CBS' Schieffer, Fox's Wallace let Rice peddle a wealth of misinformation

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

Both Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace allowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to justify the Iraq war by falsely suggesting that the 9-11 Commission report supports her claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had "contacts" with Al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invasion of that country in March 2003. Also, after Rice said she couldn't think of any specific "failures" in the Bush administration's fight against terrorism when asked by Wallace to identify one, Wallace failed to press her on the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large and his trail has reportedly gone "stone cold."

On the September 10 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer allowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to justify the Iraq war by falsely suggesting that the 9-11 Commission report supports her claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had "contacts" with Al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invasion of that country in March 2003. Similarly, Fox News host Chris Wallace, on the September 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, allowed Rice to make the same claim. Neither Schieffer nor Wallace rebutted her suggestion -- in fact, the 9-11 Commission found that Iraq and Al Qaeda had no "collaborative and operational relationship." In addition, on both programs, Rice again attempted to justify the invasion of Iraq by linking Iraq with Al Qaeda via now-dead terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Neither Schieffer nor Wallace mentioned that just two days earlier, a Senate Intelligence Committee report had concluded that Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates."

Also on Fox News Sunday, after Rice said she could not think of any specific "failures" in the Bush administration's fight against terrorism when asked by Wallace to identify one, Wallace failed to press her on the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large and, according to counterterrorism officials cited earlier that day in a Washington Post article, leads on bin Laden's location are "stone cold." Later in the broadcast, Wallace allowed Rice to claim that, before the invasion of Iraq, the administration relied on intelligence dissemination from the National Intelligence Office (NIO); in fact, no such office existed before the Iraq war.

On Face the Nation, Schieffer began by referring to the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report that there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and then asked: "So, it begs the question, was this whole thing [the Iraq war] a colossal mistake?" Rice responded by saying that "the 9-11 Commission itself talked about contacts" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. She later mentioned that "Zarqawi ordered the killing of an American diplomat from Iraq, that he ran a poisons network in Iraq," adding: "So, there were clearly links between terrorism and Iraq."

On Fox News Sunday, Rice responded to questioning on the topic with the same set of talking points that Wallace also failed to challenge. Wallace pressed Rice to account for her claim in March 2003 that Iraq had "a very strong link to training Al Qaeda in chemical and biological techniques," noting that the Senate Intelligence Committee's recent report revealed that, in 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) found that link "unlikely." Rice responded by claiming that, "in fact, there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime going back for a decade," adding that "the 9-11 Commission talked about contacts between the two" and that "[w]e know that Zarqawi was running a poisons network in Iraq [and] ordered the killing of an American diplomat in Jordan from Iraq."

While the 9-11 Commission found that elements of Saddam's regime made "contacts" with Al Qaeda at one time or another, as Rice asserted, neither Schieffer nor Wallace noted that it also concluded that there was no "collaborative and operational relationship" between the two. In addition, while Schieffer did note that the Senate Intelligence Committee's report found no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invastion, neither he nor Wallace mentioned that the report also concluded that Saddam's Iraq "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." Further, as Media Matters for America previously documented, the claim that Saddam allowed Islamic terrorists to train in Iraq apparently originated with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, remarks to the United Nations Security Council, in which he laid out a case for military action against Iraq. Powell alleged that Zarqawi "helped establish [a] poison and explosive training center camp ... located in northeastern Iraq." But as the Los Angeles Times noted on June 15, 2003, the training camp, operated by Kurdish Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar al-Islam, "was in an autonomous Kurdish region not ruled by Hussein."

Also on Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked Rice about "the big picture" in the fight against terrorism, and if there have been "any failures." When Rice identified no specific "failures," Wallace did not follow up with specifics of his own. He did not note that bin Laden has yet to be captured or killed, nor did he refer to the September 10 Washington Post report stating that intelligence officials believe the trail leading to bin Laden's whereabouts has gone "stone cold.": From the Post report:

The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

"The handful of assets we have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone "stone cold."

Finally, Wallace continued to press Rice regarding her March 2003 assertion that Iraq had trained Al Qaeda members in the use of chemical and biological weapons, asking Rice if she was, at that time, aware of the DIA report contradicting that claim. Rice stated that the administration had "relied on reports of the National Intelligence Office, the NIO," presumably a reference to the Office of the Director of National intelligence. She added, "There are intelligence reports and conflicting intelligence reports all the time." Rice then claimed: "That's why we have an intelligence system that brings those together into a unified assessment by the intelligence community of what we're looking at." In fact, the NIO did not exist until December 2004, when it was created by Congress, so the administration could not have relied on its intelligence dissemination capability and ability to provide "unified assessment by the intelligence community."

From the September 10 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this: After 9-11, we went to Iraq because we were told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and because Iraq was a place that harbored terrorists. We've known for a long time now that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction, and now in this bombshell report that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee released Friday, we find that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded long ago that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. So it begs the question: Was this whole thing a colossal mistake?

RICE: Well, first of all, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is very important and better for the world. One cannot imagine a Middle East that would be different, and would not be a place in which extremism thrives without Saddam Hussein's removal and the chance for a different kind of Iraq. But at the time, Bob, the intelligence services, in fact, did not say that there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. That's simply not the case. George Tenet, then the director of Central Intelligence, testified that there were multiple contacts going back a decade between Osama bin Laden and Iraq. In fact, the 9-11 Commission itself talked about contacts.

What did we know? We know that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror, had been -- of terrorism, had in fact been listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. We know that Zarqawi ordered the killing of an American diplomat from Iraq, that he ran a poisons network in Iraq; that the Abu Nidal organization, the terrorist organization, had operated out of Iraq. So there were clearly links between terrorism and Iraq. But more importantly, we had been at war with Iraq in 1991 because Saddam Hussein destabilized the region by invading Kuwait. That brought us into the region, into places like Saudi Arabia, with our forces in ways that were unprecedented. In 1998, President Clinton ordered American forces against Saddam Hussein -- air power against Saddam Hussein. For the entire period after the end of the Gulf War -- the first Gulf War, our pilots were flying no-fly zones and being shot at by Saddam's forces. The idea that somehow this was a peaceful relationship with Saddam Hussein -- if we had just let him be, the world would have been fine -- I just find a not very sustainable argument.

SCHIEFFER: But you know, in his book, Fiasco, Tom Ricks writes that all of what you say is true, but he says in a sense, we had contained Saddam Hussein, that he wasn't posing, really, a threat to much of anybody.

[...]

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you this, Madame Secretary: Have we created some kind of a terrorist haven there? Because some would argue that there really was no terrorist threat in those days, but now that there actually is.

RICE: Well, Saddam Hussein -- the State Department and the United States government had said that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror going all the way back to the 1990s. So he was a state sponsor of terror. He had terrorists operating in his country, including Zarqawi, who had a poisons network in the country. And I would just remind that at the time, the director of Central Intelligence talked about these contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and in fact, the 9-11 admission -- Commission talked about contacts.

There is, in retrospect, an attempt to somehow paint Saddam Hussein as just sitting there calmly in the region -- yes, he was a bad guy, people didn't like him, but he wasn't much of a threat. It's simply ahistorical, if you look at the conflict into which he dragged that region, starting in the 1980s.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you, and let's shift to something else.

From the September 10 editon of Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: Any failures?

RICE: Well, certainly. I'm sure there are many things that could be done better. We would like to make more progress. People would always like to make more progress. But --

WALLACE: But anything specifically that you say that --

RICE: Well, I --

WALLACE: you know, five years later, the war on terror hasn't gone as well?

RICE: Again, history will have to judge, Chris. I think that the record will show that the last five years have been years of reorganizing the United States government, reorganizing our international alliances for this long war, and reorienting our strategic policy toward one that simply will not accept the conditions in the Middle East and in other places that have allowed extremism to flourish at the expense of moderation.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about some of the concerns that people have.

[...]

WALLACE: I want to discuss just one area, the issue of whether Iraq helped Al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. Here's what the president said in October of 2002.

BUSH [video clip]: We've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.

WALLACE: And in March 2003, just before the invasion, you said, talking about Iraq, "and a very strong link to training Al Qaeda in chemical and biological techniques." But, Secretary Rice, a Senate committee has just revealed that in February of 2002, months before the president spoke, more than a year, 13 months, before you spoke, that the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded this -- and let's put it up on the screen.

"Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful CB" -- that's chemical or biological -- "knowledge or assistance." Didn't you and the president ignore intelligence that contradicted your case?

RICE: What the president and I and other administration officials relied on -- and you simply rely on the central intelligence. The director of central intelligence, George Tenet, gave that very testimony, that, in fact, there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime going back for a decade. Indeed, the 9-11 Commission talked about contacts between the two. We know that Zarqawi was running a poisons network in Iraq. We know that Zarqawi ordered the killing of an American diplomat in Jordan from Iraq. There were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Now, are we learning more now that we have access to people like Saddam Hussein's intelligence services? Of course we're going to learn more. But Chris, the --

WALLACE: But, Secretary Rice, this report, if I may --

RICE: Yeah.

WALLCE: --This report wasn't now. This isn't after the fact. This was a Defense Intelligence Agency report in 2002. Two questions: First of all, did you know about that report before you made your statement?

RICE: Chris, we relied on the reports of the National Intelligence Office, the NIO, and of the DCI. That's what the president and his central decision-makers rely on. There are --

WALLACE: Did you know about this report?

RICE: -- intelligence reports and conflicting intelligence reports all the time. That's why we have an intelligence system that brings those together into a unified assessment by the intelligence committee -- community of what we're looking at.

That particular report I don't remember seeing. But there are often conflicting intelligence reports. I just want to refer you, though, to the testimony of the DCI at the time about the activities --

WALLACE: That's the head of Central Intelligence.

RICE: Yes, the head of Central Intelligence -- that were going on between Al Qaeda and between Iraq. But let me make a broader point. The notion, somehow -- and I've heard this -- the notion, somehow, that the world is better off -- would be better off -- with Saddam Hussein still in power seems to me quite ludicrous.

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