BRIAN LAMB: Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, you wrote on July 24, 2012 is Congress a serious legislative body or not? What’s your answer?
WALTER PINCUS: Well part of it is my terrible history in which when I was in my 20s I worked in the Senate for Senator Fulbright running an investigation. It’s a totally different body, totally different. And it has become so polarized that it doesn’t work. And something has got to change.
LAMB: What did you do for Senator Fulbright and what Committee?
PINCUS: Senator Foreign Relations Committee. I had written a magazine article, I hate to say it in 1960 on foreign government lobbying. And he called up the next year and said you pointed out weakness in the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Do you want to come to the Committee for 18 months and change the law?
And I was 28 years old and fancy free and writing for three North Carolina papers and magazines. And the idea of changing the law was tempting.
LAMB: Did you get it done?
PINCUS: We investigated for six months. We held two months of hearings and it took another few months to change the law. And we did. The Foreign Agent Registration Act Registration is probably one of, still one of the best lobbying registration acts on the book.
LAMB: How does it work?
PINCUS: If you represent a foreign government or a foreign government entity, you have to register and then you have to file reports every six months, how you spent your money, who got money over a certain amount. They fooled with it somewhat because they’re worried about government corporate entities. And I think in the years after I left, they got some waiver into that.
But it’s still a pretty good. Nobody goes to look at it but it’s there to look at, like a lot of stuff in town.
LAMB: If I count right, in December of this year you will be 80.
PINCUS: Christmas Eve, yes.
LAMB: Why are you still writing a couple of times a week for the Washington Post?
PINCUS: Because I love doing it and I’m doing it for an institution I love and for people I just love working with. And I think when I first started out I belonged to a generation, went into reporting to try to change things. And I’ve been lucky enough all these years to be free most of the time to write what I want to write and to try to make things better.
LAMB: So what are your arrangements with the Post? What’s your title?
PINCUS: I’m a reporter. But I’m also, you know, part of my strange life, I’m also consultant to the corporation because as part of this ridiculous background I was once half owned either CBS or NBC. And worked on television.
LAMB: So what kind of consulting do you do?
PINCUS: I talk to the editor, Marcus Brauchli, the other day about how the paper is going and what maybe we could do better. And I talked to Katharine Weymouth who is the publisher and occasionally talk to Don Graham who runs the company about things I think we might be able to do better.
LAMB: So as a columnist, and do you call yourself a columnist or because you do give your opinion sometimes. Well, define that.
PINCUS: I’ve reported so long I have a little card that says reporter. Yes, I have written the column for the last two and a half, three years. And it’s a different category. I still occasionally try to write news stories but everybody is worried. I give my opinion too much. The column gives me a kind of freedom I haven’t had before and it lets you sort of build on the past.
LAMB: How many different newspapers have you worked for?
PINCUS: I started as a copy boy on The New York Times. I was in a training program after I got out of the Army for The Wall Street Journal. I wrote for three, I was a Washington correspondent for three small North Carolina papers. I worked for the Washington Star and then Ben hired me in 1966 for the Post. And then for I guess four years or so, I tried to start a newspaper which failed publicly which was a great experience.
And then I was the executive director of The New Republic for several years and we were going to buy The New Republic and then Marty Peretz came along and bought and I came back to The Post.
LAMB: I have a stack of your columns, not the last three or four months and before I though read some of this and get you to comment on them, what do you consider your beat?
PINCUS: I think it’s what’s I call sort of national security, but it’s a national security is not just the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, CIA, et cetera but the Hill, and the public at large. I mean its straight all over the place but essentially I focus on national security.
LAMB: Before we head into this, when you did start law school?
PINCUS: I started law school in 1992. No, I started in 1995.
PINCUS: Ben Bradley and Kay Graham both retired at 70 and
LAMB: At The Post?
PINCUS: At The Post. Both my parents lived until they were 95. My father ran a company and when I didn’t go into it, he retired at 62 and lived for 33 more years. And so I figured I had, after 70 a lot of years left and I had covered the law a lot. I have a lot of friends who are lawyers. I have an oldest son. And so I thought I’d get a law degree and practice law.
LAMB: Did you?
PINCUS: I graduated in 2001. I flunked the bar which came right after Kay Graham’s funeral and we were ushers. That was my excuse. The war had kind of started. And Don Graham said I can stay as long as I want so I’ve taken him up on it.
LAMB: What did it feel like by the way getting a law degree and then flunking the bar? I know that happens to a lot of people.
PINCUS: It was strange. I stopped going to the I hadn’t taken almost ten courses that were on the bar review, the D.C. bar. And then I went to bar review in the morning and went back to work in the afternoon, and all the kids I was with were busy studying and I don’t know it just, it I was disappointed. I had a couple of offers from law firms but I think they wanted me to do PR rather than I love the law. The law is just a great experience.
I have a whole bunch of experiences that didn’t turn out to be what they were suppose to be and a couple failed. But you learn from all of it. And then it took me six years going part time and still working. but it was a great experience.
LAMB: You were undergraduate at Yale at 54?
PINCUS: Class of 54.
LAMB: 1954? And then in 2001 a law degree from?
LAMB: Georgetown. Here is a column, June 27th, I’ll just read a little bit. ”The state department is planning to spend up to 115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy Compound in Baghdad. Already it’s biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.” That was back in June.
You say ”remember it’s been three and a half years since the American diplomats moved into the 104 acre, 700 million facility, and only four months after the State Department in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there.”
Why did that get your attention?
PINCUS: One of the things I focused on because we are in financial trouble is the way we have spread money around, not so much in foreign aide, although aide in Iraq and Afghanistan much too extensively. But building things that we know we’re not going to need five or ten years down the road.
There is a big story today in the paper, about what we’ve done in Afghanistan. You know hundreds of millions of dollars of construction that these people can’t possibly sustain. It’s a lesson that was hammered home during the Iraq period and yet we keep doing it.
LAMB: Why do we do you think?
PINCUS: Well, we do it because we think we’re giving something to the people but we don’t understand, we’re trying to make them like us and do things that we would want done. I mean I’ve, as I’ve thought back over time, I keep going back to the, I worked for Fulbright twice. I went back in 69 and 70 and in effect investigated the war in Viet Nam the military and foreign policy.
And, and the lessons that he taught me stick with me now. And, and one of the things he told me in the first years was, if you don’t understand the domestic problems of the country you’re dealing with, you can’t have a good foreign policy. It’s all foreign policy is domestic including ours. So we do things that people here think ought to be done and we don’t think enough about what the people we’re dealing with want done, what their leaders are facing. And it’s not done evilly. It’s just done because we don’t think enough.
LAMB: Here’s another sentence from that column, ”the United States has spent about 100 million on the police college facility having built living quarters and dining facility, an office building, a new gymnasium and a helicopter landing site. At years’ end the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because state [that’s the State Department] did not get land rights use for more than one year.”
PINCUS: The State Department people are a little upset about that and it’s literally what was said in the document I talked about. There’s an argument about whether they had or had not land rights. The thing that got me about it was we built a facility that our police would want, but its’ nothing like the facility that the Afghan police are used to. Nor that they would sustain when we left.
LAMB: How do you spend $100 million on a police facility?
PINCUS: A lot of it is they have security around the whole thing they’ve got to build a guard post also some technical stuff. I mean I, I’m always amazed that the amount of money we spend abroad and how little we spend here, it’s become an issue politically in this country more and more is we have to cut back. But this is money that’s poured into the Pentagon to do things that you couldn’t do in any domestic program because people look harder at it.
But the Pentagon the defense budget is so big, that you know my favorite is we, we’ve cut it. We spent a $1.500 million a year on military bands. We just built a $4 million facility for the Army material command band that had to move from Belvoir down to Huntsville, Alabama.
LAMB: Ft. Belvoir here in the suburbs?
PINCUS: Yes. And they built a 4 million facility for the band which is about 40 people. And it’s got you know separate rooms for everybody you know let me, if you spent $4 million on an elementary school I bet somebody would raise questions.
LAMB: This is a column from July 2nd, it’s kind of in the same vein. ”Why doesn’t the Iraq government seem to like us? Why won’t Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki give better treatment to the U.S. government officials who’s military freed Iraq from Saddam Hussein and whose employees now are trying to make this country better? Why are we giving more than $1 billion next year mostly to Iraqis, Iraq’s military which while its oil income has soared supposedly putting the Baghdad regime in surplus?”
PINCUS: I mean this is part of my, I get worried I sound more and more conservative, isolationists. But this is more the understanding that having created a democracy in Iraq, we are not popular. And therefore Maliki to hold onto his support can’t be too pro-American even though we did all that for them. And it’s, it’s something we have to understand but we then keep putting money in, less money now this year in Iraq.
But it’s, it’s to try to make people understand in, in effect that money doesn’t buy you support. You’ve got to understand the politics of, of that country. And in a lot of countries in the Middle East we weren’t liked before, we’re not liked now although we have helped them. And part of it has nothing to do with our help. It has to do with their politics and underlying a lot of the Middle East is, is the Arab Israeli problem and are siding with the Israelis.
LAMB: Is anybody watching this expenditure?
PINCUS: A lot, of when it comes to defense are very few people. And this whole argument about, I mean they have actually cut 487 billion over the next 10 years, but that’s a reduction for only one year. The cost, nobody’s analyzed the cost of this spectacular army we’ve created which is all volunteer, and this cost an enormous amount of money.
LAMB: You have and that’s July 2nd column, this paragraph U.S. AID, by the way, what is U.S. AID?
PINCUS: The Agency for International Development of Foreign Aid.
LAMB: ”Plans to spend 263 million next year to support Iraq government building an anti-corruption program. The bulk of fiscal 2013 money for Iraq, 911 million is in a new foreign military financing fund run by the State Department to continue Pentagon programs that developed Iraq army professionalism and a logistics capabilities State already has 850 million for FMF in fiscal 2012 money” and at this point people listening are saying, what was that all about?
PINCUS: Well, we are building up to some degree from the ground up the Iraq army. They are now are sort of military allies and a lot of people will well, they’re buying American equipment so this is in effect a program that helps American industry, military industrial complex sell weapons. I have mixed feelings about building up armies in the Middle East that you have no control over. And you have no control eventually over those weapons, and what happens to them.
The anti-corruption thing is it’s, it’s very funny. We have a whole series of prosecutions going on in this country for military, our military, who made deals and kickbacks on some of these programs and then we talk about other countries being corrupt. But we call them corrupt, the Iraqis saw what our people are doing. And so we didn’t set a great example there and we don’t set a great example anywhere.
LAMB: What was your position on going into Iraq in the first place?
PINCUS: I guess I wrote that I thought it was, I was a reporter in those days and the so-called famous piece was two days before the war started writing a piece that raised questions about whether there was WMD in, in Iraq, because people both in the Pentagon and the Agency had told me they weren’t sure. But the intelligence was cherry picked I mean the Bush administration wanted to go in.
And if that was an excuse, they would’ve found another one.
LAMB: If you were inside the Oval Office in those very private conversations, what do you think their reason was?
PINCUS: I think like all White Houses, there’s no one reason. In this case there were several different reasons. And you had a president who I think felt he needed to do something dramatic. People forget where we were politically. I mean at that point President Bush had previously made a big thing about catching Osama Bin Laden. That hadn’t been done.
And, and this became an alternative and they had very subtlety beginning in August of 2002 been selling the idea that somehow there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 911 which still was then and still is a big thing in this country.
LAMB: Well when you hear people, the conspiracy theorist, say it was oil, what kind of a, is there any truth to that?
PINCUS: No, I don’t, I don’t, I think you know some people may have thought that. I mean there were groups starting Wolfowitz and some other people Paul Wolfowitz who was deputy at the Pentagon, who going back to the original Gulf War had wanted to go and knock Saddam Hussein off even then. I, I’ve written one, three times about presentation he made the House Budget Committee in February before the March invasion in which he said unlike Afghanistan if you go into Iraq you get all these benefits.
First of all they had oil. They could pay for anything that happened. Secondly it was the they’re the most educated people in the Middle East. It would become Democratic. Of course he was talking about the Sunni minority and not the Shi’a majority.
He said it would become a Democracy and Democracies don’t attack each other. Therefore, it wouldn’t attack Israel. It would change its approach to Israel.
LAMB: Go back to the this Embassy in Iraq. You say that they’re going to spend are they have they committed to spending 115 million more on the Embassy?
PINCUS: Their argument I talked to the secretary not to the I talked to the deputy secretary
LAMB: Of Defense?
LAMB: Oh of the State.
PINCUS: Of State. What’s happened is partially because of the security situation they had to bring more people who were beginning to be out in the country and consulates and elsewhere into Baghdad. And, therefore, there are going to be more people there than they originally expected.
And so they had to expand
LAMB: So they will be spending $815million on the Embassy in Iraq which is the largest one we’ve ever built anywhere in the world.
LAMB: And no one questions this?
PINCUS: Well I think people along the way questioned it. But there is so much else going on. It’s a big I don’t know it’s become such a big government and it will eventually come around to my feeling about the media not doing what it really ought to do.
And that is keep track of all these things. We spend a lot of time and space covering press conferences and what people say and we spend not enough time, in my view, of what’s really going on.
LAMB: How do you do it?
PINCUS: The way I’ve always done it is reading documents. I mean there is a huge amount of public material that’s put every day out in the public record and people don’t read it. The key to the column whether it’s good or not is documents. I just I try to base every column on something I read; a transcript, a report, a hearing, whatever.
LAMB: You try to be different than everybody else?
PINCUS: Well I start out with these three North Carolina papers so I had to compete with the Associated Press and the other wire services so you’re always looking for things other people aren’t doing.
So I’ve never lucky enough so I’ve never been a beat reporter really. I’ve always been able to go out on my own.
LAMB: You write in the Washington Post, everybody in Washington not everybody but most people read it here. Will everybody take your phone call? All the people in government?
PINCUS: Yes. The other part of doing what I’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been doing and it’s another part of the new culture. When I started off (sort of old people talk) there were a bunch of reporters, young reporters.
We used to meet once a month and have dinner with somebody in government and meet them outside the arena so that you got to know people in who were in government in a three dimensional sense rather than just the person that stands up at the podium or gives a press conference or makes a statement.
And then if you do it as long as I do have I use, as an example all the time, because I’m embarrassed I mean I met George Tennant when he was the legislative assistant to Jack Hines, a senator from Pennsylvania.
I met Les Aspin when he just went to work for McNamara in the Kennedy administration.
LAMB: He went on to be secretary of defense.
PINCUS: Secretary of Defense, George became CIA director. I met Leon Panetta when he was a congressman. I met Don Rumsfeld when he was at OEO and became defense secretary.
LAMB: Office of Economic Opportunity.
PINCUS: And you sort of stay in touch and the other part about being a journalist is unlike lawyers and doctors and other professionals, I mean journalism is a profession, what we do is right out there. So they see what you’ve done.
And some people I got to know very well. I got in terrible trouble. But after the trouble was over
LAMB: Name someone that you got in terrible trouble.
PINCUS: Well Claire George who was the deputy director of operations for CIA. I wrote the stories that got him indicted and he was eventually convicted. And I was just retry he had retrial. Everybody was talking to him and I he had never answered a phone call, never done anything.
When the rest of the press went away I walked up and introduced myself and Claire said six months after this is over give me a call. And so he was convicted, then he was pardoned in December and in June I called him up and we had lunch or breakfast at the Shoreham and became good friends.
LAMB: And again what had he done wrong or did he do anything wrong if he was pardoned?
PINCUS: He was pardoned by George Bush along with everybody else in Iran contra. What he had done wrong was he had not told what he knew about the payments to get the hostages out of Iran. He knew it, he was at a hearing, they asked him about it and he didn’t say it so he was conv withholding information from Congress.
LAMB: Here’s a column, June 20th, ”at last after 11 years of the United States at war a few minutes of public discussion of a tax to pay for the fighting, but that would be for the next war.” How was it that we fight the war in Iraq and I assume Afghanistan without paying for it?
PINCUS: This is to me one of the worst things that happened associated with the Bush war in Iraq. And that is not only the failure to pay for it, first war in American history where there was no extra tax, but a tax cut.
He had instituted a tax cut, initiated the war and in that same period of time they withdrew the last remaining excise tax that had helped pay for the Korean War, telephone tax. But the idea, you know, they weren’t going to put a tax to pay for the war, because Congress wouldn’t have passed it.
LAMB: Where were the Democrats?
PINCUS: Well the Democrats were as afraid as everybody else was because of the aura that had been created about the threat for Saddam Hussein.
PINCUS: My memory is, the only people who really raised an issue was the Congressional Black Caucus in the House about going to war. The Democrats were worried that at the first Gulf War they had opposed it and it turned out to be the right thing to do.
LAMB: But if you look back at the Iraq war that started in 2003 I think it was Larry Lindsay who was the economic advisor for George Bush who said this is not going to cost 60 billion. It’s going to cost 200 billion. Of course it’s up to a trillion or something like that.
The other one was Eric Shinseki who said that it was going to take more than 150,000 troops or whatever and they both lost their jobs.
PINCUS: This was a huge, I mean the misjudgment on all that by the Bush administration as I said going back to Wolfowitz before the House Budget Committee they totally misjudged what they were getting into because they didn’t understand Iraq.
They didn’t understand that Saddam Hussein represented a minority that had been running a country beating down the Shia majority. And that this was going to open up a huge can of worms. And we had been wrong I mean we push elections on all of these countries and in almost every case the people we want to win the elections don’t win because we don’t understand enough about what we’re getting into.
LAMB: You said in that same column on June 20th how quickly would Congress have voted in October of 2002 on the eve of Congressional elections to give President George W. Bush the authority to use force in Iraq if the resolution had also contained a provision to raise taxes.
PINCUS: They wouldn’t have voted for it.
LAMB: June 6th another column, ”let’s start with cost overruns”, you write, ”does any other branch of government get away with having its programs balloon the way Pentagon Weapon’s Systems do with no end in sight?” What triggered you to write that?
PINCUS: I had a long talk with a retired admiral who I had read somewhere that there is a program as part of developing a new weapons system. You had to make estimates on what the cost would be and he had told me that it was obviously a game, that everybody underpriced things.
And then you have the whole problem of contractors who under price to win the bid. And then you have the whole problem that the Pentagon itself for years would make changes in weapons systems which take years to build.
And every time you make a change the cost goes up.
LAMB: Let’s go back over that again. How can a contractor under price something to win a bid and then get paid for the cost overrun? Isn’t it built it that it says you get
PINCUS: Well they’ve tried over the years and they’ve got a new one now Ash Carter who is the deputy defense secretary but when he was running procurement. They’ve tried to remedy all these programs.
But it’s hard to put your finger on who’s major at fault because particularly in the new weapons which are have these extraordinary electronic elements within them. That business is changing so fast that if you have a system that takes five years to build maybe three years into it there’s a whole new technology that you want to integrate into it to make it better.
Everybody wants to make it the perfect weapon and so that every time if you ever build a house you know you decide you want a bathroom on the second floor and you didn’t plan for it the cost of the whole thing goes way up.
LAMB: What’s your personal philosophy about war in general?
PINCUS: I think it’s a bad idea.
PINCUS: Well it’s not always but again I grew up with Senator Fulbright whose view is you know war is a failed diplomacy. And diplomacy is reaching some consensus in which neither party claims victory. And it’s harder and harder to do in societies where there’s a form of democracy where your opponent can demagogic.
I was involved in a discussion the other day about Iran. And an Iranian I was talking to said well, you know they’d offer things and got no response. I said between now and election, President Obama couldn’t make any agreement short of your government leaving and democracy taking over it because anything short of that would be used as a failure by the Republicans. Democracy has got some weaknesses in an age of instant communication.
LAMB: Let me ask you about something that I know you’ve thought about this and we’ve I’ve seen it for all the years I’ve been here. You speak positively about Senator Fulbright. And for those who don’t even know the name I know you wrote just recently about his the Fulbright International Program. Who was he?
PINCUS: Senator Fulbright was from Arkansas. Essentially was a lawyer, was a Rhode Scholar, went into politics when he was very young. The Fulbright Program which pays for a lot of exchange scholarship and exchange programs around the world came out of an idea out of using the excess money that came out of the Second World War that was owed to us by other countries to pay for this scholarship program.
But he was in the House and then went to the Senate and worked his way up and became Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a time when the Committee was much smaller than it is now and the staff was 16 people. And he studied foreign policy and he went out of his way to talk to leaders that we disagreed with. I mean in the period I worked for him which is the ’60s and the cold war, he regularly talked to the Russians and Chinese when nobody else did.
And he said you had to understand the other side’s point of view. And he had a committee that was understanding and bipartisan. I mean both subcommittees I worked with; one was Senator Hickenlooper who as a Republican and the other was Senator Aiken who’s a Republican agreed with everything we did.
The first investigation I went down, it was right after Rafael Trujillo who was the dictator of the Dominican Republic got assassinated and I went down there and this was investigating foreign lobbying. The first investigation I came back with a whole bunch of material that showed Trujillo was paying money off to all sorts of people in this country and giving campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans.
And we made it all public. The one thing we didn’t make public when I found it was material that showed that Igor Cassini, the brother of Oleg Cassini; Jackie Kennedy’s dress designer, had been secretly hired to get the sugar quota back for the Dominican Republic.
And I we I gave it to the Senate or to the Chairman. He brought Senator Hickenlooper in and we reached an agreement that we would give Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, six months to investigate and do what you had to do because it was a clear violation of the law or we would hold a hearing.
Now that’s you’d never get away with that now. And one of the great days I ever had was Fulbright called me up one day and said Bobby Kennedy called him up and said he was going to be there at 3:00 o’clock the next day. He wanted to see him alone. And so I went down to the office and I knew Bobby and he walked in without saying anything.
And at 3:30 Fulbright opened the door, Bobby had left via another exit and said we talked about the poverty program for 25 minutes and he looked up at the clock and said Igor Cassini is being indicted right now, got up and left.
I mean you remember that I mean I was 29. You remember those things. You couldn’t do that today.
LAMB: What I wanted to ask you about though is tell me where I’m wrong about this but the media in this town really like J. William Fulbright because of his anti-Vietnam stance. Why then did they give him a pass having signed the Southern Manifesto?
PINCUS: I they actually didn’t and I used to have to go up to New York and defend myself all over the place. Not only on that because he was then considered sort of anti-Israel which was partly my fault because part of the investigation of foreign lobbying was the Jewish Agency for Israel which was doing all sorts of things that they weren’t supposed to do.
It was a great lesson for me about you know that you can’t have everything. You want him in I forget who the Congressman was who didn’t sign the manifesto, lost the next election from Arkansas.
LAMB: Let me we ought to stop those and tell those that have never heard of the Southern Manifesto, 19 Democratic senators signed it. What was it?
PINCUS: Well essentially it was against the Civil Rights Bill and that the government ought to stay out of sort of amending all the terrible Jim Crow laws and education differentiation in the south.
LAMB: And they were against the Brown versus the Board of Education decision on the Supreme Court, didn’t want the schools integrated.
LAMB: I remember reading something there it said we all get along down in the south, the reason why we don’t need to bring them together.
PINCUS: And it Senator Fulbright wrote a long speech that had to do is increase the education for African-Americans and they weren’t equal. They were separate but they ought to be equal. And that was his argument. If you didn’t say that, if you didn’t sign the manifesto you would lose your seat. So which is more important with one Senator who is doing that and then he felt it was more important for him to stay in the Senate.
LAMB: Where is the courage there? I mean he is courageous being against the Vietnam in a lot of people’s eyes but he is not courageous to bring it his own people together down in Arkansas.
PINCUS: The two races that I know he ran because I watched on of them because it was in between, I was I agreed to come back after he was reelected. He was considered weak on civil rights. I mean he was attacked by a total racist and just did win. So he wasn’t considered strong. I mean you look around today and take a look at the moderate Republicans and they’re all gone.
So it’s, I mean democracy has it’s issues and you can’t be perfect. And he understood it. there were a bunch of things he did that I disagree with but you know you make decisions in life. It’s not perfect. And so I thought what he did in foreign policy was good enough for me and important to have him there.
LAMB: Back to the July 4th column that you wrote. On the way to BRAC savings, let me state it better. On the way to BRAC’s savings, a legion of cost overruns, I’ll read this ”and the latest of the 2005 BRAC program”. BRAC is what?
PINCUS: Well, it’s the program Congress passed through, reached an agreement on closing military bases. A very complicated thing in which the defense department picks out areas they want to close. They put together a commission to make, to see and comment on the recommendations and then Congress has to vote on it.
LAMB: And they have to vote for the whole thing. They can’t pick it apart.
PINCUS: The whole package.
LAMB: Yes. All right, let me read this state this sentence again. ”In it’s latest review of the 2005 BRAC program, the largest and most complex, the GAO, the Government Accountability Office found that the estimated cost of 21 billion to implement the part, had grown to 35 billion by September 30, 2011.”
Now that’s in six years. It almost had doubled and what they told us it was going to cost to shut those bases down. Why?
PINCUS: Well, the example I picked was that the replacements once Congress passed it, then everybody forgot about it. And so two things happened. One they, as time passed they under estimated the cost of the replacement, just by the cost of living. But then as I showed I guess in one case, moving a school for people who want to get into West Point grew by 300 or 400 percent because when they decided to move it to West Point, the people at West Point wanted a much grander facility than the facility that they left.
LAMB: Have you ever seen
PINCUS: And nobody paid attention to it.
LAMB: Have you ever seen a time when one of these comes in way under budget? I mean we see it day after day after day over budget, almost all the time.
PINCUS: Well, I think there are things that come under budget that’s sort of our dealing with we are looking for the controversy. We’re looking for the one that didn’t work. And so we promote it, that the best example which I always throw in is the CIA which gets beaten up for all of it’s failures that get publicized and almost never you never hear about things that work.
LAMB: I’ve seen you criticized for being the CIA’s inside reporter at the Post. A fair criticism?
PINCUS: Probably. I, once you again in this long period of time I’ve just met a lot of those people. It is the most extraordinary life. They have given up particularly the people who are in operations, they’ve given up normal life for what they’re doing for the country. And the CIA is, works with the President whoever the President is. And they get whipsawed when they do something, as they did in the Central America for Ronald Regan.
And the Democrats come in and didn’t like what Regan did and they take it out on the agency. So you have that side of it. And they begin to know the people and I know some of the people who got caught up in that, that Iran contra and all these issues. They were doing what they were told to do. I know people who were involved in the interrogation and a number of times they went to the Bush Administration to make sure they were doing something that was supposed to be legal.
And they were continually reassured and then, of course, when it was over they all got investigated.
LAMB: You said you knew George Tennant. Have you talked to George Tennant since he left the CIA about why he told the President there were weapons of mass destruction?
PINCUS: We’ve he was very upset about some of the pieces I wrote raising questions about it. His agency was split. And he went with the people who sort of took the dark side of it and
LAMB: Did he say why?
and it’s just had a terrible impact on his life.
LAMB: Did he say how is he today?
PINCUS: Well it’s I think George if he had his druthers would like to be in public life. But instead he’s in private life doing very well working for Allen and Company. And but I think he would have much rather have been in public life.
LAMB: So let’s pretend that you’re at your desk and you’ve got two different phone calls given what you’ve told us is your own feelings about issues and war and one of them is from somebody who’s anti-Iraq and anti-Afghanistan and they want to leak you some information.
And the other is pro and they want to leak you some information, which side do you take?
PINCUS: Not to be difficult, people don’t call me up and tell me things. I read something and I call people up. And but I you know I’ve talked a lot about leaks. Column tomorrow is about leaks. Leaks are now part of government.
In fact I teach at Stanford. I was Stanford has a Washington Program, I taught there for 10 years. I teach a course called Oversight of Government and the Media. Although not too much oversight of government by the media.
And what I teach them now more and more is that we are now in an era of government by PR. And so people just say things or leak things that’s going to help their cause. The journalists who receives a leak or receives a classified document has to make a bunch of decisions.
I mean one of them is, is it true and they always involve the government. So you have to inevitably go to the government. Most people don’t understand we do that when somebody leaks. You go to the government, whatever government it is so they get a chance to say something.
Then you’ve got to decide whether it’s newsworthy or not. Every secret isn’t newsworthy. And then you’ve got to put it in some kind of context. And in the process of doing all that you get a sense of why somebody’s giving it to you.
They’re not doing it because you’re the greatest questioner in the world or you’re you know a wonderful person. They want to get even with somebody. They want to give the other side of the story. They want to they want something.
But you really have to decide the first three things before you decide whether to print it or not.
LAMB: Column on July 9th battling IEDs has to be about more than money. It’s all about subcontracting. I’ll read this but on June 29th the Army awarded a contract for a counter insurgency targeting intelligence fusion and operations support in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over three years that contract could be worth more than 176 million.
The contractor, ”will support and augment, not replace government military and civilian personnel by integrating contract employees based on their skill sets into military/civilian intelligence operations according to their work statement.”
You go through a lot of stuff in this column and then you write this ”bet your head is spinning right about now. There are so many deals and dollars flying about”. That’s a July 9th column in case folks want to look it up on Washington Post.
PINCUS: It’s this idea of contracting out the war both in Iraq and Afghanistan was a step taken because the Bush administration wanted to under play what was going on. You mentioned General Shinseki and saying we need more people. This was one way to get around it.
And then what you’ve created is an industry of people who used to do something while they were in service or working at the Pentagon, leave that job, go to a contractor and end up in exactly the same post with higher pay with sort of no guarantee of whatever their future is.
And, and so that’s now a big industry. There always used to be a concern about military people going into military contractors and helping. We now have a lot of companies started by military people and, and doing the same thing they did while they were in service.
LAMB: By the way, did, how much did you have do with the Valerie Plame story?
PINCUS: That’s a whole other, lucky I went to law school. I wrote a story, I was writing a story about raising questions about weapons of mass destruction. And Joe Wilson, the former ambassador who worked in the Clinton administration became critical of, of the Bush policy. Nick Kristof the New York Times wrote a column saying an American ambassador had checked out whether Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger and found out it was untrue, which had been part of the Bush argument about Saddam Hussein.
So it took me, oh I don’t know, a month or so to find out who the ambassador was and to tell the story. And I agreed to tell it as a news story but to leave his name out. And I did. And I was following up on that story and was calling raising questions of the White House about something going on that was associated with it. And in the midst of a conversation with Ari Fleischer then George Bush’s press secretary, he in effect said, why do you keep writing about Joe Wilson’s trip? Don’t you know it was set up by his wife who works at the agency?
I didn’t know she worked for the agency nobody had ever told me and writing my story I had talked to Scooter Libby who was the Vice President’s chief aid about Cheney’s role in all of this and, and he had never mentioned anything about Valerie Plame. And so I just put it in the back of my mind and then at some point Bob Novak wrote a column exposing it.
It became a big issue and, and a point after that some of the democrats, and I think Joe Wilson himself raised a question about whether disclosure of her name had violated the law which talked about disclosing the name of agents that were undercover publicly. And I looked up the law and I had gotten a law degree and I decided it did. And so I didn’t write about it. I thought they were doing the wrong thing and I wasn’t going to put my thing out.
But then in the fall Congress started to investigate her and it went to the CIA and the CIA sent it to Justice. And at that point I wrote, co-wrote a story in which I said a Washington Post reporter, I didn’t name myself, I co-wrote it with somebody about had been contacted but didn’t think it broke the law. So when the special counsel started investigating the leaks, he had the wrong reporter originally, but then he came to me and luckily my son is probably one of the best lawyers in town.
And I used him and we decided this was not a first amendment issue this was a criminal case. And through a whole group of machinations with the Post lawyer and my son and a whole bunch of things, I said I’d only disclose the name of my source if he came forward. And at a certain point Fleisher went to the prosecutor and admitted that he had talked to me. And at that point I laid it all out to the prosecutor and then, and got Fleischer’s lawyer’s approval to talk to the prosecutor and then I was subpoenaed to testify at the trial.
And again, Fleischer’s lawyers agreed that I could testify. The only issue was I testified that, that he had told me about Valerie Plame and he had said he hadn’t. He said he learned that he had told other people. That’s sort of where it stands.
LAMB: We are unfortunately out of time. There’s a lot more we could talk about. I, one last question, you’ve got a book about all your life?
PINCUS: I have a wonderful editor that I promised years ago I’d write a book, and I went on a trip and wrote a 25-page outline and got about one third of the way through and she still wants me to finish it and maybe I will. It’s just hard to find, I just write all the time. And I, you need extra time to do things like that.
LAMB: Walter Pincus, since 1975 with the Washington Post writing columns and stories, law degree from Georgetown, undergraduate degree from Yale, thank you very much for joining us.
PINCUS: Oh, thank you.