Shabby Pre-war Intelligence Blame Game

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, October 24, that has been edited for clarity.

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REPUBLICAN SEN. TRENT LOTT: I'm not interested in punishment. But I have grown more and more and more concerned about the credibility of our intelligence information as a member of the committee. And I'm also concerned about the ability of the CIA (search) to take action when it's called for.

DEMOCRATIC SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: There is a very, very clear effort being made to blame everything on the intelligence community and steer by all means away from anything that has anything to do with anybody in the administration at higher-up levels or elsewhere.


TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: So there you have it. Democrats and the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee (search) seem to agree that there was shabby intelligence coming the president's way before the war. The question is who is responsible. Republicans are pointing fingers at the CIA. Democrats are saying that the CIA merely was operating under orders and pressure from the White House. Who is right?

We're going to ask now Bill Gertz, national security correspondent for The Washington Times, and a Fox News contributor, and probably the guy with the best connections over there at the CIA.

Why don't you first lay out this whole thing and then we'll start breaking it apart.

BILL GERTZ, THE WASHINGTON TIMES NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, to me, in talking to U.S. officials there's politics at a number of different levels, including within the CIA, between the CIA and the rest of the administration, and then, of course, within the government between Congress and the Bush administration.

To me I think that a lot of this criticism of the intelligence is coming from elements within the Counterterrorism Center, which received a huge influx of people. It went in terms of 200 analysts and operational...

SNOW: You're talking about the Counterterrorism Center (search) at the CIA?

GERTZ: Yes. And they now have about 1,000 people there. And apparently it became kind of a dumping ground for a lot of officials who were kind of marginal officials. A lot of these official advisory gone to public conferences in Washington and around the country, and have been openly critical of the CIA leadership as well as senior Bush administration officials.

SNOW: It sounds to me like you are trying to write them off as malcontents. Is this a bunch of malcontents? Or do they have a point?

GERTZ: Well, I don't think they have a point. I mean, I think that the criticism, especially Senator Rockefeller's criticism that the administration is trying to lay the blame on the intelligence community. I see it just the other way around. The intelligence community is trying to turn the tables and blame the administration, claiming that it was pressured into skewing intelligence. That -- I don't think that happened.

SNOW: OK. Now, you have Republicans, like Trent Lott (search), we just saw him, saying, in effect, George Tenet (search), the CIA director has made a total hash of things. And the senator has made it pretty clear that he thinks if George Tenet doesn't go, the president going to be in some trouble. So, we have got people calling -- and I'm sort of putting words in Trent Lott's mouth. I don't know if he has gone that far. But the point is a lot of people are saying that Tenet is a problem. What do you think?

GERTZ: To me, Tenet has become one of the closest advisors to the president. I think it's a personal relationship thing. He has been around for a lot of intelligence failures. Not the least of which was 9-11. Now they're raising questions about the Iraq -- pre-war Iraqi intelligence. The administration has painted itself into a corner on this because of their big impact strategy. The David Kay (search) strategy of withholding everything they're really finding in Iraq until sometime next year when they're going to release it.

SNOW: So you think the David Kay report, we got a few weeks ago, which talks about bio-weapons and talks about chemical agents, and talks about long-range missiles, the intent to purchase long-range missiles from the North Koreans, that's all little stuff. That there is big stuff lurking behind the curtain?

GERTZ: Well, I don't think we found the big stuff. I think they're anticipating on finding the big stuff, and they're going to hold on to that and then have a big dog and pony show in a couple of months. But they did find some pretty interesting stuff on missiles.

SNOW: Now, the other thing is there are members of the Senate complaining about the National Intelligence Estimate. What happened is Bob Graham, member of the -- then the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said we need a complete estimate of what's going on in Iraq. So the CIA scrambles it together.

Now they are saying that that was a shabby piece of work. And the CIA is arguing in contrast, wait a minute; you guys haven't even interviewed the people who were responsible for the analysis. You're coming up with a conclusion before you have written a report? Who is right there?

GERTZ: Well, that's going to be, again -- we're dealing with shadows here whenever we deal with the intelligence. Or at the very best, a blurred picture of things. What we do know about the intelligence from that estimate was laid out pretty much in detail by Colin Powell about a year ago at the United Nations.

This intelligence -- again, it was not single-source as some of the reports have said today. It was fairly detailed. It was fairly extensive in being able to identify programs and issues that they have in Iraq. They are also saying that they have this information for a number of years.

The big question is why haven't they found it. And of course, that's what is raising all these questions about whether the intelligence was bad.

SNOW: Of course, one of the things David Kay is saying that you can take all the possible biological agents and stick them in a car garage. So they're pretty easy to hide. And Furthermore, I guess there are 130 weapons depots, and they've only had a chance at this point to inspect 10?

GERTZ: Yes. And there are weapons lying all over Iraq. If you talked to anybody that's been over there recently, they have large depots. Then, of course, we have the phenomenon of burying entire MIG jets in the sand. I mean you know, one Pentagon official said to me we might be dealing with nuts here. People who have just went out and buried things, and it's going to take years to find them.

There's also those many intelligence reports that a lot of these weapons were moved into Syria, into the Baqa Valley in Lebanon. Of course, the intelligence community said we can't prove this. They're very anxious to say that what they can't prove. And now, of course, the Niger uranium intelligence has really made the intelligence community very gun shy about making any solid opinions.

SNOW: I was about to say what's happening now is that they're afraid to render any judgments for fear of being criticized.

GERTZ: Yes. It's very similar to what happened back in the late '90s with the Missile Threat Estimate. The CIA did a very bad estimate saying that no nation could threaten the continental United States. And they focused continentally because it left out Alaska and Hawaii. Then North Korea tested a missile right after that estimate.

SNOW: All right. Bill Gertz, thanks so much.

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