October 30, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, joins us now live from Washington to talk about this.

Mr. Woolsey, good to have you with us.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Miles.

O’BRIEN: All right, if it is, in fact, true, that Izzat Ibrahim Al-Duri is behind some of these attacks, would it make sense?

WOOLSEY: Well, yes. Al-Duri is, of course, a senior Baathist. He was, he’s number six, I think, in the deck of cards, and his daughter is married to Saddam’s son Uday, or was. Uday is now dead. And what seems to surprise some people is that he might be working with Ansar al-Islam, this terrorist group that’s very closely tied to al Qaeda.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Baathists and al Qaeda and al Qaeda related organizations have been working together for 10 years, according to a CIA letter George Tenet signed out to the Senate about a year ago. But there are still some people in the system who say well, the Baathists are secular and al Qaeda is religious, so they never work together. Well, nonsense. Of course they’re working together.

O’BRIEN: Well, but there’s also religious, a fundamental religious difference, being Sunni and Shiite. Do you believe there are longstanding links there?

WOOLSEY: Sure. And these are like three mafia families — the Islamist Shiites like the mullahs in Tehran, the Islamist Sunni like al Qaeda and the Baathists. They hate each other. They kill each other from time to time. They insult each other all the time. But they’re perfectly capable of working together, just as mafia families are, against, say, the FBI.

So the people who for years have been saying they never will cooperate, I think it’s been nonsense for a long time and the CIA pointed out these ties rather thoroughly a year ago and said the ties between al Qaeda and the Baathists go back a decade and they involve training by the Baathists of al Qaeda in explosives, gasses and poisons. So that’s been on the record for a year.

O’BRIEN: And a quick thought here about the current situation of human intelligence on the ground there in Iraq. A lot of criticism that not enough effort is being put towards it. Perhaps a lot of those potential assets being focused on the search for weapons of mass destruction, so far relatively fruitless.

Do you think there should be a shifting of attention?

WOOLSEY: Probably. And they’re playing a bit of catch up because Congress appropriated $97 million in 1998 at the time of the Iraq Liberation Act for the State Department to train Iraqi exiles to go back with our forces, among other things, if we ever went in. And the State Department resolutely refused to spend that money, all but a tiny share of it, for a long time, in both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. And we’re seeing the penalties of that now.

We should have gone in here with thousands of Iraqis already trained, going in with us, trying to liberate Iraq. I think we’ll succeed. But trying to do it without working with the Iraqis who have lived outside Iraq would be like trying to liberate Cuba without talking to the Cubans in Florida. It was a crazy idea all along to ignore the Iraqi resistance and we’re paying some of the price of that now by not having enough Iraqis right now with us.

We’ll build this up and we’ll get it done. But it’s going to take more time than it should have.

O’BRIEN: All right, indeed.

One final thought. Let’s talk just a little bit about this tug of war between Congress and the White House over these very sensitive documents, intelligence documents leading up to 9/11. You’ve been on the inside of this intelligence gathering and disseminating business.

How sensitive are these documents? Should they be handed over by the White House to Congress?

WOOLSEY: Usually this kind of tug of war works out in some fashion, unless real executive privilege is involved in which the chairman and ranking member, let’s say, are shown documents and it’s discussed with the, you know, with the national security adviser or with the director of Central Intelligence or someone. People ought to be able to reach accommodations in this. These are coequal branches of the government. They both have rights here. James Madison set this conflict up two and a quarter centuries ago. It’s part of the continuing drama of American government. And it’s one reason we have maintained our liberties for so long. The Congress and the executive struggle over things like this.

O’BRIEN: Don’t ignore the founding fathers.


O’BRIEN: All right, James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, thanks for being with us.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.