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Special Report

Was Pre-Iraq War Intelligence Manipulated?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Nov. 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: President Bush Friday accusing Democrats of doing just that. Rewriting history by arguing the administration somehow exaggerated the intelligence before the war, which is also the object of an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly Standard has done extensive research on prewar intelligence and even wrote a book on the subject. He joins me now to talk about this. Welcome, Steve, thanks for doing this.

STEPHEN HAYES, WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Good to be with you.

ANGLE: Let me ask you first. Some or much of the pre-war intelligence was clearly wrong. Everyone has now agreed on that to some extent. But critics aren’t arguing that point. What they’re arguing is that the administration knowingly used false intelligence to mislead the American people on the war. What’s the case for that?

HAYES: Well, I think we’ve seen in recent weeks, starting with the Democrats taking the Senate into closed session a week ago, Democrats turning out bits and pieces of previously classified intelligence reports to suggest that the Bush administration cherry-picked the intelligence and placed emphasis on certain things while not emphasizing other things.

I think that’s an unfair charge. Certainly we’ve seen that Democrats had said many of the same things that the Bush administration is now accused of saying. That are exaggerations or, I think John Kerry called it fictionalizing the intelligence.

ANGLE: We’ll get some of those examples in a minute. Now, some Democrats argue, as you were suggesting on the cherry-picking, that dissenting views were not included in what the president said. I don’t think a lot of people understand exactly how the intelligence community works.

It’s not exactly a vote, if you will. But people have different views and different pieces of information. And it is a sort of consensus exercise. We’ll talk about a specific example in a moment. But how would you explain to people how the intelligence community arrives at the advice it gives policymakers.

HAYES: Well, basically it’s a collection of assessments by a variety of intelligence agencies. The State Department has its own agency. The Defense Department has its own agency. There is of course the CIA, there are all sorts of intelligence agencies. And what they do is they take their slice of whatever the broad intelligence picture is, and render an assessment on it.

So to use one example, the State Department was skeptical about the aluminum tubes, with respect to nuclear weapons and centrifuges. The CIA was less skeptical, as I understand it. So what the national intelligence estimate is, which was produced in October of 2002, is a document that gathers all of this together and produces a consensus document.

The voice of the U.S. intelligence community, if you will.

ANGLE: Well, let’s look at one example. Senator Levin got the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency to declassify a document a few days ago. A document that showed the DIA had some doubts about a captive they had, who had first told them that Iraqis were training Al Qaeda members in poison gases and chemical weapons and so forth.

But didn’t seem to know very many details. And they quickly came to doubt his account. Talk about that and whether or not that is an example of the broader body of evidence or whether that’s cherry-picking in and of itself.

HAYES: Well, I think it is cherry-picking in and of itself. If you look at the kind of things that we were seeing publicly, for instance, about this particular detainee, his name is al-Libbi. You had George Tenet, a year after the February 2002 DIA report, which raised some questions about his credibility. A year later you had George Tenet in public session talking about Iraq having provided this training, relying heavily on al-Libbi’s testimony.

The other problem I have with what Senator Levin did in this particular instance is that there were actually more than a dozen reports about Iraq having trained Al Qaeda. Some of the reports were from good sources. Some of the reports from less reliable sources.

But to choose one and to say that the entire case was built on this one particular person and this one particular interrogation, to me, makes Senator Levin guilty of precisely what he’s accusing the administration of doing.

ANGLE: It’s interesting to listen to what some prominent Democrats said at the time and I want to play a couple of them for you because one of them actually deals with the Iraq/Al Qaeda connection. Let’s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock. His missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members.

SEN. JOHN ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons. And will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANGLE: Now, there’s a great deal of certainty there. Though some Democrats say that they were — these are things that they were being told by the administration. It’s not clear where they got that kind of information or why they seemed so certain at the time and whether or not that is different from what administration officials were saying at the same time.

HAYES: Well, one other thing that Jay Rockefeller, who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in that speech, was that he saw Iraq as an imminent threat. That is one thing we can say with certainty that the Bush administration did not say.

It was mentioned in one letter that it sent to Congress. But, in terms of its case to the public, the president made the opposite point. He said we can’t wait until Iraq is an imminent threat.

So if there are going to be investigations over every different statement about what is supported by specific pieces of intelligence, I would think that statement about an imminent threat from Senator Rockefeller would invite such investigation.

ANGLE: Some Democrats say they did not have access to the same intelligence that the administration did. Is that a fair complaint?

HAYES: No, I don’t think it is. Had they wanted more intelligence or wanted to get better briefings, they could have gone and gotten these briefings at any time. They can make these requests, they ask to see more. The requests simply didn’t come in.

In part because everybody believed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There was — I think the Democrats, based on a decade of their own intelligence reporting, thought that that was true as well.

ANGLE: Stephe Hayes of The Weekly Standard, thank you.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.

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