Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online 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.
(The Washington Post)
The 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. Let's begin.
Thanks for taking our questions. According to the UK independent, Ms. Marla Ruzicka was killed very shortly after she published a report establishing that, in spite of official denials, the U.S. had been making attempts to track how many civilians were killed during skirmishes involving U.S. troops, after all. Do you think her work could have an effect on changing the "rules of engagement"?
Dana Priest: It could. If you look at the military engagements since the Cold War, you will see that the military, especially the Air Force, has made great strides in precision weaponry. One reason it did, was because the issue of civilian deaths came to light. Political pressure from the public and Capitol Hill, as well as military quarters, forced an improvement in weapons systems and in ROE for pilots. Same could happen with Marla's data.
Silver Spring, Md.:
We chatted some weeks ago about the possible sale of F-16's to Pakistan and we were both a little perplexed about how that fit into movement toward global peace. Now we have more recently heard that the real idea is to sell quite a few more fighters to India as well. How do you feel about the idea of U.S. Defense contractors lining their pockets by arming these fairly hostile (to each other) and fairly poor countries? Would you characterize this initiative as part of promoting the "culture of life?"
Dana Priest: I feel hostile toward it. Can't address the "culture of life issue," but show me a case where unstable regimes become more stable when they get a hold of more sophisticated weapons?
China's government (and, apparently, society in general) is becoming increasingly assertive and nationalistic. Witness the recent demonstrations against Japan.
Are they going to take advantage of this nationalistic feeling and the currently-stretched U.S. military and invade Taiwan one of these days?
Dana Priest: I doubt it. That would be a very big miscalculation, Iraq or not.
Dana: The helicopter that crashed today was Bulgarian-owned, Bulgarian-crewed, chartered out of Toronto and carrying U.S. Blackwater operatives. Seems awfully complex. Is that complexity a way to keep an arm's length between whatever they were doing and the U.S. government, or is it just the way things work in Iraq?
Dana Priest: I don't know for certain in this case, but it is the way things work these days all over the world. I once flew with US Special Forces in Nigeria in a Russian helicopter, piloted by Russians but chartered, I believe, by a firm out of Oregan. The helicopter was leased from the Russian government to the contractor who hired the pilots and crew willing to fly into dangerous places. The Russians weren't using the helicopter, so they earned money. The Spec Forces didn't have enough helicopters (I suppose). The Russian and US pilots loved to get the combat flying time in. Blackwater, in Iraq, does things the US military won't do: mainly protecting private companies and civilian US government employees.
The administration has resisted efforts to review the way that officials used, or perhaps even abused, intelligence, especially regarding Iraq and WMD. Some of the complaints about John Bolton involve allegations that he put inappropriate pressure on analysts to give him the results he wanted about Cuba and WMD. Do you have any information about this, and do you think it will finally open the door to an examination of the administration's use of intelligence?
Dana Priest: Well, we have loads of stories about this. I'll see if our webmaster will post a couple. No, I don't think it will reopen the Iraq issue.
You may think China is not going to invade, however I would point to Xiang Zemin's statement (that was published in the L.A. Times) that basically said "China will take Taiwan by 2020".
You can bet your bottom dollar they're waiting for the U.S. to get more entangled in the Middle East and once that happens BOOM. So long Taiwan.
Dana Priest: Now, 2020 is not around the corner, as the question suggested. Lots might happen by then.
Ya know, I can really understand why the U.S. government wouldn't want fellow Saudi trainees of the 9/11 guys flying over U.S. airspace.
On the other hand, I'm not sure why it is necessary to send passenger lists for aircraft flying over U.S. airspace. Canadian, Mexican and European intelligence services should be working closely enough with American officials to prevent these people from ever boarding the planes.
If this isn't the case, then something is really wrong with the cooperation between the customs and intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies.
Dana Priest: I agree.
Have you yet run into anybody that has correlated our involvement in Desert Storm with our problem with al Qaeda? I keep thinking to myself had we not intervened in that situation we would not be facing a global insurgency of epic proportions. I know it's easy to look back and say "hey, we should have done this or we should have done that." -- but all I'm saying is: there's a reason Chinese are rioting against the Japanese-people have long memories.
Dana Priest: I agree to a point. Lots of people trace bin Laden's furor against the US to his hatred for the Saudi regime. That hatred intensified as the Saudis allowed US to build air bases--they always said they were Saudi bases, but the US was the main operator. The reason for these bases was to contain Saddam Hussein after Desert Storm. The military tried to keep a low-profile, but everyone, including bin Laden, knew they were there. In his world view, US troops were on sacred Muslim soil, which made it all the more repugnant. So, yes, it's link. And, definitely, people have long memories.
Read the latest on Bolton: GOP Senator Wavers on Bolton.
Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination to U.N.
Gwangju, South Korea:
Hi Dana - big fan of your work.
The government has said that there are 600 clandestine operatives in Iraq. Does that make Iraq the largest theater of operations for the CIA since the war in Vietnam?
Also, what is the working relationship between the CIA and military in Iraq - is it hand-in-glove or are they acting as rivals?
And how does that relationship compare to their relationship during the war in Vietnam?
Dana Priest: It is the largest station since Vietnam. The number, which I believe is closer to 500, includes contract personnel. As for the CIA-military relations, my understanding is that the CIA is working closely with many US military units, especially special ops, and especially the joint-spec ops, the so-called "black" units that are classified. I'm told the relationship works well, in general, at the field level when individuals get to know and depend on each other, but that the turf fights grow as you move up the food chain--big surprise there! Their main mission is finding insurgents and their networks, especially Zarqawi et al. But as you would suspect, the agency's movements are still very restricted. I hear this all the time.
Thank you for your chats -- they're always enlightening.
What ever happened to the two sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader and alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks? It was noted in the press (including The Washington Post) that the two young children were taken into intelligence custody in fall 2002 in an unsuccessful attempt to catch Mohammed in Pakistan and that they were later used as leverage in his interrogations.
Is it known whether the children were ever returned to their mother?
Dana Priest: No. It is not known.
Boca Raton, Fla.:
For those of us who are U.S. veterans of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I can not understand what was behind Sec. Bolton's reasoning that Cuba has WMD. Can you make sense of this?
Dana Priest: He deplores Castro's reign and thinks the worst of Castro's intentions. Also, as you know, Cuba has a robust, industrial base for pharmaceutical production. Well, some of that equipment could be catagorized as "dual use" technology. So the intention question is crucial. Of course, many other experts would dispute the notion that Castro has any such intentions.
San Francisco, Calif,:
I must say that I'm bemused by people who can muster so much outrage about U.S. 'aggression' against Iraq, but manifest such a subdued response to Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Our defense of a sovereign, Arab state against extinguishment is responsible for al Qaeda? Surely it's a little more complicated that that.
Dana Priest: Yes it is. Hope my answer conveyed that.
Simple question: what are the options for the U.S. if the guerilla war in Iraq continues to escalate?
Dana Priest: You're joking, right? It's a simple question only because it's a short one. This is what ties the Pentagon in knots. Escalate, or de-escalate, or pull-out. Escalate for how long, with what troops and different tactics? How do you keep the political process going in the meantime? On the other hand, maybe retreat to a more confined space, with less of a presence. Shrink the target. The only thing that seems clear is that we are not at the point where US policymakers believe they are facing this either-or dilemna.
Dana Priest: "Now, 2020 is not around the corner, as the question suggested. Lots might happen by then."
But this is the HUGE difference between U.S. and Chinese thinking. To the Chinese, 2020 IS right around the corner.
Trust me, I know - I'm Chinese. To a civilization that's been around for thousands of years, it's right around the corner.
Dana Priest: Good point. I was answering from my own, American perspective.
Dana, this is apropos of the papal election. Does the Vatican run an intelligence service in the modern definition of the term, or is it (and some of the orders, like the Jesuits) just very good at funneling up the priest-on-the-street observations to the decision makers?
Dana Priest: God only knows. I don't.
This is my second posting of the day: I hope that I'm not hogging precious time and bandwidth.
Everyone has heard of Dr. Khan of Pakistan and his efforts to encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology.
My question is, how active is the former Soviet Block in this respect?
I've been told that that many former KGB agents and their equivalent secret services operatives in other East Block countries are now members of the current Russian Mafia, that is suspected of, amongst other things, trading in nuclear weaponry knowledge and hardware, including plutonium.
Dana Priest: Former government scientists and techies, and the new mafia, in the former Soviet Bloc countries remain a pivotal source of brain-power and supplies for bad-guy proliferators.
Any comments on the Marine general who's reportedly going to be the next Chairman of the JCS?
Dana Priest: Not unexpected. Not unconventional in any way, except that he is the first Marine in the post, which seems to fit Sec. Rumsfeld's desire for a smaller, more agile military.
Dana Priest: I have to run. Thanks for all the great questions. I feel bad I haven't learned to type faster. Cheers, Dana