New Intel Chief in Town

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 17, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: We know that terrorists are out to get us, but in theory, we are now fully on guard. Are we now vigilant enough to stop them? Can the new spymaster make sure that when we say we have reason to attack someone, the intelligence will hold up?

Judge William Webster is co-chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the only person ever to serve as the director of both the CIA and the FBI. Judge Webster, Porter Goss, the CIA Chief, says Al Qaeda (search) still wants to hit us. Do you think we know where the real threats are?

JUDGE WILLIAM WEBSTER, CO-CHAIR, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISORY COUNCIL: I think we have a very good idea where the real threats are, if you mean what the targets are, in general terms. And we, of course, don't know all of the places where the Al Qaeda and other enemies of this kind are hanging out, but we know some. And out of this will come information that will put us appropriately in an alert form as needed.

GIBSON: It's now John Negroponte's (search) responsibility, but Goss and Mueller, both yesterday, the CIA Director and the FBI Director, were talking about sleeper cells in this country. Since they have not attacked, is it safe to assume that we are actually doing a good job of suppressing them?

WEBSTER: Well, I think we've clearly had some successes; those can't be detailed, but they are there.

I never take the fact that nothing has happened to mean that we've cleaned them out or kept them from coming. There's an enormous patience among particularly Middle East terrorist groups. It took three years to put the shoot down of the bombing of the airplane at Lockerbie, Scotland, Pan Am 103. They take a lot of patience.

And it takes a while to get somebody in and not be detected. So, I think these things are going on. It shouldn't be taken as an indication that it's all over, nor do we want to cry wolf and get people unduly alarmed without specific information upon which they can act.

GIBSON: Judge Webster, OK, we have a new intelligence apparatus, and we got a new head of it. And we are talking about Syria and Iran right now. Since we always need the best intelligence and we didn't get it before, do we now have a guarantee — with what has been arranged bureaucratically — that we will get the best intelligence next time.

And if we say there's WMD, or we say there's anything, that it's there and that we will be justified if we take forceful action?

WEBSTER: The reorganization of intelligence will not guarantee that, but it will go a long way to having it be more logical and more likely to be the case. Making sure that information is not dropped between chairs; that it's properly shared and properly analyzed. That's about the most you can hope for and expect.

But there is accountability and there's increased responsibility at the top, making it more likely that cooperation and sharing in a proper way will take place.

GIBSON: Judge, George Tenet said the case for WMD in Iraq was a slam dunk. The days of that kind of claim turning out to be empty, are they over?

WEBSTER: I'm not sure what your question is, John.

I think that that was reported in a conversation that took place in a more relaxed atmosphere. I think we're all more careful about what we say in time to quantify and qualify threats as we know them.

And also to be more specific — that's the role of Homeland Security - - to be more specific about the general area where we know the threats exist so that we won't have people going to general quarters in some faraway place where there's no need for it and then they become disillusioned and cynical about what they are being told.

GIBSON: Well, yes, what I meant was Tenet — as this story was related in Bob Woodward's book, and it's the most authoritative version of this we have — in a meeting, the president is looking at the case for war against Iraq and he says to Tenet, "This isn't enough. This is kind of thin." And Tenet says, "WMD is a slam dunk."

Now, Tenet was wrong, or appeared to be wrong, and going forward as we worry about other countries that could be a threat and we might have to do something about. Are the days of an illusory WMD threat over? When we say something now are we going to know it's true?

WEBSTER: I think if the question is are we going to be careful what we say, the answer is yes.

If the question is are we going to always know, then the answer has to be qualified, because in the first place, storage of weapons of mass destruction is not really the case anymore, and the world we live in, access to the materials that produce weapons of mass destruction become an important area of our intelligence.

What people intend to do with them is a matter for careful analysis and prompt action when we have confidence that we know what the story is. I can't guarantee you that we will always have it right, but you can bet that the intelligence community's going to do everything possible under its new leadership.

GIBSON: I'm going to ask you a "what do you think question." The Iranians said they're concerned about an American or an Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities. They said any attack on them would bring a catastrophic response. Does that sound to you like an empty threat, or does it sound to you like they actually do have a nuclear weapon already?

WEBSTER: This is a catastrophic response from which country?

GIBSON: From the Iranians to anybody that attacked them.

WEBSTER: Well, that's more rhetoric. They're claiming the right to have nuclear power capability for civilian purposes. That's another area for discussion. If they, in fact, go across that line, as was in the case with Pakistan and India, we'll have a serious problem on our hands.

And we hear those threats, but we have to take the actions that we think are the best long-term interests of our society and civilization.

GIBSON: Judge William Webster, the only person to ever serve as director of both the CIA and the FBI. Judge, thanks very much. Appreciate you coming on.

WEBSTER: Thank you, John.

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