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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Former CIA Director: Administration Might Have Unknowingly Distorted WMD Picture

Aired June 18, 2003 - 19:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington, the House Intelligence Committee began hearings today on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or lack thereof. These are the first hearings since allegations arose that U.S. officials may have exaggerated the threat in order to build the case for war.
Stansfield Turner, CIA director under President Carter, is accusing the administration of distorting the situation, possibly unknowingly, he says.

So is there a problem here? And if there is, is it with the administration or the CIA?

Admiral Turner joins me now from Washington to talk more about this.

Admiral Turner, thanks for being with us.

STANSFIELD TURNER, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Sure.

COOPER: You basically said that administration officials overstretched the facts regarding weapons of mass destruction. If that's true, was it because of bad intelligence, or simply bad interpretation of the intelligence?

TURNER: We don't really know until these hearings are completed with this committee, and we know what the CIA told to the administration.

My inclination is that there were ambiguities in what the CIA presented, as is quite common, but that the administration people chose to ignore the ambiguities that indicated there weren't weapons of mass destruction around. That's their privilege, because they may have better information on their own that the CIA doesn't have. They may have their own instincts.

But in this case, even if we find some weapons of mass destruction tomorrow, there's three or four things they have said out there very categorically that clearly are untrue.

COOPER: But you're not -- Are you implying that there was something malicious, perhaps, some sort of plot, I don't want to sound too dramatic here. Or is it simply, if it's true that the intelligence was wrong, simply politicized or misinterpreted in some way? TURNER: Just overzealousness. No, I don't certainly think anybody did this deliberately, but I think it's a matter of whenever you're evaluating a new story, whether it's for you on television, in the newspapers, or an intelligence report to the president, you have to make judgments. And when you tell the reader what those judgments are, he or she can accept or reject them.

And in this case, it's easy to accept the ones that go to the side of the case that you want to make and to reject the ones on the other side. Just pure human bias.

COOPER: Well, as you said, intelligence -- I mean, by its definition it's a very gray world. As you said, it's very often not clear cut. There are often different options, A or B.

Take us into the Oval Office. You've been the director of the CIA under Jimmy Carter. Tell us what it's like inside that Oval Office; you're presenting the intelligence to the president. How is it possible to misinterpret something?

TURNER: Well, you tell the president there's a 60 percent probability that you should interpret this intelligence report this way, but there's still a 40 percent probability it could be something a little bit different.

The president then has to weigh his own instincts, his own knowledge as to whether he accepts the 60 percent preferred interpretation that you've given him, or whether he thinks there are reasons to override that and take the 40 percent one.

COOPER: All right. Admiral Stansfield Turner, we will all be watching these hearings very closely. Appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.

TURNER: Surely.

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