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Margaret Warner speaks with former CIA directors John Deutch and R. James Woolsey on the intelligence behind the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
After six months running the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group, Kay declared this week that the prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons program was "almost all wrong." There were no significant stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons nor any evidence that any had been produced in recent years, he said. Kay called for an independent inquiry to identify the failures in intelligence gathering and analysis or risk repeating them.
For insight on what might have gone wrong and how to fix it, we get the perspective of two former directors of central intelligence. James Woolsey was President Clinton's first CIA director, he is now a vice president at the consulting firm Booze Allen and serves on Secretary Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and John Deutch, succeeded Woolsey as CIA director in the Clinton administration. He is now a professor at MIT. Welcome to you both.
Professor Deutch, as you know, David Kay who believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq read all the prewar intelligence estimates, went to Iraq and said the evidence on the ground didn't match the estimates. How could so many people have been so wrong?
Well, Margaret, you have to salute David Kay for having said we were wrong. Intelligence is always a difficult business, and it is very important when you make an estimate and you learn that the facts on the ground are different from what you thought, that you start out by admitting that you made a mistake, that you were wrong. It is only by admitting that you're wrong that you can move on to prepare ourselves better for doing weapons of mass destruction intelligence in the years to come.
So I am a great, great admirer of what David Kay has done. I admire him for having said we were wrong. We were wrong and that's the first step in making our intelligence better for the future.
Let me just follow up with one question. He did also point out that intelligence has been wrong, erring on the other side say about the Libyan and Iranian weapons programs, underestimating them. Is there some special challenge, intelligence wise, in assessing the weapons capabilities of other countries? And if so, what is it?
It's a tremendously difficult job. Most of the countries who are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction are closed societies. They are interested in keeping their efforts clandestine. They have secret programs. There are parts of the world which are not as well known to us as our own surroundings. So each nation which is seeking a nuclear weapon or chemical or biological weapons, whether we are talking about North Korea or Iran or the cases of Libya that we've been recently learning about, they represent especially difficult and demanding intelligence channels. But it is critical for the security of the United States going forward that we focus on this need to get excellent intelligence, reliable and accurate intelligence on weapons of mass destruction on these countries.
Mr. Woolsey, what's your view about why the evidence didn't match the estimates and what the special challenges are?
R. JAMES WOOLSEY:
In addition to the difficulties John pointed out about how hard this is, moving against closed societies and getting intelligence from closed societies. The secret of events is interesting. We did a good job of get is intelligence as long as the inspectors were there. Not so much the fact that they turned everything up. They flushed people. The Iraqis would leave some place and move something somewhere else or would come up on a communication and say we have to hide that from the inspectors. That helped a lot. And then after 1998 when the inspectors were kicked out, we had five years in which things were very hard to get information about.
Satellites don't tell you much if things are inside or underground. Communication intercepts they were very careful about and some people said, including David Kay last night we would have done a lot better if we had better human intelligence. The real irony here is that it looks, from what David has said and others — that the Iraqis were all lying to one another. Saddam's scientists were lying to him about what they were working on apparently.
So they could get money.
So they would get money and not really do the work. A number of people have said that Iraq's generals honestly thought that although they didn't have chemical weapons as the war was about to start, the unit to the right of them and the unit to the left of them each one thought they did have weapons. So someone was lying to them. If we had done a superb job, if George Tenet had done a superb job of penetrating the Iraqi military and had several generals on his payroll as assets and informants, they may well have provided even more information that is false. This is a very complicated and difficult situation.
What is your view of that, Professor Deutch, how important human intelligence is versus technical means as they call it, satellite and communication intercepts and whether the balance has gotten off in recent years.
There is no question about it that human intelligence is vital in our effort to gain intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Every director of central intelligence knows the special contribution and the importance of building up and doing the best one can to get reliable and important human sources in countries of concern. But we don't have to choose between technical intelligence and human intelligence.
Indeed, working together, human intelligence and technical intelligence, is a much more effective way of gaining information for our intelligence community. When the New England Patriots go out this Sunday, they're not going to talk about an offensive line or linebackers. They're going to talk about how the whole team has to work together. And it's the same in intelligence. Human intelligence by itself is not as strong as if you have technical intelligence — communications intelligence, for example, working with human collection in an integrated way, that's what you have to seek to establish in the community.
Mr. Woolsey, David Kay said that there was really a history here, and that at some point 20 or more years ago, the U.S. moved more away from the human intelligence, at least in terms of having American spies, and relied on foreign intelligence services, perhaps, and of course on these technical means; and probably in this case the exiles. Are all of those inferior to actually having American spies? And if so, how do you get American spies to penetrate, as Mr. Deutch is saying, closed societies and regimes like this one?
The Americans would generally be case officers, recruiting spies, recruiting assets say that are inside the Iraqi military. It is very difficult to do if you are not inside the country. You have to recruit them somewhere outside.
During the Cold War, we were really rather lucky against the Soviets because they had a number of people who sort of defected in place. Thomas Jefferson used to do a lot of recruiting for us. A lot of people got killed over Ames. Dozens of American spies who were Soviet citizens got killed. They were people who volunteered and were secret Democrats and wanted to help the United States.
It's hard to find people like that and run them as spy fiscal you're not present in the country — and run them as spies if you are not presented in the country. The Carter administration cut back on intelligence. Reagan built it up some. We were trying to build it up after the Cold War and we had trouble getting money from the Congress for Arabic language instruction and translators and so forth, so there has been a sort of a wave here in our focus on human intelligence. It is terribly important. We shouldn't ever slack off on it.
What is ironic here is going against an enemy like Saddam Hussein's regime, which had gone sort of crazy. From what David said, and I find what he said very plausible — even if we had had Iraqi generals somehow recruited…
Maybe we did considering.
Maybe we did. They may well have been honestly believing that they had weapons of mass destruction and lying to us for the regime. This is a much more complicated situation than just too much of a focus on one type of intelligence and too little on another.
Let me ask you about another element which I call the group think problem. And again David Kay described it I think in his interview with Jim last night. He said, you know, there was a history here. Saddam had the weapons, used it against his own people. We know the litany. U.N. inspectors caught them lying over and over again. The inspectors leave in '98.
At that point there was a consensus about Saddam Hussein, his regime and his intentions. After that, every little piece of intelligence was just, he said, acceded on to that basic consensus, but there was no real challenge of the consensus ever or reexamination. In fact, he told Jim, there were almost no nay sayers inside the intelligence community. The only nay sayers were really on the outside. Is that a problem? Explain that to us.
That was not my experience when I was director of central intelligence. I found that the analysts there were well equipped to raise questions. They did so whether they were from the CIA or the other intelligence agencies. They raised questions and they were very willing to look at alternative scenarios and different ideas. Whether that happened in this case, I don't know.
But I think that a crucial part of understanding why we made this mistake, is to look at the process professionally that went on inside the National Intelligence Council leading to the estimates. Was the analysis done, was that careful and critical am lit cal thinking done, putting together whatever information we had from all the sources we had, to reach the key judgments that were made? Analysis is a central part of the intelligence process, and it is quite, quite possible that they lost the bubble on this sometime in the '90s, perhaps even when I was director, but most likely after the inspectors left. Understanding that analysis process is terribly important in doing the lessons learned and getting our intelligence systems stronger for the future.
Margaret, I think if we have an outside valuation, and at some point it is probably a good idea but there are five going on now. There is still Dulford taking over from Kay. There are two congressional investigations; there's Mr. Kerr out at the CIA and Brent Scowcroft with the foreign intelligence advisory board.
They ought to get two or three or four of those out of the way before they do a sixth. But when we do one, it will be interesting to bring some of the other countries in that were deceived because this is not just an American problem or British problem. The Russians thought they had weapons of mass destruction, the French, the Germans did. The Israelis did. The Israelis distributed gas masks to their population worrying about chemical weapons from Saddam's scuds. So we need to … this is not just something that happened in this country. Everybody agreed that they had weapons of mass destruction of some sort. The question was how many and where and how you might find them with inspectors and the like.
But briefly, isn't that a real problem — that everyone keeps thinking it?
Well, sure. You do want someone standing back and saying Saddam lies about everything but he may not be lying about having destroyed this. I, myself, said I can't believe Saddam kicked out the inspectors in 1998 in order to unilaterally disarm. But he may have destroyed some of the systems in the mid-'90s in The New York Times report last April and there was some intelligence from an Iraqi officer interviewed that some of these may have been destroyed at the very last minute as the war started — also some material from David Kay and the American satellite surveillance saying that some things may have been smuggled out to Syria. We just don't quite know yet about all this.
Mr. Deutch, I'm going to ask you a combined final question. One, your view of the need for an independent inquiry. And two, does this call into question the reliability of intelligence estimates about what North Korea has?
Well, Margaret, I want to be very clear on this. I think that the intelligence community would be well advised that I wish that my friend and successor, George Tenet, took a forward step here and said we were wrong, and we're going to get to the bottom of why we were wrong and have the initial inquiry done by the professional intelligence agencies themselves to put forward a very complete picture of what went wrong there not to fight this problem, but to get out in front of it.
Put out that report, let Congress take a look at it, have an unclassified version that the public can see, and have the initial assessment of what went wrong here calm from the community. I think we turn all too often to outside commissions when we should be asking our professional agencies to carry out the work and be responsible for analyzing and be accountable for what happened. And yes, of course, the experience that we had here in Iraq places our intelligence estimates on other proliferation of weapons of mass destruction issues at issue. There will be more uncertainty.
Although, as David Kay noted, there has been notable successes and there have been places where we overestimated as well as underestimated. But it is quite right that we are going to have more doubts about the intelligence estimates on key issues like North Korea.
Quick final response from you. Do you agree that that's what George Tenet should do? And as a practical matter, can he do it as long as the president is saying no mistakes were made?
Some of the other examinations have to go forward before they start yet another one. Margaret, there is one point we need to be clear on. There may be some aspects of this in which they were not wrong because the stockpiles people were talking about could be quite small in absolute terms. Saddam admitted to making 8,500 liters of anthrax. That's 8.5 tons. That's about a garage full of a suburban garage, and if that's reduced to powder, that's four suitcases. How many suitcases full of cocaine or how many garages of marijuana there may be in California, which is the size of Iraq that the authorities don't know about, heck, in Mendocino County alone.
And we'll have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
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