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2004-02-06

CIA’s Tenet: Iraq Posed No Imminent Threat; Hunt for WMD Must Go On

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Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and Mother Jones reporter Robert Dreyfuss discuss George Tenet’s speech and examine the role of the Pentagon’s secretive Office of Special Plans in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. [includes transcript]

In his first public speech in nine months, CIA Director George Tenet Thursday said Iraq never posed an imminent threat to the United States.

But Tenet called for the search for weapons of mass destruction to continue in Iraq. He disputed the assertion of former US chief weapons inspector David Kay that the hunt is 85 percent over.

Tenet’s speech came a year to the date after Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations to make the case for war. At the time Powell claimed that U.S. intelligence showed Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda.

On Thursday Tenet made no mention of ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda and acknowledged that the intelligence gathered on weapons of mass destruction has been partially flawed.

He said "In the intelligence business you are almost never completely wrong or completely right."

But overall he defended the CIA’s work and claimed it never came under political pressure from the White House.

Meanwhile President Bush is expected to name members to a presidential panel to probe the Iraq weapons controversy. The Associated Press is reporting that one of the members will be Sen. John McCain. On Sunday, Bush is scheduled to discuss the Iraq controversy during a rare one-on-one televised interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press.

  • Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst. He is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center?s National Security Project.
  • Robert Dreyfuss. investigative reporter and contributing editor at Mother Jones, the Nation and American Prospect. His article The Lie Factory: How a Secret Pentagon Unit Created the Case for Invading Iraq appears in the new issue of Mother Jones.

TRANSCRIPT:

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JUAN GONZALEZ: In his first public speech in nine months, CIA director George Tenet said Thursday that Iraq never posed an imminent threat to the United States.

GEORGE TENET: Much of the current controversy centers in our prewar intelligence, summarized in the national intelligence estimate of October of 2002. National estimates are publications where the intelligence community, as a whole, seeks to sum up what we know about a subject, what we don’t know, what we suspect may be happening, and where we differ on key issues. This estimate asked if Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. We concluded that in some of these categories, Iraq had weapons and that in others where it did not have them it was trying to develop them. Let me be clear. Analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs and those debates were spelled out in the estimate. They never said there was an imminent threat. Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests. No one told us what to say or how to say it.

AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet’s speech came a year to the day after General Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations to make his case for war. At the time, Powell claimed that US intelligence showed Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda. On Thursday, George tenet made no mention of these ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda and acknowledged that the intelligence gathered on weapons of mass destruction had been partially flawed. But he called for the search for weapons of mass destruction to continue in Iraq.

GEORGE TENET: The Iraq survey group is continuing its important search for people and data. And despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85% finished. The men and women who work in that dangerous environment are adamant about that fact. Any call that I make today is necessarily provisional. Why? Because we need more time and we need more data.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Overall, Tenet defended the CIA’s work and claimed it never came under political pressure from the White House. Today, we’re joined by former CIA and State Department Analyst, Melvin Goodman, and by investigative reporter Robert Dreyfus. Welcome both of you.

ROBERT DREYFUS: Good morning.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you. Good morning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Melvin Goodman, I’d like to first begin with your reaction to the CIA director’s speech.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, as a former CIA intelligence officer for 24 years, I was puzzled and somewhat depressed by this bizarre performance. He is saying all of this is now provisional. That is not what the national intelligence estimate said in October of 2002. The problem with the estimate was its certainty. It didn’t give the administration any sense of what the CIA knew and what it didn’t know and where the gaps were in the knowledge. Not only did it say that Iraq had all these programs, but the programs were incredibly energetic and larger than what they had before Desert Storm where there was destruction of these Iraqi facilities that NIE never alluded to in October 2002. And when he talks about the dissent— The dissent wasn’t in the CIA, the dissent came from the State Department, the Energy Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency on Chemical Weapons. The United States Air Force on this issue of the unmanned aerial vehicle and in his speech, Tenet still defends the UAV, even though no one believes this was a platform for chemical or biological weapons. He continues to defend the mobile labs, which David Kay has said had nothing to do with strategic programs or weapons of mass development. Whereas you have Colin Powell who’s now willing to say maybe he would have argued differently if he knew there weren’t stockpiles. It looks like Tenet and Dick Cheney, to a certain degree, or a greater degree, actually, are in denial about what this estimate was all about, that it was really unverified suppositions and that it allowed the White House to go to war on the basis of theories and worst-case analysis from the CIA and not on real evidence. And then for him finally to say that what really changed his mind was in the fall of 2002, when he got these two defectors reports. That was the most puzzling part of the speech because what the intelligence community knows is there were a lot of reports that weren’t used in the estimate that talked about programs being destroyed, what it was that Iraq didn’t have, the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, for example, Khamal who gave the CIA briefings on what had been destroyed in the 1990’s. This was a puzzling performance on the anniversary of the Powell speech and on the same day that the Senate Intelligence Committee has already concluded that CIA’s intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was indeed a disaster.

JUAN GONZALEZ: It’s also puzzling, it seems to me, that the CIA director claimed that the administration was not even 85% finished in the search for weapons, but in the lead-up to war, the criticism of the United Nations inspectors was that they had enough time to determine whether Saddam had weapons or not.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Exactly. I think not only is the question that that’s what the Europeans were trying to tell us, that this needs more time and there were differences between the Europeans and the Americans on these issues, it shows that once again, the only really good intelligence work was done by the United Nations inspection teams. And the fact is these were people who were professional, who were left alone to do their job. Tenet can say there was no interference, but he cannot say the CIA was left alone to do its job. Dick Cheney made about half a dozen trips out to the CIA, essentially to make it clear the kinds of intelligence he wanted, and when Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t get all of the intelligence he wanted from the CIA, he created the Office of Special Plans to create its own intelligence. And when Tenet was asked about that in one of the few questions after he spoke, he dodged that completely by saying I’m the President’s intelligence briefer. I saw him six days a week. He didn’t get his intelligence from anywhere else. Well, we know that is false because we know the NFC got information from the Pentagon and the Office of Special Plans and the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Steve Cambone. Again, it was not a very effective performance and it just reminded you of the poor job that Colin Powell did a year ago. As I say, Colin Powell is maybe trying to have it both I was saying, well, I felt a little differently than my colleagues, even though I ultimately went along. But Powell, like Tenet, has been totally repudiated by David Kay And this is who Tenet is now campaigning against and it is a campaign that is not going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mel Goodman, Long-time CIA analyst. I wanted to go back to the video tape to after the speech of the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, when a few students got to ask a question. This was one of them:

STUDENT ASKING QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Tenet, my name is John Santore. I’m a junior at the college. You presented a very sobering view of the intelligence community today. My question involves elements that are technically outside of the intelligence community. Recent investigative reports, including a long piece in the journal, Mother Jones, which came out this past January, detailed the creation of a Pentagon group a few weeks after September 11 which, as of January of 2002, became known as the Office of Special Programs. And it contained prominent Neo-conservatives with direct ties to Dick Cheney and members of the administration. This group was shown to have a clear political agenda, to have influenced people in the intelligence community and definitely used gross intelligence to promote their case. My question is, can you confirm or deny the existence of such a Pentagon group? And if so, how can we prevent a small ideological group from influencing intelligence estimates?

GEORGE TENET: Well, I haven’t read Mother Jones in a while. But let me say this — [laughter] Let me say this. I’m the director of the central — I am the director of Central Intelligence. The president of the United States sees me six days a week every day. I tell him what the American intelligence community believes. There are always people all around town — there’s gambling in this casino. Everybody has different views of what the intelligence means or doesn’t mean. I can tell you with certainty that the president of the United States gets his intelligence from one person and one community — me. And he has told me firmly and directly that he’s wanted it straight and he’s wanted it honest and he’s never wanted the facts shaded. And that’s what we do every day. The rest of it, I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet responding to The student’s question. We understand Mother Jones has overnighted the director of Central intelligence. Mother Jones and the article called "The Lie Factory" saying only weeks after 9-11, the Bush administration set up a secret Pentagon unit to create the case for invading Iraq. Mother Jones said that they had the inside story of how they pushed dis-information and bogus intelligence and led the nation to war. We’re joined by Robert Dreyfus, who was the author of that piece. Your response to what Mr. Tenet has said?

ROBERT DREYFUS: Well, I think it is one more criticism of the CIA that they also didn’t know that the Pentagon, according to Tenet, had an intelligence unit that was not only feeding information directly into the White House and into Dick Cheney’s office, but creating talking points for all of the senior officials around the administration. [captioning made possible by Democracy now! And the U.S. Department of education] This team was important because it was the spear point of the zealous, I call it a fraternity of people, who had been around for a decade calling for war against Iraq, who sprinkled themselves all throughout the administration as we know, short hand, neo-cons, but it is broader than that. These are people who wanted to go to war for a reason. It had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. It had to do with reasons of oil and Israel and global strategy. But the WMD issue was a convenient one, and they had to manufacture a plausible case for going to war and that is what this weapons of mass destruction issue was about. So what happened is right after 9-11, they brought in a guy named David Wormser who was the director of Middle East policy for the American Enterprise Institute, which is where Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich and others hang their hats when they are not out causing mischief. And Wormser and a colleague began trying to find ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. This is immediately in the aftermath of the attack, so it was an explosive issue and they started producing evidence not only linking Iraq to Al Qaeda, which we now know was false and which the CIA all along believed was false. But they also started linking Iraq and Al Qaeda to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and trying to create a case that Iraq was a threat to the United States. This group officially took form in the late summer of 2002 as The Office of Special Plans. They brought in ideologues from their fraternity and then lead by Abram Schultzski, who is another defense policy person. The important thing about all of these people is that none of them were intelligence experts. In fact, they purged and forced them to retirement, as my article details, people who in the Pentagon were long-time intelligence experts, long-time Middle East specialists and Iraq experts. And they brought in to replace them greater and greater numbers of people who were not capable of looking at the vast mounds of intelligence. You know, any intelligence conclusion, as Mel Goodman knows better than anyone, involves thousands or tens of thousands of bits of information and a lot of them are going to be contradictory. Some will be based on lies or, you know, misstatements, mistakes, error, all kinds of forged documents. And a professional intelligence analyst can look at that pile of information and reach, hopefully, something like a conclusion. What this group did was the exact opposite. They picked all of the information out of that mound which justified going to war. They put iting to in talking points. They were constantly updated according to the people that my co-author, Jason and I talked to, by the Office of Special Plans and then fed directly into the policymakers —- by the way, not who were fooled by this, but who were eagerly pressuring, looking, demanding, cajoling, "I need more, I need more information that we can throw out there" as red meat to try to get not just the American people to support the war, which I think they did by a certain plurality, but also members of congress who were fed this information, who were told, as Senator Nelson of Florida said, That there were UAV’s, unmanned aerial vehicles, that could strike the east coast of the United States carrying biological or chemical or even nuclear weapons. I mean, the kind of misinformation that was presented to the American people was given to congress in spades. So that the end result of this was almost like a phalanx, a cadre of people inside the Pentagon with, you know, with friends and other agencies and then here’s poor George Tenet, who’s really just an inflated congressional staffer. I mean, he is not an intelligence analyst himself. I think Mel Goodman knows more about intelligence than George Tenet could learn in the next 20 years. He’s a politician who’s cast a lot with the Bush family and now we find Tenet sort of flailing around trying to come up with justifications for the CIA’s mis-estimates. I think the important thing to say about the CIA’s estimates about Iraq is that they came to some conclusions that Iraq had this or that portion of weapons of mass destruction. But they knew nothing, Obviously, about where they were. They knew nothing about who was in charge of them. They didn’t have any details because there were no details to be had. So, all of the information that the CIA had came down to a simple case of we can’t show that this stuff that they had in the late 1980’s was completely destroyed, so, therefore, it must still be there. And, you know, Scott Ritter points out the case of one simple example about missiles where, I forget the exact figures, but it was something like 99 of these missiles the Iraqis had evidence were blown up in the desert and there was one that they couldn’t find the pieces of. But they said, well, the CIA took that to say that, you know there were still missiles in existence—-silly things like that where a third-world country with pretty bad record keeping couldn’t prove in that thousands of pages they delivered in December of 2002 that they destroyed all these things. I think we now know that the Iraqi presentation in December of 2002 was pretty accurate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Robert Dreyfus, in terms of what the administration is doing now, with all the revelations, obviously, the arguments in defense of why it was right to invade Iraq, keep morphing now into getting rid of a dictator and establishing democracy and stability in the Middle East, is your sense — do you know whether this Office of Special Programs is still functioning? And is it still developing the talking points now for the new reasons for the American people to justify their war?

ROBERT DREYFUS: No, it’s way over their pay grade now. The office was disbanded, but some of the people are still there. It was a war planning office and there’s no more war to plan unless you count Iraq, Iran and Syria. They may create a new one, so stay tuned. But that’s way above their pay grade now. What Bush is trying to do, and should have done at the beginning, is say the reason I want to go to war is because Saddam is a bad guy and that Would, of course, have gone over like a lead balloon, I think, for the war. That’s why they had to come up with WMD’s. What they’re trying to do now is avoid this from becoming a political issue. This commission, you know, somewhat laughably, will report after the election and the reasons that Bush is now citing, you know, have nothing do with weapons of mass destruction. The odd thing about those rationales is that far from creating a democracy, it’s so messed up Iraq that I think that it’s on the verge of civil war. It is on the verge of sliding over into chaos, and if that happens, and it could — I would say late July, August, if they stick to this June 30 timetable, that Iraq will be a killing field and will have tens or hundreds of thousands of people killed in a civil war that involves fanatical Shiite fundamentalists and Kurdish Peshmerga guerillas and now this Sunni Muslim brotherhood and other fanatics that are starting to organize. The hatred levels are boiling up in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Dreyfus, who wrote the piece with Jason Vess, "The Lie Factory" about the Office of Special Plans that circumvented, got around the Central Intelligence Agency intelligence, going directly with the pipeline to the White House. And we’re talking to Mel Goodman, long-time CIA analyst. We read in the headlines today that UPI is reporting that federal law enforcement officials have developed hard evidence that two employees of Dick Cheney’s office were involved in the illegal outing of Valerie Plame, the CIA Operative. Plame, the wife of former Ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who publicly questioned the Bush administration’s case for war against Iraq. According to UPI, the two employees in Cheney’s office are his chief of staff, Scooter Libbey and John Hannah. Hannah is identified by one source as the major player in the leak. The FBI is threatening to send Hannah to jail for his role. Can either of you comment on who these two are?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman.

MELVIN GOODMAN: He has been close to Dick Cheney for the last ten or fifteen years, going back to the Persian Gulf War. He is the leading neo-conservative adviser on Cheney’s staff and the rumors I got several months ago from the judiciary committee in the House is that the investigation was pointing to the Cheney office and that it was Cheney himself who decided to leak the name of Joe Wilson, not so much to embarrass or intimidate Joe Wilson, who is a courageous man who cannot be intimidated, but as a shot across the bow to other analysts who knew about the politicization of the intelligence to get us into war, to tell these analysts, look, you step forward and White House has instruments and ways of making sure you’ll regret this decision. So, I think that is where the Cheney impetus came from on the leak of the name. It is ironic, or not so ironic, and it is Cheney, who is the leading ideologue on the war, it was Cheney who campaigned for this war and wanted the war after 9-11, although I think 9-11 was essentially a pretext for this war, and it was Cheney who is in total denial about all this incredible evidence and even Tenet is in some denial, that show this is was a worst-case document to go to war and it was a case built on false assumptions and suppositions. It was a house of cards put together by Dick Cheney. When you go to the excellent work Bob Dreyfus has done with the Office of Special Plans, these are Cheney’s people, these are former navel atachés who worked for Cheney, people who go back 10 or 15 years with Dick Cheney. This was essentially Dick Cheney’s war. And it so resembles Vietnam because the military was opposed to the Vietnam War and it was McNamara and his civilians who gave us the war. Iraq, the military, and I’ve talked to many colonels who served on the joint staff who were opposed to the war until the war began, it was the civilians who wanted the war and like Vietnam, it just shows that once again when this government engages in regime change as it did in Vietnam, when it assassinated (inaudible) and everything fell apart, we had no allies to work with at all in South Vietnam and again when they decided to invade to change the regime in Iraq, that’s when things have fallen apart. And as Bob Dreyfuss says, we could be on a path towards civil war. I know the CIA analysts who are on the ground now in Iraq, who were pointed — reporting back to Washington, are telling Washington that this country is moving towards a civil war situation. So, this is going to get a lot worse before we are out of this mess.

ROBERT DREYFUS: Yeah, it was actually Lou Libbey who was the liaison between Cheney’s office and the Office of Special Plans and Karen Kratkowski, a lieutenant colonel who retired from the Air Force, who was on the inside of this Pentagon team in the run-up for the war in Iraq, said that she heard several times people like Bill Loody, a former Gingrich aid, who headed the Pentagon’s Near East Office and Abe Schulsky and others saying, "oh, we have to get this up to Lou Libbey, we have to get this up to Scooter." And it is highly unusual for the Vice President to have that kind of intimate connection in an office deep inside the Pentagon. My guess is that there is a team of republicans who would love to see nothing but Dick Cheney’s health prevent him from running again and for the neo-cons in the Bush administration to be forced out of office because they’re now lobbying for further adventures when the political people in the White House, Karl Rove and Andy Card and the others are smart enough to know that they got this so badly wrong in Iraq that it’s time for them to go. And so the clearest sign that the neo-cons’ moment is over will be when Dick Cheney announces that he is too sick to run as the president’s running mate again. Short of that, then I don’t think there’s any way of stopping these guys and kind of — I guess I wouldn’t trust them until there is a stake through their heart because they are capable of doing some extremely worrisome things between now and the election.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Dreyfuss of Mother Jones wrote the piece "The Lie Factory," which is available at the website, motherjones.com, and also we’ve been speaking with Mel Goodman, long-time CIA analyst, just ending on the point of Donald Rumsfeld yesterday speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Carl Levin, the Michigan democratic senator, asked Rumsfeld to explain the discrepancy between his public statement in late September 2002 that Hussein had, quote, amassed large, clandestine stock piles of chemical weapons and a Defense Intelligence Agency estimate drafted weeks earlier that, quote, there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons. Rumsfeld responded, "I’m sure I never saw that piece of intelligence". He said he and other administration officials drew their conclusions from broader assessments by the intelligence community. And Senator Ted Kennedy pressed Rumsfeld on the statement he made in late March during the war as US troops advanced on Baghdad, quote, "we know where they are," referring to weapons stock piles. Rumsfeld conceded that he had misspoken and should have said he was referring to, quote, "suspect sites" where analysts believed chemical or biological weapons might have been stored. You are listening to Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a record-setting case settlement of lawsuit of charging discrimination by the New York Police Department against Latino officers. Stay with us.

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