Scrapping War Intelligence Together

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, November 5, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, CO-HOST: Military intelligence is the talk of Washington. The secretary of defense says it is crucial to the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq in particular. The Senate is investigating the pre-war U.S. intelligence. Tony Blair (search) has been embattled for months in a dispute over the use of British intelligence.

And now comes Sir John Keegan, perhaps the greatest military history and -- historian of our time with an impressive and sweeping new book, entitled, Intelligence In War. Which comes to the conclusion that while intelligence is useful, it is rarely decisive and nearly always mottled, and contradictory, and confusing. Sir John Keegan joins me here now.

Welcome, sir. It's Nice to have you.

SIR JOHN KEEGAN, AUTHOR, INTELLIGENCE IN WAR: Thank you. Thank you very much for asking me.

HUME: There's a feeling, I think, in this country that intelligence can and should be precise and definite and clear and that it is -- and based on it, military decisions can be made, plans made, so forth. Your book, I think, would quarrel with that. Why?

KEEGAN: Because it -- what goes in is lots of little scraps. And it's very difficult to turn that into a nice piece of whole cloth. You can't turn -- it's very difficult to turn little raggy things into a nice, clean sheet of paper, you know. And that's the trouble with intelligence. What you get out is neater than what you put in to the process, to the intelligence-sifting process. But it's never, ever a polished, complete, clear, sharp, finished product. People will always argue about what appears to be the finished product actually means.

HUME: And when the finished product comes, and even the raw material itself, is it off -- is it usually right on target, or often wrong, or at least off?

KEEGAN: I guess, I mean I don't see much raw intelligence. I've never seen raw intelligence, only the raw intelligence of the past. But I suspect that it's, you know, sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and most of the time ambiguous.

HUME: Well what is it -- let's look at this controversy over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What would you say about the intelligence before the war and what has been found since? It is been treated as a great astonishment that we had all this intelligence, at least claimed intelligence, and we have not been able to find any of these weapons. What about that?

KEEGAN: It's very extraordinary because there's absolutely no doubt that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. He was gassing Iranians with them during the Iran-Iraq War. He was gassing his own people in operations in Kurdistan in the 1980s. To me, the mystery is where they've gone. I don't doubt that they existed and that relics of them, traces of them, parts of them will be found somewhere. I think some of them may have been sent out of the country. Some -- it's a very large country. Some are still perhaps lying under the sands of the deserts in Iraq.

HUME: Does Hans -- does the experience of Hans Blix and his merry band of weapons inspectors instruct us on this in any way at this time?

KEEGAN: Well, it does. But Blix, of course -- Blix never denied that the weapons might be there. He merely said that he wanted more time to look for them. And he, after all, he only had 100 inspectors and Iraq is the size of California. How do you...

HUME: Can you ever be sure?

KEEGAN: How could you comb the land area of California with 100 people in six months and make sure that you've found everything? I think it's -- I think they're there somewhere.

HUME: Do you really even now?

KEEGAN: Yes, I do. I think they'll find something.

HUME: As we go forward in this conflict with Al Qaeda (search) and other terrorist organizations, is it a concern to you that people in places like America and Britain may expect too much of intelligence?

KEEGAN: Oh, very much so.

HUME: Why?

KEEGAN: Because Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations of that type are extraordinarily difficult to penetrate. We lack people with the language skills, with the ability to pass themselves off as members of that community. We -- I don't think we have many who can think themselves into the culture of those -- culture of those countries and societies.

In other words, we're short of the potential recruits to run as agents inside these terribly dangerous organizations. We're having to do it the other way around. We're having to try and recruit from inside the organizations people to work for us. But since they're so violently opposed to us, of course, it's very difficult to find such recruits.

HUME: Do you see this changing for the better in any reasonable time frame or is it likely to persist for a long time, this intelligence deficit?

KEEGAN: Well, Islamic extremism is very much in the ascendant at that moment; it's powerful, it's fresh, it's vigorous. It's a young movement, and therefore, most resistant to penetration from the outside. But historically, extremist movements do usually yield to penetration. The British managed to get inside anti-British movements in India during the days of the British Empire in India. The French did the same thing in their Islamic Empire in Africa. I think eventually they will find ways of getting inside the organizations, but you can't do it instantly. It's a laborious process.

HUME: Sir John, thank you very much.

KEEGAN: Thank you.

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