Department of Defense Press Briefing
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman, JCS
October 24, 2002
Q: Speaking about The New York Times and their article today, they have this article about a Defense Department team sifting through intelligence information separate from, obviously, the CIA and the DIA. Can you talk about that team, what it does and why it's created?
Rumsfeld: I asked about that this morning after skimming that article, and I'm told that after September 11th, a small group -- I think two, to start with, and maybe four now, or some number close to less than a handful of people in the policy shop were asked to begin poring over this mountain of information that we were receiving on intelligence-type things, and that they have been doing that. It is not -- any suggestion that it's an intelligence-gathering activity or an intelligence unit of some sort, I think, would be a misunderstanding of it.
Q: The suggestion in the article is that you're unhappy with the intelligence that you're getting about the link between al Qaeda and Iraq.
Rumsfeld: Why would I be unhappy? The intelligence is what intelligence is. It says their best estimates.
If you go back in history, I was on the -- chairman of the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, and at the end of that, we had been asked by the Congress and by George Tenet to take a look at the intelligence community and make an assessment of our best judgment as to what the strengths and weaknesses are, where the gaps were, were too many things stovepiped and that type of thing. We did, and we prepared, this group of -- with one exception, namely me -- of really very thoughtful people, Larry Welch and a whole host of excellent talents who were users of intelligence over the decades -- came out with an intelligence side letter, which we then got unclassified. And it's around someplace, and it's worth reading. It's very good.
One of the things in there I can remember we put in was the importance of having well-informed users of intelligence in Iraq with the suppliers of intelligence, with the analysts. And to the extent there's no feedback coming from a reader, a user of a piece intelligence, then one ought not to expect that the level of competence and -- not competence so much as currency on the part of people supplying that intelligence will be as good as it would as if there's an effective interaction.
And there is a very effective interaction going on. I don't get briefed today by anyone other than the CIA. I get briefed every morning by them. And it is an excellent relationship between the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, in this sense: they're really well knitted together at the CENTCOM level in Afghanistan and all of that activity. George Tenet and I couldn't have a closer relationship. We meet together for lunch, I think, almost once a week. We are able to sort through issues, and we get them dealt with.
There are always are going to be people who have different intelligence views within the agency, and there's no question but that on some of these important terrorism issues, you're seeing differences of opinions out of the intelligence community and the Central Intelligence Agency.
There also are going to be people who will ask a lot of questions, and there's no question but that the people in the Department of Defense, General Myers or Rumsfeld and others, ask a lot of the questions of the intelligence community, and then they get -- they come back with responses.
But I'm not unhappy at all about intelligence. Indeed, I have found my briefer to be very effective and to -- responsive in terms of testing -- pinging the system to see -- to get the best answers that they can on subjects that I find of interest. (To the general.) Don't you?
Rumsfeld: Yeah. It's been a good relationship.
Q: But of course there are people at the CIA whose job it is to do just what you say, to go over this mountain of information and to draw up analysis. So why, again, is it necessary to have people here doing exactly what intelligence analysts at the CIA are supposed to be doing?
Rumsfeld: People are doing that all over town. They do it at the State Department. They do it in my office. I do it. I take this information and read it and think about it and sort and ask questions and talk to other people about it. We discuss it in our morning meeting with General Myers and General Pace. It is what one ought to do.
Q: If you think about it, what comes out of intelligence is not fixed, firm conclusions. What comes out are a speculation, an analysis, probabilities, possibilities, estimates --
Q: Best guesses --
Rumsfeld: -- assessments, if you will. And then you take those -- if you think that -- if that comes from the intelligence side, then it goes to the policy people. That's what our job is. Our job is to take that information, look at it, think about it, and then make judgments off of it.
You don't -- it doesn't come out saying, okay, Mr. Policymaker, turn right, turn left, do this, do that. It comes out, well, on the one hand this, and on the one hand that. And then the policymakers have to function off of -- almost always -- a great deal less than perfect knowledge -- perfect information. It's going to be 10 percent, or 20 percent, or 30 percent of what's knowable you might know. And so it's happening everywhere that people do that. The president does it. All of us do. And it's hard work -- and it's not easy; it's difficult.
Q: You started by saying you read this article this morning and asked about it --
Rumsfeld: I think I said I skimmed it --
Q: Well --
Rumsfeld: I don't want to be held accountable for -- (laughter) --
Q: And nonetheless, you did say that you asked about this effort this morning --
Rumsfeld: I did.
Q: -- after seeing it in the newspaper.
Q: So, were you -- you did not order this organization to be established? You didn't know about it until you saw it in the newspaper this morning?
Rumsfeld: It's interesting. I read my name in headlines, and everything --
Q: It certainly seems Dr. Wolfowitz --
Rumsfeld: -- as though -- as though I'd been some sort of a creator or sponsor of this.
Q: Well it certainly seems Dr. Wolfowitz knew about it -- he was --
Rumsfeld: He did, he did. And I asked him, and I asked Doug Feith, and I asked General Myers, and somebody else -- I can't remember -- and it came back to me that -- roughly what I said; that after September 11th, a couple of people were asked to start going over this. After that, the group of the size -- the size of the group was enlarged to, I think, four, or something. I don't know what it is today. And that they have been looking at terrorist networks, al Qaeda relationships with terrorist states, and that type of thing.
I was told, in answer to a question, that at one moment somebody recommend that I receive a briefing. And that -- that one, or possibly two of the people who do this for Doug Feith, did in fact brief me on something. And that was the sum total -- I knew they worked for Doug, I didn't happen to know that they were in -- what else they did, but I was briefed by them. And then I was so interested in it, I said, gee, why don't you go over and brief George Tenet? So they did. They went over and briefed the CIA. So there's no -- there's no mystery about all this.
Q: What I'm not understanding, so -- was it Dr. Wolfowitz or Doug Feith that ordered this up? And my other --
Rumsfeld: I think it's Doug Feith. It's his shop. The people work for him. I don't know, I didn't ask them that question.
Q: Well, I guess the other question is, when it really gets back to it, how satisfied are you with the intelligence you have seen on the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda? And have you had reason to send some of that intelligence back through the system and ask for harder and harder links to be established between Iraq and al Qaeda? Or are you satisfied with what you got originally?
Rumsfeld: You don't know what you don't know. And so in comes the briefer and she walks through the daily brief, and I ask questions. I couldn't send anything back, as such. What I could do is say, "Gee, what about this? Or what about that? Has somebody thought of this? Could you get me all your sevens or eights" -- or whatever else seems not to be there, what's missing -- those kinds of questions. But I do that every day. Everyone who gets briefed -- (to General Myers) -- You do that.
Myers: Same thing.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. The president, the vice president, everybody does that. They -- then back comes a memo saying, "In response to a question by Secretary Rumsfeld" -- or Secretary Powell or somebody else -- and there's the answer to the question.
Q: So what is the current state of knowledge, I guess, you know, not hypothetically, but realistically, about the links between Iraq and al Qaeda, based on everything you've seen since you talked about it several weeks ago? Do you believe --
Rumsfeld: I -- at least I don't think I know anything more than I did when I read this two or three weeks ago.
Q: You still believe they're very solid links?
Rumsfeld: Well, I have every reason to believe that what the Central Intelligence Agency gave me is correct. And that's why I said it's bulletproof. Because I said, "Tell me what you know," and they told me what they knew. And I said, "Fine. Tell me, when I get all these questions from the press, what I can say; what's unclassified, what could we present." And they gave me this that I read. And it's just that simple.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is the team tasked with looking specifically at links between al Qaeda and Iraq? And if so, have they come to conclusions that are different from those of the intelligence community --
Rumsfeld: I don't know the answer to that question. I think I -- I think I correctly reflected what I was told this morning, that they looked at terrorist networks, relationships with terrorist states. Therefore, that subject would be part of that. Whether it's the totality of it, I would doubt.
And what was the second part of your question?
Q: Whether their conclusions -- whether they've come to different conclusions about the nature of those links than, say, others from the intelligence community.
Rumsfeld: There's very little conclusion-drawing in this business. If you think what I read to you, I read that our understanding of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship is evolving. So that was one thing I read.
And then I said, "As always, it's based on sources of varying reliability." Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, and particularly some high-ranking detainees.
And then I -- and then it says, "We have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members." That was one of the statements, and that's what I read.
Now, conclusions, could they be wrong? I suppose. You know, there's no question they could be wrong in their conclusion, although they do qualify it; they say that their knowledge is evolving. They say that sources are of varying reliability. I mean, I've got every reason to believe that this was very carefully written. I happen to know from looking at the classified information that there's more there than is unclassified, but I wouldn't think it would be fair to say that there's anything wrong with this.
Q: If I can be the cynical one again, the problem, I think, that this story raises in the minds of especially those who might be skeptical of the administration is that the intelligence community, professional intelligence analysts -- who, presumably, don't have any political loyalties -- are just calling it as they see it; but when you have an office that's staffed by political appointees, are they maybe looking for facts to support preconceived conclusions about what's going on? I think that's what's giving folks pause.
Rumsfeld: First of all, I don't know that they're political appointees, the people in the office.
Q: Well, it's headed by a political appointee.
Rumsfeld: I don't know that, either.
Q: Well, the office is headed by a political appointee.
Rumsfeld: The overall office, but not this group of people.
Q: But can you address --
Rumsfeld: (Inaudible) -- we get --
Q: Got it. Okay.
Rumsfeld: Above all, precision, Pam.
Q: (Laughs.) Yes, sir!
Rumsfeld: We want precision.
Q: But can we just address the appearance here? And maybe you can --
Rumsfeld: You know, I don't know how to answer that. It is -- is it possible that there are people on the face of the Earth who believe something and they ask enough questions trying to validate something? I suppose that's true.
Q: But nothing here.
Rumsfeld: But I would think a good analyst would hypothesize that something might be true and then ask the same questions down that track, and then hypothesize that something else might be true and ask the same questions down that track. If I were an analyst, a professional analyst instead of an amateur analyst, I would do that. I would put myself in the shoes of people who might want to do something a different way, and end up down that different track, and then say, "Well, how do I feel about all that?" and weigh them against each other and then make an assessment.
Q: Is the problem --
Rumsfeld: So you're asking me is there anyone in that office who might have done that? Well, I guess I hope so. Q: Is the issue here --
Rumsfeld: Do I think that's bad or evil or wrong? No.
Q: -- that the intelligence analysts haven't looked at all the hypotheses, and then this group has come up with some others that they're now seeking --
Rumsfeld: That I don't know. That I don't know.