National Security and Intelligence
Thursday, January 3, 2008; 12:30 PM
Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest was online Thursday, Jan. 3 at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the latest developments in national security and intelligence.
The transcript follows.
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Dana Priest: Hi all. Back from vacation and ready to go!
St. Louis: In your opinion, what is the likelihood that this "investigation" will be a fair an independent probe of the executive branch's role in this most recent scandal? Like many Americans, I feel the Justice Department is now a puppet of the White House.
Dana Priest: I'm not cynical. I think they will get to the bottom of this if there's continued scrutiny and pressure to do so, which there will be.
Tom Ryan: So is this Department of Justice criminal investigation into the tapes like "Clear and Present Danger" where the Deputy Director for Operations goes to his office safe and pulls out his "get out of jail" legal memo and turns to Harrison Ford and asks "do you have one of these?" Does a legal justification from a DDO lawyer get Rodriguez off the hook? Could it put the DDO lawyer on the hook? What about the lawyers who said waterboarding was legal? Could Durham review administration e-mails/memos and/or interview with Bush to check his "recollections" of the tapes?
Dana Priest: There are two separate issues here. The first is about the legality of the techniques. The second is the destruction of the tapes. The DOJ is not opening its case to determine whether the techniques were legal. It's trying to determine whether the destruction was criminal (as in, obstructing justice in some way, especially if the 9/11 Commission contends they expected information such as the tapes to be turned over.)
Newfoundland, Canada:"I think they will get to the bottom of this if there's continued scrutiny and pressure to do so, which there will be." In time for the 2012 Olympics?
Dana Priest: Ha! Ha! Maybe.
White Plains, N.Y.: Thanks for taking our questions. How concerned should we be that we will not have a special counsel, but rather a prosecutor who must report to the assistant attorney general? Will Mr. Durham (who is said to be tight-lipped by nature) be able to speak directly to the public, or will his findings have to be filtered through the Justice Department?
Dana Priest: His findings will probably be filtered through big justice, as is usually the course. That doesn't necessarily mean they will actually be filtered though, just announced. The dynamics of Washington have changed a lot over the last year. With the elections and a newly empowered opposition party which has the power (and will) to call people before Congress, I don't think it's possible for his findings not to come to light.
Peaks Island, Maine: What is your take on the question (posed yesterday to Dan Froomkin)as to whether the light at the end of the Iraq tunnel is a beacon of democracy -- or an oncoming train on course to collide post-Bush with harsh realities?
Dana Priest: Well, the train first. Then maybe something better. But not anytime soon, and certainly it's not clear that democracy will ever be the accepted system there in our lifetimes.
Virginia: Barack Obama is the chairman of the subcommittee on Europe and he never went there on an official trip. Also, will the liberal Democrats cut the defense budget by 60 percent?
Dana Priest: I can't imagine the Democrats cutting the defense budget at all any time soon. Not unless the troops drawn down from Iraq, and we leave Afghanistan, which I don't think is going to happen. On the contrary.
Duxbury, Mass.: By asking Scotland Yard to do the investigation, what does it say about the USA's reputation to the Pakistan people? (I still think my mortgage is safe!)
Dana Priest: Not great.
Madison, Wis.: Hello. My question is about the need to keep U.S. troops in Iraq in order to "train" their military. Why do American troops need to do the training? Why can't the Iraqis train themselves? Even during Saddam's years, the Iraqi military was able to train itself in a fairly competent manner. Surely they should be able to do the same thing now. It seems to me the entire "training" rationale is just an excuse so that American troops can monitor and exert control over the Iraqi military. Your thoughts?
Dana Priest: Well, most of the Iraqi military leadership, as you know, was kicked out of their positions after we invaded. the military was disbanded and a new crop of officers had to be recruited, vetted and now trained. I don't think it's an excuse. But for the sake of argument, let's say it is. What would be the reason for the U.S. to "monitor and exert control over the Iraqi military"? It would be to try to influence it; to make it a competent, professional organization not under the control of any one segment. A tough haul.
Arlington, Va.: Dana -- are there any thoughts that there may be more CIA tapes out there, and more copies of the ones destroyed?
Dana Priest: Lots of thoughts, no proof. I do not find it that credible that the CIA only taped Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaida. What about the others who were interrogated? Why not them too?
New Paltz, N.Y.: Ms. Priest, I've always wondered whether you know of many stories on your beat that you choose not to cover (just as you cannot answer all questions here), or if each story is a struggle to dig up and investigate?
Dana Priest: Stories and story ideas come my way every day. The vast majority are unformed--a tip, an allegation, a concern. I have to decided what to pursue and then, having begun to look at a given topic, I have to continually assess whether there really is "a story there." Lots of times not. All reporters do this.
Richmond, Va.: What's your assessment of the current situation in Pakistan? Do you believe that al-Qaeda was behind Bhutto's assassination? Also, on a separate subject, did you happen to see "Charlie Wilson's War"?
Dana Priest: I guess it's 50-50 on al-Qaeda. Just doesn't seem like sniper shots are their methodology and there are too many people in the government who wanted her gone not to believe there was some Pak hand in there. I saw "Charlie Wilson's War" during the holidays and thoroughly enjoyed it. The CIA guy reminded me of more than one agency person I've met.
Bethesda, Md.: Dana -- Ron Suskind talked (in "One Percent Doctrine") about how bin Laden released a video during the last presidential election in an attempt to ensure Bush's victory ... by asking Americans not to vote for him. Do you get the feeling there's a lot of interest in the presidential race among al-Qaeda?
Dana Priest: Clearly there's interest, in that the higher ups keep up on current events. I would sincerely doubt that al-Qaeda leaders prefer one candidate over another, or think that one is "better for them" or worse for them than the others.
Montclair, N.J.: Why has the White House suddenly gone silent on Iran? Just the National Intelligence Estimate, or something else?
Dana Priest: A combination of things: The NIE, the resistance from the military and intel world to military action there, and the Republican presidential candidates. I'm sure they do not want to have to talk about going to war with Iran. It's too controversial right now.
Houston: Why in the world would the CIA videotape the interrogations in the first place?
Dana Priest: To pass unfiltered information to CIA analysts: information about the personality, vulnerabilities, responses of the person interrogated. Presumably to figure out how to proceed with the interrogation. Also to pass on tidbits of information that could be linked to other tidbits to come up with the shards of information that lead to other arrests, and perhaps, plots.
Crestwood, N.Y.: Happy New Year, and thanks for chatting. The cable channels, god help us all, seem to have accepted as a given the Musharraf Regime's claim that its intelligence services have intercepted calls from al-Qaeda taking credit for the Bhutto killing. Well, since when is al-Qaeda so shy about claiming "credit" for these atrocities, and what is there about Musharraf's record that justifies this blanket acceptance? I don't think that Bhutto's people are ready to let the government or security forces off the hook, particularly because they started off on the wrong foot by telling misleading stories about the murder. It looks to me like U.S. intelligence is extremely reticent so far about backing up the Pakistani government on this one. You agree?
Dana Priest: I agree.
San Francisco: Does anyone know how many detainees have died in U.S. custody? Is there a way to know if any of these deaths can be attributed to waterboarding being carried out to its logical conclusion, whether intentionally or by accident? Has anyone in the national press corps asked?
Dana Priest: Well, I think we do know but I'll have to recount. If you take Iraq out of the equation, there's one handful, all, I believe, in Afghanistan. None that we know of in CIA custody alone.
Correction: A correction to an earlier poster: Barack Obama has traveled to Europe during his tenure as Subcommittee Chairman. Is there any way that you could flag factual statements in the questions that you print? Something like, "this is true," "this is false," or "I don't know whether this is true?" I think that would dispel the impression that, by taking the fact as given, you are endorsing it. As always, thanks for doing these chats!
Dana Priest: Good idea. I didn't answer that particular part of the question because I don't, for certain, have the answer.
Pacifica, Calif.: Do you think the investigation regarding the tapes will focus on any possible crimes, such as acts of torture that are actually shown on the tapes? Or will it be focused on merely why they were destroyed? I'm afraid the answer may be the latter.
Dana Priest: Yep. The latter. Now, if they discovered some technique that was unknown and obviously out-of-bounds (given the authorities and permissions given), then maybe that would be included too.
Dale City, Va.: What did you think of the recent story that the president didn't want to know where the "secret" prisons were? Is it even competent for a chief executive to refuse to be told information about his own administration policy?
Dana Priest: Deniability would seem to be part of that decision. I don't know for certain.
Washington: Thanks for chatting. First of all, is it Day-nah or Dah-nuh? Secondly, what is your opinion of the pairing up of OCD and NCS, in light of recent events in Pakistan?
Dana Priest: Great question! It's pronounced Da-nah. You'll have to rejigger those letters though. Doesn't make sense. Anyone out there have a clue was these are?
Pittsburgh: Do you think other nations will be analyzing closely the results of our early presidential caucuses and primaries in the next week? I was thinking especially of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dana Priest: I am certain that every political officer in every embassy in Washington will have a cable out on it tonight.
Dana Priest: Okay everyone, gotta run. See you next week!
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