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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Weapons Hunt: The Search Continues

Aired June 20, 2003 - 19:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We told you a little earlier about the search for Saddam Hussein. There is, of course, another hunt also going to in Iraq, a search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Now, no weapons have turned up so far and some Bush administration critics are going as far as suggesting the weapons simply are not there. Others observers insist the evidence will be found.

Ken Pollack is a CNN analyst and research director at the Savin Center for Middle East Policy.

Ken, thanks for being with us. If there are weapons of mass destruction, why were unconventional weapons not used against coalition forces?

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well, I'll say, Anderson, I think that that really is the heart of the mystery.

I think that there are a whole bunch of plausible scenarios out there. It may be that Saddam absolutely was convinced that the United States wouldn't invade and there's some evidence to suggest that. It may be that U.S. forces got to Baghdad much faster, before Saddam was able to order the use or the dissemination, deployment of those weapons.

There are a variety of different reason reasons and the honest answer is we just don't know at this point in time. But I will say that that fact alone does contradict some of the intelligence that was being put out, that was being leaked by the U.S. government before the war indicating that the Iraqis had already deployed weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological rounds to certain Republican guard divisions. I think we can safely say that that was proven to be false.

COOPER: There has been so much focus in the last couple of weeks about how the intelligence was interpreted, was it good intelligence, and even if it was good intelligence, was it misused, was it politicized,

In an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" today you write -- I'm going to put on the screen -- you say -- quote -- "Distressingly, there seems to be more than a little truth to the claims that some members of the administration, skewed, exaggerated and even distorted raw intelligence to coax the American people and reluctant allies into going to war against Iraq this year."

And in the piece, you gone to talk about some analysts that you have been in contact with who were sort of browbeat and pressured into perhaps altering some of the intelligence.

POLLACK: Right.

Let me start by saying that I do believe that there was a fundamentally sound case. We saw evidence for 12 years, very strongly indicating that the Iraqis did have prohibitive programs. But that said, what I heard from friends as a former CIA analyst, as a former NSC officials what I heard from friends throughout the government was that there were elements of the Bush administration, and I don't think it was the entire administration, but there were certainly members of the Bush administration who absolutely were determined to make the case, not only that Saddam Hussein was a threat, but that he was so grave a threat that the United States had to go to war with him this year.

And as a result, they used a lot of pressure on the intelligence analysts to try to get them to produce analysis that would basically accord with what they wanted to do for their own political reasons.

COOPER: But you fundamentally still believe that the intelligence was there or at least that everyone accepted, not just you, as not just the Bush administration, but other government, the United Nations, accepted that there were weapons of mass destruction?

POLLACK: That's right. I mean, this is the fundamental point is that while it does seem to be true and of course, I don't have hard proof. I simply have what people told me and what I'm reading in the newspapers and other things I'm hearing.

While it does seem that members of the Bush administration did exaggerate some of the intelligence, that shouldn't call into question the fundamental intelligence portrait that was being painted, which was that for 12 years, not just the United States, but the U.N. inspectors and basically every other country on Earth which had some independent capability to collect against Iraq were absolutely convinced that the Iraqis had a weapons of mass destruction program and that it was quite an aggressive one.

COOPER: And in the piece you go on -- it's quite interesting. You go into quite some detail about how one theory may be that they got rid of a lot of the weapons but kept the means of production so that they could sort of reconstitute it later on at the urging of Saddam Hussein whenever he chose to do that.

For you, the vital point and the point you end with in the piece today, I'd like you to end with today is that you think the most important thing is that the focus not be taken out off the reconstruction of Iraq?

POLLACK: Right.

I'm not suggesting that the question of weapons of mass destruction is unimportant. I don't believe that. I believe that the weapons of mass destruction debate is an important one and I think that the hunt for them is an important one. But at the same time, the most important thing that the United States is doing right now with Iraq is the reconstruction of that country. If we get that right, then in all honesty, I think that the questions about the weapons of mass destruction won't necessarily go away, but they will become secondary issues.

If we get the reconstruction wrong, it doesn't matter what the basis for this war, how justified it will be because we're going to cause such a disaster that we're going to wind up paying for it for many years to come.

COOPER: All right. Kenneth Pollack, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much.

POLLACK: Thank you, Anderson.

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