from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 102
November 19, 2003


In its cover story this week, The Weekly Standard presented classified intelligence data concerning the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda.

The Standard article, written by Stephen F. Hayes and rather presumptuously entitled "Case Closed," is based on a classified letter sent by Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. It cites numerous reports of contacts between Iraqi officials and al Qaeda that appear to indicate an operational relationship between the two. The article is posted here:

But in a remarkable if oddly worded dismissal, the Pentagon stated that "News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate."

The Feith letter "was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions," the Pentagon said.

Furthermore, "Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal."

It is in the nature of raw intelligence reports that they are susceptible to multiple interpretations, some more plausible than others. Even reliably accurate data can mean radically different things depending on the larger context. That is why intelligence reports are subjected to analysis, and not simply siphoned directly to policy makers. The Weekly Standard article in effect bypassed the analytical process, yielding a sensational but hardly conclusive result.

Stephen F. Hayes today responded to the Defense Department's statement regarding his story in the Weekly Standard online here:


The Weekly Standard brought important new information into the public domain that ought to nourish and prompt further investigation -- precisely because the case is not "closed".

But the only congressional response to the story so far is that it involved leaked information that should never have been published.

The whole episode highlights the dereliction of the congressional oversight committees, which have failed to keep the public informed in a meaningful way. Nor have the committees significantly advanced the intelligence reform agenda they themselves identified last year in the Joint Inquiry into September 11.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) in particular is missing in action. It hasn't held an open hearing in months, and has held only two open hearings all year, according to the threadbare Committee web site.

The first hearing was the worldwide threat briefing in February (SN, 10/31/03). The second hearing addressed the confirmation of Frank Libutti to be Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection at the Department of Homeland Security. The record of that June 2003 hearing has just been published:


"The oldest Freedom of Information Act requests that are still pending in the federal government date back to the late 1980s, before the collapse of the Soviet Union," according to a new study by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The Archive is conducting a full-fledged audit of the way the Freedom of Information Act functions, and fails to function, throughout the government. It is demonstrating by example the kind of penetrating oversight of the FOIA that Congress has largely neglected.

The newest installment of the National Security Archive FOIA audit is entitled "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied," by Tom Blanton, Meredith Fuchs and Barbara Elias.


The government properly withheld from disclosure the names of certain individuals mentioned in old FBI records because it could not be readily ascertained whether they were alive or dead, a new appeals court ruling said.

The November 18 decision was the latest development in a longstanding Freedom of Information Act proceeding in which historian Ellen W. Schrecker has pursued disclosure of McCarthy-era documents from the FBI. A copy of the new D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is posted here:


A selection of Congressional Research Service reports on First Amendment issues has been compiled and posted by the First Amendment Center here:

A revised version of the CRS report on "Protecting Airliners from Terrorist Missiles," updated November 3, is available here:


The International Atomic Energy Agency will consider the status of Iran's nuclear programs at its meeting on November 20. A clean copy of the recent IAEA report on Iran in a reasonably small file size is now available here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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