January 28, 2004 | Broadcast

CNN Newsnight with Aaron Brown

BROWN: Perhaps this is helpful. I hope it is. If we take the politics of this out for a bit explain — do you believe that Mr. Kay is being straight and honest that the intelligence was bad and the weapons aren’t there?

WOOLSEY: I think that’s more likely than not. The intelligence officials who are anonymously saying you still need to wait and see do have a point in that some of these volumes may be very small.

For example, Saddam admitted to making 8,500 liters of anthrax after his son-in-law defected in 1995 who was the head of the program and that sounds like a lot but that’s actually about one two-car garage full and if it’s turned into powder it’s four suitcases worth.

So, one can’t really say that the search is completely over but if Kay is right, and he has a reputation for I think being a straight shooter, it looks as if this was the first time in history that the American intelligence community had overestimated a weapons of mass destruction program, 11 times.

Beginning in 1949 the “Washington Post” reported this morning, including with Saddam’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons programs these programs had been missed or underestimated, India and Pakistan and so forth.

BROWN: But I don’t find that anymore comforting either.

WOOLSEY: No. Intelligence is a tough business and it’s a matter of judgment but it is — I think it’s far more likely frankly that what has happened here is Saddam’s own deception, his intentional deception of his own generals, all of his combat generals thought, according to the “Post” and the “Wall Street Journal” that although they didn’t have chemical weapons each of the units on their flanks did and his own scientists deceiving him about the programs, as Kay has reported. It’s a complicated and fascinating story.

BROWN: It is all of those things and perhaps others too, including somewhat embarrassing. I’m more interested in the ramifications of it. As best you can kind of work with this the next time an American president or secretary of state or secretary of defense stands up to an international body and says, or frankly to the United States, to Americans, and says American intelligence says X, Y, and Z, why would they believe?

WOOLSEY: Well, I think the answer for the future is if you have a three-legged stool don’t try to sit on only one leg of it. The administration had earlier talked about ties with terrorist groups, the awful nature of a dictatorship and weapons of mass destruction programs and the intersection of those potentially being a problem, a serious one partially because terrorists might be given say anthrax.

Because they went to the United Nations in order to get Tony Blair’s support and they valued him highly and rightly so, they emphasized weapons of mass destruction, for example, in Secretary Powell’s speech instead of this link, possible link with terrorism and the horrible nature of the regime.

After all, Saddam killed approximately ten times as many people as Milosevic, a couple million compared to 200,000 and we went to war with Milosevic twice over human rights alone.

So, the administration I think made a presentational error in not focusing on all of that and by focusing so heavily on the weapons of mass destruction and taking the intelligence community at its word they said the stockpiles, even if they were small stockpiles, they could have killed a lot of people and they haven’t found any. It got itself into the box of this being the thing that everybody was focused on but I think it was more presentational than anything else.

BROWN: Mr. Woolsey thanks. It’s good to have you with us again sir.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, Jim Woolsey the former CIA director.