May 1, 2003 | Broadcast

James Woolsey Discusses CIA’s role in Fighting Terrorism


Interesting, and for more on this, we are joined by former CIA Director James Woolsey. He headed the agency during the first Clinton administration. He’s been kind enough to join us from Capitol Hill in Washington tonight.

Director Woolsey, does any of it matter, no significant clear definitive proof?

Mr. JAMES WOOLSEY (Former CIA Director): Well, it doesn’t matter yet because the only way we’re going to find this is by talking to people who are in the program. If Hans Blix had done that before the war, taken people out of Iraq who were involved in production of these weapons and secreting them, he might have found something. But he refused to do it. Now we have to do it inside the country in circumstances where these people will feel safe. And I think we will find a good deal. Judy Muller had a front-page story a week or so ago in The New York Times that’s been followed up that, as far as I’m concerned, is at the heart of this matter. There has been captured, at least one and possibly more, senior Iraqi scientists who say that they were ordered to destroy important amounts of chemical weapons just before the war, a few days before the war actually started, and to hide even more deeply some of the wherewithal to produce those weapons than it had been hidden before. We’re not talking about giant reactors here. We’re talking about small vials of–of biological agent or–or canisters of nerve gas. And a good deal may have been destroyed by the Iraqis just as the war started, just as that New York Times story said. But we will find something, and we’ll find important things. But we have to get hold of the various people in the program–in the weapons programs first.

WILLIAMS: It’s no secret in Washington or anywhere else, really, that Secretary Powell held a certain belief and in the end went along with his commander in chief and his boss, the president, and put his moral authority on the line that day at the United Nations. Is his credibility on the line because, in addition to WMD, there are the ties to al-Qaeda, there’s Saddam Hussein himself.

Mr. WOOLSEY: I think everybody’s credibility is on the line, but I think Colin Powell is a careful man. I’ve known him since he was a colonel, and I think that the statements that he made before the Security Council will virtually all bear up under scrutiny. The ties to al-Qaeda will become clearer as, again, as more people are arrested, some of them in places like Pakistan, not necessarily in Iraq. You have had a number of connections between al-Qaeda over the years and Iraq, at least half a dozen in terms of senior-level visits and–and the like. What we have not yet seen is proof that the Iraqis were directly involved in helping plan 9/11, But the administration has never claimed that.

WILLIAMS: Do you hold just as strongly to your–your own now-famous quote that, in addition to World Wars I and II, we should call the Cold War World War III and that makes this–and we mean the over-arching this–World War IV?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, I picked that up from my friend Elliot Cohen who he wrote it a couple of months after 9/11 in The Wall Street Journal. And the thrust of that point is that this war will be like the Cold War. There will be military engagements such as Korea was and Iraq has just been in this one. But it will be a long ideological war, and we have to make sure that we make it a war of freedom against tyranny and not let it become a clash of civilizations or clash of religions. One of the reasons we won the Cold War is because we made it clear to people behind the Iron Curtain, like Walesa and Havel and Sakharov, Solidarity, that it was a war of freedom against tyranny, and we have to do that with hundreds of millions of decent and reasonable Muslims in the world.

WILLIAMS: Are you watching the CIA these days with as much amazement as a lot of other people? Everyone thought they would bear so much of the brunt of the blame post-9/11, but it turns out CIA boots were the first on the ground in Afghanistan. They received in–in–intense public praise this week from the president on the latest arrests, and they continue at the front lines in Iraq.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, they are working very hard in the war and in the war against terrorism and have done a good job. They should be praised. And as far as 9/11 was concerned, the whole country was asleep at the switch: Flimsy cockpit doors, we had all sorts of things wrong with our security. The CIA was far from perfect. It did miss putting some people on the watch list who had been to a terrorist meeting in Malaysia and the like. But on the whole, it was far more attentive, by the late ’90s anyway, than–than any other institution in the country. So I don’t think it really deserves the chief blame for September 11th, although some blame certainly. And I think it does deserve the praise it’s gotten for its action in the war against terrorism and in Afghanistan and here in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Let me try a devil’s advocate argument. The American public was allowed to fall asleep during the ’90s. That was the point of the ’90s. The C–the CIA was paid to stay awake and stay vigilant.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, we tried in the early ’90s a number of times to call people’s attention to things, but sometimes it just didn’t work. I said, before I became director of Central Intelligence in late ’92, the situation was as if we’d fought this dragon for 40 years and killed him, the Soviet Union, and now found ourselves in a jungle full of a lot of poisonous snakes, and the snakes could kill you, and they were very hard to keep track of, snakes like rogue regimes and weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. It was–sometime those warnings were paid attention to by others in the executive branch and the Congress sometimes not. It’s a fairly short list of people who paid attention. Jerry Bremer, who has been indicated will be heading things up over there in Iraq, was the chairman of a terrorism commission that I was happy to serve on with him a couple years before 9/11. And we had a list of 25 recommendations and clear warnings, as had a couple of other commissions, about massive terrorism in the United States. And only Senator John Kyl and one or two other people tried to get some of those changes implemented in the Congress. So the Congress was massively uninterested.

WILLIAMS: Director Woolsey, you’re good to come on. It’s good to see you again. Thank you very much.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Good to be with you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: James Woolsey from Capitol Hill tonight.

We’ll take a break. When we come back, will there be comments in the president’s words tonight that are aimed at the Arab street?