Monday, April 15, 2013

Update on Possible Declassification of Seized Bin Laden Documents

Last week the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing called "Worldwide Threats" that included testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and others. There was a brief portion in which Representative Devin Nunes asked about the exploitation and status of the documents seized in Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.  Clapper indicated that he had recently met with someone from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point - which had previously released 17 documents from the compound - in order to discuss "what we could do to move out, move ahead on declassifying these captured documents" and that there is "a good reason for us to declassify to the extent that we can" to "make this available more widely for academic research."

A video of the full hearing is available here and the relevant portion is isolated in video here and transcript is below:
REP. DEVIN NUNES: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Director Clapper, I remain concerned about the files from the Abbottabad raid. Specifically, what is it, what has been done with it, where is it and what more is being done with it? Maybe some of this we can get into in closed session as to the specifics, but I'd like for you just to kind of give an assessment from your perspective of the different agencies that fall under you. How would you grade the intelligence community's job that they've done with these files in terms of combing through all of them and doing a thorough job? If you could just kind of give a basic assessment grade of what's been done so far.
DIR. JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I would say at least a B+ or A-. I think to start with, when the, in the immediate aftermath of the raid, we established a 7 by 24 joint task force composed of nine components of the intelligence community to, as soon as we receive the media from the raid, to triage it and it was clearly a community effort and to go through it as quickly as we could to determine if there were any immediate threats or threat plotting. So the executive agent for the documents is the CIA and they continue to look at the material. As well at CENTCOM an organization originally established by the then commander of CENTCOM, General Petraeus, was a center of excellence, which is now part of the Director of Intelligence J2 operation, is going through on a very, very detailed basis, all the documents to, almost in an academic research context to read out any further findings from these documents that might bear on a threat. I recently met with, along with the deputy of NCTC, National Counterterrorism Center - with a representative from the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, about what we could do to move out, move ahead on declassifying these captured documents, since there was a tranche of about 17 documents totaling 300 pages that were released immediately to this organization. And I do think there is a good call, a good reason for us to declassify to the extent that we can and we don't in any way justify current operations, current intelligence, U.S. intelligence operations or sources or methods, and to make this available more widely for academic research.
REP. DEVIN NUNES: Well, I'd like to make myself available. I'd like to see some of this raw intelligence if possible. I mean, that may answer some of my questions in terms of if somebody could walk me all the way through it, exactly what it is and what you guys have been doing with it. Would that be possible? 
DIR. JAMES CLAPPER: Well, there were at least 400, over 400 intelligence reports that were issued in the initial aftermath, immediately after the raid. I don't know what that number is since then. 
REP. DEVIN NUNES: And I think you know what I'm getting at, right? There's been some rumors in the press and stories in the press that the administration has used these documents to basically, instead of connect the dots that al Qaida is continuing to flourish around the globe, or the greater al Qaida network, it's been used to disconnect the dots, And, I just want to put that to bed because I have great confidence in you and all of the agencies, and think it's our job as members of the oversight committee to make sure that we put these rumors to rest out in the public. 
DIR. JAMES CLAPPER: I haven't, to be candid, I haven't heard that, but I certainly can arrange a briefing for you on how these documents have been managed from the time they were acquired. 
REP. DEVIN NUNES: OK. Well, I appreciate that. 
GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN: If I could, yeah, just because the director mentioned the efforts by Central Command, one of the things that I can assure everybody is that the secondary exploitation, if you will, the sort of the second phase of what we're doing to take this amount, these, this exploited information that is being shared around, certainly in our military channels and I know throughout the intelligence community, for any lessons learned, any things that we can take away from that, not only with Central Command, but with our Africa Command, with our European Command and other certainly military organizations around the world. So the, and I don't have the number off the top of my head, but I know that there have been hundreds of additional reports that have been subsequently published that has allowed us to understand what we have been facing for some time. And I would add that as the, as Director Brennan said earlier, we are a learning organization and we absolutely take the kinds of information that we're getting out of this reporting to learn and to continue to adapt. 
REP. DEVIN NUNES: Well, thank you, General Flynn.

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