MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Bob Woodward is in a familiar place. The author and Washington Post editor is again at the center of the national political conversation because of his latest book about the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. The book is called State of Denial. It's an account of a White House that Woodward says has become increasingly divided and insular, an administration that tries to shield the truth about the deteriorating situation in Iraq from the public and lawmakers.
NORRIS: Bob Woodward is with us in the studio. Thanks so much for coming in.
Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, State of Denial): Thank you.
NORRIS: I'd like to begin with this July 10 meeting from the year 2001 in the news today. According to your book, Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Advisor, met with then CIA Director George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black. Could you just give us a brief description of that meeting, what was going on?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, Tenet and Black felt that there was a lot of intelligence in the system that suggested al-Qaida was going to attack somewhere. And they went to see her and they laid out that, you know, they felt this was strategic warning, in other words, al-Qaida is coming but missing was when, how, where. And they felt they kind of got the brush-off from Rice.
Her position, I think, as she repeated today was, you know, what do you do without the who, where, when? And there was a covert action plan in the works, as we know, to go after al-Qaida. So it's two different views of the same event but it locked very much in the mind particularly of Cofer Black, who was the counterterrorism expert. He said later we did everything but pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.
NORRIS: Which is curious given Condoleezza Rice's statements today. She has a very different characterization of this. She says she doesn't recall Tenet warning her about an impending al-Qaida attack and she says that she would, quote, “remember” that there was about to be an attack in the United States and she said that, quote, “the idea that I would somehow have ignored that warning I find incomprehensible.” What do you make of that?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, there were lots of warnings. They were going on all the time and as she said, I think, today that Tenet was continually giving her warnings. I have the best account I could get. I understand there's more information that's going to come out about this and people are looking into it, including the 9/11 Commission, which did not mention it in its report.
It would not be the first time there was a meeting in Washington where one group of people felt it meant the following and another group or an individual felt it meant something completely different.
NORRIS: The White House has taken umbrage with this book. They've issued their own list of nits regarding State of Denial and they said that you got it wrong on several fronts. And one of the things that they -
Mr. WOODWARD: Well they call them myths, which is a very interesting formulation.
NORRIS: Myth? The use of that word?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, it's not a denial. It says there's a myth.
NORRIS: Well one of the myths that they note is the charge that the administration consistently withheld troubling news about Iraq from the public and also from lawmakers here in Washington, D.C. You say that the White House avoided telling the truth. Are you saying that they've lied to the public and to fellow lawmakers?
Mr. WOODWARD: It's not a word I use. What I do is set out what's in the secret reports and what was said publicly and there's a contradiction. The president last spring was saying the terrorists are in retreat. That means that we're winning. They're getting less violent, or somehow they're retreating. And the secret reports around the same time say not only is it going to continue, the level of violence in Iraq, but it's going to get worse in 2007.
NORRIS: You're talking about May 2006 now?
Mr. WOODWARD: That's correct, yes. And that is a disparity.
NORRIS: The White House came back and said that yes, the president did repeatedly warn the public though that there's tough going, that this is a -
Mr. WOODWARD: But there's a difference between saying tough going and they're in retreat. Tough going means just what it says. Retreat means just what it says. And they're not the same. And they quote extensively from his Chicago speech where he did say it was hard, but they leave out the quote which he said that the terrorists are in retreat. Well, secret intelligence says the exact opposite.
NORRIS: You've mentioned that there are things that you learned in the course of reporting this book that you wish you would have known earlier. What things, what are you talking about?
Mr. WOODWARD: You don't wanna get me going.
NORRIS: I put the nickel in. So let's hear.
Mr. WOODWARD: Okay, good. I mean, first of all, my assistant, Bill Murphy, got the war diary of General Spider Marks. Before the invasion, he was the one who had the responsibility for finding weapons of mass destruction. And the war diary shows that General Marks had all kinds of doubts about whether WMD was in specific places.
He told his superior, four star generals, that he could not prove that WMD existed anyplace. In the reporting on this, it turns out that Don Rumsfeld, also in October '02, wrote a secret memo listing the 29 things that could go wrong in Iraq. And item 13 is we may not find weapons of mass destruction on th ground.
So here we have the guy at the top and the general in charge of intelligence having the same doubts. And they never married up. There was a not a system to test whether all of the alleged evidence we had about WMD was true. And you know, that was the reason for going to war.
Now I wish I'd known thatin October of 2002. Unfortunately, I didn't.
NORRIS: Bob, thank you for coming in.
Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you.
NORRIS: Bob Woodward. His latest book is called State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.