The Dark Side
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
PRODUCED AND REPORTED BY
NARRATOR: After 9/11, the White House went to war.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: We've got to spend time in the shadows. We have to work toward the dark side, if you will.
NARRATOR: And the vice president would lead the charge�
OBSERVER: He's the most powerful vice president in history of our country.
NARRATOR: �and define the war on terror.
OBSERVER: Things are going to happen that the public's not going to know about.
OBSERVER: We weren't going to play by the old set of rules.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal to achieve our objective.
NARRATOR: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story from The Dark Side.
911 OPERATOR: Police operator. Where is the emergency?
WOMAN: Help! Help!
FIRE DEPT. DISPATCHER: Fire Department 408. Where's the fire?
911 OPERATOR: I received another call in regards the World Trade Center.
["Meet the Press," September 16, 2001]
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: My secretary had called in just before 9:00 and said an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.
WOMAN: I'm going to die, aren't I!
911 OPERATOR: No, no, no, no!
WOMAN: I'm going to die!
911 OPERATOR: Ma'am, say your prayers!
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: So we turned on the television and actually saw the second plane hit.
POLICE DEPT. DISPATCHER: Police department 305. Where is the emergency?
MAN: [unintelligible] but it's getting bad! Oh God! Oh!
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: My Secret Service agents came in and said, "Sir, we have to leave immediately," and grabbed me and hoisted me up and moved me very rapidly to an underground facility under the White House. The Secret Service had received a report that an airplane was headed for the White House.
NEWSCASTER: Oh, my goodness! There is smoke pouring out of the Pentagon!
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: Within short order, we had word the Pentagon's been hit. We had a reports that there were six airplanes that might have been hijacked, and that's what we started working off of, was that list of six.
NARRATOR: They scrambled the Air Force. The vice president said he was authorized to order them to shoot down commercial airliners. Richard Clarke was in the bunkers.
RICHARD CLARKE Director NSC Counterterrorism, 1998-01: He had recommended that we use force to shoot down passenger aircraft, if those passenger aircraft were hijacked and if it looked like they were about to take out a significant target, like the White House or the Capitol.
NARRATOR: On the phone to the Pentagon, Cheney talked about the shootdown order with his oldest political ally, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.
[9/11 commission report]
"Has that directive been transmitted to the aircraft?" The vice president answered, "Yes, it has."
By 10:39 in the morning, Cheney mistakenly believed the military had taken down at least two aircraft. �It is my understanding they've already taken a couple of aircraft out," he said. "We can't confirm that," Rumsfeld replied. "We're told that one aircraft is down, but we do not have a pilot report that did it."
The aircraft, United Airlines flight 93, had just crashed in Pennsylvania. Cheney believed he had been responsible for shooting it down.
RICHARD CLARKE: He was very firm, calm, cool, making decisions clearly.
JAMES MANN, Author, Rise of the Vulcans: He immediately begins to take charge of what's going to happen in Washington.
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: ["Meet the Press," September 16, 2001] It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal to achieve our objective.
RICHARD CLARKE: I think the vice president felt he kind of looked death in the eye on 9/11. Three thousand Americans died. The building that the vice president used to work in blew up, and people died there. This was a cold slap in the face. This is a different world you're living in now. And the enemy's still out there, and the enemy could come after you. That does cause you to think things differently.
NARRATOR: The vice president would become the chief architect of the war on terror. There would be new laws enhancing executive power, robust action at home and abroad, and above all, secrecy.
["Meet the Press," September 16, 2001]
Vice Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: We have to work toward dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.
GARY SCHROEN, CIA 1970-2002: There were about 30 of us standing around, and as soon as the second aircraft smashed into the second tower, everyone said, "Bin Laden. It was bin Laden. This is the attack that bin Laden's been promising."
NARRATOR: The CIA had been warning the White House about bin Laden, but they had missed how and when it would happen.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Dpty. Director, CIA 2000-04: We were fighting these guys, and they won a huge victory on that day and it was a huge defeat for us.
NARRATOR: George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, a seasoned political operator, wanted official Washington to know the CIA already knew who was responsible. He sent deputies out for briefings.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), Select Comm. on Intel., 01-03: We were given the CIA's initial assessment of what had happened, and they listed al Qaeda as the most likely source of this attack.
JAMES BAMFORD, Author, The Puzzle Palace: On the afternoon of September 11th, the Pentagon is still smoking, Donald Rumsfeld dictates to one of his aides, "We've got to see, somehow, how we could bring Saddam Hussein into this."
[Dept. of Defense notes, 9/11/01, 2:40 PM] "Judge whether hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at the same time, not only UBL [Usama bin Laden]."
MICHAEL SCHEUER, CIA 1982-2004: Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney all cut their teeth in the cold war, in the contest between nation-states. They're not comfortable with thinking that the world's greatest power can be threatened by a couple of Arabs with long beards, squatting around a desert campfire in Afghanistan. It doesn't register.
NARRATOR: All that day, Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were in close contact with the president. They argued there would have to be retaliation, not just against bin Laden but also against nations that may have helped al Qaeda, nations like Iraq.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
NARRATOR: And later that evening, Don Rumsfeld took the opportunity to raise Iraq.
BOB WOODWARD, The Washington Post: The night of 9/11, at a small group meeting of the principals, Rumsfeld actually puts Iraq on the table and says, "Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It's an opportunity."
NARRATOR: The president was now the focus of a longstanding ambition of the vice president and his allies to deal with Saddam Hussein.
RON SUSKIND, Author, The One Percent Doctrine: I mean, when you really think about all these chess pieces moving, with significant players, seasoned infighters, almost in every chair. Now, take these two characters, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and move them into the two key slots around a young and generally inexperienced president, certainly in foreign affairs. It's something of a mismatch.
NARRATOR: But Cheney had a competitor. Back when they were assembling the Bush administration, Cheney had tried hard to keep George Tenet out.
CHARLES BATTAGLIA, Bush-Cheney 2000 Transition: The word I was getting here from Vice President-Designate Cheney's staff is that there was no way that George Tenet was going to stay around.
NARRATOR: Not much about Tenet appealed to Cheney. He was a holdover from the Clinton administration, a Democrat. But he'd worked in the Senate, at the National Security Council, and knew something about the personal side of politics.
Tenet, after all, renamed the CIA headquarters after George W. Bush's father, after George Herbert Walker Bush. And it was a signal of his deft touch as a political manager that he did this.
NARRATOR: Bush 41 recommended Tenet to his son, and they immediately hit it off.
DAVID KAY, Iraq Weapons Inspector: He's a very gregarious, enjoyable friend to have. He wraps his hand around you, chewing on an unlit cigar. He loves to talk sports. He's a man's man.
NARRATOR: They met nearly every morning, Tenet personally delivering the Presidential Daily Brief, the PDB.
STEVE COLL: It's very easy to see how Tenet and George W. Bush would have gotten along well. They're both men who aren't going to spend a lot of time pulling apart nuances of international relations. They're interested in short, sharp facts, a clear sense of direction. And Tenet, like the president, is casual in his demeanor. It's easy to imagine at these briefings that two men who didn't know each other at all discovered that they were similar personalities.
NARRATOR: Some at the CIA worried that Tenet might become just a little too close the president.
RICHARD KERR, Fmr. Dpty. Director CIA: I do believe that you can get to close and become, if you will, partisan to the policy. You can be captured by being close to the seat of power. And I think you have to be very careful.
NARRATOR: But on the night of 9/11, out at CIA headquarters, George Tenet was all business, pushing hard to prepare a counterattack.
J. COFER BLACK, CIA 1974-2002: We had been working on this for years. When everybody else is looking for their maps on Afghanistan, we're ready to rock, we're ready to roll. And it really took momentum. And George Tenet said, "OK, take the plan and have it ready by tomorrow."
RON SUSKIND: They come blazing forward with a fully architected plan. "We are going to spread this over 80 countries. We are going to go at it with this eight-pronged attack."
NARRATOR: Tenet and Cofer Black vividly delivered the message.
MIKE SCHEUER: Cofer Black, who was the Chief of CTC, said, you know, "We're going to put their heads on pikes, and we want flies crossing� you know, crawling across their dead eyes," and that kind of headquarters hero talk.
RON SUSKIND: The president loves operational guys. Black does a great presentation. You know, Black has been waiting his whole life for this, basically. He's very theatrical.
COFER BLACK: This is serious business. We've been attacked. This is war. People are going to die. And my guys are going to die.
RON SUSKIND: He can talk the talk of blood lust. You know, he's very vivid. The president loves this.
NARRATOR: Tenet wanted the CIA to take the lead, but Dick Cheney favored the Pentagon and Rumsfeld, and deeply distrusted the CIA. They all knew that after Tenet left the morning briefing, Dick Cheney would still be there.
RICHARD CLARKE, Dir., NSC Counterterrorism 1998-01: I think the personal relationship with the president that George Tenet had is still that of an employee. It doesn't begin to touch the decades of working together that Cheney and Rumsfeld had.
MELVIN GOODMAN, Fmr. CIA Officer: You haven't had that kind of strong relationship between a vice president and a secretary of defense. We've never had a vice president as powerful as Dick Cheney, and we've never had a secretary of defense who probably is feared as much as Donald Rumsfeld.
NARRATOR: Once, 35 years ago, Cheney had worked for Rumsfeld. It began in the Nixon administration, when Rumsfeld was looking for a staff aide.
FRANK CARLUCCI, Fmr. Secretary of Defense: One day, Don called me in and said, "There's a young intern on the Hill named Dick Cheney, Frank. I'm thinking of hiring him. I'd like you to interview him and see what you think." So I interviewed Dick and called Don and said, "I think this guy's pretty good. You ought to hire him."
NARRATOR: They would be closely linked for more than three decades.
JAMES MANN, Author, Rise of the Vulcans: The difference between these two people, Rumsfeld and Cheney � Rumsfeld, he'll come right at you. There's nothing indirect about him. Cheney tends to be very low-keyed. It's just a difference in style between the two guys. Politically, they're really� the guys� their views of the world and their views of government are very similar.
NARRATOR: Then, as Gerald Ford took office, they took over running the White House.
BOB WOODWARD: I happened to be talking to former president Ford, and I asked, "How did this happen?" And he said, "Don Rumsfeld, when I picked him as White House chief of staff, he said, �I'll accept, but there's one thing I have to have, and that is I want to bring in a guy named Dick Cheney.' " And Ford said, "I haven't even met him," but he agreed. And so Rumsfeld gave political life to Dick Cheney, to say the least.
NARRATOR: They were formidable bureaucratic infighters, and one day they proved it, literally remaking the Ford administration in a legendary maneuver performed entirely behind the scenes.
RON SUSKIND, Author, The One Percent Doctrine: In really a couple of days, the so-called "Halloween massacre," they manage to cut Henry Kissinger's job in half, and the vice president, Rockefeller, is swiftly marginalized. William Colby, then running the CIA, is replaced with George H. W. Bush. Rumsfeld moves to be secretary of defense. Cheney moves up to Rumsfeld's job as chief of staff. It's an extraordinary tactical flourish.
NARRATOR: After the Ford administration, Rumsfeld made his fortune in private industry. Cheney spent 10 years in Congress, where he was immersed in intelligence matters, and then he became secretary of defense for the first President Bush. In the shadow of Colin Powell, he had quietly managed the military in the Gulf war. Now he and Rumsfeld wanted the military to come up with a plan for attacking al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the Pentagon was caught flat-footed.
MELVIN GOODMAN: The military was totally unprepared in the wake of 9/11 for anything that needed to be done in Afghanistan. They had no plans on the shelf. They had no idea what was required.
NARRATOR: The secretary of defense called his generals at Central Command. Tommy Franks was the four star. Mike DeLong was his number two.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG, Dpty. Cmdr. CENTCOM 2000-03: We had no plan. I mean, to be honest, you have operational plans for different parts of the world. There was none for Afghanistan.
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld was angry. He wanted quick action with a small force, and he didn't mince words with Tommy Franks about it.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: The tensions were really high, and Franks was not getting any more sleep than I was. And by the way, he drinks maybe 15 cups of coffee a day, smokes two packs of cigarettes, cigars, and chews. So he's running on adrenalin and caffeine and nicotine. And so it doesn't take much to scratch that line, and he and Rumsfeld went at it.
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld would scramble, but Tenet and his counterterror teams were way ahead of him.
RON SUSKIND: And I think it's a bitter pill for the Pentagon� this great historical moment. They're public servants, after all. In some ways, they wait their whole life to be called to duty at a moment like this. And the Pentagon is largely on the sidelines, watching, and watching, of all people, the CIA. Oh!
NARRATOR: At Camp David, four days after 9/11, George Bush would hear the formal arguments for and against including Iraq in the war plan.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Dpty. Director, CIA 2000-04: Hard to describe the feeling in the room. I mean, they were focused.
NARRATOR: They began with Afghanistan, but Cheney's former Pentagon deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, brought up Iraq.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: There was discussion of Iraq and whether Iraq was behind this and whether Iraq should be included in any targeting.
KENNETH POLLACK, National Security Council 1999-01: They made Saddam Hussein out to be the greatest threat to the United States and the source of all evil, if not in the world, then certainly in the Middle East.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: That discussion went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The Agency argued that that was not appropriate, not the right conclusion to draw at this point.
NARRATOR: secretary of State Powell weighed in on Tenet's side, but Cheney had no faith in the CIA.
DAVID KAY, Iraq Weapons Inspector: I think there's one thing that influences him, at least in my conversations. He remembered as clearly as I remembered how wrong intelligence had been in 1991.
[www.pbs.org: More on the CIA's history]
NARRATOR: They had been wrong about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iranian revolution, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and more.
RICHARD CLARKE: There was a massive nuclear program in Iraq, nuclear weapons development program, that was probably 9 to 18 months away from having its first nuclear weapon detonation, and that CIA had totally missed it. We had bombed everything we could bomb in Iraq but missed an enormous nuclear weapons development facility� didn't know it was there, never dropped one bomb on it
DAVID KAY: That's at the forefront, at least in my conversations with him about Iraq. You know, they were wrong before. They didn't get the evidence. How do we know what they know now?
RICHARD CLARKE: There's no doubt that Dick Cheney comes back into office eight years later, nine years later, has that as one of the things burnt into his memory, that Iraq wants a nuclear weapon, Iraq was that close to getting a nuclear weapon, and CIA hadn't a clue.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: At the end of all this deliberation, the president says, "Thank you all very much. This has been a very good discussion. I'm going to think about all of this on Sunday, and I'll call you together Monday and tell you what I've concluded."
NARRATOR: The stakes for Cheney and Rumsfeld were high. If the CIA prevailed, they could lose control of how and where the war on terror would be fought.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: And Monday, we all assembled in the Cabinet Room, and the president lays down about 12 decisions, just like that, machine-gun fashion.
INTERVIEWER: What did he say?
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: Well, of course, the thing that stands out in my memory, because it hit me vividly, was he said, "I want CIA in there first."
NARRATOR: It was a body blow to Cheney and Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's military machine would be taking a back seat to the CIA and George Tenet.
GARY SCHROEN, CIA 1970-2002: My team, seven officers, including myself and three air crew, flew in on the 26th of September. When I began to distribute money � $200,000 dollars here, $250,000 for this � I think that the Afghans were convinced that we were sincere.
NARRATOR: It was a new kind of war against an invisible enemy.
CARL W. FORD, Jr., Dir. State Dept. Intel. 2001-03: You read the stories about what these people did on the ground in Afghanistan, and it's like you could make movies out of it, it's so fantastic.
NARRATOR: The plan was all about size and speed and using just the right CIA officers.
GARY BERNTSEN, CIA 1982-2005: And they had to be guys that we knew that we could trust. Cofer Black told me, "One third of your men will die. Be prepared for that. I accept it. You need to accept it and proceed aggressively. I want you killing the enemy in 48 hours. Find them and destroy them."
NARRATOR: They would spend millions to buy the Northern Alliance, ragtag fighters led by brutal warlords.
J. COFER BLACK, CIA 1974-2002: It's going to be a multi-prong threat attack, where we work with locals. We compromised enemies. We used cash. We provided humanitarian aid.
NARRATOR: But once the covert side of the CIA plan was finished, they needed the U.S. military, Don Rumsfeld's military. They would wait and wait, for almost a month.
GARY SCHROEN: We were there for just about a month by ourselves in the valley. We were the only Americans in country for almost a month.
NARRATOR: By late October at CIA headquarters, they were worried.
TYLER DRUMHELLER, Chief, CIA European Div. 2001-05: We were already making plans for a winter siege. And we had meetings on the budget, like, how we would budget for this, and you know, the military and our people and the Northern Alliance people would be there through the winter.
NARRATOR: Then there was a fiery NSC meeting. The CIA had been complaining Rumsfeld was dragging his feet in Afghanistan. It was said Rumsfeld didn't like taking orders from the CIA.
JAMES BAMFORD, Author, The Puzzle Palace: There was a lot of jealousy that Tenet had a leg up, and Rumsfeld was about three yards back.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: Rumsfeld went to the president and said, "The CIA has to work for me, or this isn't going to work."
DAVID KAY: I've got a lot of respect for Rumsfeld as a bureaucratic infighter. He never loses a battle because if he loses a battle, he'll re-fight it the next morning.
NARRATOR: The president finally agreed. Rumsfeld would now be in charge.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: That's what happened. CIA works for Rumsfeld.
NARRATOR: Army special ops teams were airlifted to Afghanistan, and the military side of Operation Jawbreaker could begin in earnest.
GARY SCHROEN: It wasn't until the night of the 19th of October or the morning of the 20th that the first special forces A-team came in.
NARRATOR: The Northern Alliance on horseback, the special ops teams with global position devices calling in air strikes, made short work of the Taliban forces. Finally, in mid-November, the capital, Kabul, fell.
[www.pbs.org: Debates on the Afghan war]
GARY SCHROEN: And I was absolutely convinced that that would happen and that the Taliban would break quickly. That could have happened in October, early October.
NARRATOR: It was mission accomplished.
COFER BLACK: We'd like the survivors of 9/11 to know that those of us in the business consider it the CIA's finest hour. We went in to kick ass, and we did that.
MELVIN GOODMAN, Fmr. CIA Officer: It was a CIA success story.
NARRATOR: George Tenet and the CIA were riding high. Now they wanted to take on al Qaeda all over the globe.
STEVE COLL, Author, Ghost Wars: Now he had the place at the table, the role in American national security that hearkened back to the glory days of the CIA in the �50s and the �60s and even during the Second World War.
NARRATOR: But Tenet's man-of-the-hour status was already being undercut behind closed doors. Dick Cheney had quietly placed loyalists throughout the administration, and they were already in motion.
JAMES MANN: Many of the people who worked for Cheney when he was defense secretary end up in senior jobs in the administration.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON, Chief of Staff, State Dept. 2002-05: And his network is positioned almost everywhere in the government that's important.
JAMES BAMFORD: That's how they were able to galvanize so much power.
NARRATOR: He aggregated the power at key national security centers. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was joined by Wolfowitz and Feith, Cambone, Richard Perle.
DANIEL BENJAMIN, National Security Council 1994-99: The important thing that unites them is their belief in the primacy of the military tool, that it's been an underused tool.
NARRATOR: Over at Colin Powell's State Department, Cheney brought in John Bolton.
LARRY WILKERSON: Bolton's not President Bush's man, he's Dick Cheney's man.
NARRATOR: At the White house, Cheney's national security staff was larger than that of any vice president in history.
JAMES MANN: He went out and had his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, appoint what amounts to a whole second National Security Council. It became a new source of power within the whole foreign policy community. It's an agency all its own.
NARRATOR: And he relied on Rumsfeld and the insiders at the Pentagon to create their own intelligence capability.
DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: He starts to put in place a new capability that's not yet fully developed. But the outlines are, "We need to figure out how to gather more intelligence ourself, the military, not rely so much on the CIA."
JOHN BRENNAN, Dpty. Exec. Director, CIA 2001-03: There were a lot of seniors in the Department of Defense that were dismayed that they weren't able to respond as quickly as CIA. And I think it has been shown over the past several years that the Defense Department has tried to increase its role in the intelligence community and to chew away at CIA's traditional authorities and responsibilities.
NARRATOR: The internal struggle was revealed in those morning briefings between Tenet, the president and Cheney.
JAMES BAMFORD: Every morning, the Presidential Daily Brief, the PDB, will be given. It'll be given both to the president and the vice president. And Cheney complained numerous times that the information coming from the CIA was not very good.
NARRATOR: Cheney wanted information that linked Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein
JAMES BAMFORD: But they weren't getting that information from the CIA. And so he put pressure, I think, on Rumsfeld and on the Pentagon to come up with their own estimates.
NARRATOR: Inside the Pentagon bureaucracy, Rumsfeld could easily and quietly grow a nearly invisible operation.
MELVIN GOODMAN: They needed an office that would produce the intelligence that the CIA wouldn't produce. Rumsfeld said, "I can solve your problem," and he put Douglas Feith on that issue.
DANIEL BENJAMIN: So they're going to do their own analysis. They're going to show what the CIA's been missing all along about the true relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda.
NARRATOR: They needed people with experience in the world of intelligence, but they hired politically connected policy analysts.
F. MICHAEL MALOOF, DoD 1982-2004: I got a phone call. The next thing I know, I'm being detailed on over to Doug Feith's office, and that I would be joined by Dave Wurmser, who today works in the office of the vice president.
NARRATOR: They worked in a vault deep inside the Pentagon. They had what is known as "all source clearances"� total access to intelligence information.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: I went into the system, our classified system, to see whether we know about terrorist groups and the relationships, as well as their connection, associations with not only al Qaeda, but also with state sponsors.
NARRATOR: The information was rarely vetted. Instead, it moved up the chain of command to the office of the vice president.
MELVIN GOODMAN: And this became material that was then used, sort of in white paper-like fashion, to be leaked to journalists or to create links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
NARRATOR: One story involved the leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohammed Atta, who allegedly had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: We were looking for connections, and that was one of them. And then subsequently�-and then I did some additional research in talking to people who were in touch with the Czechs.
NARRATOR: They sent it up to the vice president's office.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: ["Meet the Press," December 9, 2001] It's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN: We came to a different conclusion. We went over that every which way from Sunday. I mean, we looked at it from every conceivable angle. We peeled open the source and examined the chain of acquisition. We looked at photographs. We looked at timetables. We looked at who was where, when.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: I believe something did occur, for two reasons. Number one, I think it's the prime minister has always refuted the allegation that it was made up.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO, Fmr. CIA Officer: Very early on, both CIA and FBI knew it wasn't true because the FBI had Atta in Florida at the time.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: And number two, I'm told there was a photograph of the meeting.
NARRATOR: The 9/11 commission report would later find that there was no photograph and Atta was not in Prague at that time.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: And I sought to get� for our people to get that photograph. They never did, to my knowledge. Or at least, they never got it so that I could see it.
["Meet the Press," September 8, 2002]
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: I want to be very careful about how I say this�
NARRATOR: And despite the CIA's conclusion that the story wasn't true�
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: �Mohammed Atta, who was the lead hijacker�
NARRATOR: �the vice president continued to tell it.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: �did apparently travel to Prague and�
NARRATOR: He would repeat it regularly for the next two years.
["Meet the Press," September 14, 2003]
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: The Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've never been able to develop any more of that yet.
RICHARD CLARKE, Dir. NSC Counterterrorism 1998-01: I remember vividly, in the driveway outside of the West Wing, Scooter Libby grabbing me� from the vice president's office� and saying, "I hear you don't believe this report that Mohammed Atta was talking to Iraqi people in Prague." And I said, "I don't believe it because it's not true." And he said, "You're wrong. You know you're wrong. Go back and find out. Look at the rest of the reports and find out that you're wrong." And I understood what he was saying, which was, "This is a report that we want to believe, and stop saying it's not true. It's a real problem for the vice president's office that you, the counterterrorism coordinator, are walking around saying that this isn't a true report. Shut up." That's what I was being told.
NARRATOR: That winter, the CIA was still at war. The Taliban had fallen. Now it was Osama bin Laden's turn.
GARY BERNTSEN, CIA 1982-2005: I'm looking for bin Laden right away. I want to start killing him and his people immediately.
GARY SCHROEN: We had intelligence that continued to develop that bin Laden and Zawahiri were in Afghanistan, probably in the eastern areas, hiding out there.
NARRATOR: The CIA tried to put together a team to chase bin Laden. It wasn't easy.
GARY BERNTSEN: I asked Army special forces if they'll send people in. They say, "No, we're not going down there. It's unstable. You don't have a reliable ally."
STEVE COLL, Author, Ghost Wars: The conditions for al Qaeda's retreat were quite favorable, and the United States did not do the one thing that the Pentagon had within its power to do, which was to move regular U.S. troops into a blocking position behind these mountains.
GARY SCHROEN: We could come from the north, west and south, but we couldn't block the east. It's rugged, rugged terrain. And we didn't have enough U.S. troops.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG, Dpty. Cmdr, CENTCOM, 2000-03: How do you block this entire mountain line? It's like blocking the border of New Mexico from Mexico and hoping you can keep people from going both ways, with tunnels underneath, hundreds of them.
RICHARD CLARKE: We could all feel it slipping away, as week after week after week went by, and the U.S. had no military units on the ground, except a few special forces.
[www.pbs.org: Read Clarke's extended interview]
NARRATOR: So on his own and without the permission of the Defense Department, CIA officer Berntsen sent a small group to Nangahar province.
GARY BERNTSEN: Based on intelligence that we have that bin Laden has fallen back with about a thousand people. And then we come upon his camp at Melowah.
NARRATOR: The CIA urgently called the Pentagon. They were given air support, but not the Army Rangers.
GARY BERNTSEN: And then four guys, two CIA officers and two JSOC, with about 10 Afghan guards, call in the first 56 hours of air strikes against the motherlode of al Qaeda down below them. It was a nice beginning to what would be about a 16-day battle.
GARY SCHROEN: We actually, I'm convinced, wounded him. He was there at Tora Bora. I don't think there's any question now that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and was wounded in some way.
NARRATOR: The CIA officers in the field told headquarters the border had not been closed and bin Laden had escaped. That winter, a story circulated that military resources were already being aimed at Iraq. One United States senator, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, remembers a private conversation with General Franks.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), Select Comte. on Intel. 2001-03: The general said, "Senator, I would like to speak with you privately." We went into his room, and he proceeded to tell me that they weren't fighting a war in Afghanistan, that they were, in fact, beginning to redeploy assets. And he particularly mentioned Special Operations personnel and the Predator unmanned aircraft as examples of assets that were being redeployed from Afghanistan to get ready for Iraq.
NARRATOR: General Franks has denied Senator Graham's version of the story. But on the ground in Afghanistan, CIA officers say they noticed a shift toward Iraq.
GARY SCHROEN: Well, you could see changes being made in the U.S. military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the 5th Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential � U.S. military personnel with special operations capabilities � were being pulled away.
NARRATOR: Three months after 9/11, the Vice President went on Fox News.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: [December 11, 2001] I never say anything is inevitable, but if I were Saddam Hussein, I'd be thinking very carefully about the future and I'd be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
NARRATOR: The vice president continued to assert a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq, but the CIA kept saying it wasn't true.
JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Dpty. Director, CIA 2000-04: We said in that timeframe that we had no evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda and to those attacks.
NARRATOR: Tenet had even ordered a massive agency search for any connection.
MICHAEL SCHEUER, CIA 1982-2004: Tenet, to his credit, had us go back 10 years in the Agency's records and look and see what we knew about Iraq and al Qaeda. And I was available at the time and I led the effort. And we went back 10 years. We examined about 20,000 documents, probably something along the line of 75,000 pages of information. And there was no connection between Iraq and Saddam.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: He saw it as his job, and he told the president, "Here's what I think." And the president didn't like it, fine. But I never saw him hold back on what I knew. He told him� everything that I knew, he told the president.
INTERVIEWER: Like what?
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG:You know, things that were going on. Here's� it's the al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It's not the Iraqis. It's not the Iranians. If they do have something to do with it, it'll be a side issue, but that's not the main issue now. Boom, just like that.
INTERVIEWER: So from the very beginning, he was saying it's al Qaeda.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: It's al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
INTERVIEWER: And Bush is hearing that.
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: He was hearing that?
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG: Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. I mean, that� here it is. Yeah.
NARRATOR: The CIA meanwhile began using what would later become a controversial tactic in the war on terror. Of the thousands of prisoners being taken off the battlefield, the Agency was in charge of a handful, "high-value terrorists," HVTs. And they had a special way of dealing with them known as "rendition."
Lt. Gen. MICHAEL DeLONG:One rendition story involves the HVT Ibn Sheikh al Libi
VINCENT CANNISTRARO, Fmr. CIA Officer: Bin Laden made his escape, left Sheikh al Libi in command of the al Qaeda forces there, and he's captured. So we capture Sheikh al Libi.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: What you want from that individual is to try to get information that will lead you to another success either on the battlefield or in some other way.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: He's carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he's going to be tortured. Anyone who's worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.
NARRATOR: The information from al Libi found its way into the intelligence system.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: And it says that Saddam Hussein provided training in chemical weapons to al Qaeda.
NARRATOR: And that secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon turned the information about Saddam and al Qaeda and chemical weapons into an official report.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: The test of an Intelligence officer is not so much the ability to accumulate information, it's to judge between different pieces of information. There is what you could call intelligence information available to prove almost any case that you wanted to prove, if you were a non-discerning intelligence amateur.
MICHAEL F. MALOOF: Well, that information turned out to be correct. I heard it not only from al Libi, but we heard it from some people from the INC, the Iraqi National Congress. And then we take their information and put it back into the intelligence system.
NARRATOR: The intelligence provided by the torture of al Libi moved through the system.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO, Fmr. CIA Officer: A lot of that information is funneled in the form of intelligence reports to the vice president, to the secretary of defense, in fact, to the entire administration.
NARRATOR: It is the kind of information the office of the vice president, the OVP, began to stockpile. In fact, all roads in the war on terror run through the OVP. It has a political arm and a policy side. And then there's legal. They believed in expanding the president's executive powers.
RON SUSKIND: In terms of the executive power issue, you know, clearly, I think 9/11 is a moment of preparation meeting opportunity.
NARRATOR: Cheney was convinced the power of the president had been whittled away by Congress and the courts.
WATERGATE COMMITTEE STAFFER: [July 1973] Could you tell us how and when did you first meet President Nixon?
RON SUSKIND: He viewed the searing moments of the Nixon administration, which he was there in the front seats for, as a diminution of what the president ought to be.
[www.pbs.org: Cheney's views on power]
NEWSCASTER: [August 9, 1974] They are now boarding the helicopter, walking through the honor guard. The president now at the door�
RON SUSKIND: And he saw the years since as a time where, essentially, that damage was not repaired.
NARRATOR: Within days of 9/11, Cheney's legal insiders saw a chance to rebuild the president's power.
JOHN YOO, Legal Counsel, DoJ 2001-03: The laws as they were written and the Constitution that we have gives the president a lot of power in wartime. The president is the commander-in-chief.
NARRATOR: The vice president's legal counsel, David Addington, headed a group of lawyers who argued the president could authorize whatever means were necessary to fight the war on terror.
DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: And it is amazing, what it says. It basically says that the commander-in-chief can disregard any other law during time of war.
RON SUSKIND: They're looking to expand executive power, and 9/11 comes and it is a state of emergency. And a state of emergency gives a host of people in the administration, at the top, a chance to try some things that they've been thinking about trying for a long time.
NARRATOR: By the spring of 2002 the U.S. government was chasing down suspected terrorists all over the world. But the signals were clear. The push for what Cheney considered the real war on terror was about to begin.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: [CNN "Late Edition," 3/24/2002] This is a man of great evil. He knows we're deadly serious. Our friends and allies in the region know we're deadly serious and that we do need to find a way to address this problem.
MIKE SCHEUER: Clearly, by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq, in addition to having missed Osama bin Laden. It was a nightmare, and I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program..
RON SUSKIND: Cheney's view, supported by the president, I think everybody knows from meetings with the door shut that this is kind of the way we have to do this thing. I don't think there's any doubt, at this point, as to what will be done.
NARRATOR: At Central Intelligence headquarters, they were wondering where that left George Tenet. He could fight them, he could join them or he could retire.
JOHN BRENNAN, Dpty. Exec. Director, CIA 2001-03: I think it was a very personal and pensive time for George. I think he asked himself whether or not he wanted to continue on that road and to be part of it. So I think he had some sort of long nights.
STEVE COLL, Author, Ghost Wars: Tenet had an opportunity after the Afghan war to declare victory and go home. He didn't take that opportunity. I would imagine that he regrets it.
NARRATOR: Since the time of Harry Truman, the director of Central Intelligence has come to the White House to tell the unvarnished truth to the president. But George Tenet also carried the burden of his new friendship.
JAMES BAMFORD, Author, The Puzzle Palace: You get this friendship factor that enters into it, so it eliminates the objectivity of a lot of it.
DAVID KAY, Iraq Weapons Inspector: It's a Faustian bargain because, ultimately, anyone who heads an intelligence agency has got to speak, if he's serving the interest, truth to power.
LARRY WILKERSON: You're committed. You're committed. And every day that you go, you're committed more.
RICHARD KERR, Fmr. Dpty. Director, CIA: I think you have to be independent enough and distant enough that you can say, "Mr. President, that's not the way we see it," or, "Mr. Vice President or Mr. Secretary, that's not our view of it," and then follow up with why that's not our view.
NARRATOR: Tenet believed he'd proved al Qaeda and Iraq were not connected. He hoped the war fever would pass. But then to strengthen their case, the imminent danger of weapons of mass destruction.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: ["Meet the Press," March 24, 2002] The evidence is overwhelming. And one of the things that we need to do is to make the case, lay it out there. This is the evidence. This is what he's done. This is what he's doing. This is the threat to the United States and to our friends around the world.
NARRATOR: Even inside the CIA, it was conventional wisdom that Saddam probably had the weapons. But a lot of the information going to the vice president's office was coming from that secret intelligence office at the Pentagon and their ready source of intelligence, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress.
MARK GARLASCO, Def. Intel. Agency, 1997-03: At that time, we had INC constantly shoving crap at us. You know, they were providing information that they thought that we wanted to hear. They were feeding the beast.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: This was part of a broad campaign to pollute the U.S. policy process by feeding it false information, but information that would basically confirm fears already held, conceptions already held by the administration that Saddam Hussein was an imminent danger and had to be dealt with.
NARRATOR: A secret decision to go to war with Iraq was imminent, but the inner circle was fighting its own war about the war.
BOB WOODWARD, The Washington Post: I think the discord within the foreign policy inner circle around Bush is very, very high.
NARRATOR: By now, Tenet's only ally in the administration, the secretary of stat, was openly facing off against Cheney and Rumsfeld.
BOB WOODWARD: It became personal between Powell and Cheney. It also became personal between Powell and Rumsfeld. So you have this collision of world views. You have personal animosity.
NARRATOR: The vice president took the WMD arguments out into the country.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: [August 26, 2002, VFW address] Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions�
NARRATOR: Congress would soon have to vote on the war.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: �that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons�
NARRATOR: But much of what they knew came from Cheney on television. They brought in George Tenet.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), Select Cmte. on Intel. 2000-03: We had a meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a closed meeting, with Director Tenet. And several of us ask him, "What did the National Intelligence Estimate say about this issue?"
NARRATOR: The National Intelligence Estimate, the NIE, is the highest-level document generated by the intelligence agencies.
W. PATRICK LANG, Fmr. Def. Intel. Agency Officer: A National Intelligence Estimate becomes the truth accepted by the United States government. They hold this thing up, the NIE, and they say, "On page 6, it says so and so," and that is an irrefutable truth.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM: The answer that we got from Director Tenet is, "We've never done a National Intelligence estimate on Iraq, including its weapons of mass destruction." Stunning. We do these on almost every significant activity, much less significant than getting ready to go to war. We were flying blind.
MELVIN GOODMAN, Fmr. CIA Officer: The fact of the matter is, the CIA didn't want to produce one. The White House didn't want one because they didn't want to allow any venting of whatever opposition there was to what they wanted to be the conventional wisdom on weapons of mass destruction.
NARRATOR: And Tenet said the CIA was primarily focused on al Qaeda, not really paying attention to WMD and Iraq.
JOHN BRENNAN, Dpty. Exec. Director, CIA 2001-03: It was an intense period. We still were heavily engaged on trying to counter al Qaeda, the war on terrorism, and so there were a lot of things on George's plate. And he was working, you know, from sun-up to sun-down, and past that, seven days a week.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM: We said, "We don't care. This is the most important decision that we, as members of Congress, and that the people of America are likely to make in the foreseeable future. We want to have the best understanding of what it is we're about to get involved with."
NARRATOR: Congress demanded that the White House prepare an NIE. Tenet was supposed to provide a tough-minded analysis of the WMD allegations in a hurry. A process that ordinarily takes months or years would be reduced to just over two weeks.
DANIEL BENJAMIN, National Security Council 1994-99: I know some of the people who did that, and it's, you know, a mind-boggling task to have to put together an NIE in that amount of time, and particularly in those kinds of very charged circumstances.
NARRATOR: Many members of the CIA believed the vice president himself was determined to control the content of the NIE. The vice president and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, had made about 10 trips to CIA headquarters, where they personally questioned analysts.
MELVIN GOODMAN: I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on the stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.
PATRICK W. LANG: Many, many of them have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways� pressure takes a lot of forms.
PAUL PILLAR, National Intel. Officer 2000-05: The questions every morning, the tasks, the requests to look into this angle one more time, turn over that rock again. If you didn't find anything last week, look again to see if there's something there for that� about that connection.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: So you start looking very hard for anything at all that will support the answer that the vice president wants, that the Defense Department wants.
NEWSCASTER: From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press.
NEWSCASTER: Today on Face the Nation, Condoleezza Rice on Iraq and Iran and�
NEWSCASTER: From Washington, This Week, with ABC News chief�
PAUL PILLAR: Intelligence analysts listen to speeches and read newspapers, too, and they can see what senior policy makers are saying publicly. And they can make their own judgments about, "Well, does this really conform or does it not conform with what our analytic judgments are." And there was� there was a clear tension.
[www.pbs.org: Read Pillar's extended interview]
NARRATOR: One particular Sunday morning, September 8, 2002, serves as an example. It began with a New York Times story.
"Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium."
JAMES BAMFORD: There were a number of other headlines based on faulty information that Judy Miller would write. She would go and interview a senior Bush administration official on, say, a Saturday, and it would be off the record. And then Condi Rice is on a show on Sunday morning, and she points to the paper and says�
CONDOLEEZA RICE, National Security Adviser: We do know that there have been shipments going into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to� high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.
NARRATOR: It is just before the delivery of the NIE to Congress.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: ["Meet the Press," September 8, 2002] �is that he now is trying through his illicit procurement network to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium� �specifically, aluminum tubes. There's a story in The New York Times this morning�
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [September 8, 2002] �acquire nuclear weapons, but we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
DONALD RUMSFELD: [September 8, 2002] "Smoking gun" is an interesting phrase. It implies�
NARRATOR: The media blitz, the visits by the vice president and his chief of staff� some in the CIA say it was all a kind of subtle arm-twisting, but later, in a controversial report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found no pressure.
"The committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments."
PAUL PILLAR: Politicization, real politicization, rarely works that way. That is to say, you know, blatant, crude, arm-twisting. It's always far more subtle.
NARRATOR: In early October, Tenet delivered the hastily produced NIE. This was the top secret NIE. Much of the evidence was outdated, from the 1990s. There were four or five new allegations. The aluminum tubes, mobile biological, chemical and nuclear programs were alleged. And there were some footnotes where technical disagreements were aired.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: The CIA's assessment was sheep-herded by a national intelligence officer who works very closely with the vice president's office. It's a flawed� fatally flawed document, and it should never had seen the light of day.
DAVID KAY: When I read the NIE, I thought they were protecting sources and methods and trying to paint just an adequate job to get past the vote, that there must be more there. When I read it in 2003, after I took this responsibility� there's an old Peggy Lee song that I like that came to mind, "If That's All There Is."
NARRATOR: The NIE was kept in a locked room where Congress could read it, but few did. In mid-October, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Iraqi war resolution. A declassified version of the NIE, known as the "white paper," was prepared by the CIA and released three days later.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM: And one of the surprising things about it was it was of a very high production level� graphs, photographs in color. It was an advocacy piece.
INTERVIEWER: What does it say to you?
Sen. BOB GRAHAM: Oh, it says to me that the decision had been made that we're going to go to war with Iraq, all of this other was just window dressing, and that the intelligence community was being used as almost a public relations operation to validate the war against Saddam Hussein.
NARRATOR: Paul Pillar, a veteran high-ranking CIA analyst, was one of the primary authors of the white paper.
PAUL PILLAR: It was clearly requested and published for policy advocacy purposes. This was not informing a decision. What was the purpose of it? The purpose was to strengthen the case for going to war with the American public. Is it proper for the intelligence community to publish papers with that purpose? I don't think so. And I regret having had a role in that.
MICHAEL SCHEUER, CIA 1982-04: Paul Pillar is a man that I have tremendous respect for and who I think is an ideal intelligence officer. If there was pressures that resulted in Mr. Pillar not being happy with what he finally authored, I can only imagine those pressures must have been extraordinary because he is a man that I would want my son to model himself after. So that� to me, that says the pressure from the White House through Mr. Tenet on professional CIA officers was nearly overwhelming.
NARRATOR: George Tenet had relied on his connections in Congress as a source of protection and power. To some of them, now he was as flawed as the NIE he had delivered.
Sen. BOB GRAHAM: Well, I thought that this wasn't a man who was strong enough to stand up to the president of the United States and say, "Mr. President, you are about to make a very serious mistake, and here are the reasons. Here's what we know. Here's what we don't know about the situation in Iraq. And it does not warrant us leaving a victory which is imminent in Afghanistan and attainable in Afghanistan to start a war in an environment in which we are largely ignorant."
GARY SCHROEN: The problem rested not with his relationship with George Bush but probably with Rumsfeld and Cheney, who, you know, for� apparently, simply were so overwhelming at the bureaucratic infighting that they were able to isolate him, and in a sense, perhaps, allowed him to� kind of forced him into becoming more of a cheerleader for what was going� what the direction the administration was taking than he should have been.
NARRATOR: George Tenet's conversion moment occurred in the Oval Office when the president was given a presentation of the WMD case against Saddam Hussein.
CARL W. FORD, Jr., Dir. State Dept. Intel. 2001-2003: The president had said, "Is this all we got?" And the answer should have been, "Yes, sir. Unfortunately, that's all we got." His instincts were right. He saw that there wasn't a lot there. But I guarantee you, that's everything we had. We gave him our best shot, and the president said, "I don't� is that all you got?"
INTERVIEWER: And what did Tenet say?
CARL W. FORD, Jr.: "Slam dunk." That was the slam dunk conversation.
DAVID KAY: He certainly knew it wasn't a slam dunk. He knew and would have had to know that the data was not of a character that one could describe, even in a loose manner, and certainly not in the Oval Office of the president, who has expressed doubt about the presentation he's just heard, "Don't worry, Mr. President, that's a slam dunk." The data was not that solid.
CARL W. FORD, Jr.: Then they said, "Well, if that's true, George, if this is right, and this is� we're going to have to say it differently. You're going to have to come up with different ways of saying this because a normal person is going to look at this and say, �Is that all you got?' "
DAVID KAY: Quite frankly, the thing that I find hardest to understand in this entire story� where was the national security adviser, Condi Rice? She should immediately have said to the� any DCI, not just George Tenet, anyone who did that in the Oval Office, "No, you go back and you come back with a better case. Here are the doubts the president's expressed. Let's see what's there." But it was allowed to slide. Here again, I think it was allowed to slide because "We all knew he's got weapons."
NARRATOR: The State of the Union speech, a public recitation of the NIE.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [January 28, 2003] Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction.
NARRATOR: It was all there: the aluminum tubes�
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.
NARRATOR: A controversial assertion that Saddam was buying nuclear material would become known as "the 16 words."
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
NARRATOR: The controversy would be called "yellowcake." The CIA had examined the story.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: No one is endorsing it. Everyone is saying it really does sound implausible.
TYLER DRUMHELLER, Chief, CIA European Div. 2001-05: We never took it seriously. I mean, we looked at it, but there was never any real substance to it.
NARRATOR: The vice president had heard of a defense intelligence report that the African nation of Niger had sold 500 tons of uranium, known as "yellowcake," to Iraq.
CARL W. FORD, Jr.: He said, "This is important. This is interesting to me. Tell me about it."
Amb. JOSEPH WILSON, State Department 1976-98: I was briefed that an allegation had reached the office of the vice president, and the Office of the vice president had asked the CIA to look into it. I knew a lot about uranium mining. I knew a lot about Niger.
NARRATOR: The CIA sent Wilson to Niger. He found no evidence of a yellowcake sale. Yet it was put in the NIE.
"A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of pure uranium, probably yellowcake, to Iraq."
PAUL PILLAR: There were serious questions raised about yellowcake, and that's why the people in the intelligence community advised the White House not to use it publicly. And that's why it was not used in the intelligence community's own unclassified product, because there were doubts about the credibility of the report, that's turned out to be fabricated.
NARRATOR: Tenet in the past had worked hard to get yellowcake off the agenda, and he thought he had, but it had found its way into the NIE and been put in the State of the Union.
RON SUSKIND, Author, The One Percent Doctrine: I know, personally, when I listened to that State of the Union speech and I heard about uranium and yellowcake, I turned to the people I was with, my family, and said, "We are going to war in Iraq."
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: May God continue to bless the United States of America.
NARRATOR: The vice president had been the driving force to this moment. Now, on the brink of war, one last stop, the secretary of state. He was about to deliver the case against Saddam Hussein at the United Nations.
RICHARD CLARKE: Powell gets a speech, written by Scooter Libby, sent to him. And he's told, "This is the kind of speech we would like you to give at the U.N." It's very strange for the vice president's senior adviser to be writing the speech and saying to the secretary Of State, "This is what you should be saying."
NARRATOR: Powell was skeptical of Libby's speech. He turned to tenet for help.
CARL W. FORD, Jr.: He took the initiative to tell his staff, INR and CIA, "We're going to have to got through this. I don't like this." So his mind was already attuned to the fact that he wanted to make it better than he saw it.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON, Chief of Staff, State Dept. 2002-05: Secretary Powell was not reluctant at all to throw things out completely. We threw the meeting between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence operatives in Prague out.
NARRATOR: Powell and his senior staff spent the weekend at CIA headquarters.
LARRY WILKERSON: I sat in the room, looking into George Tenet's eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with the firmness that only George could give it� and I don't mean terminology like "slam dunk," although he was a basketball aficionado and used that kind of terminology a lot� but I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful men in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting to the U.N. was ironclad.
NARRATOR: But even at that time, inside the CIA, there were serious doubts about the accuracy of a central part of Powell's speech. It, too, had come from the NIE.
"Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents. These facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable."
The source for this information was code-named "Curveball."
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: Curveball was a relative of a senior official of the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.
DAVID KAY: Curveball claimed that he was an engineer, young engineer out of the University of Baghdad. And among the things he had designed, helped design, were this trailer, which was to be a mobile biological production facility.
NARRATOR: His story had been given to the American intelligence network by the Germans, but they could not verify the accuracy of his claims.
TYLER DRUMHELLER, Chief, CIA European Div. 2001-05: For a service to say, "We have this source, and here's what he reports but we can't vouch for it one way or another"� that's a little� you know, that should be a flag right there.
NARRATOR: But as Curveball's allegations became a crucial part of the NIE, what few knew, including Secretary Powell, was that Curveball was the sole source for most of the information.
DAVID KAY: He was not told the truth when he was at the Agency. When he was going over the data, he was told this was based on not one source but multiple sources. One of the sources he was told it was based on was already known to be a fabricator. He was not told that the Germans had denied the U.S. access to it. He was not told that there had been warnings from the Germans that this guy was, to say the least, undependable, alcoholic. So all the� all the fine-grained stuff that might have caused him even then not to use it, he wasn't given an opportunity to hear firsthand.
NARRATOR: In February of 2003, Secretary Powell arrived at the united nations to put his personal prestige on the line.
ROBIN WRIGHT, The Washington Post: Colin Powell was the most powerful voice within the administration cautioning against the dangers of going to war and the costs� human, political, diplomatic. At the end of the day, however, Colin Powell is a team player. He wasn't going to walk away from the administration on the eve of going to war, which was not only abandoning his commander-in-chief, but also the troops, many of which he still knew.
COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: [U.N., February 5, 2003] Let me turn now to nuclear weapons�
NARRATOR: Powell insisted George Tenet sit in camera range right behind him. The usual allegations were made.
COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein is so determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb�
NARRATOR: Aluminum tubes.
COLIN POWELL: �that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes.
DAVID KAY: I think the� on the aluminum tubes, that test data was cooked, and it was portrayed upward in a very dishonest fashion.
COLIN POWELL: We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during�
DAVID KAY: George Tenet knew we had no agents inside Iraq. George Tenet knew that on the case of Curveball, no American had ever talked to Curveball directly. No American had been given his name by the Germans. And you go down the line, he knew the holes in the data.
NARRATOR: And Powell used that information from Sheik al Libi, who was rendered and tortured in Egypt.
COLIN POWELL: I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.
NARRATOR: But this information had been coerced out of al Libi. Eventually, he would recant and admit he made it up.
COLIN POWELL: Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world.
NEWSCASTER: A nighttime artillery barrage�
NEWSCASTER: Marines shoot it out with Iraqi soldiers�
NEWSCASTER: The push has been relentless.
NARRATOR: In three weeks, it was over.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking.
BOB WOODWARD: Cheney has a dinner at the residence and has his chief aide, Scooter Libby, Wolfowitz, Ken Edelman and Cheney's wife. And it's a kind of celebration that they'd done it. "We got it right." And they talked at that dinner about, "We're going to find weapons of mass destruction. Don't worry," you know? And it was a celebration.
RICHARD KERR, Fmr. Deputy Director, CIA: Early on in the war, it seemed quite clear that they were not going to find major stockpiles of weapons, that we were looking at a kind of empty shelf.
NARRATOR: Finding the weapons was left to the CIA. They hired former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay. Before long, he called Tenet.
DAVID KAY: From very early on I said, "Things are not panning out the way you thought they existed here." And it was specific cases, whether we were talking about the aluminum tubes or we're talking about the nuclear program, in general, or the biological program or the chemical program.
NARRATOR: Powell received the bad news directly from Tenet.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I remember these scenes where he would come through my door and say, "Well, George just called and he took another pillar out. Another substantial aspect of my presentation is gone." He took it like a soldier, but it was a blow. It was a blow to me. I mean, I wrote out my resignation. I put it in my center drawer, typed it myself. I wouldn't even make my staff assistant type it. "Dear President Bush, I've come to the point in my service where I no longer can serve, given the nature of your foreign policy," and so forth. "And therefore, I respectfully submit my resignation." And once a week or so, I would take it out and look at it and fold it back up carefully and put it back in my center drawer, never having the intestinal fortitude to submit it. You know, I won't speak for Colin Powell, but I'll tell you it really affected me.
NARRATOR: Then one day, the vice president received a news clipping from The New York Times.
"I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Amb. JOSEPH WILSON: I sat down and wrote this article, 1,500 words, for The New York Times entitled, "What I did not find in Africa," and basically laid out the trip, laid out my conclusions.
NARRATOR: The vice president wrote a note to his staff.
"Have they done this sort of thing before, sent an ambassador to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us, or did his wife send him on a junket?
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA officer. Cheney and his staff already had reason to be suspicious of the CIA.
JAMES BAMFORD, Author, The Puzzle Palace: I interviewed a number of people that were active-duty CIA people still working there at the time, who were telling me a lot of things about what was happening and how intelligence was being abused and how they were being pressured. And these aren't the kinds of things that you can normally get CIA people to talk to, especially people you haven't developed a long relationship with. These were people who were sort of almost pounding at the doors to get this information out.
NEWSCASTER: The president's team is facing another stinging critique over�
NARRATOR: Reporters were being told about Curveball, the aluminum tubes, the vice president's visits.
NEWSCASTER: �because many in the intelligence community feel they're taking the heat for the failure to find�
RICHARD KERR, Fmr. Deputy Director, CIA: There have been more leaks and discussions kind of outside what I would consider to be the appropriate level than I've ever seen before. One of the effects is it really irritates the White House, and that is not a useful situation to be in.
STEVE COLL, The New Yorker: There was a substantial group of people in the White House who believed that elements of the Central intelligence Agency were opposed to the president's reelection and might even be running a quasi-covert action to prevent the president's reelection.
NARRATOR: It would be two-and-a-half years later. Armed with subpoena powers, after hundreds of hours of grand jury testimony, a special prosecutor began to shine a light into the dark side.
PATRICK FITZGERALD, Special Counsel: [October 28, 2005] I'm Pat Fitzgerald. I'm the United States Attorney and appearing before you today as special counsel in the CIA leak investigation. A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff.
NARRATOR: The investigation has uncovered what appears to be a covert campaign waged against the Central Intelligence Agency.
PATRICK FITZGERALD: The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury�
NARRATOR: Libby has pled not guilty to these charges, but the indictment suggests the OVP tried to discredit Joseph Wilson, that Libby told at least two reporters Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and that others in the administration did the same. Her name did appear in this column.
Amb. JOSEPH WILSON: I've always speculated that the reason Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove and maybe others were speaking about my wife and impugning my integrity was not so much to get revenge against me, although I think that was part of it. But the rational reason for doing so was to send a shot across the bow to others who might be willing to come forward and challenge the administration on its use of information to justify the invasion of Iraq.
NARRATOR: Then as the 16 word controversy continued, according to Libby's grand jury testimony, the vice president told him he was now authorized to reveal top secret information from the NIE to a reporter.
"Defendant's participation in a critical conversation with Judith Miller occurred only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE."
Libby testified that he met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller in this Washington restaurant. And he says in their off-the-record conversation about the yellowcake story that he told her that the CIA was responsible for it.
"Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, some of the key judgments of the NIE and that the NIE stated that Iraq was �vigorously trying to procure' uranium.
Three days later, the president was in Uganda. As the reporters were invited in, he would take a question that allowed the administration to publicly blame the CIA and George Tenet for the yellowcake story.
REPORTER: Take a question, sir?
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Sure.
REPORTER: Why� can you explain how an erroneous piece of intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection got into your State of the Union speech? Are you upset about it? And should somebody be held accountable, sir?
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services, and it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers imposed by the Saddam Hussein regime and�
NARRATOR: George Tenet has admitted he never read the advance copy of State of the Union speech. Now the president had weighed in.
STEVE COLL, The New Yorker: I don't know what George Tenet felt as he saw that unfold, but I can imagine that he was dismayed and increasingly resentful that he was being singled out for blame. At the same time, he's such an operator and such a student of Washington that surely, he understood what was happening, that he was being asked, in effect, to fall on his shield so that the president could be reelected.
DAVID KAY, Iraq Weapons Inspector 1991-92: I think it is true that George Tenet wanted to be a player and he understood that if you didn't give the policy makers what they wanted, he believed � I think wrongly � that you weren't a player, and therefore, your views wouldn't be taken and you wouldn't be invited into the closed meetings, et cetera. He traded integrity for access, and that's a bad bargain any time in life. It's particularly a bad bargain if you're running an intelligence agency.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [June 3, 2004] Today George Tenet, the director of the CIA, submitted a letter of resignation. I met with George last night in the White House. I had a good visit with him. He told me he was resigning for personal reasons.
NARRATOR: The CIA would have a new director, and there would be a bloodbath. Dozens of high-ranking officials would leave.
RICHARD KERR, Fmr. Deputy Director, CIA: I didn't mind thinking that CIA was a dangerous, difficult organization. I didn't mind them thinking that we were even evil sometimes. But I didn't like them thinking that we were incompetent. If that is the view of your intelligence organization, you have a real problem.
NARRATOR: In the farthest reaches at headquarters, one could find the weapons inspector David Kay.
DAVID KAY: It's almost comical to me. And in fact, I'd laughed at the time because it was so much like a poor spy novel. I was given an office that didn't have a working telephone, that was surrounded by packing cases, you know, at the� at the depths of Langley, with a secretary that usually wasn't there. And I mean, you know, you'd have to have been pretty dumb not to have caught the signals. What it said to me is these guys really don't want the message. The message wasn't, "There are no weapons there," the message was our system completely broke down and failed. It gave not only the wrong answer, it mishandled every piece of evidence that we have.
NARRATOR: At Christmastime in 2004, they gave out the highest honor the president can bestow, the Medal of Freedom. The insiders from the war on terror were there. Don Rumsfeld, whose Pentagon had by now inherited most of the intelligence function. Scooter Libby was there. Colin Powell� he would resign soon.
NARRATOR: [December 14, 2004] Ladies and Gentlemen the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom: L. Paul Bremer III, General Tommy R. Franks, George J. Tenet.
STEVE COLL: I presume that for President Bush, it was a signal that he wasn't making Tenet a scapegoat. It would be the natural thing to do, right? You've seen this episode of "I, Claudius." You know, you put the knife in one side and the medal on the other side, and that's politics.
NARRATOR: Watching it all was the man who had been at war since that first day, on September 11th.
JAMES BAMFORD, Author, The Puzzle Palace: Cheney pretty much got everything he wanted for in terms of the CIA. Tenet left, and kept his mouth shut about all the things that went on, about what kind of influence Cheney might have had. They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. They're gathering more power every day in terms of intelligence. So largely, Cheney won.
NARRATOR: The vice president and George Tenet declined FRONTLINE's requests for on-camera interviews.
The Dark Side
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NARRATOR: This report continues on our Web site, with FRONTLINE's extended interviews with former members of U.S. intelligence agencies, the military and government officials, more on Vice President Cheney's views on executive powers, 9/11 and a forceful preemptive foreign policy, and more on the CIA's intelligence battles over the years, plus a chronology and the option to watch the full program again on line. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE/World: In Zimbabwe, he was once a national hero, but now his country is falling apart. Going undercover, Alexis Bloom tells the tragic story of people risking their lives to escape, only to be herded back to Mugabe's broken country. In despair, some people have just given up.
NARRATOR: This story and more on the next FRONTLINE/World.
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