Sunday, October 24, 2004

Interview with Stephen Cohen

Interview with Stephen Cohen: "Stephen Cohen, Ph.D., is senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program of the Brookings Institution. He has written and edited several books and has served as a consultant to the RAND Corp., the Department of State, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Department of Defense and various foundations.

Trento: 1. How do we determine if the US intelligence community is successful? They have not located bin Laden. Has this undermined the public and the President's confidence?

Cohen: I think that measures of success are difficult to come up with. Simply because something has or has not happened does not mean that they are operating successfully or unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, the people who can make that judgment are in the intelligence community itself and the policy community and they are the last people in the world who are going to talk about it publicly. For outsiders this is at best a guessing game. But there are some broader things you can say. That is that the promises and expectations that the President has raised about expectations of the war on terrorism seem to have been only partially met. It is not yet clear the depth of the problem. But he did at an early stage emphasize that this is going to be a long but difficult struggle. So in a sense he got himself off the hook there but to me the real cause of the problem was his original characterization of this as a total war. You know if it had been the war against the Nazis or the Japanese in World War II, or the civil war -- but its not that kind of war where there is going to be a victory parade of American soldiers marching down the street of some foreign capitol. I think that the criteria are fuzzy I can’t come to an accurate conclusion myself.

Trento: 2. Because the CIA had done business with bin Laden and others that later came together as Al Qaeda, should we be suspicious of the CIA's motive in the terrorism war?

Cohen: Ah, we should be suspicious about whether they are telling the President everything and whether they keeping some information back about reputation and the integrity of the institution and also what they are telling Congress. The CIA and FBI, any government agency wants to keep its secrets buried, again only they know and there is reason to be suspicious if they are coming clean with everything.

Trento: 3. President Bush has stated flatly that Saddam has connections to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence community has failed to back him on either assertion. Did the President overreach, or are the intelligence organs being too cautious?

Cohen: It could be the first two explanations that you gave or it could be that they are right and that they are maintaining integrity in not going down the road of political analysis of the linkage. Again it is hard to form a judgment. People in the Senate and House intelligence committee should have some idea of where the reality is.

Trento: Has the war on terrorism had an effect on India and Pakistan? Has it complicated the relationship?

Cohen: It has had an ironic effect of making the Indians very wary of American policy towards Pakistan but it has also had the effect of making the Pakistanis very nervous about the solidity of American support to them. Right now the Pakistanis are running around trying to buy strategic reinsurance by reinforcing their ties to the Iranians, Chinese and to the Russians. Musaraff has just made a trip to Moscow and there was just a rally last week in Islamabad of Russian Pakistani solidarity. The mind boggles. This is a country that was so fiercely anti-Russian for so many years. The Pakistani’s don’t believe that we are going to be with them one minute after we don’t need them after the war on terrorism. They see are support for them is cynical. Where as the Indians are angry we are supporting the Pakistanis. It is an unstable situation.

Trento: Is the Pakistani’s behavior on terrorism sincere?

Cohen: The guy who marries three women is sincere. There is no question that he loves them all, perhaps at different times and different places. There was a wonderful move with Alec Guiness called Captain Verda. It is an old time movie. They are sincere in our support for us. They were sincere in the support for the Taliban, they were sincere in their support for groups that crossed the border into India and Kashmir and committed awful things that I would call terrorism. I think they are sincere in their statement they are not going to do it anymore or in the future. This is purely a matter of expediency for them. Sincerity doesn’t arise and you cannot trust what they say. There argument, to be fair, in the past was that they lied to us with their nuclear program, and I was with the administration at the time, they lied to us on the nuclear program, and we looked the other way, we accepted that, we looked the other way.

Trento: 4. Numerous articles have said that Saudi Arabia is responsible for funding Al Qaeda through various Islamic charities and front groups. Should the intelligence community have known this before 9.11 and should the administration have acted upon it?

Cohen: It is my impression that we knew about it. At first the United States was supportive of the Taliban. And the Taliban got a lot of Saudi private support and also the Saudi government intelligence services worked with the Pakistanis and we welcomed that as a change from the warlords battling over Afghanistan. When Al Qaeda entered the picture, I don’t know how much we knew about it. I suspect we were aware of it, but I don’t know.

Trento: 5. Many supporters of the CIA claimed that President Clinton handicapped the Agency with too much government oversight and political correctness in its recruiting. Did our failure to penetrate Al Qaeda and find out what bin Laden was planning have anything to do with restrains on the CIA?

Cohen: Can’t comment on it because I have no special information on that. I would say that my contacts with them over the past few years is that on the analytical side they have really hired a lot of people. There is a new generation of smart kids that want to work for the CIA. There is a regeneration of the agency.

Trento: 6. We have been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 months and the country is not secure. Are you confident that the intelligence the government is getting about the status of the war on terrorism is reliable?

Cohen: I think it is reliable. There are good open sources there is no question about it. I am sure their sources are even better. But I think it is a policy problem. The administration does not want to put any significant assets into Afghanistan. Possibly because they are reserving them for a Gulf War, if there is a Gulf War and I think it is a policy decision not an intelligence decision. What they are doing is providing just enough assistance to keep Afghanistan from collapsing. That might work now but if there is an assassination or a serious upsurge in anti-government sentiment, say the Iraq war from spilling over from Pakistan Afghanistan -- there is some question if the Kharzi government can hold.

Trento: 7. What five things would you do to improve the intelligence community?

Cohen: I think I can draw on my experience from the State Department. I felt in a sense that it was imbalanced. There was a huge amount of people working on problems, in some ways too many people working on them. It is my understanding from other countries, especially the British, that they have few but better people and you don’t have mobs working on an issue. Then you go to the state department where you have very good people but few of them. So I think the Agency is really bloated in the numbers, perhaps because of the personnel problem. Often you get people working in an area where they are not an expert in that area, but that is a management decision.

Trento: 8. How does the public resolve the contradictions between the White House and intelligence community? For example we are told that an Al Qaeda terrorist base located in a Kurdish controlled section of Iraq demonstrates Saddam is connected to Al Qaeda and the base is producing toxins to be used against the infidels. Yet the CIA reported that the base was established with the permission of the Kurds and Saddam had nothing to do with it. Do you ever remember this kind of public fight over the meaning and accuracy of intelligence?

Cohen: Yeah, maybe in the case of the nuclear programs and what happens is that one side or the other is unhappy they often leak to the press. One peculiar thing about our system is the press is a safety valve if at a bureau or agency if their advice is not being followed or being distorted or recommendations being distorted by the executive branch somebody leaks it. I was told when I joined the State Department in 1985 -- the first thing I was told was that the ship of state leaks from the top. The public dimension of this is the manifestation is the politics between the different bureaucracies and intelligence agencies, DIA and State and others, and on balance I think that this is a strength of our system not a weakness.

Trento: One of the things that is sort of strange is that you have Bush actually citing this stuff. And, I don’t remember a president ever going to war based on intelligence before. That does seem to be a new thing. And, if this intelligence is faulty or distorted, we could be heading into pretty dangerous waters.

Cohen: It could be what he is doing is drawing on Don Rumsfelds’ new intelligence process and that raises a serious question of professionalism and rivalry between intelligence agencies. If someone is going to set up their own intelligence shop and it does not meet the highest standards of intelligence, and it is a professional, it is not an amateur job, indeed it might lead to selective discovery of facts and then you got a problem because then you got either junk and ignore what the main agencies are doing or professionalize these new agencies. That is a problem.

Trento: 9. The Administration seems to have sided with the CIA. In fact, two weeks after 9.11 President Bush went out to the CIA and gave the Agency a pep talk. Has the President's blessing of the CIA made it difficult to correct or even recognize failures and problems at the CIA?

Cohen: I don’t agree with the premise of the question. I am not sure there was a failure. We didn’t know about it, but perhaps some things can’t be known. Some things are just beyond normal human capacity no matter how many resources you throw at it. There is this sense if you throw enough money at a problem you can solve it. All of us who were following it closely were still caught be surprise.

Trento: Let me play devil’s advocate: In 1995 the CIA was told by an Al Qaeda member that planes would be used to attack buildings. Should that not have alerted the CIA?

Cohen: Now the problem gets all kinds of noise all the time and you can’t follow every one of them up. The visible failure was at home in tracking down people in the country, coordinating intelligence and following up."

Sam Brinkley on the 9/11 Probe -- January 27, 2004

Online NewsHour: 9/11 Probe -- January 27, 2004: "9/11 PROBE

January 27, 2004
Today the federal commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11 wrapped up two days of testimony on what occurred that day. Terence Smith reports on the findings.







TERENCE SMITH: A simple pocketknife: This is the weapon the 9/11 Commission now believes the hijackers used on all four flights.
SPOKESMAN: Our best working hypothesis is they were carrying were carrying permissible -- under the regulation in place at the time -- permissible utility knives or pocket knives. We know at least two knives like this were actually purchased by the hijackers and have not been found in the belongings the hijackers left behind.

TERENCE SMITH: Commission staffer William Johnstone said such knives were not on the list of banned items at the time.

WILLIAM JOHNSTONE: Mace, pepper spray and tear gas were categorized in the operations guide as hazardous materials, and passengers were not allowed to take items in this category onto an airplane without the express permission of the airline. On the other hand, pocket utility knives, which were defined as those with less than a four-inch blade, were expressly allowed onto aircraft.

TERENCE SMITH: Those knives were part of a U.S. air security and inspection system that failed to stop a single hijacker. And that, said Johnstone, was part of the terrorists' plan.

WILLIAM JOHNSTONE: All 19 hijackers were able to pass successfully through checkpoint screening to board their flights. They were 19-for-19, 100 percent. They counted on beating a weak system.

TERENCE SMITH: Later, Commissioner Slade Gorton asked Jane Garvey about the knife policy. Garvey headed the Federal Aviation Administration the day of the attacks.

JANE GARVEY: If you go back to 9/11 and you think about the atmosphere in an airport, there were ... knives were very commonplace. Knives were used as part of a meal service in the airlines. If you were to stop at a security or a souvenir shop even beyond the secure area, it is possible that you could purchase a pocket knife and so forth.

From the security intelligence experts, from the law enforcement people, the greater threats as has been indicated even by the staff report, the greater threats were from larger, more lethal weapons and from explosives. Clearly with the benefit of hindsight as you pointed out we have a different view.

TERENCE SMITH: The commission's air security criticisms are part of its newly released staff reports, the first reports since the commission began its work last year. Yesterday, staff executive director Philip Zelikow described how the terrorists also exploited weaknesses in the U.S. immigration system.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: The 9/11 hijackers included among them known al-Qaida operatives, who could have been watch-listed, presented passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner, presented passports with suspicious indicators of extremism, made detectable false statements on their visa applications.

TERENCE SMITH: Also testifying: A U.S. customs agent at the Orlando airport, Jose Melendez- Perez. In August 2001, the agent refused entry to passenger Mohammed al-Qahtani. U.S. officials now think hijacker Mohammed Atta was at the airport waiting to meet al-Qahtani, a man who may have been the 20th hijacker.

JOSE MELENDEZ-PEREZ: My first question to the subject through the interpreter was why he was not in possession of a return airline ticket. The subject became visibly upset and in an arrogant and threatening manner, which included pointing his finger at my face and stated he did not know where he was going when he departed the United States. The bottom line, he gave me the chills.

TERENCE SMITH: This afternoon, there was new information on what may have transpired on the hijacked planes. Staff member Sam Brinkley said the attackers apparently took control of the front sections on all four flights.

SAM BRINKLEY: Some of these reports included the presence of mace and/or pepper spray in the cabin, and indications that a passenger had difficulty breathing. We believe this indicates that the terrorist created a sterile area around the cockpit by isolating the passengers and attempting to keep them away from the forward cabin in part by using mace or pepper spray. Pepper spray was found in Atta's checked luggage that was recovered at Logan Airport. The hijackers used the threat of bombs. This was reported for all but Flight 77. They also used announcements reported for Flights 11, 77 and 93 to control the passengers as the aircraft supposedly flew to an airport destination.

TERENCE SMITH: Later, the commission heard a 9/11 phone conversation between Nydia Gonzalez, an American airlines reservations manager, and Betty Ong, an American flight attendant on one of the hijacked planes.

BETTY ONG: My name is Betty Ong. I'm number three on Flight 11. Our number one got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who. We can't even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe. Our number one is stabbed right now. Our number five. Our first class passengers ... our first class galley flight attendant and our purser has been stabbed. We can't get to the cockpit. The door won't open.

TERENCE SMITH: Gonzalez relayed the conversation to a member of the American Airlines' emergency response team.

NYDIA GONZALEZ: Apparently they might have sprayed something so they're having a hard time breathing or getting in that area. What's going on, Betty? Talk to me. Betty, are you there? Betty? Do you think we lost her? OK, we'll stay open. I think we might have lost her.

TERENCE SMITH: The commission's staff report said the FAA discounted the danger of suicide hijackings because, in agency's words, "There was no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction.""

Sam Brinkley on Weapons of Mass Destruction - May 22, 2001

: "STATEMENT OF

SAM BRINKLEY
POLICY ADVISOR, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
OFFICE OF THE COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

MAY 22, 2001

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the panel. As a follow-on to Mr. Wong, I will focus my statement on our efforts to address the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism threat and our relationship with the domestic preparedness program.

Mr. Chairman, a good example of our evolving and improving counterterrorism effort is the work we are doing to counter a WMD terrorist attack. As Weapons of Mass Destruction know no borders, an attack of this type in the United States, whether conducted by international or domestic terrorists, will have significant international implications. The State Department must continue to be a partner in the domestic counterterrorism effort to play its critical role in addressing the international impact of such an incident.

During the May 2000 Top Officials (TOPOFF) exercise, for example, we simulated some of the international responses to domestic biological and chemical attacks. What we learned is that the WMD response and consequence management capabilities of the nation are finite and that we must understand better the decision-making processes and coordination required between domestic and international response requirements. This exercise helped us do that, and we look forward to the next such exercise.

First Responders and Crisis Management

More recently, DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs began a study of the feasibility and structure of a domestic pre-positioned first-responder equipment program. We are actively participating in this study to determine how we can best create and implement such a program to maximize the U.S. Government’s ability to meet its international response requirements and those of the Federal, state, and local governments at home.

The Department’s WMD International Crisis and Consequence Management Policy Workshop and First Responder Training Program, which began in FY 1999, prepares the host nation to better protect US citizens, installations, and interests abroad. The WMD Workshop, developed and provided by the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, brings together senior host nation interagency officials and their embassy counterparts to discern how best to prepare for and respond to WMD terrorism.

The First Responder Program, conducted by the Diplomatic Security Bureau Anti-terrorism Assistance (ATA) program, leveraged the U.S. Government's domestic training programs and the lessons learned, and introduces host nation responders to the dynamics of WMD response. These programs improve the host nation’s crisis and consequence management techniques. As part of these engagement activities, host nation officials learn about what assistance the U.S. Government can provide, how it can request that assistance, and how best to work the FEST and other USG responders. Finally, just as the host nation learns from us, we can learn from it. We actively working with Federal domestic preparedness officials, primarily the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, to share domestically the lessons we learn from our overseas equipment, training, and exercise programs.

Other Specific Programs

The State Department also conducts specific programs that operate overseas but can help to protect Americans at home as well as abroad. The Terrorist Interdiction Program, led by the Department of State, is an important effort to increase host nations’ capacity to prohibit terrorists from travelling through their countries. When this new computer-based system is put in place, it provides the U.S. and its allies with an additional tool to interdict terrorists at international border points, helping us to stop terrorists before they can attack American facilities overseas or get into the United States.

The Department’s Anti-terrorism Assistance (ATA) program draws on the expertise of many agencies in training civilian officials of foreign nations, who often have primary responsibility for protecting American interests overseas, in the most effective anti-terrorism techniques. ATA courses include, but are not limited to, airport security, bomb detection, maritime security, VIP protection, hostage rescue, and crisis management. The ATA program also has the capability of designing a training course based on a specific, identified need. The Coordinator for Counterterrorism office provides policy guidance to the program and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security implements the training, working closely with the Department's Regional Security Officers at embassies overseas. ATA has trained more than 25,000 representatives from over 117 countries.

The Technical Security Working Group (TSWG), chaired by the Department of State in partnership with DOD, is an outstanding example of interagency coordination. The TSWG strives to improve the technical capabilities available to combat and mitigate terrorism. We share the results of this counterterrorism research and development with domestic first responders. For example, the explosives disrupter developed within this program is now a standard part of the equipment package of many American bomb squads. At State's initiative, the TSWG also works with three allied countries on joint R&D projects of mutual interest. The UK, Canada, and Israel contribute their expertise and funds for the common good.

In trying to curb terrorist fund raising, we work closely with the intelligence community and the Justice and Treasury Departments to designate foreign terrorist organizations and to take other measures to discourage the flow of money to terrorists, whether through illicit charities, front companies, or criminal endeavors. The ATA program has also developed a new training course specifically designed to help allies impact terrorist fundraising.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, the terrorism threat is evolving. We are adapting by sharpening proven polices and tools and by developing new ones to prevent terrorist attacks and to respond more effectively to those we cannot prevent. As we adapt we will, as Secretary Powell has said, work to build a stronger bridge between the international and domestic response efforts. As the lead federal agency in dealing with terrorism overseas, we stand ready to strengthen the ties between the domestic response infrastructure and our existing framework. We hope this overview is helpful and Mr. Wong and I would be glad to respond to your questions."

Daniel Benjamin refutes Cheney on Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida -- October 6, 2004

Online NewsHour: Links Between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida -- October 6, 2004 " During Tuesday night's debate, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards raised questions over whether there is a connection between former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Margaret Warner speaks with experts about the debate over the links between Iraq and the terrorist group.

MARGARET WARNER: It was a central argument at last night's vice presidential debate: Were there links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks, and were they a reason to go to war?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The concern about Iraq specifically focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been for years listed on the state sponsor of terror, and he had an established relationship with al-Qaida.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 Commission has said it, your own secretary of state has said it, and you've gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There's not. And in fact, the CIA is now about to report that the connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein is tenuous at best. And in fact, the secretary of defense said yesterday that he knows of no hard evidence of the connection. We need to be straight with the American people.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The senator's got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror. And the point is that that's the place where you're most likely to see the terrorist come together with weapons of mass destruction, the deadly technologies that Saddam Hussein had developed and used over the years.

MARGARET WARNER: The administration has suggested a connection in the past. On Meet the Press in December 2001, Cheney said 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence official. The administration's assertions about a connection continued as recently as last year. President Bush in February 2003:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Iraq has also provided al-Qaida with chemical and biological weapons training.

MARGARET WARNER: Vice President Cheney in September 2003:

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: If we're successful in Iraq, then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

MARGARET WARNER: Democratic nominee John Kerry has repeatedly disputed the administration's assertions. On the stump:

SEN. JOHN KERRY: His two main rationales, weapons of mass destruction and the al-Qaida-Sept. 11 connection, have both been proved false by the president's own weapons inspectors and by the 9/11 Commission. And just last week, Secretary of State Powell acknowledged those facts. Only Vice President Cheney still insists that the earth is flat. (Cheers and applause)

MARGARET WARNER: And at last week's debate:

SEN. JOHN KERRY: The president just talked about Iraq as a center of the war on terror. Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.

MARGARET WARNER: One major point of dispute today, whether Saddam Hussein harbored Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Baghdad before the war. Zarqawi is now a leader of the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks
MARGARET WARNER: Now, our own debate on this hotly debated issue. Daniel Benjamin held a National Security Council post in the Clinton administration. He co-authored "The Age of Sacred Terror," about the rise of al-Qaida. Stephen Hayes writes for the Weekly Standard Magazine; he authored the book: "The Connection: How al-Qaida's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America." Welcome to you both.

Let's start with the narrow question, an Iraq-9/11 connection. Is there any evidence, Dan Benjamin, that Saddam Hussein's government assisted the 9/11 plot in any way?

DANIEL BENJAMIN: There is no evidence to that effect, none whatsoever.

STEPHEN HAYES: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee actually reported some evidence and they've said that it was tantalizing but that it was inconclusive. One person named Ahmed Hikmat Shakir is alleged to have had ties with Iraqi intelligence, facilitated the travel of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Kuala Lumpur in January of 2000. But even if he were found to have had connections with the Iraqi regime, it doesn't indicate that Saddam had fore knowledge or that he was in any way behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

MARGARET WARNER: Could what Stephen Hayes just talked about constitute indirect help?

DANIEL BENJAMIN: It wouldn't be surprising to find that someone who had connections with the Iraqi regime had perhaps facilitated travel without having any knowledge of what these people were up to, and it wouldn't be inconsistent with things that we have seen that were done by Iran in far greater... with far greater frequency, for example; it's still a long way from state sponsorship or any kind of collusion or collaboration of any kind.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, let's turn to the second charge. John Edwards made it as a charge -- that nonetheless, the vice president in particular and this administration, has continued to suggest or at one point he used the word "insinuate" that Iraq was behind or connected to the 9/11 attacks. Do you think that... and of course we heard Vice President Cheney say I have never suggested that. Where's the truth there?

STEPHEN HAYES: Well, I think that by and large the vice president and the administration have been careful actually, to separate out this question just as you've done on Iraq and 9/11 on the one hand, Iraq and al-Qaida on the other. There are several interviews, including other Meet the Press interviews, including an interview with David at the Rocky Mountain News where he said it's important to separate these issues. On the one hand we don't have any evidence. We don't have any proof that Saddam Hussein directed these attacks, that he was behind the attacks on Sept. 11. On the other hand, there is an established relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida and it's something that we considered as we made the case for war.

MARGARET WARNER: Where do you think the balance lies on this question of how strongly the administration has tried to leave Americans with the impression there was a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks?

DANIEL BENJAMIN: I think the administration pursued a well thought out strategy of associating the two at virtually every opportunity. There was a reason why 70 percent of the American people believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, and that is because the administration time after time put the two of them together in the same framework. Look, long after the CIA and the FBI had knocked down the story of Mohamed Atta meeting with an Iraqi agent in Prague, the vice president was peddling the story over and over again. And that's just one of many different instances of this kind of association. I think that when the vice president says that he never said that they were connected or never involved in 9/11, he is technically correct but in a way that not even a trial lawyer would find serious.

STEPHEN HAYES: You know, if could I just respond to that. I mean, if you look at John Edwards' language, to use him because he was involved in the debate last night, he often associated or used the Sept. 11 attacks as a way to make the case that we should remove Saddam Hussein. He did it on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks or one day after it on Sept. 12, 2002. And he gave what I thought was a quite compelling and persuasive speech about how Sept. 11 had changed everything; how we needed to look at threats in a new way and how that Saddam Hussein had every reason -- we had every reason to believe that Saddam Hussein would pass his weapons to these terrorists.

Did Saddam Hussein aid al-Qaida?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's go to the broader question now of the Iraq-al-Qaida connection. Now, what do you think is the strength of the evidence that Saddam Hussein's government assisted, aided, gave safe harbor to al-Qaida or al-Qaida figures?

DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, I don't think it's very strong at all. When I was working at the National Security Council, I actually conducted a review of all the evidence - and this was the late 90s, around the time - after the time, in fact, that we had two embassies blown up by al-Qaida, looking at all of the intelligence regarding Iraq and al-Qaida and Iran and al-Qaida, there is substantially more information regarding ties between the Iranian regime and al-Qaida but still nothing that met the test of state sponsorship or collaborative relationship. Since that time, we have had 9/11, we've had the war in Iraq and we've had a number of different bodies look at this intelligence and come to exactly the same conclusion. The 9/11 Commission said authoritatively there was no collaborative relationship.

MARGARET WARNER: If fact we have a graphic that let me just put this up right now, what the 9/11 Commission said. It said that there were meetings in the late '90s between Iraqi and al-Qaida officials, but the Commission goes on to say, but to date we have seen no evidence that these ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship; nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al-Qaida in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States. Now Stephen Hayes, your book is called the collaboration, "The Connection, How al-Qaida's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Endangered America." What is the evidence of collaboration in an active sense?

STEPHEN HAYES: Well, I think that there is plenty of evidence of collaboration. If you look at George Tenet's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on various occasions, he talked about training, he talked about safe haven, he talked about financing from the Iraqi regime to al-Qaida. Actually if you go back and you look at when Dan was working for President Clinton, the al-Shifa attacks, what happened was al-Qaida had hit the United States on Aug. 7, 1998; we responded. They hit two embassies in East Africa. We responded. 13 days later by striking Afghanistan and Sudan. The Clinton administration made its case justifying the attacks in Sudan because of an al-Qaida-Iraq connection. Richard Clark said several times that he was sure that the chemical weapons precursor that was present at this particular facility was of Iraqi provenance. That to me suggests a very strong Iraq-al-Qaida collaboration.

MARGARET WARNER: Training, financial help, chemical weapons training?

DANIEL BENJAMIN: Al-Shifa first. It is true that the method for producing VX gas, the chemical weapon, was an Iraqi method but we have no indication whatsoever that the Iraqis knew that bin Laden had invested in this or that there was any contact between them in this project. And I think that the consensus in the intelligence community was that there was no connection between them at the time.

MARGARET WARNER: And I'm sorry. Explain what you mean by Al-Shifa.

DANIEL BENJAMIN: I'm sorry. Al-Shifa was the chemical plant in Khartoum that we attacked with Cruise missiles on Aug. 20, 1998 -- Safe Haven. We're about to, I believe, get a report from the CIA saying that Baghdad actually did not offer Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the top terrorist in Iraq today, safe haven. He simply came into the country and was there. The allegations about training have never stood up actually. My sources in the intelligence community cast a lot of doubt on them; there's some question as to whether or not these people were trained before they migrated to al-Qaida or whether there was any training at all. And, in fact, the 9/11 Commission seems to have looked into this and simply not believed it, and, as for funding, I don't know of any indication whatsoever that the money ever changed hands.

STEPHEN HAYES: Well, it's important to note going back to the Al-Shifa plan attacks, in the Clinton administration's case, the Clinton administration in its formal indictment of Osama bin Laden included a paragraph talking about the Iraq-al-Qaida connection. That seems to me to be a significant point.

Terrorist groups gathering in Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But go to the Zarqawi point because that is now -- there was a slight discussion about it last night in the debate. One: is Zarqawi an al-Qaida figure and, two, what about Sen. Kerry's assertion that in fact Iraq never was a haven for terrorists, not even for Zarqawi at least not deliberately, until after the war?

STEPHEN HAYES: Well, I think Sen. Kerry's assertion is silly to be honest and I think his campaign staff, his surrogates, should have gone much further and said that Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. That's a gross overstatement and I think he is vulnerable on that particular point. With respect to Zarqawi, I think there is no question that Zarqawi is an al-Qaida associate. Whether or not he swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden is another question. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly never swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Nobody would suggest that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not an active member or participant in al-Qaida attacks.

MARGARET WARNER: Final last word.

DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, first of all, that indictment from the U.S. attorney in New York was retracted a month later and that paragraph was taken out. Zarqawi is in the assessment of most intelligence services, an independent operator who shares a broad world view with bin Laden but he is not working with bin Laden. He has a very different strategy than bin Laden and the connection has never been made firm. In fact most people think that he's a rival to bin Laden. And as for a haven for terrorists, there is no question, we face a disaster in that western Iraq has become a terrorist sanctuary. And we are going to have a very hard time changing that. There were not terrorists from al-Qaida working out of Iraq or against the United States in any way since 1993 out of Iraq. So things have changed.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. The debate will continue. Dan Benjamin, Stephen Hayes, thank you."