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National Security and Intelligence

Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; 12:00 PM

Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Wednesday, March 2, at Noon 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)

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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. Let's begin.

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Monterey, Calif.: Hi Dana,

I am hoping you could provide a kind of "reality check" on the situation in Iraq. Before the elections, the general consensus (based on the CIA reports) was that the best we could hope for was a tenuous stability over the next several years.

The Bush administration and the mainstream media have portrayed the elections as a dramatic turning point in the history of Iraq, with Allawi (I think) even claiming that the lack of attacks on Iraqi election day meant that the terrorists had been defeated.

Has anything substantive and lasting really changed in Iraq?

Dana Priest: It's too hard to tell just yet. I don't think you'll have the definitive "this is a success" or "this has failed" for still quite some time. The election turnout was better than anyone hoped. The aftermath is much more problematic, as you see from the daily bombings, murders and kidnappings. Does that mean the political process will not work? Ever? It's just too early to tell, although obviously it has great odds to overcome. The "media" you cite was reporting on what happened that day, not predicting the future.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Do you agree that capturing Osama is preferable to killing him, in which case we might see a slew of violence as retaliation for the death?

Even though Mr. Bush said "dead or alive", I believe the White House has plenty of incentive to want him killed as opposed to brought in for questioning.

Please comment.

Dana Priest: You're probably right.

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Rockville, Md.: Is it just me or have you been appearing more on television lately? Caught you on Washington Week in Review and Meet the Press -- the first time I've seen an all female panel on Meet the Press. How does it work? Do you request to be on or do they come looking for you? Are you paid (naive question)?

Dana Priest: I'm an analyst for NBC/MSNBC which means I go on the air when they ask me to. Yes, I'm paid. NBC gives me permission to appear on Washington Week. I love Gwen Ifill and her show so I'm happy to do it. Also, I'm on Hardball with Chris Matthews a good deal. But mostly I'm in The Post!

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Lyon, France: Since the U.S. has declared Syria responsible for the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, does Israel now have a "green light" to attack Syria?

Dana Priest: Not in Syria itself. An incursion into the Bekaa or something might be a different matter.

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Vienna, Va.: Dana,
What is your take on the secretary of state naming PIJ as the organization behind the most recent bombing in Israel? Do you feel the most recent statements about Syria is a signal that Syria is next on the GWOT agenda?

Dana Priest: I would take it has such, except for the fact--and this is a big exception--Syria is actually pretty helpful to the CIA against certain Iraqi individuals and foreign terrorists.

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Bowie, Md.: My nephew served in Iraq and came back a changed man. He is 22 years old and served exactly eight months. Although physically he is fine, mentally there is something that isn't quite right. We cannot get him to seek medical attention. We have been told that he is a man and must seek it on his own. How scary a thought. We (the family) can't help but remember Vietnam and how it tore our family apart. My question: Now that you are back safe and sound (Thank God), is it really worth it? The lives, the injuries, the dollars? Thanks.

Dana Priest: I can't not answer that question for you. Obviously the president believes it is worth it, and the voters reelected him knowing that he did.

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Austin, Tex.: Ms. Priest,
Thanks for doing these chats. They are always informative.

Now the USMC is having trouble meeting its recruitment goals. The reserves are stretched. Stop-loss orders. IRR soldiers being recalled involuntarily.

My question isn't about a possible return to the draft now. (I know your answer, and I believe you. I guess.) But, say, a couple of years from now, when most U.S. forces have returned from Iraq and are back in their communities and we've all had some time to think, I wonder if there isn't going to be some sort of debate about the basic fairness of the current system.

Do you hear any comments about this sort of thing from the military? What form will this debate take? (Maybe some sort of universal national service, with the military as one option?)

I guess what I'm saying is that the current system seems to be unfair and not entirely effective. What's going to be done about it over the longer term?

Dana Priest: Okay, this is my purely personal opinion here. How could it not be fair if all the people are volunteers? Yes, the burden is much more than many believed it would be prior to 9-11, but it's a voluntary decision. I think the military will do everything they can to avoid going back to the draft for one reason: volunteers make better soldiers. They are more committed. (the counterbalancing argument is that the political leaders might think harder about going to war if their kids will have to serve). I think the idea of a national service, with several options, including a military option, is a great one. That would be a way to fund and support my idea for a civilian-led and staffed peacekeeping force, not to mention a domestic service corps with some clout and spirit.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Melissa Boyle Mahle gave a talk at her book tour thing in L.A. recently and was very harsh on Director Tenet for intelligence failures. This is clearly the case with Iraq's WMDs., but I do not completely agree with her about his complicity regarding 9/11. He was the man "with his hair on fire" trying to warn people inside the government. His agency did furnish numerous warnings to government agencies. The P.D.B. of August 6th. If anything, I believe the true blame lay with Dr. Rice and the president. Please comment.

Dana Priest: Just a comment on Tenet. How could it be that he announced "a war on Al Qaeda" but none of the other US intelligence agencies or the NSC knew it, or acted accordingly. In the context of all the other actions, he was the most spin up (except Richard Clarke) on the subject, but he didn't manage to convince others of the urgency and his agency wasn't really acting urgent about it.

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Iowa: An FYI. My son who is seven months into a year's internship in Germany reports that last week, for the very first time, he met a German person who thought it was a good idea for the U.S. to invade Iraq. However, he qualified this by saying that the fellow had grown up in East Germany (DDR) and thought it was worth the price to oust Saddam. Perhaps the guy felt it was okay to come forward with the Bush charm offensive going on in old Europe?

Dana Priest: There you have it:

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Bethesda, Md.: I watched Abizaid's interview and I ask you, did he say anything we can take to the bank? No guarantees but everything is positive. He thinks the insurgency is getting weaker because, basically, they are terrorists. That's really apples and oranges -- terrorist groups can gain strength. Apparently, we're winning but will be there for a long time. So basically, we're doing great but ... Can't expect anything but the same for a long time. How is that great?

Dana Priest: Yeah, you're right. But generals are usually very careful about what they tell Congress in open sessions. And the one in charge of Iraq certainly isn't going to reveal much worry in public. The bland, uninformative testimony is, in part, a problem of the questioners. Members of Congress have really become lazy and unfocused in their pursuit of any actual information. They refer to media accounts far too often, as if they don't have staffs who could/should be digging things up themselves.

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National service: You said a mouthful there, mentioning funding. The Americorps program is funded at a fraction of its authorized strength ... because we don't want to pay. Even volunteers have to be paid, organized, and at least monitored, especially if a form of national service is mandatory and some are going to get killed. Someone has to find them a task, then find another one if that task gets finished or is not working out. My observation is we don't want to pay for what it would take to have an effective form of voluntary national service, let alone a mandatory one.

Dana Priest: passing along a follow-up

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Panama City, Fla.: The Pentagon wants to send Special Ops Units into countries without working with our ambassador -- they also want to increase human intelligence capabilities abroad. The FBI wants to recruit spies among foreigners in the U.S. and manage them when they go back home. As of now, how do you think all of this will "shake out?"

Dana Priest: Poorly. It's like kids chasing the soccer ball. No strategic thinking, all tactic, and only at the target in front of you. The soccer ball, in this case, is HUMINT [human intelligence]--spying. Here's my weekend piece about the CIA's lose of power in the new era.

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London, U.K.: Will the president seem isolated if Blair loses a possible election in May?

Dana Priest: Not sure. He's trying to make new friends in Old Europe as we speak.

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washingtonpost.com: Analysis: CIA Moves to Second Fiddle in Intelligence Work (Post, Feb. 27)

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hi Dana,
When will Russia supply the fuel for Iran's reactor? Isn't this an effective deadline for any U.S. or Israeli bombing plans?

Thanks.

Dana Priest: Not until 2006.

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New Orleans, La.: Ms. Priest:

When an individual is rendered to another country for more intense interrogation (torture) and provides information, do the analysts know under what conditions the information was proffered? Does information gathered from torture require more corroboration?

Dana Priest: Thanks a key question. But I dont' know the answer. I am told that the CIA is instructed not to be near any foreign-held detainee who is being abused. You would think that information would be critical to understanding its value, but I can't imagine a CIA analyst or case officer in the field actually asking the question, for fear of the answer.

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Edison, N.J.: Dana -- has the recent focus on the Middle East meant that everyone (the administration, the press), etc., has taken its eye of arguably the most significant geopolitical trends of this century -- the rise of India and China as industrial and military powers? You hardly ever see coverage of these countries. There were protests in Hong Kong a few months back, they got hardly any coverage. India just had some elections (in numbers, the number of exceededo voted far exceeeded the voters in Iraq) and it was barely covered in the American media.

Dana Priest: I would agree. Iraq and terrorism have taken our main attention and resources. The Post, however, has some great correspondents in China and India. They have a harder time getting their stories on the front page than they would if there were not a war in Iraq, but their work still appears frequently in the paper.

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Wichita, Kans.: Hi Dana,
I read Dan Eggen's article today where he quotes Gonzales saying that the U.S. can detain Padilla in the war on terror "for the duration of hostilities." This position begs the question of how one would define the war as being "over." This position also seems to provide a contrast with our approach to terrorism vs. how Europeans deal with this menace -- i.e., an evil that will never be eradicated, but can be adjusted to. Besides the U.S. going bankrupt, do you foresee any events that might lead the U.S. to assume the European position? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Detention of American Is Defended (Post, March 2)

Dana Priest: Time.

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Pigeon Run, Ohio: Hi Dana, I love your work and always look forward to your chats. A word about our all volunteer armyguidance high school quidance counselor, I saw again and again how the student from the lower economic register was much more susceptible to the military recruiter's promises. These kids needed money for college, their parents were often unsophisticated, and when the recruiter took the kid to the main recruiting station in the far-off big city, the student often came back feeling as if they'd won the lottery. Students were lured into the Army Reserves partially by recruiters telling them that reservists were seldom activated.

Of course the realities of military service are now very apparent to all, and fewer kids are signing up. But I know there are lots of soldiers and reservists in Iraq who are not serving in the same military that was represented to them before they signed on the dotted line.

Dana Priest: I wouldn't disagree at all and that's why the recruiting rate are down. You can see the mission the army has in Iraq everyday on tv and in the news.

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Burke, Va.: Is sending people to other countries to be tortured a good idea? Wouldn't that be against our Constitution?

Dana Priest: It is against the law to send someone to a country where you know they are going to be tortured. That law would be the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US signed and which President Bush has reiterated to be his policy numerous times. So here's what actually happens: the CIA is required to get an assurance from X government--sometimes in writing, sometimes verbally--that the government will treat the person properly. Once they get the agreement, they can send the person on and comply with the law, as interpreted by CIA and NSC lawyers.

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Dana Priest: I have to run off now. thanks for joining me. See you next week.

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