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Hollywood and the Presidential Race; Faulty Analysis

Aired July 9, 2004 - 20:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The Kerry-Edwards campaign cashes in big time, big stars raising big cash, Hollywood and the race for the White House.

Also, the road to war paved with poor intelligence.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We would not have authorized that war if we knew what we know now.

WOODRUFF: Faulty analysis and overstated threats. A Senate report blasts the CIA.



SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community and that information was flawed.

WOODRUFF: Tonight, political fallout.


WOODRUFF: Good evening. And thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. Paula has the night off.

Senator John Kerry's fund-raising machine has been shooting skyward and last night, it saw the stars. Celebrities and a swarm of people who wanted to see them packed New York City's Radio City Music Hall to attend a top-dollar fund-raising event for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket.

The concert raised a lot of money. And, now, some Democrats are thinking John Kerry should take an unprecedented step to keep the cash flowing.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): A kumbaya moment in Manhattan last night, as the stars shone on John Kerry again.

JESSICA LANGE, ACTRESS: I'll do everything that I possibly can short of selling my children. I'll do whatever they want. WOODRUFF: Entertainers are clamoring for roles in this year's political drama, energized by a particularly strong distaste for the man in the White House.

CHEVY CHASE, COMEDIAN: I just don't like him, for the record. I want him out. And I want Kerry in.

WOODRUFF: Many are lending their celebrities wattage to his challenger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): We going with Kerry-Edwards. Kerry-Edwards, here we come. We're going to build a new America, so Washington, here we come.

WOODRUFF: The $7.5 million haul ranked the fund-raiser as Kerry's second biggest, but it's just a fraction of the more than $100 million the candidate has raked in since Super Tuesday virtually sealed his nomination.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This hasn't been the easiest.

WOODRUFF: Flash back to last November, when John Kerry was in a very different place.

KERRY: But I've been in a lot of tough fights before. And I've fought back and I've won.

WOODRUFF: That was the day he announced his campaign was so strapped for cash, he was taking out a loan against his Boston mansion. Back then, Howard Dean was the fund-raising phenom.

CROWD: We want Dean! We want Dean!

WOODRUFF: Harvesting money from a vast Internet network. When Kerry finally broke away from the pack in March, his financial report showed he had less than $3 million in the bank. Match that up against the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had a fantastic day here today.

WOODRUFF: Whose coffers were overflowing with more than $100 million. But, then, Kerry caught fire and started smashing fund- raising records online and in person. By the time the ticket took the stage last night at Radio City Music Hall.


WOODRUFF: There was already talk of them doing the previously unimaginable, forgoing the $75 million in public money they're entitled to after the convention. If they accept that cash, that's all they'll be allowed to spend until Election Day. But, at the rate they're going, some Democrats say Kerry's money men can do a better job of lining their own coffers. And all that talk has got to be music to John Kerry.


WOODRUFF: So should Senator Kerry forego public money and keep fund-raising until November?

Here to talk about that, former Al Gore campaign chief Tony Coelho and Fred Wertheimer, founder and the president of Democracy 31, a nonprofit group that promotes campaign finance reform.

Great to see both of you.


WOODRUFF: Tony, let me begin with you.

You think John Kerry should give up the public money. Why?

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think he should give up the public money. What I think is that he needs to force Bush to say he isn't going to give up the public money.

I don't think the Democratic Party and I don't think the American people should be cut short because of Bush trying to bail out of the public money after the Republican Convention and then Kerry can't do anything about it. That's the issue.

WOODRUFF: But what if President Bush won't do that?

COELHO: Well, if he won't do it, then Kerry has a tough decision to make, because if Bush decides to opt out and not take the federal funds, he could end up raising $150 million quite easily and John Kerry would be restricted to the 75. That's what's unfair. And I want him to participate in the public program, but only if the Bush people are going to participate as well.

WOODRUFF: Fred Wertheimer, you're saying he should stay and stay within the system, the $75 million limit, no matter what?

FRED WERTHEIMER, PRESIDENT, DEMOCRACY 21: Yes, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, opting out doesn't fit with his history of being a longtime campaign finance reform leader and a longtime strong supporter of public financing. But, secondly, it doesn't make any practical sense for him to opt out. He can take the $75 million check. He can continue raising money for his party. His party can continue and will continue spending money in the fall on the election. They're going to have more than enough resources to compete no matter what President Bush does.

WOODRUFF: Why isn't that the case? I mean, why not go ahead and stay within the system and not try to game it out, in effect, as you're suggesting, and then maybe take a risk that Bush ends up raising more money than you do anyway? COELHO: Well, Bush isn't going to raise more money. I think what IS happening now is we're seeing, with the Internet and so forth with the Kerry campaign, is that Kerry is outraising Bush now, which is something that people really never predicted.

And the reason that's happening is the number of people all across America who want Bush out of the White House. The Democratic Party has come together like it never has. So the question of us being able to raise more money than Bush is there, and I think ultimately if we are aggressive about pushing this issue, the Bush people will stay within the system because they're not going to benefit by competing with us outside the system.


COELHO: I think Fred has an interesting point. But I think that I don't want to have Kerry with his hands tied behind his back.

WERTHEIMER: Tony, you're a former party fund-raiser.

COELHO: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: You should be very confident that your party can raise a lot of money for this campaign, which they're free to do. They can raise it on the Internet. They can raise it from contributors.

It would be neither wise, nor smart for Senator Kerry to opt out of this system. And Senator Kerry, apparently, thinks the same thing, because his campaign plainly stated today that they're not opting out of the system.

WOODRUFF: But they've also said they don't think it's fair that John Kerry has three months to spend that $75 million, which is the way it works out, whereas, George W. Bush later has only two months.


WERTHEIMER: It's not fair and it's something that's got to be fixed for the future. But it is not going to stop Senator Kerry from being competitive, from having all of the money he needs. This race is not going to be decided on money. There is going to be enough money, more than enough money on both sides to conduct this presidential campaign.

COELHO: That's an argument I use all the time.

But, in this particular case, the Bushites and the Republicans have the ability to overwhelm us. And it's really only in some isolated states, as you well know. I am for the system. So don't -- I supported the system. I am for the system. But I just don't want us to be at unfair advantage. That doesn't matter to you, but it matters to me, because there are a lot of issues that are very important.

(CROSSTALK) WERTHEIMER: Fairness matters to me. I remember well a year ago people saying that the Democrats would never have enough money.


WERTHEIMER: Now Senator Kerry is going to raise almost $200 million, as much as President Bush. A lot of speculation here, but this is going to be competitive.

WOODRUFF: Who would have ever thought they'd have this dilemma?

Fred Wertheimer, Tony Coelho, great to see both of you. Thanks very much.


WOODRUFF: And coming up next, taking it to the streets. The Big Apple braces for an anti-Bush extravaganza.


WOODRUFF: Thousands of Republican delegates will converge on New York City for their convention at the end of August, where they may come face-to-face with thousands of protesters. And that could be a recipe for trouble. So New York is bracing for a volatile mix of people and politics right smack in the middle of the one of the world's most crowded and chaotic cities.

Maria Hinojosa has a look at who the protesters are and what they want.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Billionaires for Bush.

PROTESTERS: More, more, more.

HINOJOSA: A brigade of walking, talking, fire-breathing Bush haters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to get Halliburton and Bechtel in on the prison bill.

HINOJOSA: United for Peace and Justice, which has drawn hundreds of thousands to march against the war. These are some of the many faces of a growing national movement, a motley, messy, driven mass of anti-Republicans who are targeting the Republican National Convention with a highly coordinated organization of demonstrators from around the country.

ERIC LAURSEN, ANTI-BUSH ACTIVIST: There is a lot more anger now. We've had four years of wars that the administration has engineered. We've had four years of an economy that refuses to improve. We've had continued anger over the oppression of civil liberties. HINOJOSA: Their headlong assault will be organized by veteran activists and union leaders from high-tech offices with professional Web sites. The marchers will have places to stay and eat and organize, even volunteer lawyers to keep them out of jail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we need to bring protests back to what it used to be, where we were just out in the streets and we were doing our things and we weren't waiting for permission to organize.

HINOJOSA: On one end of the spectrum are these Yippie with their Yippie house and their 1960s peacenik ideology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Aaron Kay (ph), the mad Yippie pie thrower.

HINOJOSA: The Yippie plan, a squatter city of protesters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm the Republican National Convention party planner, to make sure we have a good time that week.

You want to start?


HINOJOSA: And there are the Billionaires for Bush of every race, age and ethnic background. In real life, they are professors, ad executives, doctors and lawyers. They promise to flood the city sidewalks with sarcastic anti-Republican street theater.

ANDREW BOYD, BILLIONAIRES FOR BUSH: Bush and the Bush administration are playing a huge joke on the country and on the world. And so by calling them on that, but in a humorous way, it allows everybody to sort of acknowledge that we're being played and in a sense play back.

HINOJOSA: There are also newbies like Josh Kimber (ph) who became an activist after September 11 and started an anti-Bush bike brigade.

The massive march efforts dwarf those at the Philadelphia Republican Convention four years ago. That was nothing compared to what's planned this time. Now a fighting force has coalesced, unionists and feminists and anti-globalists, greens, people who hate the war, the Patriot Act and the Republicans.

LAURSEN: You might see a sit-down protest in front of the FBI offices in Manhattan. You might see a sit-down protest to shut down the Homeland Security Office. You might see a sit-down protest in front of Madison Square Garden for people who really want to focus on Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to step off at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue and go right out past Madison Square Garden.

HINOJOSA: New York City recently denied the largest protester organizers a permit to rally in Central Park, saying they worry the great lawn could be damaged. That irked high-profile supporters like playwright Tony Kushner of "Angels in America" fame. Kushner recently traded a day of hobnobbing of Hollywood glitterati for a protesters' press conference.

TONY KUSHNER, PLAYWRIGHT: This city has had demonstrations since the dawn of time and, you know, at least as long as I've been in New York, which is 1974. Up until the '90s, demonstrations happened. They were orderly. They were not obstructed by police in this way. This is a new and very ugly chapter in New York civic life.

HINOJOSA: But a chapter the police say was written for a post- 9/11 stage.

RAYMOND KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: We see our job as certainly securing the city, protecting the city from a terrorist event, but also facilitating free speech. And we will do everything we can to balance that.

HINOJOSA: At, planners are preparing for a tense relationship with the police.

LAURSEN: The police can say what they want and they can create this illusion that protester equals terrorist or protester could equal terrorist or the protester provides covers for terrorists. What we're trying to get out as much as we can is that that is not true and that what you see on the streets is going to make it very obvious.

HINOJOSA: Even if what you see is organized, theatrical and angry chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thank you so much.


WOODRUFF: Maria Hinojosa with that story.

So, how might New York protect protesters, delegates and the people of the city?

R. Gil Kerlikowske is the chief of the Seattle Police Department. He faced protests at the World Trade Organization Conference back there in 1999. He joins us tonight from Seattle.

Chief Kerlikowske, we just heard one of the organizers say that the police may well equate protesters with terrorists. Is that what goes on?

R. GIL KERLIKOWSKE, SEATTLE POLICE CHIEF: No, we don't equate them with terrorists.

And let me correct you. I didn't become police chief until shortly after the WTO, but I've lived through all of the investigations here in the city that have gone on and the continuing litigation. But, no, we don't equate them with terrorists. But since 9/11, I think we have to plan for that. You have an outstanding police commissioner in Ray Kelly in New York and Kathleen O'Toole in Boston. They understand the importance of protecting free speech, but they also have a duty and responsibility to protect people, including the protesters.

WOODRUFF: Do you think it's a given that there will be confrontations in New York?

KERLIKOWSKE: Oh, I think, in this day and age and what we learned here in Seattle during WTO and what's been experienced in Washington, D.C. during the IMF protests, etcetera, confrontation is very possible and certainly happens quite a bit.

And that doesn't speak for all of the protesters. Many, many of the protesters have an absolutely important message that they want to get out, and they feel that confrontation or getting the police to throw tear gas is only going to take away from that message. In fact, there is one message that we hear oftentimes. And that is, you know you won't get on CNN unless you get the police to throw tear gas, so we do everything possible not to engage in that confrontation.

WOODRUFF: For example, what do the police do to avoid the kind of confrontation that's really ugly and where people can get hurt?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, they want to sit down in advance with the leaders of the different protests. They try very hard to make sure that they're following all of the guidelines. And, remember that time, manner and place have been the way that the law of the land somewhat on helping to get these protests going.

But I think the protest leaders will also tell you that, look, they don't know everyone that is in that crowd. They cannot speak for everyone that's going to be protesting, that all of those people will not be harmful or will not cause property destruction. And it becomes a really, really difficult balance for any police executive in this day and age.

WOODRUFF: Do you think these protesters will have fewer rights, will be able to do less because of the potential terror threat out there?

KERLIKOWSKE: No, I don't think they'll have less rights or fewer rights. When I look at Seattle -- and you certainly hear this a lot -- that police tactics today or the Patriot Act or something like that has had a chilling effect on free speech.

We have literally well over 100 protests here in Seattle. I have not seen any chilling effect on people's ability to protest, including last year, when the United States went to war in Iraq and we had well over 25,000 people in a peaceful and orderly march that were able to get their protest message out.

WOODRUFF: Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske, thank you very much, talking to us about what may happen in New York City.

KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you. WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And when we come back, a devastating report on the intelligence used to make the case for war in Iraq.


WOODRUFF: The credibility of the CIA is coming under attack yet again. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a scathing report that blames the agency for misinformation that helped make the case for the invasion of Iraq.

In response, CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin said his agency didn't think their judgments were unreasonable when they were made, but he admits that they could have done better. The Senate Intelligence Committee apparently feels the CIA could have done a lot better.


ROBERTS: In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community, and that information was flawed.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): The report is damning, over 500 pages, more than 100 conclusions criticizing everything from careless intelligence gathering, lack of information sharing, the spreading of misinformation, and inadequate human intelligence.

ROBERTS: Most, if not all of these problems stem from a broken corporate culture and poor management and cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.

WOODRUFF: A major finding that most of the key judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction included in the October 2002 national intelligence estimate were either overstated or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.

These included Iraq reestablishing its nuclear program, evidence of chemical and biological weapons, development of an unmanned aerial vehicle intended for biological warfare agents. All of these findings, plus others, the report concludes, were wrong and, ultimately, were used by the Bush administration for making a case for going to war to the American public.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

WOODRUFF: And to the world.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.

ROCKEFELLER: We, in Congress, would not have authorized that war. We would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now.

WOODRUFF: The report breaks down the intelligence failures. It says analysts fell victim to groupthink. The report says: "The intelligence community suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had a active and growing WMD program. And no one ever challenged this assumption."

The Senate Intelligence Committee was especially harsh in its criticism of the CIA for relying on outdated intelligence because of its failure to infiltrate the country with its own agents. Prior to 1998, the U.N. inspection team in Iraq was the source for almost all firsthand information coming out of the country.

ROCKEFELLER: We relied when they had left too much on the fragmentary reporting from years before.

WOODRUFF: When the U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq in 2002 and did not find any evidence of WMD programs, the report says, "Analysts discounted the U.N.'s findings as a result of the inspectors' relative inexperience."

The commission said the CIA also relied too heavily on defectors for information: "While these sources had the potential to provide some valuable information, they had a limited ability to provide the kind of detailed intelligence about current Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

The report also found fault with the man in charge, George Tenet: "While the DCI was supposed to function as both the head of the CIA and the head of the intelligence community, in many instances, he only acted as head of the CIA."

The report says the Bush administration did not put pressure on the CIA to reach preset conclusions. But Senator Jay Rockefeller took issue with that finding.

ROCKEFELLER: The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq, where the most seniors officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly.


WOODRUFF: The Bush administration's use of intelligence information will be examined in a second part of the panel's report. That part won't be finished until after the November election.

Well, joining me now to talk about today's findings, our own national security correspondent, David Ensor, and "New York Times" correspondent James Risen.

Thank you both for being with us.

David, let me start with you. How is the intelligence community reacting? DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing they did is holding a most unusual news conference. The deputy director of central intelligence, who will be the acting director as of Monday, John McLaughlin, invited a lot of us back to the CIA and there cameras were rolling as he explained that, yes, they concede they made some mistakes. They're trying to correct some of the faults that they found in the system under which they analyzed intelligence with Iraq.

But, at the same time, he rejected some of the criticisms, quite a few of the criticisms. And there, of course, a lot in that report. He said it's not true we have a broken corporate culture. It's not true that we had poor management. He was angered by, annoyed at least, by the fact that the report says there was not a single CIA officer on the ground in Iraq working on weapons of mass destruction and by the fact that the staff told reporters that they thought the CIA was risk-averse.

This is how he responded to do that.


JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CIA: If it's intended to convey a timidity on the part of our officers in terms of working in dangerous environments, I would just reject that totally out of hand. We put stars on the wall out here this year. We put stars on the wall out here this year.


ENSOR: Those stars on the wall are the ones in the front hall, as you know, probably, in the lobby in the CIA and they each represent a CIA officer who died in the line of duty.

WOODRUFF: James Risen, how does this comeback from the CIA square with what this report says?

JAMES RISEN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it's really interesting that, when you talk to people inside the CIA today and over the last few weeks about this whole issue in the run-up to this investigation and the report, you get a sense that they still think, at least some of them, that they're going to find WMD, that there is a real...

WOODRUFF: Do they still?

RISEN: There is a real disconnect between the attitude inside the CIA and the attitude outside the CIA on this issue. And I think McLaughlin kind of -- you got a sense of that from what he was talking about today.

That they're -- They're not convinced that they were completely wrong. And it's kind of stunning as an outsider to talk to them about that.

WOODRUFF: Are they -- David, are they living in the real world? Do they know something we don't know?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I actually asked John McLaughlin at the news conference. That was one of my questions. Are you now standing here and telling us you don't think there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And he said, "You have to leave some space for the possibility we may still find them. There's a lot of evidence they were there."

WOODRUFF: I'm asking because today the president, you know, made a speech in Pennsylvania. And I noticed, you know, he said that there are stockpiles in Iraq. He said we haven't found them yet.

And he went on to say we know Saddam Hussein had the intention and the capability to make WMD.

RISEN: I talked to a senior CIA official about a week or 10 days ago about the issue of the aluminum tubes, which is one of the key issues that's come up in the -- in the report.

And this official said, you know, it was on background. He said, "We are not convinced that they -- the tubes were not for nuclear weapons program yet. We think it's possible they were, but it's also possible they were for rockets, which is the alternative theory." And he said, "And it's also possible we may still find a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."

WOODRUFF: But if it were there, David, wouldn't it have been found, what most people believe?

ENSOR: Yes, and frankly, this idea that the aluminum tubes could have been -- that these aluminum tubes could have been for nuclear purposes is -- I frankly think they're living in a bit of a dream world.

I've talked to a lot of nuclear experts, and I haven't found one outside the CIA who believes that.

RISEN: One of the -- I think it's a fascinating issue, because it gets at that issue of group think, I think.

WOODRUFF: Which is what the report cited. All right. David Ensor, James Risen, we're going to ask you both to stick around. Because when we come back, we want to talk about the political price to be paid for bad intelligence.


WOODRUFF: The biggest bombshell from today's Senate intelligence report may be what it doesn't say. There was no smoking gun, nothing to point to the White House pushing the CIA to arrive at a particular conclusion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the -- was the result of politics or pressure.


WOODRUFF: But some critics of the Bush administration remain unconvinced.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The committee's report does not acknowledge that the intelligence estimates were shaped by the administration. In my view, this remains an open question and needs more scrutiny.


WOODRUFF: And Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry's office issued a statement saying, "The fact is that when it comes to national security, the buck stops at the White House, not anywhere else."

But are both sides playing a little politics here or more?

With me once again, "New York Times" correspondent James Risen and our national security correspondent, David Ensor.

James Risen, what is not addressed in this report and why isn't it addressed?

RISEN: Well, the report says that there was no evidence of political pressure on the analysts. What it doesn't get into is the uses of intelligence by the White House after the reports had been prepared by the CIA.

WOODRUFF: Which is a huge part of...

RISEN: Right. And that's supposed to be in a second phase of their report, but it won't come out until after the election.

WOODRUFF: Why is that being held until after the election?

RISEN: Well, it depends on who you talk to. I mean, the Democrats think that the Republicans are dragging their feet on that issue until after the election.

The Republicans say that this first part required so much time and effort, that it was -- made more sense to do that as a second phase, and that that will take some time to do. So it depends on your point of view.

WOODRUFF: David, is it going to be possible to pin down the White House -- the administration interpretation of what it got? And whether there was pressure from the -- from the administration on the intelligence committee? ENSOR: Well, they're going to look at the statements the senior officials have made, Vice President Cheney prominently among them, about issues having to do with weapons of mass destruction and, of course, the ties, alleged ties, possible ties between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime.

And simply look at when they said them and what they -- what intelligence they had in front of them at the time they said them. And Democrats will tell you that there is a gap between what the intelligence was that Vice President Cheney had and the things that he was saying based on them, that he was stretching. Now, that's going to have to be looked into.

RISEN: One of the issues that I found in my reporting over the last year that I think is really interesting is people are beginning to realize there was a distinction between the way the administration dealt with the Iraq-al Qaeda link and the way they dealt with the intelligence on WMD.

There was broad consensus within the intelligence community that there was weapons of mass destruction. The real debate was over the Iraq-al Qaeda link before the war.

That -- once the administration found it difficult to make the Iraq-al Qaeda link stick, because the CIA at the time was saying it didn't exist, basically, then they switched more to the WMD link, and now that's falling apart.

WOODRUFF: Well, that smells like potential manipulation or pressure.

ENSOR: There was a lot of pressure and you -- we heard about it today from administration officials -- and they're open about it to -- on CIA analysts about the terrorism connection issue.

And they didn't get satisfaction in the sense that the analysts said, "Look, we just don't see it there. We don't see an operational connection between these two entities and so we can't put it in our reports."

That was where the pressure was, more than anywhere. Nobody was putting all that much pressure on -- concerning WMD, because everybody thought there was some.

RISEN: That's right.

WOODRUFF: Let me -- Let me quickly read you something from the -- from the Kerry campaign today. They said, "It's disturbing that the White House continues to lay blame for intelligence failures solely at the steps of the intelligence community. It takes no responsibility for its own failings."

Is that a legitimate...

RISEN: Well, that's the real interesting question for -- politically, is how do the Democrats take advantage of something that lays the accountability on the CIA when, you know, the CIA is not your normal campaign issue? And so that will be an interesting rhetorically. I don't know how they'll do that.

WOODRUFF: Is -- is there a sense, David, out there right now among the people you talked to in the intelligence community about who may -- who may benefit, which side may benefit? Or is it going to end up being a wash?

ENSOR: Politically, I don't think they're the best people to analyze it. All they realize is that they're going to take a certain amount of a fall.

You've got not only this report -- and think about it. This is going to be quite a summer.

You've got Charles Duelfer's report, the -- the CIA man who's been sent in to look. And he's a straight shooter. If he doesn't find anything, and if he thinks things were done badly, he'll say so.

There's the 9/11 commission report, which is going to look again at intelligence failures.

WOODRUFF: Coming later this month. Right.

ENSOR: There is -- there is the rest of the Senate intelligence report that we talked about. Then there's another commission that comes out in March that's been asked to look at the whole issue of how well does the U.S. look for WMDs. So it's going to be quite a summer.

WOODRUFF: But a lot of people are looking at this in terms of only what comes before November 2 and what comes after.

ENSOR: That's true.

WOODRUFF: That being the day of the election.

David Ensor, James Risen, thank you both. We appreciate it.

RISEN: Sure.

WOODRUFF: When we return, the bizarre case of three Americans who may have taken the war on terror into their own hands.


WOODRUFF: A surprising story tonight out of Afghanistan.

Three Americans are being held by Afghan authorities. The charge: the Americans ran a fake jail, imprisoning and beating men they suspected of being members of al Qaeda.

The prison was uncovered in a raid late Sunday night. Now, the U.S. State Department is distancing itself from these men saying, quote, "The U.S. government does not employ or sponsor these men."

Joining us now from Kabul is CNN terrorism expert, Peter Bergen. Peter, who are these three Americans?

PETER BERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know too much about them. One of them is called Jonathan Idema. He is somebody who's presenting himself as being allied to the American military or American government.

As you mentioned, the American government has dissociated itself entirely from him.

Another man is identified as Brent Bennett. We don't know much about him. These people are all middle-aged guys who basically ran an export company in Kabul, importing and exporting Afghan rugs. That was a sort of cover story.

But in fact, in the house that they had this company, they also had a private jail in which they were imprisoning Afghans that they were picking up on the street that they believed were members of al Qaeda.

They were basically picking up people who had long beards, a possible indicator of being a part of al Qaeda, although many people in Afghanistan have long beards.

I talked to two Afghan -- senior Afghan officials. These prisoners were being maltreated, I think is a fair assessment. There was -- apparently was some beatings. There were also some indications that some of them had been hanged from a ceiling, either by the wrist or by the feet; it's not clear.

So while these people weren't being tortured, according to Afghan officials, they certainly were being badly treated.

WOODRUFF: Peter, could this be some sort of covert American operation, CIA or some other covert agency?

BERGEN: I not -- don't think so. This guy, Jonathan Idema, who appears to be the ringleader of the operation, has had a long history of misrepresenting himself and in the United States has apparently been convicted of some sort of fraud. So I don't think the United States government would associate themselves with this guy.

And Afghan officials told me that once they've got to the bottom of all this, they're not sure whether the charges will be pressed in the Afghan judicial system. They may be turned over to American custody, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Strange story, indeed. Peter Bergen, CNN terrorism expert, reporting for us from Kabul. Thank you, Peter.

So just what was Jonathan Keith Idema doing in Afghanistan? His attorney joins me now from New York.

John Tiffany, thank you for being here. What in the world is your client up to -- has he been up to? JOHN TIFFANY, JONATHAN IDEMA'S ATTORNEY: Well, my client has been doing with a lot of what Americans having been talking about, and that is instead of talking it, he's been over in Afghanistan fighting the war against terrorism.

I take great exception to Mr. Bergen's report, characterizing him as operating a private jail and torturing people. That's not what he was doing.

He was over in Afghanistan. He's been over there for approximately 90 plus days. He's been working with the military, with the U.S. government, not for those respective entities, but working with them in terms of the war against terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Well, just to be clear, Peter Bergen didn't say there was torture. He said there was maltreatment.


WOODRUFF: And then he went on to say there were beatings. People have been hanged up, either by their hands or their feet. In any event, not the way people are typically treated when they're not in actual official custody.

TIFFANY: Well, the stories that first...

WOODRUFF: Or in any circumstances, for that matter.

TIFFANY: Well, that's true. But what's happening now is Afghan officials, despite what Mr. Bergen has reported, are starting to pull back on their brutality claims.

The information we're receiving, based upon our efforts in terms of trying to make Keith is safe and he's being looked after, are that they're starting to pull back from the brutality claims.

I don't believe that they are accurate. I think they're untrue.

WOODRUFF: What exactly, though, was he doing? It's sort of mysterious. You say he's working with the U.S. government, working with the military. What does that mean?

TIFFANY: About 90 days ago, Ms. Woodruff, he went over to Afghanistan with a group, and their specific purpose or their function was to track and hunt down terrorists, members of al Qaeda, members of the Taliban. And that's what he was doing.

WOODRUFF: But isn't that a military role?

TIFFANY: Yes, but he has experience being a Green Beret, being a member of the Special Forces. He was over in Afghanistan in 2001 for an 11 1/2 month campaign, working with the Northern Alliance, combating terrorism.

And he went over there and thought that he could best be served serving his country, going over there and trying to track down terrorists, using the sources that he developed in 2001 and prior to 2001. And that's what he was doing there.

WOODRUFF: So is the U.S. government, the U.S. military now, are they supporting him? It sounds as if they're distancing themselves from him.

TIFFANY: Well, that's understandable. And what you're seeing now is a run and hide mode. Because I think everybody is concerned that, "Is this Abu Ghraib No. 2? " And that's understandable.

In light of what's gone on in Iraq and with the Abu Ghraib scandal, the last thing the military, the U.S. government wants to have anything to be associated with is anybody where there are allegations that are similar to that nature.

I can tell you this, Judy. Two weeks ago, Mr. Idema and his group were responsible for foiling a complicated bombing scheme plot that was to be perpetrated by al Qaeda and Taliban members.

That plot, if successful, would have resulted in civil war throughout Afghanistan. They were targeting members of the Karzai government and including the U.S. ambassador.

Mr. Idema and his group took into custody those individuals and effectuated a prisoner exchange that was commended by the Special Forces that took those individuals into custody.

WOODRUFF: Well, I know if that's the case, we're certainly going to want to look into it. This is a story that has raised a number of questions. We thank you for being with us tonight to answer some of them, but it sounds like the questions continue.

John Tiffany, thank you very much.

TIFFANY: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And finally tonight, what is so darn funny? The way so many people are getting their political news. That story up next.


WOODRUFF: We, here at CNN, like to call ourselves the most trusted name in news, but as we work to keep your trust, we're not always able to add a dose of humor.

Some Americans apparently want their news with a few laughs, especially when it comes to politics. Tom Foreman shows us why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Go Johnny go. Go!

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Kerry/Edwards and Bush/Cheney teams hit the campaign trail this weekend, some of those who are covering them are working hard, too. And with a wink.

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Kerry and Edwards are so rich they've decided to vote for the Republicans.

FOREMAN: For a growing number of Americans, comedians are becoming an important source of reporting on everything from the Senate to Saddam.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": The guy was smart. He was very smart, because when he tortured people, he didn't take snapshots.

FOREMAN: Harry Shearer has been writing satire for years, and he sees a simple reason for this shift.

HARRY SHEARER, ENTERTAINER: Comedians tend to seem more honest, more authentic in the way they come across on television, as opposed to these guys who are still into the -- that stuff. You know? And I think authenticity or perceived authenticity gives comedians much more entree to the audience's mind.

FOREMAN: A study by the Pew Center shows 21 percent of young Americans rely on comedy programs for part of their news.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't tell you how excited we are to be a team and doing it. That's a thrill for me.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Seriously, I can't tell you how excited I am.

FOREMAN: Programs like "The Daily Show" mix real stories with attitude. Stories like the president's welcome of John Edwards to the race.

STEWART: If you go to Bush's web site, he welcomes Edwards by referring to him as, quote, "the ultimate flip-flop." While his party warmly greeted Edwards as "disingenuous, unaccomplished and inexperienced." So welcome.

FOREMAN: Political cartoonist Mike Luckovich believes this is all simply defining what is often elusive in traditional news: truth.

MIKE LUCKOVICH, POLITICAL CARTOONIST: That's what I really try to do. Because so much -- so much of politics anymore is spin and -- and phoniness. And I just try and -- I just, with my cartoons I try and get the truth out there, even though it sometimes hurts.

FOREMAN: In a world of war, terrorism and threats of more to come, humor helps.

WILL DURST, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: If you're able to laugh at it it's like you put a handle on it and you can carry it around with you a lot easier, rather than trying to struggle under its weight.

FOREMAN (on camera): Some of us in the news business really are worried about this change in public opinion. The thing is we just don't know what to do about it!

Look, Comedy Central can run an interview with Ralph Nader, and they can treat his presidential campaign as if it's a joke.

STEVE COLBERT, "THE DAILY SHOW": Don't know if you know this. You're also running for president.


FOREMAN: But if we do the exact same thing, we will immediately be attacked for being biased.

WILL FERRELL, COMEDIAN: I'm a man! I am an anchorman!

FOREMAN: So this weekend, as a new movie opens with a comedian playing a newsman, in real life, it is happening, too, and for reporters, producers, editors and anchormen everywhere, the joke really is on us.


WOODRUFF: How can they possibly make fun of us in the news business? I can't imagine! Our Tom Foreman in Washington.

We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Finally, a follow-up to a story we brought you earlier this week.

On Tuesday, we introduced you to Individual Ready Reservist, Captain Jon Bunch, unexpectedly called up for duty in Iraq. Bunch said he was honored to serve the Army, but he was concerned about the military's decision to send him to Iraq with no specific orders and minimal training.

Here's how his mother, Kathie, put it.


KATHIE BUNCH, CAPT. JON BUNCH'S MOTHER: There is a thing Jon wanted me to say today. He wanted to say that he is going to Tikrit. He knows that. And he is going to a combat unit.

He is a captain. He'll be in charge of men and that not only is a little disturbing to him, but it's really not fair to those men either, because he hasn't been on active duty for five years now. And he hasn't even had any National Guard duty for two years.

And I think 30 days is not quite enough to get him ready to take on this job.


WOODRUFF: Today, the U.S. Army issued this response. "Captain Jon Bunch is a soldier. If he has concerns about leadership, he should address those concern with his chain of command."

Captain Bunch is now on duty in Tikrit.

Thank you for being with us tonight. Coming up on Monday, Americans working in Saudi Arabia but living in fear: life inside the Saudi compounds.

Paula's back on Monday. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night.


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