MARGARET WARNER: The commission's 601-page report reflects a year of work by the commission's nine presidentially appointed members. Working in secret, they interviewed hundreds of policymakers and intelligence experts inside and outside government, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.
The end product: An analysis of U.S. intelligence successes and failures in assessing weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Plus, 74 recommendations on how to improve U.S. intelligence in this field. A longer classified version also dealt with weapons intelligence about North Korea, Iran, China and Russia.
With me now are the commission's two co-chairmen: Charles Robb, former Virginia governor and U.S. Senator; and Laurence Silberman, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Welcome to you both and congratulations with being done with this incredible report.
You both, this report, the unanimous recommendations found as we reported that the intelligence community was dead wrong in its assessment of Iraq's WMD before the war. How did that happen?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: It happened because the intelligence community operated based on assumptions, without good evidence to support those assumptions. It was not unreasonable to suspect that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The unfortunate thing is that reasonable assumption became a hard conviction. And there was very little evidence to support it. And the unfortunate thing on top of that is the intelligence community did not report to policy makers in the executive branch and in to Congress that they really did not know.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you agree, Sen. Robb, that was the basic problem here?
CHARLES ROBB: Yes. The fact that they didn't report, the essential fact that they had very little verifiable information. We had a situation where a very important report was made, and it relied something like 98-99 percent in at least one of the weapons categories on a single witness who proved to be a fabricator. And that particular information was known in the community for a long period of time, was passed at least up the chain but never got to secretary, then Secretary of State Colin Powell when he was about ready to make his speech to the United Nations. There were other elements of the intelligence that were equal flawed and there was a real failure in terms of the intelligence community on this issue. So we felt that a very straight forward assessment of the situation was necessary to get the process started and hopefully to put us back on the course so that we could restore our credibility and certainly the efficacy of the effort that we make on behalf of supporting our interests.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you to answer the basic question, the other basic question you posed in the report, which was, was the failure in Iraq typical of the community's performance overall or was it a one-time breakdown, if you can use the phrase, a perfect storm. What's the answer to that?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Well, actually somebody in the intelligence community suggested it was a fluke, a perfect storm. We don't think it was a perfect storm. When we looked at Iraq, when we looked at a number of other issues, we didn't limit ourselves to Iraq, we concluded there were certain systemic flaws and our report tries to address those systemic flaws.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you about one of the systemic flaws -- and you talked today about errors in trade craft -- and that had to do with the actual intelligence collection. And you said that at least in Iraq -- and I'm going to use Iraq as an example -- at least our viewers are very familiar with -- that precious little intelligence was actually collected and much what they did collect was either worthless or misleading. Again, here was Iraq, a country that the U.S. was engaged in a constant air war with, why was that; why was there so little really good raw intelligence?
CHARLES ROBB: Well, that's the reason we call it a very important failure of intelligence. With respect to some of the specifics, their human collection was extremely limited. Their technical collection was of very little value, and their overall information was based, as Judge Silberman suggested, on a assumption that was not unreasonable to begin with but hardened into what was believed to be intelligence and a widely shared view, and then the intelligence community as it received information beyond -- that was not consistent with the view that they possessed weapons of mass destruction, specifically that they had a nuclear capability and that they had resumed their nuclear weapons program, they would have a nuclear weapons capacity by the end of the decade, that they would have biological weapons and chemical weapons and a stockpile of chemical weapons -- including sarin and mustard and VX and what have you -- none of that was based on anything but a, not illogical assumption that they would continue doing what they had always done. The problem was, no one in that entire period ever asked if they might have actually destroyed all of this material, which turned out to be the case.
MARGARET WARNER: So if, Judge Silberman, in other words it was one, very bad raw intelligence and then the analysts -- it wasn't just "garbage in, garbage out," but garbage in, kind of, garbage added. Is that problem, that two-headed problem, typical, I mean are you seeing it in other examples, without naming specific countries, in the weapons of mass destruction programs that you looked at? JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Well, of course our charter was to look at the threats from weapons of mass destruction or related threats, which is pretty much all the threats the United States faces. We did look at a number of countries; we also looked at terrorism. We have to note there are been some successes. Libya was a big success. Afghanistan was a mixed situation. Other situations do reflect certain problems that we also saw in Iraq. We do not have a coordinated collection process. We recommend a coordinated collection process; that is to say, sometimes human intelligence is the key, sometimes signals intelligence, sometimes it's overhead imagery, but more importantly you are more significantly in the more difficult targets; you have to combine the efforts and so we need a combination of collection agencies working together, we also need a much greater synthesis of analysis.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about something. I mean, North Korea and Iran being the two cases that are most preoccupying the administration right now, in the regular version of the report, this is all you have about North Korea and Iran and you essentially say we can't say anything because it's classified. Without giving us any classified information, I mean, the president is making public assertions about these programs, can you tell us if U.S. intelligence has what you would consider a solid understanding of either one of these countries' weapons programs?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: We can't answer that question; we simply can't answer that; there's no way we can say anything about those subjects without revealing something that would be injurious to the United States. One of the things we found when we did this study is that authorized and unauthorized leaks of intelligence information have cost the United States billions of dollars and seriously worsened our security problem. So we don't want to add to it.
CHARLES ROBB: Some of the most sensitive information that we dealt with, dealt with those countries and we simply can't get into a discussion in a public forum.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just read to you something that you did say which seemed to apply to many countries. You said -- it was rather chilling -"The flaws we found in the intelligence community's Iraq performance are still all too common. Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors. In some cases, it knows less now than it did five or ten years ago." What does the intelligence community actually know less than about five years ago, and how can that be?
CHARLES ROBB: Well, obviously we can't tell you specifically what the intelligence community knows less about or we're informing our adversaries -- or potential adversaries --
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, characterize it --
CHARLES ROBB: -- but the bottom line is the problems that we found were systemic. It was not a one-shot affair with respect to Iraq. We can't go into additional detail because anything that we tell you is also available to those who don't necessarily have our best interest at heart.
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: I can however -- let me, if I may interrupt, Chuck, for just a second, I think I understand exactly what you're getting at -- why would our situation be worse today? It's because our adversaries are getting smarter, and they engage in denial and deception. So it's more difficult to penetrate hard targets.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's go to the recommendations, we had a 9/11 Commission report, we had Congress and the president doing a major reorganization of the intelligence community. What is the most important thing you all are recommending above and beyond what has already occurred?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: I think the most important thing we're recommending, above all, is an integration of the intelligence community. The legislation provides the basis for that to happen, but it hasn't happened. And it won't happen unless I think some of our recommendations are acted upon by both the president and the new DNI, Ambassador Negroponte.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're telling the president in this report, are you not, that it's up to him to give the DNI more authority than is in the legislation?
CHARLES ROBB: Yes, we're telling the president in effect that he needs to give the DNI every possible backing that he can give to Ambassador Negroponte and we had a meeting with the president today and it was very clear to us that he is prepared to do that. And we say in our report that without that kind of backing -- the intelligence community is made up of 15 different agencies, some that are among the most respected agencies anywhere in government, they have a very rich history. They have every reason to be proud, but they're in many cases very resistant to change, very stubborn.
And in many cases, they're still basically working on the old model, not necessarily prepared to collect only against the former Soviet Union, but operating in that -- I used an example this morning when I talked to the president, I suggested sometimes they're like the story of the drunk who's lost his car keys and is looking under the street lamp, not because he lost his car keys there, because it's -- that's the way they've always -- or it's a little easier -- whatever the case may be. It's collecting in ways that are not imaginative, that don't recognize the changes that Judge Silberman just referred to. Our technology is leaping ahead. Even and in terms of internally, the technology, the brand new entrants into the community, come in and find, is less than hey have in the private sector today.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me finally ask you, Judge Silberman, about what you concluded. When you started this work were there a lot of charges being made by critics of the administration and Congress, about news reports, about politicization. And there were two elements to this: One was that in some way policy makers exerted pressure on intelligence analysts to come up with certain conclusions, and two, that the president and others did not accurately convey the caveats that were in the intelligence when they spoke publicly. What are your conclusions on those two points?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Well, on the second point, we duck. That is not part of our charter. We did not express any views on policymakers' use of intelligence -- whether Congress or the president. It wasn't part of our charter and indeed most of us didn't want to get into that issue because it's basically a political question and everybody knows -- you can look at the newspaper and see what people said and make your own judgment. On the former question, as to whether or not there was any policymaker effort to influence the intelligence, we found zip, nothing, nothing to support --
CHARLES ROBB: Margaret, could I add to that?
MARGARET WARNER: Actually, we're just -- we're really just about out of time. Let me just ask you quickly about -- there was one case where two analysts said they really doubted this curve ball agent, they thought he was fabricating. And they were essentially run out of the division. You wouldn't call that pressure?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Oh, there was certainly pressure within the intelligence community.
CHARLES ROBB: Within the division, that's right.
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: -- in the intelligence community.
CHARLES ROBB: The intelligence community imposed pressure on itself. There was a conventional wisdom and there certainly was a feeling articulated by some that they did not want to go against the conventional wisdom.
MARGARET WARNER: And we have to leave it there, thank you both very much.
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Thank you.
CHARLES ROBB: Thank you.