That's because Hamas, as an example, in 1997, was responsible for less than 1%
of the terrorist attacks, but accounted for about 52% of the casualties that
year. And because casualties play well on television, television leaves the
impression that these groups are more active and more powerful than they really
are. And so, when you see body counts being generated by radical Islamic
groups, that ends up fueling this perception that radical Islamic groups are
really behind most terrorism. That's not the case. ...|
[When did Osama bin Laden emerge to the intelligence community as a major
... When Ramzi Yousef was captured [as a suspect in the World Trade Center
bombing] in Pakistan in 1995, end of January, first of February, the more
information started to come out about Osama bin Laden ... . There were lots of
theories, not very good intelligence, and so the intelligence community
actually started generating a picture that Osama bin Laden was this, if you
will, sort of the Carlos the Jackal of the '90s. He was the new face of
terrorism. But the complete picture of what he was up to didn't start coming
out until really the last couple of years. Now, when the bombings happened in
August, CNN called me, I went on camera and I said that morning the most
likely suspect was Osama bin Laden. I wasn't engaging in Arab or Muslim
bashing, I was more going from the approach that if someone goes out and
threatens to kill another person and makes those threats twice in a six month
period, you would naturally go talk to that person if the fellow threatened
turns up dead. In this case, Osama bin Laden had issued two very public ...
fatwahs against American citizens and against American installations. You have
to take the man at his word. He's not just doing that to generate publicity.
In the course of that, there was also [an] intelligence operation behind the
scenes, where key personnel in his organization either turned themselves in or
were captured, and in the course of that debriefing, a picture starts coming
together and there's that "aha" moment that, "Oh, we do have a problem. We've
actually got someone who doesn't like us and is wanting to kill us."
The danger I think that has happened is we've tended to make Osama bin Laden
sort of a superman in Muslim garb. I mean, he's 10 feet tall, he is
everywhere, he knows everything, he's got lots of money and he can't be
challenged. Actually, Osama bin Laden, in my view, represents more of a
symptom of a problem, and the problem is this: the Saudi Arabian government,
not just Osama bin Laden but many people in Saudi Arabia, have been sending
money to radical Islamic groups for years. ...
Isn't it a tradition in Saudi Arabia to pay off potential dangers to your
Oh, absolutely. They've made it into an art form and that's exactly what
they've done. So, in this case, Osama bin Laden is not unusual in that regard.
I think what's made him unusual is he's gotten fed up with the US presence in
Saudi Arabia and I attribute it to the passion of an idealist and someone who's
relatively young and when you're young and full of passion and you really
believe what you say you believe, you're going to do some things which, to the
rest of the world, may not appear terribly rational.
But back up for a second. He's fed up with US presence in Saudi Arabia. To
most of us, we're in Saudi Arabia to defend them.
... Although the core of Islam is one of courtesy and politeness to others, the
fact of the matter is that the United States culture and US society is viewed
as the ... exact opposite of everything that Islam stands for, [particularly
in] the version [of Islam] practiced by Osama bin Laden. And so, as a result,
he wants to purge his society, to cleanse [it] of this influence of the
infidels, and he sees the existing Saudi ruling family as allowing what would
be considered the most sacred shrines of the Islamic world to basically be
contaminated because the US is there with its western ways, with its use of
alcohol, with its women who are running around not properly dressed and hidden
and so, it ends up being a real culture clash and he's appealing to a
fundamentalist view of taking society back to what it was.
But is he, from your estimation ... the guy we should really be after? At
least that we should be publicizing in the way that we're publicizing?
When you look at who's killed Americans in the last 10 years, the individuals
he's supported and backed--I'm basing that upon the initial information that's
been released in the indictments and conversations with others in the
intelligence communities--Osama bin Laden has been the one killing Americans.
No other terrorist group in the world has been out killing Americans except for
Osama bin Laden. Where Americans have been killed, they've been collateral
damage. They haven't been the target, they've been in the wrong place at the
wrong time. It's not like in the mid-80s when you had a variety of groups
targeting Americans, attacking Americans at the Rome and Vienna airports and at
a cafe outside the Italian embassy and blowing up Pan Am 103 and putting a bomb
on a TWA--it was incident after incident after incident where Americans were
clearly in the cross hairs of several different terrorist groups. Fortunately,
we're in a situation now where those groups are largely inactive, they've
stopped targeting Americans, and Osama bin Laden remains out there as the one
really targeting us.
So, we recognize that he's the threat. He's serious about wanting to kill
Americans, but as long as he's in Afghanistan, as long as he doesn't have
access to a cell phone, as long as he can't just hop on a plane and travel
wherever he wants without fear of being arrested, his ability to plan and
conduct terrorist operations is extremely limited. We have to recognize [that]
he would like to do a lot of damage. He would like to kill Americans, but
wanting to is different from being able to, having the full capabilities in
But did he have more of a capability when he was in the Sudan?
To an extent. ... It was about '94-'95 period that the United States really
started putting pressure on Sudan to get him out of there because he was then
seen [as] a factor in things such as the World Trade Center bombing. Even then,
with all of his hatred and the amount of money he has--I've heard everything
from $30 million to $800 million, so pick your number--but even with all of
that money, we do have clear evidence right now from two different cases, from
the case of Ramzi Yousef and from the case of the individuals who blew up the
embassies in Tanzania and Kenya [that his operatives did not have unlimited
resources.] In both cases, those operatives, if you will, for Osama bin Laden,
they were not lighting cigars with $100 bills. They weren't staying at the
best hotels. They weren't eating at the best restaurants, they weren't driving
around in Mercedes and they weren't passing out dollars like packets of candy
to cops and buying their influence. They had limited resources. So, limited
resources limits your ability to conduct operations. ...
... I find it very interesting that even though Osama bin Laden, who represents
a very narrow majority of the Islamic world--I mean, his views are at the
radical fringe--he's ... issued this fatwah, "kill Americans." He's sort of
like almost a 21st century version of Lenin. Instead of calling for, "Workers of
the world unite," it's "Muslims of the world unite." And they're not uniting.
They're ignoring him. I would have more confidence in his ability to really
represent the vision of Islam if in the aftermath of his public calls and his
attack on US targets, you saw Muslim groups moving out and attacking US
citizens ... attacking US targets ... American bodies piling up. That's not
happening. You're not even having a good protest at a US embassy anywhere
except maybe in Syria after we bomb Iraq. ...
So ... we need to put it back in perspective. Yes, he does not like Americans,
he does not like the United States. If he had the wherewithal to kill
Americans and attack US targets, he would do so, but he doesn't. He is not in
the position, he's not an army. He doesn't have an arsenal of nuclear weapons,
he doesn't have an arsenal of chemical/biological weapons. He doesn't have
military forces in place ready to launch, because then he'd also need
transportation to move them from point A to point B and once they get to point
B, then he's gotta figure out how to get them back to point A. He doesn't like
us. He would like to conduct operations. He'd like to make our life
miserable, but thank God, he's been limited by his ability to do that, in part
because his people are in jail, in part because he's holed up in Afghanistan
and no other country out there is willing to open its arms to him and say,
"Come sit down and work with us." ...
[Is it] ... fair to say what you're saying is that the president of the
United States, his national security advisor, his deputy national security
advisor for counter-terrorism, are basically blowing smoke [about the danger
posed by bin Laden] and his followers]?
They're grossly exaggerating the problem. They are hyping it. They shouldn't
be talking about rising terrorism. Instead of saying "terrorism's rising,"
it's not. "Terrorism is spreading," it's not. "More people are dying from
terrorism," not the case. But what they should be saying is, "There's one
individual out there that really doesn't like us, and he's made it his mission
in life to kill Americans, and we've gotta deal with him." But we need to have
a voice of reason in that process instead of putting ourselves out crying wolf,
because this is essentially what's taking place right now. They call it the
administration that cries wolf.
On the streets in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, in Khartoum, it seems to us
that all this publicity is making [bin Laden] into a folk hero.
I'm sure he's sort of becoming the Che Guevara of the Muslim world, an icon, a
symbol of where you get to rebel against your parents and make a statement, but
it hasn't translated yet into people actually being willing to take up arms and
put their lives at risk to go out and kill others and incur the possible threat
of retaliation. ... We like to portray the radical Muslims as suicide bombers.
Well, Hamas has not been out there doing suicide bombings every day, every
week. And it's not just a matter of not being able to find recruits. That's
one of the problems that you face with suicide bombers. You only get to use
them once. But once you use them, they sit back and look and [ask], "Is this
an effective approach? Are we accomplishing what we want to accomplish?"
If all you're interested in doing is killing people without regards for the
consequence, then that, in my view, would be the ultimate dangerous terrorist.
We see even with Osama bin Laden, that's not how he's operating. He's not just
wanting to kill for killing's sake. He wants to put pressure on the United
States to get out of Saudi Arabia and to leave the Muslim world alone. And to
the extent that the United States takes policy actions that either increase the
perception that we're tarnishing Islam or decrease the perception that we're
tarnishing Islam, that will have a heavy influence, in my view, on whether we
see increased terrorist attacks or diminished terrorist attacks. ...
[One source we've spoken to] says that ... it [is] a mistake to identify bin
Laden as some all powerful figure, that's not the way it works. He says that
even if you get rid of him, you jail him and kill him and do what you're going
to do him, there will be another Ali, Mustafa, someone who will step in his
He sounds like he's very naïve and hasn't had a lot of experience in
either politics or in organization. The fact of the matter is leadership makes
a difference. That's one of the reasons that when you look at the lack of
domestic terrorism in the United States from skinheads and neo-Nazis, they
haven't had an effective leader. You've got lots of knuckleheads out there who
hate other people for racist reasons and they spew invective and they talk
tough and they want to do violence and if they get the chance they may do
something but they've never really coalesced or brought together because they
lack that kind of twisted visionary. That's fortunate. ...
There's not another Ali or Mustafa out there at this point and Osama bin Laden
in my view has not been a very effective organizer or leader. He talks a great
game and puts out terrific threats as far as stirring the passions in the
United States and maybe firing up the imaginations of some young Muslims
throughout the world. But when push comes to shove, can he get a group of
people who are together who will say: we are going to plan an operation, we're
going to put our lives on the line, we're going to go out and try and kill
people and we don't care what the consequence is? It hasn't happened. ...
Have we pinned too many incidents on Osama bin Laden? It seems that once
his name become public, he was responsible for these bombings in Saudi Arabia
or somehow linked to those, to Ramzi Yousef, to this, to that. It's almost
like he was the convenient suspect.
I can understand how it certainly appeared that way because you hadn't heard
anything about this guy before unless you were reading the New York Times and
Jeff Gerth's piece from a couple of years ago. But there was also an influx of
intelligence of some defectors and the arrests of key people came in, provided
additional intelligence, the picture started becoming clearer of what this guy
was up to. When you look at all of the groups that conducted attacks in the
last ten years, Osama is the one far and away that is appearing to attack
American citizens and US targets. Most of the other things that could be
classified as attacks against the United States tend to be collateral
But is he attacking or is it just that he provides some money or some
I would say money and guidance. Osama himself is not out leading the charge.
He's not building the devices. He's the leadership core. I come back to the
issue of leadership. These groups can be dangerous if they have someone who is
a bit of a visionary and a bit of a leader. Osama does fit that category. In
my view he's not a very effective leader, he's not a very effective organizer.
He certainly has the passion, but he hasn't had the ability to rally and
mobilize and really create a political movement that becomes, if you will, a
trans-Islamic political movement.
So when the president of the Sudan, for instance, tells us that the problem
is that you - the United States - made us push him out of the Sudan and now he
is dangerous. Now he wants to attack you. When he was here in Khartoum, we
had him under control...
I think he's probably a good politician in trying to find justification for
what they did before and a way to shift the blame. The fact of the matter is,
Sudan's got its own problem in harboring lots of bad groups that if they didn't
harbor those groups, their ability to conduct attacks - even though they've
been limited - would be even less. Sudan has to make a choice whether it wants
to be part of the civilized world or the part of the world supporting
terrorism. I think in this case the United States made a real error in bombing
a plant without the right evidence because that ends up figuratively blowing up
in our face when we blew up the plant.
We shouldn't take as credible their claim that when they had Osama in
Khartoum, he was basically building roads and--
No, absolutely not. I think that's ridiculous because the fact of the matter
is that if he was absolutely up to charitable works and constructive public
projects, he wouldn't have been an issue. ... If the Sudan was so convinced
that he was not engaging in anything harmful, I think he would have put up more
of a struggle. ...
In the Nairobi bombing, in terms of the issue of coordination and
dissemination of information [among the US intelligence agencies], there seemed
to be some prior warning about the bombing.
Well, see, the real flaw with what the US government has done goes back to
Admiral Inman. This was the negative side of the Inman report [released in]
the aftermath of bombings of US embassies in Beirut [which] recommended a
substantial upgrading of the physical plans to make them hardened targets so
terrorists couldn't attack it. That was a great suggestion. It needed to be
done; wasn't done completely. ...
The problem is we don't have Kreskin the Mind Reader in the US government to
predict what terrorists are going to do. In my experience you rarely had
advance notification that some group of individuals are going to carry out an
attack against some target. ... The threat warnings, when you get them, are so
vague and difficult to act upon that it lulls people into complacency. ...
But what we do know is that if you will simply follow the recommendations that
Admiral Inman made about hardening facilities, building walls up, set back from
the street, that there's a physical limit to how many explosives someone can
pack into a van or a truck. Laws of physics take over; unless they've got a
nuclear weapon in there, set-back is going to increase your chance of
surviving, decrease their chance of dying. The US government--particularly
State Department--from 1988 on did not make embassy security a priority. In
fact, when I was there in 1992, the State Department started on a major effort
to get rid of diplomatic security officers and to downgrade embassy security
Counter-measures put in place end up being an effective deterrent because the
three things you need to do terrorism: You've got to have a motive, you've got
to have the capability -- the know-how how to build the bomb -- but you've got
to have the opportunity, the access to the target. We've seen in the world of
aviation when you put in measures that prevent people from getting onboard
planes with guns and knives, guess what? Hijackings go down. When you put in
place measures that make it more difficult to put bombs onboard planes, bombs
don't blow up on airplanes. When you put in place security measures which make
it more difficult for people to put a vehicle next to a building and leave it
unattended, car bombs don't happen. ..