The Plame Case and the Argument for War in Iraq

Steve Inskeep talks to former weapons inspector David Kay about how the CIA-leak investigation is related to the Bush administration's initial argument for war in Iraq. The White House claimed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

People in Washington are still waiting for any news from the CIA leak investigation. Top advisers to President Bush and Vice President Cheney face a grand jury probe into whether they revealed a covert officer's name. This morning we're examining the way that story relates to the justification for the war and the reality of what that war has become. We turn first to the outing of Valerie Plame. Reporters were told her name in the summer of 2003, around the time her husband attacked the Bush administration in an Op-Ed article. Her husband was a former diplomat, Joseph Wilson.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

To review some of the background, we've contacted David Kay. He's the American weapons inspector who concluded that there was no evidence of an Iraqi weapons program.

Mr. Kay, thanks for joining us.

Mr. DAVID KAY (Former Weapons Inspector): Happy to be with you.

INSKEEP: Can you just first off remind us of the mission before the war in Iraq that got Ambassador Joseph Wilson involved in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. KAY: Well, apparently there was a report from foreign intelligence sources, as I understand, that the Iraqis had pursued the purchase of uranium ore from Niger. Now we know that Iraqis had indeed procured uranium from Niger during the 1980s, and so the decision was made to send former Ambassador Wilson to see what he could gather on the ground.

INSKEEP: And he didn't find anything, anything incriminating.

Mr. KAY: He reported back that he found no evidence that this was, in fact, a truthful report.

INSKEEP: So in spite of that, President Bush ends up mentioning this search for uranium. Other administration officials allude to a search for uranium, as they justify the war against Saddam Hussein.

Mr. KAY: Well, they do, but the president cited a British intelligence report as the basis of it, not a CIA report. And I should add on this point that until the day I resigned, the British maintained that, in fact, there was evidence of a purchase from Niger. I never found that evidence. In fact, Ambassador Wilson's report had essentially no primary new evidence. In fact, the documents that it's based on are such crude forgeries it's hard to imagine that anyone would ever treat them seriously, based on just those documents.

INSKEEP: Well, how do you see Joseph Wilson's mission and this leak case fitting into our understanding of the debate over weapons of mass destruction before the war?

Mr. KAY: It was widely believed that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. This was the conclusion, not only of the US intelligence community, it was the conclusion of the British intelligence community, the French, Germans. So I think the larger issue is: Why did we get it so wrong? You know, if anyone in the administration did take a conscious decision to discredit Wilson, they made something serious that, in fact, was in--trivial and a side show to the broader issue of the failure of the intelligence community to get it right.

INSKEEP: How high were the stakes in that period, in 2003, as people were beginning the debate over whether anything had been found or whether the war was justified?

Mr. KAY: Well, the stakes were quite high. Everyone was willing to assert that we went to war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Subsequently, other arguments have come to the fore. But stakes were very high.

INSKEEP: Does it matter that some of the same people who were involved in making the case for war that turned out to be erroneous are people who have turned up as being involved in this investigation of the leaking of the name after the war?

Mr. KAY: Well, I think it certainly leads, at least me, to conclude that their judgment was flawed on small issues, as well as large issues. I do not understand how anyone could have concluded that it was worth running the risk of disclosing a secret intelligence officer to discredit a messenger about a deal that they knew by that point, in fact, had never taken place.

INSKEEP: David Kay was the head of the US effort to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the war.

Mr. Kay, thanks very much.

Mr. KAY: OK. Thank you.

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