NBC Reports Saddam Hussein Planned to Re-start Nuclear Program

On Sunday's "NBC Nightly News," correspondent Pete Williams previewed details of a new book, The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack, by Ronald Kessler, in which Kessler revealed information obtained by the an FBI agent who extensively interviewed Saddam Hussein and found, among other things, that the former Iraqi leader had deliberately tried to "fool the U.S." into believing he had weapons of mass destruction because "he wanted Iranian leaders to believe that he had nuclear and biological weapons." The FBI agent, named George Piro, also reported that Saddam Hussein "hoped the post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq would dissolve, allowing him to pursue a nuclear capability." (Transcript follows)

NBC News correspondent Pete Williams began his report: "Saddam Hussein told his American captors that he so feared Iran, he wanted Iranian leaders to believe that he had nuclear and biological weapons. So he planned to fool the U.S. by, among other things, stalling U.N. inspectors to make it appear he had something to hide, weapons of mass destruction or WMD. But he hoped the post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq would dissolve, allowing him to pursue a nuclear capability."

Then a soundbite of Kessler ran: "Saddam said that if America thought that he had WMD, then, of course, Iran would, and this would fulfill his goal of making sure that Iran did not want to attack Iraq."

Below is a complete transcript of the story from the Sunday November 11 "NBC Nightly News":

LESTER HOLT: On this Veterans Day, with American troops still embroiled in Iraq, new details are emerging about some of the issues that led the U.S. into war. The secrets of Saddam Hussein are revealed in a new book that includes details from an FBI agent who spent months with the Iraqi leader after his capture. Here's NBC justice correspondent Pete Williams.

PETE WILLIAMS: Saddam Hussein told his American captors that he so feared Iran, he wanted Iranian leaders to believe that he had nuclear and biological weapons. So he planned to fool the U.S. by, among other things, stalling U.N. inspectors to make it appear he had something to hide, weapons of mass destruction or WMD. But he hoped the post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq would dissolve, allowing him to pursue a nuclear capability. That's what he told the only American to extensively debrief him after he was captured in 2003, according to investigative reporter Ron Kessler.

RON KESSLER: Saddam said that if America thought that he had WMD, then, of course, Iran would, and this would fulfill his goal of making sure that Iran did not want to attack Iraq.

WILLIAMS: For a new book about the war on terror, Kessler interviewed George Piro, an Arabic-speaking FBI agent who debriefed Saddam, and who has declined until now to talk about it. Citing the sensitive nature of his work, the FBI would not release a picture. Piro spent at least five hours with Saddam every day over seven months in a cell near the Baghdad airport. Among his claims, that contrary to what some U.S. officials suspected, he never used doubles or lookalikes, and that he planted false rumors of plans to overthrow him.

KESSLER: Saddam told Piro that he would periodically orchestrate a phony plot against himself, and the idea was to see if others would join in. And, of course, if they did, those people would be executed.

WILLIAMS: According to the book, Piro sought to win Saddam's confidence by being the only conduit to the outside world. So Piro showed Saddam video of Iraqis tearing down his statues, but also had special cookies flown in for Saddam's birthday. And that suit Saddam wore to court for his trial, given to him by Piro. Kessler says Piro's techniques appear to have won over Saddam completely.

KESSLER: At the end, when they finally said goodbye, Saddam actually teared up.

WILLIAMS: The FBI won't allow Piro to be interviewed on camera, and is just now beginning to let him tell the story of how he got Saddam Hussein to reveal secrets. Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.