The following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, June 22, 2003.
TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Joining us to discuss the latest developments [in Iraq], two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
Senator Roberts first, on the report from The Observer, I gather there's no confirmation, but tell us about what you know about attempts to get Saddam Hussein and his two sons.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, CHAIRMAN SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE (R-KS): Well, after we had the report from his personal secretary, the ace of diamonds, it's obvious that we increased our very aggressive effort to locate the Baath Party loyalists and the Saddam Hussein Fedayeen. I think they've captured about 600 of them.
So I'm not surprised — I will not be surprised at any military action that would lead to the possibility that we have now finally killed Saddam Hussein.
I'm not aware — I don't think either Jay or I or the committee has been informed on this. I don't think the Pentagon has confirmed it. But with this very aggressive effort that we have been mounting, I would not be surprised.
SNOW: Senator Rockefeller?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, VICE CHAIRMAN SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE (D-WV): I would agree with Pat. I mean, my sort of general philosophy is that until I know through DNA or through some conclusive pieces of evidence that Saddam Hussein and/or his sons are dead, that they are alive, as far as I'm concerned, because they're alive to the Iraqi people.
SNOW: Is it your sense, though, that Makmoud al-Tikriti's information in fact is making it much more likely that American forces are going to be able to close in on Saddam?
ROCKEFELLER: I hope so. I mean, you get these really high officials and they either come forth with really good stuff, or they come forth with absolutely nothing, or they're wonderful at denial and deception just as they have been in weapons of mass destruction. So it's a little hard to place faith at this point. I think Pat and I both hope that we've scored, but we don't know that.
SNOW: Senator Roberts, we have also been reading in recent days that Saddam's former personal secretary, the fellow we just mentioned, Makmoud al-Tikriti, had claimed that Saddam and his sons made their way into Syria and then were let go.
Number one, do you think that's true?
ROBERTS: I don't know. We haven't gotten any confirmation of that.
What I'd like to do is follow up what Jay said in regards to Saddam being alive or dead. I share his belief that until we have absolute proof you have to assume he's alive because of the fear factor over there, on one side in regards to Iraq, and then obviously it certainly gives a lot of support to the Baath Party loyalists and the Fedayeen and a lot of people coming in from outside of the country, too, as well.
A lot of the problems we're having with the guerrilla warfare with our troops are people coming in from outside of Iraq that certainly believe that Saddam may be alive and they might be able to restore him to power. That's not going to happen, by the way, but I think that's what they believe.
SNOW: Senator Rockefeller, what should the American response be to the fact that foreign fighters are coming into Iraq?
ROCKEFELLER: We should try and stop it. They have been coming in, but they appear now to be coming in, sort of, not cult-attracted but something close to that. Just so that, if you're angry at the United States, come into Iraq, create problems for the Americans.
And we should be doing everything we can. Of course it's — and we are, but in the meantime, it's stretching us thin. It's creating havoc for our troops who are trying to do the right thing and restore order. And I think these people get great pleasure trying to disrupt us.
SNOW: Tell us a little bit about the documents, now, that American officials have found, again based, I think, on the information supplied by al-Tikriti. Is there any evidence, to the best of your knowledge, that would indicate an ongoing program of trying to do research into nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction?
ROCKEFELLER: Partly, I think that when Pat Roberts and I agreed on how to conduct this inquiry, review that we're doing on all of this, I think that's what we're going to be looking into.
I really don't feel competent at this point to tell you what's in these documents, primarily because I don't know exactly what's in these documents. And the business of intelligence, Tony, is not the business of trying to, you know, guess or estimate. It's the business of knowing. Until you know, you don't really have anything.
SNOW: Senator Roberts, you mentioned before that you have to operate on the assumption that Saddam Hussein is alive.
There are reports now that a loose-knit group, which calls itself "The Return" is doing its best to disrupt life for American troops and those who are trying to create democracy in Iraq. My question is, do you believe that Saddam Hussein may be directing the activities of "The Return"?
ROBERTS: Well, I'm not sure that he is directing it personally. He'd like to, in regards to the communication effort. But I think this is more of a loose band of, as I've said before, the Baath Party's loyalists and the Fedayeen and then the foreign intervention. And so, it's sort of a loose-knit kind of coalition. If we can prove that he's dead, a lot of the steam certainly will go out of that.
Let me refer to the capture of the documents. I think most of that is certainly old documents. We have 10 years of intelligence reporting, not only from the United States but from the U.N. and from the inspection team and from the Germans and from the Russians, even from the Chinese, certainly the British, that he had the weapons of mass destruction.
The key question that Jay and I are trying to find out: Was the intelligence good? Was the intelligence accurate? And lastly, whether there was any pressure trying to force some analyst to say something where they were either coerced or something like that.
So we will get to the bottom of all that, but I think most of the documents that have been found were old documents. But they may refer to, certainly, current plans in regards to nuclear activity.
SNOW: Senator, you have teed up the topic I wanted to take next. Senator Roberts, I want to ask you about allegations that the president may have exaggerated the quality of intelligence available to him, characterizing it as being more certain than it actually was.
As you know, intelligence estimates are almost never certain. They connect data points. They are speculative. They say, "This is the best theory we have to go on."
Did the president take speculative estimates and portray them to the American people as near certainties?
ROBERTS: I have no evidence of that. I don't believe that is true. We've heard a little bit of politics, I think, from some who have questioned that, but that's not — you know, I don't know.
And that's why we have all of the voluminous material from the ceiling to the floor from the CIA. That's our job on the Intelligence Committee. We've already held one hearing. Jay and I are jointly approaching this in a very bipartisan way. I am urging all the Intelligence Committee members, as has Jay, to read the documents themselves.
We've had one hearing. We'll have three more. At the end of it, doubtlessly, we will have a public hearing. We'll make a public report and probably a classified report.
But as of this date, I know of no interference on the part of the president or no conclusion that's not backed up by good intelligence.
And let me say one other thing. I don't mean to monopolize here. But I have asked over and over again, if there's anybody in the intelligence community that has any information they can bring to the committee about being intimidated or coerced or anybody trying to tell them what to do with their analytical product, they have an obligation to come to the committee.
None has come forward to date, although we've had a lot of anonymous, what, I guess assertations in the press.
SNOW: OK, Senator Rockefeller, do you know of any specific case in which, in your opinion, the White House or the president exaggerated intelligence?
ROCKEFELLER: I do not know of any, Tony, but I've always been concerned on a personal basis about the whole matter of Niger and the enriched uranium that was meant to have been imported into Iraq for nuclear purposes, simply because that was discounted very early.
It's been reported that the vice president sent former ambassador to Africa over there to track that down. He came back and said there was nothing to it, that it was 10 years out of date, it was forged signature. And it did appear in the State of the Union.
But I am not going to conclude from that that the president was deliberately misleading. I have concerns about it, but that's what our inquiry is for.
SNOW: Senator Roberts has indicated that the CIA and the vice president's office and others have sent voluminous documents over that not only give intelligence estimates but their sources.
Have you and your staff had a chance to go through all that yet?
ROCKEFELLER: No, we have not. And if we had, we'd take the all- time championship for speed-reading, because there are thousands and thousands of pages.
And that's the way it needs to be. I mean, our staff and myself, as well as Senator Roberts and his staff, and all of our members will be doing that for the next, I would assume, couple of months. There's going to be that much reading.
And we'll need to ask for what we want, not just what they send us.
SNOW: All right. Senator John Kerry has made some very scalding accusations about the president's characterization of this. I want to read to you one of them that he made out on the stump the other day.
When he was talking about the president, he said, "He misled every one of us. That's one reason why I am running to be president of the United States. I will not let him off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America's credibility and credibility to me, because if he lied, he lied to me personally."
Is the senator going further than the evidence, at this point, gives anybody the confidence to say whether the president lied or not?
ROCKEFELLER: The senator is running for president. And I think that Pat Roberts and I make a distinction between people who are running for president and therefore need to capture attention, and what we on the Intelligence Committee have to do, which is to get the facts and to get the intelligence, the counterintelligence and then try and decide.
SNOW: So you dismiss this as a guy just trying to get some attention?
ROCKEFELLER: No, that would — because I think he honestly believes — I've known John a long time — I think he may honestly believe that, and he certainly is saying it. But I'm just saying, that does not guide either Pat Roberts or myself.
SNOW: Senator Roberts, do you, at this juncture, given all the questions about intelligence, have confidence in George Tenet, the CIA director?
ROBERTS: Well, yes I do. But more importantly, George Tenet has the ear and the confidence of the president of the United States.
I think both Jay and I — you know, both of us feel — I think I can speak for Jay in this regard, I think we both feel the same way, is that we're not an apologist for the intelligence community or, for that matter, the administration, but we do champion their cause and their mission.
And, you know, our effort will be bipartisan to actually get at the facts and the accuracy and the independence of all of this intelligence.
But let me say, Tony, you said earlier when you try to connect the dots, prior to 9/11, if you connected three of them out of 10, you didn't move the product forward. Now, in regards to risk aversion, if there is two or three dots that you connect, you bring it forward.
That isn't very specific, but we have — what worries me about this is we have people like John Kerry — and I'm not trying to pick on John, but he's not only beating up on the president, but the intelligence community. Now is not the time to be doing that in a post-9/11 conflict.
So if you have three of the 10 dots and you are going to connect them, you better bring forward that information. You may be right, you may be wrong.
But as far as John Kerry is concerned, as far as I am concerned, why you know, nothing, you know, hurts the truth so much as stretching it.
SNOW: OK. Senator Rockefeller, final question. The FBI arrested a suspected Al Qaeda operative this week in the United States. Just how extensive is Al Qaeda penetration in the United States right now?
ROCKEFELLER: We have been briefed on matters of that sort. And I think the Al Qaeda has been weakened, but Al Qaeda is constantly re- forming itself, constantly adjusting to new financial and people situations.
And I think, quite frankly, their base from which they can draw to attract new members is also growing across this world.
SNOW: Senator Roberts, your characterization?
ROBERTS: I think Jay pretty well summed it up. I think if you follow the money, I think that's your best approach.
I think we're winning the war against terrorism, more especially in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent now, in Iraq and worldwide.
There has been no terrorist attack on the United States. We have certainly interrupted the possibility of one in regards to the Brooklyn Bridge. You don't hear about the successes.
But you know, Jay accurately has described this. We learn; we win. And then they learn, and they try to get around our various ways of our collection assets, which are second to none.
But I think we are winning the war against terrorism, but it's not over by a long shot.
SNOW: All right, Senators Rockefeller and Roberts, thank you both for joining us this morning.