Will George Tenet be Washington's Fall Guy?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", Jan. 30, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: I want the American people to know that I, too, want to know the facts. I want to be able to compare what the Iraqi Survey Group has found with what we thought prior to going into Iraq.


GUEST-HOST, JIM ANGLE: President Bush (search) speaking today. The debate over Saddam Hussein's weapons and the decision to go to war will be a staple in this year's election campaign. And a delicate issue for the president who isn't quite ready to say prewar intelligence was flat wrong but is no longer predicting the weapons will be found. Some critics blame the intelligence community and some say it was the way the administration used the intelligence.

Joining me to talk about the fallout of all this is Michael Swetnam, author of "Usama bin Laden's al Qaeda, a Profile of a Terrorist Network," and a former CIA officer.

Mike, thanks for joining us.


ANGLE: Let me ask you first -- it's been a big week on this front with David Kay (search) testifying before Congress and saying he doesn't think the weapons will ever be found and that everybody was wrong. Would do you make of the difference between the prewar assessments and what we have found in Iraq, what we're likely to find?

SWETNAM: Obviously, the information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence community to the White House and to the Congress, and in fact to the world via Colin Powell's speech to the U.N., was inadequate information.

The assessments that went along with that information were clearly wrong. Their assessments were, of course, that there were weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was building vast stockpiles. Obviously, that's wrong, and being proven wrong by the day.

ANGLE: And so, what you do -- what they do is take a bit of information here, a bit of information here, and extrapolate from that. And using past assessments and what we knew about the history of Saddam Hussein, it appears, drew a little bigger picture than was justified.

SWETNAM: Exactly. Exactly. For a long time, many of us have known that the intelligence community's capability to collect the right information about weapons of mass destruction had been deteriorating. And over the years, particularly during the 1990s, we weren't collecting all the information we needed. The analysts did their best job to put forward the picture that they thought was right. We're finding out now it was very wrong.

ANGLE: This is a huge dilemma for the White House because obviously the president isn't quite ready to say the intelligence isn't there. They want the Iraq Survey Group to finish their work and see what is found and what the documentation suggests. And if he didn't have the weapons, what did he have? If he had them, where they went, that sort of thing.

But on the other hand, the president isn't quite ready to say the intelligence was flat wrong. But as one Republican told me today, the longer they refuse to admit it, the more and more ridiculous it looks. So they're sort of caught here. And part of the problem, it seems, is as soon as you say the intelligence was wrong, that opens the door to all sorts of questions about what do you do about the intelligence community.

SWETNAM: That's exactly right. This is a typical, Washington scenario where you're damned in one direction and damned in the other. And the typical Washington, trade craft solution to that is find a fall guy. And to say that it's really this guy's responsibility and he ill served the president.

In this case, that would be George Tenet (search), the director of Central Intelligence. And slowly but surely, it seems that many people in Washington are pointing the finger at him and saying that really, it wasn't the White House.

George Tenet just ill served the president and didn't provide adequate assessments to the president. And so, the president needs to do something different.

ANGLE: Now, that would be tough for the president because he seems to have a pretty close relationship with George Tenet.

SWETNAM: Very, very much so. George Tenet, who was appointed by the Clinton administration and served President Clinton for many, many years, began to endear himself to the Bush family long before President Bush was elected.

He renamed the Central Intelligence Agency complex out there in Langley after George W. Bush's father, the George Bush Intelligence Center, even though...

ANGLE: Who is a former CIA chief, right?

SWETNAM: Who is a former CIA chief. He was one of the shortest- serving CIA chiefs, but the only one to become president of the United States. And then as before President Bush was elected and before he was declared the winner, George Bush of cour -- I mean sorry, George Tenet took on the job of briefing the president to be on all of the issues of the day and giving him the intelligence briefing.

Endearing him to the new president in a way that has really made him part of the administration for a long time.

ANGLE: Now, you're saying that what we do in this country is, right before the election when you have two candidates; the intelligence agencies go and brief them...

SWETNAM: Absolutely.

ANGLE: ... and let both candidates know, president, obviously. And an if you have an incumbent, obviously already knows. So they're on an equal footing, if you will. But...

SWETNAM: Exactly. You don't want them to start from zero when they're actually elected.

ANGLE: Right. But on the other hand, that would ordinarily be something that may fall to a somewhat more junior officer; or not junior, but certainly less senior than the director of central intelligence.

SWETNAM: Let's just say it's not necessarily the precedent for the director of Central Intelligence to take on that job himself. But he thought it was very important to establish that relationship with the prospective president. And he did a very good job of it. And he became one of the most trusted advisors of the president even before he was inaugurated.

ANGLE: And he does his daily, intelligence briefs at the White House himself.

SWETNAM: He certainly does. And he probably has briefed this president more than any director of Central Intelligence has briefed any president in our history.

ANGLE: Really?

SWETNAM: They've been very close. They literally do meet daily and meet for a significant period of time.

ANGLE: Let me ask you about a charge that floats around the political trail. And you hear Democrats saying it on the Hill all the time. OK, the CIA, maybe they were wrong, maybe they weren't. But the administration misused the intelligence, they stretched the intelligence, they exaggerated it.

And last night you had Howard Dean saying that Vice President Cheney visited the CIA where he, "berated intelligence analysts." Is there any evidence at all that that is the case?

SWETNAM: No, there really isn't. And I think most people, who are very familiar with the intelligence committee process, particularly the CIA process, pretty much shut that off. Intelligence analysts are constantly berated by senior people, but there's a lot to the integrity of their place.

They do put forward the best that they can, and it's not based upon political pressure. I think this really is a situation where they were fooled; they didn't have enough data to make the right assessment. And they didn't make the right assessment. And the fault is of those who have not realized before that we weren't collecting the right data, we weren't training our analysts the right way.

If this is not bad use of data so much as it is not enough of the right data collected. We've let our intelligence community go bad for too long, it's time to do something about a broken intelligence community. We need this capability.

ANGLE: Less than 30 seconds. A lot of people are calling for some sort of broad investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee is on the verge of sharing its findings with the members of the committee, and eventually with the public. Will that be enough do you think to answer the questions?

SWETNAM: We've had broad investigations. We've had broad investigations of 9/11. And we've had broad investigations why the intelligence community missed attacks on our embassies. We had investigations why the intelligence community missed the Pakistani and Indian nuclear talks. We need to take action, not just investigate them.

ANGLE: All right, got to go. Mike Swetnam, thank you very much for joining us.

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