09 February 2004
Wolfowitz Defends Administration's Pre-War Reading of Intelligence
Says that Hussein's regime had a lot to hide
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz defends the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq based on the intelligence that was available at the time, rather than on the word of Saddam Hussein, whom he characterizes as "a madman and a proven liar."
During a February 6 interview with San Diego's KOGO news radio, the deputy secretary stated, "You don't have the luxury before the fact of basing your decisions on what you may learn later." He added, "You've got to base it on what you know at the time."
The deputy secretary also pointed out that investigations into Iraq's weapons programs are continuing and could still reveal stashes of chemical and biological weapon materials.
"There could be such stashes still in Iraq. There could be Iraqi weapons moved to Syria or to other countries," he said. "Almost certainly, and I think this is even implied by David Kay, there [was] definitely a capability to go into surge production once Saddam Hussein got rid of the inspectors."
Wolfowitz called attention to the Baath regime's efforts to destroy files during and after the war and stated, "It's a regime that had a lot to hide, I think still is hiding things, and that in those circumstances you don't get the whole truth I don't think should be a surprise."
The deputy secretary highlighted instances in which the intelligence community has produced accurate information, and added, "in most of those cases when the violators have been caught they have made some kind of agreement, more or less grudging, to open up -- Libya is the best case so far, of opening up and apparently being willing to dismantle those programs."
He continued, "In the case of Iraq we had exactly the opposite kind of behavior where Saddam repeatedly lied and frustrated and blocked inspections and I think people have to say what was it that he was hiding?"
Following is the transcript of the interview:
U.S. Department of Defense News Briefing
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
Friday, February 6, 2004
(Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on the Roger Hedgecock Show)
Question: Welcome back to our community forum and welcome to the KOGO [inaudible] Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary of the United States.
Secretary Wolfowitz, welcome to KOGO.
Wolfowitz: It's good to be with you.
Q: Thank you. Thanks very much for returning --
Wolfowitz: I hope your weather's better in San Diego than it is back here.
Q: I'll tell you, it's gorgeous today. That's why you have this huge Navy base out here.
Wolfowitz: I know, it's a great city.
Q: It's a wonderful place and we were enjoying it a lot.
Exactly a year ago today the Secretary of State Colin Powell made his case to the United Nations for going to war with Iraq and used satellite imagery, photographs of alleged weapons stockpiles and caches and the vans, the drawing, and all the rest of that that we saw a year ago. And it seems as I read the papers that the Kay statement, the Tenet speech yesterday, the CIA Chief's speech yesterday, that representation was, well, false. What do you say?
Wolfowitz: Oh, I don't think that's correct. I think the point is in fact, I mean stop and think about it. We're nine months into the ability to inspect and look anywhere we want in Iraq and there's still a great deal that we don't know as Secretary Rumsfeld said to the Congress just two days ago. We really do not know the story of what happened to his programs. What we do know is they're very hard to find. We knew that before. What you don't have the luxury is to base your decisions based on what you may discover later. You've got to base it on what you know at the time.
If I can quote the President, the President said we had a choice, which was to "either take the word of a mad man," and I would add a mad man and a proven liar, "or take action to defend the American people. And faced with that choice," the President said, "I will defend America every time." That's what we had to do.
Q: According to the LA Times article about CIA Director George Tenet's speech yesterday, they summarized by saying that Tenet said that the CIA never warned President Bush that Saddam Hussein's government posed a 'imminent threat" and he backed away from several claims, I'm quoting now, about "weapons of mass destruction that the White House had used to justify the invasion of Iraq."
Do you see Tenet as going back on what he said before the war then?
Wolfowitz: This word imminent keeps coming up. The President never said that there was an imminent threat. We can argue about what was imminent. The attack of September 11th I would argue was imminent long before September 10th, and that's one of the problems we face in this era.
But recall what happened. In September of 2002 the President went to the United Nations, said there is a danger coming from Iraq, that Iraq has been in violation of some 16 UN resolutions which required, among other things, that they disarm completely of these weapons and accept inspections. They were clearly violating them.
We got an agreement endorsed by 15 members of the Security Council that would be Saddam's last and final chance to come into compliance. If I can quote David Kay himself just two weeks ago before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said "Iraq was in clear and material violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441." That was supposed to be the last and final chance, and I'm not sure what people are saying should have been done. Should he have been given yet an 18th resolution or a 19th resolution? Should we have continued this game of hide and seek for another 12 years? It was a destabilizing influence on the whole world and the whole region.
Q: Paul Wolfowitz with us, Deputy Defense Secretary.
Let me quote, because you mentioned the President's statements in 2002, and let me quote from the September 28th statement.
The President says, "The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and according to the British government could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime is seeking a nuclear bomb and with fissile material could build one within a year."
Now David Kay says that those statements are simply not true based on his investigation of Iraq. He hasn't found any such thing.
Wolfowitz: Look, intelligence is an uncertain business. As I said a few minutes ago, you don't have the luxury before the fact of basing your decisions on what you may learn later. The fact is David Kay is a long way from learning everything the Iraqis had. I think he himself would admit it is possible that there are things still buried in places there.
I mean stop and think about that hole in which we found Saddam Hussein hiding. He hid in a hole like that for nine months. That's a big enough hole to contain enormous lethal quantities of anthrax or other biological weapons. There could be such stashes still in Iraq. There could be Iraqi weapons moved to Syria or to other countries. Almost certainly, and I think this is even implied by David Kay, there were definitely a capability to go into surge production once Saddam Hussein got rid of the inspectors. That's the basic point here.
This is a man, Saddam, who for 12 years hid his programs from inspectors. Even as the war was going on his people went in and deliberate destroyed records, deliberately destroyed laboratories that we have every reason to believe were doing research and development on biological weapons, and even after the liberation of Baghdad the people that we were trying to get to cooperate with us were being threatened and in at least one case murdered.
So it's a regime that had a lot to hide, I think still is hiding things, and that in those circumstances you don't get the whole truth I don't think should be a surprise. What is impressive to me is how many things our intelligence community has discovered that are right about Iraq and about other countries including, as George Tenet spoke the other day, Libya, Iran, North Korea.
Q: With respect to Iran, if anything the CIA, didn't they underestimate and weren't they surprised in North Korea as well with the extent of the weapons programs that were later disclosed?
Wolfowitz: That's absolutely true. It was true in Iraq also, if you recall, in 1991. Before the Gulf War in 1991 we thought Saddam had only a very minimal nuclear program and when the inspectors got in there after the end of the war -- and by the way it took them more than six months before they got onto this. Initially they were inclined to conclude there wasn't a large nuclear program, but then they had some breakthroughs and within a year or so of the end of that war we discovered that Saddam's nuclear program was much much larger than it had been estimated before the war. If you say that turned out to be true with the North Korean nuclear program where we recently discovered a centrifuge program that was more than two years old. We've now discovered the Libyans engaged in activity that's in violation of their non-proliferation treaty obligations.
To me what is really important that's going on here is that thanks in no small measure to some really brilliant detective work by our intelligence community, we are catching some of the rogue regimes of the world violating their commitments with respect to nuclear and chemical and biological weapons. And in most of those cases when the violators have been caught they have made some kind of agreement, more or less grudging, to open up -- Libya is the best case so far, of opening up and apparently being willing to dismantle those programs.
In the case of Iraq we had exactly the opposite kind of behavior where Saddam repeatedly lied and frustrated and blocked inspections and I think people have to say what was it that he was hiding?
Q: Paul Wolfowitz with us, Deputy Defense Secretary for the United States.
Mr. Secretary, and I appreciate your time, Mr. Secretary.
The critics of all this say yeah, but we went to war; thousands of people died; and yeah, Saddam being gone is a great deal, but we went to war under the premise that this guy posed, whether the President said it or not, that was the impression, a grave danger to not only his neighbors, but possibly a danger to us, to Israel certainly, and to us possibly as well.
And Tenet yesterday says you know some of that was based on a defector who they now back away from, delivered apparently according to the LA Times again, by Mr. Chalabi, that Tenet no longer has any real confidence in.
Again, I think the President appointing these guys today on this big committee tells me that there's some concern that the President is now reaping a political backlash because he relied on intelligence that turns out, and the chief guy now saying yesterday, turns out not to be true, or at least not true yet.
Q: I'm not sure. I might ask where's the backlash we relied on intelligence on North Korean's nuclear program, and sign an agreement with them in 1994 which turned out not to be correct when we finally discovered that North Korea was cheating on that program.
Recognize we are dealing with regimes that go to extreme lengths to hide things, and when I say extreme lengths I mean murder and torture of innocent people to keep people from talking about what they have and all kinds of obstructions placed in the way of international inspectors.
That's why I come back to the point that the President did as so many people asked him to do, went to the United Nations, got a 15-0 vote from the Security Council setting the standards of what Saddam had to do, and that was -- the burden of proof was on Saddam. He had to disclose everything he had and he had to comply with inspections. That he clearly failed to do. He lied about what he had, he obstructed the inspectors. It was supposed to be his last chance, and I would ask people how many times do you want to claim that this is the last and final word of the international community and say well, it turns out we'll give you yet another chance?
We are dealing with very serious threats to the security of the United States and I think if we're going to use the instrument of diplomacy effectively, if we're going to use the instrument of the United Nations effectively, those resolutions, those agreements really have to be enforced and I believe the President's enforcing his word and the word of the international community with respect to Iraq has a lot to do with why we're making progress with other countries, particularly with Libya.
Q: Paul Wolfowitz, and I appreciate the time you've given us and I know it's limited and we've reached the end of it. Again, thank you very much for appearing today on KOGO, Mr. Secretary. Paul Wolfowitz from the Defense Department. We appreciate your time.
Wolfowitz: It's nice to be with you. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, Paul. All right.
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