updated 4/12/2004 12:51:10 PM ET 2004-04-12T16:51:10

Guests: David Zucchino, Rick Atkinson, Neil Livingstone, Skip Brandon, Tom Shales

PETE WILLIAMS, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, Iraqi insurgents claim they‘ve taken two Americans hostage one year after the fall of Baghdad.  And with U.S. troops facing fierce opposition, does the Pentagon need to send in reinforcements?

All that and more coming up on HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Pete Williams, NBC News, filling in tonight for Chris Matthews.  He‘ll be back on Monday. 

One year ago today, the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled from its pedestal in a Baghdad square.  Today U.S. troops in Iraq have endured one of the deadliest weeks of fighting since Baghdad fell. 

NBC‘s Tom Aspell is in Baghdad and joins us with the very latest—



Well, you‘re right.  It‘s been a deadly week for U.S. soldiers here. 

More than 30 have been killed. 

They‘re fighting on two fronts.  Up in Fallujah, that‘s about 30 miles west of Baghdad, 1,200 Marines and two battalions of Iraqi forces are besieging the city of Fallujah.  Two hundred thousand people in there.  The fighting has been going on for six days. 

Today at midday, they called a 90-minute halt to the fighting.  The Marines said for the people of the town, that women, children, and men of nonmilitary age would be allowed to leave.  Hundreds of them took advantage of that and crashed out through checkpoints on the edges of town heading towards Baghdad and the procession of cars and buses terrified civilians. 

Inside, however, Marines still taking fire from insurgents hidden in the narrow alleyways inside the town there.  And fighting recommenced after an AC-130 gunship began firing at insurgent positions. 

Now medical conditions inside the town are said to be appalling.  More than 460 civilians have been killed in six days, prompting even the chief of the Central Command, General John Abizaid in a surprise visit today, to say that—to emphasize the Marines are a professional fighting force.  They do not target civilians. 

But one of the U.S. appointed members of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi today condemned that operation around Fallujah as illegal.  And he said it‘s a humanitarian disaster. 

The Red Cross has said that many more civilians could die before the fighting ends, but there‘s no sign of that happening yet. 

On the second battlefront, in southern Iraq, where coalition forces are battling Shiite militiamen of a renegade Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, 1,000 troops from the 1st Cavalry today attacked the town of Kut in southeastern Iraq.  They overran the town, taking it back from al-Mehdi‘s militia army, as it‘s called down there. 

Chaos and confusion inside the town there.  Bewilderment among the people as to how quick that American offensive had swept into the town there.

But Americans now facing, as I say, war on two fronts and more and more support from the general population, not only for the Shia militiamen themselves, but for the insurgents inside Fallujah going up against those odds, against those 1,200 Marines. 

And it‘s galvanizing public opinion here in Baghdad itself.  There‘s been a lot of shooting inside the town.  Fuel convoys running between Baghdad and Fallujah have been attacked.  One American was killed there. 

And there‘s been an uptake in hostage taking.  At least a dozen foreign nationals are now held by kidnappers, bands of armed men, including, of course, those three Japanese civilians in that horrific video yesterday.  Shiite militiamen are threatening to burn them alive unless Japan pulls its troops out of the coalition by Monday—Pete. 

WILLIAMS:  And Tom, in Baghdad itself, what is the situation we talked about a year ago since the statue came down?  How is it there?

ASPELL:  A year ago, there were crowds in the streets as that statue came down.  People were hitting the statue of Saddam Hussein and wild with joy over his downfall. 

Today, Baghdad was all but deserted, many streets roped off with barbed wire, with barricades.  American troops on high alert.  Iraqi police everywhere.  There have been shooting and bombing incidents in the town. 

The road between Baghdad Airport and the center of town is especially dangerous.  Quite a few vehicles of foreign nationals have been hit with rocket fire and machine gun fire today.  Many foreign nationals advised to stay in their fortified compounds and the American military on high alert one year after the fall of Saddam—Pete. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, thank you very much.  NBC‘s Tom Aspell in Baghdad. 

General Montgomery Meigs is a retired U.S. Army commander and now an MSNBC military analyst. 

General Meigs, there are reports that the insurgents have captured a number of civilians, holding them hostages.  Unconfirmed reports, as well, that even two Americans may have been held. 

What does this do to people on the ground there who are commanding U.S. military forces?  What do they do about it?

GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Well, it doesn‘t change your game too much, Pete. 

First of all, you‘ll get intelligence about where they might be.  But you‘ve got to continue the military operation, to go ahead and get the long term objectives, which are in Fallujah to break down this hard-liner element and take the town back and create a safe and secure environment.  And, you know, it‘s really not going to change a whole lot. 

WILLIAMS:  I suppose it puts some additional outside pressure on the policy people, but not on the military people, you‘re saying. 

MEIGS:  That‘s correct.  You cannot afford to negotiate with these people.  It just plays into their hands. 

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Let‘s step back a little bit.  This has not been a good week.  It‘s looked bad.  But how is it really going in the big picture in your opinion?

MEIGS:  Well, I don‘t think that the Shiite and Sunni problems are connected.  Granted, we‘ve had some Shiite clerics talk about helping the Sunnis.

But the timing of these things seems to be disconnected.  One had to do with that incident that first happened with the four Americans that were dismembered. 

Two, al-Sadr obviously is coming out of his hole when there‘s a holiday after his right-hand man had been picked up and after he‘d been indicted. 

So there are powerful regions for each of the separate groups to do this.  And clearly now we have to finish it.  We can‘t afford to let these people get away with what they‘re doing, because that will undermine our long-term effort of bringing more and more Iraqis on board. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, let‘s talk for a second about Muqtada al-Sadr, this cleric who has been causing so much trouble and leading his insurgents to fight the coalition. 

Was that trouble with him anticipated?  We assumed at some point he would rise up and do this?

MEIGS:  I think if you listen to what General John Abizaid and General Rick Sanchez have been saying, they said sooner or later there was going to be a crunch point.  He was going to try to make a grab for power, and clearly that‘s what‘s happening now.  And you have to stand him down.  There‘s no question about that. 

WILLIAMS:  Is it possible in your opinion that the U.S. anticipated he would do this and that we, in essence, lit the fuse ourselves, by indicting him, going after his newspaper, that we wanted to get this over with?

MEIGS:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  I mean, you know, we don‘t see into the back room there in General Sanchez‘ headquarters.  Nor should we.  It‘s possible that happened; probably more likely that this was a coincidence and the coalition is just taking the obvious appropriate response. 

WILLIAMS:  Some commanders there, people you know, are talking about the possibility now of bringing in more U.S. troops.  Do you think that is going to happen?

MEIGS:  Well, it already seems to be happening with the extension of the 1st Armored Division.  One of the things we‘ve always planned in these operations is to take advantage of the turnover of troops when you have two sets of troops on the ground.  We used to schedule it that way when we had elections in Bosnia, for instance. 

And clearly, if they‘re going to keep the 1st Armored Division longer, they‘ve already conceded to the fact they‘re going to have more troops, at least to get through this problem. 

WILLIAMS:  Tell me, from a commander‘s standpoint, how do you do that?  You have these young soldiers who have been counting the days and hours until they get to leave Iraq.  Then you have to go say, “Sorry, guys.  It looks like it‘s going to be another three months.” 

MEIGS:  Very, very...

WILLIAMS:  How do you maintain morale?

MEIGS:  Pete, this is very tough.  It really is.  It‘s not only tough for the troops.  It‘s very hard for the families.  Because all those families had their dates certain.  They were looking to have those loved ones come back. 

And now in this midst of this very messy situation, they‘re going to be told that, you know, the soldiers are going to stay longer.  Their anxiety level goes up.  They‘re very frustrated. 

So you really have two things you have to do.  One, the commanders have to be very aggressive about getting out there with the troops and explaining to them why.  Being on the front line, persistently, being right with the troops, making sure that they understand the game. 

And then back at home, the commanders to have work very hard with the families.  Because this is, no question, a morale kicker. 

WILLIAMS:  General, let me ask you one other question.  What was your reaction when you heard Iraq described as potentially another Vietnam?

MEIGS:  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.  Granted, there are some similarities on the surface.  There have been some mistakes, the way the administration got us into it.  They‘ve lost some credibility as a result of this issue with the weapons of mass destruction. 

But you—there are several things that are missing here.  First of all, this is not yet a nationalist attempt to free the country.  Clearly, we don‘t want it to become that. 

Secondly, you don‘t have the mixture of conventional and unconventional forces on the ground against us, the way we did in Vietnam. 

Third, you don‘t have the sanctuary of Laos and Cambodia to the same extent that we did in Vietnam.

And finally, you have a lot of Iraqis, and our most surveys—most recent surveys tell us this, that really want this to work.  You‘ve got these small group that are trying, in the case of the Sunnis, to maintain control, and in the case of the Shiite area, this one minority that wants to take charge.  That is not the same situation that we had in Vietnam at all. 

WILLIAMS:  General, thank you.  We‘ll to have leave it there for tonight.  But thanks very much, General Montgomery Meigs. 

Coming up, one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, we‘ll get a status report from two veteran war reporters. 

And later, we‘ll preview next week‘s crucial hearings before the 9/11 commission and ask whether the FBI should still be responsible for domestic intelligence. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


WILLIAMS:  Coming up, one year after the fall of Baghdad, what‘s it been like for the troops on the ground?  I‘ll ask two war reporters who were there when the U.S. military rolled into Iraq when HARDBALL returns.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It‘s been one year since the fall of Baghdad and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.  Rick Atkinson covered the invasion of Iraq for the “Washington Post” and is the author of “In the Company of Soldiers,” now No. 8 on “The New York Times” bestseller list. 

And David Zucchino writes for the “Los Angeles Times” and was with the unit that took down statue of Saddam.  He‘s written “Thunder Run.” 

Mr. Zucchino, you were there a year ago when that statue came down in the very place.  What did you think Iraq would be like a year later?  And is what it‘s like now what you thought it would be?

DAVID ZUCCHINO, “THUNDER RUN” AUTHOR:  Well, actually, I thought things might be a little more under control, given the reception that was initially given to American forces. 

It looked like things were going to go fairly well for at least about 24 hours.  And then the looting started, and things have really gone downhill since then.  I‘m actually surprised that had it took this long for the insurgency to sort of get up to speed and to really start mounting these fairly effective and very deadly attacks. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Atkinson, I‘ll ask you the same question.  You were there.  What do you think?  Is this how you thought it would turn out?

RICK ATKINSON, “IN THE COMPANY OF SOLDIERS” AUTHOR:  Well, I don‘t think anybody could have anticipated that it was going to be quite like this. 

But Pete, I think anybody who knows anything about Mesopotamian history knows they‘ve got a 5,000-year history of invaders sometimes being welcomed as liberators.  Liberators then turn into occupiers.  Occupiers turn into oppressors, and oppressors turn into someone whose throat is going to be cut. 

And so I think the fact that there is friction with the Sunnis is not surprising at all.  I think the fact that it seems to have disintegrated with the Shiite community, the 60 percent majority in Iraq, is something that nobody could have quite predicted and obviously we‘re not prepared for. 

WILLIAMS:  Let me ask you both.  What is your sense of how much this insurgency has popular support?  Or are these, as the DOD tells us, thugs and bullies that basically are armed and have the upper hand right now?

David, what‘s your view of that?

ZUCCHINO:  Well, if you look at the situation in Baghdad, where a lot of the Shiites have come up and attacked U.S. forces, these people aren‘t necessarily loyal to al-Sadr.  The Pentagon says al-Sadr has a very small following.  And that may be true. 

But I think the nature of the American occupiers, the way this country has been occupied, has served to ignite the Shiites.  And now it looks like the Shiites are being aligned with the Sunnis in the war against oppressors, against infidels.  And it‘s a religious and a political and a national war now. 

ATKINSON:  Yes, I think David‘s right.  I—I believe that it‘s difficult to imagine that all 25 million Iraqis are aligned against us or for us.  It‘s a big country.  It‘s diverse.  There are Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis. 

But the problem is that when you end up killing hundreds of Iraqis in a week, even those who are not politicized become politicized.  And in this case, it‘s clear that many people who were sitting on the fence or who were not particularly apolitical have become radicalized.  And I think that that is a slippery slope, and it‘s very hazardous to our soldiers there. 

WILLIAMS:  A member of the Iraqi Governing Council today described the U.S. operation in Fallujah as unacceptable, inappropriate, used some very strong words. 

David, is this a potential problem when the handover happens on June 30 that we‘ll have not only the folks in the street, but potentially the Iraqi council as well, calling in the shots for us?

ZUCCHINO:  Yes.  That‘s interesting that he would come out and say that.  Because in my dealings with talking to people in Iraq, they regard the governing council in large part as people who‘ve been installed by the Americans.  They don‘t trust them.  I don‘t think they have any broad political base. 

Rick was talking about the broad Iraqi public.  It‘s hard to know where they stand. 

But the thing I think we need to remember here, there are a lot of people out there with guns.  There‘s lots of weapons.  There are many, many young men who have been trained how to use weapons.  There are many, many Fedayeen, former special Republican Guards, Ba‘ath Party militiamen who are out there.  The army was disbanded; this is really what you have to deal with. 

And even on the other side are, I think, a lot of civilians who want to stay out of the fight and probably would like to see some form of democracy emerge.  But they‘re keeping their heads down while the other people are raising up and fighting.  And they‘re a lot to be dealt with. 

WILLIAMS:  Rick, how big a threat is al-Sadr?  And should we have seen it coming, and are we doing the right thing about it?

ATKINSON:  I think that‘s hard to tell how big a threat he is.  We knew who he was.  American intelligence was aware of him a year ago.  His name was one that surfaced, because it was clear that he had inherited at least some of the emotional and political authority of his father.  It was thought not to have run very deep.  It‘s not clear that it does run very deep. 

But if he can put, even if it‘s 6,000 armed soldiers in the streets, then it‘s a problem for us. 

And he clearly, again, is having an effect that resonates within people.  It appears that he transcends strictly his own band of Shiites, who does seem to have some appeal even to Sunnis.  Again, I think they‘re not reacting to him as a religious leader.  They‘re reacting to him as a political leader and as a radical. 

WILLIAMS:  David, let me ask you the last question here.  Is Iraq in any danger of breaking apart into a civil war?

ZUCCHINO:  Well, I would have said a week ago, yes.  I don‘t know if that‘s just been put in abeyance now by what‘s happening.  The United States, obviously, was very worried about a civil war.  And now they‘re worried that the Shia and the Sunnis are coming together in a common cause. 

But I think in the long term, that‘s something you definitely need to worry about.  Historically, this has actually been three nations, not one nation.  That‘s a colonial construct. 

So I think the focus now, obviously, is on these two forces coming together militarily, politically, and religiously.  And I think the U.S.  has got to deal with that. 

WILLIAMS:  David Zucchino, thank you. 

Rick Atkinson, thank you, as well. 

If you like what they said, read their books. 

Still ahead, should the FBI be responsible for gathering terrorism intelligence inside the United States?  That debate is coming up. 

And later, Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony at the 9/11 commission captivated Washington.  We‘ll look back at the highlights from some other high profile capitol hearings. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

U.S. government officials are in the process of declassifying something called the PDB.  That‘s the president‘s daily brief.  And it was that document that provided some of the news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony yesterday. 

The brief was entitled, we learned from her, quote, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States” and was given to President Bush at his Crawford ranch by the CIA August of 2001, just a month before the 9/11 attacks. 

NBC‘s White House correspondent David Gregory is in Crawford Texas, with the president. 

David, good evening.  Why is this document so important?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Pete, good evening to you. 

It‘s certainly important to those who are asking the question about whether the administration did enough to prevent 9/11, because it comes at a critical time. 

August 6, more than a month before the September 11 attacks.  Here you get a briefing to the president from the CIA, indicating that there are patterns of activity, indicating that al Qaeda may want to hijack airplanes, in a document indicating that they want very much to strike inside the United States. 

Back in July, the White House convenes a meeting with other government agencies because of a spike in the intelligence, indicating a potential spectacular attack against the United States or U.S. interests. 

It was an entirely clear whether it was domestic or foreign.  But there was enough concern about what might happen domestically that that meeting was held.  And people were deployed to their battle stations, if you will. 

So then you get this memo in August.  It raises bigger questions about what happened afterward, after that memo comes out, in that month that follows. 

Did the administration put more pressure on the FBI director to try to shake every tree possible to learn of a potential plot?  Especially given what we know now, that two of the hijackers were actually under some surveillance by the FBI, certainly under suspicion.  Hijackers involved in the 9/11 plot. 

But it‘s worth pointing out that Condoleezza Rice says, there was no indication in this PDB that will be declassified, that there was any specific threat information that the government could do anything about. 

WILLIAMS;  She in essence says—this is not the term she would use -

·         she in essence says this is good news for the president.  This was not a warning that should have put everybody‘s hair on fire. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  If that is the case, why is the White House waiting so long to put it out?

GREGORY:  Well, White House officials say, look, this is an unprecedented process here, to declassify something like this, the presidential daily brief, which remember, the White House fought the 9/11 commission on even giving them, giving the commissioners access to these PDB‘s, as they‘re called.  So now they‘re taking the extra step of actually releasing them to the public. 

They believe that ultimately, while they‘re acting so quickly, is that this will answer these questions about whether there was anything to act on out of this brief. 

Condoleezza Rice described this as primarily a historical document and not anything to act on. 

WILLIAMS;  David, the general feeling is that Dr. Rice did well.  Daniel Shore (ph) from NPR, for example, said of the commissioners, they never laid a glove on her. 

Do they regret now not being willing to put her out earlier?

GREGORY:  Well, I think it‘s more of an issue that they didn‘t really anticipate the level of problem that they were going to have with Richard Clarke, his book, his testimony, and this whole issue. 

And they didn‘t feel that they would have to take the step of having to put her on Capitol Hill before this commission.  They thought it would suffice to put her out publicly in television appearances to refute charges made by Richard Clarke. 

I do think now, if they looked back at the fight that they had with the commission, they see that she is, indeed, really the best spokesperson for the president.  And indeed, she was very effective, even though when it gets to issues like this August PDB, there are more questions that have been raised. 

WILLIAMS:  Questions about what happened in Crawford, Texas.  That‘s where David Gregory is tonight.  David, thank you. 

Coming up, should the FBI Remain in charge of domestic terrorism intelligence?  We‘ll debate that with Skip Brandon and Neil Livingstone. 

And later from Condoleezza Rice to John Dean to Oliver North.  The greatest hits from Capitol Hill. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


WILLIAMS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, former FBI Director Louis Freeh will testify before the 9/11 Commission next week.  But, after the attacks, should the FBI still be in charge of domestic intelligence?  That debate is coming up. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Should the FBI remain in charge of domestic intelligence or should a separate agency be crated to track terrorist cells inside the U.S.?  That‘s one of the big questions facing the 9/11 Commission.  And it will be explored next week when the former FBI Director Louis Freeh and the former Attorney General Janet Reno return to Washington to face questions. 

Yesterday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the government‘s own information gatherers before 9/11 were tied in knots. 


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States, something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.


WILLIAMS:  Skip Brandon served as the assistant FBI director of counterterrorism.  His company, Smith Brandon International, now does intelligence and security consulting for international businesses.  And Neil Livingstone this is the CEO of Global Options.  He is also a terrorism expert. 

Mr. Livingstone, why can‘t the FBI handle the domestic intelligence assignment, in your view? 

NEIL LIVINGSTONE, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Well, they can, but it is probably not the most efficient way of doing it. 

The British long ago decided to divide their domestic intelligence from their international intelligence.  Most countries in the world do that.  And I‘m not sure that we have a viable intelligence operation over at Homeland Security.  We have a very fragmented intelligence community.  And many of my friends at FBI are saying, come on, we‘re cops.  This is different than being a spook and that that is a very uneasy situation under one roof.  And we can talk about many of those reasons. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, the FBI also says that that is an advantage, that they‘re cops, that they‘re out there gathering evidence and if they come across something that might suggest a terrorism operation, there they are ready to go. 

LIVINGSTONE:  Well, it is and it isn‘t. 

First of all, they have problems right now.  They‘re saying, we‘re very weak on enforcement in many areas right now because we‘re spending all this time trying to collect intelligence, as well as to be law enforcement officers.  The second thing is, oftentimes, when you get down in the gutters with terrorists and so on, you‘re with very unsavory people.  And you‘re—you don‘t want to arrest those people necessarily because you may want to turn them into an asset. 

And that‘s often a very difficult distinction to make. 

WILLIAMS:  They say they do the same thing with the mafia, that that is not—no more difficult.

LIVINGSTONE:  Well, I think, “they said.”  I think some people believe that they can do that.  And I certainly respect Skip and others that have been in that institution. 

But I don‘t think it is the most efficient way of doing it.  And I think there are inherent conflicts.  And we saw those prior to 9/11.  And I don‘t think they‘ve all been fixed. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Brandon, has the FBI fixed these fundamental problems? 

Has Bob Mueller, since he came in, has he been able to repair these

problems that Dr. Rice was talking about? 


rMD-BO_SKIP BRANDON, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR OF COUNTERTERRORISM:  I think he‘s done a great repair job.  It probably is not all done because it is going to take a little time.  It is interesting, what Neil said.  And he was recently as a month ago meeting with an old colleague from MI5.

They continue to say that they think that our structure is much better, where you can do both intelligence collection and then if, it is appropriate, enforce the law. 

WILLIAMS:  Explain what MI5 is. 

BRANDON:  That‘s British domestic intelligence. 

WILLIAMS:  So they do it differently.  How is it different?

BRANDON:  They are strictly intelligence collectors.  They have no law enforcement training or they don‘t have any law enforcement powers.  If they run into a violation of a law or they get a terrorism matter, for instance, to a point where they want to, they need to take law enforcement action, then they have to turn it over to another agency who, in some cases, almost have to start all over again. 

WILLIAMS:  Here‘s an interesting statistic that I saw this week.  When a new agent graduates from the FBI Academy, according to the Congressional Research Service, only about 12 percent of that agent‘s training is devoted to terrorism and counterintelligence.  If, as Bob Mueller, says, the new mission of the FBI, priority No. 1 is counterterrorism, then why are they only training on their agents on that issue for 12 percent of the training? 

BRANDON:  My understanding is that that is probably dated information. 

This is a work in progress.  There‘s no question about that. 

He‘s now saying that, when agents come out of the academy, they‘ll go to one of the smaller offices and in their first three years, they will spend at least one-fourth their time in intelligence work.  And, in fact, now to be promoted in the FBI, you have to have spent enough time and taken enough training to qualify as an intelligence officer. 

WILLIAMS:  One of the other things that the CRS, Congressional Research Service, report says this week is that if the FBI was really serious about reforming and getting serious about counterintelligence, it would have a career track in the FBI for intelligence officers, which it doesn‘t have.  Is that a bad sign? 

BRANDON:  No, it‘s a not bad sign at all.  What they are going to do is combining—are they are doing is combining the two disciplines, intelligence connection—collection and investigations. 

And they‘re pushing them together.  In fact, they have built a career track which is now in place, just recently in place for intelligence analysts.  They‘ve hired over 1,000.  They‘ve brought over 500 new intelligence analysts and created almost 1,000 internally already.  There is a career path in place now. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Livingstone, one of the criticisms of the CIA, the FBI,

the Secret Service, Customs, everybody, since before 9/11 was the—quote

·         “failure to connect the dots.”  How does adding another player on the scoreboard improve the situation?  Doesn‘t that just give you more dots that have to be connected if you have a separate intelligence agency? 

LIVINGSTONE:  Well, Pete, one of the problems we have today is that we have very fragmented intelligence community.  And by its very nature, people like the put their arms around their own assets.  And they don‘t like to share unless they absolutely have to. 

But I think the real issue here is, we give all international intelligence in effect to the director of central intelligence.  That works better in theory than in practice, as we learned.  But he has a whole variety of assets that are not just purely in the CIA and is supposed to coordinate this.  I think there should be a domestic counterpart to that. 

And this idea of creating a Homeland Security Department intelligence capability has not been very successful thus far.  They‘ve had to go through over 20 people to find a director.  And even today, there‘s not the kind of sharing that we need on a domestic front.  This would make it better.

WILLIAMS:  Where would you put—where would you put this?  Under the CIA?  Completely independent?  Part of homeland?  Where? 

LIVINGSTONE:  I think it should be an independent agency.  And it should—and I would increase the powers of the CIA director.  I‘ve always believed the DCI should be indeed the director of central intelligence.  And, therefore, the coordinator of all intelligence probably should be a Cabinet post as well.  That way, then you have a domestic counterpart.  You have an international counterpart.  You have a series of agencies that have to report to a central authority. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Brandon, we‘ve just created the Department of Homeland Security, a big bit of reorganization.  Is Congress likely to create a whole new part of this apparatus with a domestic intelligence agency?

BRANDON:  I think they‘re going to be some hesitations.  Unfortunately, sometime this is the bureaucratic response to addressing a problem.  Let‘s make a new agency.  What they would do is simply recreate a part of what is now the FBI.  That doesn‘t make any sense to me. 

If something is broken, you fix it.  Creating a new agency doesn‘t address that.  I think we can look at homeland security.  They‘re still having a real tough time. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, there may be some rocky days to come for the FBI before this 9/11 Commission, don‘t you think?

BRANDON:  Oh, I think so.  There are going to be questions to be answered.  There are questions to be answered all the way around. 

I would say, for example, I think we also ought to be looking at the whole picture.  What was the role of Congress before 9/11?  Were they active in making the appropriate appropriations?  Were they giving the people the resources they needed? 


WILLIAMS:  One question Congress will not be asking itself. 

BRANDON:  That‘s right. 

WILLIAMS:  Gentlemen, thank you very much, Skip Brandon and Neil Livingstone.

Coming up, “The Washington Post” Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic gives us his view of how Dr. Rice‘s Capitol Hill adventure went.  And David Shuster reminds us of big moments in past congressional hearings. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Just sign up for the best political briefing around.  Log on to our newly redesigned Web site at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.


WILLIAMS:  Coming up, from Watergate, to Iran Contra, to Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony yesterday, we‘ll check out the greatest moments in high-profile Capitol Hill hearings with “The Washington Post”‘s Tom Shales—when HARDBALL returns.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Whatever your view of Condoleezza Rice‘s appearance on Capitol Hill, it was an undeniable big television moment, live on all the broadcast networks and the cable news channels. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster looks back at some other memorable Capitol Hill hearings. 


DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It may have felt unusual that Condoleezza Rice...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? 


SHUSTER:  But through the years, the U.S. Congress has summoned dozens of high-profile figures to the witness table.  And their hearings have produced some incredible moments. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What did the president know and when did he know it? 

SHUSTER:  The 1973 Watergate hearings are considered the granddaddy of the television era.  There was the disclosure of a Nixon taping system. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president? 

ALEXANDER P. BUTTERFIELD:  I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir. 

SHUSTER:  And there was this warning from Nixon White House counsel John Dean. 

JOHN DEAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.  And if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it. 

SHUSTER:  Twenty-five years before Watergate, some of the first televised hearings focused on the threat from communists.  This hearing in 1948 involving longtime friends Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers was one of the most dramatic. 

ALGER HISS:  I identified Mr. Chambers as the man I had known as “Crosby” on several different grounds.  I first knew him as Crosby.  What his name is today, I am not prepared to testify to or what other names he may have had. 

WHITTAKER CHAMBERS:  Mr. Hiss is lying.  Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting and I am fighting. 

SHUSTER:  In the 1950s, the hearings intensified, thanks to a fiery senator named Joseph McCarthy who himself was put under the spotlight. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I told the secretary that we would not call off any investigation where we knew communists were in existence. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no send of decency? 

SHUSTER:  The committee‘s minority council was a young man named Robert Kennedy, whose brother John was already a rising star in the U.S.  Senate.  The 1950s also saw Congress put on hearings about the mafia.  The testimony from Frank Costello and other mobsters would inspire a string of Hollywood movies. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You must have in your mind some things you have done that you can of to your credit as an American citizen.  If so, what are they?  

FRANK COSTELLO:  I paid my tax.


SHUSTER:  In the 1970s, Watergate was front and center.  But so was Vietnam.  One congressional hearing featured a metal winner named John Kerry. 

JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERAN:  How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?  How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? 

SHUSTER:  In the summer of 1987, the hearings on the Reagan administration‘s Iran Contra scandal pushed aside most broadcasts of television soap operas. 

RET. LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH, U.S. MARINE CORPS:  I didn‘t create the Nicaraguan Contra or the Nicaraguan freedom fighter.  And the CIA didn‘t create it.  The Sandinistas created it.

SHUSTER:  Alongside Lt. Colonel Oliver North, the colorful cast included a gorgeous secretary named  Fawn Hall and half a dozen Reagan aides; 13 years ago, the nation was mesmerized by the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and the sensational allegations from Anita Hill. 

ANITA HILL:  He got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, who has put pubic hair on my Coke? 

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  This is a high-tech lynching.  I cannot shake off these accusations because they play to the worst stereotypes we have about black men in this country. 

SHUSTER:  Exactly 10 years ago, Congress tried to get truth about big tobacco.  CEOs were put under oath and interrogated by Congressman Henry Waxman. 

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA:  How many smokers die each year from smoking cigarettes? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I will explain. 

WAXMAN:  No, I want to you answer.  We have a limited time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I do not know. 

SHUSTER:  Six years ago, the House launched the Clinton impeachment hearings.  Judiciary Committee counsel David Schippers, a Democrat, testified that the president had lied under oath. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He answered with a now famous sentence.  It depends on what the meaning of is, is.  It points out his attitude and HIS conscious indifference and complete disregard for the concept of the truth. 

SHUSTER:  The truth is what the widows of 9/11 have been clamoring for.  And they‘ve provided some of the most gripping testimony in these hearings to date. 

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW:  The families of the victims of September 11 have waited long enough.  We need to have answers.  We need to have accountability.  We need to feel safe living and working in this great nation. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  There may be more memorable moments in the 9/11 hearings ahead.  Next week, the panel will summon, among others, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Commission members predict their testimony could be even more contentious than the dramatic appearance this week of Condoleezza Rice. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 


WILLIAMS:  Tom Shales is a Pulitzer Prize-winning television writer for “The Washington Post.” 

Mr. Shales, I suppose it is unforgivable that we‘ve brought you in here to watch television.  But, in some future clip reel, will Condoleezza Rice‘s appearance be on somebody‘s highlights? 

TOM SHALES, TELEVISION CRITIC, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think so.  She did such a good job.  I don‘t know what particular quote might survive the years about, like, what did the president know and when did he know it?  I don‘t know if she contributed to that or not, but we‘ll find out. 

WILLIAMS:  Were you surprised that it got so much coverage wall to wall everywhere?  Was it appropriate, do you think? 

SHALES:  Absolutely.  I think she is one of the most presentable figures in this administration.  And so it was good for the administration that she was out there representing them.  And it was good television.  She‘s a very good communicator, maybe even a great communicator. 

And she understands television, I think.  She‘s very cool and collected.  She presents an image of someone who—well, of competence, for one thing, which, from this administration, is of course refreshing.  I think she did a great job.  And I think—you know, I said, if it is a game, she won it.  I shouldn‘t trivialize it by calling it a game.  But to some extent, it is.  It is her against the commission. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I have some more questions I would like to ask you and we‘ll do that in just a moment, more highlights and analysis of yesterday‘s hearings with “The Washington Post”‘s Tom Shales.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


WILLIAMS:  We‘re back with Tom Shales of “The Washington Post.” 

Mr. Shales, you wrote and just said a moment ago that she, in essence, won, although you one should not apply those terms, but she won.  How does somebody lose in a context like this? 

SHALES:  I guess if she had lost her temper. 

There were—there were some sort of, as has been said, contentious

moments, particularly with the Democrats.  I‘m sure it‘s just a

coincidence.  And instead of getting really sort of snarly and stuff, she

would say, “May I continue, may I please finish?” without being snotty

about it.  So it never became—I think the other side kind of wanted to -

·         was testing her to see if she would lose her temper, lose her cool, but I think her cool is something that is very integral it her.  It‘s in her DNA or something. 

And she would have none of that, but she was firm.  If she wanted to continue saying something, she said, let me finish, I want to continue this, blah, blah, blah.  And no matter how the commissioners said, no, answer this question, don‘t filibuster, one guy said, she stuck to her guns and she stuck to what she wanted to say. 

WILLIAMS:  I suppose they felt somewhat frustrated.  They had a limited amount of time for questions and they felt her answers were too long and they wanted to make all their points. 

SHALES:  Yes.  It was odd, although some of them complained about having too little time and then made a speech.  They took up five minutes with, and this is what I think.  As long as they had her there, you would think they would have questioned her more. 

But these things always have their farcical side, even when it‘s such a serious thing as this.

WILLIAMS:  Well, it is a serious question.

SHALES:  Yes. 

WILLIAMS:  Let‘s look at one of the contentious moments.  This was questioning of Dr. Rice by commission member Bob Kerrey. 


BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  You said the president was tired of swatting flies.

KERREY:  Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda prior to 9/11?

RICE:  I think what the president was speaking to was...

KERREY:  No, no.  What fly had he swatted?

RICE:  Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on...

KERREY:  No, no...

RICE:  ... when the CIA would go after Abu Zubaydah...

KERREY:  He hadn‘t swatted...

RICE:  ... or go after this guy...

KERREY:  Dr. Rice, we didn‘t...

RICE:  That was what was meant.

KERREY:  We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998.  We didn‘t swat any flies afterwards.  How the hell could he be tired?


WILLIAMS:  You think she did well in that context? 

SHALES:  Yes. 

I think he wanted—I think he was baiting her and he kind of wanted her to get angry.  But she didn‘t.  Now, when Ashcroft gets in there, it could be a whole other story.  I hope the networks carry that, because that could be very explosive.  He‘s not known for his cool temper or his, you know, very reasonable attitudes towards things much.  He‘s a stubborn, cranky guy so, so we could see some sparks and flames and all of that, things that television loves, of course.  It loves conflict.

WILLIAMS:  Of course. 

Is this one of those times that how she conducted herself for many people, not for some, clearly for the 9/11 families, but for many people will be as important or more important than what she actually said? 

SHALES:  Absolutely. 

I think, if you could somehow stack up the amount of information, new information that came out of that hearing, it would be a tiny, minuscule amount.  They declassified the title of a memo.  That‘s not exactly a momentous—significant, but not earth-shaking.  It‘s not like everybody was talking about that at the water cooler. 

They weren‘t talking about what was said.  They were probably talking about how well she said what she said and how well she handled the commission members and herself.  I think, yes, it‘s a triumph more of attitude and style than of content.  It‘s not what she said.  It‘s the way she came off. 

WILLIAMS:  Here you are one of the most widely read television writers in the country and here we are talking about a congressional hearing.  When did you get into the habit of, in essence, reviewing people‘s congressional testimony or what happens in ordinarily these very boring congressional proceedings. 

SHALES:  Did you say I was one of the widest television writers in the country?  Well, that‘s true.


WILLIAMS:  Most widely read. 

SHALES:  Oh, I‘m sorry. 


SHALES:  Well, if it‘s on television, it‘s television. 

And Shelby Coffey III, who was one of the founding style editors of the style section of “The Washington Post,” came to me and said, Ronald Reagan is doing a State of the Union tonight.  Why don‘t we review it?  And Reagan was, after all, a performer.  And every politician is a performer to some degree.  A lot of those commissioners were performing, I think, yesterday. 

And people talked then later about Condoleezza Rice‘s performance.  They use these kind of entertainment, showbiz terms in describing these very serious, real-life things.  So I think it‘s absolutely fair to review the president, the State of the Union message, the inaugural festivities, whatever, because what comes through that tube, that‘s how most Americans are going to experience this.  They may read about it the next day, but they are going to experience it through television. 

WILLIAMS:  Oh, and the people themselves, when they are done, they say, how did I do? 

SHALES:  Right, “How did I do and how did I look?” and all of that.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, right.  Right. 

Tom Shales, thank you very much.

Chris Matthews will be back on Monday at 7:00 Eastern for more


Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.


Discussion comments