LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Did Bush Administration Trump Up WMD Charges?
Aired June 6, 2003 - 19:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: But first, the increasingly heated debate over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has taken a new turn following the disclosure of a Pentagon report written last year.
Now, administration critics say the report is evidence the White House exaggerated the Iraqi threat. U.S. officials say it's nothing of the sort.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr obtained a summary of the report and she brings us up to date.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors returned to Iraq, to check looted nuclear facilities, in Washington the political storm about what top Bush administration officials knew and when they knew it about Iraq's weapons program continued to escalate.
A one-page summary of a classified Defense Intelligence Agency September 2002 report on Iraq had a stunning revelation. Just as the administration was saying Iraq posed a threat, the DIA was saying this: "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has, or will, establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities."
On Capitol Hill, DIA director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, said the agency had always believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but could not come to a definitive conclusion on key facts.
VICE ADMIRAL LOWELL JACOBY, DIA DIRECTOR: 2002, in September, we could not reliably pin down for somebody who was doing contingency planning, specific facilities, locations, or production that was underway at a specific location at that point in time.
STARR: The report does have contradictions. It questioned whether Iraq could produce large amounts of nerve agent, saying most facilities had been destroyed in previous U.S. attacks.
The DIA said Iraq probably had chemical munitions, but said the agency had no direct information on that point.
And while the report says Iraq had biological weapons, the size, nature and condition of the biological stockpile is unknown.
A senior administration official continued to insist that the intelligence was solid before the war. Telling CNN, "I take strong exception to any suggestion or conclusion that the Bush administration's decision to go to war is based on unreliable intelligence."
The DIA said there was plenty to worry about. Iraq last year was rebuilding some chemical weapons plant under the guise of being industrial facilities. And, in what appears to contradict other portions of the report, the DIA noted unusual munitions transfer activity last year, suggesting Iraq was distributing chemical weapons in preparation for an anticipated U.S. attack.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
COOPER: Well, both before and after the war in Iraq, the Bush administration made much of the allegations Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have sources who tell us he has recently authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn't be passing out the orders if he didn't have the weapons or the intent to use them.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about. And is about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, did the Bush administration exaggerate claims about weapons of mass destruction to build support for the war? That is the question.
We have two guests to discuss it. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, he joins us from Albany, New York. Also former assistant secretary of defense, Dick Gaffney, he's president of the Center for Security Policy. He is in Washington.
Before we go big picture, I want to focus on the DIA report with both of you. Frank, I want to start off with you. Briefly, your take. Does this DIA report, is it an indictment, if you will, of the U.S. administration, the Bush administration?
FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: Candidly, I haven't had a chance to read the report. I think what your set-up piece, what Barbara suggests is that there's a lot of information in there. Some of it is contradictory, and all of it taken together is the kind of information that most of the time policymakers have to deal with. They have to make independent judgments based on the information that is available, and in a closed society like Saddam's it's less than perfect.
I think basically this is not a smoking gun that undermines the administration's position.
GAFFNEY: It is a piece of evidence that is of interest, particularly in the larger picture and larger context.
COOPER: Understand your perspective. Let's go to Scott Ritter. Scott, your thoughts?
SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, what I can note is that the U.S. intelligence community's assessments concerning Iraq's capability up through 1998, when I was intimately familiar with it, did not reflect the kind of alarmist interpretations that the Bush administration has put on this intelligence.
Clearly, something has happened since 1998 up until 2002 when the president started aggressively making the case for war. And it wasn't an increase in the quality of intelligence. It was, I think, a predisposition towards war with Iraq, which required the Bush administration to cherry pick intelligence that sustained their unsustained allegations that Iraq had these weapons.
COOPER: OK. Let me stop you there.
Frank Gaffney, now, this report, this DIA report that Barbara Starr was referencing, that she obtained an unclassified version of, comes on the same week that there is this report from the "U.S. News & World Report" which basically gave a behind-the-scenes picture of Colin Powell making his presentation to the U.N.
In that, it paints a picture of information coming from the White House, in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney's office to Colin Powell, much of which Colin Powell, according to this "U.S. News and World Report," you know, threw up in the aid and said, "This is bull."
So, in the larger picture, not just the DIA report, but is there a picture emerging that is of any concern to you that they were hand- picking the intelligence that they used?
GAFFNEY: You know, I just have to go back to something Scott just said. He said himself, in testimony to the Senate, that Iraq was not disarmed and remained an ugly threat. Now, I think that's the kind of view that was truly in the Clinton administration, it was true in the Bush administration before September 11.
What I think you saw, in Vice President Cheney's office, at the Defense Department and the CIA, and the State Department, after September 11 was a perception that this guy's chemical and biological weapons and his connivance and collaboration with terrorist organizations gave rise to a threat that could not be tolerated.
And that's what I think moved things into a more, if you wish, dramatic context than we saw before. And involved these senior policymakers in a very direct and personal way.
COOPER: Scott, your final thought?
RITTER: Well, again, I think what we're seeing here is the culmination of the reality, as, you know, as bad as it is to those who support the Bush administration, that they put forward a misrepresentation of the threat posed by Iraq.
Clearly Iraq doesn't have the weapons they claim they had. Clearly Iraq didn't have the links to international terror that they claimed they have. There isn't a threat to sustain war with Iraq. And the Bush administration has a lot to account for. And I certainly hope that Congress and the American people hold them to account.
COOPER: All right; we're going to have to leave it there. I appreciate you joining us. Scott Ritter, Frank Gaffney, thank you very much.
GAFFNEY: Thank you.
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