Intelligence Report Causes Political Tussle in Washington
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
A leaked national intelligence report that stated that the war in Iraq was breeding terrorists is causing all sorts of controversy in the nation's capital. It is after all a month to go before the midterm elections. On Wednesday, President Bush made certain portions of the report public, but he refused to release the full 2006 National Intelligence Estimate.
Democrats argue conclusions of the assessment on terrorism are grim, and they say that's why the Bush administration is opting not to release the study until after the midterm elections.
Today, we explore both sides. On the phone from Los Angeles is syndicated columnist Robert Scheer. He's editor in chief of Truthdig.com and author of the book, Plain President. Mr. Scheer, good to have you on the program.
Mr. ROBERT SCHEER (Editor in chief, Truthdig.com; Author, Plain President): Good to be here.
CHIDEYA: And on the line from Washington D.C. is Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush and former deputy policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. He's author of the book, Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's West Wing. Mr. Christie, nice to have you as well.
Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Former Special Assistant to President Bush): Nice to join you. Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So let's start with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments yesterday. They were his first extensive remarks about the U.S. intelligence report. He told reporters at a NATO meeting that in general the value of intelligence reports can be uneven and sometimes it's just flat wrong. That's his quote. And he went on to say the implications is that if you stop killing or capturing people who are trying to kill you then therefore the world would be a better place is obviously nonsensical.
Okay, you have to take out your decoder ring for me, Ron. From what I understand, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is saying, well, we can't just stop even if things are going wrong.
Mr. CHRISTIE: I absolutely agree with the defense secretary. He hit it right on the mark. Intelligence is an imprecise business. It's a combination of using human intelligence assets around the world, signal intelligence and other means and methods for gathering information to protect the country.
However, it is an imprecise science. It is an organization and a gathering of individuals of the CIA and other intelligence-gathering entities in the United States and abroad that tries to make sense, that tries to uncover flaws as the country and tries to - as you use the decoder ring reference - tries to make sense of all the different assets and streams of information that are coming in.
But to say that we should stop or to suggest that we should just pull our oars out of the water and not try to either capture or eliminate those terrorists who are trying to harm a country I think would send us down a very dangerous path.
CHIDEYA: But, Robert, if intelligence is not that useful, then why do we even bother paying attention to these reports?
Mr. SCHEER: I didn't say it's not useful, my goodness. What you're talking about here is the consensus analysis of 16 separate intelligence agencies throughout the government, information gathered - brought together in a consensus analysis by Negroponte, the hawkish, controversial appointee of the Bush administration. And what they concluded very clearly was that Iraq is the recruiting post for terrorists.
First of all, let's understand what we're talking about. This undifferentiated war and terror, which this administration is now (unintelligible) on its face. It takes Shiites and Sunnis. It takes secular and non-secular and religious. It takes Arab and non-Arab. The lump some, all together. And it says there's this undifferentiated boogeyman out there that we have to defeat everywhere.
In fact, all of the information that's come out, that's been leaked or incorporated in the 9/11 Commission Report, the two Senate Intelligence Committee reports, and now what we know from this on National Intelligence Estimate tells us some things very clearly: There was never any connection between the secular defanged leader of Iraq and bin Laden until after the U.S. invaded Iraq.
CHIDEYA: Let's just break it down briefly. Ron, what do you understand that this report says? Is it all a debate over the meaning of the words?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, let me just say for a quick moment that we then have to be discussing the National Intelligence Estimate that was illegally leaked to the press. Someone for a politically motivated reason disclosed a portion of a National Intelligence Estimate. That president unfortunately, to combat a leak, had to declassify certain aspects of the National Intelligence Estimate. But if you look at…
CHIDEYA: But wait. He only declassified, what I understand, are three pages out of 30-plus. So that can be seen also as opportunistic disclosure.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, some might perceive it as opportunistic disclosure. The fact of the matter is it would be unwise, foolish and dangerous for the president of the United States to declassify an entire report that gets into the means and methods and ways that we disseminate intelligence, who our human intelligence assets are and those who we have under surveillance. I think that would unwise.
But to answer your question very briefly, I think what the declassified portions have shown us is that our counter-terrorism efforts have actually seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida. The individuals over there are having a more difficult time hitting us with precision. And I think candidly, unlike what my colleague had suggested that Iraq (unintelligible) has gone over there has made the world a more dangerous place, I think what it continues to show is the United States continues to capture and eliminate very dangerous assets and we are slowly but surely prevailing in the war on terrorism.
CHIDEYA: Robert, what do you understand that all of these means because the whole report has not been disclosed yet?
Mr. SCHEER: Well, fortunately, people can go on the Internet. They can read the four pages that were released and it's, you know - what's truly frightening is the language used by this spokesman for this administration because facts are just turned upside down. I mean this report is devastating, as was the 9/11 Commission Report, as were the Senate Intelligence Committee reports. And by the way, National Intelligence Estimates do not reveal sources or endanger people's lives. They're to be shared with the Congress. This thing was delayed for over two years because the administration didn't like what the intelligence estimates was saying.
This administration doesn't care about the truth of the situation. A representative democracy requires an informed public. It certainly requires an informed Congress. And what's involved here - I mean just listen to what your guest said. He said this report shows we're winning the war in terror.
No, the report shows just the opposite. It shows that we have created in Iraq, which was a secular country opposed to this religious fanaticism, we have created in Iraq the main recruiting tool for international religious-fueled terrorism. By the way, one point I have…
CHIDEYA: Let's just. Let me - I have to go back to Ron now just to give you guys both some time. But, you know, as you were saying that there is a secular Iraq, you know, which many people have debated and many people have said, it's also true that, from what I understand, that a lot of Iraqis didn't like the president.
Now that was not stated as the reason for us going to war in Iraq. And, Ron, what I would ask you is having been so deep inside the White House, was it always made clear that we were going into Iraq to deal with al-Qaida or was it clear that we were going into Iraq to deal with Saddam Hussein?
Mr. CHRISTIE: For my assignment at the White House - and I spent the first three and a half years in the Bush White House - it was made very clear that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States and her allies. This is not the assessment of President Bush or Vice President Cheney or the defense secretary. This was the assessment of the United Nations repeatedly over a dozen years, that Iraq continue to defy the international community. That Iraq continued to defy repeated calls for opening up their weapons programs for making sure that they were not proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
And in the aftermath of 9/11, the president of the United States, in consultation and conjunction with his allies overseas, including our good friends Great Britain and Australia, made the determination that Iraq posed a very vital threat.
CHIDEYA: When you say that Iraq posed a vital threat, the threat was sold by the administration as an al-Qaida threat. Are you saying now that that was actually what was being spoken about in the White House?
Mr. CHRISTIE: No. I'm not being inconsistent with what I'm saying. I never said that what was being spoken in the White House was that we were going into Iraq for al-Qaida or we were going into Iraq to avenge 9/11. I made it clear that the determination was very clear on its face and the commentary was very clear that Iraq posed a threat to the United States as demonstrated by their continued defiance of the international community and their ability to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.
And the president of the United States took the best course that he felt necessary to protect this country.
CHIDEYA: Okay. Robert, you get the last question, and please be brief. What I want to ask you goes back to the role of the media. You were a columnist at the L.A. Times for many years. Now you have Truthdig.com, which is an independent outlet. How aggressive should or must the media be in taking documents which aren't even public? I mean is there any credence to Ron's claim that this was really a stolen document and shouldn't have been made public in the first place?
Mr. SCHEER: Well, we don't know how this document was revealed. I mean The New York Times quoted 12 different sources, people, pro-administration, inside, outside. This administration leaks like crazy when it wants to make its point. It uses classified information all the time to try to justify its run up for the war.
It is simply wrong, as your guest said, to say they didn't claim there was a connection between al-Qaida and going into Iraq. For God's sake, the U.N. inspectors were in Iraq. If weapons of mass destruction were what we were concerned about, we should've let them finish their work.
This administration claimed there was a pressing danger because of 9/11. That's why they went after Iraq. And to now turn around - it's Orwellian for someone who's in the administration to turn around now and say, oh we never claimed there was a connection between al-Qaida and Iraq (unintelligible) today.
CHIDEYA: But let me get back to my question. Is it always fair game to deal with documents of a sensitive nature?
Mr. SCHEER: The documents were released by people in the administration. And by the way, the National Intelligence Estimate is supposed to be made available to the representatives of the people. That's what he whole point is; it's to inform us. And we can't possibly make decisions about foreign policy and our security in a representative government if we're not given the information. It's the administration that is destroying the marketplace of free ideas and has - I would use the word - has been lying to us consistently.
And then to say that we can have a representative democracy and still have this kind of treachery on their part, I mean it's just a denial of what our whole system of government is supposed to be all about.
CHIDEYA: All right. I was supposed to be over, but, Ron, we heard the words lying and treachery. Briefly, what's your response?
Mr. CHRISTIE: That is so irresponsible for one who claims to seek the truth and look for the truth. He knows very well that that National Intelligence Estimate was leaked. It was improperly disclosed. And if that individual were found they would be arrested and prosecuted. It is irresponsible journalism to use classified information and there's not one scintilla of proof that this administration acted in a manner that was inconsistent with the truth.
It was a judgment call. But to say that there was treachery and lies involved -the moral outrage and indignation does not appear to be there when sensitive information is illegally disclosed. I just wonder where the consistency from those on the other side of the aisle.
CHIDEYA: All right. We could spend a lot more time with both of you, but we don't have it. So Ron Christie is a former special assistant to President Bush, former deputy policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, author of Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's West Wing. And Robert Scheer is editor-in-chief of Truthdig.com and author of Playing President. Thank you both.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Thank you.
Mr. SCHEER: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Coming up, two prominent black politicians back a Maryland senatorial candidate, who's white, versus his black Republican competitor. And how Hollywood depicts Africa. Is it more fiction than fact?
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