November 17, 2004 | Broadcast

News from CNN with Wolf Blitzer

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Let’s go through this Condoleezza Rice situation. She’s going to be, by all accounts — no one really thinks she’s not going to be confirmed by the Senate. She’ll be confirmed by the Senate. She’ll become the secretary of state. But is this good for the president to have someone who is basically almost always on the same wavelength with the rest of the team running the State Department?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY: Yes, it’s vital. He needs to have somebody who shares his vision and who wants to implement his agenda. The State Department needs to be an organization that helps to both implement and defend the foreign policy of the president, not an organization that opposes the president at every turn.

Without a foreign policy that is backed by the State Department and the Foreign Services enthusiastically and aggressively, it’s just all going to sit there.

BLITZER: Are you concerned at all as a good conservative that she might suffer from local-itis (ph) once she gets to the State Department? In effect, those career Foreign Service officers, the career diplomats, their stance, which is pretty entrenched, moving up to her?

MAY: Yes, I sort of am, because what anybody faces when they go into a huge bureaucracy like the State Department or the Pentagon is they can either say you’re all doing a wonderful job. I’m here to take your views back to the president. Or they can say that I’m here to make sure you’re working for the commander-in-chief. And if you do that, you’re not so popular. So it’s very hard to make these bureaucracies turn the way you want them to.

PETER BEINART, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: The amazing thing, to me, about this conversation is you would you think, from the way conservatives like Cliff are speaking, is the White House was all right in these policy debates over the last four years, and the State Department has been proven entirely wrong. So they need to be bludgeoned into submission.

It was the State Department’s intelligence agency that dissented and said, in fact, they didn’t think Iraq had a nuclear program. They were right, not the hawks at the White House and the vice president’s office. It’s the State Department who was much more cautious about what we would find in Iraq. But the difficulty of bringing that country into submission, these guys have been proven right. And now we want to bludgeon them into submission so their views are not considered even to the little degree that they were considered last time?

MAY: You know, these differences of views, we had elections to decide who is who is right and who is wrong. And it is not the job of the State Department to be the loyal opposition or the disloyal opposition to the president.

Look, did you ever say in your magazine that we really wish that Madeleine Albright would give more pushback. We really wish that Warren Christopher would be a tougher secretary of state and tell Bill Clinton that he’s wrong on a lot of things.

BEINART: Yes. But what we believed was the Clinton administration actually had a process of internal discussion and debate as opposed to this administration, which gets these leaks, which I think are also very problematic, because he does not have an internal mechanism which allows people to give their disagreements. And had they been able to do that, this administration might not have gone out…

BLITZER: Peter — Peter…

BEINHART: … on such a limb on Iraq.

BLITZER: Peter, I think you would be the first to agree, given the history of the State Department, and you’ve studied the State Department going back many decades, even though you’re not that old, that you wouldn’t necessarily always want the president to accept the advice of the State Department. BEINART: Oh, no, no, of course not. But I think you at least want to have them at the table. This is where the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of our foreign policy, many of our foreign policy experts are located. They have years and years of study, more than a lot of the political appointees that…

BLITZER: But they’re not always right.

BEINART: No, of course, not. But you want them to have a seat at the table.

BLITZER: All right, having said that — having said that, though, Cliff, he makes a good point, Peter. They were right in dissenting on some of the key issues leading up to the war.

MAY: They may have been right…

BLITZER: Including the aluminum tubes.

MAY: Look, the point is this: That the State Department is there to advise the president, to offer policy alternatives. But at the point when the president says, thank you, all, I’ve made my decision. You have two choices — you say yes, sir, or you say, I quit. You don’t undermine the president through leaks and through not doing your job. We’ve had people at the State Department, I’ve heard this talk, where they say, look, the president, that is the Christmas help, they’ll be gone soon. They cannot undermined the president. They have to work for the commander in chief. That’s what he’s saying. He wants his people…

BLITZER: Now you know, Cliff, as well as — you used to be a journalist; you used to write for “The New York Times” — you know as well as I do, that when officials in the executive branch of government, or in legislative branch of government, when they disagree with the policy, they’re going to leak information immediately and try to undermine that policy. That just follows as the next day follows in Washington.

MAY: It’s true, but it’s gone way beyond. You have literally had a CIA and you had a State Department, I think, not only trying to undermine the president, but trying to damage his chances of re- election. That’s not what the State Department and the CIA should be doing. There are good people there. They need to work. Their job not to make policy, but to recommend. It is the job of the president who is elected to be the policymaker.

BLITZER: That’s a fair point.

BEINART: Oh, Absolutely. But I think the question is the policy process. Why are these guys leaking? Are they getting a seat at the table? Have they had more of a seat at the table before Iraq, we might not be in the mess we’re in.

BLITZER: What do you think about what’s happening with the CIA right now under Porter Goss, the new CIA director? BEINART: Look, the question is Goss trying to shake thing up there, because they need internal reform, in which I would say terrific, or is he doing it as political payback, because they feel like this CIA was not loyal? The latter is much more concerning, and I think the latter is more likely what’s going on. Why?

BLITZER: Let me just press you on this point. The CIA’s record on intelligence going into the war was not very good.

BEINART: No, but ironically, it was actually much better than the hawks at the Pentagon and the vice president’s office. I mean, let’s not forget, Cliff and people like that were saying before the war the CIA is underestimating what Saddam has.

BLITZER: But do you believe that George Tenet, the CIA director, told the president, as Bob Woodward reported in his book, that it was slam dunk, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

BEINART: Yes, but I also believe that, in general, the CIA analysts in Iraq were much more cautious in their estimates about what Saddam had and of how difficult it would be to quell the insurgency there than the political appointees of the Pentagon and the NSC, who said it will be easy. Those people have not been proven wrong nearly as much as the political appointees and they should not be the ones to pay the price.

MAY: The CIA’s job is to provide useful, reliable intelligence to the president. It’s not an editorial page. It’s not a policy shop. And to a great extent, that’s what it’s become.

And the worst, totally unprecedented, is that a CIA senior analyst went out on company time and wrote a book attacking the policies of the president of the United States, who ran it under the name “Anonymous,” even though everybody in town knew who it was, that is undercutting in way we have never seen it in history.

The CIA’s problems go back about 25 years. They didn’t see the fall of the Soviet Union. They didn’t see the rise of the Khomeni revolution of Iran. They didn’t see what was going to happen in Afghanistan. They didn’t see the threat of radical Islamism. They didn’t know much about the camps that were training terrorists in Afghanistan, and they did nothing about it. CIA has to get back to doing its basic business, which is intelligence gathering, which it presents to the policymakers with analysis, with recommendations, and that’s not what is going on.

BLITZER: On the issue of “Anonymous,” the guy, Michael Scheur (ph), who’s now been identified, an analyst, not a covert operative, not a clandestine officer, an analyst at the CIA who is in charge of the Osama bin Laden desk, if you will. He writes a book under the name “Anonymous,” and it’s basically an indictment of the whole Bush administration’s policies as far as the war on terrorism is concerned, Osama bin Laden. When that book came out, as a longtime Washington observer, I was shocked that the CIA gave authorization to release a book like that. You weren’t? BEINART: No, I completely agree, I don’t think they should let him do that. If he wants to do that, he has to leave the agency, there’s no question about it.

But I question how seriously committed to reform at the CIA this administration was. They opposed the 9-11 Commission. They didn’t fire a single person until Porter Goss starting acting. Political retribution here. They fought all of the comprehensive changes of the 9-11 Commission and now they are the real reformers of the CIA. Is it because they want real reform, or is it because they want political payback against people who they like disagreed…

BLITZER: The argument is, as you well know, the argument is the charge against Porter Goss, is he was sent there by the White House, and told, you know, all of those guys who are leaking stuff damaging to the administration, get rid of them, clean out that shot, we don’t want leaks anymore coming from the CIA, that is was a White House directive. That’s the charge. I don’t know if it’s true.

MAY: Well, look, first of all, I think it’s right to say that a secret agency like the CIA should not be leaking against the president and people who work for the CIA on taxpayer dime shouldn’t be attacking the president. But more important I think, and I believe — I think, what, Porter Goss was himself a CIA operative. He was the head of the Oversight Committee in Congress, not that Congress doesn’t share the responsibility.

I believe, and I think you have no reason not to believe, that Porter Goss understand how important it is that America has the best agency in the world again, which it hasn’t had for the past 10, 20 or 25 years, and I can show you over and over again how they missed all the big things.

BEINART: Two of three of what most people acknowledge are some of the best people in that agency have now left because of fights with Porter Goss. That’s people are…

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: You take people who were, for example, as you described, studying Osama bin Laden. It’s pretty clear that as much as they studied him, they didn’t recognize how dangerous it was. How could the CIA not recognize that some day a terrorist…

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: Just very quickly. One is the CIA didn’t imagine that terrorists might someday hijack a plane and use it as a guided missile. If they had thought of that, at least they would have reinforced…

BEINART: They were sending memos to President Bush all through the summer of 2001, and they were being ignored by this White House, saying that bin Laden…

(CROSSTALK) BEINART: … saying that he had used planes before, and saying that he was determined…

MAY: Or we can always go back to the Clinton era, where they should have said this, reinforce cockpit doors, arm, train pilots, do something about passenger screening. None of that happened.

BEINART: The point is they were much more concerned than the people at the White House were, who were completely…

MAY: They weren’t getting across, and they should have been doing it (INAUDIBLE), and they could have resigned.

BLITZER: But that’s not the responsibility of the CIA to arm cockpit doors. That’s the FBI or the Federal Aviation Administration.

MAY: George Tenet could say we have to do something, at least let’s have a meeting of people who can do something. They cant’ say this is for somebody else to figure out.

But the way, we saw in “The L.A. Times”…

BLITZER: All right, he did give the president that memo in August of 2001 before 9-11, in which he warned that they could use planes as missiles.

MAY: And there was one that went to Clinton that was even more specific, as you recall, about 1998, ’99.

BLITZER: All right, let’s move on. We’re going to take a quick break. But stick around. We’re only getting started. Cliff May, Peter Beinart, they’ll be with us right after the break.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We’re continuing our investigation with our two guests, Peter Beinart, he’s the editor of “The New Republic,” and Cliff May, the president — you’re the president, right? — of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Defending Democracy very, very important.

MAY: Very important.

BLITZER: “The New Republic” very important as well.

BEINART: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let me read to you the full quote — our David Ensor, our national security correspondent, has the full quote from a memo that was sent out by Porter Goss, the new CIA director, to the staff. And let me give you the full context of this memo because “The New York Times” had a story on it this morning that both of you probably saw on the front page. Let me read to you the full quote according to a person in possession of the memo who gave it to our David Ensor.

Quote: “I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work as agency employees. We do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies. We provide the intelligence as we see it and let the facts alone speak for the policy maker.”

Do you have any problem with that?

BEINART: I think that is mostly fine. The only question I would ask is about the word “support.” Publicly, no question about it, I think you have to support it. But privately you have the right to vigorously dissent and you should be listened to if you have expertise as many of the people in the CIA were not before the Iraq war. That would be my only concern.

BLITZER: One CIA spokesman told our David Ensor, elaborating on what Porter Goss meant. He said: “What this means is that when we are asked to provide intelligence on a particular topic, we do so without shading or shaping the information in any way. It is not a question of partisan support.”

MAY: That’s absolutely right. We need to have an intelligence agency. We don’t need to have numerous policy shops. And they have got to get back to their knitting. That’s what he is saying. Do your job. Provide the best, most reliable intelligence you can to the policy makers.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: By the way, you cannot have your job and say, you know what, I don’t like this administration. For the next four years I’m not going to supply them with intelligence information. I have better things to do.

BEINART: No, of course you should. The problem is that it’s — in fact, shading of intelligence is precisely what this White House pushed for time and time and time again.

MAY: I disagree that that’s true.

BEINART: They got it and it’s part of the reason why we’re in big trouble in Iraq.

MAY: No, that’s still not the point.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: … the story is in the wrong.

BLITZER: One quick question on a separate subject before I let you go. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, saying they have got a new secret nuclear missile that they’re developing that nobody else in the world has. What do you make of this?

MAY: There is no telling what to make of this. Vladimir Putin is so disappointing. He’s backtracking, backsliding away from democracy in every way at home. Who does he think he’s going to use missiles against, the terrorists in Beslan who attacked a school?

It is mystifying and it is very troubling all that he’s doing.

BEINART: And here’s an opportunity for Condoleezza Rice, the secretary the state. She’s a Russia expert. This administration has basically taken a pass on Russia’s move away from democracy. It has coddled Putin as he has basically turned that country back into a dictatorship. It’s time for her to stand up.

MAY: We agree on that point.

BLITZER: We’re going to leave it right there. By the way, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, just announcing a new counsel at the White House, a new White House counsel replacing Alberto Gonzalez, who is going to become attorney general, head of the Justice Department. Do you know who the new counsel is?

BEINART: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) myself for the job?

BLITZER: You didn’t get it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I know you wanted it. Too bad you didn’t get it. Harriet Miers is going to be the new White House counsel. We’ll get some more information about her, share it with our viewers. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

BEINART: Thank you.

MAY: Thank you.