Senate Releases Report Critical of CIA Prewar Intelligence
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JIM LEHRER: And now to the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and the Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia. I spoke to them from the Capitol a short time ago.
Gentlemen, welcome. Senator Roberts, is it correct to say the United States went to war in Iraq on false premises and wrong information?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I don’t know about the false premises across the board, but the information in regards to the intelligence on whether or not Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction, that certainly was not the case. And there were some very emphatic statements made in the national intelligence estimate of 2002. Senator Rockefeller and I both agree with outstanding work by our staff and a 516-page report that that simply was not the case. We had flawed intelligence.
JIM LEHRER: Flawed intelligence and more, Senator Rockefeller, that caused us to go to war?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: We had flawed intelligence on enough, I think, to cause us not to go to war. And WMD, weapons of mass destruction, you know, the so-called nuclear threat/Niger thing, and the question of was there a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, Saddam Hussein and the destruction and 9/11 and that tragedy, which has been discounted since by the intelligence community. It didn’t… you know, Pat and I, when we go back to our respective states every weekend, we see men and women who are in the guards and reserves and the regular military and they’re over there, or their spouses are over there, fighting, and dying and losing limbs, and I have to ask the question of: Are we better… are the Iraqis better off that we went in there, and are we better off? And in both cases I cannot answer yes. I think we went in under false pretenses. We did not have the reason to do it, and my judgment is the president wanted to do it.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, do you agree with that, that the president wanted to do it and that somehow this… the bad intelligence information or whatever it was just fed what he wanted to do anyhow?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I don’t think the president is that disingenuous, and I don’t think the president had a foregone conclusion in his mind. I think what the administration received, whether it be Colin Powell, Condi Rice, the president, whomever, basically what they said was very declarative, it was very positive, but they got that information from the intelligence community and the national intelligence estimate, and the intelligence estimate was wrong. So… and, you know, like Jay, I go back and I visit with the troops and I visit with the families, and we grieve with those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But, you know, I don’t know about Iraq being better off or worse off. Now we’re trying to achieve stability, and there is a central nervous system, Jihadist movement over there that’s very, very difficult, but we do have a new government. And I could tell you one thing for sure, the 500,000 people that Saddam Hussein murdered, we can’t ask them, but I think I know what the answer would be.
JIM LEHRER: But, Senator Roberts, do you think your report today is going to make it more difficult, not only for and you Senator Rockefeller but for all members of the U.S. government who supported this war going in, to explain to the families, et cetera, as to why this loss… they suffered this loss in Iraq?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think it’s how you frame it. I think if you try to explain as best you can the intelligence assumption train that slowly developed ever since 1991, you can present some extenuating and mitigating circumstances as to why the intelligence community presumed that after the U.N. inspectors left that Saddam would reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. They certainly had the capability, but the facts are that he did not do that.
It’s going to take some explaining, and more important, we are going to have to launch into a real period of reform, and to try to change things in regards to the group think that exists and the self denial that exists in the intelligence community, not only on behalf of the people who are doing the fighting and the men and women in uniform and on behalf of our national security, but on behalf of the solid and patriotic women within the intelligence communities who are also risking their lives.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Rockefeller, what’s your analysis of how this “group think” that your report, and Senator Roberts just now repeated, got going? What was the group think and what was behind it?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: I’m going to answer that, but I want to say something as to your question to Pat Roberts. That, if you had asked me that question, it would be simply the most painful question that you can ask me. When you go back and you face these men and women and their families who were over in the 130-degree temperature fighting, dying, two days ago 16 injured, five killed, it hasn’t gotten better since Saddam Hussein was turned over to the Iraqis. Now we find there’s 20,000 insurgents organized, rather than 5,000. And I… you can’t look those good people in the eyes and say that their people are there doing the right kind of thing, because they’re doing it at the request of their commander in chief, and they’re good, but it is painful. It is very painful. If you could ask me the second question, I’d appreciate it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. The group think, what was the group think that caused this flawed intelligence, and where did it come from?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: I think it came from several reasons. One is that the Berlin Wall went down in 1989; then during the ’90s that was also close to the end of the Iran-Iraq War. During the ’90s you had this sort of absence of American presence except in the skies over Iraq. And people… there wasn’t really any weapons of mass destruction to be found, but there were these constant barrage of messages coming from our national leaders saying that weapons of mass destruction are there, that the link between al-Qaida and… or Saddam Hussein and 9/11 is there, and that… that’s a kind of a pressure.
I mean, the pressure can be applied individually by one person to another, but it could also be applied psychologically by the environment in which you work and what you read and see on television every single day. And I think that pressure has had a substantial effect, and I think that’s the pressure which caused the American people to support the president when he went to war, and then when they discovered that the reasons for going to war were not there, I think that’s the reason for the drop.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, nobody was saying, “Hey, wait a minute; there may not be weapons of mass destruction”?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: No, nobody was… that’s not correct to say. I’m not going to do double negative on you. But what’s lacking, and Pat Roberts and I would both agree on this, I think, in the intelligence community is what we call red teams, and that is people whose only job is to go to the analysts who are coming forward with conclusions, and to systematically challenge all of those analysts and what their conclusions are, or as they are on their way to making their conclusions. And that whole concept of red teams, contrarian analysis, has been missing, and hence group think.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, to follow up on that, when you look at this and you say “oh, my goodness, how did this happen?” This is what everybody’s going to want to know after reading your report and hearing you and reading about your report in the next 24 hours, average Americans want to know, “hey, wait a minute, was there nobody in the U.S. government who didn’t say, ‘hey, how could something this serious go this far and under an umbrella of group think without somebody raising some flags in a way that would have stopped it?’”
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, somebody did. As a matter of fact, in the Department of Energy and the Department of State and in other agencies, there were caveats. But remember the biggest single item that happened was 9/11, and the president did make very declarative and very assertive comments, but he did so thinking that — from the intelligence community — we had aluminum tubes that were going to be used as centrifuges. He had the situation where the intelligence community talked about unmanned aerial vehicles, about the mobile labs, but all of that information had caveats in it. And finally, the analysis of the product that finally came through said that this was true. So…
JIM LEHRER: The caveats were not there, you’re saying?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: No, the caveats were there, but basically what we are finding out is that the CIA really compartmented a lot of that information, did not share it, or did not allow the other caveats to be considered in the final product. But remember now, Jim, this is after 9/11. This is after 3,000 people lost their lives. And also you go back to ’91 with the first war with Iraq and then the discovery that he had a better nuclear capability or more advanced nuclear capability than we really thought he had. Then you have all these inspections by the U.N. inspectors. Then after 1998, they leave.
What would be your assumption, would he reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction given all of his speeches, all of his violations of the U.N. resolutions? Most people, I think, would say “yes, I think that’s a pretty good bet.” And then as they put that together and they layered more and more assumptions on top of one another into the group think, nobody said, “Let’s blow the whistle.” One other thing, this is not only the United States, it’s also the Brits, it’s also the Italians, it’s also the Russians, it’s also the French, it’s also the U.N. This was a world community failure on the WMD.
JIM LEHRER: What about Senator Rockefeller’s point that his definition of pressure, not one-on-one pressure to change things, but there was just a kind of an assumption of pressure here that everybody believed this, as you say, everybody believed there were weapons of mass destruction, everybody believed all of this, and everybody knew that that’s how the intelligence was supposed to turn out. Do you buy that?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, I think that it is the job of the intelligence community, just as Jay has indicated, to use what we call red teams. You have people who simply offer, you know, contrary ideas and then, “say prove it.” But then again… let me put it this way. If you’re an analyst, and it was before 9/11, and there were ten dots to connect, you had to really connect eight or nine of them before you pushed the product to the policy maker to make a decision. After 9/11 everybody says, “oh, my gosh, we’re too risk averse,” you have the 9/11 commission saying we didn’t connect the dots, we should have thought about this.
So say that the analysts has four dots and he starts to push the product, you could be wrong. So consequently everybody was leaning forward and I hope to heck that there is pressure by repeated questioning. As it turns out, in the WMD section there was not any repeated questioning, or what some people call pressure. In the other section in regards to links to terrorism, there was repeated questioning and it was a better document.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Rockefeller, looking at all of this, everything that you know about this, everything that’s in the report and everything you know outside this, is this a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: This is a failure of a system, and that’s an extremely important question. It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
I think if there was a system that we were caught short, by the end of the Cold War we were wandering around trying to find WMD — in Iraq, when there wasn’t any to be found, David Kay kept coming back and saying he found any yet, but he was going to, then… and he never did, and they’re still looking. They’re going through 3 million documents as we’re talking, and they’re not going to find any. So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Rockefeller, do you believe that if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: I can’t answer that question. I just ask — the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?
JIM LEHRER: You regret your vote?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: Oh, I said that months and months ago.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts do you regret your vote in favor of the war?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think there were four reasons as to why we took the military action: one obviously was the WMD and whether or not it really threatened our national security. Second one was the links to terrorism. We have found that there is some evidence of a safe haven we have found evidence of contacts. We really haven’t found any operational planning, so I’m not saying school is still out, but at least there’s some consideration. But there is also the regional stability factor. He did have 150, what, I guess kilometer missiles that could reach Israel. And then there’s the human rights situation.
Let’s go back a little bit in the Clinton administration and look at the Khartoum chemical plant, whoops, it was the wrong plant, and then the situation with the USS Cole where we did have intelligence that should have, really should have gone to the ship’s captain and said don’t go into the port of Aden… then have you the embassy bombings in regards to Africa, and I could go on and go on and go on, where the intelligence community basically didn’t come up with the right information.
Now all of a sudden, we lean forward and more especially after 9/11, and we have what I have called this assumption train, and we kept adding cars to it. So you can see how this happened.
But let me say something about the president. I think he more than anything, more than anyone else should be disturbed by this and knows the value of intelligence in such far reaching decisions and important decisions as to bring to the country to a war footing and launch any military action.
JIM LEHRER: But are you personally disturbed as a United States senator for having voted for this war based on what you were told about weapons of mass destruction –
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, of course, I am terribly disturbed by the flaws in intelligence, and that’s why both Senator Rockefeller and I have as a priority goal not only the phase two part of the investigation but also a priority on reform and change that should be made. And we are going to have experts throughout the community testify before the Intelligence Committee. We’re going to do it in a careful and a very deliberate way. But, Jim, right now we’re under threat in terms of a possible homeland attack. So these flaws have to be corrected.
JIM LEHRER: Phase two is looking at the use of this intelligence by the administration?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, basically, it’s the prewar intelligence on post war Iraq. What were we saying on what the condition would be right now, and everybody knows that post war Iraq is sort of an oxymoron — there is a war, a big-time war — also the use of intelligence. And also what effect on the intelligence product did the Department of Defense have with Assistant Secretary Fife and the Iraqi National Congress?
JIM LEHRER: So, Senator, in a few seconds then, Senator Rockefeller this thing is a long way from being done, this is only stage one of what you and your committee are going to do and look at, correct?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: I certainly hope that’s correct. And the chairman has assured me that’s correct. We have two things that we have to do and we have to do them on a parallel tract and we have to do them as fast as we can. One is we have to come up with reforms that can be legislated within the intelligence system to make it better. And secondly, we have to do what the rules of the committee cause us to do, but we just never were able to do it, and that is not just look at prewar intelligence with respect to Iraq, but also the use of, how was that intelligence put to use, what — did the policy-makers make decisions based on that intelligence, which is where I come into my trouble with why we went to war.
JIM LEHRER: And that’s –
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Let me add something, Jim, on that news factor we’re including members of Congress, some of the biggest critics of the president and the administration made just as assertive and declarative and aggressive statements. We knew about the NIE, we had the vote to go to war. People should have read the NIE. We should be just as upset as the president, and those in the administration should be in regards to intelligence.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, gentlemen, thank you both very much.