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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired September 5, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine the major media coverage around the world.
It's been over four months and still no sign of those much-debated weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A story in "The Los Angeles Times" now says that the U.S. intelligence officials are growing increasingly frustrated and they are now looking at the possibility that they were duped by, quote, "bogus Iraqi defectors."

Sources tell "The Times" these defectors may have planted disinformation, misleading the West before the war.

Joining me now to discuss that, from Washington, D.C., Bob Grogin, national security correspondent for "The Los Angeles Times," who wrote the article, and in Baghdad, Entifadah Qanbar, a spokesman for the main opposition group in Iraq, the Iraqi National Congress.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining me.

This is a very serious development, Bob Grogin, what you're saying. Can you give us the extent of how worried the administration is and the extent of the investigation that you are talking about?

BOB GROGIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, the context for all of this is obviously since they haven't found any of the weapons they believed were there, as they're trying to figure out what went wrong. And they're looking at whether the intelligence itself was flawed, and if so, why.

And one of the avenues they're exploring is the question of defectors coming out and planting false information in the system, either sent out by Saddam's regime during the 1990's or just before the war, or people who were sent out and who were given false information, didn't realize it was false, and so they passed polygraphs and planted that information in the system, and it went up through the chain of command.

AMANPOUR: But, Bob, you know, for even still now, all these months later, the administration is steadfastly saying that there was no disinformation, that certainly they were not party to it, and that these weapons will be found.

What is going on inside? Are they really very concerned?

GROGIN: Well, they're going to issue a report, we think, within the next two or three weeks, from the Iraq Survey Group that will explain what they have found so far, and my information is that they have not found any actual weapons, certainly not on the levels that were announced in the State of the Union speech or in the other predictions before the war.

So the question is, why not? And they're concerned about that.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me turn to Entifadah Qanbar, in Baghdad. Very serious allegations and possibilities here that the U.S. administration was in effect duped into going to war. You represent the main interlocutor, if you like, in the exile community, between the exile community and the Pentagon.

This must be worrying for your group, for Ahmed Chalabi too, this investigation.

ENTIFADAH QANBAR, IRAQI NATL. CONGRESS: It was not, Christiane. Well, this investigation will make it more clear that the information that we provided was credible.

It's worth knowing that we provided only three defectors, and those three defectors, one of them was not -- the United States did not show interest. The other two, about the biological weapons, he's a construction engineer. In fact, he was my colleague when I served in the Iraqi Air Force. And the third person, about the mobile labs.

We did not take information from them or debrief them per se and give it to the United States. We provided the people to the United States and the United States took them in custody and they debriefed them. We did not basically tell them those have credible information or not.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, let's say that we take you on face value with those statements. Nonetheless, Ahmed Chalabi was the main source for "The New York Times" about weapons of mass destruction. Also the main source for persuading the U.S. administration that not only would they find weapons, but they would find a welcoming, pliant and supportive Iraq. That this was going to be essentially the cakewalk that some of the civilians in the Defense Department in the United States told the world that it would be.

Surely you must be concerned that some of those over-optimistic predictions to the United States were simply wrong.

QANBAR: We said that the Iraqi Army is not going to fight and it's going to go home. If you look at the number of POW's captured by the United States by the Iraqi Army, it's dismal compared to the large number of the Iraqi Army, which tells you clearly that the Iraqi Army did not fight and they went home, as we said.

The welcoming of the U.S. could have happened if it wasn't Saddam's men, the Fedayeen Saddam, amongst the people, who are terrifying people who are cooperating with the United States and the coalition in Basra and Nasiriya. Saddam did not have a plan to defend himself, but he has a very post-war and during-war plan to distract the world from what he is about to do, and we saw that in terrorist acts now happening.

We did not, for example, say the Iraqi Army is going to have a coup. We were opposed to the coup process. And the defectors which were sent by Saddam, which some of them went and said, "We are generals in the Iraqi Army, we are about to make a coup," those are the ones who did the damage, and the CIA is responsible for receiving those defectors.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Grogin, is that going to satisfy the investigators, that, hey, it wasn't us. It was these defectors who didn't know what was going on.

I mean, what do you make of what Mr. Qanbar is saying now?

GROGIN: Well, I don't think anyone is saying that Mr. Chalabi was the sole source of information on Iraq.

But nor I don't think is anyone suggesting that defectors were the soul source of intelligence before the war, and the investigation that's underway, and the reinterviewing of defectors, is part of a broader reexamination of the intelligence that led to the war. But they were just one small piece of that.

If you remember, when Secretary Powell went to the United Nations, he cited defectors, but he also cited satellite reports and other forms of intelligence gathering.

So it's a broader issue that's here, which is the question of why the intelligence itself seems to have been flawed.

AMANPOUR: So, why? Why did -- why was everybody then duped? The government, the intelligence, the press, the defectors. I mean, there's a big question here. What happened? There is no smoking gun yet.

GROGIN: Exactly. That's the question. We're all trying to figure it out.

AMANPOUR: Yes, well, let me ask you, Mr. Qanbar. Why, if Saddam Hussein did in fact not have a ready, capable WMD threat to go -- I'm not talking about programs. I'm talking about the weapons we were told that existed. If he did not have them, why did he simply resist to the very end and allow his country to be invaded?

QANBAR: Well, two things. I'd like to mention two things.

The 45-minute dossier and the Niger thing was not -- did not come from the INC, and you can check this out with intelligence sources.

The second thing, Saddam has -- we still believe that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. military, in spite of the large cache of conventional weapons, is still discovering new depots everyday. So that tells you in this vast country with thousands of hideouts Saddam had, there is a sophistication in how these weapons were hidden.

GROGIN: May I?

AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead, Bob. Last comment from you, because we're running out.

GROGIN: Yes, I think -- the way the thinking is going here is that Saddam was trying to bluff on all sides here. On one hand, he was trying to impress this neighbors, frighten the Iranians, on one side, and frighten the West, because the idea of his having weapons of mass destruction, to him, lent both prestige and a certain degree of deterrence.

On the other hand, he was planting false information, this idea that if you give information, the U.N. inspectors don't find it, then it sort of shows that the system isn't working and that sanctions might subsequently be lifted.

That's the way the thinking is going, that he was sort of playing -- trying to play a shell game on a lot of different levels, and in the end it caught up with him.

AMANPOUR: And caught up with the world. A shell game that led to a war, whose conclusion the jury is still out on.

Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Afghanistan, a country forgotten, we examine why this story is returning to the front pages all over again, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Remnants of an ousted regime attack U.S. forces and insecurity reigns across many part of the country. Sound familiar? Only this is not post- war Iraq, rather post-was Afghanistan, two years after the war there, after the fall of the Taliban.

This troubled country was supposed to be -- in fact, was -- the first point for the U.S. war on terror. But while the finish line remains as far away as ever, many in the media decided sometime ago that the story was over.

I've just returned from an alarming trip to Afghanistan, alarming because the dreaded Taliban are regrouping and, worse, Ron Moreau of "Newsweek" has just returned, and he reports that Osama bin Laden may be regrouping as well.

Ron joins me now, from the United States.

Ron, very troubling news you came back with regarding bin Laden and his plans for the future. How did you get to this information?

RON MOREAU, "NEWSWEEK": Well, yes, we talked to quite a few sources in Pakistan and also within Afghanistan, along the border, and people kept pointing us toward Qunar Province (ph), which is an isolated, heavily forested and very rugged province along the Pakistan border, and we finally ran into local security officials who were saying that they thought that Osama bin Laden was up in the mountains.

And other people then led us to the father-in-law and one of Osama's bodyguards. And from piecing that together, and then our very good Afghan reporter was able to talk to some Taliban sources, very senior, on both sides of the border, and the whole thing came together to a point that we believe that Osama is alive and healthy and in Afghanistan, probably up in the mountains, around Qunar (ph), and holding terror summits with Taliban and al Qaeda people, trying to ratchet up the war against the United States and U.S. allies in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: And what did they specifically say he was planning?

MOREAU: Well, the people who say that they know what happened at this terror summit, they say that he really wants to strike at the United States for the Muslims around the world, to redouble their efforts. But probably most troubling was the fact that there was still a lot of talk about the use of biological weapons.

Now, biological weapons, I think, are very difficult to use, and maybe it's not a realistic prospect for the Taliban and al Qaeda to use them, but the scary thing is that they're talking about them and they seem to be working at them.

And we also found out that one of the senior al Qaeda people, who now is in charge of the Afghan operation, was actually in charge of the bioweapons program that you all at CNN got the videotapes from a year ago, when they were conducting experiments and gassing dogs and other animals.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. You talked to members of the U.S. administration. I've talked to some people, including senior former members, and a lot of them will tell you -- I don't know whether they believe it -- but they're saying they don't believe he's alive, that he could be dead. Are they just drinking the Kool-Aid, or is there enough counter-evidence to suggest that in fact he may not be alive?

MOREAU: No. I think they -- you know, I think that must be wishful thinking. I mean, no one that I've talked to along the border, whether they're Afghan security officials, Pakistan security officials or villagers or people allied with Taliban or al Qaeda, believe that he's dead.

And they think that he's very much alive. And there are just so many signs that he is alive.

We talked to people who claimed to have met with him just a couple of months ago, people who claim, you know, to have carried messages between Mullah Omar and Osama this year.

I mean, there's just so much evidence out there that he is alive.

AMANPOUR: And what did you find from the senior ranking officials, military officials, inside Afghanistan? Do they think that Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, who is still on the run and regrouping with the Taliban, do they think that it's a serious threat? Or do they think that it's sort of a last desperate stand, as they told me?

MOREAU: Well, yes, I think it's difficult, speaking to American military officials in Afghanistan, to get what they really think, because what I felt they were telling me was just kind of the party line, you know, that Afghanistan is a good-news story, not a bad-news story. It's not about Osama, you know, we just have to keep plugging away at, you know, fighting the Taliban and the al Qaeda. And, you know, the central government is getting stronger and these new attacks by the Taliban, which are involving maybe hundreds of soldiers rather than a handful, are just a sign of desperation from the Taliban and al Qaeda.

I don't buy that at all. I mean, they've been building up their forces and getting together sort of a credible -- I mean, it's a very terroristic but a credible strategy, over the last few months, you know, of attacking aid workers. I mean, they basically really know what they're doing, trying to make sure that there's no reconstruction going on and to keep the people kind of unhappy and frustrated.

AMANPOUR: This is a serious story that we're going to be obviously continuing to watch.

Ron, thank you so much for joining us.

Now on a lighter note, to discuss this week's political cartoons from around the world and perhaps wild media stories, we're joined by our regular contributor, my friend and fellow traveler, A.A. Gill.

Thank you for being on with us, Adrian.

Let's look straightaway at the cartoons and see what you make of them this week.

A.A. GILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is very odd, this Garland (ph) cartoon. A, I don't think it's funny. I mean, it's Bush and Colin Powell and they're going to go to the United Nations to ask for help, but the tag line is "Play it again, Sam." And I think that's distinctly racist. I mean, I don't know about you, but I think this is Dooley Wilson, who is the big, smiling black guy who wheels his piano around after Humphrey Bogart.

AMANPOUR: So, politically incorrect, this one? And not funny.

GILL: Not funny. Not funny.

AMANPOUR: OK. Next one?

GILL: I love this. I think Steve Bell's (ph) drawing of Bush is getting really, really good. I mean, he's getting more and more simian, more and more ape-like. Now he's actually finally got to have nonopposable thumbs.

AMANPOUR: The hand is like an ape's hand then.

GILL: Yes, exactly.

AMANPOUR: But serious, now. We're talking about the mounting casualties.

GILL: Yes, always angry. I mean, the best thing about Steve Bell (ph) is that he's always furious. I mean, it's proper anger, and I think the best cartoons are always really angry. And this is about the.

AMANPOUR: And are we seeing now an increasing anger about Bush in some of these political cartoons about Iraq?

GILL: Oh, yes, I think so. I mean, I think that the whole -- the fact that the administration is so obviously bogged down, and doesn't know where it's going, it's looking more and more flat-footed and thoughtless, is making, you know, the comedy much tougher and much harder.

Nothing to me -- nothing in a cartoon is better than seeing something that looks like it's wounded.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. Let's see the next one.

Talk about wounded. This is the non-wounded, the newly non-wounded Arafat.

GILL: I think every single time I've been in here, we've done a Middle East cartoon. It must be just hell having to think of something else to make up.

This is another -- yet another - road map joke. It's Arafat saying, "Road map, you don't need no stinking road map." I mean, and that's again, the serious story this week is that he's been flexing his muscles and being very difficult.

AMANPOUR: Yes, probably a cartoonists dream, because now the Americans, having said "No Arafat," now all signs are pointing to Arafat.

GILL: Well, you'll know that better than me. They do seem to have been pointing to him for an awful long time. Maybe they're pointing a little less now.

AMANPOUR: Next one, talking about, my goodness, what is that?

GILL: Well, this is a take on a movie that's just come out in Britain about some women's institute women who made a nude calendar and hit their bits behind women's institute things, vegetables. And this Blair -- this is rather a tortuous cartoon, actually.

AMANPOUR: It's reaching a bit.

GILL: Yes. Really working over-hard, with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which is like Pinocchio's nose, which has grown.

AMANPOUR: Let's move on. And Hilary.

GILL: This is the Democrat donkeys wanting Hilary to run for the candidacy for the presidency. And her running in the opposite direction.

See, I think they haven't really got Hilary down yet. She's not been around -- well, she's been around, but she doesn't have that identifiable look.

AMANPOUR: Cartoon look yet.

GILL: No. She has the identifiable bottom and thick hips.

AMANPOUR: Oh, no. No woman would want to hear that.

GILL: Yes, sadly, you know. It's like the nonopposable thumb.

AMANPOUR: Well, there you go. Let's move on from cartoons.

What is your favorite weird, wacky or completely ridiculous story that's going on this week, or had been?

GILL: Well, here it's David Blaine, who is this American magician. You know, here a magician is just a guy that comes up to you at bar mitzvahs and does card tricks, but he doesn't these more and more extraordinary things. You know, he had himself put inside a block of ice. It's stood on top of a pole like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and now he's going to have himself, or is having himself, hung in a cube for 40 days over the Thames, being given nothing but water and nappies.

AMANPOUR: Water and nappies? Diapers?

GILL: It's the only thing -- when someone is in a cube over the Thames, the only thing you'd want to know is, where do you go?

AMANPOUR: Oh, my goodness.

GILL: I mean, it's unpleasant, and it's stupid, but it's also interesting that, when did magic simply become how long can you do something?

AMANPOUR: An endurance test.

GILL: Endurance.

(CROSSTALK)

GILL: Houdini did much the same thing. He had himself dropped through the ice in a safe in chains and got out. At least there was something amazing about that.

AMANPOUR: A payoff.

GILL: I mean, just being able to hold on to your bowels for 40 days is -- I don't care.

AMANPOUR: Is that it? There's no sort of.

GILL: That's it. I also think the idea of not feeding yourself and going on hunger strike is sort of tasteless. You know, as we speak, Aung San Suu Kyi is in Burma on hunger strike. This is what the Irish did today for the Republican Movement in Ireland. I think doing it as a joke in a box over the Thames is not funny, not magic.

AMANPOUR: Not funny. Tasteless.

Adrian, thank you very much. AA Gill, our regular contributor.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are covering the big issues and some of the not-so-big issues.

I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.

END

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