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tv   QA with John Nixon  CSPAN  January 29, 2017 10:59pm-12:02am EST

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to those states and their elected officials to ferret out those problems and to deal with them. voting, our system of and the way our jurisdictions work, i think they do a comments job of doing that. when they find issue, they do a to pinpointing those issues and document them immediately. more details are available online at the brennan center.org. >> thank you for being with us. >> think you for having me. >> come back again. announcer: c-span, where history unfolds daily. a 1979 c-span was created by public service by americans television companies. it's brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. announcer: tonight on c-span, q&a with former cia analyst john nixon.
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that is followed by british prime minister, theresa may, taking questions from the house of commons. and later, a look at the prime minister's visit to the u.s. this past week that included a white house meeting with president trump. >> this week on "q&a," cia analyst john nixon. he discusses his book "debriefing the president." host: why were you chosen to be the first person to debrief saddam hussein? guest: i was a leadership analyst at the cia and saddam hussein was my specialty. i had spent a number of years studying him. i had a reputation i think
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within the intelligence community of being a go-to person on him and knew a lot about him. that is one of the reasons i was asked to go to baghdad and work with the military in terms of helping them find high-value target number one. host: what years were you in the cia? guest: 1998-2011. host: how much time did you spend in iraq? guest: i lost count. roughly about eight or nine times i went out there. i think it was eight times. sometimes i went out for a couple of weeks, sometimes i went out for many months. it varied over the period of time, but it was an incredible experience. host: i want to show you some video. well-known. just a couple of seconds. let's watch. [video clip] >> ladies and gentlemen, we got him.
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[end video clip] host: where were you? guest: i was at the station in baghdad. i had been up all night. that was my first time meeting saddam hussein and interrogating him. i got back in the middle of the night. i did some work. around 6:00, i was trying to go to sleep. but then people started coming up to me. around 7:00 i got up, and by 11:00-12:00 they had not announced it. i was like, what is going on? what are they waiting for? then a few hours later, they , finally announced it. we were all very happy and it
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was something that we had all been waiting for. a number of people came up to me and congratulated me as if i had pulled him out of the hole myself. at that time, i felt my involvement with him was over. host: what did you know about the search for him up until that point where he was caught? guest: the search was -- there was a lot of pressure coming from washington at that time. it was relayed to me by the station chief at the time saying, it is not a question of if we can find him, but we have to find him. washington wants this done. osama bin laden had escaped and we cannot have another situation like that. so, i was working very long hours, so was my predecessor, a really knowledgeable analyst on iraq, and we worked constantly. there was nothing else to do but
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work. we would meet with the military and special forces personnel and go over the raids and what was developed from them. it was grueling work. very piecemeal, that kind of work, it was sort of like assembling a very large jigsaw puzzle. that you knew all the pieces were not going to be there. host: how long was he on the run? guest: from around the time he was toppled in march -- i'm sorry, april, 2003. there is a famous video of him walking down the street waving to people, and then he got in a car and left. we finally got a bead on him in late november, and in early december, things really started to heat up. that was the first time since i
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had gotten there when there was a feeling of being very close. we think we have him. host: what were you doing yourself during that time? what was your job? guest: i was answering questions from washington about related topics. i was researching people who we could possibly talk to and people we had not already talked to who we could get in touch with or pick up and question about his whereabouts. i was meeting with various military people who were involved in the search, as well. it was sort of a combination of those three things and then just doing lots of research. ok, we saw he was here, but where else can we look? or we thought he was going on this network of facilitators, who else can we think about?
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and also there were a number of hvt's already in captivity. high-value targets. the people on the deck of cards. high regime officials. i know the military originally thought these would be the guys that would lead us to saddam, but unfortunately they were of limited value because they did not know where he was. i did speak to a couple of them when i first got there just to sound them out. saddam did something very smart on the eve of leaving iraq. --fired all of his guards his immediate circle of guards, and he replaced them with all new people, because he probably knew that intelligence services had a whole list of these people who were always with them.
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now he put new people that were now virtually unknown to the intelligence services of various countries, and he was right about that. it served him well for a time, but eventually those figures became known to us, and through a series of good researching and dedicated work by special forces, and also a bit of luck, we were able to track him down. host: how long between the time he was captured and the time you sat down and talked to him? guest: in a way, not long at all because i was there when he was caught. he was brought down to baghdad by airplane, near the airport. i was brought out to identify him to make sure. someone took me aside and said, "we have to know that it is him. he cannot be one of these body
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doubles." they said, "we cannot have one of these body doubles." one of the most persistent myths about saddam hussein was the issue of the body doubles. there really never were any, and we had known that for years, and the more we told people there were not any body doubles, the more i think people believed in them. so i said ok, fine. we'll make sure it is not a body double. so they took me out and that was the first time i met him. subsequently after that, and i thought that first night we were done with him. i was really happy to have participated. then the next day, the next few days, i began to get word that we were going to be the lead agency in debriefing him. that started about one week after the capture.
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host: the identifying marks. there were several you wrote about. guest: pardon me. i was looking for -- i was asked, how would you identify him? i said, he will have tribal tattoos and he will have a scar on his leg from a failed assassination attempt. also he was known to have very bad back problems, or years before he did. i was looking for those kind of things, but to be quite honest with you, brian, that was just pro forma for me because when i was brought in to see him, when i got to the end of this hall, it was a bit like a rock concert, but instead of groupies it was guys in fatigues. i walked down the hall and there was a lot of commotion.
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people were moving backwards and forwards. the door opens and he is just sitting there. the minute i laid eyes on him i knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was not one shred of doubt in my mind that it was him. i made the identification. i looked for the things i said i would look for but i already knew. host: as you approached the debriefing, were there television cameras in the room? guest: no. there were not. host: was there audio? guest: a microphone so that could could listen and watch from another room but no recordings made of the debriefings. host: why not? guest: that is a good question. the cia management decided they did not want to have any evidence of this because anything they collected in terms of recordings would become discoverable in a court proceeding, and i think the cia
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did not want to set the precedent of having to turn this material over to a court and establish the precedent that the court can request the material. we just debriefed him, and i took extensive notes. i wrote virtually everything he said down with a few exceptions. that was the record we had while i was doing the debriefing. host: who owned those notes? guest: i did. host: why? guest: good question. when i left baghdad, i took my notebook. i put them in a safe. i thought, ok, they belong in the safe and i am done here. i left them for my successor to use. fast-forward three years later, a colleague of mine who
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succeeded me on the debriefing came to my desk and said, "is this yours?" and he held up my notebook. i said, "yes, i have not seen this in three years." he said, "they were cleaning out the safe and throwing things out and i thought you might want it." i said, "thank you." and that was that. when i left the agency, it was really strange. when i left in 2011, nobody asked me for anything, i didn't do any kind of exit interview. the only thing anybody approached me about was to turn in my badge and hand in my government issued credit card and diplomatic passport, and that was it. so i saw these notes, and i do not what to lose them as a afraid it would get thrown out. so i took my notebook. host: how many days did you
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debrief him? guest: almost every day from december 20 through january 12. host: how many hours per day? guest: a session in the morning and a session in the afternoon, and we varied the times because we wanted to keep him off his game. not allow him to get comfortable and settled and know when he could expect us to show up and leave. host: why you think he expected to be executed from the beginning? guest: i think he was a realist in the use of power and the way political power is exercised in the political power game. i think he saw that when you're playing at his level, the top level in the country, when you win, you win big, when you lose,
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you also lose big. he also knew there was no retirement home in iraq for ex-presidents. there never has been and probably never will be. so he was very realistic about that. he said to me, "i know this will lead to my execution. i am fully at peace with myself and with god." host: what was the room like? guest: certainly not as nice as this studio. i can tell you that. it was a plywood room. on metal folding chairs or cheap plastic garden chairs. whatever was available. and we would just talk to him. it would get a little uncomfortable after a couple of hours because you are sitting there -- saddam could talk for literally hours on end. he loved to talk about himself. host: how many people were
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there? and what were they doing? guest: four people. myself, someone to be a facilitator of conversation. to get things rolling. he did not have any sort of iraq background. or specialty knowledge in iraq. then there was an interpreter provided by the military. and then there was saddam. host: what was your charge? my charge was basically to vet what he was saying, take notes, develop questions, lines of questioning, and kind of establish -- in a sense challenge him if you think he is lying or being evasive and also write that down.
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it was kind of a hard thing to do to be writing the notes, asking the questions, trying to think of questions to follow up with and all that sort of thing. i felt like a one-man band. host: why did it take you all these years to get this book out? guest: the minute i started on this endeavor in terms of debriefing him, i knew i always wanted to write a book. i am a book person, i love reading. i love reading history, and i knew it would one day result in a book, but because of the terms of my security agreement with the cia, i was forbidden from writing a book about classified matters, especially serving as a -- but i knew that when i left, that would be the time to do it. at the time, 2003, 2004, i thought i would be there for a
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very long time. that view changed over time. one of the things that struck me the most and got to me was the memoirs that started to come out in 2008, 2009 from the bush era. i specifically think of george bush, tony blair, donald , who all george tenet had words here and there about saddam and why we went to war and talked about the debriefing and some of the things that happened in iraq. i remember reading these things and saying to myself, this is nonsense. this is pure baloney. that was a further goad for me to work on this book. and also because i'm a trained historian, i felt there was a need to have a more accurate
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record, because i started to notice in other books that people were writing were starting to repeat some of these things as though they were gospel truth. i wanted to make sure the record was straightened. host: if you are president of the united states or secretary of defense, why would you want to watch this video? did the cia provide it to the leaders of the country to see him? was there no video at all? guest: there was no video. host: you said the people in the other room could watch the video. guest: it was closed circuit. host: but no video. guest: no video. there were requests to watch the debriefing, but a lot of them were turned down. the agency did not want to turn it into a sideshow. host: who was the highest level person you know of who did watch? guest: douglas feith, i am fairly certain.
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i was told he was there. host: what is the first thing you remember seeing of saddam hussein that you did not know about because you had studied him for years? guest: one of the first things to discover was his intense interest in writing, his view of himself as a writer, and his disengagement in the final years from running the government on a day-to-day basis. he maintained his hand in some issues that were of importance to him, but for the most part he had turned over the day-to-day operations to other senior aides, trusted aides. we had always thought of him as a master manipulator at the cia, someone pulling the strings and plotting the next step. that was not the person i met.
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i met someone who was an elderly gentleman who was interested -- getting on in years and finding himself interested in other pursuits. particularly writing. saddam -- i don't want to be uncharitable, but he wrote some of the worst poetry you can imagine. it was really awful. he was working on a novel, and when he was captured, they found on disk or on hard copy around 500-700 pages of novel and poetry. it was hard slogging through it. host: this is not in your book, but i had read that he had written four novels. guest: yes. host: one of them, i don't know why mention this, it is something i want to ask you about, he wrote about bestiality and men having sex with a bear.
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what did you make of that? guest: he had a fertile mind when it came to that. i don't think i can accurately assess what possessed him to go into these kind of details. host: did you read all of his novels? guest: no, i did not. i read portions of one. by the time -- we started to learn that he was writing a novel around 2002, and then it came out and we were able to get a copy and we were able to look at excerpts. i was no longer working on iraq at the time, i was working on iran. mostly it was just for my edification that i looked at it. inid not end up analyzing it
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a sense of writing a paper about it or anything. host: who told you what way to go in all this? did you have questions you walked in with that the cia gave you to ask? guest: we had something that is known in the intelligence world as requirements. that is a series of questions, topics they wanted to see addressed. there was also free time for myself where i could pursue my own line of questioning. certainly at the top of the list was wmd. that was something that -- it was almost like the be-all and end-all of what washington wanted to know. another topic of great importance particular to the agency, where was he on the night when the bombs first started falling?
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it? -- what operation was he was -- when the shock and awe started. the agency wanted to verify. they had a source that had told them that he was in a meeting. host: the cia. guest: yes. they had a source that he was at the site, and that is when george tenet went to the white house and when they decided, let's go now because they were moving earlier than planned. it turned out to be not true. host: what else did you ask him? what else did you personally want to know that maybe you were not asked to ask him? guest: i wanted to know more about his relationship with his family. i really wanted to know about his handling of internal security and the regime, and his
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handling of the shia, and his relationships with the sunni tribes. i also wanted to know more about him. one of the things i did when i first met him, when we first sat down the first day of the debriefing, i had a couple of books with me and i held them up and i said, "saddam, these are books written about you in english available in the west. in these titles there are truths, half-truths and lies, and it is your chance to tell us which are which." and he was more than willing to discuss -- he loved to talk about himself. he was more than willing to discuss things. he said, "oh yes, history is important. historians are like people who can see through the night." then his voice changed, he lifted a finger, and i knew this
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from watching video of him, that when he lifted his finger, it is time to listen to me. and he said, "but i will not submit to interrogation." and we said, "no, we will not do interrogation." but we were going to get him to talk. host: why would he answer any of your questions? guest: that is good question. i think that, a, he had nothing to do. he did not want to sit in his cell all day. host: and you say we would not provide him or the government would not provide him writing utensils. so we could not write. guest: the military was providing his care. there was a belief somehow that if we provided him with a pen and paper, he might try to kill himself with the pen or try to harm himself.
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the military guys in charge were not going to take that chance. we told them, this is the last person who is going to try to kill himself. if he really wanted to kill himself, he would have done so already. but even in his psychological profile, saddam hussein is not that kind of person, he is a survivor. he is not a martyr. but they did not want to take the chance. it is unfortunate, really, because it would have been interesting to see what he wrote, unless he wrote more poetry. that would've not been worth it. the other thing was, i think also that saddam wanted to find out what we, the people what we werem, interested in. that he could get an idea when his trial comes, i will know how to prepare for this.
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also, i think he wanted to try out his answers. host: let's run some video of him at the trial so folks can see him. and see the judge in the background. it isn't very long. let's get your reaction. [video clip] >>[speaking foreign language] [end video clip] host: how much of that is like how he was sitting in front of you? guest: defiant until the end.
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the finger coming up, he did that a lot. he never got that irate with us. he did on occasion lose his temper. host: when was he the angriest? guest: when we were talking about the iraqis and the kurds. the gassing in 1988. it killed 5000. we were talking about that. he would not answer any of the questions initially. i kind of went around the question directly. i had been using a direct approach and then after that i said, "well tell me about the rcc," which ran the government. it was the revolutionary command council. that is what he was the head.
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somehow i maneuvered him into a position where i got him to say that yes, he was head of the revolutionary command council and he made the decisions of the council, and that what the council said was authoritative. then i said, "let's go back." he realized i had backed him into a corner and lost his temper. he leaned forward and started breathing very heavily and sort of looking at me very nasty, and asking me questions. he would not take his eyes off me. it was kind of frightening. he did this thing where he said, "let me tell you something, i have done everything i can to protect my country, and i am not afraid of you or president bush or anybody. if i have to give an order to protect my country, i will." and he did this mussolini thing with his arms.
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"but i did not give that order." then we one of the things we always had to wrestle with -- when he did get upset with our questioning, we didn't want him to shut down on us. that was one of the orders from headquarters -- make sure he is still talking when there is a hand over. we always had to be very careful about that because to be quite honest, he was under no compulsion to continue talking. he could just say at any point, i don't want to do this. host: when did you know when he was telling the truth or lying? guest: it was funny because there were times he would talk to us and his eye would start to twitch. that is when we got to sensitive
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topics, we noticed the eye would start twitching. that was kind of a tipoff we were getting into some dicey areas. there were times -- there were times when he would be very candid, and i knew he was being candid and a new things about and i have read things about him, and they were matching what i already knew, and there were times when i was like, this does not sound right. for example, when we would talk about wmd, he would -- eastern out by saying, i got rid of my -- he started out by saying, i got rid of my weapons programs in 1999. but in 1990 when united states pushed you out of kuwait, we found your program was pretty advanced. he said, yes, but after that, i got rid of the weapons program.
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we said, what about all the documentation found that you turned over to the inspectors in 1995? he said of course, but after that, nothing. so it was difficult to discern what was the truth. a lot of it had to be -- you listen to it and go back and research it. i will say this -- he was the most suspicious man i ever talked to and he almost always answered your question first by asking a question. host: how many other deep refers where there? guest: there was a man named bill who took over for me after i left. my mother had passed away and i came back to the united states for the funeral. then there was the handover to the fbi, and that was given to a special agent named george bureau to do.
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they had a number of sessions with fbi, and then i think at some point saddam said that he was done with the process. george bureau eventually did a lot of -- he would always go in -- a lot of times, he would go in with a military doctor who would examine saddam every day, and he would chat saddam up, but it really was not debriefing, more sort of conversation. host: if you look through your book, it is easy to find a page like this -- not a tremendous number -- a redaction by the cia. why did you decide to do that, show that this had been redacted? guest: it was my publisher's decision. the cia -- to be quite honest, i think some of these reductions were silly. but it took so long to get the book out of their hands that
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overall, i just kind of accepted it as i did not want to fight about it anymore. i think the publisher just wanted to have that in there to show there is more to this. also, you can kind of get a sense of where we are going when you see that. i think if you are closely reading the book, you can sense -- host: i did not feel like i was being left out of something. but i wanted to ask you this -- there is so much strong language in here about what you think of everything, including the president, george bush, what you think of the cia, and all that. when they get this, why wouldn't they interfere and say, we don't need this? you signed an agreement. why did they let you publish it in the first place? guest: it is part of history now. i think of saddam were still at
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large -- i think if saddam were still at large, there might have been some qualms about that. but it is something that happened 10 years ago and he is dead. he is not coming back to power. his government is dead. iraq is onto a new chapter, and i think they thought that it is my right to speak my opinion. host: what were you two wearing? in that room, did you dress like you are now? guest: no. when i came back, another person asked me the same question. i told him, i usually wore boots, like hiking boots, cargo pants, and a sweatshirt. the military had said to us, we
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want you to sort of dress so you kind of look like you belong here. they did not want us wearing suits because they did not want to draw attention to the fact that people in suits were coming onto the ground of the base and were being led into this building. they thought that would be a tipoff. so this person eventually asked me about this and said he would have worn a suit and towered over him and said, you are our prisoner. that was kind of the way i think some of the cia, george tenet and everybody, the way they thought we should be handling this, when in fact, that does not work. one of the best ways of getting information from people is through rapport building and through rapport building and talking and leraging information against people and showing them you know a great deal about them and what they have done and that their lack of cooperation will only hurt them
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in the process. host: you have gotten quite a bit of reaction from the media. why do you think so? guest: i think there is a lot of unanswered questions and a bad taste in everybody's mouth from what has happened in the middle east, the united states and middle east, ever since the iraq war and 9/11. and also i think people are always interested to find out about saddam. we have a fascination with these strongmen, especially mr. -- especially middle eastern strongmen that is kind of weird. i talked about this before. we have gone through this period -- it used to be in the 1950's and 1960's, we were fascinated by nassar, then the ayatollah and he became the focus of evil, then it was gaddafi in the 1980's, then in the 1990's,
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saddam hussein. people want to know about him. there have been so many questions about why we went to war. i am trying to provide the answers i think are true. i wrote the book for people to read, and if people in the government back then and now, the cia, whatever -- if they don't like it, i did not write it for them. host: as you know, the ayatollah lived in iraq before the revolution. did you ask saddam hussein about what he thought about him? guest: i asked him, he said he was a holy man of great dignity and i was more than happy to allow him to be in my country. he would often start out with these pat answers -- if i could preface my answer with this,
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talking to saddam is like reading a really bad washington memoir in which he would try to give answers that made him look like a very high and noble person and somebody who is above being petty. but then you would have to say, that is an interesting answer but you have said this in this about him. saddam would give these radio broadcasts where he would just excoriate ayatollah ali khamenei -- khomeini. i think saddam allowed him to come into the country and it was also around the time -- actually, khomeini predates saddam because he came in the mid-1960's. khomeini was not really
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well-liked, he was disliked by the clerical leadership there. they disagreed especially on khomeini's view on islamic government. by the time saddam came into power, one of the things saddam saw in the clerical leadership in najaf was they could be played against each other. that is one of the trademarks of his role is that he was always willing to find people to fight each other and not fight him. but he told me that once he had signed the agreement with iran and the shaw of iran, he said the shah had wanted him to put khomeini under lock and key, and he told the shah, no, if
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this man wants to leave, that is his right to leave. that was around the time khomeini went to paris. but i think the shah had asked saddam to get this guy out of the country, which turned out to be a mistake, and i think saddam agreed to do that, to force them out, because he had so much in the iranian relationship. host: i want to destroy you some video of colin powell and a very crucial speech at the u.n. sitting behind him is george tenet, who is running the cia when you were in it. [video clip] >> every statement i make is backed up by sources. we are giving you the and conclusions based on solid intelligence. numerous human sources tell us the iraqis are moving not just documents and hard drives but weapons of mass destruction keep them from being found by
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instructors. host: what do you think of that? guest: i'm sure that colin powell, if he could dial it back, wished he probably stayed home that day. host: why did he do it? everybody was waiting for this speech. guest: i don't know. to be quite honest with you, i participated in hundreds of briefings in which wmd was brought up -- briefings within the intelligence community, briefings with our liaison partners -- and i never, ever heard one person question -- raise the question of, does he really have these things, what if he does not? it never -- i never heard it. i think powell really did believe it. i think all the policymakers believed it, but i will say --
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even if they did not believe it, they would have found something to justify the war. when the bush team came in, it was clear that saddam was considered unfinished business from the first gulf war. he was in the crosshairs. the thing is, 9/11 is really what sealed his fate. the irony is, of course, on september 12, the bush administration is looking for justifications to go after saddam and they want to know his connection to 9/11. in baghdad, saddam's thinking, this is going to bring the united states closer to iraq because they clearly will see that we have the same enemy here and that i'm threatened by these people and they are threatened by these people. host: from what you know from being in the cia at the time, did the cia really believe there were weapons of mass
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destruction? guest: yes. host: at the time george tenet sat behind colin powell, did he really believe it? guest: i think so. i think there were questions about some of the evidence, but i think that they believed there was a compelling case to be made. host: here is another personality in this story. here is a short video. put him in context. [video clip] >> we are sorry for every american life that is lost in iraq and we regret every loss of lives that happened in iraq subsequent end of fighting with saddam. as for the fact that i deliberately misled the american government, this is an urban myth.
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guest: i have this to say about achmed -- the man was a liar, a cheat, and a sea of, and you cannot believe anything he said. host: would you say the same about saddam hussein? guest: no, to be honest, i think saddam was a more reputable person. there were times when he lied and cheated and times when he stole, but you seem to me to be a more honorable person. host: when he came into leadership, didn't he have 19 people assassinated, pulled them out of the room -- ? guest: in 1979, yeah. he had brutal methods. i'm not saying i approve of those methods, but to be honest with you, saddam was in a period of constituting his rule. it was around the time he became both president and head of the
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command council. congress is all about making sure everybody knows he is in charge. host: go back to ahmed chalabi. guest: if there is one person responsible for the overthrow of saddam hussein, it would be chalabi. i remember when i came into the agency, going to a conference in new york of all these iraqi chalabi. opposition figures, and there he was, and everybody knew he was a lying sleaze ball, but everybody knew he was important and that he had the year of very powerful politicians in the united states, and he would just sort of work the room.
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even in 1998 and 1999 when nobody really had -- no one believed that saddam was going to be removed from power -- if anything, it looked like saddam was going to finally get out from underneath sanctions -- ahmed chalabi kept on attacking, pressing his case, and he eventually found very sympathetic ears in the bush administration. the information that he would pedal to us that would often calm to the cia, it was just the worst information. it was so erroneous and so silly at times. host: so how often were you called back to the oval office? guest: when i returned from iraq in 2004 -- this was very surprising for me -- nobody was really interested in hearing what i had to say about the debriefings. once we came to the conclusion
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that there was no weapons program and saddam did not have -- he could not tell us where the wmd was because there was that there was no weapons not -- people lost interest. and also in early 2004, there was a lot going on. there was abu ghraib and the killing of contractors in fallujah. there was the uprising in april. not -- people lost interest. it was not until 2008 that i talked to the president about the debriefings. that came up because i had been brought down to the white house to brief the president on something else, and the director of national intelligence at the time said, mr. president, this is the first person to debrief saddam. host: his reaction? guest: his reaction was sort of to look at me, how many fellows were there who were debriefing them? guest: i said, i don't know you
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talk to, but i was the first cia person to debrief them. he said, you working at the embassy then? i said, no, there was no embassy, i was working with the positional authority for the station. he said, what kind of man was he? i explained that he could be very charming, very funny, very nice, but the more we got into it, could see another side of saddam -- a nastier, arrogant, ambitious, mean-spirited guy at times, someone who is a little frightening. he said, did he know he was going to be executed? i said, yes he did, he knew this would lead to his execution and he was at peace with himself and god. bush said, he is going to have a lot to answer for. that is it. host: this is an interesting item in the book, because i looked it up.
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at one point, you are in the oval office with the president and he asked you a question. i want you to explain the whole thing. you said, that is the $64,000 question, mr. president, and he came back to you and said, why don't you make it the $74,000 question? i looked it up, that year you met with him, a gs14, which you were, the starting pay was $74,000. whatever the salary, answer the question. you said, i thought to myself -- guest: i thought to myself, what an asshole. i was not even supposed to brief that day. all of a sudden he turned to me, he sort of ignored the other briefer and he said, ok, you are done, then he said, tell me about sadr.
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they had just had the charge of the knights, this operation in basra where the iraqi government went in and beat up on them. i did not really have a briefing. when he said $64,000 question, i was trying to just give myself five to 10 more seconds to gather my thoughts together. he was in a really nasty kind of mood that day. his daughter was getting married that weekend. he had to go to saudi arabia, then he went to israel. that was the famous trip where he went to saudi arabia -- he went to israel first and said, everything israel is doing is wonderful and you are on the front lines of counterterrorism. then he went to saudi arabia and said, can you turn the oil spigot on? the american economy is getting hurt these days. i don't think he understood there might have been a contradiction in both those statements.
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he was in kind of a rough mood. i just, i could not believe this was happening. i did not really have time to gather my thoughts too much and i just said, mr. president, sadr took a meeting last week and he really got kind of pummelled, gather my thoughts too much and but i don't think he is down for the count. is going to lick his wounds a little bit, and i think he is going to be around in iraqi politics a lot longer than we think. host: the hanging of saddam hussein, what was your attitude about this? guest: some people asked me, did you like saddam? he was unlikable, but i knew he was going to be executed and so did everybody else. i thought it would be a good
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thing if saddam would be tried, a verdict would be delivered, and then he would be executed and maybe this would establish with the iraqi people rule of law. this would bring closure. instead, what we get is a man being taken out in the middle of the night, brought to a government ministry building, to the basement, and hung in mob justice with his executioners taunting him. from my end of things, this was another one of the justifications for the war being completely eliminated, and this is not what we were supposed to be delivering for iraq or helping them build. it was disgusting, i thought. myself and a number of colleagues were shocked by it. host: there is more video that was shot from below on some kind
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of phone. that one, that shows him actually being, the rope being pulled, and then a picture of him at the bottom there. i also read that they stabbed him six times? guest: i would not doubt it, but that i did not know about. host: i guarantee there are people watching, saying to themselves, this guy was a butcher. what is the difference if he was killed by this? guest: you know something -- we have dealt with butchers before. as horrible as it is, we have dealt with far worse. you have to put yourselves in his shoes and look at some of the problems that he dealt with. one of the things i came away with from this entire experience
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is a grudging respect. i hate to say this because i know he was a butcher and brutal, but it was a grudging respect for how he kept control in a very difficult place to keep control. persons since his death, we have seen how difficult it is. is iraq better off today without him? i'm not so sure it is. i keep looking for something to tell me, to be a positive sign that iraq is in a better state without him. you know something -- there is not that sign. host: there is an image that we have spent billions and billions of dollars, with the dia and the cia and director of national intelligence and all that, and it appears as outside people would say that we are not very good at intelligence. what would you say to that? guest: i would say it is hard to answer that question because there are some times when we are
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very good at it. we are very uneven with intelligence. sometimes we are very good and we get it right, and other times -- host: do we not know about that? guest: one of the areas i think we could do a lot better is the middle east. i think we just don't understand the middle east, despite the fact that we spend all this money. we still have difficulties. one of the things -- one of the really interesting shortcomings of the agency is -- for example, if you want to learn about iran, why don't you hire some iranians? they might help you understand -- iranian-americans. they might help you understand some of the things that we as westerners don't pick up on, and yet the agency when they are vetting you, if you have relatives in iran, they are not going to hire you. they would rather hire some kid from wisconsin who has never been out of the country, so that
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is where -- i think we can start at that level and overall do a much better job. host: did you send this book to george tenet or any of the people you write about? guest: i didn't. i'm not sure they read books. so, you know. i wish they would. anything i have said in there, i'm not criticizing because it is personal. if i am criticizing, it is because i really want people to learn from this and i hope somebody will take a lesson from it. host: where did you go to school? guest: undergraduate at hofstra university. i grew up on long island. now i live in alexandria, virginia. i'm working for a contracting company, private firm in the d.c. area. host: where are you going to put those notes of all those
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conversations you had with saddam hussein? guest: right now they stay with me. i have not really thought about it. host: our guest has been john nixon, 13 years with the cia. the book is called "debriefing the president: the interrogation of saddam hussein." the first debriefer. thank you very much. guest: thank you for having me. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us your comments, visit us at q-and-a.org. programs are also available as c-span podcast.
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announcer: if you liked this "q&a" program, here are others you may enjoy. an author on his book "children of monsters," about the lies led by children of 20 dictators. there is also former u.s. diplomat khalilzad on serving as ambassador to afghanistan, iraq, and the united nations. and former defense secretary donald rumsfeld, who shares details about his life and career in a memoir "known and unknown." you can find these online at c-span.org. >> the state of the net conference was held here in bc this past week and monday night he will speak with three
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attendees about upcoming issues facing the internet. a former special counsel to the fcc, a key advisor on the trunk transition, and future communications policy acting assistant security general for countering online radicalization. >> everybody likes net neutrality. what they don't like is the fcc to be a referee and make sure that networks are fast for everyone. >> i think there are could be a lot of improvements of the fcc. i think the vision needs to be more sharply focused, and it structurally needs to a depth as well. >> the efforts of google, facebook, and others to create donor messaging -- to create counter messaging, that's an area where i think the private sector has started to step up. >> watch "the communicators" monday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. >> coming up next prime minister's questions at the british house of commons. that is followed by the british
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prime minister at a joint news conference with president trump this past week in washington, d.c. later, senate minority leader charles schumer responds to the travel ban created by the presidents recent executive order on immigration. announcer: this past week during question time, british prime minister theresa may was asked for her plan for leaving the european union. she also responded to questions about her visit to the u.s., where she was scheduled to meet with president trump. this is 45 minutes. will wish to join me in welcoming mister speaker as his colleagues. questions to the prime minister? kevin jones. the prime minister. >> the response from the house shows and indeed welcome the

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