction of them. In this case, there are no sources and methods to protect. Everyone knows how and when the captured files were obtained. There is undoubtedly information contained in the files that is still operationally relevant, and exceptions to declassification can be made in some cases.
Overall, however, the government should declassify and release nearly all of bin Laden’s files. Some of the files were authored more than a decade ago, yet none of those dated documents were released today. The earliest document released by CTC is dated September 2006. This means that any documents pertaining to the planning of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the October 12, 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the August 7, 1998 embassy bombings were not released. Yet, these are the types of documents that deal directly with al Qaeda’s assault on American interests that precipitated more than a decade of controversial wars.
This remains true today.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.