In the Cole, he found a United States warship that was anchored in a harbor, in
a country that has traditionally been a haven for Islamic terrorists. The
decisions to allow American ships to transit and harbor in Yemen may put those
ships in an exposed position. Because we knew going in that Yemen had a
history of being unable to stop Islamic terrorists, and that they operated
through Yemen as a major transit point between Afghanistan and other parts of
the Middle East.
So, the United States knew going in that Yemen was a dangerous place. The
United States made a political and diplomatic decision to place ships there in
part to try and shore up the Yemeni support for the West. But bin Laden saw
that as yet another weak spot, an Achilles heel. They had suicide bombers on
little rafts loaded with explosives.
And when they approached the ship, pretending to be men bringing out supplies
from the harbor, they blew up. So it is yet another example of using suicide
bombers against a target that was in an exposed position. And that has become
his MO. He has gotten enough recruits of people who are willing to kill
themselves in the name of Al Qaeda and the name of an attack on American
interests. And if you have a combination of suicide bombers and the patience
and the resources to find weak spots in American security around the world,
it's a dangerous combination.
Have we become complacent about his abilities? Or had he become all the
more crafty about ...
Clearly with each attack he's gotten better. And he's become more
sophisticated. The latest attacks against the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon show a dramatic increase in his sophistication. And yet, it was also
similar in the sense that they were exposed targets, that he found a weakness
in the security system. And he was able to exploit that with suicide bombers
or suicide assailants.
And in the case of the Cole investigation, the fact that it was in Yemen,
how did that effect the ability to really penetrate, investigate it?
It's made it very difficult. The investigation has stalled in the Cole
investigation, largely because the FBI has found it difficult to operate in
Yemen. The government there has arrested some people. But it's been difficult
so far to trace these people back to Al Qaeda through the local investigation.
So there's a great frustration or has been in the United States about the
progress on that investigation.
The trials that were ongoing in relation to the embassy bombings, what did we
learn in those trials about the man and his organization?
Well ... there was one very valuable witness who agreed to cooperate with the
United States who provided real insight into the organization and layout of Al
Qaeda. And that was probably the most significant thing to come out of the
trial, was to have an insider finally lay out publicly for the first time great
detail on the Al Qaeda organization. A lot of that had already been known to
the CIA and the FBI because this man and others have been cooperating over
the last couple of years. But this was the first time it was publicly revealed
in open court. And it provided greater ammunition for those who make the case
that bin Laden does have the motive and the resources to carry out these kind
What did we learn about the organization?
Just the intensity with which the organization continues to exist solely for
the reason of killing Americans and Israelis, Americans more than any other
group. And that it's a well thought out campaign of terror.
But you're describing an organization whose sole ideology is death to
Bin Laden was the heir to the largest construction company, one of the sons of
the owner of the largest construction company in Saudi Arabia. So he grew up
wealthy and privileged in Saudi Arabia and in Western Europe. But his early
time in Afghanistan during the war radicalized him. And when he returned to
Saudi Arabia and he saw American troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, he
believed deeply that Americans were despoiling the sacred sites of Islam in
And so he has been on what he calls a jihad ever since against the United
States. And the real importance and significance of the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict, I believe, to bin Laden is not that it has spurred him on personally
... because I think he was already on this jihad. But I think the last year or
so, the problems in the Middle East have made it easier for him to recruit
others. And so his brand of anti-Americanism fits in with a larger anger and
frustration among other Arabs.
I don't think that many of the people around him are driven by the same anger
over American troops in Saudi Arabia. I think it's more about Israel and
Palestine. But that it's fed into the same thing.
And jihad to what end?
Well, he has said in the past he wants American troops out of Saudi Arabia.
And it's unclear ... even if we pulled our troops out what he would do after
that. But he is committed to a campaign against the United States.
Prior to the most recent tragedy, September 11, were there any inklings,
any intelligence that indicated that bin Laden was on the move again?
What we've found so far is that there was not any significant warnings in the
days or weeks leading up to the September 11 attacks. And that while there
had been threat warnings earlier this year that were significant and which were
... talked about publicly, there were the threats related to the 4th of July
holiday period earlier this year that were announced, those warnings seemed to
have receded after the 4th of July. And officials say they saw very little
that would have indicated a heightened activity level by bin Laden's
organization or any threats, immediate threats, of a major attack against the
When you say threat warning, what do you mean?
They pick up intercepted communications. Or they have a source who might tell
them that something's going to be happening. They might have spy satellite
photos that show movement. They might show, you know, the intercepted
telephone calls or e-mails or something like that, that might have indicated
heightened activity. And they say that they didn't see anything significant in
the days or weeks prior to this.
Now, prior to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, bin Laden had
made some very strong statements.
Yes. Several months earlier ... [ in 1998] it was one of his, I think, first
public statements of his jihad where he went on videotape and announced
his jihad against the United States. He had made what they call a fatwah. A fatwah is a religious statement claiming religious support of an edict of war or an attack, and he had issued those in the past. But
this was his most public one. ... And then that was followed by
the embassy bombings in August.
He did not do that this year. There were some statements he had made a few
weeks ago, reported statements. But it's unclear exactly how significant those
statements were. It's safe to say, I think, that the United States was caught
completely by surprise.
What's the extent of what the intelligence community might know about this
man's organizational chart .
It's not that cut and dried. It's shifting and free floating. And just think
about the fact that all these people are willing to kill themselves to do this.
It's not like a regular Army or a regular organization. These are people
driven by passion and ideology. So you don't need a strict organizational
chart. They have camps in Afghanistan where they train. And they have
networks and communications through informal relationships to get people
involved. But there's an inner circle of people around bin Laden. And then
outside that, it's much more free floating and shifting alliances among
How much control does even bin Laden have over those?
Well, it's unclear. That's one of the greatest mysteries of this over the last
few years. ... There are some other leading terrorists, for instance, from Egypt
who have gone to Afghanistan. This one guy named al Savari who was originally
part of a group called the Islamic Jihad which goes back to Sheik Omar Rahman
and the first World Trade Center bombing. There's been people speculating that
maybe it was people like him around bin Laden who really call the shots or who
are the operational people. But it's unclear. I don't think the United
States has ever thoroughly penetrated bin Laden's organization. So we don't
really understand all of the inner workings of it.
And even understand his capabilities intellectually?
He's clearly smart. And he's got money and resources. But the question is,
how operational is he versus some of the other people around him? Is he a
figurehead? Or is he deeply involved in the day-to-day running of these, you
know, planning of these operations? That's not clear at all.
Would you call him the shot caller?
I don't know. That's what I'm saying, we're not sure. He is clearly the name
that everybody knows. But at this point, I think the U.S. government probably
knows more ... obviously, than I do about this. But to me it's still unclear
whether he runs everything or whether it's even more loose than just him. He
may just provide his own blessing on operations that other people want to run.
So I'm not sure.
Well, that raises the question obviously of what we do know and our
capabilities to find out what we want to.
Well, I think this last attack shows that they're not good enough. Our
intelligence wasn't good on this. And law enforcement investigation of bin
Laden wasn't good enough. And we got beat badly by him this time. And that
shows the weaknesses, both of our intelligence and our investigative skills.
And what are those weaknesses?
I don't think we know, the CIA and the FBI. I think if they knew what their
weaknesses were, they'd be able to fix them. But one of the key things
obviously is ... whether we have any informants in his organization who are
well enough placed to provide us with adequate warning of what he plans to do.
So this idea of human intelligence is so central to be able to penetrate.
Right. For instance, what the CIA did against the KGB and the Soviet Union
during the Cold War was we recruited Russian spies inside the KGB to tell us
what the KGB was doing. We have not done that enough with Al Qaeda and bin
Laden. We don't have enough spies telling us what they're doing. And the CIA
has to do better about that. They know they have to do better. That's clearly
one of their major priorities.
Well, why wouldn't we have more spies in there if he's the face of
terrorism, he's the face of our biggest threat?
Because his organization is difficult to penetrate. I think largely because
it's based on both ethnic and religious ties. And it is based on shared
passion and emotion and an ideology. And it's difficult to buy an informant
with money who is driven not by money but by ideology. Those are the hardest
people to turn into informants. And that's different from a KGB officer in
1985 in Moscow who is desperate for more money and who didn't care much about
the Soviet Union. And so that makes it a much harder target.
Were we expecting too much from the intelligence community?
No. I mean, this is what they have to do. This is the new target. If they
don't do this, then they're not doing their job.
The most recent attack, what did we learn? What does that tell us about his
capabilities, his mindset at this moment?
I think it shows that he's patient or that his organization has great patience.
When we ramp up and we have a warning or a threat and the U.S. announces that
they've heard a warning, he lies low. He only does one or two operations a
year. And he clearly comparts them enough so that very few people know about
them. And I would imagine that it's true that people in one part of the
operation don't know about the other people. And so he's got very good
security and he's patient and willing to wait. And he's willing to look for
our vulnerabilities and attack those weak spots.
And there's no way we can not have weak spots. We are worldwide. We have
worldwide forces, worldwide interests. There's going to be some place in the
world where some American interest is not heavily protected. I mean, that's
just going to be a given. And he has shown the patience to look for those.
And he has this cadre of people now who are willing to die for him. And that's
a very volatile mix.
That's a very frightening mix.
It is. Never seen the number of suicide bombers or suicide assailants that
he has been able to project around the world in this kind of a global
conspiracy. Because we've seen that in Israel in the past or in Lebanon in the
1980s, never seen suicide bombers in other cases or suicide attackers going
around the world to different parts of the world to attack American interests
all over the globe in the way he has. And so it's a very difficult target for
us to stop, a very difficult thing for the United States to stop.
I don't know. I hope so ... I think his big mistake this time was that the
previous attacks were bad, but they were small enough for us to categorize as
terrorism. I think this time the United States is categorizing it as war. And
I think we are now going to elevate our response to him to a war footing. And
I'm not sure if he's ready for that either.
What many people think, now is, "OK, if he's responsible, go get him. Just
go over there, get him, find him. Take this guy out. Do what you have to do."
Well, the U.S. has had special operations troops training to get him for the
last several years. And they've been ready to go for years. And the
government has at various points decided not to do it because of the risk of
casualties to American troops. That, I think, is one of the changes that you'll
see is the calculus of "Is the risk worth it?" I think [that] has changed with
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon bombing attacks.
When it was small attacks on small American outposts, you could make the case, ... is it worth going after this guy when you might lose 100
American troops and not find him? Now I think people may be more
willing to take more aggressive actions against bin Laden.