TOPICS > Politics

Facing Justice

June 18, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, the CIA arrest and the end of Pol Pot in Cambodia. Margaret Warner has the CIA story.

MARGARET WARNER: On January 25, 1993, a man with an AK-47 assault rifle got out of his car in front of CIA headquarters in suburban Virginia. He began firing at other cars stopped at the stoplight, killing two CIA employees and seriously injuring three other people. Then he fled. Within three weeks authorities had identified a Pakistani national, Mir Aimal Kansi, as the prime suspect. The FBI put him on its 10 Most Wanted List but Kansi had already flown out of the country the day after the attack. Last night, Kansi was returned to the U.S. by the FBI after an overseas arrest. For more on this story we turn to Elaine Shannon, a “Time” Magazine correspondent who’s been covering the FBI since 1977. How did the U.S. catch this guy?

ELAINE SHANNON, Time: Well, this is a good illustration of the best rule of the FBI, that your best weapon is your brain. Working with CIA officers in that region of the world, in the Pakistan and Afghanistan region, they put out the word that they wanted this guy. They got some takers in the person of some Afghans, who had some contact with him. The Afghans lured him to a seedy hotel, and they haven’t said the town or the city yet, on the pretext of some kind of business deal. At 4 AM on Sunday, the FBI–five FBI agents–three of whom were the hostage rescue team members and two were agents from the Washington field office–knocked on the door. He answered it. They pushed through, got him on the floor, handcuffed him, and identified him as Kansi.

MARGARET WARNER: And they are absolutely sure they’ve got the right guy?

ELAINE SHANNON: Fingerprints match.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, it’s been four years since they identified who they wanted. Why was he so hard to apprehend?

ELAINE SHANNON: That’s very interesting. And the reason is mainly that he had a very powerful base in a lawless area of Pakistan. His family comes from the Western border along the Afghan border, which is governed by tribes. And he comes from a rich, powerful tribe. They are the law. Even the Pakistani authorities can’t really get in there.

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, they knew he was there, but he was essentially protected by a non-governmental power.

ELAINE SHANNON: Yes. By his large extended family and their allies in the area to get him out of there.

MARGARET WARNER: And what kind of resources did the U.S. government throw at this problem?

ELAINE SHANNON: Well, they had a large intelligence gathering operation. There was a task force of FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and some other agencies, the Fairfax police, who’ve taken him into custody because he’ll be tried in Virginia, and in the State Department, it took a lot of diplomatic efforts. There was a lot of cooperation by Pakistani authorities that wouldn’t have been possible without communication with them and a sincere cooperative relationship. Any leak could have messed this up. And I think they said that there had been other windows of opportunity that they’d slammed shut. This one, as one of the officials said today, this time it stayed open, and we walked through it.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, they also offered a reward.


MARGARET WARNER: The State Department did. $2 million. Do they think that played a role?

ELAINE SHANNON: Well, they won’t say whether they’re going to give this award out. I suspect that the Afghans involved will probably be driving Cadillacs or a Mercedes, whatever they like, pretty soon, or better mats for their horses and camels. That won’t be awarded till after the prosecution. I would suspect that informant funds that the CIA and FBI have–already have probably been involved in this.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you said that you thought that the Pakistani government must have given some–helped in some manner, meaning what? You mean even the fact that an FBI rescue team could go in there and take this guy without any kind of formal legal procedures?

ELAINE SHANNON: Absolutely. This is foreign soil. Nations are very jealous of their sovereignty. In extraordinary circumstances when they are convinced that it’s in their self-interest to give a suspected criminal like this to another nation, to the United States, they occasionally will do so. But it’s a big risk for them. It takes a lot of political courage for that government to do it. And for this reason the U.S. Government is not saying the extent to which the Pakistan government helped or even–not even saying whether this apprehension took place on the Afghan side or the Pakistani side of the border.

MARGARET WARNER: Now what about Kansi, himself? You’ve told us a little bit about his background, but do they have any idea about his motive?

ELAINE SHANNON: Well, there’s speculation. His family and friends who’ve been interviewed over there by the FBI and also by reporters say that they believe he got mentally unbalanced after the death of his father in 1989. The FBI says that they don’t have any evidence that he was connected with a terrorist group or any kind of extremist movement. He took part in a demonstration at Balukistan University, where he got a Masters–he’s from Balukistan–1989 or 1990, but they don’t find any association with Ramsey Youssef, who’s the alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center.

MARGARET WARNER: Also Pakistani.

ELAINE SHANNON: Yes. Also Pakistani and also extradited or brought from there to New York, where he’s about to stand trial.

MARGARET WARNER: But they don’t think that Kansi was part of any larger conspiracy, is what you’re saying?

ELAINE SHANNON: No. And they’ve also found no connection that his family worked with the CIA during the Afghan War.

MARGARET WARNER: Which has been one of the speculations–


MARGARET WARNER: –and some of the stories. And now his legal status now?

ELAINE SHANNON: He’s going to be tried for capital murder in Fairfax, Virginia. The reason he’s going to be tried on state charges, rather than federal charges, is because Virginia has the death penalty; there are two counts of murder against him and three of assault with intent to commit murder, and some weapons charges. That’s where the stiffest sentence can be levied, as opposed to federal law, because this act took place in 1993, before some of the death penalty provisions took effect in the federal code.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think we’re going to see more operations like this in the future?


MARGARET WARNER: This kind of cooperation between CIA and FBI and the sort of marriage of diplomacy and law enforcement.

ELAINE SHANNON: Absolutely. These have happened over the years. They’re going to have to happen more now because it’s a borderless world. Telecommunications and the speed of transportation have allowed criminals and terrorists and drug traffickers to range freely around the world, and they particularly exploit turbulent, chaotic regions and weak governments. So if governments like Pakistan or Colombia or other governments want not to have criminals there and want to have good relations with the rest of the world, they’re going to have to cooperate with the rest of civilization. Interestingly, the FBI and CIA are getting along very well. And the two FBI agents who participated in this got a standing ovation at the CIA today which CIA officials say they think that’s the first time in history.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s a first.


MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you very much, Elaine.