Tyler Drumheller served as the CIA's top spy -- the division chief for the Directorate of Operations (DO) -- in Europe until he retired in 2005. Here, he discusses changes at the CIA during his career and after 9/11; his impressions of Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and his leadership; and Drumheller's attempts to warn about the dubious intelligence provided by an Iraqi defector, code-named Curveball. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 15, 2006.
- Some highlights from this interview
- Vetting Curveball
- Changes at the CIA post-9/11
- George Tenet's legacy
- Thoughts on the Plame affair
Give me a sense of who you are, what you did, what your career with the CIA was all about.
I served in the CIA for a little over 25 years. I applied in the late '70s, really started in 1980. I served all but the last few months of that undercover, and all but the last three years of that I was an undeclared officer. I spent a very short time in Washington.
My first part of my career, I served at a number of posts around Africa. I had grown up in Germany, so I spoke German, and then I got switched to Europe and spent the last part of my time in Europe. I can actually say what I did in some of those places. I was deputy chief of the Europe Division in the mid-90s, went and served as chief of the largest field office then -- Baghdad is now, obviously -- and then came back in 2001, and they made me the chief of the division. I served there until I left, which was Feb. 3 of last year , so out one year. ...
In that arc of that career, what did you see happen to the Central Intelligence Agency?
The problem is the agency became larger, and the structure became more convoluted. In the beginning, when I started, they used to always say there was never more than two or three people between any case officer in the field and the director -- very short lines of command, fairly clear.
Obviously there were mistakes made, lots of excesses in the '50s and '60s, but very focused, short, direct lines of command. There was very little confusion about what we were doing and what we were to do and what our role was in the government. The policy-makers set the priorities, the things they're interested in, and we were to collect on those and then to report back, and then they make policy.
Over the time I was there, I saw it become increasingly -- "politicized" is a terrible word, but increasingly, where the policy-makers became more involved in saying, "Well, this doesn't fit with what I am interested in. I want some specific information," which is a very gradual process. ... Inside the agency itself, [this] is reflected in the fact that directors began to have padded -- not "padded"; that's the wrong word -- but more and more staff, more and more special assistants, more and more executive officers, more and more executive assistants, until in the end there were definite changes that needed to be made.
[Former Director] George Tenet started them in the mid-90s, but there were still some changes [that] needed to be made in the post-Cold War period as we adjusted. [This administration] really had an opportunity to do it, and instead, they became very much focused on politics. A lot of it centered initially around Iraq when they first came in, because they were very interested in Iraq, and then after 9/11, obviously the war on terror, rightly so.
There were a lot of preconceptions. A number of people in the administration have contacts in émigré communities in Iraq, Iran. They get a lot of information, so they come in with an idea of what they think it is, and when we report something that goes against that, it's no longer looked at as, "Well, why is this?," or "What's the problem?" In fact, it's looked at as, "You're being disloyal."
This is [former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz with the Iraqis, for example?
I don't know Wolfowitz, but that group, the people in the Pentagon, it's well known they had contact with Iraqi émigré community. I think a lot of the preconceptions about the weapons of mass destruction and all that were driven by the Iraqi émigré reporting, whether it was from the Iraqi National Congress [INC] or others.
...Émigré reporting is notoriously unreliable, ... because they always have an agenda. They're trying to get back to their home. Sometimes it's reliable and you have to use it, but you really have to double-check. You can't base your whole view of what's going on on émigré reporting.
I think that drove a lot of it. There's some complications in the Curveball case. [That] is a good example of how, had that been an agency case handled by us, we would have vetted it much, much more before the reporting was put out and given the credence that [it] was given. [Curveball] came out as a defector, was handled by Defense Intelligence [Agency (DIA)] officers. But that's nothing against Defense Intelligence officers; [there are] great Defense Intelligence officers. But we have a certain way of doing things that's built up over 50 years. Some people look at that as being cautious. In fact, it's a professional standard that you really have to have. ...
Help me understand or place George Tenet in the firmament. When he arrives, what reputation does he come with? What is he?
George actually came to the job from the National Security Council [NSC], where he was the intelligence coordinator. Before that he had been the staff director on the Senate Select Committee [on Intelligence (SSCI)] and had served on the Senate Select Committee for a long time [and] was well known.
In those days, though -- and this is another thing that's changed -- it was very unusual for the staffers or even senators for that matter to have contact with individual case officers or reports officers or even analysts. That contact was usually done through the DDO's -- the deputy director of operations' -- office. You tried to protect the junior, the working officers from the politics or the issues.
I had only met George one time. I'm sure he didn't even remember me. I had to brief him on Angola one time back in the late '80s. But I always found him, when he was at the NSC, to be very helpful. He's a very smart guy. He understands the intel community. [Before] he came in, Dr. [John M.] Deutsch was -- strictly my opinion -- a disaster as DCI [director of central intelligence], sort of petulant and disorganized. George really straightened it out after that. Morale was just disastrous in 1994 and '95 because everybody just -- it was so confused. Everybody wasn't sure where we were going. He really did give purpose to it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Good friend for a long time.
I think he was truly dedicated to the idea of making an intelligence service. He's also, I think, dedicated to the institution of the CIA, and he wanted to make it better. ... I don't think he was ever completely comfortable with the Directorate of Operations [DO], because we cause problems for people. I think his staff tended to be analysts and people who came from the Hill.
But we had regular contact with him ourselves, and we could talk with him directly. You didn't have to go through one of these staffers. He was very dynamic. A lot of the things that we did in Europe in the war on terror -- we did some very good things with Europeans, and it was largely because I was able to call on him to sit down and talk to the leaders of these countries.
One of the things that I understand he does is he looks at the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] and other places, and he says, "Terrorism is a huge problem."
He did. Some people have been saying this for some time: Dewey Claridge, Milt Bearden, people like that. Tenet really said, "We have to change." And he was saying [this] back in '96: "This is a war on terror. We have to readjust our resources and the way we're structured and how we work." ... He was very -- I don't know this for a fact, but it seemed to me, as he was there longer, the Clinton administration became more and more -- until at the end they were extremely interested in terrorism and counterproliferation. They were driven by that, especially by [Osama] bin Laden. They were very interested in bin Laden.
And that was Tenet?
That was during Tenet's time. I never saw Tenet speak to the president, so I don't know. But you put the two together, it seemed like that was his focus with it. I think it was good for the agency. He really wanted to focus on these transnational issues, which is what we should do. But he was worried that if we kept the old structure in place, that that would draw away from it, because we'd always go back to doing what we knew we had to do from our early days.
The fact is, you can -- I think I convinced him of this at the end -- is you can do both. You have to have the structure to do the transnational issues. Transnational issues don't exist in a vacuum. You have to have some structure. What he was just getting started on when 9/11 hit was looking at new ways of structuring things. ... After 9/11, it was like from a fire hose. That distorted everything.
That summer before 9/11, all the alarm bells are going off everywhere -- at the FBI, CIA, everywhere. What was happening?
I came back that summer from overseas, and we had heard the year before [about] the millennium threat. There were concerns at that time about planes flying into steeples in Europe. When I came home that summer, I ran into a very close friend of mine who was working at the CTC at the time. He said, "Something terrible is going to happen," and he just can't get anybody to focus on it. He said, "Tenet's been talking to the White House."
Then, by the end of July, he said, "It seems to have gone away." Then in early August, they did the PDB [President's Daily Brief] piece for the president on that. But there was a sense. I saw it in [Deputy Director of Operations James] Pavitt; I saw it in Tenet; I saw it in my friend -- [then-CTC Director] Cofer Black's a very close friend of mine. I saw it in all these guys, that they were desperately trying to get the people to focus on this. This was a real threat.
It wasn't that people were blasé about it. It's just that the new administration had a million different things, and this wasn't what they were -- it just didn't seem to be resonating.
But if you had to say there was a number one thing George Tenet was worried about?
Terrorism and counterproliferation as joint issues. Terrorism and the counterproliferation as an adjunct of that, as sort of the force multiplier.
He really desperately wanted somebody to pay attention.
Yes. And he really tried. I think he was supported by Pavitt and Cofer.
It changed that afternoon. They sent everybody home, and they called us, all the division chiefs, back in [to talk about] how we were going to restructure, how we were going to address what happened. Now, what happened -- why it happened and what was amiss -- we didn't really get into. We were trying to look ahead.
My part of it was to try and go to our European allies. One of Tenet's real goals was to break down the barriers between the services, because you have very long-standing rules of engagement between foreign intelligence services. You work together, but you don't really trust each other. It's an interesting sort of dance in that every service wants to protect its sources, obviously, and information. We had been looking for ways to engage on this; they, [the] Europeans, were looking for ways to engage on it. But even among themselves, they had a hard time doing that.
Then after 9/11, there was increased interest in it obviously, and I think we actually had some success. Like I said, George was a great help on that. ...
He's a great salesman, I hear. So he's going around to the foreign services. He's going around to the president of Yemen. He's going around getting everybody kind of --
He had terrific energy. He recognized his role as the most valuable asset that I, as division chief, had: that I could deliver him to meet with the president of the country or the head of [a foreign intelligence service]. That means a lot to people. ...
I've seen him many times work all day, go to the 5:00 p.m. [CIA] meeting, come out, have another meeting at the White House, and then meet me in Georgetown for dinner with some head of some service and stay up until midnight, 1:00 a.m., and drive home. I said, "You must be really tired." He said, "I have a chauffer." Then he'd be back with the president at 6:00 a.m. It was exhausting --
Is he good at it, in the interpersonal, across the dinner table?
He's fantastic at it.
In what way?
He's just a regular guy, no pretension. He listened to other people, although he holds forth. But he was very good at listening to people and making people think that he was interested in what they were saying. Most of the time he was interested in what they were saying, because he was a curious guy. I think one of the things he probably enjoyed most about being director was learning all the things he learned over the years. He was genuinely, I think, liked by every senior official ... I ever worked with.
After 9/11, what did he want?
After 9/11, the main thing was this seamless sharing of intelligence and immediate sharing of intelligence, because I think everybody saw that there may be pieces out there that are being held, and someone says, "Well, this comes from such a secret source that only one person can see it ...," and that person may have said, "Oh, well, this is terrible," put it in their desk and forgot about it. This is the other thing I think he wanted to do -- this is what eventually became the NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center -- ... get all the analytical people in one place.
[Former CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin used to say -- I say this all the time; I actually stole it from him -- this should be like the Manhattan Project: Get the very, very best analysts from the intelligence community, from the academic world, from business, whatever, bring them together in one place -- not 5,000 analysts, [but] a small, efficient group. Then they should have access to all the intelligence from all our services, all the American services, all the allied services, seamlessly, and really good computer systems.
If he could have done something, that was the direction he was certainly headed in, and that got bumped off by Iraq, in my opinion.
The vice president, [Dick Cheney], on Sept. 16, , says: "We're going to have to go to the dark side. The American people are going to need to understand we're going to go to the dark side." What did he mean by that?
... I think they wanted to show the American people that we're going to fight back. ... If you look at the European services and you talk to them about the reason they didn't get all spun up over this in the beginning, [it] was because they went through the Red [Brigades terror attacks in Italy]. It was never a 9/11 type of thing, but in fact was much more devastating. It changed the whole way society worked in Europe. In Italy, people stopped going out at night. The IRA [Irish Republican Army] changed the whole way British society worked.
The way they finally got this under control ... was by turning some of their tactics on them: surveilling them, being very aggressive in going after them. Some of that involves things that people may not want to know about or care about if it's a war situation, and that's what I think they were talking about at that time.
You mean like assassinations and kidnappings?
Assassinations, that's still off the -- they shouldn't do that. And kidnappings -- you look at it as a kidnapping, or, as they call them, renditions. In many cases it's more of an extradition; it's more of a super-extradition, in a sense.
The other idea was, I think, they were definitely sure in September and October that we were going to hit [them]. People who knew how organizations like Al Qaeda worked realized at that point Al Qaeda had pretty much shot its bolt for that period in America, and it would take them a while to rebuild anything. To pull off an operation like that, where you have all 19 men show up -- nobody overslept, and nobody was in a car accident, and nobody chickened out and ran away -- it's unbelievable. You couldn't do it if you tried.
Then they were all killed, and I think the leadership of Al Qaeda realized that once those planes hit the tower, they were pretty much finished; that we were going to come after them. That's when they started dispersing around the world. But I think that's what the vice president was talking about. Now, I don't know what other tactics they had in their minds because they didn't confide in me, and a lot of this stuff was really highly compartmented.
Did you know about the "black site" prisons and all that stuff?
No. I knew there were discussions of what to do with the prisoners, and I knew about Guantanamo, obviously. They had prisoners captured in Afghanistan, and there was a debate about how [to handle them]. What was finally decided in the end, that was highly, highly classified. I would only have known about it if someone were taken from Europe to a place like that.
Even as head of Europe, you wouldn't have known if they were taking people?
If they're doing it in Europe, I would have known. But if they were taking people out of Europe, I wouldn't have known. ... No, the thing that we tried to do was to get the European services to focus on the terrorist groups in their country -- not only that, but the things that bred the terrorist groups, this dislocation of Palestinian communities and all that, to get better coverage of that.
We had a very hard time covering [that], because they just -- Europeans can't go in. If you go to the Muslim areas of Brussels or Paris, it's quite [like] the Middle East. They're more isolated. I think it's one of the things that's prevented a second attack here, that the Muslim community here is much more integrated into American society. In Europe, they really are a separate entity, ... so all their anger ... about what's going on in the Middle East is exacerbated by what's happening to them in Europe.
But in the black sites, you hear rumors about it, but they were very, very tightly compartmented, and that's as they should be.
I was talking to somebody yesterday, a general, who said that the CIA has it all wrong, that what actually happened in Afghanistan was CENTCOM's [U.S. Central Command's] plan, and the CIA helped here.
You should talk to Tenet about that, because I hope he would speak up on that. That's one of the frustrations I had with George: While these guys are saying, "It's all an intelligence failure," as a matter of fact he knows, "No, it was our plan; this plan was drawn up years before and was in place because of the relationship with the Northern Alliance." Tenet was able to put it on the desk at the White House [four days after 9/11]. I think the military never got over that.
It was a unique situation that we had a longtime relationship with ... the Northern Alliance and people that served in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the years. That plan was there because they were anticipating not attacking Al Qaeda, because Al Qaeda is relatively new, but dealing with the rise of the Taliban and eventual chaos in Afghanistan.
But no, I mean, the military didn't arrive for, like, six weeks or five weeks. The problem was that they had battle groups in the Persian Gulf and all the support -- that's the way they operate. They have to look at it for huge numbers of troops.
The people that we have to do this are very special guys that are willing to take huge, monstrous risks without a tremendous support structure. Many of them are former special forces guys who felt constrained in special forces, so they are very resourceful and smart and brave. We shouldn't take away from them because they did all the work, guys like Gary Berntsen and [Gary] Schroen, plus the guys under them that they had in the field.
How important was it to the CIA that that plan was taken on right at that time, that Tenet himself could somehow get it before the president in a way [former CIA Director James] Woolsey or somebody else wouldn't have been able to?
My opinion is that Tenet, Cofer and some of these others were, as we all were, upset by 9/11. They were personally shaken, like they had failed in their charge to protect America. They really wanted to do something, and because they felt that we had the ability to do this, on a political level, it catapulted Tenet from being just a holdover from the Clinton administration who basically kept the job because they couldn't find anybody else to take it ... into the inner circle of the president. In that sense, it was very important.
But it worked. It worked because some guys took some horrendous risks, and it worked because we had B-52s that could come in and bomb the Taliban into spaghetti. So the military played a role in it, but it was the Air Force. Then when they came in, special forces joined up with the paramilitary, and they worked together. They all know each other; it's that special forces world. So it's also wrong for them to say, "The military's here." It's all mixed up together.
You could see both the operational side -- ... [and] the politics, because of your experience in Washington. Help me understand the big politics: Cheney, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, Tenet, [then-National Security Adviser] Condi Rice, [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell, that inner circle of the war cabinet. Where was Tenet in that mix, and what was going on?
After 9/11, and after the success of the initial battle plan, ... because of that, Tenet was right at the heart of the matter. He was in every meeting, and they depended on him because he could speak. He is articulate, and he doesn't equivocate a lot. I think the president liked that. He was able to say, "Yes, we can do this; yes, we can do this; we can do that." It got to the point, actually, that that became a problem, because it started to stretch us really, really thin. The Directorate of Operations, they always said, "Well, we never say no to someone." It did start to fray some of the fabric.
And his primary competitor, was it Rumsfeld?
That was always our perception, although I'll say that he always said, "Oh, I have a wonderful relationship with Rumsfeld." But that's Washington, I guess. But yeah, it's the Pentagon, and I think they want to beef up their intelligence work, which is fine. In fact, in Iraq, the tactical intelligence -- the people that are going and looking for a rocket in somebody's basement or something -- that should be done by military, by joint special forces command troops trained as intelligence officers. You don't want to bring the case officers down to do that, which is what was happening, because then they have to be guarded by the soldiers while they do that.
You have certain specific things that you need CIA-trained people to do: classic human collection against terrorist targets and to recruit agents and to run agents. The Pentagon, they want to get more into that area, and it's an area of natural conflict. The DHS [Defense HUMINT (Human Intelligence) Service], that had a lot of problems. They've tried to reorganize it, and they have a variety of the structures.
The problem is that intelligence seems very simple to people; ... it seems pretty straight. And it is. It's not physics, but it is a profession like anything else. ... It's a knowledge base and a set of professional traditions and standards that's developed over 50 years and that we inherited from the British 100 years before that. ... So there is a long-standing way that you have to work on it, and that's going to be the natural bone of contention for the military. ...
The military does what it does very well; I think we do what we do very well. When you start trying to mix the two, where you start crossing the lines with each other, that's where we have problems.
OK, Tora Bora -- what happened?
I think Berntsen is probably the best person -- I believe what he said, and I heard it from other people that were there, that they used the Northern Alliance troops. They could have used Americans. ... Whether they could have actually done anything anyway, even if they had sent the 10th Mountain Division in and combed the mountains, because it's pretty remote and desolate country, but they did make the conscious decision to use the Northern Alliance troops. Why they did that, ... it's not clear, but what I think Berntsen said is exactly true, in his book, [Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander], and he was there, so he's the best judge for that.
And its meaning inside the CIA? We have this tremendous success; the plan is executed; the president is paying attention; the press is saying, "Gosh, the CIA, things are shining." In that moment, here's Tora Bora -- maybe [bin Laden is] up in the mountains; maybe we've got him surrounded. But the military won't play. Inside the CIA, how does that feel? ...
There was always an idea that the military moved in a different pace on these things, and they had a different way of doing things, so it was part of the ongoing frustration, but it wasn't a terrible, tremendous blow, outside of those paramilitary units and the Counterterrorist Center people that were driving it. I think they felt terrific anger and frustration, and Gary reflects that. But everybody else was so busy, literally working around the clock, trying to work in your own areas ... and coordinate with the Counterterrorist Center, that was very aggressive and getting out all over the place and keeping all that in front of you.
I was actually more focused on the battle for the city in the western part of Afghanistan; that was the big turning point.
Mazar-e-Sharif, because if Mazar-e-Sharif hadn't fallen when it did, we were already making plans for a winter siege, and we had meetings on the budget, like how we would budget for this and the military and our people and the Northern Alliance people [who] would be there through the winter. And it was actually the bombing the broke the Taliban, ... that broke the siege. And so I was much more focused on that, because it was going to affect me directly, than I was with Tora Bora.
When Tora Bora happens, another thing is beginning to become obvious that it's happening, and that is there's a turn toward Iraq that's been going on mildly in the fall, but we're swinging into January, February, March of 2002. When do you feel the turn?
In the late Clinton administration, in the middle '90s, there was a large push on Iraq. Then in the late '90s, as they became more concerned about the nuclear proliferation in Iran, there was a movement of resources from Iraq to Iran. I was in the field then, so I saw that. It was seen as [compared to] Iraq, with the inspectors and with the sanctions and all, that Iran presented a much more dangerous threat than Iraq. Right after the Bush administration came in in February of 2001, we got the word to start gearing up on Iraq, start gearing up [intelligence] collection on Iraq, resources back to Iraq, that these guys were focused on Iraq.
It didn't come as any surprise. I heard right after Sept. 11 this whole thing about the Prague meetings [between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer]; that never happened. I had a friend of mine ... telling me that there were people at the Pentagon who were pushing in the spring for what they called an "Afghan solution" in Iraq, which was to send in British and American special forces to work with the peshmerga [Kurdish freedom fighters], and the peshmerga would play the role of the Northern Alliance. Finally, senior heads, I think both ... at the State Department and our people and [the] British, [explained] that Iraq's not Afghanistan, the peshmerga aren't the Northern Alliance, it's a whole different ballgame, and so they backed off. ...
And you have Mike Maloof [of the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG)] and the Office of Special Plans [OSP], and the DoD [Department of Defense] taking raw intelligence and retyping it and sending it up? ...
I don't know for sure, but I believe there was serious consideration, at least briefly, given to the "Afghanistan solution" for Iraq. Then by the summer, it was clear we were going to war with Iraq. There was no doubt about that. I mean, you could feel it. You're in Washington long enough, you could feel it.
Summer of 2002?
2002, and I think a lot of it was driven by émigré reporting. Also during that spring, Dr. Rice made a speech when she said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and the vice president said, "There's no doubt that they have [reconstituted their nuclear program]." That had to come from these émigré sources, because we weren't reporting that. Even the Pentagon wasn't reporting that, that I saw.
They always say, "Well, all these other European services and all these other countries around the world felt the same way." Well, no, it wasn't exactly the same way. They were all concerned; there was a general fear that Saddam was building [weapons] because Saddam was Saddam. ... It's the way he kept his enemies inside and outside the country off balance.
This general view developed that the inspectors were a bunch of clowns, which wasn't true. The inspectors are very serious guys, and they actually did an effective job -- not perfect, but they were pretty effective. But the intelligence that was coming in was saying that there aren't any weapons, the actual hard intelligence.
And you were seeing that? You would have been seeing it?
Yeah, and most of it's coming from the inspectors -- I mean, not intelligence reporting from the inspectors through the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], but we had other very sensitive stuff.
During that summer, the Silberman-Robb [commission] report and the SSCI report would say there was no direct political pressure [on the intelligence community], and that's true. Nobody ever came up and said, "Write this NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] in that way." But if you've been around Washington long enough, you know when there's pressure. These are bureaucracies: The CIA is a bureaucracy; the Pentagon is a bureaucracy. People want to get ahead, and the way to get ahead was to move ahead on Iraq. And there were a lot of people that were concerned.
It's six of one, half dozen of the other whether or not to destroy Saddam Hussein. You can't argue that's a bad thing to do. But ... if you're going to do it -- and this was always my concern as they built up through the summer and into the fall, and it became clear that we really were going -- was that you do it in the right way. [Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric] Shinseki was right, what he said about [needing] 450,000 troops. [Gulf War commander Gen. Norman] Schwarzkopf had 750,000 troops, and they didn't feel comfortable attacking Baghdad. I think this idea that we could overwhelm them with our technology really caught on.
...They could have built a Gulf War-like coalition, because what they did was almost without meaning. By sending all these troops out to the desert, they scared the heck out of all the people at the U.N., all the Europeans and everybody else, who said, "Well, the Americans are there; we'd better --" I'm convinced that if they had allowed the inspectors to finish the last three months of inspections, they could have gotten French -- never the Germans, but maybe the French and some other Europeans. If they came in, they would have brought in some of their Arab allies, but it would have meant waiting another year, probably, because of the weather. They just couldn't do that either, physically or politically.
So what was the NIE? What were those, basically just sales documents?
An NIE is a summary of supposedly all the intelligence. I didn't even know they had drafted the NIE. See, Curveball wasn't our source; he was a DHS source -- Defense HUMINT Service source. So we were not involved with Curveball at all until they came up. They wanted us to vet him.
Who asks you to vet him?
Tenet asked me. He started.
And what does he say?
This is all in the Silberman-Robb report. Late September, he asked me to see the guys who were handling [Curveball]. ... In fact, he said to Jim [Pavitt] -- Jim said it to me. He said, "Ask him about that defector, the biological weapons defector." I didn't know who he was, but I didn't want to say, "Well, I don't know who that is." So I went back, and I asked my executive officers, "Who's that guy who defected in '99, and Curveball?"
Curveball is a German term. It had nothing to do with him being --
It's not a baseball terminology?
No. They use "-ball" a lot for code names.
We did some research on it and found that as early as, I think it was September of 2000, the chief of the German service was warning that they couldn't confirm what this guy was saying. In the meantime, DIA had put out over 100 intel reports from this reporting. Now, these went to the concerned analysts and people in the community and became part of the war of Iraq, but were forgotten specifically in detail.
But what was he saying in the early [reports]?
That they had these mobile [biological weapons] labs, and that they were building these, and they had this accident, and he saw guys dying. It was very detailed stuff on the place where he was supposed to work. ...
What's very important -- and this is what I've told everyone I've talked to about this -- is that the way it's being portrayed now is that they have this reporting from the agency through the NIE. When they got that, they said, "Oh my God, we're about to be attacked by the Iraqis." Well, that's not true. ... If you look at what they said, the administration's statements about the danger of this all predated the NIE. The NIE came back because people said, "Let's pull everything together in one place and see what we have."
The other part of it is, there's all sorts of caveats in the NIE. INR [the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research] put a very strong caveat in. People said, "Well, policy-makers only have time to read the headlines." Well, if you're going to go to war, you'd better read more than the headlines in something like that. ... If you really are going to go to war and commit people's lives to that, you want to have a definite view of what you're doing, and you'd better think about how you're doing it. To me, that's the story of the NIE.
And why didn't they?
For whatever reason -- and I can't read their minds -- I think many of them really, honestly believed that defeating Iraq will bring democracy and stop terrorism. I think they really believed that. But for whatever reason, I think they wanted to go. The plan was to knock out Iraq.
But they didn't write the NIE --
No, it was written by WINPAC [Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center] and by the analysts at the agency. But again --
So why would the analysts, why would WINPAC --
Because it's a bureaucracy. We had one officer that was working on the Iraqi ops tell one of my chiefs of station, and this was in the fall, "Look, we've got information that contradicts this." This isn't about intel; it's not about WMD; we're into regime change now. ... They were gambling, too, that when they got on the ground, they would find these things. ... And the amazing thing was -- this makes me look like an idiot, but the fact was I really believed Curveball couldn't possibly be the only source they had on that, but it was.
Let's go back. You hear about this guy named Curveball. You're told to go, or you figure you'd better check him out, find out who he is?
No, to see if we can get access to him, because the Germans had never given us access to him.
So what do you do? ...
You talk to the guys that deal with him that said, "This guy's got a lot of problems; he's unstable." They never said he was a fabricator. The one fellow said to me personally -- he never said officially he's a fabricator; he said, "I think he's a fabricator." But he said: "We can't verify his reporting because we have no other sources, and nobody else has any other sources. We didn't know other sources that can verify what he's saying, so we can't vet what he's saying. All we can do is tell you this is what he said, and he says it consistently."
And how are they telling you this? Through a telephone conversation, or you're in person?
This is in person, but also later they sent a letter to Tenet, who came in and OK'd it. ... This is in January, or maybe late December . They said: "Go to them [German intelligence]; ask them if we can use this information. If we can use the information, can they assure that he won't contradict them; he won't come out after the president or Powell and say that's not true?" And the Germans were very consistent. They were very professional, and they said, "Only know what he's reported. We've told you what he's reported; we've told you there are personal problems; and we've told you we can't verify what he's telling you. But if you want to use it, go ahead."
"And we can't let you talk to him"?
"And we won't let you talk to him."
I think that case is just professional pride.
He's theirs. What he said is he hated Americans; that turned out not to be true. But I think we would do the same thing. We wouldn't let some other service have -- they said, "This is what we're telling you; why are you any smarter than we are?"
And what's your answer to that?
Well, that's our system. We really need to see, and we pushed and pushed. It took almost a year, and Tenet really weighed in strongly at the end to get them to let us do this, but even then they didn't want to do it. The actual officers who would handle him were furious, as I would be if I were them, because what you're implying is, "All right, Big Brother's here; [let's] sort this out." And in fact, they were right on the money the whole time. They did it just right. They said: "Here's what we have. We can't verify it. It sounds really important. You guys, you big, huge, powerful country, look at this and tell us if you can verify this." And nobody could. But then it took on a life of its own.
So here's this guy who's saying there's chemical and biological weapons. They're in mobile labs or something?
He said this plant was processing these weapons, and they were also building these mobile labs. No one had ever seen these, and it upset the inspectors, [Iraq Survey Group head David] Kay and the guys before [him], because they said: "How can we ever find it? They'll just drive around the country in these mobile labs."
Looking back on it, under a calmer moment, a guy at the agency told me: "I never did think they had anything, because after the first Gulf War, we destroyed tons and tons and tons. Yes, they did have it at the time of the first Gulf War, and they were far ahead on the nuclear program, but all that stuff was destroyed. The inspectors, whatever you think of them, they were around; they were harassment for them." So to think that the Iraqis ... could build Nazi Germany-style underground factories that would process nuclear and biological [weapons], he said, "It's just a huge stretch." But nobody stopped to make that connection at the time.
We were in a kind of craze. I mean, we were angry, and we were --
Oh, yeah. They wanted to strike, destroy an enemy. And legitimately, Saddam was a destabilizing factor. He violated all the treaties; there were plenty of reasons to go to war with Saddam. That's the tragedy of it, having done it this way now. Until they can come to grips with the real reason they went to war, they're never going to be able to get out of it. They have to come to grips with that before they can adjust to do the things they're going to have to do to get out of it without the country collapsing into chaos.
Let's go back to Curveball for a second. ... You probably believe -- tell me whether you do or not -- that there was more evidence to this stock of rolling things than just this Curveball stuff.
Absolutely. I said, this can't just be the only case, because this is kind of a silly -- it's not silly, but it was kind of a goofy case. Given the fact that there's already tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East, it can't be based on this one thing.
What's so goofy about it?
Just the whole thing about him, about how they handled it. They couldn't verify it; he himself was sort of an oddball. You know, for a [foreign intelligence] service to say, "We have this source, and here's where he reports, but we can't vouch for it one way or another," that should be a flag right there. They were saying, "We're being responsible because we don't want to sit on this, but here's the truth of the matter."
When I came back from that meeting, I told the chief of the group that dealt with Germany: "You'd better get right on top of this. Find out what's going on. There's more here." ... They dug into it and found all these details on it, and then they began this long debate through the fall of 2002 about Curveball. We were saying: "We don't know anything about the science of this. I don't know whether they can do this or not; I don't know if it makes any sense." ...
Wait a minute. You said there's a debate in the fall. [But the Curveball intel] shows up in the NIE as one of the central pillars of the NIE?
Yeah. Actually, when they asked me to check on it, the NIE had already been drafted, or it was pretty much done. This was people saying, "We'd better find out about this source." I didn't know all that at the time. ... So the people that drafted the NIE of course had a very emotional stake in defending their analysis of it. I stayed out of most of it -- the operations chief and the group chief deal with it because it was at that level -- but it was as pugnacious and angry meetings as I've seen. WINPAC were very, very set on this; they saw us as throwing in unwanted complication. ... In our professional view, the operational part of this was extremely weak, and there's no validation of this source. No one's ever seen anything; no one's ever really talked to him at any length.
When you say angry or pugnacious, you mean literally people yelling at each other?
Yes, a very strident meeting. ... There was strong language. There was all --
Like what kind of language?
Cursing, and really angry and lots of implication: "Well, you guys don't know what you're talking about. It makes sense scientifically." And then, "How do you know it makes sense scientifically?" "Well, we've checked it on the Internet." "Well, don't you think he could have done that?" A lot of back-and-forth like that.
This is like true believers versus --
Yeah. And then we got our backs up, and we were angry, too. Then, in all of this -- I don't know the exact sequence -- ... all of the e-mails, the summaries, the work we'd done was sent up to the special assistant for McLaughlin so that they had it, because I wanted to make sure they really had it at this point. It dawned on me, even on me, that this was something; that this was a key element.
Did you by now know that he was the primary, the only source?
Yes, at that point.
How did you? When did you learn?
I learned it from McLaughlin's chief of staff. I was talking to him, ... and he said, "Man, I hope not, because this is really the only substantive part of the NIE." I said, "You've got to be kidding." And he said, "No, this is the only substance in the NIE." I said, "Oh my God."
You said "My God" because? What does that mean?
That means that if the NIE is the judgment that they're going to go to war on, and at that point ... there were just too many questions about the validity of the source, and to go to war on something like this -- and I said, "Man, we're going to be responsible for starting a war if they don't do something."
And you hang up the phone from this conversation with this guy, and you say to yourself, what?
Well, I called in the group chief who was working on it, and she said, "I've been trying to tell you that for two months." And I said, "Well, I assume[d] they had something else." [And she said,] "No, this is all there is, and this is why they're fighting so ferociously to validate this source."
That's like pit-in-the-stomach time, right?
Yeah. There was a meeting on the 19th or 20th of December  where it was really fought out, and after that ... it sort of died out. Early January, we didn't really hear anything more about it.
You thought it was over?
We got caught up in other things. There was a lot going on in Europe on the terrorism front at that time. ... I knew it wasn't over. It hadn't been resolved; it was just hanging there. Then we started getting inklings that it might be used in the State of the Union; it might be used in a speech to the U.N. That's when they wanted this cable sent to the Germans saying, "Ask the Germans if they can guarantee these things," and they came back and said, "You can use it, but we can't guarantee anything." Then the president mentioned it in the State of the Union address, and the Germans called me and said: "What's going on? You promised us you wouldn't use it without telling us." I said, "He didn't tell us either."
You didn't know it was going to be in the State of the Union address?
Not the State of the Union address. That came as a surprise.
Wait a minute, the director of central intelligence?
He may have known. I didn't know. I'm sure WINPAC people knew, because they probably wrote that part of the speech. But then the next week, getting ready for the Powell [U.N.] speech in February, ... the fellow from the counterintelligence center who was responsible for verifying what's in speeches, he brought it down. He said, "These portions are for you guys." We went through and read it, and I said, "Well, this is all the Curveball stuff."
Who were you talking to at this point?
My executive officer and the chief of operations. I called this fellow that's McLaughlin's chief of staff, and I said: "I really am uncomfortable with you using this stuff. If you want to say you're overruling me and you want to use it, that's fine, but I have serious problems with it." And he said, "Hold on a second; I'll call you back." And he called me back, and he said, "Come on up; John wants to talk to you." So I go up, and we met in McLaughlin's little conference room. ...
At that point, I said, "I think this guy might be a fabricator." We rehashed everything, which they obviously knew, because they'd been in all the e-mails and everything that we'd been discussing, and John said, "Oh my, I hope not." I said, "Well, I think so." So he said to his chief of staff, he said, "Look into this; see if you can get to the bottom of it," which is kind of strange, because we'd been talking about it all fall. ... I thought, this is the first time you've heard this? It can't be the first time you heard this, because these guys are briefed constantly by the chief of staff, and their executive assistants are smart guys. ...
Why would he act like he didn't really know?
He may not have. Now again, he's a DDCI [deputy director of central intelligence]; he's got a million things on his mind. I think they may have convinced themselves at that point, "Well, we've made a decision; we're going to go with the WINPAC position." And they were surprised, maybe, that we hadn't given up yet. That really focused [him], because he knew me; we'd known each other for 20 years. So he said, "Get to the bottom of this."
So I went back to the office. I said: "Here's what we'll do. We'll line out the section of the speech that we don't think should be used and send it back up to him." And I said to the executive officer, "Stay in touch with the staff up there and make sure that they get the right copy." And so she said, "Yeah, they're going to take it out."
Then, the night before the speech, that's this famous phone call from Tenet. In fact, it's funny. After many years of friendship with Tenet, [it's] one thing I really think stressed our relationship, but the fact is that phone call was meaningless, because at that point the speech was written. They were already in New York; they were going to give it the next day. But I called to give the phone number of the European service chief, and while I had him on the phone, I said: "Boss, ... there's a lot of problems with that German reporting. You know that?" And he said, "Yeah, don't worry about it; we've got it." So I said, "OK, done," and I went to bed confident that they had taken it out.
The next day, my wife actually called me and said, "Powell's on; you may want to watch." I turned on CNN or whatever he was on, and he got to the part about that, and I said, "That's the Curveball stuff." I called the executive officer, and I said, "Did we send them the wrong speech?" That's the first thing I thought is, we screwed up; that it's a bureaucratic mix-up. She said, "No, they just went on." I don't know why, how they decided to use it, what they decided. I have no idea.
[Editor's Note: In his 2007 memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet disputes Drumheller's characterization of this phone call. "Drumheller and I did speak very briefly earlier in the event, but our conversation had nothing to do with Curveball; rather it involved getting clearance from the British to use some of their intelligence in the speech," he writes. Tenet denied FRONTLINE's request for an interview.]
So you say, "Let's line it out; let's send it up to him." She says, "It's done, boss." Up it goes. You go home; you think it's over?
I thought at least for this speech they're not going to use [it], because they had other things. ... The Germans themselves had questions; we had questions. It didn't fit in with anything. ... Later on, after the war, they found this thing for a day or two. They thought they had, and it turned out to be a thing for inflating garage balloons. ...
But they knew right away. The chief of counterproliferation was a close friend of mine. [He] called me, and he said, "This isn't a bio lab, but the inspectors say it looks like something used to make hydrogen blow up, helium to blow up garage balloons."
Why would it have been so heralded?
Because they were desperate to validate it at that point. When they got to Baghdad, they didn't find any of this stuff. ... They honestly believed they had all this stuff. A lot of people did. Europeans did, but they didn't have the evidence. Even Clinton believed it. ... I think they believed for sure they'd find these big warehouses full of this stuff, and when they didn't, then they really wanted to at least try and pin down what was going on with Curveball.
What's going on with Director Tenet? Is he on the side of the guys who want to go to war no matter what the information is? Where is he that fall, and what's going on? ...
It seemed to me ... he was trying to do the right thing. ... At that point, they had already decided to attack and everything, by the end of January, so there was tremendous pressure, and almost a fear, that something was going to happen to derail the attack. I think he just got sucked right along with it. He, in the end, was the guy that pushed the hardest trying to figure out if Curveball was fabricating. ...
What do you mean he pushed the hardest?
He's the one that said, "We have to get to the bottom of this," after the fact, after the speech. "We have to find out the truth about this." He very easily could have covered it up.
But before the speech?
Before the speech, they let it play out among the divisions. All they had to do was say, "We made a mistake." ... But I guess that's hard to say when the war started. ...
You know him. What was going on with him at that time?
I think he was just caught up in it. I think they were tired; they were all working around the clock. It's intoxicating to be around the president, to be in power. ... But I do think there was just incredible momentum, just a huge force, an irresistible force, for the war coming in. ... It's Washington; it's the way it happens in government. When things start building towards war, when there's all this emotion, you do things that you wouldn't have done if you sat down and thought about it. After the fact, like I say, he's the one that pushed very, very hard. He said, "We have to determine if this was real or not."
Because I think he really had to know; he wanted to know if it was real. ... In fact, it was only through his interest that we were able to finally force [the Germans'] hand.
We sent the guy I considered probably the best field case officer in the agency to talk to him, a fluent German speaker. He sat down with him for a period of days, went over everything in detail, came back and said, "The guy's lying." He said, "He can't account for why things are different in some photos and why they're in others, where he was." In the meantime, they captured his personnel file in Baghdad ... at the ministry. He hadn't worked there since '95; at one point, he was driving a cab. The Germans had told us from the beginning that one of their views was that he just wanted to get the equivalent of a German green card, and that was really probably what it was. ...
So he was singing for his supper, basically?
Yeah. So that was late March . There was a long study done. He did a long write-up; he went over in great detail, involving all sorts of other technical things. By early May, they withdrew all the reporting on it. It was called back. British held on [a] couple more months trying to double-check it, and then they finally called it all back to their side.
... Is it fairly common that something like this happens, or is it rare?
He was a very clever fabricator. There's even a whole science of denial and deception that the Soviets perfected. There are times when you're tricked, but at least you've gone through all the steps. This is one of the few times I can think of where basically the source was saying what people wanted to hear. If what he said fit what the hypothesis was, they went with it. ...
But no, I can't think of any other time. Usually it's the other way around. Usually they want to know, is the source a good source? You almost have to go and prove: ... "Well, who is this guy? How does he know this? Is this just stuff he's hearing in the cafeteria, or is this real?"
[Tenet has said that there should have been a burn notice put out that this guy might have been a fabricator.] ...
When that story came out and they said it was fabricated, I couldn't say it was fabricated because we'd never met him. What I was saying is there were doubts, and at least one of the guys who dealt with him felt he was a fabricator, and there was a lot of doubt about the way he was handled. ...
That he fell back on the sort of bureaucratic response, "Well, there should have been a burn notice, and why wasn't there a burn notice put out?," and [CIA Director from 2005-2006 Porter] Goss even instituted an investigation about why we hadn't put out a burn, and they quickly found out they didn't know what they were talking about. It's like, after 30 years, I didn't know what I was doing with this?
What I was saying is we need to establish this, and before we use it with anybody, we'd better establish the validity of the case. That's all there was to it. Once we determined he was a fabricator, yes, they did put out a fabrication notice just like it was supposed to be. But you would think if it was up in the air like that, then people would think twice about using it.
We interviewed McLaughlin, and I asked him about it, and he said: "I'm not going to talk about it. I've made a statement. I have no answer."
He doesn't want to do it. He is in many ways a great guy, and he was always very good to me. He may not remember it, maybe not. I mean, they had a million things; I just had Europe. And that's the only difference I had with either [Tenet or McLaughlin].
But it's not like you're some guy from downstairs who they've never met before.
Oh, no. They're friends of mine; they know me. ... I'd say it's the only time I've ever differed with them, but I cannot believe they don't remember. I can believe Tenet might not remember the substance of the phone call maybe, because they had really been up about three days without sleeping at that point, and it was in the midst of about five other things that they were talking about.
But the meeting with John is the one that bothers me most, because I respect John so much. I just can't believe he didn't focus on it; he didn't remember that. It's just speculating, but I would say that they wanted to check on it, and then they just got overwhelmed by the timing, the drive to get it out. The troops are in the desert; Powell's getting ready to speak to the U.N.; and these guys in Europe are saying, "Wait a second -- we have a question about this." ...
But let's go back just for one more second, because somebody's lying, right?
For want of a better word, yeah. Or they're going to say they don't remember, and I can't do anything about that. As I say, I like both of these guys; I respect both of them; they were very good to me, professionally and personally. My mother was really sick; Tenet wrote her a letter, a really nice letter. It meant a lot to her. People make mistakes.
This is some mistake.
It's a big mistake, but at the point that this happened, ... it wouldn't have stopped anything. What it would have done is, at least you don't give them the out of just saying, "Well, intelligence told us to do it; we were just doing what intelligence told us to do," which is not true. That's not true, for sure.
Everybody I've talked to said the role of the DCI is to speak truth to power. The great thing that George Tenet did was he got face time with the president of the United States. The implications of that are he might be able to speak truth to power at a critical moment. ... If there was ever a fulcrum moment for George Tenet, that's the moment, isn't it?
Unfortunately, that's the case. Now, the person that you're talking to has to be receptive to what you're saying, but you have to try. It's the hardest thing I've ever had in my career to do, frankly, personally, ... because I really do like the guy. I admire the guy; I really do. But again, as you said, there's no way to get around it.
Around [the fact that] if they had these doubts, they should have told the president. You know, I wish he'd come out and say it, because knowing him, I can't believe he didn't [say anything], because that would be his nature. But I wasn't there, so I don't know. That's the other part of the equation: Only George was there. To have a debate within the service, that's not unusual; that's part of what intelligence work is. ... It should have been figured in, and George is the one who should have done it. Or if it was done and it was ignored, then that's a different issue. But that I don't know. Again, that's the murky part of it.
But when he's standing there getting [the Medal of Freedom] from the president, what did you think? ...
I think at that time people felt what he had done for the agency, and who he was sort of validated saying it was our fault, that it was just an intelligence failure, and the war never would have happened.
I would have hoped that he would have come out of it and said, "Now wait a second; back off these guys." There were definitely failures in that we didn't have enough agents, and there are reasons for that. There were definitely failures, but the cause for the war wasn't that. There was plenty of debate inside the agency, enough to raise the issue of, "Is the intelligence strong enough to go to war?" That's what needed to be said. Nobody said it.
So he fell on his sword when he resigned around election time? And he took the agency with him?
Well, the agency certainly went with him. I think he resigned because he felt he was going to be hammered by the 9/11 report. Goss was really hammering him. The narrative for the budget markup was just a vicious attack on Tenet. I think he felt he couldn't defend himself. ... He'd been basically running the agency for 11, 12 years. That's a tremendous strain on him, and I think he just wore out. ... Give him his due that he was just burned out.
But yeah, the agency was certainly left holding the bag; that's for sure. ... In intelligence, intelligence collectors have a part of the job; the analysts have a part of the job; and the policy-makers have a part of the job. ... The policy-makers have the biggest part, because they're taking it and saying, "OK, here's what I do with what I have." In this case, there were some glitches down below, but there certainly should have been enough doubt in the minds of the policy-makers. Then to turn around and say, "We only did what we were told to do," -- if you really listened to all this, you would think that the NIE appeared, everybody said, "Oh my God, we're about to be attacked by Iraq," and then we went to war. It just didn't work that way.
Some people we've talked to [talk] about his resignation, and maybe in the year before, when the David Kay phone calls start and letters started coming from, when Tenet has to call Powell and say, "Those things I assured you, that one isn't true; that one isn't true."
He did do that. It's not easy. Powell is a wonderful guy. And I'm convinced Powell didn't know, by the way. I'm absolutely convinced, because there's no way he would have done that if he had known. I just can't imagine.
Well, he'd been assured by his friend George Tenet, his political ally George Tenet, that it was all kosher.
And they were the two sort of moderate voices.
People talked to us, and they say, "What's actually been going on is maybe the most successful covert action by the Central Intelligence Agency in years, and that is against this president of the United States."
There are certainly people who feel that, but if you knew what the people -- the sort of security practices and the polygraphs and all the other stuff -- that you put up [with] just to work there, and then you add to that the sacrifices these people make in the field -- diseases; they get killed; their families are uprooted -- the stresses on the people and the families for a CIA case officer are just unimaginable for normal people.
The people the agency hire, myself excepted, are really talented, smart. There are lawyers and doctors. I had a case officer that was an M.D., a great case officer. They do this certainly not for the money, ... and certainly not to get to live in suburban Washington when they retire. These people sacrifice for the country, and sometimes it is grating when you hear people say, "Well, we're going to support the troops." They forget these people are out there a little bit ahead of the troops.
Yeah, but I could see how you could sit there as one of these very people you're describing and say, "I've been badly used by this administration, and I'm now being blamed for a war even though there was a rush to judgment; there was manipulation of the evidence and information." ... There's lots of stuff that suddenly starts rolling out -- all you guys writing books now. ...
If it's a war, it's a defensive war. It's people defending themselves after the fact, about what the truth was of what happened. But as far as saying it was a political agenda to attack the administration, I don't believe it. If they were going to do it, they could do a lot better than this. You've got guys that are trained to do much more nefarious things, and if they were going to do something, it wouldn't be like this.
I know these guys. I think [Michael] Scheuer is a guy, if you ever talk to him, he really believes what he believes, and he really believes that [it's] important for people to know that. [Paul] Pillar is [the] same way now. I started out to do this just to do something, write the story of my past career up to this point, just to have something to do, and got caught up in this at the end.
I was very upset at the time of the election. As I said, I just couldn't stay on. But nobody did anything; nobody came out and gave a press conference -- ... Pillar going and making a speech to a group of guys in an outreach program, Scheuer writing his third book, whatever. There's nothing new in it; there's new information, but there's nothing new in the way Scheuer feels about things.
This is just my personal opinion. First off, for a bunch of guys who spent their whole careers sitting in offices in Washington and dining out on the public on the Washington circuit, to do that, if they did what they were alleged to have done, that's the worst thing of all, because they didn't earn the right to do that. And then to say, "Oh, she wasn't a case officer; she was an analyst," that's the worst, because she was a good officer. She did do good work; she did real sensitive things. They hadn't earned the right to do that. [If] people suspect this is covert action, if they did that, then that's the real covert action that was done.
You mean outing an agent?
Yeah. People say, "Well, she's in Washington." Yeah, but she travels to Europe, you don't know? There have been a number of agency people killed or attacked over the years. ... They ended her career, and she was a valuable asset.
Now, why did they do it?
I don't know. You'd have to ask them. [It] certainly looked like they were trying to send a message. I don't know the whole circumstances of [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson going [to Niger], ... but they were looking to try and verify it, because the yellowcake story in and of its own is ridiculous. I'm glad you didn't ask me about that. That to me is sort of the silly end of this. It is the idea you have either some sort of fraud going on in Italy, and if the guy's trying to make money --
You mean writing fake documents?
Yeah. ... The French were monitoring all those countries to see what was being shipped and what wasn't, and we knew they weren't shipping [yellowcake]. It just got caught up in the circle. It was a good story; it sounded cool. Rome fell into my jurisdiction. We never took it seriously. I mean, we looked at it, but there was never any real substance to it.
But then to feel threatened by it like that and have this come out of it, this is wrong. Of all the things that really made me angry, that really made me angry. The beginning of the war is sad and tragic, and you can let yourself get angry, but there's a sort of drama and tragedy to it. But this is just petulance from a bunch of inside-Washington guys.
Hardball from the vice president?
Yeah, tough guys. But they've got to live with themselves. But it's not right. And it is interesting; it does sort of push a button.
Going all the way to where we stand now: Iraq is a mess and pulling all kinds of resources; the Army may be broken; CIA is no longer the CIA you knew as a young man. Is it your sense that the war on terror, as we all thought it was probably going to be fought, has been lost, that we're not really doing it?
I think the problem is calling it war on terror. That gives people the sense that you can actually win it. Once you kill or capture every Al Qaeda guy in the world, there will be another one. Terror has been with us since the dawn of time. It is the tool of the underprivileged and the weak. If it's not Al Qaeda, it will be Sikhs; it will be Armenians.
But are we fighting that war now, or have we just been completely diverted?
So many resources are socked into Iraq. You can say Iraq is the centerpiece of the war on terror, but I don't think that's true. What it does, it does breed other terrorists. I think that it has taken away from the ability to do these other things. But the other problem is the idea that you can have a military solution for a terrorist organization. ...
The difference nowadays is terrorists travel, and the weapons they get are much more powerful. There are not more terrorists now than there ever were; there's always [been] terrorists. We're not even looking at all the right stuff. It's a matter of immigration control and travel of people. Europeans have the same problem we do: Once people get inside, they can go anywhere in Europe that they want. ...
You need to penetrate the terrorist groups; you need to penetrate the communities in which they live. I think the British did a good job after the attack in London. They went and called in all the leaders of the community and said, "You have responsibility in this, too."