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U.S. Intelligence Officials Increasingly Looking Into Possibility Saddam Still Alive, in Iraq

Aired June 20, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story, though, is the status of Saddam Hussein. You've probably been following this story a lot today. U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly looking into the possibility that Saddam is still alive and still in Iraq. But there is word of caution here. CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Excavation of the two sites in Baghdad where the U.S. tried to kill Saddam Hussein with decapitation air strikes has produced no evidence he was at either place. And U.S. officials say scraps of information from local citizens and interrogations of captured regime members have convinced many U.S. intelligence analysts it is likely Saddam is alive and hiding in Iraq.

But the official U.S. government answer from the White House on down is no one knows.

GEN. JAY GARNER (RET.), FORMER IRAQI ADMINISTRATOR: I talked to Iraqis that told me he was alive and I talked to Iraqis who told me he's dead. Those that said he was alive generally outnumber those who say he's dead. I don't know whether he's alive or dead.

MCINTYRE: U.S. officials tell General Abid Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam Hussein's closest confidant, has been talking since his capture by U.S. special operations forces Monday. U.S. officials say Mahmoud claims not have seen Saddam Hussein since early April when the president and his two sons supposedly split up to avoid capture.

The U.S. has no way to know if that's true. But a special operations team code named Task Force 20, which took part in the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, is spearheading the manhunt.

Pentagon officials continued to express confidence they'll get Saddam.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: It is important to get final determination, as I call it, of his status or his whereabouts as we want to have all of the Iraqi leadership. And we'll do it. We're working through the now-infamous deck of cards. We're working through that pretty significantly. And we will get there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: A U.S. official says that General Mahmoud also told his American interrogators that he and two of Saddam's sons fled to Syria after the fall of Baghdad but that the Syrian government expelled them and they were forced to return to Iraq.

Once again, U.S. officials say they have no way of knowing if they can believe anything they're hearing from Saddam Hussein's former top adviser -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much.

Now, earlier I was joined from London by Simon Henderson. Henderson is an energy consultant and a Saddam Hussein biographer. He's the author of the book "Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein's Ambition for Iraq."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Simon, CNN has been told that two U.S. intelligence agencies have made an assessment, not a finding of fact, but an assessment that Saddam Hussein is still alive. Do you think that's true?

SIMON HENDERSON, SADDAM HUSSEIN BIOGRAPHER: Yes, very much so. I think he's still alive and there's little evidence to the contrary. The big question to my mind is whether he's alive in Iraq or alive somewhere else in the world.

COOPER: If you were laying down odds, what were you say the odds are he's alive still inside Iraq?

HENDERSON: Oh, I would say about 60 percent inside Iraq. And if he isn't in Iraq, for the other 40 percent, he's either in Russia or in Belarus or in China or, frankly, I'll even give this a few percentage points, perhaps even in France.

COOPER: Even in France. I imagine you just give that a very few percentage points. That would seem highly unlikely.

HENDERSON: Highly unlikely. But, you know, the world is made up of the bizarre. And it could well have been that he made a dreadful mistake and the French made a dreadful mistake and he's ended up there and the French don't know what to do with him. I don't want to put too many -- too much weight on such a hypothesis...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ... on the odds that you say are most likely scenario which you say is him being alive inside Iraq. What kind of a life -- how you to think he is hiding? We just -- on Monday U.S. authorities captured the No. 4 on the list of Iraqi most wanted, Saddam's secretary. He was hiding allegedly, we are told, hiding in a farmhouse being sheltered by some relatives.

Did that surprise you? What does it tell you about the conditions Saddam might be operating under?

HENDERSON: Well, it didn't really surprise me. I was pleased by the success that this man was captured. I rather felt that if there is opposition to Saddam or opposition to the American forces there, if Saddam is running it, it would be rather better organized than what it is.

And frankly I don't think it is well organized. So it doesn't appear as though Saddam is under any -- if he's there has any particular control over what is going on. So the idea that he's hiding in a farmhouse or is -- somebody's back room doesn't really surprise me.

COOPER: What do you -- you've studied him extensively. What do you imagine his life to be like, if you could visualize it?

HENDERSON: My image of Saddam at a time like this is that he's dreadfully despondent, depressed that his regime has been overthrown and that he's running for his life. My image of him is that he's in a -- stuck in a dark room, taking drinks from a bottle of whiskey, disappointed that the people of Iraq haven't risen up in support of him and overwhelmingly against the American invader.

It is not the image that you would like to display in public of old. But frankly I think it is the image which is probably most correct of today.

COOPER: Well, we will see, perhaps when and if he is found. Simon Henderson, thank you very much for joining us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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