BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the middle of March, some 48,000 boxes of documents removed from Saddam's Iraq began to become available online to anyone or everyone who might read them. And when I say everyone, I mean bloggers. Some speculated that the release had a political motivation, specifically that right-leaning bloggers would use translators to search for evidence of WMD and the like. But if there was hard evidence of WMD or collusion between Saddam and al Qaeda, wouldn't we already know? What are these documents and why were Congressional Republicans, led by Michigan's Peter Hoekstra, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, urging the White House to dump them on the Net? Michael Scheuer is a 22-year veteran of the CIA who served as the chief of the Bin Laden unit at the Counter-Terrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. Now he's a news analyst for CBS. Michael, welcome to OTM.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So as a former CIA man, what do you think of this?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: It's amazing. I just can't understand why you would dump this many untranslated documents into the public arena. The whole business of letting the public help or turning the power of the Internet loose on these documents seems to me to be just so much talk.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It also seems incredibly inconsistent with the practice of the Bush Administration.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: [LAUGHS] That's certainly true. They're so secretive about everything else, and yet here we go with 48,000 boxes of documents, which they really have no idea of what those boxes contain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But according to the New York Times, all the documents have at least gotten a once-over.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: You know, it's very seldom in the history of America that we have recovered 48,000 boxes of documents from any country. I suspect that giving them a once-over shortchanges America's national interests. In my career, at least, this is a very unprecedented move, and it certainly exposes a mass of documents to linguists of varying capabilities who will be looking either from the left or from the right to take advantage of them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think is actually in these documents that could pose a risk?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, I think certainly the fact that we don't know what's in these documents could pose a risk to the United States in several ways – first, in terms of embarrassment. Who knows, for example, if there's going to be a memorandum of conversation from when Rumsfeld dealt with Saddam back in the '80s? There could be information in those documents that would be operationally useful to the intelligence community in terms of stopping some sort of terrorist attack. There was a great deal of dealing between our allies -- supposed allies in Europe and Saddam Hussein's government commercial dealings -- and I think the documents may expose those and cause even further rifts between NATO members.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, when you talk about embarrassment – say, for instance, an embarrassing moment between Rumsfeld and Saddam in the days when Saddam was a kind of ally - it says in the law that that material should not be held from public view solely on the grounds of embarrassment.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, no, of course, it should not be held, but it should not also be discovered. It's just a matter of the way you do business. This is just another example of the contempt that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and their colleagues have for the intelligence community. You know, this is not opposing it just for the sake of secrecy. It's opposing the release of these documents to make sure that every bit of advantage for America can be extracted from them that should be extracted from them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, clearly, somebody feels it's in America's interest. This has been a Republican-pushed release. Would there be some potential benefit for the Republicans?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Oh, I think clearly there is, and we've already seen their mouthpiece, The Weekly Standard, has already run a couple of articles saying that this proves Saddam did X or did Y, without any [LAUGHING] real knowledge of how the new documents fit into the context of everything else we know. It's just plain amateurishness – or they know what's in these documents and they figure it can help them by releasing it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, the documents, according to the New York Times, came with a disclaimer from the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte's office, saying that the government can't and won't vouch for the authenticity of these documents; that, in fact, many of them might be forgeries. That sounds like the makings of a mess to me.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: It's all the more reason why they should not have been turned loose on the public, I think. So many of the documents of Saddam's Government initially fell into the hands of Iraqi opposition, people like Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, who have a well-known record of giving America bad information. So we may well have documents within this collection that they're putting on the Internet which are simply fabricated to influence American opinion in the direction of supporting the overthrow of Saddam. And what the Bush Administration generally is doing is clouding the issue. Whether or not any of these documents prove there was a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda is irrelevant insofar as the Bush Administration claim there was such a connection before the war. There was no documentation before the war so it could not have been a proper predicate to go to war on. But what The Weekly Standard will do is to use these post-war documents to prove that the Bush Administration was right, and apparently the left-wing of the media have not yet found anything that satisfies their needs. But – [OVERTALK]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
MICHAEL SCHEUER: - I think it's all coming.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Yes, ma'am.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Scheuer is a former CIA chief. He's currently a news analyst for CBS news. He's also the formerly-anonymous author of two books - Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, and Through the Eyes of our Enemies: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Up next, recalling a murder spree that pit an Indian reservation against the press, and fake news spots and the stations that love them.