April 14, 2004 | Broadcast

Paula Zahn Now

Always good to see you, sir. Will.


ZAHN: I want to start off tonight with an admission that the CIA director made earlier today before the commission.

Let’s listen.


TENET: It will take us another five years to have the kind of clandestine service our country needs. There is a creative, innovative strategy to get us there that requires sustained commitment, leadership and funding.


ZAHN: Why should this take five years?

WOOLSEY: Well, I hope it can be done sooner than that. But George has a real point in that — and he talked about it in the testimony, that in the early and mid-’90s, there were a lot of cuts in not just the CIA, but the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office that runs the satellites.

I had to fight against those myself in 1993 to early 1995. And although the House of Representatives was willing to help and the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Senator DeConcini kept cutting the money for Arabic speakers, for Farsi language instruction, for supercomputers for the NSA, for satellites. It was really very, very difficult to get the resources that we needed.

And out of the intelligence community, we got a little bit of help occasionally from the White House. We got a lot from Vice President Gore, who really tried to help us. But it was tough. And when things deteriorate badly over a number of years like that, and you don’t have as George put it the plumbing in place because there have been such deep cuts, you have a lot of rebuilding to do.

And terrorism, spying on terrorist groups is a very different thing than spying on the Soviet Union.

ZAHN: Sure.

WOOLSEY: You don’t meet terrorists at embassy receptions.

ZAHN: But if it’s going to take five years to have the kind of clandestine service he believes our country needs, what does it say about our vulnerability to potential future terrorist attacks?

WOOLSEY: Well, that’s half of the problem, spying overseas, or some major share of it. But another part of it is domestic intelligence here and that will be, unless there is a new agency set up, under the FBI.

A lot of the failures before 9/11 were failures to penetrate groups in the United States and in West Germany. And those were places the CIA really doesn’t spy. We might have had an easier time if they had been organizing themselves in Russia.

ZAHN: The finger-pointing continued today between the CIA and FBI. As a man who once ran the CIA, how much criticism do these agencies deserve for failing to piece together all these dots that were never connected?

WOOLSEY: They deserve some, because sometimes it is just the difference in the culture and the people playing their cards close to their vest.

But a lot of the problems that they had — and both Bob Mueller and George Tenet pointed this out — were institutional and they were set up by law or by regulation. For example, before the USA Patriot Act was passed in — after 9/11, it was actually illegal for the FBI to give material about terrorism that it obtained pursuant to grand jury subpoena to the CIA or indeed anybody other than a prosecutor.

They had a lot of material in the FBI that they had got in New York around the time of the first World Trade Center bombing in ’93. They could not give it to us because it was against the law. And Congress kept it that way because they wanted to keep the FBI and the CIA completely apart from one another. So, you know, that’s not an FBI agent playing his cards too close to his vest. He was following the law.

ZAHN: Finally, tonight, sir, if you were able to implement one major change at the CIA today and you had the money to do it, what would it be?

WOOLSEY: I would work very hard to get Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, people with an understanding of the culture and background, particularly of Iran, Syria, the Arab world, in place as human — as case officers, able to run agents in the Middle East and effectively operate there.

That should have been done long ago. Congress stopped us from doing it in the early ’90s. George has been working on it, I know. But we need a lot more people like that.

ZAHN: We always appreciate your insights. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, thank you.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.