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National Security and Intelligence

Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; 12:30 PM

Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Thursday, March 24, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the latest developments in national security and intelligence.

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)

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.


Dana Priest: Hi everyone. I'm here. Let's begin.


Los Angeles, Calif.: I just watched Errol Morris' film The Fog of War again and can't help but compare how LBJ talked about 'Nam and how our current leaders are talking about Iraq. We have to train the indigenous population to defend themselves! We have to win the hearts and minds of the average Iraqi! What is going on?

Dana Priest: Classic insurgency/counterinsurgency problems. Some of the same mistakes, and it seems, lots of reinventing the wheel. For all the progress the Army has made in producing new fangled gizmos, it's leadership still has the problem of fighting the last war, or in this case, the last real counterinsurgency.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Dana,

Does the White House now recognize they were used and abused by Mr. Chalabi? I imagine by now they must recognize they've been duped. While they would never say this publicly, have you heard anything from private discussion?


Dana Priest: There has been a general pull-back from that relationship, although lots of people in a certain circle who advocated the war (and how easy it would be) still see Chalabi as a masterful politician. I would not count him out at all in the new government.


Vienna, Va.: About five months ago Porter Goss appointed someone who was "under cover" to the CIA's number three position. At the time it was reported that he would be publicly named soon. Have I missed it? What's the holdup? And when are they going to get a number two guy... to help out poor overwhelmed Mr. Goss?

Dana Priest: No, he's still under cover. Yes, this is unexplainable and seems a little ridiculous, given the importance of his position. Either it's because he did some really amazing covert stuff recently (which I kinda doubt) or it's part of an effort to change the relationship between the public (and media) and the Directorate of Operations. Porter Goss is fond of saying, "this is a secret organization," and my hunch is he wants to take even more of it behind the curtain. On the number two position, I think the plan is to wait until Negroponte takes over as national director of intelligence and there's a clearer vision of the agency's new role.


Arlington, Va.: What's the latest with the new office of DNI? Have they decided who is going to deliver the PDB? And where the office is going to be housed?

Dana Priest: I believe Negroponte will be in the CIA building for a while, maybe over a year. He may even be up in Goss' seventh floor offices, although all I hear about that right now are rumors. Negroponte is to deliver the PDB with CIA briefers from the Directorate of Intelligence. Eventually, I believe Negroponte will move either to another building on the CIA compound, or out, maybe, to Tyson Corner where the other new joint groups are located.


Berwyn, Pa.: Dana,

I have always been puzzled by the difference in treatment given to Gen. Janis Karpinski versus Gen. Barbara Fast.

In Washington Post article today on CIA ghosting,

"In a deposition on Sept. 1, 2004, however, Sanchez said he learned after the hearing that there had been a "staff officer understanding" that allowed ghosting by the "Other Government Agency," a code term for the CIA. He said in the deposition that Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, his top intelligence officer in Iraq, "had been made aware of the allocation of cells for use by OGA." Fast has been cleared of wrongdoing in Abu Ghraib investigations and last week assumed command of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Why has Gen. Fast been cleared of wrongdoing? Why wasn't she found as guilty as Gen. Karpinski ?

Dana Priest: This from Josh White, our Pentagon correspondent who wrote that article: To this point, Gen. Karpinski's only "punishment" is that she was suspended from her command and believes she is going to receive an administrative reprimand, an action she has vowed to fight. Karpinski believes she has been made a scapegoat, in part because of her status as a reservist, and in part because she says she tried to go against the top generals in Iraq at the time. Her role at the Abu Ghraib prison, a much more direct role than Gen. Fast probably had, is also likely a factor. That Gen. Fast was cleared by investigators means they didn't find any official wrongdoing on her part. How much she knew, and what her role was, is something that we continue to look into.


Bend, Ore.: Hi,
What's the current status of the FBI probes into Larry Franklin at the Pentagon and Chalabi? I remember reading about these cases 6-9 months ago, but not much since. Has the probe been dropped for lack of evidence, or stopped for political reasons? Also, when are the Senate confirmation hearings scheduled to be held for Negroponte?


Dana Priest: Negroponte is in mid-April. The Franklin case is ongoing, as far as I can tell. We've not been able to learn much more about it, or we would have written something. Ongoing investigations are actually pretty difficult to gain access to for us so I won't hold your breath for lots of news. Also, it may never be officially closed. They often are not.


San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Dana,

I have a question about books on intelligence. What's your take on books like "Imperial Hubris" and "Blowing My Cover" by former CIA analysts and covert operatives? Do you think they add anything useful at all to the national discourse on the state of intelligence today and what needs to be improved? Any tips for the average Joe on how to read these commentaries and arguments with a critical eye? Any thoughts on what authors you think have gotten it "right" in terms of describing what's really going on?


Dana Priest: The range within this genre is really wide. Blowing My Cover is a fun read, and gives you a glimpse into the life of a spy--but not a whole lot of insight into how the CIA works or doesn't work, except through her narrow experience. Imperial Hubris is much more complex--I recommend reading it to learn the mindset of someone who spent his life in CIA counterterrorism ops (Michael Scheuer). I find him most helpful on history and facts. His policy proscriptions are somewhat extreme, but he did not work as a policy maker. For the nitty gritty of spy craft, you could turn to James Bamford (on the NSA), for light, recent history, Melissa Boyle Mahle (Denial and Deception--best for new comers) and for particular CIA/USG history in a given region, I think of Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, Milt Bearden and James Risen's The Main Enemy. Those are just a few.


Monterey, Calif.: Whatever happened to General Taguba, the author of the leaked Abu Ghraib memo?

Dana Priest: Nothing in particular. His initial, candid report has been largely substantiated by the many folo-up reports. He spoke recently at the Asia Society, about his life in the military. You can probably find a transcript of the talk on their website.


Vancouver, Canada: Dear Dana,
I have heard that the new move by the pentagon to set up its own intelligence service would not come under the same scrutiny and congressional overview as the other U.S. intelligence services, such as the C.I.A., is this true? And if so as the U.S. congress or government confronted the pentagon on this?

Dana Priest: Very possibly, and that is because CIA operations fall under Title 50 of the US Code and must be briefed to the intelligence committees, as do all covert actions. What DOD seems to be doing is pushing the envelope on the definition of covert, as one interpretation goes. According to some insiders, Special Operations in particular is contemplating conducting operations that many people would consider covert, but under the guise of clandestine ops, which do not require briefing Congress in the same way. The committees--intel v. armed services--are keeping track of this. But I do not except much of a public discussion about it, except what the media can uncover.


Kansas City, Mo.: I think I read that the Chinese were skeptical of our intelligence on North Korea based on our Iraqi information. Is this going to be a problem with other countries and the UN in that we're viewed as crying "Wolf" too often?

Dana Priest: The problem is both that US credibility has suffered and that it is nearly impossible to actually know what's going on in North Korea. So the best we're left with is an interpretation of inconclusive bits and pieces. I do think it will be hard for countries to follow the US's interpretation of events, though, because of the poor intel work done on Iraq. Also, there is much disagreement over how the community of nations should proceed to discuss these issues with North Korea.


Richmond, Va.: How is the U.S. role in Iraq different from Vietnam? In other words, where do you see this analogy breaking down? (or do you?)

Dana Priest: The analogy only goes so far. There are sooo many differences. To name a few: there's no large organized, military enemy. There is no massing and staging of armies (which may make it harder to defeat). The US Army will tell you there are no superpower supplying the enemy and that they have battlefield dominance. They view this as a positive. But those things seem almost irrelevant in Iraq, and the lack of a big enemy makes "battlefield dominance" an obsolete notion too. This is asymetric warfare at its extreme. One bomber in one place at one particular moment and not governed by the laws of war, against one, big superpower Army with its rules and size and doctrine. Maybe the overwhelming size will eventually mean defeat of outside insurgents. It's not clear yet. What seems absolutely crucial is getting Iraqis back on board to buy time for the fight between the opponents and that means working, as they are right now, to put the Iraqi forces out front. The other huge difference is that the South Vietnamese did not have a legitimate government anyway. It was corrupt and weak and the American leadership knew it and backed it anyway. The new Iraqi government, on the other hand, is still just forming and has legitimacy in many parts of Iraq.


Anonymous: RE: Poor intel work done on Iraq.

Do you really believe that? I tend to think the intel work was done diligently, did not fall into the framework required for an invasion, and then properly squashed. Hence, the implosion of the CIA.

Dana Priest: I do think it was done diligently, but there was no great sense of dissident about whether SHussein had weapons of mass destruction. There was on particular pieces of the analysis (famous aluminum tubes, etc.) But George Tenet's CIA looked at those pieces and saw the glass half full (meaning he possessed WMD), not the opposite. Remember "Slam Dunk"? The CIA has admitted its collection and analytical mistakes and has said it is working, institutionally, to correct the systems and culture that produced them.


Dana Priest: Signing out. Thanks for the great questions. Will try to type faster next time.....until then. Best, Dana


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