Director of Central Intelligence John E. McLaughlin
Press Conference at CIA Headquarters
is a rush transcript.)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
9 July 2004
Mr. McLaughlin: Thank you all for coming. We wanted to
take the opportunity to give you some initial reactions to the
report released today by the Senate Select Committee on pre-war
intelligence on Iraq. We're seeing the conclusions for the first
today just as I think you are, so our reactions are necessarily
The Committee points out, as the DCI did five months ago in
Georgetown, that there were serious flaws in some of our pre-war
intelligence on Iraq. We recognize those shortcoming and long
before today's report have taken a number of steps to address
them and to ensure they are not repeated.
So my first message to you is a very simple one: we get it.
Although we think the judgments were not unreasonable when they
were made nearly two years ago, we understand with all that we
have learned since then that we could have done better. Some
of our judgments have held up. Some have been called into serious
questions. One significant error was in allowing the key judgments
in our Estimate on Iraq, that's the short summary of the Intelligence
Estimate, to be published without sufficient caveats and disclaimers
where our knowledge was incomplete. This is particularly unfortunate
since the full text of that document, which apparently was not
reviewed by all the readers, spells out the uncertainties and
dissents much more fully.
The Senate Select Committee has spent nearly a year dissecting
an Estimate which we were asked to produce in less than a month.
They have learned, often from us, where our performance was flawed.
But I have a very important second message: It is to emphasize
that the Senate report is an in-depth look at essentially one
document on one issue -- an important one to be sure. In other
words, it is wrong to exaggerate the flaws or leap to the judgment
that our challenges with pre-war Iraq weapons intelligence are
evidence of sweeping problems across the broad spectrum of issues
with which the intelligence community must deal.
Iraq was really unique. Through the mid to late 1990s the entire
world saw evidence of Saddam's WMD production and his efforts
to hide it. We, along with virtually every other intelligence
service on the plant, and numerous non-governmental experts,
assessed that Saddam's determined efforts to conceal what was
going on in Iraq was evidence that his commitment to these terrible
weapons was continuing apace. On some important issues, however,
our experts were actually more cautious than outside specialists.
All the experts agreed we were dealing with a dangerous man who
had already used WMD.
The intelligence community has taken many steps in recent months
to strengthen the process for making National Intelligence Estimates,
validating sensitive sources, and challenging long-held assumptions.
Let me end with a couple of points that the American people
need to hear and understand in the midst of all of this controversy:
the men and women of the American intelligence community are
not motivated or guided by political or personal agendas. They
are highly skilled, highly dedicated professionals committed
to protecting and defending the American people. As we speak,
many of those officers are risking their lives doing exactly
that around the world and doing it with daring, dedication, professionalism
Thank you very much, and I'm happy to take your questions.
talk about Iraq being unique and that we shouldn't make any
conclusions that it's the same in any other
part of the world and that you're making the same sorts of mistakes,
if you will. And yet one of the conclusions is that you [inaudible]
intelligence is certainty Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,
Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. Why would that be any
different now? Was that a mistake to say those things with such
A: As I indicated in my statement, I think it was an
error to say them with that degree of certainty in the summary
of the Estimate. If you look at the body of the Estimate there
are many caveats and many qualifiers. This is a kind of art form
which frankly we will not change. The art form has always been
that when you get to the summary of a National Estimate you stand
back a lot of the evidence, a lot of the qualifiers, and say
here's what I really think. That's what we did in this case.
We assessed that they had chemical and biological weapons.
Frankly, we won't do that again. In the future our summary of
Estimates will mirror exactly what we're saying in the body of
the Estimate. If you look at the body of this Estimate you will
see the differences in the community are absolutely laid out
in great detail, the qualifiers are there. And I look at the
rest of our work -- I think one of the things I would say to
you is to demonstrate that whatever errors were made here, or
whatever shortcomings were made is not at all characteristic
across the board of our work on weapons intelligence generally.
If it was, how could we have essentially dismantled the [inaudible]
network which we [inaudible] and others did very well? How could
we have understood with the degree of certainty what weapons
Libya had, a degree of certainty that meant that when we went
in on secret contacts we were able to confront them with our
knowledge of their nuclear program, when it started, when it
stopped, when it continued? How could we have confronted them
with our knowledge, very certain, of what kind of missiles they
had? If you'd like to discuss these [inaudible]. How could we
have as early as the early '90s understood in some detail what
the Iranian nuclear program was like in ways that the IAEA is
now only coming to understand [inaudible]? How could we have
with a high degree of confidence projected not more than a year
or two ago that the North Koreans had developed a uranium enrichment
program that we learned through intelligence -- a combination
of human and technical sources, with all the proper caveats but
with confidence. And also [inaudible] that.
So what I would say to you is that across the board our work
on weapons intelligence has been rather good. We acknowledge
in the case of pre-war intelligence on Iraq there were some shortcomings.
Q: One of the mistakes that they outline in the conclusions
is the classic intelligence mistake which is assuming the answer,
assuming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and then
locking onto all the evidence that confirmed that assumption
and [inaudible] call that into question. That's the oldest analytical
mistake in the book.
Is it really the case that there was no one who was questioning
either in the form of a formal Red Team or an individual analyst
who was saying wait a minute, why don't we rethink this thing.
Does he, and start from the premise of does he really have these
things instead of the way it seems to have happened [inaudible]?
a really good question. It goes back to something I said in
opening statement, that Iraq was really a unique
situation. We challenge our assumptions all the time here and
I'm happy to tell you about some changes we've made to strengthen
that practice. But when I say it was a unique situation, and
I refer back to the comments people have made, I think Senator
Roberts called this an "assumption train". If it was
an assumption train, we were not the engine. I'm not even sure
we were the coal car. I don't know where we were on it, but people
all around the world made the assumption that this country had
I referred to the fact that many outside experts were bolder
in that assertion than we were. If you look at some of the literature
that was published in the last year, for example Ken Pollack's
article in Atlantic Monthly, you'll find a paragraph in which
he describes [inaudible] he attended were [inaudible] former
UN inspectors were present. He put the question to them, how
[inaudible] Iraq is actually [inaudible]? All 20 put their hands
up and said yes, and some even went further to suggest that [inaudible].
Interestingly, none of our analysts went that far. People forget
that we said he did not have nuclear weapons. We did not say
that [inaudible] enrichment. We did not say that he had fissile
So what I would say to you is that the assumptions about his
weapons were long-held. They were held almost universally. And
what we have done since then is to -- This is a learning institution.
At the end of the day we're pretty hard on ourselves and what
we have done in response to our own digging into this in the
last six months is a number of things. We now have a devil's
advocate work done on every National Intelligence Estimate we
do to describe exactly what you are suggesting.
We are putting together an outside group of experts to do exactly
the same thing. We actually took CIA analysts or managers off-line
for a few days for elective learning and part of elective learning
was that we must always question every assumption we make. One
of the assignments we got was go back to your desk, look at every
issue we're working on across the world, understand what the
assumptions are, and then [inaudible].
In the case of Iraq, to go back to your original point, you'll
see in this Estimate there are places where dissents within the
community are laid out.
Q: [inaudible] specific features of evidence [inaudible]
whatever. Did anybody question the basic assumption?
A: I think there were very few people around the world
and in the intelligence community that questioned the basic assumption
that [inaudible]. And one of the mistakes we made in reading
just [inaudible], you can read the report and read all the criticisms
and you can come away with the impression that nothing was going
on in this country that related to WMD at all. But it's not,
if you look at the work that's been carried on under David Kay
first and now Charlie [inaudible] and the Iraq Survey Group,
it's quite clear that Iraq was in breach of Resolution 1441 on
any number of instances ranging from secret work that was underway
on things like anthrax simulates all the way up to what we had
discovered about his missile works which was dramatically beyond
what was suggested. [Inaudible] of the UN for missiles, [inaudible],
well in excess of 1,000 kilometers. A chemical industry that
could quickly be converted to precursors for chemical weapons.
Assembly lines for anthrax simulants that could be converted
to anthrax in less than a week.
So people who assumed, back to your original point, people who
assumed that there was work underway on weapons of mass destruction
were not entirely wrong if your baseline there is to say that
he had not fully abandoned his programs.
Q: John [inaudible] with USA Today.
There's been a great deal of discussion about political pressure
or not on the Agency and the Agency telling the Administration
what it wanted to hear to make its case. I want to approach that
from a slightly different angle. The CIA's been looking at Iraq
very closely for years, all through the '90s. Throughout that
period the question was do we have enough suspicion and concern
to maintain the policies, maintain the sanctions, and it seems
nobody seemed to be debating the idea that there was more than
enough reason to be suspicious of Saddam, to not trust him, and
maintain the policy.
But now comes the Bush Administration and now the idea is war,
an invasion of Iraq. My question is from your point of view do
analysts need to be aware of what policymakers are thinking and
establish in their own minds perhaps the notion that there should
be a higher standard of proof if they are laying out a case to
policymakers who are considering not continuing the status quo,
but invading a country, to sort of raise the level of proof,
if you will, and should our analysts be aware of what's going
on above them and around them in the policy sense. Not that they're
favoring a particular policy, but just aware of it, of the consequences
of their recommendations.
A: It's a good question and I think it proceeds from
the understanding that you articulated a moment ago. WE try here
to draw a firm line between policy and intelligence. What we
do on the intelligence side should inform policy, but not make
policy. And in general I disagree with your proposition that
the degree to which we are aware of policy development, our intelligence
would be sharpened. I [don't agree with you].
Q: John, could I ask you first of all, are you standing
there and saying yes, you don't think there are weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq? And secondly, the report says that the Central
Intelligence Agency did not have a single officer in Iraq working
on weapons of mass destruction. Is that correct? In which case
wasn't the Agency overly timid on that?
A: I think there are two questions there. On the issue
of, if I understood you correctly, I'm saying yes, there were
no weapons in Iraq.
One of the mistakes I think we made early on here was allowing
the impression to take root that we would go into Iraq and discover
quickly large visible stockpiles of weapons. It was not until
after the war that we started I think talking in terms of weapons,
what 100 tons of chemical weapons would really look like. And
you've all heard by now the analogy that it would fit in a backyard
swimming pool. Or anthrax that would kill thousands and thousands
of people could be concealed in the glove compartment of a car.
So against that backdrop one has to at least preserve some element
of ambiguity in your mind I think about whether they exist or
not. The truth of the matter is that George Tenet pointed out
at Georgetown back in February, we haven't found those kinds
of stockpiles yet. The longer you search for those kinds of things
and not find them, the greater the skepticism.
That said, I would reiterate what I said earlier about the work
of the Iraq Survey Group, which has found that the country was
not entirely innocent when it came to WMD programs and WMD intentions.
On the second question, I've read through the report. I haven't
gone through the conclusions yet. They literally were arriving
as I was walking down here. The point about an officer in Iraq,
I'm not sure if that's what that point was intended to convey.
If it's intended to convey a timidity on the part of our officers
in terms of working in dangerous environments, I would just reject
that totally out of hand. We put stars on the wall out here this
year. We put stars on the wall out here. This is an Agency that
had people on the job in Afghanistan 17 days after the horror
of 9/11. This is an Agency that through its human source work
and through officers risking their lives have captured the architect
of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This is an Agency that brought
to justice [inaudible] al Qaeda [inaudible] 17 sailors on the
USS Cole. This is an Agency who through risk and daring has captured
[inaudible], a notorious character in the [inaudible] part of
the globe that was responsible for the Bali bombing.
So I completely reject and resent any implication by the Committee
that our officers were [inaudible] risk aversion.
Q: Can I just follow up on that? Mary Curtis with the
LA Times. In fact I think what the Committee was saying was there
were plenty of [inaudible] on the ground but what they were saying
is the Agency itself was so hidebound it chose not to do that.
Is that in fact true? Was there some concern on the part of the
Agency, the bureaucracy, that you didn't want to put people in
on the ground, and did that leave you more dependent on dubious
sources for intelligence?
A: No, there was no such concern here. But that is not
physically how we operate [inaudible] like this. What we typically
try and do is recruit people who will operate in a country on
our behalf. And as Jim Pavitt, the Deputy Director for Operations
has noted publicly, and as the Director noted in his speech in
February, this was a place where we did not recruit many people
in the inner sanctum as we would [inaudible]. Why is that? Again,
I go back to my point that Iraq is unique. Up until 1998 we had
ground truth about what was going on in Iraq from inspectors
who were in the country, who received a lot of that information.
We could hold it in our hands. We had a sense for what was going
on and we had concreteness about Iraq [inaudible]. After 1998
we lost that. So first we got a late start on recruiting agents
to work in Iraq; but second, I'm saying we were working against
[specifically] difficult targets. Saddam through all of those
years of inspections had learned how to deceive and he had learned
how to apply very brutal tactics with people who cooperated with
outsiders. So we were up against a tougher than average problem
Now that said, I've cited for you a number of other successes
having to do with weapons proliferation. We had to literally
penetrate [inaudible] and we did that. So part of the answer
is sometimes we get it [wrong] and sometimes we [inaudible].
It is a tough business where you succeed sometimes and sometimes
Q: With all this criticism [involving] the Agency how
concerned are you now that you're going into the Acting Director
chair that the products that come out of here are not going to
be taken as seriously as in the past, and perhaps people won't
pay great attention to them. What are you doing to sort of negate
A: I'm not at all concerned by that. When I hear people
comment on the intelligence service or offer criticism, which
we're open to. I think my opening statement suggested that. But
I often say that's not the world I live in. The world I live
in every day is a world where intelligence remains [inaudible]
with a very high responsibility we have and we recognize it.
What I find is that people are eager to hear what we have to
say. They question it as they should. We expect that. That's
part of the contentiousness of the issues we deal with. The extraordinary
issues show through in the dialogue that we have [inaudible].
But there has been no let-up in demand for intelligence and no
perceptible decline in the confidence of intelligence, as I have
dealt with policymakers from Presidents on down.
Q: You indicated that one of the problems was not caveating
Q: But the report goes further, essentially saying there
was insufficient intelligence, underlying intelligence, to reach
the conclusions reached regardless of what they were. I just
wondered what your thoughts were on that.
A: Part of our job is to connect dots, if you will. In
other words if you look at the results of the 9/11 Commission
one of the things they said was people should have been connecting
more dots. If you listen to the results of this investigation
one of the things people are saying is you connected too many
dots. It's a tension in our business. We do not always have --
We deal with the uncertain. You all know that. Frequently what
we try to do here is a little bit like putting together a crossword
[sic] puzzle with one important difference -- we haven't seen
the picture on the box. So it's quite often the case that we
have to take bits and pieces and put them together and do our
In truth, there was a lot of underlying intelligence here. It
varied in quality from issue to issue. I would say we had very
strong intelligence on delivery systems, for example. That is
things like missile programs, UAVs, things of that nature. Our
intelligence was more fragmentary on chemical weapons, to give
you an example and on nuclear issues. So it is varied and we
did our best to come to judgments about all of these things.
Q: Particularly on the tubes, the report essentially
accuses the CIA of misrepresenting facts in a couple of cases.
Almost [inaudible]. Can you respond to that?
completely reject that. I completely reject it. This tube issue,
know whether we were going to get into
it here today. It's an awfully "down in the weeds" issue,
but I know a lot has been made of it.
That issue is thoroughly discussed to a fault in the National
Intelligence Estimate. If you were to have the entire Estimate
you would see that at the back end of it there are three full
detailed pages expressing, for example, the Department of Energy
views, and other material that expresses the view of other agencies.
You know the dispute. Some people thought they were [inaudible]
and others [inaudible]. And you have to put that whole aluminum
tube thing in the context of the broader nuclear issue.
I have to remind you again, with all -- There are 40 or 50 pages
in this report dedicated to aluminum tubes and whether they were
for [inaudible] or not, but I must always remind people that
the National Intelligence Estimate, the intelligence community,
said he did not have nuclear weapons yet, said he would not have
them for another five to seven years. [Inaudible]. Said he wasn't
yet [inaudible], that he didn't have fissile material. These
tubes were detected as part of the things that could have contributed
eventually to an enrichment program. But there's a success story
buried in this that very few people know about. That is working
with our partners overseas we kept, if my memory serves, close
to 100,000 of these tubes from ever getting into Iraq. I believe
the tubes that were found in Iraq were not of the high tolerances
as the ones going in and a lot of the agencies [inaudible] could
be adapted. Could be adapted for [inaudible]. Even the Department
of Energy, which had a very strong view on these particular things,
agreed with the overall assessment and the Estimate that it was
Q: Katie Schroeder, [inaudible]. Looking back, were your
analysts pressured as the [inaudible] committee say? Apparently
George Tenet, [inaudible] and apparently [inaudible]? And looking
forward, are you concerned at all that the [inaudible] will be
[inaudible], and as Acting Director, how do you handle that?
A: On the issue of pressure, I think the committee says
that they could not detect any particular pressure on WMD issues.
I think our analysts would say they were not pressured to come
to these conclusions. They were conclusions that we arrived at
two years ago. As I said in my statement, we thought they were
On the question of intelligence reform, if you want to see my
views, my personal views, you can look at a speech I gave to
the Business Executives for National Security a couple of weeks
ago. It's on our web site.
[Inaudible] people who are contemplating reform of the community
are three things in particular. First I would say, remember there's
no perfection in this business. In other words, some sort of
reordering of the boxes here will not bring you perfection in
the intelligence business. There is no profit and loss or bottom
line in this vital industry. How do you measure, how do you balance
a hundred successes against one failure?
Second I would tell them [inaudible] reform. This will be hard.
Remember, our country's at war not only in Iraq, but men and
women in this Agency are on the front line of the war on terrorism
all around the world. We can't risk any kind of reduction at
this point that would in any way minimize the effectiveness of
this Agency in [inaudible] intelligence against people who at
this moment are planning attacks in the United States.
Third I would say if people are contemplating reform of the
community, be careful not to destroy the advances we've made.
There's this impression out there that somehow the community
has stood still over the last seven years. In fact we have transformed
ourselves dramatically in ways that are not well understood.
In my speech [inaudible] see how I would do it, [inaudible].
If you want me to run through that I will, but I'll stop here.
Q: Tom Jelton, MCI. You said that one of the things you
regretted is you didn't put more caveats in the summary. [Inaudible]
I presume intelligence [inaudible] Director Tenet [inaudible]
presentation [inaudible]. Can you see now in hindsight that maybe
there was also, was there any error in that context of maybe
short-cutting, going too quickly to the bottom line, and not
including the same caveat in those oral presentations that maybe
should have been included in the summary to the NIE?
A: First, I have to take off limits any discussions with
the President. That's just a relationship we don't discuss for
obvious reasons. It's not just because it's a privileged relationship,
but [inaudible] confidential [inaudible]. But I would say from
my personal experience I don't think the oral briefings were
very different to the extent that they even occurred than the
written briefings. And ultimately what this agency stands for
and what the intelligence community stands for is what we put
down in black and white. Even as I'm talking here today, obviously
I'm not referring to notes. I'm giving you my best recollection
of the facts. [It's always possible to be mistaken.] At the end
of the day we have to refer back directly to what we put in black
and white. In this case the Senate has [inaudible]. I don't think
Q: [inaudible], New York Times. You said in your speech
two weeks ago, and continue to claim again today that the shortcomings
that emerged from the Iraq WMD experience was [inaudible], that
they were well understood in the Agency as [inaudible] to addressing
them. Yet we heard from Senator Roberts this morning that what
we have is a broken corporate culture and a failure of leadership.
Two questions. Does he have a point? And can you be more explicit
about the changes you've made, particularly in the [inaudible]
A: I don't think we have a broken corporate culture at
all. This is a [inaudible] very well [inaudible]. This is a community
that comes together physically and virtually practically every
day of the week. This is a community where every success I have
cited from capture of terrorists to takedown of [inaudible] crime
networks to the work we've done on Iran, North Korea and any
number of other things involves work from all aspects of the
community, people pulling together.
I don't think we have a broken corporate culture at all.
In terms of the changes that we've made, I did [inaudible] that
these were [inaudible] which we understood and acted upon. Let
me walk you through four or five things [inaudible].
When we do a National Intelligence Estimate today we are now
requiring the collection [inaudible] from all of the intelligence
[inaudible] to submit in writing a statement that validates the
sources in that effort. They have to assure everyone there's
not a person in that source list who is dissembling or who is
fabricating. They have to assure that the sources are strong
or note otherwise.
Second, this is a matter of procedure. Every Estimate is now
subjected to double [inaudible] analysis. In other words, we
essentially tear it apart before we publish it.
Third, as I mentioned I think earlier, we're bringing in a group
of senior advisors from the outside world to perform a similar
process, and essentially to challenge our assumptions on all
of the issues we've worked on. Not just [inaudible]. [Inaudible]
all of our CIA analysts and managers off-site and walked them
through the lessons that we've learned on the Estimates, including
some of the ones I mentioned here today. And we've encouraged
them to take this [inaudible], to question their [inaudible].
Finally, you mentioned human intelligence. Something we've done
in terms of human intelligence, these are highly sensitive reports.
We're broadening our access to them in the intelligence community
and we're improving the way [inaudible] share such data [inaudible].
These are some of our most sensitive reports that frequently
involve life and death matters in terms of the security required
to obtain [inaudible]. WE have taken steps to broaden access
Those are some of the things that we have done to attack the
problem that [inaudible]. [Inaudible] pre-war intelligence.
Q: Thank you.
Q: I know you haven't read the conclusion, but do you
essentially agree with the conclusion that most of the major
key judgments in the NIE were overstated, not supported by the
underlying intelligence reporting because of a series of failures?
A: There are things I agree with -- a quick read. There
are things I agree with in the National Intelligence Estimate,
in their assessment of the Estimate, things I disagreed with.
I think I said in my opening statement I thought we could use
more qualifiers in the front end of that particular document.
I agree with what the Senate said about our work on terrorism.
I think for example they made the point that we had done very
well in our assessment of the relationship between Saddam and
al Qaeda and other terrorists. I agree generally with what they
had to say about our performance on delivery systems which as
I indicated was very strong. And I'll leave it there. I need
to look more carefully. I will do that [inaudible].
Q: Thank you.
Q: Sir, could I ask you whether anybody has lost their
A: I'm going to take that question because you're asking
a question about accountability. This is a very tricky issue.
There's accountability in our process every day here because
of the way we promote people, because of the way we assess them,
because of the way we move them from job to job. There's accountability
It's one thing to hold people accountable when they have done
something ill-principled, when they've done something that lacks
integrity, when they've done something that for whatever reason
is reprehensible on those grounds. It's another thing in the
intelligence business to hold people accountable for a mistake,
for an error in judgment. Stop and think about it for a minute.
WE are told every day that we must not be risk averse, and we
are not. [Inaudible] put lives on the line around the world.
We are not a risk-averse Agency. Think about that for a minute.
What does it mean to take a risk? Taking a risk involves the
possibility of a mistake, by definition. Even the probability
of a mistake. The risk is very very high.
I can think of nothing that would be more effective in generating
aversion to risk than to hold an individual personally accountable
for a mistake that might have been made by hundreds of people
around the world in other intelligence agencies, in the private
sector, the media, in the academic world, and the United Nations.
So we hold our people accountable [inaudible], but it's very
important when we talk about accountability that we realize that
there is a relationship in the intelligence community with the
fact that we take risks every day, sometimes life-threatening.
Q: Thank you very much.