Open-Source Intelligence

One of the ways in which the United States was and is woefully unprepared for a war anywhere in the Middle East is its lack of Arabic linguists in the ranks of the intelligence and military services. (What I know about Arabic: You read it from right to left. And by the way, salaam aleikum.)

When we invaded Iraq, we came into possession of what’s technically known as a boatload of government papers. Thirty-five thousand boxes’ worth. Millions of pages. And all classified. There may be some amazing stuff in those papers. But having so few people on our side who both read Arabic and have security clearances, there’s no way we’ll ever find out what’s in all those boxes. So instead of an archive that if nothing else might document how Iraq was run in the Saddam era, we have a mountain of worthless paper warehoused in Qatar.

Now, a congressman from Michigan has had a sort of intelligent idea about how to find out what’s in the papers. Open up the entire collection, declassify everything, and put the whole mess online so that all comers — or at least the Arabic readers — can tell what’s in there.

It has the potential to be untidy, but it’s worth a try.

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