Intelligence Report - Parade (Sunday)
By Lyric Wallwork Winik
Published: August 8, 2004
Dick Cheney Speaks Out
Dick Cheney already may be the most powerful Vice President in U.S. history, and his influence will likely grow if George W. Bush is re-elected. National security adviser Condi Rice is expected to depart, with Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld rumored to be close behind. That would leave Cheney, 63, as the unchallenged architect of foreign policy. He’s been attacked for his pre-Iraq War statements and faces calls for Bush to drop him from the ticket—even from some Republicans. But they have not dissuaded the Veep, who told us, “It comes with the turf.” In an interview in his modest White House office, Cheney discussed what has gone right and wrong. Some highlights:
On fighting terror. Cheney believes the country hasn’t come to grips with the scale of the threat. “We can’t presume it’s a handful of people willing to hijack airliners,” he said. “The ultimate danger is a possible terror cell in the middle of a city with a nuclear weapon or biological agent able to kill hundreds of thousands.” He’s been accused of having a Cold War-era mentality, but Cheney said we must give up strategies like containment and deterrence, which worked with the Soviets but “have no application where al-Qaeda is concerned. There’s nothing you can put at risk that would deter them from attacking the U.S.”
On intelligence. “You’re trying to collect information on people who are very sophisticated at hiding their true intentions and capabilities,” said Cheney. He admitted that key pre-war Iraq intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was “inaccurate,” but he noted that the same process did expose Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who sold lethal technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran. Cheney also said our Cold War-era system of counting weapons to judge an enemy’s strength won’t work with terrorists. “You have to get people inside the organization,” he said. “That’s a much tougher proposition. It requires recruiting agents with special language skills and reinvigorating the human intelligence side of our capabilities.”
A lot was learned from the failures leading up to 9/11, including the fact that “the FBI and CIA didn’t work together very well,” added Cheney. “There was a wall that had been encouraged over the years because we didn’t want the CIA messing in domestic intelligence. It was a matter of protecting civil liberties here at home.” He anticipates improvements at the CIA.
On public service. Cheney isn’t afraid to mix it up with his political opponents, but he worries about the state of public service, no matter who wins in November. “We have made it hard for people from diverse backgrounds to serve in the federal government,” he said. Because of the personal attacks, “successful people are less likely to bring their special expertise and talents to solving public problems.”
In this week's "Intelligence Report," Lyric Wallwork Winik interviews Vice President Dick Cheney about the war on terror, America's intelligence capabilities and his thoughts on public service. Following is more from Cheney on the war on terror and the United States' decision to go to war in Iraq:
On how aggressive the U.S. should be in the war on terror:
It’s partly the responsibility of our leadership to help people understand what’s at stake here, as well as to mobilize the necessary resources and adopt the necessary measures that are needed. That’s the business we’ve all been involved in in a major way since 9/11.
We still have a big debate going in the country about how aggressive should the United States be. The President and I believe we need to be very aggressive, we need to conscientiously go after the terrorists wherever they live and take whatever steps are necessary to make certain they never acquire [weapons of mass destruction and] those types of deadly capabilities. That puts us in a place that a lot of Americans are not comfortable with in terms of whether the United States is being too aggressive, [whether] we need to deal only through the United Nations, [or whether] we should be more restrained in our use of our military powers. That’s a debate that I think is going to be front and center in this year’s Presidential campaign.
It’s important for us to remember that our traditional ways of dealing with this type of threat, such as policies we pursued during the Cold War—containment, deterrence—really don’t have any application where al Qaeda is concerned. There’s nothing you can put at risk that would deter them from attacking the United States. The only option is to actively and aggressively go after terrorists, those who support terror, states that harbor terrorists, as well as those enterprises, whether they’re state or nonstate, that might seriously supply an organization like al Qadea with deadly technologies. It’s a very different approach than the policies and strategy pursued during the Cold War. I think it’s the only viable strategy. The President believes that. It’s partly what the debate’s going to be about this year.
On Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the decision to go to war:
We haven’t found large stockpiles of these weapons [WMD], but we did find that [Hussein] did have significant capability in this area, and he could probably have restarted his programs on relatively short notice. My guess is that he would have, as soon as sanctions were lifted. So, with respect to the basic, fundamental decision that needed to be made, I think the President made absolutely the right decision. We tried to resolve the matter through the United Nations, went back to the UN and got a unanimous Security Council resolution after 12 years. Saddam Hussein [was] violating UN resolutions after he kicked out the weapons inspectors in ’98. After he’d been given every last chance to come clean, he refused, so the President acted. So I’m very comfortable with the decision that we made. I think it was the right decision. And I think the country’s safer for it, certainly the people of Iraq are better off for it and [across] that region. I think we dealt with one of the world’s more threatening characters in a very effective action.