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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Donald Rumsfeld; Interview With Lawrence Wilkerson

Aired November 20, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Baghdad, and midnight in Beijing. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to my interview with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Now to the bitter battle of words between the Bush administration and its Iraq war critics. Debate and tempers reached a fever pitch during a rare Friday night session of the U.S. House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly rejected a resolution to immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Just a short while ago, I spoke with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Secretary Rumsfeld, General Pace, welcome to "Late Edition."

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: John Murtha, the ranking Democrat of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, had strong words this week, caused a huge uproar in Washington. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Our military's done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of Americans want to know, Secretary, when are the troops coming home?

RUMSFELD: I think it's important to say a couple of things about that sound bite that you just gave us. First of all, in a democracy, people can have a good debate and a discussion and have views, and that's fair enough. That was true in World War II. There was a debate and disagreement. It was true in the Korean War, the Vietnam War. And it's true in this war.

I think the interesting thing about the sound bite you just showed us is that very few Democrats or Republicans supported it. And I think that's an important message for our troops.

BLITZER: Was that a smart idea for the Republicans -- You're a former member of the House -- to come up with a vote? Democrats say that was simply a political stunt to embarrass Congressman Murtha, who's been such a strong supporter of the military, a retired U.S. Marine, decorated, injured during his service in Vietnam. Was that smart of your Republican colleagues?

RUMSFELD: Jack Murtha is a fine person. I know him. I think what's important, though, just as everyone can say what they want, we also have to think of what the words mean to the enemy.

BLITZER: So are you happy that they asked for that resolution on Friday?

RUMSFELD: I wasn't in town. I was in Australia. I was not involved in any of that. The Congress does what the Congress does. And I think the important thing is what I said...

BLITZER: But you were suggesting, you were suggesting -- excuse me.

RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. The important -- the important thing is that very little support went to Jack Murtha. The Democrats didn't step up and support it, and Republicans didn't step up and support it. And I think it's important for our troops to know that.

BLITZER: Was it smart for the Republicans to ask for that resolution, in effect embarrassing Murtha?

RUMSFELD: Time will tell. I don't think it was an embarrassment to Murtha. He's a grown man. He's a fine person. He has a distinguished record in Congress. I don't think it's embarrassing at all.

BLITZER: Well, the -- one of the Republican Congresswomen, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, basically called him a coward.

RUMSFELD: I don't think that's correct. I think she quoted somebody.

BLITZER: She quoted a letter that -- she got a letter. But she read it...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: It didn't even refer to Congressman Murtha.

BLITZER: Yes, it did. RUMSFELD: I don't think it did.

BLITZER: It did refer to Congressman Murtha by name.

RUMSFELD: Well, I wasn't in town. If you say that, maybe you're right.

BLITZER: Yeah. But you don't think he's a coward?

RUMSFELD: Of course not.

BLITZER: It's getting ugly here in Washington, as you know.

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I've been around here since I first came in 1957, and been in and out of this town. I've seen lots of times that we had wonderfully collegial cooperation between the parties, and I've seen times when we didn't. And I think that it's important to understand that there are effects to this. I like to put myself in other people's shoes.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the terrorists, if they get to believe that all they have to do is wait, because we're going to pull out precipitously, then something enormously valuable has been lost. If that country -- think of that country being turned over to the Zarqawis, the people who behead people, the people who kill innocent men, women, and children, the people who are determined to re-establish a caliphate around the world, the people who are looking for a safe haven. That would be a terrible thing for our country, for the safety of our people.

BLITZER: General Pace, Lieutenant General John Vines, a top U.S. military commander in Iraq, quoted in today's New York Times as saying this: "Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the second-ranking officer in Iraq, used a telephone interview during the Capitol Hill debate to say that American troop levels could fall by 50,000 by the end of 2006, to below 100,000." About 150,000, 160,000 troops in Iraq right now. Is that the game plan?

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The commanders on the ground, General Abizaid, General Casey, General Vines, continuously review the size of the force that they have right now, and they look at both how they might need to increase in case certain factors come into play, and how they might be able to decrease. And they do that across the board.

They will then make their recommendations through General Casey to the secretary and the president, and we'll have an opportunity to do the analysis here in Washington. I'll have the opportunity, along with the other joint chiefs, to make our recommendations to the secretary and the president. And when a decision is made, then the announcement will be made.

But it is certainly true that the commanders on the ground are always looking at both how to ramp up and how to ramp down, given circumstances on the ground. BLITZER: The exit strategy depends on how quickly the Iraqis can step up to the plate and get the job done militarily, security-wise, themselves. Last month, the Defense Department said that there were 116 Iraqi battalions that are being trained right now. But only one -- only one -- is at a level where they can operate on their own without U.S. assistance. In an Iraqi battalion, how many troops are there?

PACE: Between 500 and 700. And the term "exit strategy" is really not a good discussion. What it is, is a turnover of responsibility from coalition forces to the Iraqi armed forces, as they're ready to take charge.

BLITZER: But...

PACE: There is one Iraqi division capable of handling 15,000 to 20,000 men right now, operating independently. There are four Iraqi brigades, each capable of handling 3,000 to 5,000 men, operating independently. There are 36 Iraqi battalions, between 500 and 700 men, operating independently, meaning they are controlling the Iraqi territory on their own.

BLITZER: But they need U.S. help.

PACE: U.S. ...

BLITZER: Only one -- you were saying 500 to 700 Iraqi troops can operate on their own completely without American involvement.

PACE: What I'm saying to you is every U.S. battalion over there also needs American support from the standpoint of its intelligence, from the standpoint of air, medevac and the like.

BLITZER: Because people hear that, 100,000, 200,000 Iraqi troops, but only 500 to 700 can operate on their own? After almost three years and $200 or $300 billion, only 500 to 700 Iraqi troops are capable of operating on their own?

PACE: No. I think that's a very serious misreading of what we've been trying to say. And in fact, I think we've done ourselves a disservice trying to equate the way we grade our own forces the way we grade Iraqi forces.

We have levels C-1, 2, 3 and 4, and we apply those to U.S. troops.

And a battalion of U.S. Marines, like I commanded, will be a C-1 on a certain day and down to C-3 another day, depending upon how many resources they have, how many troops and the like. So I think we've done ourselves a disservice.

What is most important for all of us to understand is that there are over 210,000 Iraqi forces on the ground right now. Well over two- thirds of those are operating in the field as we speak. There are some -- it's even more than that. There are 95 battalions of Iraqi army right now, operating in the field... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But only one is capable of operating by itself?

PACE: That's not...

BLITZER: Because it was three a few months earlier, but it's gone down to one. Is that right?

RUMSFELD: Wolf, that is a red herring, that concept.

Let me just say, the Iraqi security forces are functioning.

They provided security for the October 15th referendum. They're going to provide security for the December 15th election. They're out there, not hiding in their barracks. They're out fighting and providing security every single day.

The United States Marines in Iraq get support from the Army in terms of combat support, combat service support.

Our NATO allies in Afghanistan get support.

BLITZER: All right.

RUMSFELD: To constantly raise that single issue is mischievous.

BLITZER: But these are standards that the...

RUMSFELD: And there are people...

BLITZER: ... U.S. military has put forward. We didn't put them forward. These are standards that the commanders on the ground have put forward: level 1, level 2, level 3.

RUMSFELD: And we have units, as General Pace says, that are level 3.

I sat down with a general the other day and I said to him, "OK, this unit's level 3, C-3."

And he said, "That's right." And he said, "The one that just went into Iraq is C-1, the best."

And I said, "If you had to go to war right now, which one would you want to go to war with?"

"Oh," he said, "I'd want to go to war with the C-3."

"Why?"

"Because they're battle hardened. They're tested. They just don't happen to fit a precise little definition."

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the new issue of Time magazine, out today. "In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commander said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told Time magazine that as recently as August 2005 a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat."

This was a story that Time has that the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked -- or Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, Senator Levin asked to meet rank and file, battle- hardened commanders to get their perspective rather than the top brass, to get an honest opinion. And they say they need more troops desperately.

RUMSFELD: I don't think -- I haven't seen the article. And you probably haven't either.

BLITZER: I have.

RUMSFELD: Have you?

BLITZER: Yes.

RUMSFELD: But I don't know what it said.

What I can tell you is that it's absolutely certain that in the last three years at some place in Iraq some lieutenant colonel or some colonel said, "Gee, I need more troops." And he went up to Casey. And Casey said, "Fine, we'll allocate troops here or there or somewhere else."

But if you're suggesting from that, that any senior military commander -- Vines, Casey, Franks, Abizaid -- have ever asked for troops, more troops and been turned down, it would be flat wrong. It's never happened. BLITZER: Here's another quote from the same Time magazine article.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you this, then you can elaborate.

PACE: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: "The battalion commanders, according to sources close to last week's meeting, said that because there are not enough troops they have to leap frog around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out. The officers also stressed that the lack of manpower, rather than of protective armor and signal jammers, posed one of the biggest obstacles in dealing with roadside bombs, which have caused the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq."

PACE: Thanks.

First of all, when I was a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam, there was never a day when I had personally enough troops. Commanders are going to want as many troops as they can possibly have. It is the responsibility of the chain of command above them then to take a look at the entire environment and see how many troops are needed and ask for the right resources.

It is absolutely a fact that the senior leaders on the ground have never asked for a troop level that they have not been given. That is a fact.

It's also true that as you look at the numbers of troops we have on the ground, we have modulated the numbers based on the requirements. As we get into the elections, we have spikes in the numbers of troops we've had.

So as we look at the upcoming events, as we look at the capacity on the ground, as we listen to the commanders on the ground, we have been able to provide to them the resources they need.

Certainly, I understand that at a small-unit level where you have 40 or 50 guys or even 500 guys that on a particular day you would like to have more than you have. But that does not mean that the region itself needs more troops.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: May I...

BLITZER: Yes.

RUMSFELD: ... raise an important point?

One of the reasons for this discussion is because General Abizaid and General Casey recognize the tension between having too few and too many. To the extent you have too many and you have too heavy a footprint and you're too intrusive, it can conceivably contribute to the insurgency.

BLITZER: All right. That's a good point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pace address concerns over prewar intelligence. I'll ask them how the Bush administration could have been so wrong.

Also, an unlikely critic of the Bush administration's war policy, the man who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson.

He'll join me. He's speaking out.

Plus, debating the case for war. Were U.S. troops put in a no- win situation? We'll hear from former Reagan assistant defense secretary Richard Perle and former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Bob Kerrey.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this: Should the U.S. set a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

Straight ahead, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pace weigh in on the debate over intelligence before the invasion of Iraq.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Here's part two of my interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about a big issue that's raging in Washington right now: intelligence, prewar intelligence, how good it was, how bad it was. Everybody now recognizes it was pretty horrible.

Listen to what you said, Mr. Secretary, on January 20, 2003, two months before the war started.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: Large, unaccounted for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, including V.X., sarin, mustard gas, anthrax, botulism and possibly smallpox. And he has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All that was wrong, right?

RUMSFELD: No.

It was correct that there were large -- let me answer your question, Wolf.

BLITZER: But did he have a large, active program to acquire nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: Let me answer your question.

There were large, unaccounted for deposits. And that was the conclusion of the U.N.

It was the conclusion that was -- they went through 17 resolutions. It was the conclusion of U.S. intelligence. And it was accurate to say that they were unaccounted for. That is a fact. BLITZER: And what about he has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: We have not been able to validate that on the ground.

BLITZER: That was a mistake?

RUMSFELD: And prewar intelligence was clearly imperfect.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the next sound byte.

Listen to what you said on September 26, 2002, several months before the war. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaida members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade and of possible chemical and biological agent training. When I say contacts, I mean between Iraq and Al Qaida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was a mistake?

RUMSFELD: No. Zarqawi was in there.

It was clearly -- there clearly were Al Qaida in and around Iraq.

BLITZER: You believe that to this day?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was physically in Baghdad.

BLITZER: But...

RUMSFELD: They were operating...

BLITZER: Was he then -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- associated directly with Al Qaida?

RUMSFELD: No, probably not.

BLITZER: So why would you say that there was a connection between Iraq and Al Qaida?

RUMSFELD: Because the intelligence reported that there were Al Qaida that moved in and out of Iraq and had some connection with the Saddam Hussein regime.

BLITZER: That was on September 26, 2002.

RUMSFELD: Saddam Hussein...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: The intelligence -- your intelligence in February 2002 said exactly the opposite. There was a DIA intelligence estimate that's now been declassified -- Senator Levin released it -- that said this. "It is possible he does not know" -- referring to this intelligence source -- "does not know any further details. It is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Even Shaykh al-Libi has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest."

In effect, the DIA concluded this source, which alleged this Iraq-Al Qaida connection, was a fabricator.

RUMSFELD: There is no question that there are fabricators that operate in the intelligence world. And there's also no question you can find intelligence reports on every side of every issue.

When you look at the reams of intelligence information that the United States develops from different agencies, they gather from other friendly foreign liaison services, you can find in any given week intelligence that conflicts with each other. The implication that there's something amazing about that is just ridiculous.

BLITZER: But the basis of the intelligence...

RUMSFELD: We know intelligence is imperfect.

BLITZER: That's why the U.S. went to war: the WMD and the Iraq- Al Qaida connection that you alleged.

RUMSFELD: The reason the United States went to war, the president has announced and said it repeatedly. There were 17 resolutions in the U.N. that were ignored by Saddam Hussein. Our planes were being shot at on a regular basis in the Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Saddam Hussein was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. Iraq was on the terrorist list. Iraq had used chemical weapons against its own people and its neighbors.

BLITZER: But, Mr. Secretary, wasn't Iraq under Saddam Hussein in those days effectively contained by the United Nations, by the U.S., the no-fly zones, the economic sanctions, the diplomatic sanctions? Weren't they effectively contained? And certainly, with hindsight, Saddam Hussein did not pose much of a threat to the United States.

RUMSFELD: The -- you say was it effectively contained?

It was certainly engaged in doing things that were harmful -- shooting at our airplanes, the only place in the world that was taking place. The United Nations -- ignoring 17 U.N. resolutions. The sanctions obviously were not working very well.

BLITZER: Let me...

RUMSFELD: Just let me answer your question. Just a minute.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

RUMSFELD: The sanctions were obviously not working very well, which sanctions tend not to after a long period of time. You've read what's been going on with the oil-for-food in the United Nations.

BLITZER: But based on the fact that the United States didn't find any stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction...

RUMSFELD: It's clear the intelligence was wrong.

BLITZER: And it's clear that he didn't really represent much of a threat.

RUMSFELD: If you're talking about whether or not the intelligence was correct, everyone has agreed it was not.

BLITZER: Here is the question that a lot of people want you to answer.

Do you as the defense secretary owe the American people an apology for all that bad intelligence?

RUMSFELD: Why would the Defense Department -- it's the intelligence community that made the intelligence. It was CIA and...

BLITZER: But the DIA had an intelligence operation. And you had a separate intelligence operation that Doug Feith, one of your top aides, was running.

RUMSFELD: It was not a separate intelligence organization. You've been reading the press too long.

BLITZER: What is the inspector general investigating now as far as Doug Feith and his intelligence operation?

RUMSFELD: I really don't know.

But apparently over the weekend, somebody requested, a congressman or a senator requested I guess it's an I.G. investigation of whether or not something was amiss there. And they will do it. They'll have an investigation. They have the right to ask for it. The I.G. will do that, and we'll see what they say.

BLITZER: Do you believe anything was amiss?

RUMSFELD: No, indeed not.

That's been looked at by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's been looked at by the Silberman-Robb or the 9/11 Commission, I think -- one of the two.

BLITZER: Silberman-Robb.

RUMSFELD: It was Silberman-Robb?

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: They looked at the intelligence. But why do you...

RUMSFELD: There's been no evidence there.

BLITZER: So why is there a need for an inspector general...

RUMSFELD: I don't think there is. But when a congressman or a senator requests it, it happens.

BLITZER: Here's what Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Powell's then chief of staff, recently said about the decision- making process that resulted in the war. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. SECY. POWELL'S CHIEF OF STAFF: What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you know Colonel Wilkerson?

RUMSFELD: I don't believe I've ever met him.

I look at the picture. I don't recognize him.

BLITZER: Is he right?

RUMSFELD: I can't imagine he was ever in a meeting with the vice president or me or anyone else at a senior level.

BLITZER: He was the chief of staff of the secretary of state.

RUMSFELD: Fine. That's fine.

But in terms of having firsthand information, I just can't imagine that he does. And it's also -- the allegation is ridiculous.

BLITZER: He's going to be on this program.

RUMSFELD: Fine.

BLITZER: Anything you want to say to him?

RUMSFELD: Well, you've been in all these meetings.

PACE: Yes, that's the first time I've seen the gentleman, on this program.

He was never in any of the meetings I was in and I was the vice chairman beginning in 1 October, 2001. I was in every meeting with the Joint Chiefs. I was in every meeting with the combatant commanders. I went to the White House multiple times to meet with the National Security council and with the president of the United States.

I have never seen that colonel.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's speak about someone both of you are very familiar with, the vice president of the United States.

At the end of May of this year, he was on "Larry King Live" and this is what he said, General. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The vice president said then, months ago, that the insurgency was in its last throes. Was he right?

PACE: I think what you're seeing is, in fact, an insurgency that understands that the elections that took place in January, that the constitution that was written and approved in October, that the elections that are coming up next month represent to the insurgency a real threat.

As the Iraqi people determine for themselves their own free way ahead, the insurgents are in trouble. They know it. And they, therefore, are pulling out all their stops right now trying to attack not only coalition forces, but innocent men and women and children to try to get the Iraqi people to cower under fear.

BLITZER: Under the standard definition of last throes, based on the reporting that you're getting, that we're getting, it seems like the insurgency has escalated.

PACE: No, the insurgents are, in fact, being hit first militarily. They have taken very large losses in Mosul, in Ramadi, in Al Qaim, in Fallujah.

BLITZER: All these suicide bombings on a nearly daily basis, Mr. Secretary, aren't those insurgents?

PACE: The suicide bombings that are going after innocent civilians -- those are individuals going against innocent civilians, men, women and children.

BLITZER: Is that part of the insurgency?

PACE: Yes. They are murdering innocents in an attempt to dissuade the Iraqi people from voting and living their free lives.

BLITZER: Twenty-five hundred attacks since September. That's a lot of -- that doesn't sound like the last throes, Mr. Secretary. RUMSFELD: It doesn't take a genius to strap on a suicide belt and go kill innocent people. And they're doing it, there's no question. And there's a lot of people dying in Iraq.

BLITZER: But it's not just -- it's very sophisticated IED attacks that are becoming much more sophisticated today than they were a year ago. Isn't that right?

RUMSFELD: There's no question that the lethality of the attacks has increased.

BLITZER: It does take some sophistication for that.

RUMSFELD: Indeed. But it doesn't take a genius to go kill people.

What's happening in that country is very interesting. They are making enormous progress. They have a constitution -- think of that. They're going to -- they voted for the constitution. They're going to have an election under that constitution in less than a month. That is an enormous accomplishment.

Now, will there be insurgents over a period of time thereafter? Sure. Will people be killed thereafter? Sure.

But over time, the number of tips that are coming in to the Iraqi security forces have soared, multiples of what they previously were getting. Why is that?

BLITZER: So you see light at the end of the tunnel?

RUMSFELD: I don't use that phrase. What I see is progress being made on the political side. I see progress being made with the Iraqi security forces. And I think that it's fine to have this debate. It's important to have the discussion.

But when we look back a year from now, we'll see that progress was, in fact, made, that the Iraqis will be taking greater and greater control of their country, that the security forces will be still larger and still more capable. And that will be a good thing for the world.

And all of this business about it's terrible, we're losing is simply not true. Those folks, the men and women in uniform over there are doing an absolutely superb job. And they're making progress. And they work they're doing is noble work. And we ought to be darned grateful to every single one of them.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much. General, thank you.

PACE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, how serious of a threat was Saddam Hussein to U.S. security? We'll get perspective from former Reagan Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle and former Democratic Senator Bob Kerry.

And this programming note. Bob Woodward of The Washington Post talks about his connection to the CIA leak investigation in an exclusive interview that airs tomorrow night on "Larry King Live." Tomorrow night, 9 p.m. eastern.

But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including the latest in what has become another deadly day in Iraq. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." More than two years after the war in Iraq, polls here in the United States show Americans are clearly souring on the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Joining us here in Washington is the former Reagan Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle. He's currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think thank here in Washington. And in New York, former Nebraska Democratic Senator and Vietnam war veteran Bob Kerrey. He's now the president of New York's New School University.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition." Senator Kerrey, I'll begin with you. Listen to this excerpt of what Congressman John Murtha said earlier this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: Iraq cannot be won militarily. You can say it here in these air-conditioned offices, but let me tell you something, it can't be won militarily. It's got to be won politically, and we ought to turn it over to the Iraqis and give them the incentive to take back their own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right, Senator Kerrey?

BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, I think essentially he is right, although I think there's a cause and effect relationship by the presence of our military and the capability of the Iraq people to establish a democracy, just as there was in western Europe after the Second World War and in Korea after the Korean War.

So, and I know Jack Murtha knows that. So I think what he's presenting is an idea that, unfortunately, in the current political environment, couldn't even be considered. I don't agree with the conclusions, every conclusion they've reached, but I do find it appalling that he's attacked for being unpatriotic, and in this current political environment that he can't even surface an idea and debate what he thinks needs to occur in Iraq.

He loves these troops dearly. Nobody in Congress is closer to the Army, and the Marine Corps in particular, and he's very much worried about what this war is doing to them.

BLITZER: That's why, Richard Perle, this exchange that happened on the floor of the House of Representatives caused so much commotion, so much pain. Listen to this freshman congresswoman, Jean Schmidt, of Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT, (R), OHIO: A few minutes ago, I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives.

He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run; Marines never do.

(CROSSTALK)

Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body that we will see this through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Richard, you've been in this town for a long time. It's getting very ugly as witnessed what she said.

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I'm afraid it is ugly. And I certainly don't agree with that characterization. I think Congressman Murtha is not in any sense a coward.

On the other hand, I do believe that, while his diagnosis is right, we have to win this politically in conjunction with the Iraqis, the suggestion that we should withdrawal immediately would be catastrophic.

BLITZER: When you say catastrophic, what would happen -- and he didn't say immediately, he said, over the next six months, a phased withdrawal, and move the troops to some of the other countries over the horizon nearby and let the Iraqis know that, after two and a half years and $200 or $300 billion, they have to get the job done themselves; they can't rely on Uncle Sam to do it.

PERLE: Well, unfortunately, Uncle Sam has been so deeply involved in this from the very beginning -- I think, in many cases, mistakenly, in the sense that we didn't advance toward Iraqi governance of the Iraqis.

We sat up a provisional authority; we tried to govern Iraq and a lot of time was lost. The Iraqis are playing catch-up now. So, the Iraqis need to take responsibility for their own destiny and we need to assist them in doing that. And we should stop interfering in Iraqi movement in that direction.

BLITZER: Senator Kerrey, what's wrong with giving the Iraqis a deadline, a timetable for accepting responsibility for their security and their political well being?

KERREY: Well, I think they've given the Iraqis too darn many deadlines. I mean, that's the problem. I mean, you're either a friend and an ally and you stick with your ally or you're not.

My problem, Wolf, is I don't think the president understands what's going on in Iraq. He's not showing the right kind of leadership. He attacks people for their proposed alternatives as people who are cutting and running.

But the fact is it feels like we're cutting and running right now under the president's leadership, not just from the war in Iraq but the war on terrorism. That's the greatest fear that I've got is that we're losing American public support to fight the war on terrorism as a consequence of the way that the war in Iraq is being fought.

BLITZER: Do you agree that?

PERLE: No. I don't agree with that. I think there are the misgivings that you always expect in war time. Nobody wants to be in a wartime situation.

Nobody wants to read the casualty figures. And it's difficult in a democracy to sustain support for the war. Look, I think the...

BLITZER: Well, what about the argument -- that this war in Iraq is effectively undermining what is a much bigger threat to the United States, Al Qaida, the war on terrorism, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leaders of Al Qaida -- Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who will remain at large?

PERLE: Let me just say this and I hope Bob Kerrey would agree with this. If we were to abandon Iraq now, that would be the greatest gift we could give to terrorists around the world.

We would see a surge of terrorism all over the world because the terrorists would be out in force saying, we won. And the recruiting lines would be around the block.

BLITZER: All right. What about that, Senator?

KERREY: I completely agree with that. But the problem, Richard, is that the president's own strategy inside of Iraq is to stand down as they stand up. That's a cut and run strategy.

We aren't deploying military rules of engagement in Iraq right now. And the attacks -- Democrats -- for gosh's sakes, the Senate resolution was voted for by every Republican that's up for reelection except for Jon Kyl, calls for a phased withdrawal out of Iraq. I mean, the problem is public opinion is moving against the president. He's showing the wrong kind of leadership to describe what's going on in Iraq and what's at stake.

BLITZER: Has it become, Senator Kerrey, another Vietnam?

KERREY: Well, I don't think it is comparable to a Vietnam. But certainly, in a democracy, the people have the right to say that they don't want to do something.

And that's what's happening. To a certain extent -- to that extent, it's very comparable. There's more people opposed to the war in Iraq today than there was at the height of the Vietnam War opposition.

So, yes, if the American public opinion says we're against this thing and the Republicans and the Congress say, we want to still be committee chair, you watch these guys cut and run.

BLITZER: We have to take a break, Richard.

But can the U.S. win a war when the American public is so adamantly --right now, at least -- concerned about it and opposed to what's going on?

PERLE: You want me to answer that now?

BLITZER: Yes.

PERLE: Yes, I think we can win this war. The Iraqis are going to win it with our help. And what we have begun to do now is integrate U.S. personnel with Iraqi units, which is the right way to go.

As that happens, we can be there in smaller numbers. But this constant talk about exit strategies and when we leave is an encouragement to Al Qaida; it's an encouragement to the insurgency in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break. Senator, hold your fire. We're going to have a lot more to talk about.

Richard Perle, Bob Kerrey -- they're standing by. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

We're talking about the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq with the former Reagan Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle and former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

Senator Kerrey, we just heard Richard Perle make the suggestion, the strong statement, that if the U.S. were to pull out right now, it would send a message to Al Qaida, other terrorists, it's open season on the United States. In effect, that's what he said.

KERREY: I agree with him. I mean, it would send a signal that we're essentially a paper tiger one more time. I completely agree with him. But I think, unless the president changes his strategy, both in Iraq and here in the United States, that's precisely what's going to happen.

You know, he goes to Pennsylvania on veterans day and says, you saw the same intelligence I did. For gosh sakes, Richard, I know you're upset that people are calling the president a liar.

But he's got to know that Congress doesn't see the same intel. We, on the 9/11 commission, had to subpoena documents in order to see the presidential daily briefing and even then, we just saw limited version of it.

Congress shouldn't see the same intelligence the president sees. That would be completely inappropriate for that to happen.

So, if he's trying to get trust, he's got to come out and -- have a different strategy at them get people to understand and be confident that he knows what's happening in Iraq and he's got a strategy other than just saying, let's stay the course because, if we stay the course, we're going to cut and run.

That's what Congress is going to do.

BLITZER: You want to respond to that, Richard?

PERLE: Well, I certainly hope Congress doesn't cut and run.

And I certainly agree that the administration could do a much better job of explaining itself, explaining the strategy, explaining why we're in Iraq, and the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal. But let me say, I saw the prewar intelligence.

Maybe not exactly what the president saw or the Congress saw, and the CIA was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and that's because we knew that things had gone into Iraq, and there was no documentation that they'd ever been destroyed. And this attack on the president's credibility, the suggestion that he lied or manipulated intelligence, is just wrong, and it's doing a great deal of damage. And it is being repeated by people who have seen the 9/11 Commission report, who have seen the Silberman-Robb report, who have seen the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and you all concluded there was no lie.

KERREY: Well, the October 2002 national intelligence assessment, I think you're referring to when you talk about the CIA believed there was weapons of mass destruction, the language of that intentionally, in my view, put beneath the surface the disputes that were going on. If you read the headlines -- and I have read that report carefully -- you read the headlines, and you think there is absolute certainty.

But in the language of the report, you see uncertainty, and there was a considerable amount of debate. And Congress wasn't allowed to hear the uncertainty and the arguments being made at CIA. And what they heard was an absolute certainty that we were going to see a mushroom cloud as a smoking gun.

Now, I'm unshaken in my support for the war, but if you're trying to get people's confidence that you're telling the truth, you've got to say yes, we made some mistakes, yes, the intelligent wasn't entirely accurate. Instead, you go out with this representation that Congress saw the same thing as you did. And that isn't true.

It's easy to demonstrate it wasn't true. I don't know why that line is being used out there when you're trying to get the American confidence back, when you're trying to get people to trust you one more time.

PERLE: Senator, I agree mistakes were made, and I agree that there was inaccurate intelligence. And some people may even have characterized the intelligence in a way that an intelligence analyst might not have wished. But what the president is trying to do is cope with the allegation, not that there were errors, not that intelligence was inadequate or incorrect, but that he deliberately lied about the facts as he knew them, and you know that isn't so.

KERREY: But if he said it...

BLITZER: But wait, hold on, Senator. Hold on a second. I think what the allegation is at this point, Richard, is that the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense cherry-picked. They heard what they wanted to hear and ignored what they didn't want to hear.

That has not been investigated. The 9/11 Commission did not investigate that. The Senate Intelligence Committee did not investigate that. Although the Senate Intelligence Committee is now looking into that specific allegation, which is different than what you're talking about.

PERLE: Well, the Robb-Silberman Commission looked that...

BLITZER: No, they didn't. No, they didn't look at the cherry- picking. That was not their responsibility. The Robb-Silberman Commission, Silberman-Robb Commission did not look at how the intelligence was used. They only looked to see if the intelligence analysts were pressured. That's a difference.

PERLE: And they looked at the intelligence product. And I have heard from members of that commission that it was appallingly inadequate. And that is what the administration had...

BLITZER: They were dead wrong. That was their conclusion. But Senator Kerrey, you agreed going into the war, you agreed with the intelligence assessment at the time. You said this on September 12, 2002, "On September 11, 2001, the U.S. was attacked by criminals who murdered 3,000 innocent people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There is credible evidence that Iraqi intelligence personnel met with one of the leaders of this attack."

You were under that assumption. You were getting bad intelligence as well.

KERREY: Well, yes. Although, I mean, I do think that there is pretty -- still pretty good evidence that there was meetings that were conducted. Look, my argument -- I wrote the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. So, if you're looking for somebody to finger, somebody that was, that may have been wrong in this thing, go back to 1998.

But the argument then was that we've had a policy in place, a military strategy in place since 1991 to contain Saddam Hussein, and it wasn't working. We weren't getting the cooperation we needed. He was thumbing his nose at the international community. And all you have to do is look at the oil-for-food report that Paul Volcker did to see how serious that was. So he was not cooperating with the international community.

And we had reason to believe that he was a threat. He was certainly a threat to U.S. forces. And in the region, we were out there flying no-fly zone missions in the north and the south, trying to contain him from going after and killing more Kurds in the north and Shia in the south. So we had a military operation in place. And I think it was a reasonable argument. I think it was, unfortunately, inflated. The threat was inflated.

Look, Wolf, I'm going to say one thing that I think is important. We're not fighting that war today. It's a completely different war that is going on in Iraq today. That's what the president needs to say. Argue about whether or not we should have overthrown Saddam Hussein, but that's a different military effort than the one we're conducting right now.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Senator, Richard Perle, we're out of time. So we have to leave it right there. But an excellent point to end this discussion on. We'll continue down the road. Thank you very much, Richard Perle, Senator Bob Kerrey.

All right. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This administration manipulated and misused intelligence information that rushed us to war.

BUSH: Some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They're playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Debating the case for the war in Iraq.

Did the Bush administration deliberately mislead the U.S. Congress and the American people before the invasion?

We'll ask former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson.

Is the insurgency in Iraq spreading across the Middle East? And is the U.S. doing enough to fight the war on terror?

We'll get perspective from three former CIA officials and Middle East experts, Reuel Gerecht, Melissa Boyle Mahle and Michael Scheuer.

Welcome back.

We'll talk with former secretary of state Colin Powell's one-time chief of staff, retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, in just a moment.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Criticism of how the Bush administration handled the run up to the war in Iraq isn't limited to Democrats. The man who served as former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff also offering up a tough assessment of the White House's actions. He's retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. Colonel Wilkerson, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition."

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR SECRETARY OF STATE POWELL: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: And I didn't mean to suggest you're a Democrat or a Republican. I don't know what you are.

Politically I know you're a retired senior military officer in the U.S. Army. You worked for Colin Powell at the State Department as his chief of staff. And you wrote this recently in the Los Angeles Times: "The decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. More often than not, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal. Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift, not unlike the decision making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy."

This cabal being, in your words, "the vice president, Dick Cheney, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, basically got what they wanted in getting the United States to war against Saddam Hussein."

WILKERSON: Well, Wolf, my points were a little more precise than that.

My points had to do with the two issues, decision issues that I had the most profound insights into -- the one being the post-invasion situation in Iraq, and the inept and incompetent planning therefore, mostly led by Douglas Feith under secretary of defense for policy's outfit.

BLITZER: At the Pentagon.

WILKERSON: At the Pentagon.

And the issue which finally broke the -- the straw that broke the camel's back for me and made me want to go public, the issue of detainee abuse, which has done so much damage to my armed forces and so much damage to America's image and credibility around the world. Those were the two issues that I had the most profound insights into.

Now, let me add, there are other things that I think this different, alternative decision-making process had impact on. And I just don't have the profound insights into those other things.

For example, I've recently learned that the Office of Strategic Intelligence that Secretary Rumsfeld wanted to set up in the Pentagon, which would essentially be an office of disinformation, due to the congressional pressure and the pressure from the American people, media and so forth, couldn't be set up.

I've learned that millions of taxpayer dollars were used to outsource that operation to the Rendon Group. And I'm looking into that now, too, because I have some insights into that. I've read the fine book by James Bamford, "Pretext for War" and then his recent article 15 November, I believe, in Rolling Stone which details the relationship between the Rendon Group, Ahmed Chalabi, the INC and so forth.

BLITZER: But on the specific point of the cabal that you spoke about, the Rumsfeld-Cheney cabal steamrolling all these decisions, you're talking about the post-war that they steamrolled decisions and how to deal with the war after major combat, as they say, was over and on the issue of detainee abuse?

WILKERSON: Exactly.

And this is not something that happened in the statutory process. In the statutory process, the bureaucracy worked, if you will. Colin Powell won some as secretary of state. Donald Rumsfeld won some as secretary of defense.

The statutory process on many decisions, U.S.-China relations, the six-party talks with North Korea, the Millennium Challenge Account, HIV/AIDS donations, on many decisions worked.

But on others it was dysfunctional. And underneath that dysfunctionality, decisions were made in an alternative process.

BLITZER: And so what you're not suggesting -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that there was a cabal that led to the war?

WILKERSON: No, I cannot find that.

I am having second thoughts about the intelligence on WMD. Once Shaykh Al-Libi's recantation took place and we now know that his words were false and probably gained under some of the interrogation techniques that I'm now decrying and that every American should decry, but I'm finding things that I didn't know before.

And I'd reserve opinion now on whether or not some of the intelligence that led us into Iraq was politicized or not.

BLITZER: In our first hour on "Late Edition," the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, both of them said they don't remember seeing you at any meeting leading up to the war or participating in any of these sessions.

Listen to what Rumsfeld told me within the past hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: I don't believe I've ever met him. I look at the picture. I don't recognize him.

BLITZER: Is he right?

RUMSFELD: I can't imagine he was ever in a meeting with the vice president or me or anyone else at a senior level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Basically suggesting you don't know what you're talking about.

WILKERSON: They made my point for me.

The decisions were not made in the principals process, in the deputies process, in the policy coordinating committee process. They were not made in the statutory process.

And my insights into them came through on the detainee abuse issue, Secretary Powell walking through my door in April or March of 2004 and telling me to get everything I could get my hands on with regard to the detainee abuse issue -- ICRC reporting, memoranda, open- source information and so forth -- so that I could build some kind of story, some kind of audit trail so we could understand the chronology and we can understand how it developed.

Because we knew the photographs from Abu Ghraib were coming out and we knew they were going to do terrible damage to America's image in the world, terrible damage to the troops trying to do their job in Iraq, and we needed to have a handle on how it happened, how it came about and how we might deal with it.

BLITZER: All right. So let's talk about torture specifically. And you've studied this. You've gone into great length while you were working for Secretary Powell on this issue.

Does the United States, whether military or civilian, use torture against detainees?

WILKERSON: There's no question in my mind that we did. There's no question in my mind that we may be still doing it.

And there's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office. And his implementer in this case was Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department.

BLITZER: Now, what evidence do you have to back up that very strong accusation?

Because as you know, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, they all deny the U.S. condones torture.

WILKERSON: As I said before, and as you quoted me, Wolf, I don't know if the president was witting in this or not.

I voted for him twice. I prefer to think that he was not.

The president put out a memorandum and the memorandum, in essence, said that, although this was a new situation -- this war on terrorists was a new situation, the spirit of Geneva would still apply, consistent with military necessity.

Now, many of my critics have said, ah there's the president's out, "consistent with military necessity."

But the president did not say consistent with national security; he did not say consistent with the demands of the global war on terrorism; he said with military necessity.

That means -- I'm an infantryman, who was in the Army for 31 years. I know what that means. That means if someone is going to -- if I'm detaining someone and they're going to kill one of my buddies or me, I can butt-stroke him. I can even shoot him if I have to.

And I haven't departed from Geneva. Or even if they say I have, I have a defense. That doesn't mean that I can take that individual in a room, shackled to the wall, powerless and beat him in order to get information out of him.

And the first thing I came across, Wolf, was, as early as December 2010 at Bagram in Afghanistan...

BLITZER: 2001?

WILKERSON: 2002, where we actually murdered two detainees. And the truly, truly horrific thing about one of those murders is it now looks like, from a consensus of the other military people who were present at the time, that the one man, a taxi cab driver in Afghanistan, was just caught up in things.

He was innocent. He was innocent and he was murdered.

BLITZER: But is this a case of a couple or a handful or a few U.S. troops running amok and getting carried away or a much more serious suggestion that this is condoned at the highest levels of the U.S. government? WILKERSON: Too widespread. And when you've got a general like General Sanchez, who is actually a facilitator of this...

BLITZER: Rick Sanchez was in Iraq.

WILKERSON: Precisely.

BLITZER: He was the U.S. commander?

WILKERSON: Actually a facilitator of this...

BLITZER: When you say a facilitator, what do you mean by that?

WILKERSON: Well, what happens is, you have guidance that comes down from on high. And I think this guidance originated with Secretary Rumsfeld. It was a memorandum.

BLITZER: You said the vice president a minute ago.

WILKERSON: Well, the vice president had to cover this in order for it to happen and in order for Secretary Rumsfeld to feel as though he had freedom of action.

There was a memorandum actually from Secretary Rumsfeld. And it's a famous memorandum now. It actually had a note on it saying, I stand up for so many hours every day; I don't see why they can't.

This memorandum and other attitudes on the part of the Defense Department and on the part of its military -- I'm not leaving the military out of this -- its military leaders as well as its civilians created an atmosphere of flexibility, an atmosphere of, this is not your father's war.

This is a place where things can be done because we need the intelligence. And they can be done with a great deal more flexibility than before.

General Miller's trip from Guantanamo to Iraq had that in mind. And when you do that and combine it with putting pressure from the top down on the troops, to produce intelligence, produce intelligence, produce intelligence, you enter on a slippery slope indeed.

You begin to tell people that there are things they can do that aren't within the normal realm of things and that they have to do them because you need the intelligence.

BLITZER: What evidence...

WILKERSON: And that's what happened.

BLITZER; You say it may be continuing right now. On the military side or the civilian side? By the civilian side, I'm referring to the CIA or civilian contractors for the U.S. government.

What evidence do you have that it may be continuing to this day? WILKERSON: Well, I can only assume that, when the vice president of the United States lobbies the Congress on behalf of cruel and unusual punishment and the need to be able to do that in order to get information out of potential terrorists...

BLITZER: When he's opposing the John McCain legislation?

WILKERSON: Right -- that it's still going on. That's the only conclusion I can come to.

BLITZER: Well, can you come to another conclusion that maybe there's that rare moment where it may be absolutely essential?

Last week Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, was on this program and he offered this scenario.

He said, let's say it's September 7th, 2001, a few days before 9/11 and the U.S. has one of those hijackers and he speaks about, get ready, you're about -- a lot of Americans are about to die, but I'm not going to tell you what's going to happen.

Can you envisage a scenario where torture might be justified in that kind of a situation, to try to get the information out of this person?

WILKERSON: Well, if we think about that for a few minutes, it has a lot of logic to it. It almost presupposes the perfect situation where you know everything you need to know before you ask this question.

I'm very familiar with the ticking bomb argument. But there's a vastly more important dimension to it, Wolf. And that is, that this is a war of ideas that we're in. It's not a war of bombs, bullets and bayonets.

We chose to lead with the military in this war because the Taliban, Afghanistan, Al Qaida and everything was there and we needed to take care of it because of what it had done to the United States.

But the bigger conflict is the war of ideas. Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi are evil. And we need the Muslim world to wake up to that evil, as it seems to be slowly doing, and to denounce that evil.

And in a war of ideas, you cannot damage your own ideas, your own position by seeming to do things that are in contradiction of your values. And look at what happened recently with the 170, 173, whatever, Iraqis that we found underneath the ministry of interior in Iraq. I mean...

BLITZER: Well, they supposedly were being tortured by Iraqis.

WILKERSON; Exactly. But what is General Casey, what is our ambassador, Khalilzad -- what are they going to say to Hakim?

Are they going to go in and say, you can't do this? Hakim will laugh at them. Look at Abu Ghraib. Look at Guantanamo. Look at Bagram. Why should you lecture me?

BLITZER: As tough as that accusation is, in this statement that you made last month, you also said something that potentially is a lot more worrisome to the American public. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILKERSON: If something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Explain what you mean by that because it sounds as if -- that you're accusing this administration of total ineptitude and not dealing with the threats as they currently exist.

WILKERSON: Well, Wolf, this is a long story, and it goes back to the 1947 National Security Act and the debate between the national security state and our traditional political values and cultural values.

So, it's not anything new. There are people who wanted perfect security against the Soviet Union and were willing to bankrupt the nation in order to do it.

But if you make a decision that you want -- not perfect security but as good a security as you can, realizing perfect security is impossible, and you are willing to spend the dollars on it, you better spend the dollars on the right thing.

And I'm glad you brought this up, because, in my October 19 remarks at the New America Foundation, almost everyone seems to have overlooked what I said -- about what I said about the sclerotic bureaucracy.

There are reasons presidents turn to other decision-making processes than those that exist statutorily. There's a reason that cabals form to do things like Watergate, Iran-Contra and so forth.

There's a reason for that, because the bureaucracy is so sclerotic; it is so incapable of moving fast -- as Secretary Rumsfeld said, getting inside the enemy's decision loop -- and so, we need to take a real hard look at this.

Katrina -- the federal response to Katrina showed us we need to take a real hard look at how we take those portions of the inter- agency group, the federal bureaucracy, and how we compel them to do a better job of coordinating, of sharing information, of dealing with crisis.

And this has been ongoing for a long time. President Clinton had PDD 56, but he never put any teeth in it. We need something we can put teeth into. BLITZER: Colonel Wilkerson, we're out of time. But thanks very much for joining us.

WILKERSON: Surely. Thank you.

BLITZER: Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to the secretary of state, Colin Powell.

Coming up: Why were U.S. intelligence claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were so dead wrong? We'll get perspective from a panel of former CIA officials.

Then, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is still time for you to weigh in on our web question of the week: Should the U.S. set a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later this hour. Straight ahead, did the CIA botch the case for war with Iraq? We'll get the inside story from two of the spy agency's former officers. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Two years after the invasion of Iraq and no WMD, weapons of mass destruction, how much is the CIA to blame for war? For answers, we turn to our two guests. Reuel Gerecht is a former CIA Middle East specialist. Melissa Boyle Mahle also a former CIA Middle East specialist, former case officer. Thanks to both of you for joining us. You were a case officer, is that right?

MELISSA MAHLE, FORMER CIA MIDDLE EAST SPECIALIST: Right.

BLITZER: You ran spies in the Middle East?

MAHLE: I did.

BLITZER: That's a tough mission. We'll get to that shortly. Reuel Gerecht, thanks to you as well. I want to start off with John Murtha, since he's been in the news so much. The Congressman from Pennsylvania, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the ranking Democrat. Listen to this excerpt from what he said. Well, actually, we don't have it ready.

But let me read it to you. "It's time to bring them home. They've done everything they can do. The military has done everything they can do. This war has been so mishandled from the very start, not only with the intelligence bad, the way they disbanded the troops." How could the intelligence, Reuel Gerecht, have been so bad?

REUEL GERECHT, FORMER CIA MIDDLE EAST SPECIALIST: On the issue of WMD, I think it's fairly easy to understand that. The agency has never been particularly adept at getting spies, and you'd have to have multiple spies, inside of totalitarian societies. Success it had in the past against countries like the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba were inevitably volunteers. They were walk-ins. And those simply were not...

BLITZER: But if they knew all of that, that it's so bad, why would they come up with this national intelligence estimate that seemed to be so black and white, stockpiles of WMD representing an imminent threat to the United States?

GERECHT: Well, I think it's very clear that the information that we had on Saddam Hussein was largely based on information it had been discovered before. We knew from the Gulf War forward that Saddam Hussein had spent billions of dollars making weapons of mass destruction. We knew that he had stockpiled weapons...

BLITZER: But these were all assumptions. There was no...

GERECHT: No, no, no. I mean, in the past they weren't assumptions. I mean, we actually know...

BLITZER: In the '80s and '90s.

GERECHT: We actually know from inspectors that, in fact, there were large quantities of WMD that Saddam Hussein had, in fact, built. Now, what happened was that there appears to have been some change in the tactic and approach by Saddam Hussein during the 1990s.

I suggest to you, the only way you really would have been able to detect that would have been multiple sources, multiple volunteers inside of those organizations that could have verified it, and that would have been very, very difficult, and the agency didn't have that type of penetration before.

BLITZER: Melissa, you worked at what they call human intelligence. You were running these kinds of operatives throughout the Middle East. What's your take? How could it have been so bad? So wrong?

MAHLE: I agree very much with the assessment it was a lack of human reporting sources that were well-placed inside the Iraqi government. Because we had insufficient human intelligence, we could not challenge and did not challenge our assumptions.

We worked off the wrong baseline and, therefore, came to the wrong conclusions. And the reason why that happened was, in the 1990s, we got out of the spy business. We stopped recruiting intelligence agents on the ground because it was just too hard.

BLITZER: When you say not that many human sources of intelligence within Iraq, there were apparently none, or at least very few that turned out to be credible, or weren't fabricators.

MAHLE: I agree with that. And I think the problem with that, because it was what we called a denied target, and we did not put the kind of resources against it that it would take to really crack a tough nut.

BLITZER: Do you want to respond?

GERECHT: Yeah. I would disagree with that. I don't think there's any evidence to suggest anytime before the mid-1990s, that the CIA, the kind of clandestine service, performed well against any totalitarian society. You had to have walk-ins. Agents that were of some value against the Soviet Union were all, I repeat all, volunteers.

None of them were recruited. The notion that you are going to get inside of the tightest totalitarian society in the Middle East through recruitment, I just think belies the history of the clandestine service since 1947.

MAHLE: I strongly disagree with that. Part of recruiting agents is you have to create environments that's going to make agents want to work for you. You've got to really do a little bit of advertisement. And we weren't even doing that. They didn't even know what door to knock on if they wanted to volunteer.

So it's a range of activities that the CIA wasn't doing. But I wouldn't say they were completely inactive, but definitely we had scaled down our operations to a degree that we didn't have the sources. And that's the bottom line.

BLITZER: When I was in Iraq earlier this year, Melissa, and attended various intelligence briefings, getting some inside information, I realized that the U.S. is clearly learning more and more each day about the insurgency. But at the same time, I came away with the conclusion that the more the U.S. learns about the insurgency, the more top U.S. officials, intelligence analysts realize there's so much they don't know, so much information that they're simply in the dark on, and that it still represents a huge mystery. I don't know what you're hearing.

MAHLE: I think that's accurate, because one of the things that, this insurgency, we'd like to say it's being fought by foreign jihadis. That is an element, but a small element. The much larger element are people that are Iraqis that are coming out of the tribal regions.

You know, when was the last time that the CIA officers were running around these tribal regions and knowing who the tribe leaders were and how the system operates? We just weren't there. We didn't have a presence.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

GERECHT: Well, we certainly didn't have a presence inside of the country. The agency wasn't going to put people inside because they were going to, they would in all probability get killed. The agency's highly risk-adverse. And under those circumstances, I think understandable.

I think it is true that the intelligence community as a whole has done a very bad job at understanding Islamic extremism, understanding Sunni Islam, and other Islamic extremism, and they have tenaciously held on, too long in my view, to the view that the insurgency was primarily propelled by former Baathists. I think that's false.

BLITZER: The CSIS issued a report saying that "Iran is a major source of funding and logistics for militant Shiite groups in Iraq. According to regional intelligence reports, Iran is suspected of arming and training some 40,000 Iraqi fighters with a view towards to fomenting an Islamic revolution in Iraq." Do you accept that assessment?

GERECHT: Well, that number seems a little high. There's no doubt about it that the Iranians were instrumental in the creation of the Badr organization, which is the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Iranians certainly are up to no good inside of Iraq.

I think they're going to have a great deal of difficulty, unless the Sunni insurgents, the jihadists continue to slaughter the Shia in great numbers and thereby making the Iraqi Shia believe that their only safe haven is with the Iranians.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MAHLE: I generally agree with that. I think the Iranians understand that this is in their backyard, and it's to their strategic interest to make sure that whatever type of government emerges from Iraq, that it is friendly and hopefully not just friendly, but will follow the lead of Iranian policies.

And so they are being extremely active in preparing that -- the playing field, recruiting sources, recruiting agents of influence. And also making sure for the day after, that their folks are well- armed and prepared if indeed there's going to be an arms struggle.

BLITZER: One of the CIA's former top analysts on Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, who we had hoped would be on this program today, unfortunately he's not here, wrote this in The Washington Times on Thursday.

He wrote this: "President Bush is wrong when he says we will not run from Iraq. He is whistling past the graveyard, hoping something good turns up. Sadly, nothing will. Why? Well, we will be beaten in Iraq and elsewhere because we refuse to accept reality and act with the brains or military ruthlessness reality requires."

Do you accept that assessment from Michael Scheuer?

MAHLE: I'm not quite as pessimistic as Michael Scheuer is on this.

But I have to say that our options in Iraq are not -- really are choosing at this point in time between bad and worse.

Whether we stay six months, another year, is that fundamentally going to alter the outcome? When we leave, are we going to see the emergence of an Iraqi civil war? Are we going to see what -- the foreign jihadi element can treat it as a safe haven and as a launching pad?

Those things -- those calls are hard to make right now. But I don't think we're facing a very good option whether we stay or leave.

BLITZER: What do you think?

GERECHT: Well, I think Michael's a bit of a die-hard imperialist when it comes to the tactics that he would recommend.

Listen, as long -- the real issue is, will the Sunni jihadists succeed and drive the Shia community into retaliatory revenge killings?

As long as that is within measure and doesn't get out of board, you are not going to lose an insurgency when 80 percent of the population is effectively on your side. It will not happen.

It will be a very painful and slow process. The administration would be well advised to remind Americans how painful and how slow it's going to be. But in the end you will win so long as the sectarian strife does not get out of hand.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people believe there's going to be a civil war there no matter what?

GERECHT: Well, the restraint shown by the Shiite community and the Kurdish community, but mainly the Shias since they're the ones who are getting pounded day in and day out, has been stunning. I would not have predicted they would have shown such restraint.

As long as that restraint remains, and this is a going proposition, you will beat the Sunni insurgency. But it will take time, and the administration, as I said, would be well advised to remind people how long and how difficult it will be.

BLITZER: All right.

Stand by, guys, because we have a lot more to discuss. We're going to continue our discussion, including what went wrong with U.S. intelligence, the overall situation in Iraq.

And this reminder: Bob Woodward of the Washington Post talks to our own Larry King about what he knew and when in the CIA leak investigation. That's an exclusive interview that will air tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on Tropical Storm Gamma.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're talking about the war on terror and U.S. intelligence with former CIA officials Melissa Boyle Mahle and Reuel Gerecht.

Melissa, before we move on to some other subjects, your bottom line on Iraq, can the U.S. win in Iraq?

MAHLE: If the U.S. was willing to stay for a very long time, spend a lot of money, take a lot of deaths, we might be able to leave behind a system that might barely function.

I'm not very optimistic at this point in time. And I don't think at this -- I don't think that we should continue to put in the kind of resources, given what we're going to get out of it.

I just don't see the win scenario.

BLITZER: Reuel?

GERECHT: We definitely win.

I mean, I think that you are now in the process of fighting a classic counterinsurgency campaign. We're not going to use American troops to do it, but we're going to use Iraqi troops to do it. It's going to take time to set up a new Iraqi army with a new Iraqi officer corps.

But eventually I strongly suspect that we'll win. And I certainly believe it's worth the effort, because a withdrawal from Iraq would be calamitous for the United States and would add jet fuel to Islamic jihadism against America.

BLITZER: Let's talk about human intelligence sources.

The Los Angeles Times has a story today on Curveball. Curveball being this supposedly super-secret Iraqi source that provided information to the U.S. in advance about weapons of mass destruction, all sorts of other things.

The L.A. Times says this today: "The DIA," the Defense Intelligence Agency, "like the BND," which is the German intelligence agency, which was running Curveball, "never tried to check Curveball's background or verify his accounts before sending reports to other U.S. intelligence agencies. Despite that failure, CIA analysts accepted the incoming reports as credible and quickly passed them to senior policymakers."

The story goes on to say, "In one meeting, the CIA chief analyst fiercely defended Curveball's account saying she had confirmed on the Internet many of the details he cited. 'Exactly, it's on the Internet,' the operations group chief for Germany, now a CIA station chief in Europe, exploded in response. 'That's where he got it, too.'"

This sounds like amateur hour over at the CIA. Reuel?

GERECHT: Well, I won't talk about the details of Curveball, which I do not know.

I just suggest to you that the intelligence information on Saddam Hussein, the part that was alarming, was what was publicly known. And that information, I think, was very well discussed by senior members of the Clinton administration that led them to, in fact, warn repeatedly about the imminent danger of Saddam Hussein, and why the United States in 1998 started to bomb its facilities they thought were related to WMD.

If you go back and you read Ken Pollack's book, "The Gathering Storm," which was a fairly influential book, Mr. Pollack had no information coming from Curveball whatsoever and I think he made a pretty persuasive case for the need for war against Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Want to weigh in before we move on?

MAHLE: Yes.

I think Curveball is a classic case where you have two different opinions within the agency and senior management picked the assessment that they liked.

BLITZER: Cherry picked is the accusation.

MAHLE: Well, yes. Because I think within the directorate of operations, there was an awful lot of angst over Curveball. They wanted to validate him. They were not given access to do that. And when they finally got it, they didn't like what they heard and saw.

But their voice was not the voice that was ultimately listened to, because what they were saying was that he's not credible, and therefore, this intelligence from him is not credible.

BLITZER: You were a spy for the CIA out in the field for many years before you left the CIA.

In your experience, the issue of torture, does it work?

MAHLE: No. Absolutely not.

If you torture, what you get is a mixed bag of intelligence. And when you don't know what's real and what's false, how do you use it? How are you going to deploy your resources? How are you going to make that bet that this is the issue that's worth following and it's not really denial and deception?

No, I don't think that torture -- torture is the quick and easy and the poor man's way out. You run a good debriefing, you get good intelligence. It takes qualified officers with knowledge of culture, language and history, and you give them the time and the resources to do a good debriefing, then you'll get valuable intelligence.

BLITZER: You agree?

GERECHT: Well, let's just say I think agency officers aren't in a position to tell you whether torture works or not since agency officers have not until recently probably engaged in any rough tactics.

Historically, there is -- one has to be cautious in saying that torture has not at times been effective. I'm not sure one can say with such certainty that torture cannot provide you with valuable information at times. History might tell you otherwise.

I would suggest that the agency certainly has been of the opinion that rendition, the practice of sending foreigners to other countries for rough interrogation that has been of some value -- I think the policy of rendition is a bad one.

But the agency practice which goes back to the Clinton administration in favor of rendition certainly suggests that the institution has seen some value in it.

BLITZER: Before we go, I want both of your thoughts on the CIA leak investigation under way right now in the United States. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald continuing the investigation, even though one top U.S. official, Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, has been indicted on perjury, obstruction of justice, making false statements counts.

Do you believe there was any serious damage to U.S. national security when Bob Novak wrote a column identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as the wife of Joe Wilson? Was there any damage to the U.S. as a result of that disclosure?

MAHLE: Well, I think in order to have an honest answer to that, you would have to read the damage assessment done by the CIA of the exposure.

The CIA has not done a formal damage assessment and there's a reason for that -- because they don't want to have that damage assessment then become declassified and entered into the court system. So what they've done is an informal assessment.

BLITZER: But you were almost in exactly the same position as Valerie Plame Wilson. You were an undercover -- you were a CIA officer, running spies. Had your true work been made public, while you were in the West Bank or wherever else you were operating, how much damage would there have been to you, your family and to the people you were running, the people you were working with?

MAHLE: I treated my cover extremely seriously, because I was working against terrorists. And since I had a vested interest in staying alive and doing my job and keeping my family life, I treated my cover seriously.

And I think that you can't take covers lightly.

In this case, I think that's exactly what we're doing with Valerie Plame. People are saying it's not important because, you know, people, you know, don't treat it seriously or they're not -- you know, it's not foolproof, all that.

I think that just denies the whole purpose why we have cover -- so we can do our job, so we can protect our agents and so we can gather the intelligence that we need.

BLITZER: We're out of time, and I'll give you the last word.

Reuel?

GERECHT: I think the Central Intelligence Agency treats coverage as a joke overseas. And most assets are run by officers who have their cover blown.

And the discussion of Valerie Plame I think...

BLITZER: Would those be non-official cover or official cover?

GERECHT: Official cover.

BLITZER: It's one thing if you're a defense -- a scientific attache...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... she was working as some sort of a private citizen.

GERECHT: No, she was not. Valerie Plame's case was at best what you would call a NOC of convenience, and I think her cover status overseas was paper thin, was paper thin back here.

BLITZER: But she was working for some fake energy company. She wasn't part of the U.S. Embassy.

GERECHT: No.

But she was part -- she was back at headquarters. Real NOCs never serve in headquarters. Real NOCs do not have desk outside of the chief of...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There are people who deny that. Larry Johnson, for example...

(CROSSTALK)

GERECHT: All due respect to Larry, he is wrong.

BLITZER: Is he right -- are real NOCs ever allowed to go into the CIA?

MAHLE: Yes, real NOCs do go into the CIA.

BLITZER: NOCs are non-official cover. MAHLE: Non-official cover officers.

BLITZER: So he's wrong?

MAHLE: Yes, he's wrong.

GERECHT: No.

If you have a NOC who comes in, they come under false name for a limited amount of time, they do not work on the desk. Once a NOC comes into headquarters and starts working there -- she was never in that category -- their career as a NOC is over.

And the discussion of Valerie Plame's case has been surreal. The agency has allowed -- has run with this because they'd much prefer to talk about this issue than its vast cases of operational incompetence.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. We're out of time. But go ahead, just respond and I'll end it.

MAHLE: I think that what that does is deny all the work that Valerie Plame had done in the past. And by saying that she's on the desk and she's not doing real work, I think that's a very false characterization.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there.

Thank you very much, Melissa Boyle Mahle, Reuel Gerecht.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition"'s Sunday morning talk show roundup.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On CBS's "Face the Nation," the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, Richard Lugar, called for a calmer, more sober conversation in Congress about the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R) INDIANA: Even as we stay, there's going to be great anxiety, unless we know how we're going to succeed, that we need more troops rather than less, for example, that we need, certainly, more supplies, arms for the Iraqis that we're claiming are trained but frequently don't have ammunition, don't seem have ways of getting around the country.

You know, these are the questions that have got to be asked as opposed to a lot of caterwauling like people coming out of a baseball dugout and having at it on the field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democratic, Joe Biden, took issue with Vice President Cheney's assertion that Iraq war critics are now trying to rewrite history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: He said that, quote, "they have reconstituted their nuclear weapons. Contemporaneously, I said there is absolutely no evidence of that -- two things the vice president continued to push, and continues to push which were flat dead wrong then, flat dead wrong now.

No Democrat I'm aware of suggested they believed that he had reconstituted his nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on NBC's "Meet the Press," the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said Americans shouldn't worry about the bird flu this holiday season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, DIR., CTRS. FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Right now, the H5N1 problem is a bird problem and it's not in the United States at this point in time.

So, when you sit down for your Thanksgiving dinner and you enjoy your turkey or your chicken, it's not an avian flu issue at all. And we really encourage people to enjoy the holiday without concern about that threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, November 20. Please take a look at our poll results. There they are from our question of the week. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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