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National Security and Intelligence

Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; 12:00 PM

Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Noon ET, will discuss the newest CIA report on WMDs and other intelligence matters.

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.

Dana Priest (The Washington Post)

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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: Hello everyone one. I'm a bit late, so let's begin. Dana

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Ellicott City, Md.: Seems that there are not that many bad guys getting caught in Falluja(h). Did they leave, do we know if there were that many to begin with, or are they all concentrated in the remaining 30 percent of the city? In other words, how are we doing there?

Dana Priest: The reports from the field are that this are "ahead of schedule." But as your questions suggest, the answer won't be known until the US military can be sure the insurgents are either killed or captured. It's not simply a matter of retaking the city, but of destroying the insurgency. In that sense, they'll can only evaluate that after the fighting has stopped.

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Houston,Tex.: Why do you think there has not been another attack on the U.S. since 9/11? I keep hearing about the millions of illegal aliens coming across the borders and it would seem to me that at least some of these people could have been able to do something if they desired. Has too much been made of the terrorist threat?

Dana Priest: This won't be a satisfying answer, but here it is: Some days I interview intel types who believe we haven't seen an attack because the USG has, in fact, disrupted Al Qaeda so much that they are not able to carry off another Sept. 11. On other days, I interview intel and homeland security types who say they are convinced there will be another, much more catastrophic attack here with WMD. Both camps have relatively the same intel. So go figure. What is clear, is that AQ will keep attempting to infiltrate the US, so even in the best scenario, it's not a static situation.

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Baltimore, Md.: Dana, what do you make of Michael Scheuer's motives? I read your article yesterday and I read his book "Imperial Hubris". I take him seriously but I can't help but wonder sometimes if he's disgruntled or has an axe to grind.

Dana Priest: Well, let's say he's disgruntled, has an axe to grind and isn't worried about getting fired because he has a bestselling book he can live off of. The question then becomes: is his information valid? I believe it is, given the vetting I gave it before publication with other intel contacts. So it's worth noting, and teasing out his passion and motives from what he has to tell us that may be important to "getting it right" vis a vis counterterrorism.

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Chester Valley, Pa.: Dana,

Will Rumsfeld stay or go?

If he goes, who would the senior military most like to see as Secretary of Defense?

Who do you think will replace Rumsfeld?

Dana Priest: The consensus around here is that he will stay for a year. There aren't any leading candidates to replace him, although Al Kamen and others who watch the musical chairs think that Condi Rice wants the job. I can't imagine she would go over very well because she has been such a failure as a coordinator of the National Security Council and, therefore, the interagency process. That shows weak leadership skills. They once considered Armitage as deputy. And obviously Wolfowitz, whose confirmation would be a spectacle.

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Palm Springs, Calif.:
Miss ...

Could these so-called 'insurgents' be really the remnants of Saddam's army -- organized and armed in some fashion?

Dana Priest: Yes, part of them. But as our very fine and disturbing story from Fallujah yesterday show, they are also foreign fighters. Here's the story:

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washingtonpost.com: U.S. and Iraqi Troops Push Into Fallujah (Post, Nov. 9)

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Kansas: Whatever the current strategy is for bringing in Osama bin Laden, one thing is certain -- it is not working. Though his capture will not stop al Qaeda, it would seem to have tremendous symbolic value. What would an effective effort to capture him look like? Thanks.

Dana Priest: The strategy is this: patience. And, although I am not a patient person by nature, I think it's probably the best you can hope for. The reason is that the particular region in Pakistan where he is supposed to be hiding is not controlled by the Pakistanis. There are many people there who would be proud to hide, and die for, bin Laden. The Paks wouldn't allow us in there unilaterally (it would topple their government) or even overtly with their troops. We probably won't find him anyway because of the terrain (many caves) and his network. But the US military and CIA are close to him and they believe all it will take is one misstep on his part. That's bound to happen---sometime.

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Prince William, Va.: Re: No terrorist attacks.

Has there been any thought that we have not had a terrorist attack on US soil because the war on terrorism was shifted to the Middle East, and specifically Iraq? Meaning that, we went into Iraq and created "American" targets there, and gave terrorists a new front to focus on and thus diverting attention from the mainland.

Dana Priest: That's a good point. But I know intel folks still believe AQ is (also) after a dramatic strike on US soil.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you think that a terrorist attack against the U.S. is more or less likely now that Bush seems to have won the presidency? It seems to me that Osama bin Laden has a lot of incentive to set one off, if only to prove that Americans made a mistake by electing someone who claims to be the "terrorism" president and to show that Bush hasn't made us any safer.

Dana Priest: I'm in the camp that Al Qaeda does not pay attention to the differences between political candidates. So it doesn't change a thing.

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Dana Priest: One more thing on that question: notice that neither the Republicans or the White House is now suggesting that an attack is less likely because Pres. Bush was re-elected. Prior to the election, they certainly insinuated it would be more likely with Kerry in office.

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LA Times story ... : Hi there,

According to the LA Times, a scathing CIA report -- calling high-level people out by name -- is being withheld by the W.H. until after the election ... Is there a valid national security reason for this delay? ... Or do the 9/11 families deserve to have it released?


Acworth, GA

Dana Priest: No good reason not to release it. My guess for its delay would be the obvious: presidential politics. But contrary to some people who have written on this matter, I don't think the report is any kind of smoking gun.

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Potomac, Md.:
Dear Ms.Priest:

During the election campaign, President Bush said that the security of every American family depends on a decisive victory in Iraq. Do you think a decisive victory in Iraq is possible when it has become a become a recruiting ground for terrorists following the American invasion of that country and when there is mounting hatred against the U.S. in the Arab world?

Dana Priest: Good question. No, not decisive in the sense that you win the war, conquer the country, vanquish the enemy. Whether Iraq becomes a decisive victory will only be known years out, if Iraq becomes a stable, democratic country capable of thwarting attackers from within and from without. That looks like a tall order right now. Hopefully it will happen.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Will the investigation about the whereabouts of the missing munitions in Iraq go forward now that the election is over?

Dana Priest: yes

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Baltimore, Md.: The AP is reporting that the White House will nominate Gonzales to replace Ashcroft. If that's so, doesn't that quickly mean an end to the president's promise to reach out to all Americans? After all, Gonzales has a paper trail of memos that make him look worse than Ashcroft when it comes to civil liberties.

Dana Priest: You're mixing promises (metaphors). Reaching out is usually a code for "minority voices." Gonzales is clearly hispanic. Yes, he may have a hot confirmation process, given the torture and interrogation memos. Then again, the Democrats, including candidate Kerry, didn't mention torture or interrogation during the campaign. So maybe the debate is over, and the White House's view won.

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Clemson, S.C.: Hi Dana,

What message do you think the (relatively) large margin of Bush's win sends to Iraq and AQ?

Dana Priest: None.

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Goffs, Calif.: On a number of occasions,Vice-President Cheney has portrayed a bleak, dismal, unsafe situation for the American people at home. Now, John Ashcroft states that all is WELL and SAFE in America, supposedly due to his efforts.

Many of us would like to believe Ashcroft.

Do you, in this particular instance?

Dana Priest: I refer you to the answer about whether there will be another attack

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Dana Priest: Thanks to Monterey, California.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Hello Dana, thanks for taking all of the reader questions.
In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges for the next year for:
1. Defense Department
2. Intelligence community
3. Homeland Security
This is pretty big for a single question, but I think these issues are very important for our country, and perhaps the world.
Many thanks!

Dana Priest: 1. Iraq. 2. Iraq. 2. The FBI's inability to understand and investigate terrorists in the US.

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Richmond, Va.: I keep reading that many of the insurgents may have slipped out of Fallujah prior to the main assault. Knowing this, what prevents the insurgents from setting up base in another city? Or is the answer as simple as, "we'll pursue them, until we get them"?

Dana Priest: No choice but the latter. Hopefully, though, the US military was set up to capture those fleeing as they did.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Hello Dana, why should we trust you or your sources? I'm serious ... why?

Dana Priest: Good question. Only our record and my pact (like all other reporters here) to put my name, and therefore my credibility, on top of each story. So if I blow it, well, you'll know that too. Check out Michael Getler's ombudsman's column over the past two years. He thinks I've blown it a number of times, and he thinks I've done good work as well. Credibility and a record is all I have to convince my sources to keep on talking to me and it's all the paper has to keep readers coming back.

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San Antonio, Tex.: I was watching network media coverage this morning -- switching between stations, and it was on NBC, I believe, on a report from Baghdad, about troops stationed there that I saw a TV image -- that of anchorman Brit Hume. I assumed the troops sitting eating and watching TV were watching Fox News.

Dana, do you have any idea how the troops in Iraq get U.S. media? How many dailies/newspapers are sent overseas? What channels or cable channels do the troops watch, and how is the choice for large numbers of soldiers made regarding which TV outlet to watch? Is the choice of a TV channel a top-down decision or by group consensus?

Dana Priest: I probably varies from base to base. You probably saw a shot from the commander center. They would have internet and communication lines to pull down television and radio for the troops. Given a choice, most troops would watch Fox News, in my experience. This wasn't always the case. first it was CNN, in part because it offered the most news around the clock. On smaller bases,it's probably a group choice, on larger ones, it's probably the sergeant major's choice. But I doubt there's usually a whole lot of discussion about it.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't understand the logic of Prince William, nor your response. If the war on terrorism has "shifted" to Iraq, that is purely the option of AQ. It's not like they are pinned down there, like they should have been in Afghanistan -- we have merely given them another option. There is also the moral question of occupying a country to turn it into front on terror.

Dana Priest: Here's an interesting reply. I'd add that the administration surely did not intend to turn Iraq into another front on the GWOT. In fact, they didn't prepare for that. So it's a good spin line, after the fact. It's certainly not a good situation.

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Arlington, Va.: Why to America Iraqi fighters are thought of as "insurgents" and yet to Iraqis they are thought of as "freedom fighters"? How many civilians have we killed in order to get rid of the Iraqi fighters? If it is well over 100,000 why is this acceptable to Americans? Is one American life worth 3000 Iraqi lives?

Dana Priest: The insurgent v. freedom fighter label is a fascinating question that pops up in many wars. I do not believe the 100,000 is a valid figure. That included "increased mortality rates" in general. My bet is it's closer to 4,000 civilians killed by US military action. Many people are working on this issue, none of them in the US military, unfortunately. Hopefully we will have a better answer soon. It is also, though, very likely that thousands of other people died as an indirect result of the invasion--from bad drinking water, disrupted electricity, the war after the war. I'm certainly not discounting the wider effects of the war.

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Dana Priest: Thanks to everyone. My apologies for not typing faster. See you next week.

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