National Security and Intelligence

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Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006; 1:30 PM

Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Thursday, August 3, at 1:30 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.

The transcript follows.

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Dana Priest: Hi everyone. I've just come back from the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing with Sec. Rumsfeld and Generals Pace and Abizaid. Lots to talk about. So let's go.

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Washington, D.C.: Given that the president insists on "staying the course" -- which to me means, continue on a disastrous policy with no hope of turning things around -- and that our troops are sitting in the middle of what the brass concedes is a nascent civil war -- exactly how vulnerable are the soldiers? What I'm afraid of is the whole thing blowing up -- to the point that instead of a daily trickle of casualties, we'll be looking at massive losses when the Green Zone is finally overrun. Likely?

Dana Priest: It's unlikely the Green Zone will be overrun, so I don't think your scenario is likely. That said, obviously casualties could increase. Sec Rumsfeld said today that staying the course was the only way to stave off a war greater than we've ever seen before, meaning in the Middle East region, including Iraq.

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Dale City, Va.: How is the Lebanese government reacting privately to our support of Israel continuing to bomb their citizens? They seem pretty quiet considering how many people have died there.

Is there going to be any point where we say "Stop" to Israel? Aren't our government people concerned about being seen as a force for violence, especially when the dead don't seem to be the stated target?

Dana Priest: There's huge concern throughout the government, including WH, CIA, DOD, State, among Republicans and Dems that this could backfire and end up creating more violence and hatred toward US troops and the US of A. There is also huge concern that Hezbollah can't be seen as winning this....seems to me a political solution is the answer less traveled at the time.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Good day, Ms. Priest, have you seen any of the "grilling" our Secretary of Defense is getting on Capitol Hill today, particularly from Senator Hillary Clinton? Mashup your national security expertise with purely political calculus for a moment, and please tell us if you think the Lamont challenge is figuring into Clinton's stronger tone with the Secretary.

Rumsfeld responded, "My goodness!" initially to Hillary's question.

Dana Priest: Yes. This was a riveting moment between Clinton and Rumsfeld. The room was quiet and still. She read through a damning litany of charges--charges which have been substantiated in our newspaper and elsewhere repeatedly so they weren't off the wall at all. And his comeback was equally as awesome--starting with a quiet My Goodness (read: you've certainly overdone it now lady) and an eloquent defense, which included a rewriting of history (the Iraqi Army disbanded itself, "I don't know who said what about the Taliban" being gone from Afghanistan).

What a moment!

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Washington, D.C.: Am I the only one who notices the deafening absence of France-bashing on Capitol Hill now that we need them to save our bacon in Lebanon?

Dana Priest: just wait, it always comes.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Good day, Ms Priest, and thank you for chatting with us today. Could you tell us why the Pentagon hasn't been able to ramp up restoration of parts/materiel/readiness in the wake of the Iraqi occupation? Was there no Plan B -- an alternative to "greeted as liberators" -- throughout the entire building? We'd have replenished our supplies by now, after a six-month shock-and-awe liberation, but I wonder if everyone in the Pentagon fell under that spell.

Dana Priest: To some extent, they did. But also, since the war keeps escalating, and the Army keeps growing and wearing out its equipment, it's a matter of keeping up, and keeping up as Gen. Pace said at today's hearing, without adequate funds to restore all the worn out equipment. So that creates a big lag.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Why must American citizens resort to reading foreign newspapers to obtain information on policy disputes between foreign government leaders and the Bush administration? The most recent example of the U.S. press and media's sleepwalking reverie is the failure to report on Tony Blair's speech on Tuesday to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles in which Blair stated that the current policy in Iraq is not working because it relies on excessive military force, not winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. Should not the current debacle in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East provide reporters with more than enough fortitude to overcome their cowed deference to the Bush administration?

Dana Priest: Here's my answer: Americans who don't read The Washington Post (or our many worthy national competitors) must resort to reading foreign newspapers, blah, blah, blah. Washingtonpost.com. "You don't get it, if you don't get it.)"

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Washington, D.C.: Is Fidel Castro dead or alive? What consequences are there for U.S. foreign policy if and when he dies?

Dana Priest: I hate to say it like this, but US-Cuban relations will be better off (at least for a moment) when he's no longer with us. He's not changing his policies and this government's is not changing either (a similar, punishing policy existed under President Clinton). Deadlock.

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Anonymous: Should we be spending less on Nat'l Guard recruitment ads on TV and more on training the National Guard for jobs in Iraq they oft-times know nothing about?

Dana Priest: Probably not because if they can't get enough people to join or re-enlist, well, that would be a big problem.

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Seattle, Wash.: People outside the delusional Beltway are seriously starting to talk of an Orange Revolution here in the U.S., given how many (70 percent) Americans detest the federal government, White House/House/Senate/SCourt. Are people inside the Beltway in denial of this?

Dana Priest: I'm not sure, but I think the "Orange Revolution" might be taken a little more serious in Washington state and other northwestern locales than elsewhere in the country.

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Exeter, N.H.: How likely is the collapse of the government of Lebanon? And, have any nations expressed a desire to contribute to the peacemaking force for southern Lebanon?

Dana Priest: It's certainly a possibility if a ceasefire and solution to this is not found soon.

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Granger, Ind.: Sorry, I don't understand your answer to Phoenix. Were you mocking the questioner?

Dana Priest: Yes I was.

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Washington, D.C. : Re today's story from the UK:

'Low Intensity Civil War' Likely in Iraq, Ambassador Says....

What's the difference between civil war and sectarian violence? If Iraq isn't yet a civil society, it wouldn't have a civil war. If Iraq is a religion-based society it would have sectarian violence. Seems the same to me....isn't the term "sectarian violence" a politically motivated euphemism? Are the the administration wordsmiths afraid that once we name it "civil war" that there will be some major attitude shift?

Dana Priest: well, words do matter because behind the words should be a realistic assessment of what's happening on the ground. Having just come from this hearing on the Hill, it seems the difference between the two has to do with the endurance of the new civil institutions being created in the midst of all this. The president is acting as a president, the ministries are acting, well, sometimes, as government entities. In other words, they have some power. and are still recognized as such by most people (but then there's a question of their effectiveness, which is not disconnected.)

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Arlington, Va.: I heard Newt Gingrich recently say that we are on the verge of WW III. I also read a provocative article by Sydney Blumenthal today about how he believes the neocons are hoping the Israeli-Lebanese war will widen to include Syria and Iran. Are there really people that believe that a Middle East at war is a good thing?

Dana Priest: Yes. There are people in the neocon camp who believe Iran and Syria must be overthrown--by whatever means necessary. I didn't read the article you're referring to.

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Arlington, Va.: I am trying to catch up on the background of this Lebanon situation. I know Hezbollah is considered a "terrorist" group by our government, but others characterize it as a "resistance" group. Besides attacks against Israel (which should not be taken lightly), have they actually attacked any other countries citizens or is it a purely Arab vs. Israeli focused group?

Dana Priest: You can begin with the bombing of Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983. Yes, they have taken foreign lives. But their grievances and actions have largely been aimed at Israel (and its supporters, hence US). I think it's best to describe Hezbollah as a movement with a armed wing that uses terrorist tactics.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: You can mock my question if you like-- I have thicker skin than most reporters. However, I'm still waiting for your substantive answer...

Dana Priest: I wasn't kidding. We've written about the question you raised, and we will continue to do so.

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Montreal, Canada: When do you think intl peace keeping force (NATO) will arrive in Lebanon? Do you think Israel will withdraw from Lebanon once the peace keeping force arrives. Thanks

Dana Priest: Too hard to tell on the force just now. I do think the Israelis will withdraw. That will probably be a condition for the force going in.

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Princeton, N.J.: Blair's speech to the World Affairs Council was reported in Froomkin's column (blog?).

Dana Priest: here you go. but his views are followed pretty carefully here in the main paper too.

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Anonymous: Does the editorial board of The Post still support the war in Iraq to the same degree they did when they endorsed the pre-emptive invasion?

Dana Priest: You should ask Fred Hiatt next time he's chatting. I don't keep track of the nuances of their positions.

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Reston, Va: Does Israel seriously think they can completely disarm Hezbollah? Won't Hezbollah just lay low or retreat to Syria until Israel leaves, and then return to start the whole thing over again?

Dana Priest: I've asked this question and the answer is, yes. The Israelis believe they can substantially degrade Hezbollah's capability with continued strikes. Bombing like they are, the Israelis will probably get most of their rocket launchers and destroy the supply route. Of course, there are more recruits, rockets, suicide bombers, etc. from where they came from--and from new venues where people are enraged by the carnage they see in Lebanon. Any good military strategy takes into account the larger reaction to the bombing, the strategy v the tactics.

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Loyal Post Reader: Sorry, there is no Washington Post article on Tony Blair's speech Tuesday night to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, and it was a major speech. In it, Blair called for a "complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us." While he cast severe doubts on Bush's methods, he whole-heartedly agreed with his aims and world-view -- that Islamic extremism is the enemy and said that "To defeat it will need an alliance of moderation, that paints a different future in which Muslim, Jew and Christian; Arab and Western; wealthy and developing nations can make progress in peace and harmony with each other."

Dana Priest: And that is not unlike what President Bush keeps saying about using other means -- non-military ones -- to defeat terrorism. But is that really what we're seeing?

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Munich, Germany: I'm not planning to go bumbling around the Middle-East on vacation anytime soon, but I'm concerned that sectarian violence in Iraq (and Lebanon) could start spreading to other parts of the Middle-East, and affect all our lives adversely in the U.S. and Europe.

Are there any concerns of wider Shiite-Sunni antipathies in the Mid-East?

Dana Priest: Yes there are. As Iraq devolves into splits along sectarian lines, others will leap into the breach, and others still, creating a snowball effect that could pit Sunni against Shiite and Sunni-led governments against Shiite led governments. I don't think that will happen next year, but it could happen sometime if things keep up this way.

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Rockville, Md.: "where people are enraged by the carnage they see .."

Just a tad one sided. Those rockets are not shot for no reason. Both sides have victims. That is the horror of war. Israel does not attack without good reason or good memories.

Both sides get angry.

Dana Priest: I totally agree with you. I think the questioner was asking about the reaction in the Arab world.

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Anonymous: In your opinion, do any editorial board members of major newspapers work for the CIA? Do you consider it coincidence that two to three days before the invasion of Iraq virtually every major newspaper in America issued editorials in favor of war that were strikingly similar? It seemed as though they were handed the same editorial by the govt., and simply changed a few words. THANKS

Dana Priest: No! Oh brother, I can't believe we've gotten to this point.

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Anonymous: Gee, I used to think The Post reported fairly. Hezbollah, a Armed movement using terrorist tactics= a terrorist group, regardless of their affiliation with their government.

Dana Priest: So are those people in Hezbollah who do not support terrorism, who are elected in an open and fair election and then serve in a non-violence political process, also terrorists? What about those who are part of the Lebanese government, the same government that the USA, including the President, is trying to empower to reassert control over the country?

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Dana Priest: Greenville--you are too funny!

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Dana Priest: Thanks everyone. For the record: lots of people wrote to complain that the media is too supportive of Israel and lots of others wrote to complain that media is too critical of Israel. I just let you cancel each other out and didn't answer any of those. We try to be fair. We try to be accurate. We try to be complete. We miss the mark everyday. But not by all that much. Until next week...All the best. Dana

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San Francisco, Calif.: Ms. Priest, I would consider issuing a correction to your mocking rejoinder to Phoenix. Seriously, your mockery appears to be based upon an assumption -- incorrect as it turns out -- that The Washington Post covered Blair's Tuesday speech. Uncalled for at the start, but especially unfortunate given the inability of your chat-enabler to provide a link into the paper.

We don't expect much here, but manners and poise are endorsed by the dead-tree-version's Ombudsman quite regularly. I would hope WaPoO wouldn't need Ombudsing as well.

Dana Priest: Okay, one more: the questioner was making a larger point about the US media not paying attention to important news. I have no recollection about whether we covered that particular speech. We cover lots of things Blair says, we cover lots of disagreements between allies and the effect of US policy on our allies, and our relations. I responded to the broader critic, which I think is wildly off the mark.

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Dana Priest: signing off now....

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