March 24, 2004 | Broadcast

Lou Dobbs Tonight

It’s good to have you here. The fact is that there seems to be plenty of blame placed on both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. Are you surprised that it’s being so even-handed, this commission?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I’m glad if that’s the approach, because they really do need to look at the whole picture. I think that one very important issue here, Lou, is whether there had been any ties between Iraq and al Qaeda back in the 90s. And, you know, George Tenet wrote in 2002, October 7, to the Senate, saying that there were senior level contacts going back 10 years, senior al Qaeda in Iraq and training by the Iraqis of al Qaeda in, quote, “poisons, gases and conventional explosive.”

So although there are a number of people, some of who served at senior levels in the Clinton administration, who don’t want there to have been any contacts of any kind and don’t want to admit it between al Qaeda and Iraq, I think including Dick Clarke, because then they would be charged with not having done enough to lean on Saddam. I think those contacts are clear at least in George Tenet’s eyes and there’s been more details that have come out since.

DOBBS: Dick Clarke, Richard Clarke, asserts there were no clear ties between the September 11 attacks and Iraq. You obviously — what would be the reason for him to say? He was in charge of counterterrorism at that point.

WOOLSEY: There may not have been Iraqi ordering of 9/11. The contacts going back a long time are clear. Clarke, on page 95 of his book, which I ve just been reading, has at least three important misstatements. First of all, he does not seem to recognize at all that one of the major plotters in the 93 attack on the World Trade Center was an Iraqi citizen, went back to Iraq after the attack, was seen by ABC News in Baghdad outside his father’s home and was told that he was being taken care of by the Iraqi government.

And reports of documents we captured during the invasion indicate that Yassin was on a monthly stipend from the Iraqi government and was given a house. Why would the Iraqis do that with one of the World Trade Center bombers of ’93 unless they had some kind of relationship with him. Clarke doesn’t even seem to be curious about something like that.

DOBBS: Jim, one of the things that struck me in today’s testimony, listening to former Senator Bob Kerrey, who I thought did a remarkable, candid, straightforward, evenhanded job — he goes back through, actually the late 80s, 90s, through the Clinton administration, through the Bush administration, the USS Cole, the first attack on the World Trade Center, the millennium attacks, the attacks on our embassies in Africa, the USS Cole and, of course, September 11. My God, all of that was known to be al Qaeda. How in the world could two administrations frankly be so ineffective in dealing with a demonstrated threat?

WOOLSEY: Part of the problem may have been that some of the senior analysts in CIA, DIA and some of the White House staffers got locked into early the view that al Qaeda had nothing at all to do under any circumstances with any governments and they missed some connection with governments. Look, Clarke in his book creates out of whole cloth the notion that some of us whom he calls part of a cult believe that Ramzi Yousef was not really in prison in Colorado. In fact, he was, as Clarke puts it, lounging beside Saddam Hussein as a mastermind of Iraqi intelligence during the 90s. It’s nonsense. None of us has said anything remotely like that.

We’re curious about whether or not this young Pakistani who lived in Kuwait was born there, Abdul Bassir (ph) became — changed his name to Ramsey Yussef and became a terrorist or whether there had been some kind of theft of his identity. For Clarke to say something like that is like the 13th chime of the clock. Not only is it bizarre in and of itself, it calls into question, as far as I’m concerned, everything from the same source.

DOBBS: Jim Woolsey, this commission is working hard, diligently — a great deal of time being spent. What in your estimation will be the productive positive result from this commission’s findings?

WOOLSEY: I think they need to go back and question everyone’s assumptions back to the early and mid 90s about al Qaeda, and governments. And look hard at whether they’re objective, whether there were any ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, between al Qaeda and Iran. There are a number of things al Qaeda did that I think it’s going to be difficult in time for people to sustain saying they did completely alone and unhelped by anyone who was, you know, had some fake passports, whatever. Look, Lou, it doesn’t mean that any organization was under the command of the others.

I look on them as sort of like Mafia families. They hate each other, they kill each other from time to time. They insult each other but they are capable of cooperating here and there. And the people like Clarke who have been saying they never work together under any circumstances, I think those assumptions need to be questioned vigorously by this commission and others.

DOBBS: You are the professional. When you talk about questioning assumptions, I think there is sort of a reflex from most of us mere civilians we hope our intelligence experts are constantly challenging assumptions and assessing a word straightforwardly. Does it concern you and we’ve only got a few seconds but I would like to know. We’re spending an inordinate amount of time looking in a rearview mirror rather than forward. Does that concern you?

WOOLSEY: To some extent. We need to get the past as clear as we can in order to understand the future. The assumptions a lot of people made is those organizations never touched base with one another, never cooperated on anything. I think maybe the major misleading thing that was done to all of us by the intelligence agencies from the mid 90s on and by people like Clarke.

DOBBS: Jim Woolsey, thank you very much for being here.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.