WASHINGTON – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra wants to declassify millions of pages of untranslated documents from Iraq collected by the U.S. government over more than a decade.
The Michigan Republican says it's a way to learn what's inside more than 35,000 boxes that haven't been translated because the government doesn't have enough Arabic linguists with security clearances.
"Most people have acknowledged that we are never going to get through them," he said of the boxes. He's hoping to work with the new Iraqi government to put the documents online so journalists, academics and other researchers can sift through them.
Hoekstra has discussed the proposal with senior intelligence officials and on Friday will call on the intelligence community to issue the sweeping declassification.
Most of the documents were grabbed during the 2003 Iraq invasion and quickly classified, even though they were not a product of the U.S. government. Some date back to the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.
It would be unprecedented to declassify volumes of information without first scrubbing them for secrets the U.S. may not want revealed.
"There are always excuses not to do this, but I think the benefits of going through all of these documents far outweigh any risks," Hoekstra said in an interview.
He said one document came to his attention with information about the fallen regime's links to terror groups and chemical and biological weapons, although he doesn't know if the document is authentic.
Such claims have largely been rejected, and the Bush administration has come under fire for leading the nation to war with flawed intelligence about the threat posed by then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"I am not asserting that this will prove one thing or another," Hoekstra said. "One thing it will surely do is give us a much clearer insight into what was going on in the former Iraqi regime than we have today."
The documents, now located in Qatar, were gathered from a number of Iraqi sources, including the military, health ministries, political organizations and Saddam's personal collection.
Hoekstra said those from the intelligence agency weren't likely to be released because they may contain sensitive information, such as the names of agents working for the former Iraqi regime.
Hoekstra was making his request in a letter to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who became the nation's spy chief in April.
Through his intelligence panel, Hoekstra is leading a congressional inquiry into the leaking of classified information. Yet he has stressed his belief that too much government information is needlessly classified — a trend he wants to reverse.