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Excerpts from James Woolsey's visit

Jason Cato
| Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Excerpts from former CIA Director James Woolsey's visit Monday with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

On the motivation behind part of the Iraqi insurgency:

"I think the remnants of the Baathists, particularly their intelligence services together with people like (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), are doing their very best to bring that (sectarian civil war) about, because they think with chaos they may have a chance of coming back to power. And, in any case, anything that hurts the Americans, they're both in favor."

On why he has referred to the U.S. conflict in the Middle East as World War IV and now as "the Long War of the 21st Century":

"It's better than calling it the war on terrorism, which is a terrible title because it's not just a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. That would be like (calling) the war in the Pacific in World War II the war on kamikazes. We're at war with major political, totalitarian movements rooted in the Middle East. And I think there's only one way to go now, and that's to defeat them."

On what should be done with Iran, its interference in southern Iraq and nuclear technology:

"The worst option, except for one, is having to go to war with Iran. The only one that is worse is Iran getting nuclear weapons. ... We ought to push very hard for regime change in Iran using every tool we've got, short of force -- for now. ... They produce about 4 million barrels of oil a day and export just under three of it. But most of ... the gasoline and diesel fuel that they use to keep their economy going is re-imported to them. It comes from Europe. It comes from India. And I think the thing that would bring the Iranian government and economy to its knees, quite quickly, would not be a cut-off of their exports of unrefined petroleum (but to ban) their imports of refined petroleum products."

On Iran's budding nuclear weapon program:

"I think the chance that they will give up their full-enrichment cycle and reprocessing is virtually zero. And as long as they have that, they have a nuclear weapons program because it's the full processing and enrichment that gives you the ability to have the fissionable material. And once you have 90 percent or so enriched uranium, essentially you've got a bomb. Unfortunately, it's not that hard to make a bomb once you've got the fissionable material. You need about a soccer ball's worth, about 25 to 30 pounds of enriched uranium. ... Once you have the fissionable material, it's almost trivial ... to assemble a bomb. So the whole thing is that we have to keep the Iranians from having a fuel-enrichment and fuel-processing capability."

On North Korea and nuclear proliferation:

"I think the biggest risk for North Korea is that they will sell fissionable material to terrorist groups. ... I think if they thought they could get a lot of money for that and could figure out how to get it to someone like al-Qaida, they'd do it. I think if we are talking about the likelihood they would launch a nuclear weapon at Japan or Hawaii, I think that's pretty slim. It would have an address, and they would know it would all be completely over for them."

On the resources that help radical Islam spread:

"If it weren't for oil, some of these movements, like the Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, would be a few tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of crazies out there in the middle of the desert somewhere. But oil ... and the control of the two great holy places of Islam gives them the ability to spread their doctrine all over the world. The Wahhabis get ... something in the ballpark of $4 billion a year from the Saudis to run their operations and set up their madrases (religious schools) in Pakistan and print up the literature they put in mosques in the United States, and enforce with religious police. And that's essentially the same doctrine as al-Qaida. The only thing they and al-Qaida disagree about is who should be in charge.

"It's sort of like the disagreement between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites in the '20s and '30s.

"Everybody says, 'Well, look, the Saudis are on our side in the war against terrorism.' Sure. The Stalinists would have accepted our help in getting Trotsky, too. Stalinists wouldn't have minded if we'd killed Trotsky in Mexico instead of them having to do it. But the underlying beliefs of Stalin and Trotsky were effectively the same: revolutionary Marxist, dictatorship-proletariat. And the underlying views of the Wahhabis and al-Qaida are effectively the same. That doesn't mean they aren't enemies and don't hate each other. Of course they hate each other. The Wahhabis don't like it that al-Qaida thinks they can go off flying airplanes into buildings whenever they want. It interferes with the interests of the Saudi state, maybe ...

"... But by paying for the $4 billion or so a year the Wahhabis indirectly ... use to spread their fanaticism, we are essentially paying for both sides in the war. We pay for our side, then we pull into the pump and pay for their side. This is not a good plan."

On credible terroristic threats that exist for the U.S. today:

"You've got the possibility of attacks using nuclear or biological weapons one way or another and you also have the infrastructure vulnerability. We're in the middle of dozens, hundreds of complex networks -- electricity grid, oil and gas pipelines, health care and delivery, food production and delivery, Internet -- and all of those have a possibility of failing catastrophically from minor disturbances. As networks get more and more complex, they get more likely to do that. It goes by the term 'butterfly effect.' In the ecosphere's complex system, if a butterfly flutters its wings on one side of the world, theoretically it can create a tornado on the other side. It sounds kind of theoretical until you remember the tree that fell in Ohio two years ago August that took out electricity for 50 million consumers.

"And so these networks have the capacity to fail catastrophically, but the real problem is that terrorists are smarter than trees. They don't have to just wait for random occurrences to interfere with the networks. They can figure out how to do what they did on 9/11, which is exploit things like the flimsy cockpit doors. And when you put all that together, I think infrastructure vulnerability in addition to bacteriological and nuclear vulnerabilities are pretty substantial, because none of these networks that we have were put together with any other thought for anything other than openness and ease of access, ease of maintenance, transparency, low cost.

"Various economic and regulatory reforms that we have brought about over the years have made them, some of them, like the electricity grid, more vulnerable. The electricity grid reminds me of the -- I forget whether it was Yogi Berra or Casey Stengel, 'We made all the wrong mistakes.' The grid has a lot of vulnerabilities in it. And it's just one."

On his 2003 comment that "only fear will re-establish (Arab) respect for us ... we need a little bit of Machiavelli":

"It's (Osama) bin Laden's line that people look at a strong horse and a weak horse, and they like a strong horse better. Look at his most recent tape, a week or so ago. It talks about how militant, jihad-driven Islam is on the march and the Americans have been driven out of here, driven out of there. They can be had, essentially. Indeed, if you don't just look at what he's said but look at what's happened since, start in '79 with the hostage seizure, revolution in Tehran. We launch an ineffective rescue mission, they hold on to the people for more than a year, and other than that we tie yellow ribbons around trees.

"And then in '83, Hezbollah at Iran's behest blows up our embassy and our Marine barracks in Lebanon and we leave.

"And then various other attacks in the '80s. Ronald Reagan once happily bombed Tripoli, but other than that we pretty much regard this as a law enforcement problem -- the way Europe still does today and some people in the United States, if we just catch the terrorists who did this and arrest them and try them and put them in prison, this will all go away.

"They've got to really be yukking it up over there when they even think about that.

"Then in '91, (President George H.W. Bush) did something that was kind of uncharacteristic for the United States over the past quarter-century or so. He actually organizes a coalition to attack Iraq and throw it out of Kuwait. Tells the Kurds and Shiah they need to rebel. They do. They're succeeding in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces, and what do we do• We stop. We ground helicopter gunships and we fly over them and watch the Kurds and Shia being massacred.

"Hard to say more than that to the Arab world that we're cowards. That's what they saw. That wasn't the reason President (H.W.) Bush ... made the decision. But that's what they saw.

"And then in '93, Saddam Hussein tried to kill Bush I while he's on a trip to Kuwait and President Clinton launches two dozen cruise missiles in the middle of the night against the Iraqi intelligence headquarters, and has his secretary of state explain the reason we did it during the middle of night was so that we'd hurt as few people as possible. I'm not quite sure what we had against Iraqi cleaning women and night watchmen, but that's who we went after -- and some bricks and mortar.

"Then in '93, we had 'Blackhawk Down' when we were in Mogadishu to help feed Somalis, and what do we do• The same thing we did in Lebanon 10 years earlier: once bloodied, we leave.

"And then in the '90s, as the al-Qaida attacks escalate, we continue to do law enforcement. And we try to find people to arrest and occasionally find somebody to arrest, and we try them.

"What would you think• I'd think if I were a member of al-Qaida or Islamist jihadi is all you've got to do is hurt the Americans and they run. Now, you're not even going to begin to get some respect. I think the Marines have brought us some respect back with what they did in Fallujah. ...

"... But the preponderance of the story was, 'The Americans can be kicked out.' Even when they have a half-million troops in Iraq, and have 15 of the 18 provinces solidly in revolt against Saddam, they're too scared to fight. That's what was said. I'm not saying that was true, but that's what was said."

On what steps to take next in the Middle East:

"A lot, I think, is going to depend on the Iraqi army and how effective this new government is in at least getting part of the insurgence to stand down. Conceivably, they could do well that way and have enough forces to seal the borders effectively. But I think it's going to be hard without taking some kind of military action against at least the Syrians and maybe the Iranians.

"But the main thing is that we've got to undermine their resource base, have them move away from oil. Because that's why they're able to do all this. I mean the Saudis earn about $160 billion a year from oil sales and as recently as the early '70s, they earned about $2 billion a year. Both Iran, which is the third- or fourth-largest reserve in the world, and then Saudi Arabia have these fanatical movements that are very much part of their governing structure.

"We've got to change all that. It will take decades, but we might as well get started. Because as long as they don't have to worry about anything -- investing, translating books, having decent education for children, letting women have a decent role in society -- they don't have to worry about any of that, because all they have to do is pump oil."

On China:

"Sometimes they crack down, sometimes they loosen up. They're uncertain; they don't seem to know what to do. But what dictatorships rather frequently do, if they have domestic turmoil and problems, is that they find a foreign enemy they can rally everyone behind. And the obvious foreign enemy is to be able to take over Taiwan, and that brings them into conflict with us."

On the current state of the CIA:

"It's not so much broken as it has over the years pulled in its horns. It's not necessarily the CIA itself but somebody -- sometimes the Hill -- has made it risky to take risks. ...

"... I think they need to relearn some things the early CIA folks knew -- which is that you shouldn't restrict the people you talk to and deal with. Even if you can't control them, they might say something interesting."

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