How Should the Bush Administration Deal with the WMD Controversy?

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This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, January 29, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  Now for the top story tonight, the Bush administration groping to deal with the weapons of mass destruction controversy.  After David Kay (search) told Congress that faulty intelligence lead to a false accounting of WMDs in Iraq, President Bush is left with two options.  One -- how to handle the political fallout.  And two -- what to do about the Central Intelligence Agency, which according to Kay, completely blew it.

Joining us now from Washington is former CIA operative in the Middle East, Robert Baer (search), the author of the book "See No Evil."  And from Boston, Michael Battles, also a former CIA officer, currently an international business risk consultant.

Mr. Battles, we begin with you. You know, the folks have got to be rattled here.  We got 9/11.  The CIA is clueless about that.  And now we've got weapons of mass destruction, huge embarrassment the world over.  Yet you're not seeing an urgency out of Bush White House, vis-a-vis the CIA. Why?

MICHAEL BATTLES, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE:  Well, I don't think you're not seeing a sense of urgency.  I think the Bush administration is delvinginto these issues as quickly as possible.  But we can't have knee-jerk reactions.  Then you wind up with sound bytes rather than sound decisions.

And it's not really fair to say it's 0 for 2, considering that most of the  intelligence community's successes are never seen.  They're never brought to light because they are, by their very nature, clandestine.

Certainly the intelligence community has been eroded for 20 years,starting with the Church Committee and really not starting to turn back around until Director Tenet was put in place.  You had the Clinton administration that was more afraid of "The Washington Post" than terrorists or rogue nations.  And it's going to take time to determine first where the errors were, what the delta is between what the intelligence community thought they knew and what ground truth was.  And it shouldn't be rushed in front of a television camera or a newspaper to say, okay, we've got all the solutions.  We know what the errors are.

O'REILLY:  All right.

BATTLES:  And here's how we're going to fix it.

O'REILLY:  Mr. Baer, do you see it that way?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE:  No.  Listen, I was doing Iraqi collection through the '90's.  I saw every piece of intelligence there was all over the community.  And frankly, it was bad.  We admitted that it was bad. We admitted it to the White House. Now the question is, did this message continue to be conveyed from the CIA to the White House?

O'REILLY:  So you admitted the intelligence was bad.  You didn't trust the intelligence.

BATTLES:  No.  And I was in charge of collection.  I mean, I went to northern Iraq.  I, you know, put my life on the line to improve the intelligence.  But we admitted to ourself, within the director of operation, within the CIA, we could do a lot better.

And everything we knew on weapons of mass destruction was based on supposition or old figures.  Now the question is, was this conveyed to theWhite House before the war started in March 2003?

O'REILLY:  Well, obviously not.  I mean, according to David Kay, David Kay believes that -- and I believe this Kay report.  I've read it and I've studied it.  He says that the top echelons of the CIA, i.e. George Tenet, who briefs the president, basically said, look, they're there and they weren't there.  And it's a CIA problem.

BAER:  We got a problem.  We got a problem.  There should be some accountability.  They should -- we've to get to the bottom of this because there's other countries that are as dangerous as Iraq, that are building weapons of mass destruction (search), nuclear weapons. Iran, in particular. And we have to have credibility in the CIA and the White House.

O'REILLY:  All right.  Now Mr. Battles, you're kind of putting a little happy face on this thing.  And Mr. Baer raises a very interesting point.  If the guys on the ground were telling their superiors in Washington that intelligence was bad, and that message wasn't reaching the president, the guy's got to go. Tenet and his lieutenants have to go, do they not?

BATTLES:  No, I don't think that's necessarily fair.  Director Tenet's identified the gaps in the intelligence collection process from the first time he was there, first under the Clinton administration after Director Deutsch just decimated the clandestine service.  And he's continually trying to make it better.

It's not fair to say that he has to see go.  He's been fighting a war on terrorism.  He's been preparing for the war in Iraq.  He's been doing a lot of great work on behalf of the intelligence community.  And we have to -- first let the -- with the organization that Dr. Kay was running, finish their survey to determine how  wrong, if the intelligence was wrong, it was and then try to make changes.  There's no reason to have someone's head for the sake of having someone's head.

O'REILLY:  Listen, when the team loses big on 9/11 and weapons of massdestruction, you got to move the manager out even if it is not themanager's fault.  Do you think Tenet should be fired there, Mr. Baer?

BAER:  That's a hard question for me.  He gave me the career intelligence medal.  And I'm -- I feel a bit emotional about it.  But I think the president has to take a look at this and see who's responsible. And if George Tenet is responsible, indeed responsible, he's got to fire him. It's like in the Navy.  When your boat kisses the bottom, the captain goes.

BATTLES:  Yes, I agree with Bob.  You can delegate authority, but not responsibility, but there shouldn't be a knee jerk reaction to change things.  That's how the intelligence community was hurt so badly after the Church Commission.

BAER:  Yes, but I don't know...

O'REILLY:  Look, 9/11 was two and a half years ago, okay?  Three thousand people are dead. The CIA didn't protect us. They didn't protect the embassies. They didn't protect the [USS] Cole.  And they didn't get Al Qaeda. They didn't do anything.

Now it might have been Clinton's fault, the Torricelli principle, we understand.  All right?  Bush comes in, doesn't reorganize the CIA, keeps the same director. -- We don't know about weapons.  Now we're embarrassed all over the world.

So look, you know, I think it's really got to be fast tracked here, Mr. Battles. It's really got to be a priority of the Bush administration now to get to the bottom of this, sir.

BATTLES:  Yes, but I don't think it's fair to say it's not a priority. I'm sure it's a priority. They're working on it diligently every day.They're just not doing it in front of the television cameras, which is exactly the way it should be.

O'REILLY:  We elect these people and we pay them to protect us.  And I don't really want this being done in secret. I want to know what's goingon here.

BATTLES:  Bill, clandestine operations are by their very nature...

O'REILLY:  This isn't a clandestine operation.  This is an operation, Sir, to find out who screwed up on 9/11 and in weapons of mass destruction. Nothing clandestine about it.

BATTLES:  No, but the process going back and looking at the clandestine operations, how the information was purveyed, how...

O'REILLY:  Yes, I don't need to know the nuts and bolts, but I need tohave a press conference with President Bush.  I'll give you the last word, Mr. Baer.

BAER:  We need accountability. The American people are confused now. And the faster we do it, the better. Let's don't wait and do this in the election. That's when it'll really get lost.

O'REILLY:  Yes, I just think they want to sweep it under the rug because the polls say American people really don't care that much about WMDs.  Maybe they're going to try to do the rope a dope, absorb the punishment now and hope it goes away.  I hope they don't do that.

Gentlemen, thanks you for a good discussion.  We appreciate it very much.

And here is the result of the poll question, "Should President Bush admit his administration made a mistake regarding WMDs in Iraq?"  Almost 30,000 of you voted.  Fifty-three percent said no, he should not admit a mistake. Forty-seven percent said yes, this is the closest poll we've ever had on  Thanks to all who went in.

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