The New York Times is expressing concern over the apparent disclosure of classified information. That’s right, the same paper that dismissed worries about its expose on the NSA terrorist surveillance program and efforts to trace terrorists’ financial dealings, now claims that the U.S. provided a “nuclear primer” to Iran, by posting captured Iraqi documents on the internet.
According to “experts” interviewed by the paper, the documents provide a “basic guide” for building a nuclear weapon, which could be useful to nations (like Iran) that are currently pursuing a nuclear capability. The nuclear information in question was developed by Iraqi nuclear scientists before the 1991 Gulf War, and was found in documents recovered after the liberation of Iraq in 2003. They nuclear documents were posted on a government-sponsored web site, the “Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal,” earlier this year.
The Times’ sudden interest in captured Iraqi documents is rather curious, since the paper has virtually ignored efforts to translate and analyze Saddam’s files under the Harmony program. By the standards of the NYT, Harmony documents that offered new revelations about ongoing Iraqi chemical projects (just months before the U.S.-led invasion) simply weren’t newsworthy (hat tip: Captain’s Quarters). The Times also had no interest in documents that suggested possible ties between the former Iraqi regime and elements of Al Qaida. You may recall that the few MSM outlets who did report on these documents questioned their validity and/or the translation. But now that they’re in the Times, well, they must be the gospel truth.
But posting the supposed nuclear primer is front-page stuff for the Times, particularly when concerns about the material come from their friends at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization the paper considers a bulwark of anti-proliferation efforts. Let’s see, the IAEA doesn’t have a dog in this fight, right? Never mind that the documents in question show how far Iraq’s nuclear program had advanced under the nose of the IAEA, and highlight that agency’s woeful record in tracking–and deterring–rogue nuclear programs. Little wonder that the IAEA is “upset” over these postings.
As for how much information the material might provide to Tehran or other rogue regimes, the Times never really answers that question. One expert interviewed by the paper said data in the formerly posted documents would be “useful,” suggesting that the information is hardly a cookbook or holy grail for nuclear scientists. The NYT also ignores the issue of other sources that might provide the information to rogue states. Iran’s nuclear program, for example, has extensive ties to Russia, which could (potentially) provide advanced data for nuclear research and weapons design. Ditto for Pakistan’s A.Q. Kahn proliferation network, which passed nuclear information to virtually anyone who wanted it.
There’s also the issue of just how useful Iraqi data from the late 80s/early 90s would be for Iranian or North Korean programs that are relatively advanced. Pyongyang’s marginally successful test last month indicates that its program is well beyond what Saddam’s scientists were able to achieve. It also quite possible that Tehran has moved beyond the technical level of the Iraqi program, given Iranian access to outside experts, and continuing research efforts.
But the real irony in all of this is the Times’ sudden obsession with security leaks and potential disclosures. For a paper that has consistently undercut efforts to battle terrorism, the NYT’s new concern about the potential disclosure of classified information is nothing less than sheer hypocrisy.