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Where is the value?

If you have been following the developments surrounding what has been found in the captured Iraqi documents, you’re aware that they portray a dramatic and sometimes shocking state of affairs in pre-war Iraq. Some have asked how the US intelligence community could ignore these documents when they apparently contain such bombshells. The easy and predictable answer is that they’re all fakes and not to be believed. That is the line of all the anonymously sourced nay-sayers, and they’re sticking to it.

Fair enough, but tell me: what is the military occupational specialty code for forensic document examiner? What is the course at the CIA’s Kent school that teaches analysts the skills necessary to detect fraudulent from legitimate documents? These are rhetorical questions because there is no such skill in the intelligence business. Certainly there are a few investigators in the ranks of the military’s criminal investigative arms who can detect fake documents and counterfeit currency, but let me ask you another rhetorical question: how many of these individuals were in Iraq sorting through the warehouses full of captured documents telling military intelligence which ones were worth looking at and which were not?

We can assume with some certainty that the vast majority of the documents captured in Iraq are not forgeries created with express purpose of confusing US intelligence. Try to imagine a nation the size of Iraq creating and circulating millions of false memos, letters, edicts, and directives. Iraq may not have been a picture of bureaucratic efficiency, but under such conditions it would have been paralyzed.

Iraq did have a substantial intelligence and security apparatus, so it is also safe to assume that some sort of deception effort was either ongoing – remnants of efforts carried out against weapons inspectors – or undertaken shortly after it became clear that Uncle Sam wasn’t messing around. Regardless, the sheer volume of material brings the odds of finding forgeries to almost infinitesimal levels.

The documents released to date are merely a drop in the bucket of what is to come, but if this were an election the TV news would be using this exit polling to call for a Bush landslide.

Ah, the press. Where are they by the way? Steve has pointed out that the Gray Lady has her head stuck up her fourth point of contact. Then again do we really want to learn about what Saddam was doing from an institution that hires and coddles fabricators? CBS has a certain amount of experience dealing with falsified documents so you think they would be lending their expertise, but so far, nothing. I know why NBC isn’t in the mix; the documents tell a story that is so fantastic that it reads like fiction. If NBC is into anything it is making up fantastic stories, like how GM trucks explode in collisions (when NBC plants explosives on them) and how NASCAR-loving red-necks hate Muslims . . . oh, wait, never mind. Hey, Muslims with cars filled with explosives at a NASCAR event: now there is a Peabody waiting to happen.

How about, instead of a dismissive wave of the hand, we got some actual investigative reporting done on this material: an effort at least as strong as the one surrounding the “covert” officer whose government affiliation could be found in public databases.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.