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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Breaking the Syrian Connection

Aired July 22, 2003 - 15:23   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And now we turn to a story that has occupied all of us today. And that is reports out of Iraq that two of Saddam Hussein's sons may have been killed in a firefight with U.S. soldiers today in a raid in a house in northern Iraq. U.S. officials now saying they're -- quote -- "reasonably certain" that two bodies found after the raid in Mosul are Uday and Qusay Hussein.
Journalist Seymour Hersh of "The New Yorker" magazine has been following events in the region closely.

And, Sy Hersh, if this is the case that it's the sons of Saddam Hussein, what effect does that have on the aftermath of this war?

SEYMOUR HERSH, "THE NEW YORKER": Oh, I'm sure it's going to have a good effect on the morale of the troops.

But I hate to spoil the party. There's no reason to think that, even if we captured Saddam, that what is going on there is going to stop. It seems to be magical thinking. There's seems to be a true amount of dislike of the Americans that transcends Saddam, even the Baath Party. That doesn't mean that he's not in control of some things, but I don't think necessarily it means that all is going to be well, even if we have killed his sons and even if do we get Saddam.

WOODRUFF: What does it say about U.S. intelligence? Clearly, there has been an enormous amount of controversy about the accuracy of U.S. intelligence, the reliability of it. And yet officials said today this wasn't just an accident that they came upon them. They had reason to believe they might be in this house.

HERSH: They have captured some people very close to him. And they're beginning to break down some other people where he goes. There's a lot of work being done on that, a lot of actually very competent work, in terms of going to the tribal people that he's close to.

Saddam is -- as I understand it, he's moving house to house. That's what we believe. And I haven't seen that written, but I've been told that he is moving house to house, leaving money in the morning. This is the way he's always operated. He never was in one fixed place. And so I think we are getting -- turning the screws on him. We're getting closer to him, perhaps. But, once again, I'm not sure necessarily that that translates into safety for everybody. I'm not sure that is going to end what seems to be sort of a widespread insurrection there.

WOODRUFF: You've written a piece in this week's "New Yorker" magazine, talking about a raid by U.S. officials across the border from Iraq into Syria, where it didn't turn out the way U.S. officials had planned.

HERSH: No.

Again, this is again part of the same intelligence idea. We've been looking for Saddam very hard. We've captured one of his key aides about three or four weeks ago, a longtime clerk and basically a secretary to Saddam, who gave us a fix on some areas of where we thought he went. And a few days later, we saw some cars moving towards the border. We jumped to a conclusion. We thought perhaps it was Saddam's sons and perhaps the old man himself going.

We lost the cars. We picked them up again. We began a bigger search. We decided we had something going. A lot of cars seemed to be going into Syria. We hit the hell out of them very hard. A lot of fires went up. And it turned out they were smuggling, but not people. They were smuggling gasoline into Syria. Iraq right now is sort of a tax-free zone. Everything is cheaper there.

So you can get gasoline much cheaper and sell it across the border and make money. And so, there were huge firefights and I think as many as 80 people killed. We penetrated perhaps 30 or 40 miles into Syria, into their sovereignty.

WOODRUFF: You write about -- on this whole intelligence question about the reliability of what the kind of intelligence the U.S. is getting, how much we're finding out from Syria, and what the CIA director, George Tenet, believes about all this.

HERSH: Well, the key point I made in the story that, as you say, is in the magazine this week, is that Syria, it turns out, after 9/11, was our biggest asset in terms of finding al Qaeda. They had have watching terrorism for many years. And Syria turned over files. They told us more about Mohamed Atta and the 19 guys who went in and also other people who didn't want to go in.

They have been tracking people in Germany. And all of that cooperation, which existed for a year and a half and was terrific, was thrown away by the war in Iraq. You can argue that the ideology of the Bush administration was more important -- going to Iraq and proving their point there and getting rid of Saddam was more important than the hunt for terrorism.

And the piece I wrote about really talked about sort of the values. What is the goal? Are we after al Qaeda? Are we after Saddam? By going after Saddam, we not only put ourselves in this jeopardy, a lot of people think, in the war; we have also cut off perhaps our best asset, the Syrians, of all people. It is an amazingly sort of complicated story.

WOODRUFF: It's an extraordinary story and another extraordinary report from Sy Hersh, "New Yorker" magazine.

HERSH: Thank you so much.

WOODRUFF: Everybody will want to go look at that. Thank you very much.

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