This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Jan. 7, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: Once again, was this an abuse of the use or an abuse or a shortcoming within the intelligence gathering itself? We don't know that today. I think we have a right to know.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Sen. Tom Daschle (search) reacts to a "Washington Post" story that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction only existed on paper with scientists telling Saddam Hussein only what he wanted to hear.

The story says Saddam wanted illegal weapons, but the programs never really came together.

"Post" special projects reporter Barton Gellman (search) joins me now to talk about that.

Bart, that's today's big question. Did Saddam Hussein (search) think he had weapons that, in fact, he didn't have?

BARTON GELLMAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Unless you are in his head, you with cannot know that for sure, but there's some evidence for it.

Scientists and design engineers and Iraqi generals and scientists told me that either they or people they knew had lied to Saddam about progress because he's a hard guy to say no to. Or because they wanted money and prestige or because they were protecting themselves from rival programs.

And Saddam was given information that was not true.

GIBSON: And consequently, that same kind of information wound up in the possession of Western intelligence agencies, who believed what he believed, that, in fact, they did have the stuff?

GELLMAN: Well, it's funny. The investigation by the CIA called scientists lying to Saddam, they call that red on red deception. Red is the bad guys. But it was also red on blue, where blue is the good guys, because U.S. intelligence was hearing some of the same reports and would naturally have credited some of those reports.

GIBSON: Now the other thing about your huge story, massive report on which you spent a lot of time and got a lot of interesting and key documents, and talked to all the key people on the Iraqi side, which was fascinating, is that we seem to have a misunderstanding about what Saddam Hussein wanted to do first.

Evidently, the Iraqis wanted to build the delivery system first, the missiles, and then they'd get the weapons and stick them on.

GELLMAN: Let me say, that's a theory. That's probably the operating theory right now of the American investigation, was that Saddam's intent was to do missiles first, since missiles in many ways take the longest.

If you leave nuclear weapons aside, because that's a very long-term proposition and darn near impossible at this stage for Iraq. The chemical and biological weapons could have been done somewhat quicker. And to build big, long-range missiles takes a long time.

So the theory was missiles first. The question, how far did they get? As far as I know, there were only designs on drawing boards.

GIBSON: And what was the state of the nuclear program? They were trying, but where was it?

GELLMAN: Well, they were trying and succeeding in 1987 through 1990. They were somewhere on the order of a year away from developing a bomb at the time that Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990.

But the mandatory inspections and the bombings of several wars, by 1996, had demolished Iraq's nuclear infrastructure just completely. The reactors were gone. The machine tools, the refineries, everything they needed to make a bomb was gone.

There's no evidence that I know of that Iraq seriously tried to revive that in the last several years. And the assessments from outside that Iraq was doing that appear to be just fundamentally wrong.

GIBSON: What about the chemical weapons?

GELLMAN: Well, here again, David Kay's (search) interim report in October practically dropped the chemical investigation entirely.

The CIA said in October of 2002 that Iraq had resumed active production of nerve agents, that it had improved those agents so that they stayed fresh longer on the shelf and so on.

Kay said those things are not true, and it appears that U.S. bombing in 1991 and again in 1998 demolished Iraq's chemical productions capabilities. That is not the emphasis now.

GIBSON: But when you find this out and you talk to the people and you get to the bottom of it, and you say, "OK, that's the state of things," why was Iraq going to such measures to obscure those facts?

GELLMAN: For the Iraqi point of view, from December 2002 to March 2003, the government was fairly co-operative with inspectors. But clearly Iraq told enormous numbers of lies and cover stories and obstructed inspectors hundreds of times over the years. And it's not clear why.

There are any number of reasons why a repressive government would not want to have outsiders poking into its national security apparatus. There are theories that include resentment of outsiders, fear that the inspectors were really military spies.

GIBSON: What about the idea that they just did not want the world to know they were as weak as they were?

GELLMAN: Well, that is one that did not occur to a lot of people before this war, but it's becoming more plausible. Hans Blix (search), who ran the last round of U.N. inspections, calls this the "beware the dog" theory. You can put up a sign "beware the dog" without having a dog if you want people to be just a little bit more nervous around your backyard.

GIBSON: But did you come to the conclusion that — it took you a long time to find out all this and interview all these people and get the documents and come to these conclusions. Did you come to the conclusion that this was transparent, that anybody should have been able to come to this conclusion months and months ago, or that it was truly opaque?

GELLMAN: I would admire the heck out of anybody who thinks anything in Iraq is transparent these days, or before. It's a maddeningly difficult story to get your handle on, whether you're doing it as an intelligence analyst or a news reporter. And I emphasize those are two very different functions.

I think that there was a good-faith belief among intelligence analysts that Iraq had substantial biological and chemical weapons capability remaining. I think the nuclear file was not really so much. I think that the best-informed analysts in the United States and elsewhere did not think there was much of a nuclear program going on.

GIBSON: All right.

GELLMAN: But the chemical and biological, that was the consensus.

GIBSON: All right. Barton Gellman, "Washington Post," special projects reporter, big piece, check it out. Bart, thanks.

GELLMAN: Thank you.

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