By David Morgan
The Bush administration closed a government Web site set up to
publicly display pre-war Iraqi documents on weapons of mass
destruction after experts said its content included details for
building a nuclear bomb, officials said on Friday.
The unclassified site was established by U.S. intelligence chief John
Negroponte in March under pressure from Republicans, who believed the
captured documents would illustrate the dangers of Saddam Hussein
during an election year marked by increasing voter disaffection over
the Iraq war.
But Negroponte's office shut down the site, known as the "Operation
Iraqi Freedom Document Portal," after the New York Times informed the
Bush administration about expert concerns over posted accounts of
Iraq's nuclear research before the 1991 Gulf War.
The New York Times, which broke the story late on Thursday, reported
that the site's contents in recent weeks had begun to "constitute a
basic guide to building an atom bomb."
Negroponte's office said in a statement on Friday that it had
suspended access to the site "pending a review to ensure its content
is appropriate for public viewing."
"The material currently on the Web site, as well as the procedures
used to post new documents, will be carefully reviewed before the site
becomes available again," the statement said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked about the issue in a
radio interview, suggested the controversy supported President George
W. Bush's assertion that Saddam harbored dangerous nuclear ambitions
before the March 2003 invasion.
"The interesting thing is that there clearly were an awful lot of
nuclear documents floating around Iraq which suggest that this is
someone who'd not given up on his ambitions," Rice said in the
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Republican chairman of the House of
Representatives Intelligence Committee and a leading proponent of the
Iraq documents' release, said he welcomed the public discussion
generated by the debate.
"This only reinforces the value of these documents in understanding
the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime," he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, independent experts and diplomats expressed shock at the
appearance of the material on a U.S. Web site.
A diplomat affiliated with the watchdog International Atomic Energy
Agency told Reuters IAEA inspectors were "shocked by the explicitness
of the content" on the Web page and that a senior agency official
conveyed the concerns to U.S. diplomats in Vienna.
U.S. officials denied that U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte
had received any protest or expression of concern from the IAEA.
"For the U.S. to toss a match into this flammable area is very
irresponsible," former U.S. Energy Department official A. Bryan
Siebert told the New York Times.
Negroponte warned in Senate testimony last February that al Qaeda was
actively seeking WMD for use against the United States. He said
nuclear proliferation posed the greatest concern for U.S. national
Hoekstra and Republican Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record)
of Pennsylvania spearheaded the lobbying campaign for the release of
The captured material had already been examined by the CIA's Iraq
Survey Group. But Republicans wanted it released quickly to the
public, including political "blogs," saying it could provide fresh
details about pre-war Iraqi WMD or links between Saddam and Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda network.
Those allegations helped justify a war that has become increasingly
unpopular among U.S. voters who will decide next week whether
Republicans retain control of Congress.
No WMD have been located in Iraq and independent investigators have
found no evidence that Saddam had a collaborative relationship with al
(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington and Mark Heinrich in
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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