LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
United States Fed False Intelligence Before Iraq War?
Aired August 28, 2003 - 20:06 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And there is a report today that Western intelligence agencies are taking a second look at information they received before the Iraq war. "The Los Angeles Times" says officials are afraid that bogus Iraqi defectors may have planted false information about Iraq's weapons program, perhaps in an attempt to scare Saddam Hussein's enemies.
U.S. officials say "The Times" story is -- quote -- "way overwritten" -- unquote. Yet, nearly five months after the fall of Baghdad, coalition forces have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction.
Joining us from Irvine, California, is former CIA field officer Bob Baer; and from Washington tonight, former weapons inspector Terry Taylor, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Welcome, gentlemen. Glad to have both of you with us.
TERRY TAYLOR, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: Glad to be here.
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Thanks.
ZAHN: Bob, I'd love to start with you this evening.
First of all, do you believe any of these allegations in "The Los Angeles Times"?
BAER: It's difficult to say without seeing the evidence.
But what I do know about Saddam is that he apparently wanted people in the region to believe that he kept the weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent, particularly against Iran. So, if he actually sent out defectors to make the -- to trap the United States in some sort of belief that he had these weapons of mass destruction, is plausible. I cannot confirm that.
Also, I know that Saddam was trying to open channel to the United States all through the '90. And, possibly -- I'm saying it's plausible -- he let people know or tried to make them believe that he had these weapons of mass destruction in order to open that channel, hoping the United States would come to him. If in fact he did that, he badly misjudged the situation.
ZAHN: Terry, you were a U.N. weapons inspector. You heard Bob talk about the possibility of this being plausible. What do you think? TAYLOR: Well, I find it implausible from what I know. And like Bob, of course, I haven't seen the detailed information, so it's hard to know what the planted information, if we could call it that, was actually about.
Certainly, there was a certain amount of disinformation, if you like, that might have come through defectors or from -- possibly through agents. But we have to remember that the Iraqis went to extraordinary lengths to try to conceal that they had anything, any weapons at all, after 1991. And they continued to do that through -- after the inspectors had left and so on. So it doesn't fit with their overall strategic plans, although I have to say, disinformation was a common feature of their approach.
ZAHN: Well, Bob, let me ask you this. If this information was out there for some time, help us better understand the timing of why it was reacted to when it was?
BAER: Well, we've got the new administration in.
All along in the '90s, the CIA and the rest of Western intelligence services were kicking up information, as the U.N. was, that Saddam was concealing weapons. He didn't account for them. There were indications that he was buying new stuff. There was indications that he was even hiding Scud missiles inside of his palaces.
We didn't know what to make of it. In the CIA, we saw it, but there was no confirmation. We relied on the U.N. to tell us, because we had other concerns in Iraq. And that's whether Saddam would invade Saudi Arabia. for instance. And I think once the new administration came in, they had already made up their minds that Saddam had kept the weapons and a considerable amount of them, additionally. And they reassessed this information that we didn't think was very precise at the time. And I think that's what happened.
ZAHN: Terry, let's talk a little bit about the rationale of the Bush administration for getting into this war. Secretary of State Colin Powell, when making the case for war before the U.N. in February, had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: In 1995, as a result of another defector, we find out that, after his invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had initiated a crash program to build a crude nuclear weapon in violation of Iraq's U.N. obligations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: In the end, Terry, how much do you think the Bush administration relied on human intelligence?
TAYLOR: Well, I think they -- to update themselves, certainly after 1998, that was probably the only source from which they could get new information. But the biggest part of the evidence relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, such as they were, really came from U.N. sources. And there were additional information that perhaps in the form of quantities and perhaps who was working on what, where and so on, and particular on the way of their mobilization production system, that is to say, to have facilities ready to produce chemicals or biologicals, which they would do under a mobilization system.
So this is where the new information came in. But human intelligence was really, after 1998, there was -- what other way could they get new information?
ZAHN: And finally tonight, Bob, if you read that "L.A. Times" story closely, help people better understand what incentive these defectors had to turn this faulty information over to the United States. Were they duped twice?
BAER: Well, yes, exactly.
Until the weapons inspectors left in 1998, we always had the U.N. to confirm intelligence. You could tell them what we thought was going on. They'd go out and confirm it on the ground, which was invaluable. Once they left, all of our information started to come through defectors and the Iraqi opposition. And, of course, the opposition wanted us to go to war. And so they were hyping the information, sexing it up, if you want. And it became distorted in the absence of the U.N.
ZAHN: Bob Baer, Terence Taylor, thank you very much for your time this evening. Good to see both you.
BAER: Thank you.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
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