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MARGARET WARNER: What are the prospects for this latest inquiry getting to the bottom of intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere? For that, we turn to two men with longtime experience in intelligence and investigations of intelligence. Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican from Kansas, the current chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and the committee’s former chairman, Sen. Bob Graham, Democrat from Florida. Welcome to you both. Sen. Roberts…
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Yes ma’am.
MARGARET WARNER: What’s your reaction to what the president did today?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I liked it. Basically, I had said before that if this commission was going to be successful, it would have to be bipartisan, it would have to be independent. If you look at the makeup in the panel in terms of politics and difference of opinion, I’m not too sure they would order everything from the same menu at lunch but I do think that they have a great deal of experience. I know most of the panel members. And the mission is a little broader than the one we have right now before the Senate Committee on Intelligence.
It gets into the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction and the countries that are involved — in my view we certainly overestimated the WMD situation in Iraq but we underestimated the situation in regards to Iran and in regards to Libya. So I think they are going to take a broader look at what we face in terms of our national security with WMD, countries like North Korea. We have some systemic challenges, I think. I think Senator Graham also would agree with that. He has been talking at some length about reform measures or things we can do, some real recommendations for improvement in our intelligence capability.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham, what was your reaction to what the president did today? Do you think this will get to the bottom of these intelligence problems in the WMD area?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Like Senator Roberts I know many of the people who have been announced thus far and I think it’s an excellent group of commissioners. There are some issues that are going to have to be dealt with from the standpoint of the perception of the American people that this is a totally independent group. One is, it should be made clear, that they will have the authority not only to look at the capabilities of the intelligence community but how the product of the intelligence community was used by decision-makers.
Second, the commission should have the power of subpoena and there should be a commitment by those agencies such as the FBI that they will enforce those subpoenas. We had a situation with our 9/11 review in which legally authorized subpoena was issued and the FBI refused to deliver it.
Third: accountability. I don’t think that we can put off until March of 2005 determining who was responsible for the intelligence lapses that have recently occurred, and finally, intelligence reform. It will be three-and-a-half years after Sept. 11, when we reach March of 2005. There’ve been a series of commissions including ones led by Paul Bremer, by Senators Hart and Rudman, by Governor Gilmore as well as our 9/11 report, which indicated where reforms were needed. We can’t wait another 14 months to put those into effect — another 14 months of putting the American people at unnecessary vulnerability.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Roberts, do you think that the deadline is too far in the future, and obviously part of that is the scope of this inquiry because it is looking beyond Iraq but do you think it should be shorter and more tightly focused on Iraq?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think it should be broader than that. I think both the House and Senate committees and the president’s foreign policy board, all the services, there’s the Kerr Report for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Right now we’ve got six, seven, eight, nine, possibly ten different panels investigating or certainly making an inquiry in regards to the handling of prewar intelligence. I hope there’s somebody left at the CIA that will fight the global war on terrorism.
I think Senator Graham made a very important point when he pointed out that the House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the previous year, of the previous Congress, made quite a lengthy list of recommendations to the intelligence community. Some of those have already been done. It isn’t that we haven’t, that we’ve just simply stood still. The FBI has literally turned around in regards to its priorities being a law enforcement agency to that of counterterrorism, so some of those recommendations have already been taking place.
Now as to whether they are done properly and whether they are done completely why that’s — certainly remains to be seen. Senator Graham wrote me a letter and wrote a letter to Senator Rockefeller, who is our distinguished vice chairman. He urged the Committee on Intelligence to take a look and have a hearing on all of those recommendations and to ask the appropriate agencies to come in and say all right what do you feel about these recommendations and what have you done since the 9/11 investigation. And I credit Senator Graham for that contribution.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you both to just follow up with something you both talked about. You said you know most of these commissioners, you think highly of them. Senator Graham, as you know, Senator Daschle, the Senate minority leader, and Senator Rockefeller and others signed a letter to the president earlier this week saying essentially a commission he said appointed and controlled by the White House will not have the independence or credibility necessary to investigate these issues. I’m wondering whether you think that the fact that the president appointed all these members does in any way compromise either the independence or credibility of this group.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, I think it does create a cloud over the commission’s work and therefore steps to try to remove that cloud need to be taken, such as the two that I mentioned. One was to be assured that the commission will have the authority not just to look at the capabilities of the intelligence community but how the intelligence community’s information was then utilized by decision-makers and second, that it needs to have a full array of legal capabilities including the power to subpoena witnesses, the power to subpoena documents and the understanding that the appropriate federal investigative and law enforcement agencies will comply with and if necessary, enforce those subpoenas.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, the president did say that he was directing all the agencies to cooperate but more on the makeup of the commission. There are really only three people out of the seven names so far who have any real background in intelligence. Secondly there’s one the sitting member from the House or the Senate, Senator McCain, on the committee. There’s no Democrat. Does that concern you? Were you asked?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: If that question is directed at me, the answer is no. But I think John McCain is a person who is seen as being very independent and willing to take on tough issues. I do not know the president of Yale but he certainly has a distinguished background and as an economist he has developed the skills of probing complex issues to determine what is the truth.
MARGARET WARNER: And how about you, Senator Roberts, how do you feel about the makeup of the commission, in terms of not having people who’ve dealt a lot with intelligence or military matters?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, you have the deputy, the former deputy director of the CIA. Let me say a word for Chuck Robb, he is a recent member of the Senate. I served with him on the Armed Services Committee. He was very bipartisan and very aggressive in behalf of our military and had a very strong interest in regards to intelligence — had a lot of background in it — knows it very well. He may not be a sitting senator but he certainly will add a great deal to the effort and in terms of independence how can anybody say that John McCain is not independent.
MARGARET WARNER: I’m sure the White House would agree with that. Senator Roberts go ahead now and comment on the point that Senator Graham has raised a couple of times having to do with whether this commission will be able to and should look not only at intelligence gathering and analysis by the agencies involved but at how the White House used it. Senator McCain did say today over in Munich that he did think everything would be looked at but the president did not mention it. Do you think this commission should look at that aspect?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: We have the same kind of situation in regards to the Senate, the Senate Committee on Intelligence where there’s been a lot of talk about the use of intelligence. As a matter of fact there was a memo that was talked about quite a bit several months ago about the vague notion of use. If that simply means you do a Lexis Nexis search of public statements by top administration officials and then you take a look at the intelligence and you say wait a minute, doesn’t back it up and you simply ask people to come down and explain that, I think that’s already been done by a host of administration officials.
On the other hand, I have told all of my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee that as we read the report, the 310-page report, we study it and understand it, if something really pops out from a policy standpoint that is very egregious we will certainly take a look at it. Our staffs are now trying to work that out and I think that is probably what will happen with the president’s commission as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to give us — I know there’s a draft report of your committee’s report circulating privately. Do you want to tell us what was your bottom line assessment about what was underneath the intelligence failure in Iraq or whether it was an intelligence failure?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I would love to tell you but I don’t think I can do that. Right now it is embargoed for members only. And we’re asking members A, to read it and I’m sure they will — and B, to educate themselves and then to come back next Thursday with any suggestions for improvement — any other area they would like to go into. Any expansion they would like to go into. They’ll have another two weeks. This is a very comprehensive report, it’s very tough reading. It’s very dense but it’s very important.
It lays out in the most comprehensive way the timeliness and credibility of intelligence in regards to WMD and regards to the connection to terrorism, regional stability, i.e., the threat that Saddam had in regard to the stability of the area and then lastly the tragedy in regards to human rights, which I think everybody knows. So we’re — I can’t tell you anything about the report now but I will promise you that we will make it public. We will redact our report. We’ll work with the agencies so that there’s nothing classified in there that would endanger any sources or names or methods and we’ll have an open hearing.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham, because to you on this presidential commission, do you agree with Senator Roberts that it’s a good idea that this commission is going to look more broadly at other intelligence, intelligence performance in other weapons of mass destruction areas such as Libya and Iran and North Korea?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, part of accountability is not only to sanction people who performed at an unacceptable level but also to recognize people within the agencies who gave beyond the call of duty performance. I would think that some of those people would be identified in that kind of a wide ranging look.
But what the American people are interested in — they are interested in their own security. They are concerned about the series of rise in attacks. They are concerned about what happened today in Moscow where 39 people were blown up in a subway. They want greater security for themselves and this country.
That means not waiting three-and-a-half years after the wake-up call of 9/11, the shock waves that emanated to start the process of making reform. I’m very pleased that Senator Roberts has indicated there will be a hearing of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take up the agenda of reform items that have been recommended. I hope that 19, that 2004 will be the year in which we will move to implement those reforms.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham and Senator Roberts, thank you both.