November surprise! NYT plans page-one Iraq WMD splash for tomorrow; Flashback: Operation Merlin

So says the teaser on Drudge. Well, on the bright side, at least they’re not making a pretense of being impartial anymore.

Only two possibilities here:

1. They have evidence that someone in the administration knew there were no WMDs.

2. They have evidence that Saddam was further along in his nuke program than we thought.

The election’s in five days so I think we can safely rule out number two. Ace peers ahead a few hours into the future:

[I]t will be a re-breaking of a story — with NEW reportage and NEW quotes that aren’t new at all — that there was reason to doubt Saddam’s capability in this area and that “some senior intelligence analysts at the State Department” strongly questioned the prevailing view that he sought a bomb.

The same “senior intelligence analysts” who have been saying the same thing for four years and who, no matter how right they may have turned out to be, were nonetheless a small minority of the intel community who were unable to persuade their fellow analysts of their point of view.

While we wait for the bomb to drop, enjoy this not at all coincidentally timed poll jointly commissioned by the lefty rags the Guardian, the Toronto Star, and Haaretz:

America is now seen as a threat to world peace by its closest neighbours and allies, according to an international survey of public opinion published today that reveals just how far the country’s reputation has fallen among former supporters since the invasion of Iraq…

As a result, Mr Bush is ranked with some of his bitterest enemies as a cause of global anxiety. He is outranked by Osama bin Laden in all four countries, but runs the close in the eyes of British voters: 87% think the al-Qaida is a great or moderate danger to peace, compared with 75% who think this of Mr Bush.

The US leader and close ally of Tony Blair is seen in Britain as a more dangerous man than the president of Iran (62% think he is a danger), the North Korean leader (69%) and the leader of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah (65%).

World opinion is on the side of the left, and don’t you forget it.

Update: This almost comes as a relief:


Federal government set up Web site — Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal — to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war; detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research; a ‘basic guide to building an atom bomb’… Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency fear the information could help Iran develop nuclear arms… contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that the nuclear experts say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums…. Developing…

On behalf of every conservative in the United States, let me ask one question:

Exactly how far along was Saddam’s nuclear research that Iran might possibly benefit from it?

Update: Okay, two questions:

Why is the IAEA worried about Iran using bombmaking information in their “peaceful nuclear energy program”?

Update: Someone send me the link to the DU thread accusing Bush of having done this deliberately to help Iran’s bomb program along in order to justify bombing them. If the thread doesn’t exist yet, it will.

Update (Ian): This isn’t the first time the NY Times has gone with an Iraq “surprise”.

Update: Here’s the Times article. The left’s and right’s interests in this story are oddly aligned: the more significant the published nuclear documents are, the more serious the error is in having posted them — and the more they bolster Bush’s argument that Saddam was a serious threat to build a bomb. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays tomorrow. Both sides might just want to call it a wash and walk away, although Geraghty sure does seem excited.

For now:

[I]n recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb…

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990’s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away

In Europe, a senior diplomat said atomic experts there had studied the nuclear documents on the Web site and judged their public release as potentially dangerous. “It’s a cookbook,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his agency’s rules. “If you had this, it would short-circuit a lot of things.”

Ace summarizes the piece thusly:

Iraq had advanced plans to build a bomb (but it was no threat to build a bomb!) and Bush is horrible because he let those plans be posted on line, which Iran may use to build a bomb (but we also don’t have to worry about them building a bomb, so don’t get any tricky ideas about bombing them!).

Rob Port questions the timing. The Times says the feds shuttered the website last night after the paper inquired about nuke experts’ complaints; an IAEA official had complained about it to the U.S. ambassador to Austria last week, but the blockbuster documents had been online since September. Given that timeline and the potential this has to cut against the Dems — especially with Saddam expected to be in the news this weekend — I doubt they held the story to coincide with the election.

In any case, the irony is indeed rich.

Update: Captain Ed wonders, if the nuclear documents on the website are authentic, does that mean the ones linking Saddam to Al Qaeda are authentic too?

Update: Reader RLW wants to know if any of the secrets Bush spilled here overlap with the secrets spilled by Clinton’s CIA in 2000. Remember Operation: Merlin?

The CIA may have helped Iran to design a nuclear bomb through a botched attempt to channel flawed blueprints to Tehran’s weapon designers, according to a new book on the US “war on terror”.

In an excerpt from State of War, printed today in G2, the author and New York Times intelligence correspondent, James Risen, writes that the abortive operation misfired when a Russian defector on the CIA payroll, chosen to deliver the deliberately flawed nuclear warhead blueprints to Iranian officials in February 2000, tipped them off about the defects.

The operation, codenamed Merlin and approved by the Clinton administration, was intended to send Iranian scientists down a technological dead end, according to this account. They would spend years building a warhead which would fail to detonate. Instead, Risen writes, the operation may have helped Iran to “accelerate its weapons development” by extracting important information from the blueprints and ignoring the flaws.