National Security and Intelligence

Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Associate Editor
Thursday, September 18, 2008; 12:30 PM

Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung was online Thursday, Sept. 18 at noon ET to discuss the latest developments in national security and intelligence.

The transcript follows.

DeYoung, author of " Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell," is senior diplomatic correspondent and an associate editor of The Washington Post.

Archive: Dana Priest discussion transcripts

____________________ Here are some of Karen DeYoung's most recent articles:

Material Was Sent To Iran for Bombs, Indictment Alleges (Post, Sept. 17)

Former Contractor To Plead Guilty in Passport Files Case (Post, Sept. 16)

Pakistan Did Not Agree to New Rules, Officials Say (Post, Sept. 12)


Dana Priest: Hi everyone! I'm not able to join you today, so I asked my longtime colleague and friend, Karen DeYoung, to sub for me. The truth is, Karen is the best in the business when it comes to foreign policy and the politics of foreign affairs/military operations in Iraq, and all things Afghanistan ... I could go on. She also wrote a book about Gen. Colin Powell and has been in this newsroom for decades -- so fire away! And have fun. See you next week.


Karen DeYoung: Greetings! Sorry to pull this switch on you at the last minute, and I can't begin to match Dana's expertise on intelligence. ... Also I have to sign off around 12:40 p.m. But with all those caveats, let's go.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon! There's a "tempest in a teapot" issue regarding U.S.-Spain relations in the presidential race, so this seems a good time to ask: How would you characterize the current relationship between the U.S. and Spain? Are Spanish troops in Afghanistan?

Karen DeYoung: Here's an easy one to start with, because I just listened to the McCain exchange with Radio Caracol Miami that this stems from. Relations between Bush and Spanish President Zapatero haven't been warm and fuzzy since Zapatero, a Socialist, took Spanish troops out of Iraq. But the two did have a nice chat last spring at the NATO summit in Bucharest, and Spain has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan. And they see themselves as fully in the anti-terrorist fight since the 2004 train attacks and others. McCain seemed sort of foggy in the interview, much of which was about U.S. relations with Latin American baddies Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. Then interviewer asked about Zapatero and McCain seemed to be winging it, appearing to think that Zapatero was the leader of someplace in Latin America and reciting the same rote answer as for the others about not meeting with leaders who don't support freedom and the U.S.


Falls Church, Va.: Did Obama intrude into negotiations with the Iraqis over the Status of Forces Agreement, as the New York Post is reporting? Obama Tried to Stall GIs' Iraq Withdrawal (New York Post, Sept. 15)

Karen DeYoung: The New York Post, which published the piece, said that Obama had "demanded" that bilateral agreements with Iraq be delayed until there's a new president here. As I read the comments made by both Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari and by Obama, Obama seemed to have the same position as most Democrats (and some Republicans) over the agreements -- saying that Congress has the right to examine and approve the agreements (which the Bush administration has rejected) and asking whether it makes sense to negotiate and sign an accord for the next several years when a new administration may want to do something different.


Los Angeles: What are the percentage chance is there that we kill or capture bin Laden by the end of the year?

Karen DeYoung: Nothing is impossible, but I'd say the odds are pretty slim.


Wilmington, N.C.: Glen Kessler wrote today of McCain's refusal to meet with the Spanish President: "McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said McCain's answer was intentional. 'The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and identified him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview,' he said in an e-mail." My question for you, could you speculate as to the foreign policy goal Sen. McCain hopes to achieve by this baffling stance? The Trail: McCain Slights Spanish Prime Minister (, Sept. 18)

Karen DeYoung: McCain was trying to bring back his criticism of Obama's pledge to talk to even nasty world leaders without preconditions, which McCain has described as dangerous naïveté. He gave a rote answer to questions about Chavez and Morales, and then when the questioner asked him about Zapatero, he said the same thing. Listen to the audio, posted with Kessler's story, and see what you think.


Reston, Va.: Bob Woodward reported that a new secret technique as revolutionary as the tank or airplane accounted for our successes in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reported that this technique is a see-through-walls device carried by Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. Is this see-through-walls device the real reason for the progress in Iraq? The War Within: The inside story of how President Bush's team dealt with its failing Iraq strategy (Post, Sept. 7-10)

Karen DeYoung: I've got a couple of questions about this one. Woodward's book said he couldn't reveal what he was talking about, lest security of the program be compromised. One strong possibility is the intelligence "fusion" program written about in The Post a few days ago. Maybe we could post a link to that?....

_______________________ U.S. Teams Weaken Insurgency In Iraq (Post, Sept. 6)


Just wondering....: I know this question is a bit off-point from today's topics. In the wake of Sept. 11, we were told that there were al-Qaeda sleeper cells all over the place, and that it was only a matter of time before we were hit again. I always have believed that there were only the 19 who executed the Sept. 11 attacks which was in keeping with Bin Laden's mode of operation -- small groups with big missions. Furthermore, our overreaction to Sept. 11 was according to bin Laden's plan. When do you think history will begin to rewrite the current narrative? Thanks.

Karen DeYoung: I remember writing stories in late 2001, early 2002, saying intel and administration people thought sleeper cells were the wave of the future, and all security agencies were geared toward finding them. But they haven't -- other than the few troubled prosecutions of groups like those from Lackawanna and Miami. We're still looking, but most experts now believe it's less of a threat than they originally believed.


San Antonio, Texas: A couple of days ago CIA director Gen. Hayden again pointed with pride at the U.S. intelligence community's performance in the affair of the Syrian nuclear reactor Israel bombed last year .. but what he actually says is that the U.S. failed to identify the reactor until Israel brought us pictures in March or April of 2007 -- just months before the reactor would have become operational. Do you have any information on just what the U.S. contributed to the intelligence that would justify Hayden's pride?

Karen DeYoung: This is one for Dana, but my understanding is that once it was brought to U.S. attention, U.S. intel resources were brought to bear.


Princeton, N.J.: I still do not understand what McCain means by "victory." Switzerland on the Tigris? A theological oligarchy like Iran, but more friendly to us? Three or four or twenty ethnically cleansed mini-states? Either of the second two seem a lot more probable than the first. But here's the point. How do tell when we have achieved "victory"? When the 5 million refugees can go home? When the Christians open up their stores again? When ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk stops and the Kurds give up their quest for a "Greater Kurdistan"? What can I look for to know the madness is over?

Karen DeYoung: The Bush administration has a pretty standard answer (different from their original one in 2003) that McCain pretty much tracks with -- basically a stable country that doesn't tolerate terrorists and is friendly to the U.S. It's a somewhat subjective definition.


Washington: With all your excellent intel reporting and contacts, have you heard what Rob Richer (formerly from the CIA) has now confirmed -- that Saddam's intelligence chief, Habbush, defected to our side? And do you know anything about the forged letters that appeared under his name, one of them given by Ayad Allawi (a CIA favorite) to a British journalist? Given that Habbush was evidently under the wing of American and/or British intelligence in 2003, isn't it likely that they were involved in those forgeries -- whether or not the recent, explosive claim that the White House was involved is true?

Karen DeYoung: The CIA and then-director Tenet have issued strong and categorical denials on the forged letter, but haven't said much about whether Habbush defected except that his current "whereabouts" are unknown. House and Senate oversight committees both have launched official inquiries and asked current and former CIA officials for information.


Basically, a stable country that doesn't tolerate terrorists and is friendly to U.S.: But how can we tell that this wonderful condition has come about?

Karen DeYoung: Like I said, it's subjective.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Could you explain how the Post approved a page-one story alleging that Palin's comments to troops somehow connected Saddam Hussein to Sept. 11? Were Anne Kornblut and her editors unaware that al-Qaeda is now operating in Iraq? Given that The Post had to issue a correction about this non-story, are any steps being taken to educate reporters and editors about the realities of our Iraq operations?

Karen DeYoung: Without going into editors' decisions, I would note that it was a "clarification," rather than a correction. Palin said that U.S. troops were going to Iraq to "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans." The group known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq" is largely Iraqis, although U.S. intelligence believes its leadership is connected to the larger al-Qaeda network. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq group at the time of the World Trade Center bombings.


New York: This could actually be considered a national security question: Why wouldn't Powell consider running for vice president, in your opinion? And thanks so much for the chat.

Karen DeYoung: Because he decided a long time ago that he doesn't want to run for anything -- he doesn't like politics. Even if that weren't the case, he says he hasn't even decided yet who he will vote for.


Wilmington, N.C.: Karen, thank you for your response. I did listen to the audio and I had the same impression you did. Unfortunately, Glenn Kessler says the McCain campaign officially has denied our interpretation, so we either suss out his strategy in offending NATO partners, or we call him a liar. Which will you do?

Karen DeYoung: Not my story today, but I'm sure someone will write about it.

A slow start, but lots of questions now ... just when I have to run. Save them for next week. ... Thanks.


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