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President Bush Declassifies Part of Leaked Intelligence Report

September 26, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Afghanistan’s president was at his side this morning at the White House, but for President Bush, Iraq was Topic A at the joint news conference. Mr. Bush was asked about the intelligence report. It concluded the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was spreading the global terror threat.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Some people have, you know, guessed what’s in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it’s naive; I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe.

RAY SUAREZ: Parts of the National Intelligence Estimate, a collaboration from 16 intelligence agencies, were published in major newspapers this weekend. President Bush said that move was politically motivated six weeks ahead of midterm elections.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, you know what’s interesting about the NIE? It was an intelligence report done last April. As I understand, the conclusions — the evidence on the conclusions reached was stopped being gathered on February — at the end of February.

And here we are coming down the stretch in an election campaign, and it’s on the front page of your newspapers. Isn’t that interesting? Somebody’s taken upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes.

And so John Negroponte, the DNI, is going to declassify the document as quickly as possible. He’ll declassify the key judgments for you to read yourself. And he’ll do so in such a way that we’ll be able to protect sources and methods that our intelligence community uses.

RAY SUAREZ: That didn’t go far enough for some Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: It’s obvious that we should see the entire estimate, not just the portions, the “findings,” so-called, which are just limited, but we also should see everything in that report declassified which relates to Iraq. And when the American public does see it, there’s going to be further important and compelling evidence that we have got to change course in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Today, House Democratic leaders called for the release of another, and more recent, National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Ray talked to two members of Congress about the earlier report just before parts of it were declassified late today.

The intelligence report

RAY SUAREZ: Now, some perspective on the terrorism report and its declassification. We get it from members of the House Intelligence Committee: Democratic Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas and Republican Representative Ray Lahood of Illinois.

Congressman Lahood, have you read the report?

REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), Illinois: I read it yesterday, Ray. I had an opportunity to go up to the Intelligence Committee on the fourth floor. I read the report, and I also got a briefing from one of our staff members on the committee.

RAY SUAREZ: And does the report, as was reported in the last several days, say that the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism, rather than reducing it?

REP. RAY LAHOOD: Well, look it, Ray, you know, it's a top-secret document. And as members of the committee, we're not allowed to really disclose what's in the report. And I would really be violating my responsibility as a member of the committee if I said any more than that.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, it's about to be declassified, Congressman. Would that description -- that that's one of the findings -- be incorrect, if that's been the way the report has been described over the last several days.

REP. RAY LAHOOD: You know, I agree with the Wall Street Journal editorial today, and I agree with others that believe it should be declassified. And I think, once it is declassified, you know, everybody will have an opportunity to see what's in there.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Reyes, let me ask you: Have you read the report?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES (D), Texas: I did. I read it today.

RAY SUAREZ: And would you say that it's a fair description that the report says the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism rather than reducing it?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: Well, without attributing it to the NIE itself, I think pretty much common sense has us seeing the reality of the facts on the ground. And that's pretty much what I see in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: And also, the president suggested today, as have other members of the administration, that reading the full report would create a different impression, that there are a lot of other things in there. Overall, is that a fair description of this about-to-be declassified document?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: Well, there are a lot of parts in there. I myself did not see any reason not to declassify it because there aren't any sources and methods in the NIE. I think it's an analysis piece.

And I think people, as my good friend and colleague, Congressman Lahood, said, I think once they read it, they can make up their own mind. But I believe that most people, knowing the situation as we see it today and seeing that analysis, would come to the same conclusion.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Lahood, would you agree with President Bush that reading the report in its entirety would create a different impression from the one that's being reported in the headlines this week?

REP. RAY LAHOOD: Well, look it, Ray, the point is that there are a lot of insurgencies going on in the Baghdad area, and there are a lot of terrorists in that area. And it's because that's where we are.

When we brought down al-Qaida in Afghanistan, when we brought down that network, we had a strong presence there. I think wherever we have a strong presence you're going find these terrorists trying to foment a lot of trouble and trying to kill Americans.

RAY SUAREZ: So the Iraq invasion itself has created in part that situation? This was not going on before the United States got there?

REP. RAY LAHOOD: Look it, the point is: We have a major presence in Iraq. And these people don't like us. And if they can find ways to kill our soldiers and to kill the men and women that are doing the hard work and kill other innocent civilians, they'll do that to try and get at the United States.

If we didn't have such a major presence in Iraq, they'd probably be somewhere else. And, you know, there's just no secret about that; they want to be where they can get at our people.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Reyes, is that a fair description of the situation as it exists today in the world, do you think?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: Well, I think the real issue is whether or not the invasion of Iraq has created the situation that's referred to in the NIE. And I think when people -- I myself hope that they do declassify it -- and when people look at that, I think they'll be able to draw their own conclusions, which, by the way, having read the document today, is pretty much a fair statement, from my perspective.

Breeding Islamic radicalism

RAY SUAREZ: Well, one thing that's reported that is in the NIE is that the war in Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicals that are ready to fight, as Congressman Lahood suggests, U.S. interests around the world.

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: I don't think it's a secret; certainly, it's not confined to the NIE, so I'm not referring to the NIE specifically. But I sit on both the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. And for a couple of years now, we know and we've seen that terrorists from throughout the world are coming into Iraq, getting the equivalent of combat training on site, and that it is attracting people from other than Iraq to come in for that experience.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today, Congressman Lahood, the president suggested the release of this information said to be from the NIE was politically motivated; do you think it is?

REP. RAY LAHOOD: Well, look it, we're 40 days away from an election. And you know what's going on around this town. Democrats believe they have an opportunity to win back the majority in the House and Senate. There's a lot at stake in these elections. Majority control of the Congress is significant.

The war is a big issue. Releasing a report like this and leaking it to the New York Times 40 days from the election looks pretty political, I think, for those of us that are involved in politics and hang around Washington, D.C.

RAY SUAREZ: Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, Congressman Lahood, suggested that anything that would sever the connection between the Iraq war and the war on terrorism is very dangerous for, not just President Bush, but all Republicans running in November.

REP. RAY LAHOOD: The war is the issue. It was the issue two years ago when President Bush won re-election. If you look -- if you go district by district, it is a significant issue in many of these districts.

And some of us believe that one of the reasons the Democrats have done well is because they've played this issue very well. And some of us also believe the reason the president's poll numbers have come up in the last few days or last at least 10 days is because he's given three speeches, and we commemorated the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and talked about the fact that our country hasn't been attacked in the five years.

And I think people are giving the president his due on that. This is the issue du jour in this election, though, for many people around the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Reyes, when the president said earlier today that this release was politically motivated, what did you make of that?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: I'm shocked that anything that happens here would be politically motivated. But having said that, sure, I agree with my colleague. Iraq is the biggest issue. I mean, poll after poll after poll for the last nine months to a year have told us that.

But the one difference between what's happening today and what happened two years ago in the previous election has been that the American people have grown tired of being misled about the progress that has been made in Iraq. And most recently, the polling is now starting to show that people are starting to doubt Afghanistan, as well.

So a big difference in the overall political climate and in the overall feelings of the American people from two years ago, but certainly this is one of the top issues that we're going to be debating in the course of the next 40 days or so.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, a report from your own committee on intelligence released earlier this year said, and I quote, "There are a growing number of groups building the capability to attack the United States, our allies, and our interests abroad." Does that agree with or contradict what's said to be in the NIE, that during the Iraq war the threat from terror has grown?

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: Are you quoting the al-Qaida report that was put out under the auspices of the Intelligence Committee?

RAY SUAREZ: Yes, that one, sir.

REP. SILVESTRE REYES: Well, that is a staff-written report. If you will note in there, those of us on the Democratic side took exception and had a minority opinion on that.

There's two points I want to make about that. The first one is that the committee does not on its own provide that kind of analysis on a normal basis, so we believe that that was generated for political purposes.

Secondly, the issue that you just mentioned about groups forming is one that came out of open sources, because that's what was generated for the report, all done from open sources. And, again, it's pretty much information that, if you look at it from a commonsense point of view, it's what it is.

Progress in the war on terror

RAY SUAREZ: And, Congressman Lahood, finally, referring to that House Intelligence Committee report on al-Qaida, does its finding that groups are building the capacity to attack the United States mesh with Vice President Cheney's insistence this week that we are making significant progress in this regard?

REP. RAY LAHOOD: Well, look it, we've made progress, Ray. It's been a great cost. It's been a great cost for the men and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's been at great cost to the taxpayers.

But, listen, what I tell people back home is our country hasn't been attacked for five years. Somebody deserves the credit for that. It's not an accident that we haven't been attacked. While Great Britain was attacked and while other countries have been attacked, we haven't been attacked, while plans were made to hijack 12 airplanes from Great Britain and kill people on their way to the United States.

Those kinds of attacks were intercepted because people are talking to one another, because we've paid more attention to intelligence-gathering, because intelligence people have communicated better, and we've spent a lot of money in our own country trying to protect Americans. And it's been money well-spent.

And the president deserves some credit for this, and so does Congress, those of us that have been serving here and trying to protect America. There are people out there, a part of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, that want to hurt Americans. Some of them are living right here in America, and we need to be on high alert about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Representatives Lahood and Reyes, gentlemen, thank you both.


REP. RAY LAHOOD: Thank you, Ray.