WASHINGTON – An official U.S. government Web site that offered the public a look at captured Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi documents was taken down Thursday night after a published report said the site included detailed "how-to" information for making atomic weapons.
In a statement Thursday night, a spokesman for National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said his office has suspended public access to the site "pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing."
The action came after The New York Times raised questions about the contents of the "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal." The Times' Web site reported Thursday night that weapons experts said documents posted there in recent weeks provide dangerous detail about Iraq's covert nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"While strict criteria had already been established to govern posted documents, 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," said Negroponte's spokesman, Chad Kolton.
Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Friday that top officials knew there were risks when they decided to post the documents.
"John Negroponte warned us that we don't know what's in these documents, so these are being put out at some risk, and that was a warning that he put out right when they first released the documents," Card told NBC's "Today" show.
Pressed by Republican members of Congress, Negroponte's office last March ordered the unprecedented release of millions of pages of Iraqi documents, most of them in Arabic, collected by the U.S. government over more than a decade.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the posting a serious security breach.
"The decision to put nuclear weapons information on a government Web site accessible to anyone in the world is a serious security breach, even for an administration that has failed to make restricting the proliferation of nuclear technology a priority," Pelosi said in a statement. "Whoever authorized putting partisan political considerations above national security in this instance must be held accountable."
The documents were removed to protect from someone who might want to harm the United States through a weapon of mass destruction, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"We want to be in a position of protecting anything that might give an upper hand to people trying to build weapons of mass destruction," Rice told the "Laura Ingraham Show." "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."
Until this week, the information had been posted gradually on public Internet servers, run by the military. In announcing the postings, Negroponte's office said the U.S. government had made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, their factual accuracy or the quality of any translations, when available.
The International Atomic Energy Agency declined to comment Friday on the report.
A spokesman for the chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear agency, Gregory L. Schulte, denied that he was approached by agency officials about the posted documents.
"Ambassador Schulte did not receive any protest or expression of concern from the IAEA on this issue," spokesman Matthew Boland told The Associated Press in Vienna, Austria. "No representative of our mission was approached by a representative of the IAEA on this issue."