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National Security and Intelligence

Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; 12:00 PM

Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest will be online Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Noon ET to discuss reports that the administration has long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists plus the CIA's secret plane allegedly used to transport terrorists for detention and interrogation.

Read the stories:Long-Term Plan Sought For Terror Suspects (Post, Jan. 2) and Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War (Post, Dec. 27, 2004).

Dana Priest (The Washington Post)

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Dana Priest covers intelligence and wrote "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military" (W.W. Norton). The book chronicles the increasing frequency with which the military is called upon to solve political and economic problems.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Dana Priest: Hi everyone. Hope your holidays were relaxing. Let's begin.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Dana. Will Porter Goss have to be reconfirmed as the Director of the CIA? If so, will he survive the process? Will the senior CIA officers he recently ousted be called to testify?

Dana Priest: The latest reading from the CIA on this matter, which is still not definitive, is that he would not have to be reconfirmed as the director of CIA. But the law is vague, so that interpretation could change. On the second part, I doubt any member of Congress would call the ousted officials because, in most cases I can think of, the officials would not be very "helpful" publicly and would refine as much as possible from dumping on Porter Goss in public. It's just not their style.

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Washington, D.C.: Once the elections pass, and the violence continues, what will be the administration's take on the situation?

Also, once the Sunnis realize just how much power they're going to be losing to Shiites and Kurds, don't you see the situation as getting worse rather than better?

Dana Priest: If the violence continues, my guess is the administration will stick in there for a while and then look for a way out. Also, the Sunni v Shiite violence, as you suggest, is a real possibility that could plunge the country into a civil war in the midst of a counterinsurgency against the US presence.

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Sims, N.C.: Happy Holidays Dana -- I while back I read that the ACLU had uncovered a presidential order detailing the administration's views on torture. I have yet to see anything in the mainstream media about this. Two questions:
1. Does this order really exist?
2. What does it mean for the president if it does exist? Does anybody care?

Dana Priest: I have not heard of such a thing. The closest we have to an administration view is the so-called Torture Memo dated August 2002 from Alberto Gonzales's office of legal counsel. That's an excellent view inside. It reveals the White House view of how far interrogations could go and that the president had the authority to disregard the international convention on torture. That memo was withdrawn after public outcry and has recently been replaced by a new legal interpretation that is much narrower in scope and conventional in outlook.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm seeing U.S. troops in South Asia helping with the tsunami disaster. Were they diverted from Iraq or were they called up from other places?

Dana Priest: The military says no. But really, how could that be. The individual services have also said they are stretch to the limit. As we've seen, soldier are in their second Iraq deployment. Impossible for both to be true. Technically, the troops are coming from those units stationed in Asia (Hawaii, Japan mostly).

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washingtonpost.com: Justice Expands 'Torture' Definition (Post, Dec. 31)

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think about the appointment of the new deputy director of the analytical branch, John Kringen? Additionally is there anything significant to Mr. Goss's plans to install as the agency's new chief spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise?

Dana Priest: I've not yet found anyone who knows much about John Kringen, so I don't think he was the obvious "next in line," so to speak. As for Millerwise, she has worked for Goss before, then in the Vice President's office. Doesn't have any intelligence experience but is said to be smart and hardworking. I've never met her. The key is: will she have the authority to pry information out of the CIA or is she there mainly to give the White House spin, coming as she does from the White House. All public affairs offices have some spin in them, and we recognize that. The best of them also help us get the facts.

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Washington, D.C.: Several years ago experts considered western Indonesia to be a possible but not probable hideout for Osama bin Laden. Is there any evidence so far that bin Laden has survived the Asian Tsunami?

Dana Priest: I'm very skeptical of the notion that he's hiding in Indonesia.

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Annandale, Va.: Hi Dana, an intelligence official in the Iraqi government recently stated there are 40,000 full time insurgents and 200,000 part-time/supporting. How does this jive with U.S. intel?

Dana Priest: I've been looking at that. One US intelligence official debunked it as way too high. Frankly, I don't think the military or the CIA has a good estimate.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you feel that the added burden of tsunami relief is enough to postpone the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq?

Dana Priest: No. US really wants them to go on.

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Austin, Tex.: From what I've read in the last week or so, it appears that while the eyes of the U.S. and world have been on South Asia, things in Iraq are truly getting dire. What's your best guess for the next few months? Elections Jan. 30? Reasonable participation? Some improvement overall?

Dana Priest: I hate to say it, but I'm not hopeful -- yet. Moderate participation given all the violence and the fact that parts of the Sunni leadership have called for a boycott. I don't think the counterinsurgency will weaken much after the election. It seems only to be getting stronger.

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Washington, D.C.: Given that tsunamis are caused by earthquakes and earthquakes can be caused by nuclear blasts, and given that al Qaeda boasted that there would be a horrific terror attack in the election year 2004, can you confirm whether anyone at the Central Intelligence Agency (or anywhere else) is investigating the Asian Tsuanmi as a possible terror attack?

Dana Priest: Wow. I hadn't thought of that! I can't imagine but almost everything these days is worth checking.

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Washington, D.C.: While reading this news story in Stars and Stripes about damage to Diego Garcia by the Asian Tsunami, I noticed no mention of any al Qaeda detainees on the island. Does the USA still operate a detention center on Diego Garcia? Also, this same article says that only eight ships were operating in the Indian and Pacific Oceans at the time of the tsunami. How is that possible with a 600 ship navy?

Diego Garcia Navy base reports no damage from quake, tsunamis (Stars and Stripes, Jan. 5)

Dana Priest: Thanks for the article. It helps answer a couple of other questions in the queue. My understanding is that the US no longer holds detainees there. As for the ship figure, I haven't checked but maybe they meant, operating in the waters affected by the tsunami.

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Winnipeg, Canada: Regarding your assessment of the veracity of the U.S. military claims that it is not diverting troops from Iraq to the disaster area, and their unravelling story about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, to say nothing about weapons of mass destruction, how long do you think it will be before the American public totally disregards anything the American military tells them? In my country, most people do not take seriously anything the military or White house says any more.

Dana Priest: Not true here. I do think some people somewhat discount what is said from the podium as directed talking points, but then there are all those officials who speak to us more truthfully on background. Including the military.

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College Park, Md.:
Hello Dana --

A few comments on the story you had written about the CIA using a corporate jet under the guise of a false company to transport suspected terrorists from country to country. While I compliment you and your assistants for doing the thorough research on the history of this particular aircraft, as well as the paper trail (or lack thereof) of the "corporate entities" using the jet, for the life of me I couldn't figure out why this story was written. I would assume most informed Americans know that the CIA uses false corporations as cover for their operations from time to time. And the movie "Air America" with Robert Downey Jr. came out years ago. So why did The Post give this much space to following an aircraft around that for all intent and purposes is, in fact, a CIA plane used to transport suspected terrorists? If you felt this story was groundbreaking and newsworthy, please tell us why. Or, if you were instead trying to paint with a broad brush that the CIA has "taken the gloves off," and is transporting suspected killers to countries that may not be so offended placing them on a bucket with a hood over their head and their arms outstretched, then why didn't you just say that in the article?

Dana Priest: Transporting people to other countries has become a mainstay counterterrorism tool, not the isolated case it started out to be in the 1990s. It is all done in secret, which makes any real facts about what is being done--to whom, under what conditions and under what kind of review--extremely hard to come by. The plane turned out to be one way to discuss this. Also, "disappearing" people without any kind of due process certainly isn't anything our laws and treaty obligations condone. It may be there's a consensus to change that, but none of its been discussed in public. Part of my role is to write about the "war on terrorism." Renditions have taken on a greater role in it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Re: Nuclear blast causing the Tsunami.

The tsunami was caused by a nearly 700-mile long slip of close to 100 vertical feet in the place where the Indian tectonic plate meets the Burma tectonic plate. There is no known nuclear weapon capable of causing this sort of earth movement. Plus, a nuclear weapon has an easily identifiable seismic signature completely unlike that of earthquakes. This was an earthquake in a known earthquake area. In fact, there were some seismologists who predicted a quake along this fault line this year.

Dana Priest: Thank you

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Norfolk, Va.: Dana -- Thank you for all your excellent coverage. How likely is it that Colin Powell will begin to speak more candidly about U.S. military and intelligence failures once he is formally out of office? I think his opinions would be incredibly valuable. Thanks.

Dana Priest: I would expect some more candor, but not any wholesale criticism of the administration. That's just doesn't sound like them.

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Reisterstown, Md.: For Washington D.C. -- The U. S. Navy hasn't had 600 ships for quite some time due to draw down during the Clinton years. The total number of Navy ships (including reserve ships) a little over three hundred.

Dana Priest: Right. Thanks.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Hi Dana;

I have a background in foreign languages (Arabic, French). Why does the U.S. government, primarily the Department of Education, not have a program to encourage high school students to enter into the more exotic languages, i.e., Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, in exchange for four -ear college scholarships once they have served for an amount of time for any federal government agencies?

Dana Priest: They are beginning to do this. Check out the Pat Roberts educational program (named after the chairman of the senate intelligence committee). There are others, but it is still a slow start to address such an obvious deficiency.

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Anonymous: Dear Ms. Priest:
Is there any known precedent for long term secret detention and interrogation of suspicious quasi-non-military personnel by U.S. agencies?

I guess this does occur with spies, how about drug cartels or other groups targeted by law enforcement?

Do other countries do this regularly/occasionally?

Thanks very much.

Dana Priest: Not that I know of by the United STates. Other governments? Absolutely. Who are they? Check out the State Department annual human rights report, which condemns the practice. Such imprisonment would include such human rights defenders as Iraq during Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan during the Taliban, North Korea, China, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Libya. The difference is they are imprisoning their own citizens, by and large. Some of these same countries have agreed to imprison nationals from other countries, at our request.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Your conspiracy theorist who posted earlier should know that some Islamic press is reporting the reverse: They are printing the U.S. caused the tsunami. Considering that a best-selling book in Europe last year was one claiming the U.S. bombed itself on September 11, we have a long way to boost our international image in some countries, don't we?

Dana Priest: Well, there you go. I would agree the "image" has been tarnished by the policy.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hey College Park, Md.:

Wake up pal, the Post is just letting the CIA know what the score is. The score is this:

We know what you monkeys are doing. The truth always surfaces. So while we all know the government is doing some nasty stuff behind closed doors, it will always surface somehow or someway. It is a way of keeping those entrusted with our security in check. So we do not have a Gestapo. So we do not have Orwell's 1984 (although a recent article in the National Geographic Magazine paints it otherwise).

Come on chief, we do not live in China.

Dana Priest: Well, here's a much more spicy reply than mine.

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Re: 200k insurgents: Do you know what the Iraqi Intelligence is based on?

Dana Priest: Unfortunately, I don't. The estimate comes from an Agence France Presse interview a couple of days ago with the head of the Iraqi intelligence service (who was basically chosen by the CIA), Shahani.

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Arlington, Va.: Dana:

If you were the new CIA director, what would your top three priorities be for the upcoming year?

Dana Priest: 1. Find and hire more Arabic speaking, Mideast looking case officers who are steeped in the culture, traditions, etc of the region.
2. "Play" much better the FBI and military, and require the same of them.
3. Give Dana Priest a lot more access to the CIA and intelligence community in general.

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Washington, D.C.: Nuclear blasts don't cause tsunamis. Nuclear blasts trigger earthquakes that are waiting to happen. The additional information on the risk of an earthquake and tsunami in the western Indonesia area is helpful, but would be better with a link.

washingtonpost.com: Making of a Tsunami

Dana Priest: Thank you.

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Dana Priest: Oops. Just looked up and it's 1:20. Gotta run. Thank you for all the question. Until next week ...

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