March 9, 2004 | Broadcast

Market Call

Is the White House stone-walling? And, if so, is that covering up problems with America’s intelligence agencies? It’s our “Tough Call.”

Joining us is Joe Cirincione from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Cliff May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Gentlemen, good to see you back here.



SCHAFFLER: Joe, let me start with you. We’ve had this issue been raised many times before. I’m wonder if anything different is going to come out of the Capitol Hill testimony this morning?

CIRINCIONE: Well, Director Tenet is likely to undergo his most serious questioning to date. He’s pretty much gotten a free ride on this so far but he has a lot to answer for. In the clip you just showed, showed Senator Levin, another of the harsh critics for Director Tenet. And he’s expected to ping away at Tenet, to grill him on why he made so many statements that turned out to be completely wrong before the war and why he’s not doing more to correct these problems now.

This isn’t just a problem of the past. We have a serious problem with our threat assessment process in the United States and the senators want to fix it now, not wait for the commission to give a report some time after the election.

SCHAFFLER: Cliff, is this just about making intelligence better or do we have politics thrown in on this?

MAY: Well, I fear that politics are going to be thrown in, particularly when Senator Kennedy and Senator Levin are involved in it and they’re very, very partisan and this is the beginning of a very angry campaign, in many ways. But we absolutely do, and I think John and I can agree upon this, we absolutely do need to our revamp, refashion our intelligence community to make it much more effective than it has been in the past, and not just in the past two or three years, but in the past 10, 20, 25 years, really, a time when we just haven’t been doing the job we need to do, and particularly now when we’re up against this shadow enemy of terrorists supported by rogue dictators, looking for weapons of mass destruction. We need very quickly to improve our intelligence capabilities greatly and politics should say out of it. I hope they do. I’m not entirely optimistic.

SCHAFFLER: Joe, it’s interesting, of course, President Bush also raising this issue, bringing up yesterday that John Kerry, as a Senator, did not vote to authorize some certain funding on the intelligence level. Is money the primary issue here or is this a case of just not getting the right information or not assessing correctly the information that the U.S. had?

CIRINCIONE: Well, the president very cleverly used a $300 million cut that Kerry proposed out of a $30 billion budget and labeled that a gutting of the intelligence services. This isn’t really about money. We spend about $35 billion a year now on intelligence. As Cliff just indicated, it’s a matter of organization, of getting it right.

I mean here Director Tenet has now presided over two of the most stunning intelligence failures in U.S. intelligence history. The miss on 9/11, not being prepared at all for the terrorist attack of September 11th, and, of course, getting completely wrong Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. And this is the key problem Tenet is facing today.

If you look at the national intelligence estimate that he produced and presented to Congress just 10 days before they were to vote on the use of force, it’s very difficult to find anything in that national intelligence estimate that is actually true. And Tenet has got a lot to answer for.

SCHAFFLER: Cliff, it wasn’t too long ago that Tenet made a speech at a university and he basically said that intelligence is not a precise science. Why is that enough to satisfy some of the legislators on Capitol Hill?

MAY: It shouldn’t be enough. We need more than that. I mean he’s absolutely right and intelligence never presents a picture, it presents a series of roar (ph) shock tests that can be misinterpreted. So you have problems with the gathering of intelligence and the analysis of intelligence.

Though it’s important to say, this is a bipartisan problem. George Tenet, after all, was director of central intelligence not just under the present president, but also under President Clinton. And it is not, as you say, just a matter of money, it’s also a matter of what we do. In the past, we had our CIA agents, for example, unable to do inquiries inside mosques (ph) abroad because that was a religious place even when they knew terrorists were being recruited. We need a much more aggressive posture.

Now as for Senator Kerry, I think it’s not one vote, it was one bill that he proposed and no one co-sponsored. He was not alone. A lot of people in Congress, and they need to take responsibility, thought after the Cold War, we have no enemies out there, we don’t need all this intelligence. They were very wrong and those who were wrong need to say 9/11 was a wake-up call for me. Now I understand, our enemies are as serious as they ever were doing the Cold War right now. And that is what those in both parties seem unwilling to do.

SCHAFFLER: I’m wondering, Cliff, if there should just be a move for somebody to basically, you know, take the fall and say, OK, I screwed up, it’s time to leave.

MAY: The problem is that everybody, in a way, needs to take a fall or just about everybody. I mean there is nobody who is blameless here. You have the CIA’s hands tied by Congress. You had, until the Patriot Act, it was impossible for the CIA and the FBI to share intelligence. You can get to this in a minute, Joe, but it was impossible to do. You couldn’t connect the dots because you couldn’t share the dot. Look, 1993, World Trade Center was attacked for the first time. The FBI could not share its information with the CIA. They had to share it, however, with the defense attorneys for those being prosecuted. That’s a problem, we all have to acknowledge that.

SCHAFFLER: We’ve got to let Joe get in because we’re almost out of time.

Joe, go ahead.

CIRINCIONE: Well, it’s not a problem of the Patriot Act or people having their hands tied. The intelligence services on Iraq largely had it right before 2002. And here’s the problem. It’s clear now that senior administration officials prided heavy pressure on intelligence officials to mold their assessments to meet the administration’s pre-existing policy. And that is Tenet’s greatest fault. He did not protect the integrity of the intelligence services. He buckled under that pressure and produced an assessment that is now is completely wrong. It’s hard to find any sentence in that assessment.

MAY: Joe, that’s your partisan charge. It’s not true. Not true.

SCHAFFLER: Joe Cirincione, Cliff May, we know you don’t agree on that. I’m going to have to say good-bye. Gentlemen, we’re out of time again. Appreciate it.

That wraps it up for MARKET CALL. Thanks for watch. Have a great day.