FORMER TOP CIA ANALYST KRISTIN WOOD
In this episode of Intelligence Matters: Declassified, host Michael Morell interviews Kristin Wood, a veteran of the CIA who managed the team of analysts charged with preparing the CIA director for briefings to Congress and National Security Council meetings at the Central Intelligence Agency. Wood looks back at the time she spent as briefer to Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, and being the backup briefer for Cheney. She played both roles amid the 9/11 attacks. After 9/11, there was a push by top officials to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda’s role in the attacks, a push that led to the publication of the “Murky Paper,” a report she says in hindsight, she would not do. “It was written in the context of some of the administration using questionable intelligence reports to justify their views that Iraq was somehow complicit in the 9/11 attacks,” Wood said.
- On Mohamed Atta in Prague: “Mohamed Atta was the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attacks and really oversaw the rest of the team. The Mohamed Atta in Prague story is one where a source told the Czech intelligence service, who shared it with us, that he had seen Mohamed Atta in Prague in April 2001, meeting with an Iraqi intelligence service agent. They even had a picture of the engagement.”
- Ansar al-Islam: “Ansar al-Islam or AI, as we call them, was a Sunni extremist organization in northern Iraq that was made up mostly of Iraqi Kurds with a goal of creating one true Islamic caliphate. There were consolidation of various regional terrorist groups who really concluded that they needed to work together to give them greater strength and to widen their recruiting network. There’s no question they found safe haven in northern Iraq and they welcomed fighters fleeing Afghanistan because by 2002, there been any number of bombing attacks in Afghanistan.”
- Analysis that could lead to war: “I have goosebumps, it was an incredible honor and privilege and responsibility. I think we all understood the consequences. It’s not about being pro or anti-war, but it’s making sure that the people who have to make that most difficult call you have to make as a national leader, had the intelligence information they needed to support it. It’s one of those cases where we all understood the consequences so well that personal lives didn’t matter. Working 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for months and months and months, it didn’t matter because we could not go to war for the wrong reason, if that’s what the decision was.”
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS: DECLASSIFIED GUEST KRISTIN WOOD
Producer: Ariana Freeman
MICHAEL MORELL: Kristin, thanks for joining us again, it is great to have you back in particular. Thank you for joining us as part of our new series of episodes called Intelligence Matters Declassified. It’s great to have you back.
KRISTIN WOOD: Michael, thank you for inviting me. It’s great to be back and I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.
MICHAEL MORELL: Unlike some of the other spy stories that we’ve told, this one is about intelligence analysis, which is not typically the stuff of spy novels. But I think this story does have its moments of drama, and it certainly is important. Since analysts, Kristin, are taught that context is everything. Let’s let’s start with some context. Where were you on 9/11?
KRISTIN WOOD: I was at the White House right before the 9/11 attacks, I’d been there briefing Vice President Cheney’s national security adviser, Scooter Libby, who is my principal for the president’s daily brief.
MICHAEL MORELL: You were briefed at the time?
KRISTIN WOOD: I was a briefer at the time. I left there at about 8:00 in the morning and we spent a lot of our briefing discussing why al-Qaeda was trying to curry favor with Taliban the day before because they had assassinated a prominent opponent, someone in the Northern Alliance. We were mulling over why they had been involved in that. And then after that, I went to what we all used to call the briefer corridor and was typing in my feedback from the report when one of our fellow briefers, Dr. Rice’s briefer, came into my tiny little office with this funny look on his face. He said, Kristin, you need to come watch the TV.
KRISTIN WOOD: I said why? I mean, I’m obviously busy. And he said, there’s something really going on, on TV. And it reminds me of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Honestly, I was a little bit put out, but the look on his face had me concerned. So we went down the hall to look at the big TV, and that was when the second plane hit and there were four or five of us circled around and we all looked at each other and instantly knew it was al-Qaeda.
MICHAEL MORELL: You were Scooter Libby’s briefer and you also occasionally briefed Vice President Cheney. So you were Vice President Cheney’s backup briefer as well, correct?
KRISTIN WOOD: Yes, that’s right.
MICHAEL MORELL: How would you describe each of them, Scooter Libby and Vice President Cheney as consumers of intelligence?
KRISTIN WOOD: I think both were very sophisticated consumers of intelligence as they both spent a fair amount of time in government. Scooter, or I. Lewis Libby, but everyone called him Scooter, he’s just wickedly smart. He had served under Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, who is his Yale professor and mentor for many years. But he served with them both at the State Department and Defense Department. And he was a litigator in between government gigs. I think Mary Matalin, who was one of Vice President Cheney’s most senior officers, described him as Dick Cheney’s, Dick Cheney. I think that was definitely true. He asked great questions. He was persistent. He had a dry wit, which got to be fairly absurd when he felt a piece wasn’t balanced or perhaps left key questions unaddressed or perhaps didn’t go along with his worldview. I think actually he’s the reason I was probably one of the least popular briefers in the whole team because he asked so many questions that required answers of agency officers, the next day. So there was a whole lot of work that came from that.
KRISTIN WOOD: Vice President Cheney, I think, was one of the most experienced government officials with whom I have ever worked. He had been in government for more than twenty five years by the time he was the vice president. He was a Congressman, the White House Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and then spent years as the CEO of Halliburton managing a big multinational corporation. So he brought this deep strategic understanding of issues over the decades to each daily engagement. And I think he also had a really strong understanding of our challenges at the time. So I think both of them spent a whole lot of their initial time really trying to catch up, if you will, on issues from where they had left on the last time in government. I think that Vice President Cheney has been characterized in a lot of ways and mischaracterized in many as the person sitting opposite him. I found him to always be kind and funny and genteel and thoughtful about issues and really focused on the person in the room in front of them.
MICHAEL MORELL: You’re listening to Intelligence Matters. I’m Michael Morrell. Our guest today is Kristin Wood, a former analyst and manager of analysts at CIA. So, Kristin, can you describe both Libby and the vice president’s level of interest in Iraq prior to 9/11?
KRISTIN WOOD: Yes, both of them were very concerned about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities and given his strong ties to supporting terrorism in the region and elsewhere, the potential for cooperation with al-Qaeda. If you remember, Michael, at the time, there were no fly zones in place in both northern and southern Iraq post the first Persian Gulf War. And the continued violations of those no-fly zones caused them concern. I think overall they were looking at Saddam as someone who could create trouble for the U.S. down the road. So their focus of their questions really were about the political elite, such as it was about the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. I think maybe looking for options. Then I felt like most of it was here’s where we left the sori with Saddam so long ago, where is he now?
MICHAEL MORELL: Post-9/11, when was the first time you heard one of them raise the possibility of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda?
KRISTIN WOOD: The first time I heard about a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and the 9/11 attacks, was on 9/12 the day after. But it wasn’t from either of my two principals. It was from the Pentagon, and one of the two senior principals there.
MICHAEL MORELL: We’re back to Intelligence Matters, I’m Michael Morrell. Today we have with us Kristin Wood, a former senior CIA officer. She is joining us as part of our series on real life spy stories. Kristin, tell us the Mohamed Atta in Prague story, maybe starting with a reminder of who Atta is?
KRISTIN WOOD: Mohamed Atta was the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attacks and really oversaw the rest of the team. The Mohamed Atta in Prague story is one where a source told the Czech intelligence service, who shared it with us, that he had seen Mohamed Atta in Prague in April 2001, meeting with an Iraqi intelligence service agent. They even had a picture of the engagement. The picture was really grainy, but I think the agency’s initial answers at the time were, well, it’s possible and we need to do more work.
MICHAEL MORELL: We told senior officials about this information, we didn’t keep it from them. We told them we were trying to figure it out?
KRISTIN WOOD: Yes and I know you spoke to President Bush and said, here’s this important information, we’re still working to track it down. But you should know and the rest of us followed suit. So I think we did that work. The FBI did a lot of work on its own and liaison went back to assess the accuracy of the report, as well as the sources information. What happened when we were able to definitively answer this was Czech liaison service, with the Czech intelligence service, retracted the report and they said they didn’t believe it was the case.
KRISTIN WOOD: The FBI looking at Mohamed Atta’s travel records and his ATM records, determined that he was in Virginia Beach and then Coral Springs, Florida, at the time. So that proof, quote unquote, of Iraqi involvement really from an intelligence perspective died off because we judged the story not to be credible. But it really continued to have legs well beyond that, because I think some folks who believe this was the case that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks continue to use the reporting of this potential visit for even years afterwards.
MICHAEL MORELL: What about a group called Ansar al-Islam? Tell us about that group and tell us about that story?
KRISTIN WOOD: No, absolutely. So Ansar al-Islam or AI, as we call them, was a Sunni extremist organization in northern Iraq that was made up mostly of Iraqi Kurds with a goal of creating one true Islamic caliphate. There were consolidation of various regional terrorist groups who really concluded that they needed to work together to give them greater strength and to widen their recruiting network. There’s no question they found safe haven in northern Iraq and they welcomed fighters fleeing Afghanistan because by 2002, there been any number of bombing attacks in Afghanistan. Among those who found safe haven was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who became a prominent figure for us as a senior associate and collaborator who is loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda. That relationship, Ansar al-Islam ties to al-Qaeda were a big question in terms of al-Qaeda’s ties to Iraq. I think we looked at Ansar al-Islam from it in terms of its activity there and Iraqi knowledge of it and cooperation with it in a lot of different ways.
MICHAEL MORELL: Kristin, things like the Prague story and the AI story ended up generating an awful lot of questions from both the vice president’s office and from the Department of Defense about a possible link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Let me ask two questions of you. The first is, how well do you think we as an agency, as CIA did in answering those questions?
KRISTIN WOOD: The answer and I’m just being very honest is not well. I think as we were learning more about each story, we would publish more on each story without giving a sense of why the story had changed. Then there are two major offices that reported on both sets of things. Depending on which office had the pen, so to speak, the tone of the material was different. So as a briefer at the time, and I remember you experienced this as well, it was a little mind twisting because things were so different, depending on how it got written. So for policymakers as they’re reading this, it felt like we were not being consistent with what we were having to say. So I think it caused them to focus in and dig in a lot more to ask very specific questions as a result.
MICHAEL MORELL: This is Intelligence Matters. I’m Michael Morrell, we are talking with Kristin Wood, who is talking to us about one of the most crucial issues leading up to the Iraq war. Was there a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda? So, Kristin, my second question is, do you think the policymakers, particularly in the vice president’s office and at DOD, were intellectually open to the answer being no, there wasn’t a relationship? Or do you think they wanted the answer to be yes? And if so, why, what’s your sense?
KRISTIN WOOD: No, and yes. I think they believed from the beginning that there was a tie between the two organizations and this is where I think this vice president’s office was quite different from many that preceded it, in that some of his staff actually acted as intelligence analysts within the office of the vice president. So what happened was information came to them from DOD and their own officers acting as intelligence officers to them and it was cherry picked. What I mean by that is that they didn’t look at the whole of the data. They were looking for parts of the story, reports that confirmed what they believed was true versus looking at the data and aggregate to say what story was it going to tell us. So, as you know, intelligence analysts do the latter all the time. It’s what is the data and what story does it tell? And I think by the time this story about Iraq’s role in terrorism got fairly far down the road, they believed based on the cherry picked data that they had the right story.
MICHAEL MORELL: Tell us about something called the “murky paper.” What was it where did it come from? Why did we do it and what did it say?
KRISTIN WOOD: Oh, the murky paper that came out at the end of my tenure as a briefer. It was written in the context of some of the administration using questionable intelligence reports to justify their views that Iraq was somehow complicit in the 9/11 attacks. The then DDI, Jami Miscik, the Deputy Director for Intelligence, is the agency’s most senior analyst. She ordered us to write the most forward leaning paper we could based on the intelligence at hand, meaning if we were to apply a serious analytic tradecraft to the data set, how far could we push ourselves towards the case that Iraq had been involved in 9/11? It’s known as the murky paper because it was titled Iraq and al-Qaeda interpreting a Murky Relationship. And I want to just briefly read the scope note, because it’s important, because it was such a different paper. The scope note says this intelligence assessment responds to senior policymaker interest in a comprehensive assessment of the Iraqi regime links to al Qaeda. Our approach is purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections on the assumption that any indication of a relationship between these two hostile elements could carry great dangers to the United States. So when I delivered this paper to Scooter Libby, who had been asking for it on a daily basis for weeks, it was on a warm Saturday morning on his back patio in McLean, because his family was inside and they weren’t cleared.
KRISTIN WOOD: It was very well written, and I felt the agency had done a very good job using analytic tradecraft and moving as far as they could on the analytic line, unfortunately, that day as I handed him this paper with that as the tee up, a bird pooped on it. And he looked at me, deadpanned and said, well, apparently there are other opinions. Right. How does that even happen? I took that copy of the paper myself and handed him my copy. But I kept that bird poop copy for quite some time because I thought, well, you know, maybe this was a sign of things to come. But Comic Relief was always in short supply at that time.
MICHEAL MORELL: So what did the murky paper say about the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda? Did it say there was a relationship?
KRISTIN WOOD: It did not. It said that there were contacts and there perhaps had been some training, but there was no direction, there was no operational control. And that while Ansar al-Islam and others may have found safe haven there, it was not a partnership. But it was too forward leaning, the Office of Terrorism analysis wrote this; it was too forward leaning for others. So actually, there was a complaint of politicization that was forwarded to the agency ombudsman related to the paper.
MICHAEL MORELL: Do you think that it was the right thing to have done the murky paper in retrospect?
KRISTIN WOOD: On a strictly Monday morning quarterbacking perspective, for now, probably not. But I understand at the time we were under such pressure to examine the data and the policymakers view was so wildly different from ours, I think the DI leadership team was looking for a way to see, to show, even if we go as far as we could using tradecraft, we don’t come to that viewpoint. So I actually think it was a pretty creative approach at the time to deal with this daily drumbeat and daily conflict. But maybe now if I were to be in a position like that, I don’t know that I would do it because the maelstrom that followed and the politicization charge really created some problems as a result.
MICHAEL MORELL: Soon after that you left the briefing job. Where did you go?
KRISTIN WOOD: Well, as you know, I moved on to become an executive assistant in the front office. Your executive assistant and as well as Jami’s and Scott White’s, who was the assistant director.
MICHAEL MORELL: We won’t ask you what you thought of the people that you work for. We’ll just skip that part. But the question I want to ask you is you’re still in the mix, right? On all of these issues, on all of these Iraq issues and the Iraq al-Qaeda issues, you’re still following the questions we’re getting and what we’re doing every day, correct?
KRISTIN WOOD: Right, it was more trying to support you and your team, and making sure that the whole of the agencies responses on this was incorporated so that we were giving the whole story. I think that’s also part of the reason I have a much more understanding of the reasons behind writing the murky paper is that the political pressure on there was so high. I think we were all concerned about we’re going to war with Afghanistan we have to stop the next terrorist attack, and there’s this potential war with Iraq and adding it to the 9/11 response.
MICHAEL MORELL: So then you’re the executive assistant for a while, and then we move you, we tell you you’re not going to be the executive assistant anymore. We’re going to make you the chief of a really important team of analysts. Tell us about that?
KRISTIN WOOD: Oh, well, speaking of pressure, so you make it sound so logical. I think you and Scott White decided I should have the job of being the chief of the Office of Terrorism Analysis Iraq branch. And I believe that you both came to my office and asked me if I would do it and I was reluctant and you both said you would start throwing things at my office until I accepted it, and you did. Then I did and I think that was a really crazy way to get a job. Was I really that bad as an EA?
MICHAEL MORELL: No, no, no, no, no. We wanted you to do this really important Iraq thing.
KRISTIN WOOD: I actually think I was really fortunate to come into that position of having the strategic understanding of where the administration was, where our record was, and then what your priorities and Jami’s priorities were. I think the disadvantage was I had no management experience. And when I walked in the first day, I understood where the mixed messaging came from because there were so few people working that issue because understandably, everyone’s focusing on al-Qaeda, that the Iraq piece of it was very small. Very quickly, you and Jami made sure we had the people we needed. So within two weeks, we had two dozen people more doing 24/7 operation to finally get enough expertise to dig into the problem. And I think it was a really rare opportunity at an organization that’s been around as long as the agency has to build an analytic bottom line from the ground up and with a group of people who knew nothing about Iraq. And while for most people that would be a disadvantage, I think coming in with fresh eyes and without any biases actually helped us get to the place that we ultimately did on the issue.
KRISTIN WOOD: I think the PDB’s and the PDB memos and all of the things we had to write really forced us to crystallize our viewpoint on that day. But I think it’s also why Vice President Cheney and the national security adviser, Dr. Rice and Libby, made so many trips to the agency to understand Iraq issues on a deeper level. And I think we took it as a sign of how seriously they were looking at responding to Iraq was they spent so much of their valuable time on it.
MICHAEL MORREL: So you couldn’t just build the analysis from the bottom up because the murky paper was out there. And there were the charges of politicization, the murky paper at the end of the day itself from an analytic perspective, was a bit murky. So we decided on the leadership of the analytic side of the agency, decided that we should do another paper on Iraq and terrorism and your team got the assignment to do that. Tell us about that?
KRISTIN WOOD: It made a lot of sense, what you’re talking about is the murky paper was really the only strategic look at the relationship. And so what we needed to do is go back and talk about Iraqi support for terrorism. So while the murky paper focus on just Iraq and al-Qaeda. The Iraq support for terrorism paper looked for looked at its history and its support for a wide range of terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. Also at its relationship or lack of it with al-Qaeda, but from a analytically sound focus on trade craft of what do we really believe about this? It took several months to write with a host of analytic and operational partners weighing in. And I think at the time it was one of the strongest examples of collaboration and analytic rigour there was.
KRISTIN WOOD: In part because there was real conflict between two of the offices about Saddam and the potential for him to have been involved with al-Qaeda. Knowing that everything was going to be checked and double-checked and challenged, I think forced us to be very rigorous in everything we describe from the sources, from the source quality to our confidence in the judgments we made. The review process was a little cleaner, I think, for the result of all that conflict. I mean, you were the one of the first DI front office reviewers. So maybe you have an optic of how it came to you and then kind of how it stood, the test of time.
MICHAEL MORELL: So what did it say about the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, pre 9/11?
KRISTIN WOOD: Pre 9/11? So it said that and based on sources of varying reliability, with many caveats, that there were a number of reports on training, although most of the reports focused on plans for training versus actual training. That Ansar al-Islam, which was loosely tied to al-Qaeda, had found a safe haven there from which they were doing very crude, chemical, biological, experiments, that there had been contacts between the two al-Qaeda and Saddam and the Baghdad regime, but that they were both wary of each other, that there was no operational cooperation. In terms of leadership conversation a conversation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, two prominent detainees, KSM, as you know, very prominent. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah both said that there were no such contacts, at least in their knowledge. Given their prominence, we believed that their assessments were credible.
MICHAEL MORELL: I just want to make sure our listeners know AI, Ansar al-Islam while finding safe haven in Iraq that was actually in Kurdish territory that Saddam did not control, correct?
KRISTIN WOOD: That’s true and not too far from Mosul, which was a city that, unlike many other places that had a lot. It was it was multicultural. So they had Arabs and people from all over the Middle East that operated out of there. So it was a much more permissive environment, both because of the no fly zone, but also because its and the heart of Kurdish territory, as you noted.
MICHAEL MORELL: We’re back with more Intelligence Matters, I’m Michael Morrell. Our guest is Kristin Wood, who found herself at the center of one of the greatest analytic questions in CIA’s history. Pre 9/11, it said there were some contacts, but at the end of the day, no operational relationship, no Iraqi complicity in 9/11, no Iraqi foreknowledge of 9/11. What did it say? What did it say about the post 9/11 relationship, particularly with regard to to this guy, Zarqawi, that you mentioned very briefly earlier?
KRISTIN WOOD: Zarqawi is such an interesting figure, because at the time pre 9/11, he was in Herat, Afghanistan, but he wasn’t a partner of al-Qaeda because frankly, he thought they were too moderate and too focused on the United States. Bin Laden’s team thought Zarqawi was a thug, maybe even a Jordanian intelligence plant, because he’d been in jails for so long and really even too extreme for them because he also believed that the Shia needed to be exterminated. So pre 9/11, Ansar al-Islam did not have al-Qaeda linked people attached to it other than people flowing through post 9/11 because Zarqawi had to flee from Afghanistan and chose to go to Iraq.
KRISTIN WOOD: It becomes murkier, sorry to use a word that we’ve already decided is difficult, but he moved there and it was purposeful because he believed after the 9/11 attacks that the United States is going to invade Iraq and he wanted to be there to cause us pain when we did. And his presence there drew in new fighters and equipment from more than two dozen countries. So by 2002, Zarqawi, loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda, but not a subject to al-Qaeda or Bin Laden. Was playing with crude toxins lab and things like cyanide gas and aerosolized ricin, and we’re all very grateful that none of them were chemists as some of their experiments, as we heard about them from sources, were more like taking stuff out of the fridge and putting it together to see if it worked. But they did become very active in terrorist attacks. They beheaded people, particularly Shia. And once the U.S. was on the ground there, they would attack coalition forces. And we really focused on him all the more because in October 2002, he paid two men to gun down Laurence Foley, a USAID rep in Amman, Jordan, and assassinated him. So one of the questions that comes out, comes up often is will Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda just make the two go together? It did not. They did not go together until late 2004 when he decided to swear allegiance or bayat to Bin Laden and Bin Laden characterized him as the emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq. So the organization changed from AI to al-Qaeda and Iraq.
MICHAEL MORELL: I just want to ask what was your assessment of the link between Zarqawi, now firmly in Iraq and his relationship with the Iraqi government?
KRISTIN WOOD: Great question. We saw reports related to this, but we never saw what was great evidence, we judge that the IIS, the Iraqi Intelligence Service was so good that they had to know al-Zarqawi was there. As we said, it was a reasonable place for them to be because of less access and Mosul was so diverse. We also know that he sought after the Herat bombing he had some injuries and he needed to seek medical treatment in Baghdad for several months and that some of his fighters were there with him. So many of the administration thought this was proof of Saddam’s complicity, but we never saw evidence of the complicity.
MICHAEL MORELL: You did not say there was complicity in the paper that you wrote?
KRISTIN WOOD: No.
MICHAEL MORELL: So what happened, Kristin, when this Iraq and terrorism paper was disseminated?
KRISTIN WOOD: It was fairly ugly, as I’m sure you remember. Scooter Libby called Jami Miscik and demanded that it be rescinded. Thought it was not helpful and it created quite a storm on the seventh floor because Jami stood by the analysts and said, I’m not going to rescind this paper. And I believe she talked to John McLaughlin, who at the time was the deputy director and they called Dr. Rice, or Dr. Hadley, do you remember?
MICHAEL MORELL: I think it was Steve Hadley.
KRISTIN WOOD: And told him the paper was saying. What I thought was interesting is we never heard the end of that in the Iraq branch because we kept getting so many taskings and information that was classified was leaked. And then we were asked to write papers on what we assessed on the leaked information. So it was a very frustrating circle. But I understand, or at least I recall, that President Bush had a different take.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, he wanted CIA to stand by what it believed to be the truth.
KRISTIN WOOD: When we heard that, I mean some of the people on my team actually were in tears because we were so exhausted and just trying to do the best job we could to play the information, show the information as it was, and not as anyone wanted it to be. That it just felt like an incredible validation of understanding that we weren’t trying to play politics. We were just trying to play it straight. And it was honestly nice to be able to move forward to focus on force protection because U.S. troops were there and the current terrorism threats.
MICHAEL MORELL: Kristin, I want to ask you two more questions. The first is Secretary Powell’s presentation to the United Nations. You know, most of what people focus on in that presentation was Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But there was a small part at the end about Iraq and terrorism. I just want to read you a couple of sentences from it and then ask you a question. So “what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants says Zarqawi traveled to Baghdad in May of 2002 for medical treatment, stayed in the capital for a couple of months while he recuperated during his during his stay, there was a bunch of his his associates there with him.” And then and then it says, “we are not surprised that Iraq is harboring Zarqawi and his subordinates.”
MICHAEL MORELL: That gives a completely different feel between the relationship between Zarqawi and al-Qaeda and then the relationship between Zarqawi and the Iraqi’s that was in your paper. How did that happen?
KRISTIN WOOD: That is such a good question. As he was giving the speech, we and our branch, we all had copies of the approved draft. So as many of your listeners may know, Secretary Powell came to the agency to sit down and go through sentence by sentence, intelligence report, by intelligence report each aspect of the speech. And certainly the focus was on WMD, as it should have been. But that also applied for the terrorism story. So we had the last draft of the speech. And as we’re listening to it and looking at the draft, they didn’t match and we all were just dumbfounded by this description. So something happened between us and the speech being presented.
MICHAEL MORELL: I’m exactly in the same place. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how that happened. Another question, I’m wondering how you and your analysts felt when you turned on the Sunday shows and on the Sunday shows were senior administration officials talking about links between Iraq and al-Qaeda that were simply inconsistent with what was written in the Iraq and terrorism paper?
KRISTIN WOOD: I think it’s fair to say greatly frustrated because the intelligence reporting did not support the viewpoints that they were expressing, and they knew that, and it happened anyway. I think this is goes back to a point we discussed earlier, which is some of their staff members were acting as intelligence analysts without the tradecraft or the training. And it’s easy to think that smart people can figure it out because smart people can figure out a ton of things. But this is about being rigorous and careful and assessing sources and and looking at the whole body of the reporting versus just the parts, the pieces that support your position. And I think because they had just been briefed on the parts and pieces that support their position. They didn’t accept what the the body of the intelligence reporting said, so it really was greatly frustrating to hear this. And actually that continued for years, as you know.
MICHAEL MORELL: What was it like to conduct analysis when you know that it may contribute to the nation going to war? What does it I feel like?
KRISTIN WOOD: I have goosebumps, it was an incredible honor and privilege and responsibility. I think we all understood the consequences It’s not about being pro or anti war, but it’s making sure that the people who have to make that probably the most difficult call you have to make as a national leader had the intelligence information they needed to support it. It’s one of those cases where we all understood the consequences so well that personal lives didn’t matter. Working 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for months and months and months, it didn’t matter because we could not go to war for the wrong reason, if that’s what the decision was. So I think it’s as much as it seems like we’ve been at war continuously for 20 years, before that it was a bit of a rarity and wanting to make sure that you’re doing the best you can came at a great cost for a lot of people in counterterrorism center and elsewhere, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
MICHAEL MORELL: Just to just to sum up, when all the after action groups looked at your analysis, the consensus was overwhelming that you guys got it right and that some of the policy makers, not all of them, but some of the policymakers misused that analysis in their conversations with the American public.
KRISTIN WOOD: That’s right. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence did the post the prewar intelligence assessment, and they came through and said it was fair and balanced and it was interesting. One of the senior staffers I ran into a couple of years later and she said that there was some discussion about politicizing some of it, not for the purpose of politicizing it, but angling it. So it told the better story. And she said the senior staffers all walked in and said, well, quit if you do that. So yet another part of government doing what it needs to do to represent the data as we have it faithfully, I was really touched to hear that, proud of them.
MICHAEL MORELL: Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing this very important story with our listeners. Thank you.
KRISTIN WOOD: Thank you for the invitation. Was great to chat with you, Michael.