TOPICS > Politics

What Was Known

June 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Two months after the fall of Baghdad as the hunt for Iraqi weapons continues, congressional Democrats are stepping up calls for a detailed look at the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence. How good was it, and was it overstated? Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: We haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction, the al-Qaida Iraq connection has not been found to be very real. And so we need to have a very thorough investigation into what happened that caused the president to go ahead and proceed with a war.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last week, Republican leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees announced a set of closed door hearings on the subject to begin this week. They will focus on what U.S. intelligence showed about Iraq’s weapons and links to terrorism prior to the war; how reasonable was the administration’s assessment of that intelligence; and how accurate was that assessment compared to the post-war search for weapons. The GOP leader said the closed hearings may lead to public sessions and that it’s not correct to call the process an investigation.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I don’t think a formal, quote, investigation, which is a pejorative, that there is something dreadfully wrong and that you’re going to have to set things straight is the proper course of action at this time. Let’s do our homework first.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner supported the Bush administration’s position that criticism of its use of intelligence is premature.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: The evidence that I have examined does not rise to give the presumption that anyone in this administration has hyped or cooked or embellished such evidence to a particular purpose. And I regret that those allegations have been made.

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, some Democrats want a formal public probe that reviews not only the CIA’s knowledge but that of the Pentagon and other agencies. House Intelligence Committee senior Democrat Jane Harman said on Fox News Sunday there are legitimate questions about prewar intelligence.

REP. JANE HARMAN: A lot of the predictions didn’t happen, I mean our troops as they cross the berm from Kuwait to Iraq weren’t subject to chemical weapons, no missiles carrying WMDs were fired at Israel. We were prepared for that. The intelligence sort of led us there — didn’t happen.

KWAME HOLMAN: A first round of closed hearings is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

JIM LEHRER: Now to two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee: Its chairman Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan. Senator Levin, are you satisfied with the way the Senate is going about this business of looking at the prewar intelligence issue?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, I hope we’ll do and I think it’s still unclear that we’re going to proceed this way, but Senator Roberts is here and he can answer this directly, is that there be a joint decision made as to what issues we’re going to look at, joint announcements as to whether there’s going to be hearings. Joint decisions made as to the staffing issues. There should be a jointness to this so that it’s totally bipartisan.

And I have proposed this to Senator Warner in terms of the Armed Services Committee that we basically unite our staff as one, that they interview witnesses, for instance, together. They decide on what witnesses will be interviewed together. They decide on what questions we’re going to ask of the intelligence community, what documents we’re going to seek together. And that these all be done in joint announcements the way it was done in the House.

I think that’s the way in which we can create the greatest credibility and confidence that we’re going to have a truly bipartisan inquiry, investigation. I frankly am not that hung up on the words as to whether it’s an investigation, an inquiry or a review. The key thing to me is that it be thorough and it that it be bipartisan and that’s what I proposed to Senator Warner.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, why is it’s not being done that way, the same way in the Senate as it’s being done in the House?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, it is, Jim. And I don’t know what all the fuss is about. We have said from the outset that we will have a thorough review of all the documentation, whether it applies to the al-Qaida and terrorist groups in Iraq or whether it applies to the public statements by the secretary of state, the president, secretary of defense. We have all that information now; we have all the documentation in the Intelligence Committee. It’s tabbed. So any member of the Intelligence Committee, and I hope they do, will go up and they will do their homework so they can make an informed judgment and not just make a personal opinion.

In response to Carl’s suggestion we’ve been meeting along with Senator Rockefeller and also Senator Warner, I think Carl’s suggestion is good, it will be bipartisan. We have seven staff members, they are expert analysts, both Democrat and Republican, we will have hearings, we’re going to have a hearing on a subject that is very crucial to Carl, and that is what happened with all the intelligence that was shared with the inspectors, the U. N. inspectors, we start that off with a business session to outline exactly what we’re going to do as of this Wednesday, and we will follow it wherever it goes.

At the end of this, at the end of the hearings and at the end of the review, it has to be reasonable, we have to determine if the intelligence was right. We have to look at the quality of it and we have to look at the quantity of it. My only concern is it’s not really turn into a real political football and a circus with something called a full investigation until we do our homework. Let’s do our homework and we’ll see where it leads.

JIM LEHRER: He kept saying joint. Well, he’s sitting right there, he said there wasn’t a joint, in fact we ran the announcement just in the introduction of the two of you there were three Republicans, there were no Democrat there. Is that what you’re talking about, Senator Levin?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Exactly. I think it’s really important that there be Democrats and Republicans in making these announcements together, making the decisions together as to who will staff these inquiries, as to what additional material will be sought. Joint meetings with witnesses, these should — I’ve seen this go both ways in the Senate. I’ve seen one hearing that was in the campaign finance reform, the so-called Thompson hearings, which just became very partisan, and I think of very little value. On the other hand, I’ve seen other investigations or inquiries or reviews, and you can call them whatever you want, that have been very, very useful because there has been joint decisions with the chairman and the ranking Democrat together, announcing things, appearing together, deciding on what witnesses will be interviewed, deciding on the issues. So that it’s not just the unilateral decision of the chairman.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Roberts, do you have a problem with that?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: No. As I say, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. We held a press conference with Porter Goss, who had talked to Jane Harman, and I’m not going to put any words in her mouth, and I talked to Jane individually and I said let’s do this on a step by step process, and the statement with Porter Goss and the same with Jay Rockefeller, there was some suggestion on the part of the minority that we do the public hearings first. I don’t think we should do that, I think that was a mistake in the 9/11 hearings. I think we ought to do our work first and that obviously members of the Intelligence Committee would have access to all of the documentation, make an informed judgment and then let’s see where this takes us.

I really don’t think there’s – I think we’re parsing words and I think we’re reading a lot of press releases that sort of jump the gun, because this will be bipartisan. Senator Rockefeller and I are good friends; he’s a good colleague. Senator Levin will not leave any stone unturned, he’ll cross every “T” and dot every “I,” and so I think we will work together.

JIM LEHRER: So when you said a while ago, Senator Roberts, that you’re afraid this thing would be politicized what did you mean? What are you talking about?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Basically, I didn’t want to have the words “a formal investigation,” “a public hearing,” all the airing of all the campaign talk that we have seen from a lot of presidential candidates and statements that the president lied or the president deceived or the president manipulated or the administration did all that. I think that’s uncalled for at this point because people don’t know. That may be a personal opinion. It may be a political opinion. It’s not my opinion.

Basically I don’t know, I don’t have any evidence to that. I want members to go through the documentation, see the quantity of it, the quality of it and if it is reasonable. If it is not, obviously we’re not going to rule anything out. If there’s something egregious, we have our basic oversight responsibility that we really have to get this done.

By the way, Senator Rockefeller has two other hearings that are planned before the first of August, or the August break, so we have other things that we are doing as well as getting to the bottom of this to all the members’ satisfaction.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Levin, you had a news conference earlier today where you suggested, and you’ve suggested this before as have others, that more is at stake here than whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the real issue here is now the credibility of the United States and its intelligence. Explain what you mean.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: We’ve got to be able to rely on our intelligence; just to give you one example, there’s a report in the press that the intelligence communities is now concluding that there’s a link between al-Qaida and Iran. Well, if there is, that could have a huge effect on American policy.

On the other hand, we were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between al-Qaida and Iraq, and there were real questions raised. And there are real questions raised about whether or not that link was such that the description by the intelligence community was accurate or whether or not they stretched it. And if we can’t have confidence in their findings, if we determine, if we determine in a bipartisan thorough inquiry or investigation or review that the CIA made a finding that there was a strong link between al-Qaida and Iraq, which was not accurate, if, if that is the finding, that raises really serious questions in terms of American security on future decisions relative to Iran, relative to North Korea.

And by the way, we’ve issued lots of reports about investigations and inquiries, we haven’t been reluctant on the Intelligence Committee, for instance, to call the investigation into the shootdown of a Peruvian plane an investigation or an inquiry, we had no reluctance to call lots of our investigations and inquiries investigations and inquiries.

But it seems to me the reluctance here to call something for what it is, which should be a thorough bipartisan inquiry, a very neutral word, it seems to me is something which does not reassure me that this is going to be as bipartisan as it ought to be.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts I want to first get your reaction to that. You heard what the senator just said. He’s worried about the –

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I heard it quite a bit as a matter of fact, but, okay, go ahead.

JIM LEHRER: But is there anything you can say to reassure him?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: You know, I constantly work to reassure Carl. On the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee. He’s pretty tough to assure because he’s a tough cookie and he’s asking the right questions, and we’re going to ask those questions. We’re parsing words here. When the Peruvian plane went down, we didn’t have eleven Democratic candidates standing on the stage in front of the public employee union in Iowa blaming the president for actually lying about intelligence, and we don’t know that.

That documentation that the distinguished senator, my colleague, my friend has referred to as to whether or not there was any terrorist activity in regards to the link between al-Qaida and Iraq, we have that, it’s about that deep, and I want members, Carl included, myself included, to read the documentation. And then we can make an informed judgment as to whether it had the right quantity, quality, was it reasonable, was it right? That’s all I’m asking, let’s do our homework first before we raise these questions in a political context. And I’m not saying that Carl is doing that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with him on the significance of this inquiry, in other words why it’s important beyond Iraq, how it could influence attitudes toward Iran, North Korea, and you can name the list from this point on if there’s some question, some cloud of question hanging over the quality of our intelligence as it related to Iraq?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: There’s no question about that. If you are embarking on a policy of preemption, which is brand new to Americans and you have the selective use of that, you’re going to have to rely on the best intelligence possible. But I don’t think that it’s helpful, quite frankly, to be beating the intelligence community about the head and shoulders with a lot of questions before we’ve done our homework. More to the point, prior to 9/11, if you connected the dots, you had to connect all ten of them before you issued any kind of a threat warning. After 9/11, we said get out of the risk aversion business, if you connect three dots, you better make that public.

Now, what worries me about all of this press and all of this, I don’t know what to call it, all of this fuss, is that once again we have the intelligence community right in the crosshairs, some of it is political without question, all I want to do is get to the bottom of it. If there is something egregious, you’re darned right we need to know about it and we need to know about it very quickly. It could be a lesson learned in regards to the intelligence community to fix it, simply not point fingers of blame.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Politics can run both ways here, we ought to avoid politics from either direction, either any suggestion that Democrats are pressing for an inquiry for political purposes or that Republicans are resisting a thorough inquiry for political reasons. In order to avoid any such implication, charges, innuendo, the decisions as to what should be investigated, what materials should be all the, who should be the staff, what witnesses should be interviewed, joint interviews of those witnesses, ought to be joint decisions, that is all that we’ve made and by the way it’s not just Democrats calling for a thorough investigations, Senator Hagel has said we ought to have a thorough investigation, Senator McCain has said we ought to have hearings promptly.

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is truly an issue of making sure that intelligence is not shaped or exaggerated in order to support the policy of any administration because of the risk to this country if there is such exaggeration or shaping, are very dangerous when it comes to critical decisions in the future about Iran, North Korea or other dangerous places.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, what has been the White House and others in the administration’s view toward what you and your colleagues might do on this issue in the Senate?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, despite a lot of rumors to the contrary and a lot of commentary and a lot of criticism, I have not heard from the White House. There’s been no contact to me personally from the white House on what we ought to do with this, and I think that’s proper. The Committee on Select Intelligence or the Select Committee on Intelligence should be independent from any kind of, any kind of political pressure from the White House. They have not been in touch with me, and that same question was asked of Senator Warner and Porter Goss and they repeated that.

Let me just say one thing. Carl is very concerned about the number of sites that were provided to the U. N. inspectors, and he is concerned rightly. We will have a hearing on that with the very top people from the CIA – i.e. George Tenet, to finally put that issue at rest. He just issued a letter here saying that he continues to be concerned. Now, in the staff work that I’ve seen, and the questions that I have raised, and the meetings I’ve been in I think it’s more a question of actionable intelligence. But that’s my opinion. We need to make an informed judgment on this, and that’s why I promised Carl there will be a hearing, it’s backed by Senator Rockefeller. All the things he is asking for, we are going to do. What we’re not going to do is have a public hearing first like the 9/11 investigation where it can be politicized and I want an informed judgment by every member of that Intelligence Committee who have read through the documents. That’s what we’re trying to do.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: This isn’t an issue of whether the public hearing is first, by the way. The issue here is whether the decision on what information will be sought, what issues will be explored, when and whether there are public hearings as a matter of fact, will be a joint decision. That is the key issue here. It’s not whether there will be –

JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, you’re saying it will be?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Of course it will be. I don’t know how many times very to say that. We have seven staff members, part of them are Democrats, and part of them are Republicans. The biggest thing is they’re expert analysts; that’s what we need.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: The second biggest thing is that they really should be selected jointly between you and Senator Rockefeller.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: That’s been done.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Not jointly, I don’t think that decision to select that staff was —

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, we’ll invite Senator Rockefeller over to give you a phone call, but basically we are having a joint bipartisan staff that are very good in terms of analyzing intelligence and we’ll get that job done.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the issue, Senator Levin, that Senator Roberts just mentioned was also a subject to your news conference today, in a nutshell you’re concerned that the number, when he says sites, you’re talking about possible sites where weapons of mass destruction might have been in Iraq, and you say there’s a conflict between the numbers given to the U. N. inspectors or that — in a nutshell what is your concern?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: First let me commend Senator Roberts because of the hearing which was decided upon is exactly the right way to go, and I commend him and Senator Rockefeller for jointly making that decision.

The issue here is whether or not the CIA stated factually in public how many of the top suspect sites were shared with the U.N. I said publicly, that as a matter of fact they misstated it, twice, in public, saying that all of the top suspect sites of high or medium value were shared with the U.N. Their classified material does not demonstrate that, and I have urged for four months that that be declassified, so that the public can decide whether or not George Tenet was saying it straight when he said that all of the top suspect sites had been shared with the U.N. Because if he misstated it, that again raises the question as to whether or not we can rely upon the statements of the intelligence community and its director.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Roberts, I take from what you said a moment ago you have no problem looking into that very issue?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Absolutely not. Now, I think there’s a question in regards to definition again because I know Carl and I have sat down with Senator Warner, Senator Rockefeller and we’ve had several meetings about it, we’ve had staff actually go up and talk to Hans Blix and the U. N. team up there, that regime. I think we’ve got to the bottom of it. There is a very definite difference of opinion between a top side, a medium side, a hot side, warm side, and a site that would prompt actionable intelligence. Carl is right, if this question is out there and the figures are wrong, we need to know about it, although from my point of view, I think they did share, as a matter of fact, I think Mr. Blix told our staff they got probably too much intelligence as opposed to actionable intelligence sites. Now we can get into the definition of that.

And one other thing while I have this on my mind: I really don’t think that the site investigation is as important as what Mr. David Kay now, who is our new person over there in charge of this, will be doing, and that is rounding up the people that can direct us to the weapons of mass destruction. It isn’t so much whether those figures were inflated. The weapons of mass destruction, we all know they were. Now, it’s either one of three things: They’ve either been dispersed or hidden or off shore. Now, the most important thing to do is to find out where on earth they are. If in fact – all Saddam is saying they had to do if he destroyed them was to let the U. N. know that, his regime might have been preserved, although I think the world is much better off. But the real question is, where’s the WMD?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Going back to George Tenet’s inaccurate statements about how many sites were shared with the U.N., all I want to see released are his own numbers, to declassify their own numbers. And the last excuse he gave for not doing it was that we have this secret relationship going with the U.N., it would embarrass the U.N. if we disclosed the number which the CIA told us in a classified way. We wrote Hans Blix. Hans Blix said heck no, go ahead. Make that number public; it’s fine with us. That was the letter that we released today from Hans Blix, saying he had no objects to going ahead.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I don’t have quite as much confidence in Hans Blix and the inspection team that Carl does.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: He has no objects to releasing the number. That’s the only question. It’s not a question of confidence in Blix. If you’re using Hans Blix as the relationship as the excuse not to release your own number in the CIA, Hans Blix says he doesn’t have any objections.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: In terms of criticism it’s like a mosquito bite, so I urged him to put on some American insecticide.

JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there, gentlemen, thank you both very much.