Where are the Weapons in Iraq?
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MARGARET WARNER: Was the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons program wrong or oversold?
To discuss that, we’re joined by James Schlesinger, former secretary of defense and CIA director during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He sits on the Defense Policy Board, which advises Secretary Rumsfeld. Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He’s also a member of the Defense Policy Board.
Judith Yaphe, a 20-year CIA analyst who specialized in the Middle East. She’s now a senior research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington. And David Albright, who worked with U.N. inspectors on Iraq in the mid ’90s. He’s now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Welcome to you all. So, Richard Perle, did either the intelligence or the administration readers of that intelligence overstate the state of Saddam Hussein’s weapons program?
RICHARD PERLE: I think what drove the administration to the conclusion that we were right in our concern about Saddam’s weapons was the work of the United Nations’ inspectors who left in 1998. And when they left they detailed the holdings: Anthrax, VX nerve agent, and a variety of other weapons of mass destruction. And Saddam never accounted for them.
He refused to explain what had happened to those weapons. They claimed they didn’t exist. But they could not verify, they could not explain what had happened to them. So that was the fundamental basis for our belief that he had weapons of mass destruction, coupled with the evidence that he had a very large organization whose purpose it was to conceal those very weapons. And that included communications among members of those organizations hiding those weapons. So the case was very powerful indeed.
MARGARET WARNER: A powerful case or oversold?
JUDITH YAPHE: I think there was power in a sense that there was a pattern. We knew that throughout the ’90s even when there were UNSCOM inspections that Iraq was trying to smuggle in components. For example, UNSCOM in 1995 found centrifuges in the Tigris and in warehouses in Jordan taken from Russian missiles that were supposed to be destroyed.
The point is there was a pattern of activity of trying to bring things in, of trying to rebuild, of trying to study, but I don’t think we know yet what the state was. I would make one point, however, which is that… which is why these intelligence studies, the post mortems are so important. You do a post mortem as a matter of course after any major event to examine your sources, what went right, what went wrong, who could we rely on, whose information turned out to be totally wrong or self-serving or for whatever reasons.
And in the process I think we need to look at who was telling us what and also when you say intelligence, that has to be broken down into component parts.
So, yes, the CIA has to look at its sources, NSA, DIA, and also whatever the component, intelligence component in the Pentagon was doing. I would like to know who set up what kind of intelligence and interpretation because I think that I’d like to know what those who are more professional were saying and those who may have had a different reason for looking at these items at the intelligence, what conclusions they drew and why were they different.
MARGARET WARNER: David Albright, does it look to you as if whether it was the intelligence or the consumers of the intelligence that something was wrong here, that something fundamental has not been borne out?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think something wrong happened, some bad analysis was done. I think there certainly was suspicion in 1998 even about nuclear weapons. And there was a belief that Iraq would try to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. But what happened over time is that I think there was a politicization that happened and that people particularly at high levels started selecting information that tended to benefit what they were trying to accomplish. And so I think that there probably was a wide variety of beliefs and analysis within the intelligence communities, but I do think that the policy makers chose information, presented it to the public and Congress. And in that, they were overselling.
RICHARD PERLE: Do you have some examples of that? This charge is made all the time. I’d like to see some concrete examples.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: The example of where the aluminum tubes that were posited as only usable in the gas centrifuge program — I actually learned about that case almost two years ago. There was a very intense debate about the use of the tubes, but it wasn’t by any means certain what the actual use was, but when Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice went out on TV, they sided clearly with the side that said these tubes are only for centrifuges and moreover, it shows that Iraq is close to nuclear weapons and we have to act now.
RICHARD PERLE: Some of us happen to think that the evidence was pretty impressive that these were intended for nuclear purposes.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: But many didn’t think that. Some of our best centrifuge experts in this country didn’t think that evidence was impressive.
RICHARD PERLE: And other experts thought it was.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, then that division should have been presented; that’s all I would say.
RICHARD PERLE: I think it was.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Secretary Schlesinger in this. What’s your take on all of this?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that much of what has been said is right on the mark, as Richard has indicated. As we came out of 1991, 1992, there was an overwhelming body of hard evidence that they had been engaged in biological and chemical activities and indeed had tried for nuclear. There was a ton of analysis that was done, but in the period after 1998, we’ve been basically on our own.
MARGARET WARNER: Which was after the inspectors had left.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: And the inspectors had left, and there was a ton of analysis done. There were indicators that they were still active in attempting to procure relevant materials. And as a result the analysis that was done was pretty good. But people in the intelligence community were very cautious, and they said this is what we saw in the early ’90s, this is what we speculate to be true based on the additional indicators that we’ve had. I think that intelligence was quite good overall, and we must remember that overall intelligence includes the assessment of the fighting capacity of the Iraqi forces on which the intelligence was remarkably good and outside critics were remarkably bad.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying then though that you do think that perhaps the consumers of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction misread it — or were too quick to connect the dots in a way that they wanted to connect, whether consciously or unconsciously?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that Secretary Wolfowitz had it right. There were bureaucratic reasons that they centered down on weapons of mass destruction as the only common reason for going ahead. But there were more powerful reasons to go ahead. If one thinks back to 9/11 and thinks in what shape the United States was at that time, we have repaired our relations with Russia and China, and we have scored two decisive victories in the Middle East that have made a major impression in the region. Those are powerful reasons to go ahead, and one should not focus exclusively on weapons of mass destruction.
JUDITH YAPHE: There are a couple of misconceptions here. One is that intelligence shapes policy. It doesn’t. The second one is that policy uses intelligence. That doesn’t happen either. So you can have the best, most accurate intelligence available, but the people who are in charge of the government, the president, the National Security Council, the advisers, they have to decide if they want to use it or not, believe it or not or discard it.
MARGARET WARNER: Judith Yaphe, there were a number of stories saying people in the intelligence community, particularly the CIA felt pressured by the Defense Department and the administration to not skew the intelligence but to present the case for war. Do you have former colleagues who felt that way?
JUDITH YAPHE: Well, I don’t want to exactly go down that road. I don’t believe in betraying confidences or talking out of the schoolhouse, but I think that it is pretty widely known that there is a high level of uncomfortability in terms of politicization is a difficult word. I think that there was a lot of and analytic integrity. I think Jim might appreciate this given what his position once was as the director of Central Intelligence, there’s good news and bad news.
It’s good news to have a director who is trusted by the president, is a friend of his and is appointed. I’d use dead examples. For example, Bill Casey and Ronald Reagan — there’s a danger if you have someone who is a professional but… and knows the business and what you can do but is not trusted by the president — someone like Richard Helms and Richard Nixon, so the question is how much will you be trusted, how useful but how close to policy should intelligence be?
I’m of a school that says that director of central intelligence shouldn’t be sitting in making the policy. He is out there to provide intelligence. It’s the policy maker who decides what the issue should be and where the policy goes.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: There probably was pressure, but that pressure was firmly resisted within the intelligence community.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s let –
JUDITH YAPHE: I wouldn’t want to go that far, Jim.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: I would disagree.
JUDITH YAPHE: That’s still….
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Because mistakes were made.
RICHARD PERLE: There were a lot of mistakes made including among intelligence analysts who ignored whole bodies of material because they were pursuing a theory, and the material was inconsistent with the theory. And this charge of politicization which is aimed at the Department of Defense is totally without merit.
What I think we’re talking about here is the fact that four people — four people in the Defense Department — were asked to review material that had been collected by other intelligence organizations with a view to seeing whether there were connections in there that had been missed in previous examinations. That is not politicization. That is not pressure. And the fact is that they established beyond any doubt that there were connections that had gone unnoticed in previous intelligence analysis. And the analysts who had failed to notice those connections went to the press and started complaining about politicization, and there was none.
MARGARET WARNER: You wanted to jump in here.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: It’s on a different….
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you a question because believe it or not, we’re almost out of time. Do you think that part of the problem, David Albright, could have been too that it relied a great deal on defectors who themselves, many of whom, had a political agenda, i.e., there were they were Iraqis…
DAVID ALBRIGHT: There seemed to be in the last couple of years more of a reliance on human defectors and the INC produced a lot of them. We had been reviewing INC defector information for years and often found it deeply flawed. And we knew that a lot of those people and they do have an agenda. It was regime change, very much opposed to inspections because inspections work, no regime change, and they skewed a lot of information. We would see that when we evaluate their information. Some would be almost ludicrous technically.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: But the CIA resisted the information from the outsiders and particularly from the INC. The thing to bear in mind is that the intelligence review that Secretary Rumsfeld referred to has gone ahead and it has reviewed all of the intelligence that has come in and the CIA analysts were very cautious in what they said. They said, “this is what we know. This is what there are indicators, but they are no more than indicators.”
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Traditionally I agree with that. But I think there was another set of players that were accepting this information in the last couple years much more than in the previous ten years.
JUDITH YAPHE: Politicization is when a policy maker, a policy prescriptive office does its own intelligence analysis. To me that is politicization.
RICHARD PERLE: That’s complete nonsense. I mean you’re saying that senior officials can’t, if they’re not satisfied with the product they’re getting, go out and look for other intelligence.
JUDITH YAPHE: Why aren’t they satisfied with the product?
RICHARD PERLE: Because it was deficient. That’s why. The intelligence we’re talking about now.
JUDITH YAPHE: No, Richard.
RICHARD PERLE: Was a stubborn refusal to recognize…
JUDITH YAPHE: I will stubbornly say no.
RICHARD PERLE: Can I finish…
JUDITH YAPHE: Please do.
RICHARD PERLE: To recognize that Saddam Hussein’s intelligence apparatus had links with a number of terrorist organizations, and that has now been established beyond a doubt.
JUDITH YAPHE: No, that was not the issue. I’m sorry.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it was deficient?
RICHARD PERLE: On the weapons we were basing judgments largely on the discrepancy between what the United Nations documented and what Saddam was able to explain.
He couldn’t explain what had happened to large quantities of weapons and it was reasonable to assume that because he couldn’t explain, they were hidden, especially since we observed a lot of activity of a hiding nature, people talking about moving things and the like.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: But the inspectors never said… they said it’s unaccounted for. The administration made a jump to saying if it’s unaccounted for it’s there. That’s a decision. The inspectors didn’t make that decision as a body.
RICHARD PERLE: When you’re responsible for protecting the country you have to make a judgment. You can either say, well, it’s unaccounted for so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist or you can say it’s unaccounted for and it would be dangerous to ignore it. The administration did the latter. It was the right thing to do.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: On the question of politicization I have never yet seen a senior government official who does not make his own interpretation of the evidence that comes in, and that is what he should do. The community presents the intelligence on the basis of his own experience, his contacts with foreign leaders, he comes to his own judgment.
MARGARET WARNER: That has to be the last word. Thank you all four.
JUDITH YAPHE: Well said, Jim.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you. Continued later.