RE: Guests: Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS
Mon Oct 31, 2005 13:46

Transcript for April 10
Guests: Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS and Vice Chairman John Rockefeller
NBC News
Updated: 11:00 a.m. ET April 10, 2005



This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS at (202)885-4598, (Sundays: (202) 885-4200)


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Moderator/Host: Tim Russert, NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Last week, a scathing report from a presidential commission called prewar intelligence "dead wrong." Who is to blame? And what now? An exclusive interview with the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts and Democrat Jay Rockefeller.

Then Bob Dole, the former presidential candidate and Senate majority leader, has written a new book, "One Soldier's Story." Then we'll also look back at Senator Dole at his very first MEET THE PRESS appearance 33 years ago.

And the pope is laid to rest. What will be his legacy? And who will be his successor? Plus, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remains under fire. Is this a case of a liberal attack machine or a serious ethical violation? Our Roundtable, Kate O'Beirne of The National Review magazine and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post discuss these issues and more.

But, first, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission report on prewar intelligence. We are joined by the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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Senators, welcome both.

Let's go right to the report. This is the conclusion: "We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure. Its principal causes were the Intelligence Community's inability to collect good information about Iraq's WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions, rather than good evidence."

Senator Roberts, do you agree?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, (R-KS): Yes, I do. I think the commission did a good job. We had Judge Silverman and we had former Senator Robb before the committee along with other commission members. We explored not only their findings, which were by the way very duplicative, Jay, of what we found in our WMD inquiry or investigation about a year ago. And they filled in some of the gaps. More importantly, Tim, they enlisted 74 recommendations that we're going over very carefully on how can improve intelligence. I called it an assumption train back when we released our report and Jay had very similar comments. So I think this report really confirms what we found.

I think the good news is is that this was a commission that was asked for by the administration, and the president has agreed with this. And we're moving ahead with a director of national intelligence, our intelligence reform bill and both Jay and I feel that, you know, we learned our lesson. Our committee has now determined that we're not going to take any intelligence at face value, we're going to be very pro-active and very pre-emptive to look at the capabilities of the intelligence community on the tough threats that face our national security. It was a good report.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Rockefeller, Bob Woodward wrote a book called "Plan of Attack" and he captures a meeting December 21, 2002, when the director of the CIA and the deputy director are briefing the president. And he--this is his account. Bush turned to CIA Director George Tenet, "`I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?' From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw his arms in the air. `It's a slam dunk case!' the DCI said."

How did we get from slam dunk to dead wrong?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, (D-WV): Slam dunk was part of what led us to dead wrong. I mean, the point is that there's a critical point I think. You collect intelligence, you analyze intelligence and then you produce intelligence. And then there's this grand canyon and on the other side stand the policy- makers, I mean, the White House and the CDOD, etc. And there's meant to be a big vacuum between those two. In fact, there is not. And there is so-called use of intelligence by policy-makers or misuse of intelligence or hyping of intelligence or making policy statements before the intelligence has been fully explored, which, in fact, influences or pressures the intelligence makers. It's a small but very critical point. This commission, for example, did not have the authority to look into the use of intelligence, the hyping of intelligence, the misuse of intelligence, and thus half the report really has been left out.

MR. RUSSERT: It's interesting because The Washington Post did this summary of our intelligence. "Of all the claims U.S. intelligence made about Iraq's arsenal in the fall and winter of 2002, it was a handful of new charges that seemed the most significant: secret purchases of uranium from Africa, biological weapons being made in mobile laboratories, and pilotless planes that could disperse anthrax or sarin gas into the air above U.S. cities. By the time President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein of the deadly weapons he was allegedly trying to build, every piece of fresh evidence had been tested--and disproved--by U.N. inspectors according to [the WMD report] ... The work of the inspectors--who had extraordinary access during their three months in Iraq between November 2002 and March 2003--was routinely dismissed by the Bush administration and the intelligence community in the run-up to war, according to the commission ..."

Dismissed, and if you go back and read, Senator Roberts, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency, "After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."

The State Department in this dissent, in effect, to the National Intelligence Estimate, "The activities we have detected do not ... add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR (State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research) would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."

And Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, said this. He attacked the "spin and hype behind U.S. and British allegations of banned Iraqi weapons used to justify war against Saddam Hussein. Blix, who said ... he believe Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction 10 years ago, told BBC radio that Washington and London `over-interpreted' intelligence about Baghdad's weapons programs. Comparing them to medieval witch-hunters, he said the two countries convinced themselves on the basis of evidence that was later discredited ... `In the Middle Ages when people were convinced there were witches they certainly found them...' said Blix."

That goes to Senator Rockefeller's point. Was this information over-interpreted or shaped or molded by policy-makers?

SEN. ROBERTS: I don't think so. I know we have disagreement there in regards to what Jay has indicated. We agreed to take a look at the use of intelligence. We agreed to take a hard look at the statements made by the administration and then compare it to the matrix of intelligence, which we've done, and not only the administration, but all public officials. There were many very declarative and assertive statements that were wrong. They were based on intelligence that was not credible. What this report also says that they found no pressure to pressure any kind of--any kind of analysts.

Now, in 1991, David Kay, being one who was taking a look at the capability of Saddam Hussein, learned at that particular time that Saddam was about a year and a half away from a nuclear capability. Everybody scratched their head at that particular time and said, "Well, by golly, we're not going to let that happen again." About that time, I think this assumption train started, and you've indicated exactly what happened, not only was it a failure of U.S. intelligence, it was a failure of global intelligence, all of our allies, all of those agencies.

MR. RUSSERT: But the people who are criticized most...


MR. RUSSERT: ...Hans Blix, the weapons inspector, and Mr. ElBaradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency, were on the money. They were saying it didn't exist and they were being dismissed by our government.

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, not only were they being dismissed, but so was the Department of Energy, so was the State Department, so were other basic...


SEN. ROBERTS: ...intelligence collection people.

MR. RUSSERT: Why were they being dismissed?

SEN. ROBERTS: Because, as I said, it was a group think. It was an assumption train. Every intelligence agency, even the Russians, even the French, assumed that Saddam Hussein would have the WMD. So once we had found that out, then it was very difficult for the caveats, or what Jay and I call red-teaming people, to go in and say, "Challenge these things," you know, "take another look."

Basically what this report has done has duplicated the effort that we put forth in regards to the WMD investigation that we conducted. But again, you can look in the rear-view mirror with 20/20 hindsight and see all of the bad intelligence and the fact it wasn't credible and the fact that most of the statements made by members of Congress and the administration were based on that bad intelligence.

The good news is, is we're going to have a new director of national intelligence. We have an intelligence reform bill on the books. This committee, our committee, is going to take a very proactive stance. We've learned our lesson. We're not going to take any assumption by the intelligence community at face value. We are going to be--we're going to look at the capability of the intelligence community. Do we have the collection? Do we have the right analysis? Can we please come up with a consensus threat analysis to the policy-maker that makes sense before this happens, before you put forth a National Intelligence Estimate?

This is a bad news story. But I think we're headed in the right direction, more especially with accountability, with Porter Goss being the new director of the CIA, with the new national intelligence director, and we're going to have those hearings as of this week. So I think we're headed in a better direction than we were.

MR. RUSSERT: Six--in June of '03, President Bush was still saying, "We're going to find the weapons of mass destruction." Senator Rockefeller, why was Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei just dismissed when, in fact, their sense of what Saddam Hussein possessed seemed to be much more accurate than our own intelligence gathering?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: That is correct, and if you go back before Hans Blix to Ralph Ekeus, who was head of UNSCOM before that, the U.N. inspectors, his view generally was that the weapons of mass destruction that were left over in Iraq were the ones that he had prepared for the previous war against Iran for the previous 10 years, and that most of them were destroyed.

I mean, it's an extraordinary situation of failure, and it takes right back to the place where you were touching, and that is: Did the administration--had the administration made up its mind, which I believe, that it was going to go to war? I believe it made up its mind very shortly after the 9/11. Started with Afghanistan but quickly moved to planning for Iraq. They had made up their mind they were going to go to war. They saw this as an opportunity and something they needed to do. And then there was a whole series of settings, and not just of shaping of intelligence. The molding of American public opinion to make them more responsive to a decision which had already been made, but also pressure being put on analysts.

And let me just say that in--this is a very good study, what Pat and I agree on, this study. But it has a conflict in it. It says there wasn't any pressure put on analysts, but it--then later in a footnote it says that 7 percent of all of those people in WINPAC, which is kind of the weapons of mass destruction and the nuclear proliferation, and that kind of thing, in the CIA, felt that they had had to change their intelligence to suit the customer, i.e., the executive branch. Now, we can argue that one out, but the point is John Bolton and others clearly tried to exercise pressure, put pressure on George Tenet, told Pat Roberts and I that face-to-face...

MR. RUSSERT: That John Bolton put pressure?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: No, no, that the pressure was being put on his people, said it happens.

MR. RUSSERT: When was that?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: That was in an interview a long time ago. He also--the Kerr Commission...

MR. RUSSERT: Who was putting the pressure on him?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: That people were putting pressure on analysts. There wasn't at that time a specific person.

MR. RUSSERT: Oh, I see.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: It was just the pattern of pressure. And you've got to remember something. It's not: Do you write a different product as a result of the pressure? It's the fact the pressure was being put on whether or not you write a different product.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you vote to confirm John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: I will certainly not do that, no.

MR. RUSSERT: You will vote against him?


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Roberts, you mentioned your study with Senator Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That was phase one, which was the quality...


MR. RUSSERT: ...and quantity of the intelligence. And in July of 2004, let me show you a discussion that you and Senator Rockefeller had with the press.

(Videotape, July 9, 2004):

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: The central issue of how intelligence on Iraq was--in this senator's opinion, was exaggerated by the Bush administration officials, was relegated to that second phase as yet unbegun of the committee investigation.

SEN. ROBERTS: As Senator Rockefeller has alluded to, this is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out. And he has pointed out that has a top priority. It is one of my top priorities.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Two days later you were on MEET THE PRESS, both of you, and I asked you specifically about phase two of your investigation, looking into the shaping of intelligence, and you said this.

(Videotape, July 11, 2004):

SEN. ROBERTS: Even as I'm speaking, our staff is working on phase two and we will get it done.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: When will we see phase two of your investigation about the shaping or exaggeration of intelligence by policy-makers?

SEN. ROBERTS: I hope this doesn't take too long. There are three phases to phase two. One is to compare the public statements by the administration on all public officials, including the Congress, with the intelligence matrix that we have. Why did you say what you said in regards to some administration official, in regards to some policy-making? And you can go back over some declarative and aggressive statements. Also you can find the same people who are the very top critics of those comments making the same comments. And so you get down to: Did the intelligence--was it really credible? No. It was a mistake. That influenced the comments of the people concerned.

Now, we can put out 50 different statements by the administratio

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