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U.S. Thinks Hussein, Sons Were in Bunker (Post, March 21)
War In Iraq Special Report
War In Iraq Transcripts
Talk: World News message boards
Live Online Transcripts

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War In Iraq: Intelligence
With Mel Goodman
Center for International Policy

Friday, March 28, 2003; 10 a.m. ET

From the jump, intelligence has played a major role in the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The first missiles fired by coalition forces were aimed at a bunker where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was believed to be hiding. The decision to target the bunker was made when CIA Director George J. Tenet presented President Bush with fresh intelligence indicating that Hussein and his two sons were in the bunker complex, located in southeast Baghdad.

Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, was online Friday, March 28 at 10 a.m. ET, to discuss the role of intelligence in the war.

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.

Mel Goodman: Good morning!! It is clear that there have been a great deal of successes for the US and UK forces, but there have been surprises as well and the fact that the invasion force is too small will make the war more protracted and far more costly in a military, political, social, and economic way. The protracted nature of the war will make it extremely difficult to establish a viable government in Baghdad and possibly impossible to establish a democratic one, which always appeared to be a far-fetched possibility at best. The international and security costs will be even greater and even point to the possibility of a victory that is a pyrrhic victory over the short and long term. There is every possibility that this war will lead to greater incidents of terrorism and greater possibility for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is likely the instability in the Middle East will increase and that differences within the international security architecture will make the job of collective security far more complicated and costly. The European alliance system has been weakened by the war and the current argument over reconstruction in Iraq indicates that the UN will be a weaker institution and that the US will be increasingly isolated within the Western alliance system. A protracted and bloody battle for Baghdad will increase all of these costs. I look forward to your questions.

Montreal, Canada: Are the current atrocities being committed by Saddam's supporters an indication that he knows his days are numbered?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that the increasingly desperate acts of Saddam Hussein and his forces point to the impossibility of victory and the likelihood of defeat. At the same time, these acts were predictable and should have been a calculation in the plan for the war.

Folsom, Calif.: Many Americans want to know, but are afraid to ask perhaps, for the answer to this daunting question: How do Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and General Franks plan to disarm five million Baghdad residents with 90,000-250,000 troops without using nukes, chemical weapons, Seige of Leningrad starvation tactics (which didn't work), or praying for divine intervention?
Can you even answer it?
Thank you.

Mel Goodman: It is becoming increasingly obvious that the invasion force is too small for the many tasks that will be required to get a multi-division force to Baghdad. There has always been a battle between the military and Rumsfeld over the size of the force and a battle between Army Chief of Staff Shinseki over the size of an occupation force. It has become increasingly clear that the military was correct in its assumptions and that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were wrong to overrule them.

Ottawa, Canada: Are the United States and the "coalition of the willing" receiving a lot of good, reliable intelligence from Iraqi sources? By the way, I support the States' decision and feel Canada should be fighting right alongside the troops in Iraq?

Mel Goodman: Certainly we are getting intelligence from Iraqi sources, but "good, reliable" intelligence is another matter. The intelligence from exile Iraqis is highly suspect and probably contains a good deal of misinformation and disinformation. If Iraqi sources were in part responsible for the conclusion that Saddam Hussein would not press the fight outside of Baghdad and that there would be a Shiite uprising in Basra, then again such clandestine sources could have contributed to the inadequacies of the intelligence data that went into the war plan.

Ottawa, Canada: How is it the coalition did not anticipate the resolve of the Iraqi Republican Guard and the Feyhedeen? Is this 'surprise' indicative of a lack of good intelligence from Iraqi sources?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that the key intelligence and military planning failure was not expected military confrontation in the southern parts of the country. Again, the conventional wisdom was that Saddam Hussein would circle the wagons and stage his fight in Baghdad. That assessment was wrong. The CIA is now claiming that it warned of fedayeen resistance, but we don't know if that was a clear and resounding warning or a statement that was buried in a scenario-driven assessment that included all types of Iraqi responses. Remember that the CIA failed to anticipate the weakness and collapse of the Soviet Union but managed to produce sentences from assessments that suggested that it was clairvoyant in its analysis. There never was a post mortem or reassessment after the Soviet failure, and it is probably not too late to begin the Iraqi post mortem.

Ottawa, Canada: Was Washington's decision to leave the Iraqi television system on the air a wise one?

Is this not giving the Saddam regime a chance to disseminate more propaganda and appear to Iraqis that the war must be going their way if the television stations are still up and working?

In other words, should the States' knock out the television system?

Mel Goodman: Iraq is a technologically sophisticated country and it will take more than one air operation to take Iraqi TV off the air. You are correct in concluding that we have permitted Saddam Hussein to manage the war from the airwaves and bolster the view that he is still in command and that the Iraqi army has had a certain amount of success.

Arlington, Va: Which do you think is better: To hack the Al-Jazeera English and Arabic Web sites in order to reduce their negative psychological warfare effect, or to keep the Al-Jazeera Web sites online and try to gain as much information as possible?


Mel Goodman: I believe that this kind of cyber warfare is dangerous and perhaps counter-productive. The US is extremely vulnerable in its dependence on space, the internet, and sophisticated communications facilities. We should probably not be the country that establishes the precedent for waging cyberwar in such fashion.

Wheaton, Md.: Have our allies in Israel been providing useful intelligence?

Mel Goodman: Again, Israel and the US have an intelligence exchange and I would expect the Israelis to provide intelligence. "Useful" intelligence is another matter and since the Israelis have their own axe to grind in this war, perhaps we should be somewhat skeptical of what Israel provides.

Palm Springs, Calif.: Cheney et al seemed to have ignored analysis that said that Coalition forces might or would encounter guerilla resistance. Are they also ignoring analysis that is saying that guerilla resistance may continue even after Saddam-Baath are toppled?

It makes sense to assume that Sunni Iraqis from the Baghdad-Tikrit areas, may be willing to fight long after the demise of any individual and/or party structure meets its demise.

Mel Goodman: It is clear that Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (the key triangle in all this) underestimated the enemy and certainly did not prepare for the worst. Presumably they have similarly underestimated the difficult and onerous task of taking Baghdad. And I agree that the possibility of continued guerrilla action, particularly by the large fedayeen force under the command of one of Saddam Hussein's sons, is an extremely likely eventuality. It will get worse before it gets worse.

Harrisburg, Pa.: Your opening statement is depressing, although I agree with it. If this war is only going to lead to more instability and possibly more terrorism, and if bringing democratic peace to Iraq is a far-fetched idea, what was the purpose of this war? Why did we attack a country that may have been a threat, yet, as long as it was hiding its weapons and posed no threat, there was no need to attack?

Mel Goodman: You have raised a serious question and issue. My fear all along has been that this war is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have developed a scenario that involves Iraq's use of WMD, the greater proliferation of terrorism and WMD, and greater instability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, then invade Iraq. Remember that CIA Director Tenet warned the president and the congress in October that the most viable scenario for Saddam Hussein's use of WMD would be to counter a US invasion. Clearly this war does not represent military force as the last resort and we have underestimated the fact that Saddam Hussein had been successfully contained for the past 12 years.

Palm Springs, Calif.: It has seemed from a skeptical read of administration statements from the go here that the extent of Iraq's present WMD cache is either nonexistent or not deployable.

From reading Perle et al, it seems that it is the risk of future development of WMD as much as anything that justifies this war in their eyes.

Didn't they have to downplay these great risks you mention in order to go ahead with a war against what may only be a future danger and is not a present danger to us or the world at large? How can we ever know if they consciously downplayed risks that they knew were obvious?

Mel Goodman: I believe it is certain that advisors such as Richard Perle and Ken Adelman are polemicists whose advise should be treated warily and skeptically. Moreover, there is the possibility that the Bush administration (see Secretary of State Powell's speech to the UN on 5 February) has exaggerated the WMD threat right along in order to justify the war. At the same time, it appears that the Pentagon has underestimated the Iraqi military threat and developed a small force that must be reinforced before it can challenge Baghdad. It raises serious questions about why we went to war and the consequences of war. Unfortunately, the congress did not engage these issues, except for WV Sen. Robert Byrd, the lone but eloquent voice on the Hill.

Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: This might be a little off topic, but I thought I read a Christopher Hitchens article last week where he said that Saddam had jailed Tariq Aziz's son, ostensibly to keep Aziz from bolting the farm.

I haven't seen anything else about this.

Do you know what's going on?

Mel Goodman: Saddam Hussein usually imprisons a member of an Iraqi official who goes abroad and keeps such an individual incarcerated until the return of the official. There have been rumors for months that in the case of Aziz, one of his sons has been in jail for months. We just don't know.

Lyme, Conn.: How is information brought to the attention of decision makers in Washington? I ask the important academic question because it seems to me that much of you are mentioning was known to laypeople such as me who read reports from you, the Brookings Institution, Roger Hilsman's book on Iraq, etc. To me, it is obvious that the Republican Guard is strong and the guerilla warfare has to be a concern. Why doesn't this information seem to reach the President and the people around him making decisions?

Mel Goodman: It is very difficult to get contrarian ideas to any administration, particularly the Bush administration. They is a tight and tiny group of policymakers and they are victimized by their own groupthink. On the other hand, President Kennedy excluded himself from the Cuban missile crisis executive committee because he wanted to make sure that ALL opinions were heard. It is obvious that the president receives his policy broadcasts on a very narrow band of frequencies. Very unfortunate.

Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Goodman:

More than a week has passed since our Leaders took a bold step outside of their original game based on the intelligence available at that time. Still, only the most contradictory and speculative information as to our target's whereabouts and well being seem to be available.

Is it wrong to conclude from this that we have no human intelligence sources that could bring clarity to this issue? And, if so, isn't this an indication that we have made no meaningful progress in the development of the same?

Mel Goodman: I believe that the decapitation strike from last week was based on a silver bullet report. Very similar to the Israeli intelligence in 1986 that led to the strike against Qadhafi. It will be very difficult to get such information again, particularly because the administration talked too much about the provenance of the reporting.

Washington, D.C.: It seems like a lot of this intelligence is sort of technical -- like where Saddam is located, the numbers of the Iraqi Republican Guards, or how to target a bomb. It seems pretty weak on the big picture stuff -- like the Iraqi level of resistance, world opinion, how we are seen by the arab world as foreign invaders vs liberators.

Are we weak on big picture intelligence or do our leaders simply not listen?

Mel Goodman: Very good question. Over the past twenty years, the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, has become increasingly weak on the issue of big picture or strategic intelligence. The failure on the Soviet collapse was an enormous failure in strategic intelligence, but there was no attempt to do an assessment or post mortem about the failure and what needed to be done. For the past two decades, the CIA has steadily decreased its ability to do strategic research and intelligence and has fallen for the myth of "actionable intelligence." The CIA abolished its research division and its staff of experts for producing national estimates. Most CIA intelligence is tactical intelligence. We learned from the 9/11 intelligence failure that the failure to do strategic intelligence was the major agency contribution to the overall failure. CIA director Tenet, however, does not even believe that there was a failure.

Jonesboro, Ga.: I do not understand why with our sophistication in weaponry and Intelligence, the U.S. war planners were unable to foresee this type of warfare (guerilla) adopted by the Iraqis. It annoys me that a rag-tag group of men are able to deploy rudimentary war strategies to off-set or even beat us at our game plan. Why was there such a failure in finding this out so that we would have prepared better for this type of warfare? It galls me.

Mel Goodman: At the root of all intelligence failures is a strategic assumption that denies the ability of the enemy to conduct a certain kind of operation. For example, Pearl Harbor, the October War, September 11, etc. were significant failures because of flawed assumptions and cultural arrogance that led to no examination of alternate points of view. It is clear that the US strategy and war plan was based on faulty intelligence or the refusal to examine alternative views of the war. Vietnam is an excellent example of rather good intelligence that was ignored or suppressed by the Agency leadership and the military leadership.

McLean, Va.: What do you think will be the worst possible scenario that comes out from the miscalculations of the Cheney Troika? Will the effects have repercussions for our armed forces, our diplomats, ourselves? Have we opened Pandora's box?

Mel Goodman: Unfortunately, there are many worse possible scenarios. Remember that over the past two years, this administration has not only taken us to war, but it has sanctioned preemptive attacks (very dangerous concept), deployed an unworkable national missile defense, withdrawn from an ABM treaty (without any domestic opposition to speak of), reduced the role of diplomacy, and embarked on a course of unilateralism. The consequences of the entire equation are very unhealthy for American national security interests.

Cumberland, Md.: Since we were so close to killing Saddam on that first air strike -- why were not bunker busters bombs used to ensure success?

Mel Goodman: It appears that extremely heavy bombs and missiles were used again Saddam Hussein, but you can never rule out the role of serendipity.

Washington, D.C.: Have you heard any intelligence to suggest that smaller countries are moving full speed ahead to develop their nuclear capabilities?

With the U.S. willing to invade and destroy without regard to world or UN opinion, how else can smaller nations keep larger rogue nations from attacking them?

Mel Goodman: It appears that both North Korea and Iran are stepping up their strategic programs, presumably believing that it is country that don't have nuclear weapons that are vulnerable to US use of force. The labelling of an "axis of evil" was a very dangerous and misguiding piece of rhetoric on the part of this administration. The high costs thus far of this war makes it far more unlikely that the US will be able to resort to war in this fashion. Actually, I believe that we have learned over the years that international diplomacy is the best counter to proliferation of weapons and that the military instrument is not an effective or efficient one.

Cumberland, Md.: Since Al Jazeera has proved to be nothing but a propaganda machine for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, is there more that we can do to take it off the air permanently? Surely we have enough political muscle in Qatar to cause that to happen -- say a bombing (not by air -- but from on the ground) of their HQ and transmitters?

Mel Goodman: You are talking about an act of war that would be totally unnecessary and outrageous. Al Jazeera's propaganda is the least of our problems right now.

Washington, D.C.: Good morning.
The U.S. 1st Armored and U.S. 1st Cavalry divisions are listed by many news organizations as having long ago received deployment orders for the Central Command area of responsibility. I've neither read, nor heard, a single report of the whereabouts of these units since early March.

Do you happen to know if they are in the theatre?

Mel Goodman: I do not know for sure, but do not believe that they are in theatre. The incredible aspect of all of this was the mishandling of the politics and diplomacy of Turkish support for American forces and the failure to respond more quickly to move the 4th Infantry Division. A combination of inept diplomacy and the Pentagon's failure to adjust.

Washington, D.C.: We've known for a while that the Iraqis have a lot of guns and that men fight harder on their home soil. That could make this intelligence failure bigger than Sept. 11, Pearl Harbor and Bay of Pigs! Maybe they need to launch a satellite that can read newsprint.

Mel Goodman: Certainly worse than the Bay of Pigs, but certainly not worse than September 11th and Pearl Harbor.

Cumberland, Md.: Basically in WW II we resolved to win at "all costs" -- do you see that same resolve now? I am worried that too many other considerations are getting in the way of "total victory."

Mel Goodman: The administration has clearly indicated that it will prevail at all costs. I don't know what else it could say other than to declare an unconditional surrender, which would be counter-productive at this point.

Washington, DC: The thousands of Iraqi residents of Basra that the British said were fired upon by the Iraqi militia -- was that the long-awaited uprising, which was quickly put down and which we failed to support. Is there any reason that it wasn't just another Bay of Pigs incident, other than that's what the military says it wasn't?

Even if it is true, why hasn't Basra been captured and its residents protected from last-minute atrocities?

Mel Goodman: It is obvious that we did not expect any significant resistance in southern Iraq and that we expected an unimpeded march to Baghdad. Right now, we simply don't have sufficient forces to do all the tasks that are required because of the role of the fedayeen. We simply underestimated the will of the enemy, which is the toughest challenge for intelligence analysts in these kinds of situations.

Indiananpolis, Ind.: Were the existence of the Fedayeen know to military planners and included in the military planning?

I'd never hard of them but I assume that it wasn't public information for security reasons.

Mel Goodman: The fedayeen issue has been public knowledge since their creation in the mid-1990s and were certainly know to the military planners. But the Pentagon's mindset is that they are a group of thugs, although the commanders in the field refer to them as paramilitary forces and guerrillas. They should have been no surprise and the fact that Saddam Hussein's son Uday is the commander of the force indicates its importance to the regime.

Sneedville, Tenn.: Why don't you just get your boys out of there and drop a Atomic bomb but fist get the innocent people out?

Mel Goodman: I guess things are simpler in Sneedville.

Silver Spring, Md.: Had Shinseki and the advocates of employing the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force won out at the Pentagon, would you have been in favor of fighting this war?

Mel Goodman: NO! There was no evidence of an imminent danger that required going to war and ample evidence that international diplomacy was working. Since international diplomacy is the key to counter-proliferation, in my opinion, it was important that Blix and others were given ample opportunity to achieve success. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was contained and deterred...but that we have an administration that believes in neither containment or deterrence.

Portland, Ore.: Over the years the military in general has become especially pro-Republican (for lack of a better term). They seem to have a general view that Republicans are better stewards of military's interest. But I recall the reading about the conflicts between military planners for this conflict and the Secretary of Defense.

Are you surprised the military experts weren't more forceful? And could the Pentagon's willingness to appear supportive of Republicans hurt their them and/or made them too accomodative?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that we have seen the politicization of the military over the years, but I'm not sure that such an issue was central to this current problem. The military, unfortunately, has no tradition of resignation over principle. If a military commander strongly believed that Rumsfeld was wrong, then he should have resigned to call attention to a serious difference of opinion. Remember the army chief of staff under LBJ nearly resigned over the Vietnam war plan, but changed his mind in the car on the way to the White House.

Lyme, Conn.: What are your thoughts on the announced plans to rebuild Iraq with $30 billion in aide? Does this assistance appear targeted in the proper manner, or are there important aspects of rebuilding Iraq that would help stabilize and revitalize the country that are being missed? Also, who in this country stands to gain from the reinvestment besides the Vice President's former company?

Mel Goodman: Don't expect this country to invest $30 billion in rebuilding Iraq. The current supplemental appropriation of $75 billion includes $2.4 billion for reconstruction. The Bush administration should be turning this task over to the UN, but thus far has been unwilling to do so. Another calamity is out there waiting for us on this one.

Sturgis, S.D.: I've been told by a retired air force officer that there is a tunnel that extends quite a ways under Iraq and he fears a trap set for our troops. Especially in the north and behind our troops in the south, cutting them off. He says he knows a Canadian who worked on the tunnel five years ago. Think you can find out if this is true?

Mel Goodman: The Iraqis are brilliant engineers and have developed a significant system of tunnels and bunkers, but I've heard nothing about a national system that you suggest.

Cumberland, Md.: Wait a minute. I saw no evidence that Blix was succeeding -- what little was being squeezed out of Iraq was due to U.S. military build-up -- and I don't think the U.S. should be paying to make the UN happy. I didn't notice France wanting to pay to keep U.S. troops there or send its own troops -- so how can you so naively assert that diplomacy was working?

Mel Goodman: There is no question that the Bush administration was responsible for the international consensus that called for meeting the problem created by Saddam Hussein. But Blix was successful vis-a-vis the Iraqi strategic program in the 1990s and the biological program as well. And he was registering successes in the current round of inspections. Some of the items that Powell credited to defectors in his speech to the UN should have properly been assigned to the efforts of Hans Blix. I would cite for example the destruction of 60 al-Samoud missiles before the war as just one example of success.

Topeka, Kan.: Mr. Goodman, thank you for being with us this morning. Can you confirm recent reports that Saudi Arabia actually has hostile intentions towards the United States? It appears that they are friendly to our face, but stab us in the back when we turn around through their anti-American media broadcasts and state sponsorship of terrorism. Perhaps they should be considered as part of the "axis of evil."

Mel Goodman: Don't make the problem worse than it is. Saudi Arabia has been playing many games over the years in many directions, but they also supply us important assistance and intelligence in the war against terrorism as well as airbases and facilities in the war against Iraq.

Harlingen, Tex.: Before the war, there were statements and hints from the Administration that the U.S. had specific, sensitive intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Now that the war has started, have you seen any indications that the U.S. is acting on that intelligence? Do we seem to be trying to capture specific sites? Are we taking any other than generic measures to protect against chemical and biological weapons?

Mel Goodman: Thus far, I believe that we have to conclude that we had only limited intelligence on the chemical and biological weapons programs and that was probably shared with Blix and used by Blix. Let's face it, the Powell speech was based on the best of CIA intelligence and proved to be unremarkable on the face of it and certainly no case for going to war. In fact, the Powell speech was an excellent statement for defending and strengthening inspections.

Glenmont, Md.: Do you think the Kurds have provided U.S. soldiers with useful information about Saddam's activities in Arab-occupied Kurdistan?

Mel Goodman: The Kurds are probably a great source of intelligence. But remember they were sold out by the Nixon administration, the elder Bush administration, and were being prepared for a sellout by the current Bush administration, so they will have to be careful.

Mel Goodman: I'm afraid that our time is up. Thank you all so much for an interesting and important exchange. Mel Goodman

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