February 21, 2006
I have bolded areas I think are of particular import.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Vice President Cheney said last week that he has the authority to
declassify intelligence, information like the kind that led to us to
war in Iraq. Now retired Paul Pillar worked at the CIA for 28 years.
From 2000 to 2005, he was in charge of coordinating the entire
intelligence community's assessment of Iraq. He recently wrote that the
Bush administration cherry-picked intelligence before the war to
support the decision they had already made to go there.
We asked the CIA for comment today and a spokesperson told us, "Mr.
is free to express his personal opinions as a private citizen." That's
nice of them. Mr. Pillar, thank you very much. You're now free to
speak. Let me ask you to take a look at this claim by Vice President
Cheney in August of 2002 before he went to war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we now know that
Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
That was the build-up to war and it was to scare a lot of people in the
middle who hadn't decided on the war, that we would face a nuclear
attack from Iraq to here on the territory of the United States, if we
didn't go to war. What was that claim based on by the vice president?
PAUL PILLAR, FMR. DEPUTY CHIEF, CIA
COUNTERTERRORIST CENTER: There was an assortment of human and technical
intelligence, mainly human. But you have to remember, how much was
analysis? That is to say, inference. We really didn't know anything. If
you take the vice president's statement after the word "know," then
that was the judgment, mistaken as it turned out, of the intelligence community.
How much of this was just put together by people who wanted us to go to
war? The Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi, who's now going to be oil
minister over there. They just wanted their country back.
I wouldn't put too much emphasis on that, Chris. I mean, all the
analysts around town were reading all of the available information and
Chalabi and the INC people had an angle. But most of the difficulties
in the intelligence, the errors that were highlighted in the
Silberman-Robb Commission, went well beyond just the INC and Chalabi's
MATTHEWS: Bottom line, do you believe there was a nuclear threat from Saddam before we went to war?
I believe and the community believed that he was in the process of
reconstituting a nuclear weapons program. The judgment was that Iran—or
Iraq rather, was probably several years away from that. The vice
president in a separate statement that he made, a major speech in
August 2002, basically disagreed with that by saying he thought that
they would get nuclear weapons fairly soon. That was not the community's decision.
What about the lingo that came out of the then-National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice when she said if you wait for a smoking gun,
you'll get a mushroom cloud. Was that a fair assessment of the
immediacy of the threat?
PILLAR: Well that's rhetoric. As I said, the judgment of the community was the program was being reconstituted, which turned out to be an erroneous judgment. But erroneous or not, it was probably, Iraq was probably still several years away from having a weapon.
OK, let's take a look at another claim. A warning, rather, from the
vice president, also given before the war in December 2001, right after
9/11. Here he is, the vice president talking about a connection between
Iraq and al Qaeda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: It's been
pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with the
senior official of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
There's the vice president saying, Mohammed Atta, the lead killer on
9/11, having met with an intelligence officer of the Iraqi government,
the March of 2001, before the attack on the United States. Is that
accurate? Was there any grounding in that?
was never confirmed and in the subsequent investigation of that
particular lead, shall we say, it did not pan out at all. Now the
judgment of the FBI and the community and the 9/11 Commission, no such
meeting took place.
MATTHEWS: And by the way, although we saw that tape, and he truly did make that claim on tape, as we saw, the vice president subsequently denied that having ever made that statement. Let's take a look at another one. Here's how Cheney thought we would be greeted, our forces once they arrived in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of
the Iraqi people, my belief is we will in fact be greeted as liberators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Was that your best intelligence, that there wouldn't be an insurgency?
The judgment of the intelligence community, and this is very much a
judgment, since you're talking about trying to anticipate a future, was
that the view toward the foreign occupation forces would
depend above all on how successful they were in those first few weeks
and months after invading Iraq, in restoring and establishing safety,
security, a growing economy.
Of course, we did not
succeed in doing that. And our anticipation was, if we did not succeed
in doing that, that the foreign troops, that is to say, U.S. coalition
forces would be seen as occupiers and would be seen as adversaries. And
part of the response could take the form of guerrilla warfare.
About Iraqis: National Security Adviser at the time Condi Rice said no
one in the US anticipated an "insurgency". She got promoted for that.]
MATTHEWS: Did you expect the Sunni population, which had benefited from the regime of Saddam Hussein, to resist our occupation?
We certainly expected and highlighted in prewar intelligence community
assessments, that the sectarian and ethnic splits among the Sunni, the
Shia, the Kurds, were deep rooted. They were intense. And that the
process of trying to turn Iraq into a stable and unified democracy
partly for that reason, would be long and difficult and turbulent. And if an occupying force weren't sitting on it, civil war would be a possibility.
there ever been a country that's allowed itself to be overtaken, to be
occupied without some kind of nationalistic resistance?
About Iraqis: Is Matthews calling the "insurgents" a nationalistic
resistance? And by doing so, is he saying nationalistic ideals take
PILLAR: That is always the natural tendency.
MATTHEWS: Why didn't we predict it?
Well in the community assessments I talked about we—well, I eschew the
word prediction, since so much would depend on what the United States
itself did. Certainly the clear anticipation of the community
was that Iraq was no different from, indeed at least as good an example
of what you just mentioned.
MATTHEWS: Well people like me predicted it based upon history. We didn't have all the intelligence needed.
PILLAR: Good for you.
I'm sorry, I think you may have well, too. Let me ask you, with all
this, putting it all together, the three big cases for war, it would be
relatively smooth. In fact, a slam-dunk effort to cake walk as it was
said to be, that there was going to be a nuclear threat if we didn't
act. And of course there was some connection to 9/11. Putting it all
together, was that a firm basis for going to war?
don't believe so. So much attention was given to the weapons of mass
destruction given the judgments of the community, that we were still at
least several years away from the most important thing, a nuclear
weapon. I don't think the urgency was there. And
although there, as the president and others have rightly said, there
was a very widespread misperception about the state of not just nuclear
weapons, but other weapons of mass destruction program.
other issue that you touched on, relationship with al Qaeda or alleged
relationship, was much more of a manufactured issue. There really
wasn't anything there that the intelligence community saw that remotely
resembled an alliance or something that they expected to become an
MATTHEWS: Were these elements we talked about,
the nuclear case, the connection to 9/11, were they basically—were they
the reason for going to war with Iraq or were they the sales pitch?
I think we've had some statements from the likes of Mr. Wolfowitz and
Mr. Feith that they were not necessarily a real reason to go to war. I
personally believe, and trying to just look at this as a student of
American politics and looking at what some of the decisionmakers had
written before, that the main reason for going to war was the desire to
shake up the politics of the Middle East. And the hope that Iraq with
this change force of the military invasion would bring about big change
not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the region. I think that was the main
MATTHEWS: Why didn't they admit it?
that was a lot harder to sell to the American public than the specter
of mushroom clouds or dictatorial regimes giving weapons of mass
destruction to terrorists. I mean, that has a resonance, a rhetorical
value, that political sciencey type theories about political change do
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Everything you have
said I thought was happening, and I'm glad to hear it really did. I
like to be right once in awhile. Thank you very much, Paul Pillar. Join
us again tomorrow night at 5:30 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now it's time for "THE ABRAMS REPORT" with Dan.
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