May 22, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN Live from the Headlines – Iraq


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now that the war is over, CIA Director George Tenet has ordered a review of whether the U.S. had accurate information before the war about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and any links to al Qaeda and terrorism.

Officials insist it’s a routine after-action review first conceived in October.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior.

STARR: But the entire portfolio of evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the United Nations, the basis for the U.S. case to go to war, will be scrutinized.

Powell seemed convinced.

POWELL: The presentation I made before the United Nations on the 5th of February was at the end of four straight days of living with the entire intelligence community and going over every single thing we knew.

STARR: So far, the U.S. has not found the evidence to prove the case Powell made, with Tenet at his ear. The U.S. has confirmed two mobile vans were built as biological weapons labs but no biological or chemical weapons have been found.

A senior intelligence official tells CNN the review, first reported in “The New York Times,” may find that some of Iraq’s secrets were too well hidden to discover. It could bring changes in how the U.S. intelligence community gathers and analyzes information.

Officials insist the review was agreed to by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The two often, at least perceived by outsiders, to be at odds. STEVEN AFTERGOOD, ANALYST, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: There have been indications coming out of the Pentagon that they were impatient with what they regarded as equivocation by the CIA. Likewise, there have been reports coming out of CIA that there was undue pressure from the Pentagon to come up with a desired result.

STARR (on camera): No word on whether the American public will be told if U.S. intelligence was right.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


KAGAN: So was the intelligence right or wrong? Joining us now to guess with differing opinions on the topic. That is an understatement. Buckle your seat belts for this one.

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter is in Albany, New York. We are also joined by Cliff May from Washington. He is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit group that conducts research and education with the war on terrorism.

Cliff, let’s go ahead and start with you since we have you up on the screen. Did the CIA and the Pentagon get it wrong? Why do they need to look back again?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: It’s very important that you do this. You always want to evaluate the intelligence data you had against reality when you get it.

You don’t often get this kind of chance. Dring the Cold War, we often couldn’t ever find out, or only in terrible ways. This review was ordered or asked for by Donald Rumsfeld way back in October, before the war. He wanted to see after the war what we could find out so we can improve our intelligence methods, and particularly post-9/11, it’s very important that out intelligence gathering and analytical abilities continually improve.

This is the kind of review and the kind of reform that you want to see and that Rumsfeld is famous for.

KAGAN: Do you think this is all just part of the process? Something tells me Scott is going to think some thing differently.

MAY: It’s a vital part of the process.

SCOTT RITTER, FMR. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, I think it’s an important part of the process. There’s always a need for an after- action review.

But I think this goes well beyond — you know, the need for this goes beyond simply, you know, a checking off bureaucratic blocks.

We went to war because the president said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The president repeated this allegation throughout 2002 and up until he ordered American troops to go to war. The Bush administration briefed Congress on the fact that Iraq had these weapons and Iraq represented a clear and present danger and Congress, based upon this briefing, transferred its constitutional responsibilities regarding the declaration of war to the president, before the president said he was prepared to go to war.

This is unprecedented and we need to find out, you know, what the president based his allegations on. What was this information? How did that information get to the president? Did it go through the CIA’s normal channels? The DIA — the defense intelligence normal channels? Or was there a shortcut that was politicized? These are critical questions to ask because it has a bearing on not only international law, but how we govern ourselves as a democracy.

KAGAN: Well, even before — before the war — in fact, more than we heard from President Bush we heard from Secretary of State Colin Powell. He went before the United Nations. He cited specific facts. Let’s listen to a little but about what the secretary of state had to say before the war.


POWELL: Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase the stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents.

Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agents. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.


KAGAN: And so that was before the war.

Cliff, did Colin Powell lie to the United Nations? Did he have his facts wrong?

MAY: He absolutely didn’t lie. This was based on the best intelligence he had. And, in fact, what he said, if you think about it, is absolutely right. Saddam Hussein was known to have these things. He never accounted for them. We still haven’t accounted for them till this day.

But don’t fall into the illogical trap of assuming because we haven’t found weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Look, we haven’t found Saddam Hussein. Does that mean Saddam Hussein didn’t exist?

What we may have to explore is the possibility that these weapons, I’m afraid, have been very well hidden or have been dispersed or something else happened.

Now is there a possibility that Saddam Hussein, in secret and in violation of his commitments, destroyed those weapons? Well, I guess it’s possible but why would he do that? If he were going to destroy them, why wouldn’t he show everyone? Why did he have secret agents following around — hundreds of them — all the inspectors? Why did he frustrate the inspectors in 1998? Why did he keep the sanctions on himself if he had none of these weapons? Why did every intelligence agency, not just ours, assume he had these weapons of mass destruction programs going on? Why do we have Iraqi scientists now saying, “Yes, I worked on the chemical weapons programs and we’ve found two mobile laboratories. We just don’t know where the products are.”

We have to find out as soon as we can.

KAGAN: We have one of those former weapons inspectors in the house, so let’s go to him. So let’s go to him.

Scott, two months. With every thing that’s been going on, is that enough time to call into question, where are the weapons?

RITTER: No, I think, with all due respect, the fact is that, you know, Iraq maintained the program, especially in the early 1990s, of deliberate concealment and deception. And, you know, I think we have to give the president time to make his case for the United States to go in and reach, you know, a conclusion as to what happened here.

But we need to do this responsibly and without the filter of politics. We need to look back, for instance, in 1992. I know Bush — President Bush today, 43, wasn’t in power. His father was. But at that time, you know, weapons inspectors said they could account for 817 of 819 missiles. The CIA refused to accept this because it didn’t mesh with the political decision Iraq could not become in compliance. So, you know, this isn’t something that’s unique to this administration.

I think that, you know, all three administrations have dealt with Saddam Hussein’s regime in the post-Gulf War, 1991 environment, have politicized intelligence to maintain economic sanctions, to sustain a policy of regime removal. The United States has never supported disarmament because disarmament would have meant you have to lift the sanctions and deal with Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq.

That’s not what we wanted. We wanted regime change and that’s what we got. But now we have to deal with the fact that we fabricated a case of Iraq representing a threat to the security of the United States, having weapons of mass destruction…


KAGAN: So you’re saying Iraq was not even — was not even a threat to the security of the United States? You believe that?

RITTER: We — look, Iraq submitted 12,500 pages of documents which account for every single weapon. We chose not to believe that declaration.

MAY: Daryn, I’m afraid Scott Ritter is making slanderous allegations that are entirely baseless, and the idea that he says now that Saddam Hussein represented no threat – look, on March 25 of this year, he said, “the U.S. is going to leave Iraq with its tail between its legs, defeated. It is a war we cannot win.”

He obviously thought at that point that Saddam Hussein had pretty vast military resources. What we have is intelligence that now this administration wants to check to find out if there was any politicization, which you don’t want of intelligence. Or the opposite, which is that information that you have, you don’t factor in because it doesn’t accord with previous memos and previous theories that you have. But that’s why you have an intelligence community. Not just the CIA, but the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other groups. And you want to have exactly what the defense secretary’s calling for to make sure you don’t have that kind of politicization.


MAY: ..that Scott would say that anything was fabricated is a terrible slander. He shouldn’t make that kind of charge without any evidence…


KAGAN: In the minute — in the minute we have left her, one of the things — specific things they’re be looking at is this committee that the Pentagon said up to look at information the CIA was feeding. Was that important and was that responsible, or was this the way the Pentagon saying, We don’t like what we’re hearing from the CIA, so we’re going to look through the filter of what we want to hear?

MAY: No, what you’re talking about was very important. You have it in every administration. You hope to have it — a strategic planning group to take another look at the various intelligence you have and give an independent analysis.

A lot of people in that group, they don’t do intelligence gathering. They look at intelligence that’s already gathered. A lot of them are Farsi speakers and Arabic speakers. They may have some of their own sources. A lot of them are Muslims. This is exactly what you want to have in the Pentagon. It would be terrible if you didn’t have it.

KAGAN: Scott, I’m going to give you the final word. What about this committee, the Pentagon looking at information from the CIA? Responsible or irresponsible?

RITTER: Well, there’s nothing wrong with an independent set of eyeballs to assess data to make sure that things haven’t fallen through cracks.

But that’s not what this represented. This was an ideologically-driven group of people who were predisposed to find Iraq guilty of having weapons of mass destruction, guilty of connections with al Qaeda. And we’re picking up pieces of data which have been discarded by the CIA and presented to the president in irresponsible fashion.

This investigation need to be conducted by the Congress of the United States, not by the CIA, and I hope that the Congress does pick up on this and realize it may have been deceived by the President. It needs to move forward if it’s going to reassert its proper role in running America in accordance with the constitution.

KAGAN: Cliff, that’s going to drive you crazy, but — I know. I know.

MAY: It’s outrageous to say the President’s deceiving anybody. Saddam Hussein was a threat to the U.S., a terrible butcher of his own people, he conspired with terrorists, and he had weapons of mass destruction programs. Scott knows it and he should say so.

KAGAN: All right. Cliff, somehow I gave you the first and the last word.

MAY: Thanks.

KAGAN: Mark that against my scorecard.

But Cliff May and Scott Ritter, thanks for joining us this evening.

MAY: Thank you.

RITTER: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.