We in journalism are selective about what we think you need to know in the war on terror.
The New York Times thinks you need to know the National Security Agency has been listening in
on phone calls from al Qaida suspects abroad to people in the United States, even though
telling you also alerts the terrorists, who, presumably, have sought more secure ways to
The Washington Post thinks you need to know the CIA has "secret prisons" in Europe, even though
telling you reduces the cooperation we receive from foreign governments, for fear we cannot
keep their secrets.
And the New York Times thinks you need to know we've been tracking terrorist financing through
the SWIFT consortium in Belgium, even though publication means al Qaida will seek other ways to
We are less eager to provide you with information harmful to our enemies.
You may not have heard that about 500 artillery shells filled with nerve gas and mustard gas
have been found in Iraq, because we've given this story much less attention than the
(increasingly fishy) allegations that U.S. Marines committed atrocities in Haditha last
The information is contained in a report by the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center, a
small portion of which was declassified at the insistence of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and Rep.
Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich), who announced the findings in a news conference June 21.
The munitions date from the 1980s the time of the Iran/Iraq war and have degraded since
The number of weapons found wouldn't have posed much of a threat to protected troops, but could
be devastating to civilians. (Saddam used fewer than 20 such munitions to kill an estimated
5,000 Kurds at Halabja in 1988.)
The discovery makes it clear Saddam did possess stockpiles of WMD, and that if there were an
effort to dispose of them, it was incomplete. Five hundred artillery shells filled with sarin
and mustard is a lot to overlook.
There likely are more. Confidence on the left that "Bush lied" when he said Saddam possessed
weapons of mass destruction is based on the report of the Iraq Survey Group, which found no
stockpiles of WMD. But Charles Duelfer, who headed the ISG, acknowledged his group examined
less than one quarter of one percent of the more than 10,000 known weapons storage sites in
News organizations took notice of the find chiefly to deprecate its significance. MSNBC's
Keith Olbermann described them as "weapons of minor discomfort:"
"You might get a burn if you rubbed these weapons directly on your skin," he said.
That prompted my friend Tom Lipscomb to suggest Mr. Olbermann be given an all expenses paid
trip to Iraq, where he could select any one of the shells, open it, and rub its contents on his
I doubt Mr. Olbermann will accept Tom Lipscomb's challenge. Liberals talk the talk, but rarely
walk the walk.
In this instance, hypocrisy is prudent. Chemical munitions deteriorate over time, but do so
unevenly. In a 2002 report, the Stockholm Institute for International Peace said chemical
munitions from World War I "remain hazardous even if they have been buried or dumped at sea."
The residual danger posed by these weapons may be the reason why we haven't been told about
them until now, wrote Harold Hutchison on StrategyPage.
"If the United States were to have announced WMD finds right away, it could have told
terrorists where to look to locate chemical weapons," he said. "The other problem is that
immediate disclosure could have exposed informants."
Sen. Santorum and Rep. Hoekstra fear there may be less noble reasons for keeping this
information from Americans.
Sen. Santorum learned of the report in April, but was stonewalled in his requests to see it
until he enlisted the help of Rep. Hoekstra, who is chairman of the House Intelligence
"After repeated conversations with Administration officials, including President Bush, I was
assured the Intelligence Community would make the information available in declassified form,"
Sen. Santorum told me Wednesday. "Unfortunately, to took several additional letters and
telephone conversations to get a six-line declassified summary of a more than 35 page
The news media have been incurious about what's in the rest of the NGIC report, and why
intelligence officials have been so reluctant to share it with the elected officials who have
oversight over their activities. Sen. Santorum and Rep. Hoekstra have received no editorial
support for their efforts to get more of the report declassified.
Is it because journalists who don't mind clueing al Qaida in on our secrets don't think you
need to know Saddam's?