CNN PRESENTS: "Dead Wrong"
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CNN PRESENTS: "Dead Wrong"
Submitted by jonschwarz on Mon, 2005-08-22 06:57. Media

Sunday, August 21, 2005

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the central pillar in the argument for preemptive war.

RICHARD CHENEY, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

ENSOR: The United States put its credibility on the line.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

ENSOR: But much of that intelligence turned out to be wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the lowest point in my life. I wish I had not been involved.

ENSOR: Tonight, an inside look at what went wrong and why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is to blame? No question, it's the intelligence community. We did it to ourselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem is the White House didn't go to the CIA and say, tell me the truth, it said give me ammunition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't afford to be wrong a second time. How many people in the world are going to believe us when we say it's a slam dunk, Iran has nuclear weapons?

ENSOR (on camera): "Dead wrong." That's how the commission appointed by President Bush describes U.S. intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq War. Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm David Ensor.

Despite public warnings before the war, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. But the commission's searing report left unanswered a critical question. Should anyone be held accountable?

Tonight, we go behind the scenes in search of answer and for the first time we hear from key players, on camera and on the record, who were there when some of the mistakes were made.

(voice-over): In early 2001, George W. Bush, urged by his father, who had been a director of central intelligence, keeps George Tenet in charge of the CIA. The new president is applauded for putting the agency above politics. And Tenet, who was appointed by Bill Clinton, becomes the first CIA director in more than three decades to survive a change of party in the White House.

But theirs will be a fateful relationship. The president will take the country to war, a decision he will justify using intelligence produced by Tenet's CIA.

In 2005, as the Iraq War entered its third year, the top U.S. weapons hunter ended his search. Case closed. No weapons of mass destruction have been found.

The harm done to American credibility by our all too public intelligence failings in Iraq, reports the commission appointed by the president to investigate the failures, will take years to undo.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: To win the war on terror, we will correct what needs to be fixed.

ENSOR: The commission found no sign that the evidence had been shaped by political pressure, it was simply wrong.

BUSH: The central conclusion is one that I share, America's intelligence community needs fundamental change.

ENSOR: But like earlier congressional investigations, the president's commission looked only at the intelligence, not how the commander-in-chief and his top aides used it to make the case for war.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Did this commission not ask the tough questions? Did they not challenge some of these assumptions? And doesn't ultimate responsibility rest with the president of the United States?

JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN, COMMISSIONER: We had discussions with the president. We didn't interview the president, nor did we interview the vice president.

ENSOR: So what may be the last official review of how the mistakes were made gives policymakers a pass.

SILBERMAN: Our job was to look at the intelligence that came from the intelligence community.

ENSOR: The commission's 600 page report directs most of its fire at the Central Intelligence Agency, starting at the top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Tenet, would you stand and raise your right hand.

ENSOR: When he was named director of central intelligence in 1997, George Tenet was the fifth DCI in six years. He promised to tell truth to power.

GEORGE TENET, FORMER DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE: To the president and all those who rely on our nation's intelligence capabilities, I will deliver intelligence that is clear and objective and does not pull punches. To the Congress ...

ENSOR: Tenet inherited an agency grappling with changing threats in a post Cold War world. And still coming to grips with the fact that it had missed Saddam Hussein's push to build a nuclear weapon in the months before the Gulf War.

After Saddam's defeat, United Nations inspectors investigated and destroyed his nuclear program, along with most of his chemical and biological weapons.

But when they departed in 1998, the U.S. lost its window into Iraq.

Iraq was not the only intelligence black hole.

The CIA chief had warned urgently and often that a terror attack was coming, but the intelligence community had no idea when or where. In the days after what some labeled the greatest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor, there were calls for George Tenet's resignation.

But during a morale-boosting visit to the CIA, President Bush will make clear that as the United States launches its war on terror, he wants George Tenet at his side.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, CIA ANALYST: The CIA is, at the end of the day, the peculiar instrument of the executive branch and the president.

ENSOR: Michael Scheuer was a long time CIA analyst who wrote a book under the pseudonym "Anonymous," critical of CIA leadership in the war on terror.

SCHEUER: But under Mr. Tenet it became very much focused on the president. He was called the "First Customer" and clearly became the be all and end all of our efforts.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE CIA: There is always a danger in the intelligence business of getting too close to the policymaker.

ENSOR: John McLaughlin was Tenet's second in command. He is now a CNN analyst.

MCLAUGHLIN: But if you aren't close enough to understand what they're thinking and how they're operating and what their requirements are, you're not going to serve them well.

ENSOR: The day after the towers fall, attention is focused on launching an attack on al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan, but inside the White House sites are also set on another target, Iraq.

In the spring of 2002, Vice President Cheney, who had been secretary of defense when the U.S. discovered Saddam's WMD programs in 1991, travels from the White House to CIA headquarters in Virginia. He beings to press analysts on the intelligence assembly line.

JAMES PAVITT, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS: Policymakers love intelligence when it supports their policy and they have difficulty with intelligence when it does not.

ENSOR: James Pavitt was chief of the CIA's cover spying operations.

PAVITT: The role of the intelligence officer is to produce the intelligence and to objectively and honestly table it. If pushed, now are you sure that's right? That's fine, there's nothing wrong with that.

ENSOR: Robert Baer, a legendary CIA field officer served most of his 21 year career in the Middle East. He left the agency in 1997.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I think Cheney, as far as I can reconstruct this, everybody knows that Saddam's got weapons of mass destruction. The French do, the British do, even the Russians thought he did. Tell us what's your best stuff.

ENSOR: The overwhelming Washington consensus was that Saddam would not have abandoned his drive for weapons of mass destruction.

PAVITT: And there was a whole panoply of reasons to believe that was the case. There are not many countries in the world that have used weapons of mass destruction on their own people. Iraqis did.

ENSOR: At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sets up a special office to provide him with alternative intelligence analysis, focusing on a possible link between Saddam and al Qaeda. The Pentagon unit is not mentioned by the president's commission.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They even briefed their findings to the community and the community would come back and say, wait a second, you don't know what you're talking about. That's garbage. That's misleading, that misrepresents.

ENSOR: Larry Johnson was a counterterrorism official in the State Department and the CIA before leaving government in 1993.

JOHNSON: And then they would take the same brief or an even more extreme version and brief it directly to people like the vice president.

ENSOR: The spies called it cherry-picking, choosing scraps of intelligence to prove a worst-case scenario.

July 23rd, a senior British intelligence officials briefs Prime Minister Tony Blair on his recent discussions in Washington. According to notes on the Downing Street briefing, the MI6 chief reported that President Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action. The intelligence and facts, he said, "were being fixed around the policy."

The White House declined interview requests for this report. President Bush addressed the memo at a recent news conference with Blair.

BUSH: Somebody said, well, we had made up our mind to go -- to use military force to deal with Saddam. There is nothing farther from the truth. My conversation with the prime minister was how could we do this peacefully.

ENSOR: But in the summer of 2002, the White House Iraq Group, WHIG, had quietly begun a campaign to build support for war. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes and the chiefs of staff to both the president and the vice president planned strategy in weekly meetings.

CHENEY: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

ENSOR: Late August, vice president Cheney takes the lead in public, escalating the rhetoric against Saddam.

CHENEY: The Iraq regime has, in fact, been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.

GREG THIELMANN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That speech it seemed to me was basically a declaration of war speech.

ENSOR: Greg Thielmann was in charge of monitoring WMD at the State Department's bureau of intelligence.

THEILMANN: That's when I, for the first time, became really alarmed about where we were going on this.

CHENEY: But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

ENSOR: The CIA has no new proven evidence to support the vice president's claims.

MCLAUGHLIN: We did not clear that particular speech. As controversy developed in the course of debate over Iraq, we began to clear speeches later, but at that point we were not clearing speeches like that.

ENSOR: By September, the Pentagon has quietly positioned forces in countries around the Persian Gulf. The United States will be ready to move against Saddam in as little as 60 days.

SHEUER: There was just a resignation within the agency that we were going to war against Iraq and it didn't make any difference what the analysis was or what kind of objections or countervailing forces there were to an invasion. We were going to war.

ENSOR: Intelligence analysts worked in an environment, the president's commission reports, that did not encourage skepticism. It is the single, brief description of Washington in 2002 when the intelligence mistakes were made.

ENSOR: Early every morning, the president of the United States received a super secret briefing from the CIA, the only agency in the intelligence community that answered directly to him.

George Tenet's plainspoken style appealed to the new president, so Bush insisted Tenet brief him face to face.

Some of the CIA's briefings on Iraq begin to rely on one analyst, an engineer with limited nuclear weapons experience, known only as Joe T. He believed he had found the smoking gun. Saddam was buying high strength aluminum tubes that Joe T. insists are meant for centrifuges to enrich uranium.

THIELMANN: Of all the pieces of evidence, this was potentially the most damning, would be the kind of thing, through uranium enrichment, get enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

ENSOR: The three feet by three inch tubes are the only piece of physical evidence that might suggest a bomb building program.

THIELMANN: We were really agnostic at the beginning of it but we listened to the experts and more and more evidence came in that told us, no, this can't be true.

ENSOR: Nuclear experts at the Department of Energy argued the tubes are the wrong size and material for use in centrifuges but exactly right for rocket casings. They called Joe T.'s reasoning improbably.

CARL FORD, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Why would you immediately jump to the conclusion that these were for their nuclear program?

ENSOR: Carl Ford was assistant secretary of state in charge of the department's bureau of intelligence.

FORD: Once an analyst starts believing their own work and quits doubting themselves and starts saying, I'm going to prove to you that they've got nuclear weapons, watch out. Be on your alert.

ENSOR: On Sunday, September 8th, the lead story in the "New York Times" quotes anonymous officials who maintain the tubes are intended for enriching uranium. "The first sign of a smoking gun," the unnamed officials argue, "may be a mushroom cloud."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would call it official leaking because I think these were authorized conversations between the press and members of the intelligence community that further misreported the nature of the intelligence community's disagreement on this issue.

ENSOR: Some top officials had been advised of the sharp disagreement, but in coordinated appearances on the Sunday talk shows, the administration reveals no doubts.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: High quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.

CHENEY: I do know with absolutely certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Imagine a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction.

RICE: We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

RAND BEERS, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: As they embellished what the intelligence community was prepared to say and as the press reported that information, it began to acquire its own sense of truth and reality.

ENSOR: Rand Beers will resign his White House post and later work against the reelection of President Bush.

The nuclear menace from Iraq has been planted in the public's mind. Rumsfeld's Pentagon unit pushes a second threat, a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

SHEURER: Mr. Tenet, to his credit, had us go back through CIA files and we went back for almost 10 years, reviewed nearly 20,000 documents, which came to 65,000 pages or more and could find no connection in the terms of a state sponsored relationship with Iraq. I believe Mr. Tenet took it downtown, but it apparently didn't have any impact.

RICE: Clearly, there are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented. There clearly is testimony that some of these contacts have been important contacts and there's

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