Week in Review: Intelligence in Crisis

NPR's Scott Simon discusses the week's top stories with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr. This week, the intelligence community once again found itself in the center of two controversies. First, intelligence on Iran was restated; then, the CIA revealed that it destroyed videotapes of the interrogation of two al-Qaeda operatives.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon at NPR West in Culver City, California.

This week, the intelligence community once again found itself in the center of two controversies.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us from Washington, D.C. Dan?

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Let's go to this NIE report first that says that Iran's nuclear program was abandoned four years ago...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...though it still enriches uranium. Of course, the Bush administration and, for that matter, the European Union have been speaking starkly about a nuclear threat from Iran. Why do you think the report was released now?

SCHORR: The intelligence community's 16 agencies were not going to take the rap again for the kind of failure of intelligence that attended the Iraq war, and so I guess they wanted, at least, to get it out with their own spin.

SIMON: There were people who were speculating that Iran could conceivably become even more eager to involve itself and other countries in the region now that sanctions may not be a possibility. What do you think about that?

SCHORR: Well, the question is whether there will or there won't be sanctions. The NATO countries are still supporting it, but Russia and China now say that they will not, and so it's going to be very difficult for the administration to give sanctions.

SIMON: How will Iran be affected by it, do you think?

SCHORR: Iran has an opportunity now to do what Libya did sometime ago in saying, all right, we'll give up. We'll talk to you, we want economic help, or whatever. This could be an opportunity for Iran to really advance itself.

SIMON: The CIA revealed this week that the agency had destroyed videotapes of their interrogation in 2002 of two al-Qaida operatives. Now, they say the tapes were destroyed to protect the interrogators from reprisal. What do you see in this situation?

SCHORR: Well, that's kind of silly. First of all, they can show it behind closed doors to the Senate and perhaps the intelligence committee; second, they can blackout the faces of the interrogators. The idea of saying they have to destroy evidence at a time, incidentally, when Congress was going after the issue of torture is, at the very least, highly suspicious.

SIMON: Meanwhile in Iraq, the situation seems to have improved enough for Vice President Cheney to declare that the country may be self-governing by 2009. In recent months, the administration had just said it would be a long, hard slog. What do you make of that statement this week?

SCHORR: Well, they're trying to emphasize the improbable side. General David Petraeus was in Iraq this week also saying that a lot of things are going well, at least militarily, and he continues to insist, which Cheney doesn't, that it is very, very bad that they don't seem to be able to get their political structure in order. They desperately need to get an agreement on the division of oil revenues, which they haven't yet done, and if that goes on for very long, the whole thing could, at some point, simply collapse into a series of civil wars. And yet fewer attacks, fewer people are being killed, but that's just for the moment.

SIMON: Howard Krongard, the State Department inspector general who'd been accused of impeding a Justice Department investigation of Blackwater, resigned on Friday. He got into some trouble after it was revealed that his brother was a Blackwater adviser, which Mr. Krongard insists he didn't know about. How does this news affect the administration and the investigation?

SCHORR: Well, Scott, as scandal goes in this Capitol, this is a very piddling little scandal. He was supposed to be investigating the Blackwater and whether they had killed people unnecessarily, and it turns out that he had a brother who was on the board of advisers of that same company. It has not been shown, not even alleged that they did anything together; did anything wrong. I must say I could settle for better scandals.

SIMON: Just a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. On the Republican side a new leader in the Iowa polls, and that's former Governor Mike Huckabee.

SCHORR: Well, it's quite amazing, you know, in second place, not only in the national polls as well after Giuliani. I would not have expected it, and I guess not many people did. But he has a particular kind of appeal to religious conservatives, and that's enough to pile up a certain number of votes. I'm sure he'll be up and down as we will see in the coming couple of weeks, but for the moment, it's a very interesting development.

SIMON: Governor Mitt Romney made a speech to say this week that he's a man of faith. He's, of course, a Mormon, but he's not a religious leader, and that if he were president, the oath he took to the Constitution would supersede his faith. What political effect do you think Governor Romney's speech...

SCHORR: Well, he was clearly trying to do what John Kennedy did back in 1960 during the campaign when he's saying I'm a Catholic, but the Catholics were not - have any control of what happens in my White House. And there was an appeal for an understanding for toleration of different kinds of religious experience. However, he didn't extend the same kind of tolerance to understanding that non- believers here say they'll take any kind of Christianity. Well, that's nice.

SIMON: Democratic side - the race seems to be tightening. Senator Clinton's lead in the polls has declined his week; maybe the most popular human being in the America, Oprah Winfrey, goes on the stump for Senator Obama.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: Is her popularity a thing that can translate into votes?

SCHORR: However popular she is - and she is very popular - whether that can transfer itself into votes, I'd be fascinated to see how that turns out.

SIMON: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr, thank you.

SCHORR: Thank you.

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