Iraqi WMDs: What Did We Know?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 9, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Now to an issue to may make or break a presidential campaign, Iraq.

Tuesday CIA director George Tenet appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his annual worldwide threat assessment. But it was Tenet's handling of a pre-war intelligence that was the grilling.


SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, D-MASS.: You can't have it both ways, can you, Mr. Tenet? You can't, on the one hand, just say, Look, we never said that war was imminent, and then have these super-heated dialogue and rhetoric which are semantically the same as imminent and not -- and tell us before the committee that you have no obligation to correct it?

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: When I believed that somebody was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it.

KENNEDY: Do you believe the administration, then, misrepresented the facts to justify the war?

TENET: No, sir, I don't.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us in Washington is former CIA director James Woolsey. Nice to see you, sir.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, you've been on the hot seat to appear before the Senate like this. As you watch our current director, are you jealous?


WOOLSEY: No, that's certainly not the right adjective. I think that George is acquitting himself well. It's a tough job. And I think he and his agency made the best call they could at the time. They may have been wrong. We still don't know because some of this biological agent or chemical agent may be found in Syria or someplace like this. But it's possible to be wrong without being evil or misstating things on purpose. And I think that George did a good job today before the committee.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, two points sort of the hearing at least I understand. One is to talk about where the intelligence community was wrong and the effect it created, but also the threat assessment, looking towards the future. How, as the CIA director, do you sort of prepare for this? I mean, what's the process?

WOOLSEY: Well, you do the best you can in not only reading all of the material you have on human intelligence and satellite reconnaissance and communications intercepts, but you grill your people. You sit down with them and go through what their support is, how many sources you have for this and that. And it looks to me as if they did that on the pre-war intelligence. Keep in mind that a lot of the things that seem now to be wrong and probably are wrong, such as the delivery of chemical weapons to individual units, were believed by the Iraqi generals. David Kay says all of the Iraqi generals that are in custody say that even though they didn't have chemical weapons, the units to their right and left did. So, you know, Tenet could have had a dozen spies inside the Iraqi general officer corps, and he may have gotten even more wrong information.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, I guess the problem is it has huge ramifications when the intelligence community does get it wrong. I mean, we go to war. We send soldiers over. People die, and the whole bit. And I think that's the problem: Are we doing everything we really can to get the right intelligence?

WOOLSEY: Well, intelligence from rogue states about things like weapons of mass destruction is really hard to get. They try hide it. They lie about it. Keep in mind that we were probably low, at least for some time, on Libya. And then they started finding out some things and helped provide the information that make it possible to get Qaddafi to come around and start moving away from his weapons of mass destruction. They missed on the Indian and Pakistani tests. They were probably not pessimistic enough about what India might be doing. They missed on Iraq in the 1980s in the opposite direction. That is, they underestimated what Iraq was doing. But then, so did the U.N. inspectors. Hans Blix missed all three of the Iraqi nuclear programs in the 1980s. This is a tough business.

VAN SUSTEREN: But one of the things that Director Tenet got grilled pretty aggressively on is the fact that recently, Vice President Cheney was said to have, you know, misconstrued some intelligence, very recently, that had already been determined not to be the case. And the question -- is it the job of the director of the CIA to make sure that the president and the vice president, even when they're out speaking, get it right, or is that their own responsibility?

WOOLSEY: Well, whenever something comes up in intelligence and your judgment is different...

VAN SUSTEREN: Not even different, where it's clearly a mistake, though. Let's say hypothetically a document is proven to be false, and let's say the president or vice president says it publicly and it's wrong, and now it sort of sits in the public domain. Should the director stand up and say, That's not right?

WOOLSEY: Well, your job is to advice the president and the cabinet and the leadership of the Congress. I think it's your job to tell the president. And I think if that ever happened, George said today that he did or would. Probably, you're also going to get questioned about things like that before congressional committees, the oversight committees and intelligence committees, and you would have to, I think, say something about it to them, but privately, in classified circumstances, not publicly. Your job as CIA director is not to be a public mouthpiece of your disagreements with the administration. It is to call it straight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Behind the scenes to make sure everyone gets it right.

WOOLSEY: Call it straight, and also call it straight with the Congress.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.

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