What Intelligence Crisis?
R. James Woolsey was director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995 and is a member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon. He recently spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels for Global Viewpoint, NPQ's weekly column for Tribune Media/Los Angeles Times Syndicate International.
NPQ | A crisis has been brewing in London and Washington over whether intelligence about Saddam's possession of mass destruction weapons was "sexed up" or manipulated to justify the war with Iraq. As a proponent of the war and a former intelligence chief, what do you make of this crisis?
JAMES WOOLSEY | I don't think it is an intelligence crisis. First, people need to realize that it was not just the Bush and Blair governments, but (UN weapons inspector) Hans Blix and the Iraqis themselves who claimed they had biological and chemical agents. Saddam himself admitted having made 8,500 liters of anthrax. He said they were destroyed in the early '90s but had no information to offer as to who, where, when and how that was done. Even Hans Blix would not believe that.
I don't think there is a responsible position that the Iraqis did not have, sometime in the '90s, bacteriological and chemical agents as well as some sort of nuclear program.
The question is what happened to the agents and the production programs.
Second, intelligence is never a matter of purely factual data. That is why it is called intelligence and not data. It is a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. It is also a matter of taking what is known and extrapolating what it means. Anyone who thinks intelligence is routinely better than that has not had much experience with intelligence.
There are several possibilities as to what happened to Saddam's weapons. One is that, as an Iraqi scientist in United States military custody said, he was ordered to destroy nerve gas under his command just as the war began.
Another possibility is that scientists were asked to hide some portions of their chemical agents and production facilities, which is far from impractical in a country as large as Iraq. Chemical agents can easily be made from equipment in factories devoted to producing pesticides or fertilizer, for example, with minor modification. Anthrax can be made with equipment very similar to a microbrewery for beer, with minor modification.
The proposition by (former British Foreign Minister) Robin Cook and others that production facilities must be very large and involve large numbers of dedicated personnel is just false. Though that is true of nuclear weapons, that is not even close to being true about the production facilities of chemical and biological agents.
A further aspect is the volume of the material involved. If Saddam had 8,500 liters of anthrax, as he said, that is about 8 tons, which would fill less than half a tractor trailer. If the 8,500 liters were converted into powdered form, that is about 160 pounds that would ?t into about four medium-sized suitcases.
How easy would that be to find in a country the size of California? About as easy as finding one truckload of marijuana or four suitcases full of cocaine.
Intelligence is about connecting the dots. Some of the dots may have not been accurately connected, but the picture remains the same.
NPQ | You've argued that America is now engaged in "a long war," akin to the Cold War, against terrorism that involves changing the face of the Middle East. With its stalled economy and mounting deficits, does America really have the resources for this?
WOOLSEY | It is absolute nonsense to suggest America doesn't have the resources. From 1961 to 1964, the fiscal years of the Kennedy administration -- before Vietnam -- the US spent 8-9 percent of GDP on defense. In today's $10 trillion American economy, that would mean an $800-900 billion defense budget -- more than double the present budget.
In the Truman administration -- before the Korean War -- we were spending 2 percent of GDP a year on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. That would mean $200 billion a year in today's terms.
Yes, we didn't then have the baby boomers about to retire or Medicare. But, nonetheless, it is clear that, historically, Americans have been willing to commit to a high level of expenditure to build the defense establishment and provide development assistance when it mattered to their security.
Today, we are not even at half the level we were in the Kennedy and Truman years, not to speak of the era during World War II when 37 percent of GDP was spent on defense.
If we are talking about saving America from having a nuclear bomb detonated in Times Square, or a cloud of anthrax wafting across the Capitol Mall, is the cost too high?
NPQ | The resources may be there, but what about the political will? Americans were told they were going into battle in Iraq to find mass destruction weapons, not to fight a "long war" that would take decades and cost billions to make the Middle East democratic. To many, this appears to be "war through the back door," and they won't be obliging.
WOOLSEY | The public is going to have to get used to it. Either they will be obliging, or they are going to get a North Korean-produced package of plutonium, sold to Al Qaeda, and detonated in downtown Los Angeles. They need to get themselves in gear. It is the function of political leadership to be candid about this.
And the Bush administration has been clear and candid. In its strategy statement last year, it heralded the threat I'm talking about: the nexus of rogue states, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism are the challenges of our time, and they might provoke the need for preventive military action.
But "imminent, imminent, imminent" was the threat Bush promoted, critics now charge. But the president never talked about "imminence" except to discredit that test for action in his State of the Union speech by saying "we can't wait for the threat" to become imminent, because then it will be too late. It is time now for the rest of the American political spectrum to be just as candid.
NPQ | What is your view of the Saudi regime, which some critics suggest the Bush administration is soft on, despite the terrorist threat?
WOOLSEY | The Saudi situation is a terrible one. The Wahhabis are, for all practical purposes, like Torquemada and his totalitarian minions. If you tune into the sermons from the main mosques in Saudi Arabia -- which are distributed globally -- on any given week and look at the themes, you will be appalled.
A random week I checked recently had three main themes: "All Jews are pigs and monkeys"; "It is the obligation of all Muslims to kill Christians and Jews"; "American women routinely have sex with their fathers and brothers." This is day in, day out, Wahhabi preaching in Saudi Arabia.
The royal family is split. There are some opposed to the Wahhabis who would like to take a direction more like Bahrain, with more freedom for women and speech and a more powerful majlis (parliament). Then there are those like Prince Nayaf, the interior minister in charge of cooperation on terrorism with the FBI, who told a Kuwaiti newspaper last November that 9/11 was committed by the Jews, not Al Qaeda.
There is a chance that a reform wing of the royal family could gain control of the situation and move it in a more positive direction, but it remains very difficult today.
NPQ | The US, plus China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, are about to enter talks with North Korea on disarming its nuclear capacity. Do you have any faith in that process?
WOOLSEY | These negotiations are a charade. Forget about them.
We will not be able to rely on anything that North Korea promises. Inspections will not work. The North Koreans lied in 1994, when they agreed to suspend operations at Yongbyon and not process or enrich fuel. Within a couple years of signing that, they were pursuing enrichment of uranium.
We now believe they have started reprocessing fuel at Yongbyon. This means that, within months, North Korea will have enough fissile material to make several more nuclear weapons. The amount of plutonium you need for a bomb is the size of a grapefruit and weighs about 20 pounds. For highly enriched uranium, you need material the size of a soccer ball that weighs about 40 pounds.
There is nothing to stop North Koreans from exporting this fissile material to the highest bidder. And they will. After all, their only other two exports today are also illegal -- missiles and heroin.
Thus, we had best get ready for war on the Korean peninsula. And only if we have a practical plan for war do we have the one chance of avoiding it -- which is convincing the Chinese that if they don't take action to change the Kim Jong Il regime, we will. The Chinese control about half of North Korea's food and energy.
The military plan I envision is not a "surgical strike" to take out North Korea's nuclear facilities, but a plan to rapidly destroy the North Korean military so it can't attack the South.
Because of the logistical proximity American aircraft carriers can obtain in the sea around Korea, we would be able to ?y 4,000 sorties a day, far more than the 800 a day we did in Iraq.