July 14: Former CIA Director James Woolsey Gives Insiders Perspective on Intell Issue

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 14, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not interested in talking about intelligence unless it's cleared by the CIA (search). And as Director Tenet said, it was cleared by the CIA


BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, this story about what the president said in his State of the Union (search) Address, about whether or not the CIA believed the Iraqis were actually trying to obtain uranium ore from Niger shows no sign of diminishing anytime soon.

We thought we would try to look at this from the perspective of the intelligence community. And for that we turn now to former CIA Director James Woolsey (search), who joins us live from San Francisco.

Mr. Woolsey, thanks a lot for being with us. We appreciate it.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Brian.

WILSON: Well, what do you make of this look backwards? At one line out of the State of the Union Address, the president makes this point and we've been talking about it endlessly now for about a week and a half or two weeks. Is it fair to look at intelligence backwards, 20/20 hindsight?

WOOLSEY: Well, sure. You may learn something, so it's fair to look. I think this is an odd circumstance, though, because the 15 words in the president's statement that the CIA apparently didn't object to don't say Niger (search). And they don't say that it's a fact that Saddam was obtaining nuclear material, uranium ore from it.

It says that the British have a report that says that he was trying to obtain nuclear material from Africa. And that's true. It's true the British have such a report. And that they are continuing to say, without giving us the source, according to the press, that it's, in fact, the case.

WILSON: Well, let me get to that point, because they're not revealing exactly where their information comes from, leading many to suspect perhaps it came from another nation, like France or maybe Italy. And that those sources of information didn't want it passed on to the United States.

WOOLSEY: Anything is possible in this intelligence game. We share a great deal with the British and they with us, but not absolutely everything. So, it is not entirely unprecedented that they would have a source that, for some reason, they couldn't or wouldn't share with us. So, people I think need to stay in...on this a little bit. We're not sure what the facts are yet. We really don't know yet.

WILSON: Now, when you were director of the CIA did they send stuff over to be vetted?

WOOLSEY: Relatively rarely. When that little airplane crashed into the South Lawn of the White House (search) in the fall of 1994, I'd been on the job nearly two years and the White House staff joke was that must be Woolsey still trying to get an appointment. So, I didn't have exactly the same kind of relationship with President Clinton that George Tenet has with President Bush. And it's to George's to the president's credit that they work closely together.

And I imagine this statement was sent over. There is a press report that there was a conversation between a single...between a senior National Security Council (search) staffer and a senior intelligence officer about this. And where it all came out was that, I guess, the CIA didn't object or at least not strongly, to having this British report mentioned in the president's speech. Although the CIA had apparently objected in the previous October and a few days after to having anything about it, included as a fact in either Colin Powell's speech or presidential statement of the previous fall.

WILSON: And that's kind of what I want to get to you about. Many people look at intelligence as either black or white. It's either truthful or it's not truthful.

WOOLSEY: Right. Right.

WILSON: Isn't it true that most intelligence is a shade of gray and it's hard to figure out whether it is truth or not?

WOOLSEY: Well, unless you get an intercept that they don't know you're intercepting it and you break a codes or something and really get on the inside of an organization, I'd say 98 percent of the time it is a shade of gray and it is because it's like a jigsaw puzzle. Either you have 10 percent of the pieces or you have 90 percent of the pieces, if you're lucky. But there is still some portion of the puzzle where you have to fill things in without being absolutely certain and use judgment. That's why it is interesting position.

WILSON: So you also often go to a president and say we believe, which leaves you leaves you room for wiggle, doesn't it?

WOOLSEY: Well, what you ought to say, sometimes it is not said in widely distributed documents. But with the president, you would say here's what we know, here's what we don't know and here is our judgment based on these two things together. And my hunch is George Tenet does that rather regularly.

WILSON: So, on this piece of intelligence that we've been scrutinizing now for about two weeks, do you anti...does your experience tell you think this is one of those cases where it was a shade of gray and they gave their best judgment, but couldn't say absolutely?

WOOLSEY: I have only the press reports to go on. But it sounds as if the CIA didn't object strongly to this statement that it was a British report going into the president's speech. And that really is a call for the White House. Neither of us were in the middle of that conversation between the National Security Council staffer and the CIA staffer. So, we don't know exactly who said what to whom. But ultimately, George Tenet did take responsibility...


WOOLSEY: ... and I think it is appropriate for him as something that got into the president's statement that wasn't entirely all up and up and...

WILSON: Mr. Woolsey, got to go.

WOOLSEY: ... he did what he should do.

WILSON: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

WOOLSEY: Thank you.

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