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Interview With Former Officials Ken Pollack, Terence Taylor

Aired February 5, 2003 - 10:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Many of the foreign ministers of the 14 other nations represented in the Security Council right now will be making their own separate presentations right after the secretary of state speaks.
Let's bring in Ken Pollack, who is a former CIA analyst, former NSC official who has written extensively about the situation with Iraq. Ken, thanks so much for joining us. Talk a little bit about the difficulties of what to release publicly so as not to compromise what they call the crown jewels of intelligence gathering, the sources and methods. You don't want to kill agents, don't want to undermine interpreted conversation capabilities.

KEN POLLACK, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, exactly. In some cases, when you have got agents in place and they're delivering very good information, it may be possible for Saddam Hussein to figure out who had access to that information, and start interrogating people. And the way Saddam interrogates people is he starts by torturing them, and he will find out who it was, kill that person.

In the case of communications, he can figure out which communication systems are being intercepted, although in that case, I think by and large what we're going to find is that this wasn't systems the Iraqis didn't know were compromised, it was simply people being sloppy.

BLITZER: So let's go through specifics. So, if we hear the secretary of state play an audiotape of an Iraqi official saying, Guess what, they are about to go to some location, let's zip over there and clean out any biological or chemical capabilities that may still be there, we have 24 hours to do it, we know they're going there. If they play that audiotape, as the secretary of state might do today, won't Saddam Hussein and his government know that the U.S. has, basically, that capability, and they're not going to talk any more about that kind of stuff?

POLLACK: Absolutely. But in most cases, the Iraqis tend to know this stuff, and remember, we were giving them information all through the 1980s. They have a pretty good feel for what our capabilities are. My guess is, and what I'm hearing, a lot of this stuff was people being sloppy. Iraqis using communication system that their government told them not to because they knew that it was compromised.

So what you'll probably see Saddam doing is laying down a very draconian law that anybody who picks up a phone, anybody who uses a system that they know we can listen is going to be shot. That's probably the more likely problem out there is we're not going to get that again because it will be reinforced to all these people. In addition, we have got another problem out there, which is a lot of the best information that we have got in Iraq is actually coming from other governments, and the secretary of state can't simply go out and use that evidence without getting permission from those foreign governments.

And what I was hearing from a number of people inside the government over the course of the last few weeks is a lot of the problems they have been having is getting some of these foreign governments to allow us to use that information. In particular, some of the very governments who have been so adamant about not going to war are being the worst about allowing us to use...

BLITZER: France and Germany in particular.

POLLACK: In particular.

BLITZER: And as we see the secretary of state meeting with other delegates briefly, you saw George Tenet, the CIA director, who is accompanying the secretary of state. He obviously has a critical role in this whole process, declassifying information, in effect.

How good is the Iraqi secure communications capabilities? Can fiber-optic lines, for example, which I understand, are very hard to intercept?

POLLACK: They are very good. They are very good for two reasons. One, the Iraqis have put a lot of money into developing new, sophisticated systems. They not only have the fiber-optic networks, but they also have burst transmitters which are very difficult to break, encrypted systems like that. But in addition, the Iraqis are just very good and hard to read because they concentrate very heavily on just kind of operational matters. Telling people, don't talk on an unsecured line, use a courier for the most sensitive stuff. Doing things the old fashioned way, because they know it is impossible for us to break those systems.

BLITZER: And as we see Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, getting ready, he's in the U.N. Security Council room, as is Hans Blix. We're also told that the Iraqi ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, will be last speaker today. After the secretary of state, the 14 other representatives of the Security Council, Mohammed Aldouri, the Iraqi representative, will make a presentation as well.

And Paula, we're going to be watching, we are going to be listening, we are going to be assessing precisely what is unfolding. Ken Pollack will stay here with us, and we'll get his assessment as well -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And another very important player who will be with us throughout the morning, Wolf, is Terence Taylor, a former U.N. weapons inspector himself, who has benefited from intercepted conversations. I guess the question I have for you this morning, as we sit and listen to Colin Powell speak to the U.N., how many Americans and Europeans, for that matter, will be asking questions about the credibility of the current U.N. inspections team when they're going to hear that Iraqi officials were routinely asking people to move weapons materials and coaching Iraqi scientists what to say?

TERENCE TAYLOR, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, this certainly is the sort of thing that happened when we inspecting in the 1990s. In fact, we found documents giving instructions to heads of establishments and facilities in order to plan to avoid giving information away to the inspectors.

And we certainly knew that the Iraqis were listening to our conversations on the radio and things like that. So we had to be particularly careful using, as Ken Pollack was saying, just now ourselves, written messages and things like that. So we had to be very careful. But I have to say that our inspections benefited greatly from the same kind of information.

In other words, intercepts that we used, but of course we had to be very careful about letting it known that that is exactly where it came from, and I think this is an important step that we are going to hear more public information on this.

ZAHN: Secretary General Kofi Annan walking into the chambers now. I also wanted to ask you about David Ensor's report about Colin Powell's team deciding to withhold some information today from this speech because they are fearful it would compromise the safety of U.S. troops in the region.

TAYLOR: I think that I would understand perfectly, and also might even compromise the work of the inspectors as well. So I think one has to be very careful about not revealing the full extent of the capabilities in terms of intercept and other capabilities, aerial photography and so on.

ZAHN: When we talk about the content of what Secretary Powell is about to lay out, it's not going to look, make the inspection process look too legitimate, is it -- or complete?

TAYLOR: Well, the point that I think Colin Powell wants to make is Iraq is not meeting its fundamental obligation under the Security Council resolution. That is, delivering full cooperation.

Full cooperation is not just procedure, it's substance as Dr. Hans Blix said in his last presentation at the Security Council. They have to give new information. They have to answer the questions. And I think what Colin Powell will demonstrate today, that they're just not doing that. You had Saddam Hussein yesterday saying, We have no weapons of mass destruction. In other words, no new information to give. And I think on those grounds, Colin Powell will be able to put forward a very strong case.

ZAHN: But it is also interesting to note that Hans Blix has not been talking so much about substance lately as about process, right? Would you acknowledge that?

TAYLOR: I think, to be fair to him, I think in his presentation he complained about Iraqi...

ZAHN: But more recently, in his public remarks...

TAYLOR: Well -- he's been saying they do need to deliver more on substance. He said they have to come up with new information. He has said that they need to deliver on allowing the U-2 overflights, the high altitude surveillance aircraft, and also on interviews.

But again, that's just procedure. And so I think Hans Blix really wants -- has asked for more substance, and that's what he means by saying it is five minutes to midnight. The Iraqis have to come up with something, the obligation is on them.

ZAHN: Give us insight as to how the U.N. inspectors on the ground are going to be perceiving this speech, what it means to them.

TAYLOR: Well, I think what it means is it's putting pressure on the Iraqi regime to deliver up. I think it is going to be crystal clear the Iraqis have failed to deliver. It's going to be clear that the Iraqis have tried to frustrate the work of the inspectors by hiding things, by moving in advance, and, of course, by briefing people prior to inspections and so on.

These are all the things they were doing in the 1990s, and it's rather depressing as a former inspector to see all this happening all over again.

So the pressure has to be exerted, and I think what Dr. Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei are hoping, that this pressure will force the Iraqis to deliver up something. Otherwise, the only alternative is military action.

ZAHN: How convincing of a case do you think Secretary of Powell -- Secretary of State Powell will lay out?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it will be very convincing on the fact the Iraqis have failed to cooperate on substance. I think he'll show that they're deliberately hiding things. He will show that their record is the same as it was in the 1990's, and they're not fulfilling their legal obligation under the Security Council resolution. I think it will be hard for any government to argue against that after this presentation.

ZAHN: Terry Taylor, former U.N. weapons inspector himself.



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