What were your first thoughts on Sept. 11?
I have to say that I was shocked, like any American, about these attacks --
their audacity, really, their technical brilliance. But I was not surprised,
because these attacks, in many ways, were the culmination of a very clear trend
in terrorism in the last 10 years to try to create mass casualties. So it was
not a surprise.
Why did it seem to be a surprise to so many people?
I think that the community of people who follows terrorism closely has usually
been pretty small. I think it will be bigger now. That community of people had
a pretty much a consensus in the last couple of years that we were going to see
mass casualty terrorism attacks inside the United States. There had been three
commissions -- two of which I was involved in, one of which I chaired -- which
reached this conclusion within the last 15 months. So people who are interested
in terrorism and who follow the question certainly were no surprised. We saw
this coming, in a general sense; certainly not the actual way it was done.
Drawing from the beginning of our chronology, the Reagan administration
comes into power. What were the lessons that were learned from the Carter
administration and how the issue of terrorism was dealt with?
When Reagan came into office in 1981, as you will recall, he was sworn in at
the very moment the terrorist government of Iran was letting our embassy people
go. It was a very dramatic inauguration. I think it made quite a deep
impression on the top people in the Reagan administration, from the president
on down, that we had to deal forcefully with terrorism wherever we saw it. And
that was certainly an early theme in the Reagan administration from, really,
January 20 on.
By "forceful," what exactly does that mean? What was the policy?
The policy that was arrived at by the Reagan administration was based first on
the concept that there will be no concessions made to terrorists. Secondly,
that states which sponsored terrorism -- we had in mind very much Iran -- simply could not be allowed to have normal
international relations with the rest of the world.
President Carter had already broken diplomatic relations in 1978 with Libya,
and of course with Iran after the takeover of our embassy. So it's not as if
this was a brand-new idea from the Reagan administration. But there certainly
was a great deal more attention paid to terrorism as a foreign policy issue,
and a view that we had not been forceful in responding to the takeover of the
American embassy in 1979, and that that might be a bad precedent.
Libya is on the radar screen immediately. Why? What was taking place, and
what do we do about it?
The Libyans were sponsoring terrorism, really, from the late 1970s on. And they
were sponsoring attacks against friends and allies. There was, as you remember,
quite a lot of terrorism in Europe at that time. Not all Libyan -- some from the
The U.S. government basically felt very strongly that Qaddafi, with his oil
wealth, had something that the other states did not have, which was a capacity
to fund a lot of terrorism. And we knew he was, for example, actively funding
the Irish Republican Army in Ireland, which was killing Irish and British
citizens quite regularly. So there was a fairly clear view that, at that time,
Qaddafi was, in effect, terrorist enemy number one. ...
The bombing of the Beirut embassy takes place. You were over in an embassy
at that point. What does this do to our thinking? How does this change the way
we deal with terrorism?
The bombing of the embassy in Beirut, which was in late 1983, had an immediate
effect on any ambassador serving abroad, and certainly on me, in that the
president made it very clear through the secretary of state that he held every
American ambassador personally responsible for the security of his building.
That led to additional measures at the embassy I was in, which was in the
Netherlands -- measures that we hadn't taken. We had not been as sensitive to
the possibility of a truck driving at a high speed into our embassy. So we took
some physical security measures and so forth. I think it had a fairly dramatic
effect on, at least, the diplomatic service to start paying attention to this
as a threat to their embassy.
Why did we get caught surprised?
The problem with fighting terrorism is that the terrorist has two important
asymmetries in his favor, whether it's 1983 in Beirut or 2001 in New York. The
first asymmetry is that the defender -- that's us -- has to defend across the
entire range of our vulnerabilities. You have to defend all the embassies, all
the public buildings, whatever the target set is. And, of course, the terrorist
has only to attack one. He doesn't have to attack them all. He can bring all of
us force to bear on a single point, and that can be the weakest point.
The second asymmetry is that the cost of defense is dramatically different than
the cost of offense. You can shoot up an airport with an AK-47 submachine gun;
it costs you a thousand dollars maybe, with ammunition. Defending that airport
will cost you millions of dollars.
And so these two asymmetries, in effect, reverse the conventional wisdom of
military affairs, which holds that the offense must have a three-to-one
advantage over the defense. In fact, it is dramatically different in terrorism.
So it's always easy after the fact to say, "Well, why weren't we defending
against a truck bomb in Beirut in 1983, or against an aircraft hijacking in
2001?" The fact is you can't defend across the entire range of your
George Shultz at the time, or a little after, is talking about covert
action, [that] everything will be done against terrorism. To some extent, is
that rhetoric? Or is it something that actually could be achieved with the
tools that we had at hand?
Just because this is an asymmetrical fight doesn't mean you can't win battles
in it. You certainly can win battles. And in order to win battles, you've got
to be ready to use the full panoply of American power, whether it's diplomatic
power, political, economic sanctions, all the way up through covert action, to
psychological warfare, or actual military operations. You have to be prepared
to use whatever of those tools, or however many of those tools you can use,
either alone or in conjunction with other countries. When Secretary Shultz
memorably said to Qaddafi, "You've had it," he meant that he was going to bring
the full weight of the American government to bear on Qaddafi.
It's talked about by a lot of other people that we didn't have the human
resources on the ground for intelligence. We tried some covert actions. There's
the famous help of the Lebanese intelligence group and the blowing up of the
car bomb in Beirut with 80 civilians killed, and the pullback. Did we have all
the tools at hand, or indeed were we disabled to some extent, and why?
If you look back today over the last 25 years, it is a fact that we have had a
progressive degeneration of our intelligence community in general; in
particular in the field of human intelligence. It began with highly politicized
attacks by Congress on the CIA in the mid-1970s. It was followed by a
disastrous pruning of the action operatives in the CIA in the late 1970s. This
is a long-term degeneration of our ability to get human intelligence. And in
the target of terrorism, human intelligence is really the only good tool you've
got in terms of finding out what's going on. ...
Now you're naming a problem that we knew about in the late 1970s. A lot of
people say that we still have that problem today.
The question is, why?
The problem of getting human intelligence against terrorism has been
exacerbated by the fact that, in 1995, the CIA imposed very restrictive
guidelines on the recruitment of terrorist spies. That has not stopped the
recruitment of those spies. We have some, but we don't have as many as we need.
And you need to have those spies if you're going to prevent terrorist
Covert actions, the use of suicides squads to hit terrorists -- is that a
necessary tool? Is that something that's possible?
What has happened in this, in my view, long-term deterioration of our
intelligence abilities is we have created a risk-averse culture at CIA in going
after terrorists. Part of it has to do with the progressive guidelines that
have been established by successive directors of Central Intelligence from time
to time -- particularly guidelines established in 1995, but others as well --
which have made it harder for CIA officers in the field to believe headquarters
when it says, "Counterterrorism is our top priority." They simply don't believe
it when they look at the administrative and bureaucratic hoops they have to go
through in order to recruit a terrorist spy.
The Marine barracks is blown up in Beirut, and the embassy
annex; we pull out the Marines. Looking back at that, was that a chapter we
lost? What tools did not work, or what did work there?
In retrospect, one can obviously be critical of the way in which the Marines
were deployed, the physical way in which they were deployed in a very exposed
position. That's a decision that the commander on the ground made. And,
unfortunately, it was wrong.
I believe, and believed at the time, it was a mistake to pull the Marines out
after the attack on the Marines. My view [was] we should have left a presence.
They should have been redeployed in a more secure or defensible position. I
think it was a real victory for the terrorists to have attacked and killed  Marines and see the United States effectively turn and leave. I think that was
a mistake. I think it fed the view among the terrorists that they could, in
fact, succeed by using violence. ...
Can you talk about the importance of what took place [at the La Belle disco
in Germany] and why the response?
The attack on Libya after they killed American servicemen in La Belle was
really, in many ways, the turning point of our counterterrorist policy in the
I actually was serving in Europe at the time. And at that particular time, the
Netherlands, which was where I was serving, had the presidency of the European
community. And so our diplomacy, vis-à-vis the Europeans and the run-up
to the attack, was largely dependent on the Netherlands. I was very much
involved in it.
Basically, we had seen a number of Libyan attacks. And we had been telling the
Europeans for several years to take it more seriously. We sent a
very clear message to the Europeans in March 1986 that we had exhausted all
"peaceful means" -- the terms we were instructed to use. All peaceful means had
been exhausted in our dealing with Libya. ...
I know for a fact that the attack on Libya had two very important consequences.
Number one, we had very clear intelligence that the Libyans had been planning
34 or 35 subsequent attacks on American targets in Europe. Those were stopped
immediately. The intelligence was clear.
And secondly, the attack on La Belle disco finally persuaded the Europeans we
were really serious about terrorism. So when in the fall of 1986 Syria was
convicted of being involved in attempting to bomb an airplane, I was sent
around by the president to talk to our allies, and to say, "We're serious this
time, too." And the allies remarkably essentially broke diplomatic relations
with Syria. They didn't actually break; they withdrew their ambassadors. But
that would have been unheard of if it hadn't been for the fact that we showed
seriousness of purpose six months before in La Belle.
You have talked about your feeling that the terrorist nations, sponsors of
terrorists, need to be dealt with very forcefully. Here is one situation where
they were. There were other situations, especially hostage taking and bombings
in Lebanon beforehand that Iran and Syria were tied to. Why did we never deal
forcefully, militarily, with Syria or Iran?
Well, you have to remember that, at least until Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism
was not the sole organizing principle of American foreign policy. We had other
interests in Syria, and we had actually problems in Iran. In the case of Iran,
during the period we're talking about, they had an ongoing war with Iraq. And I
think the general attitude in our government was to let the Iraqis kill the
Iranians. That seemed like a pretty good way to deal with the problem. So with
Iran, it was a different matter.
With Syria, they were making the case -- which some found persuasive and some
not so persuasive -- that they had a role to play in an eventual Middle East
peace. So there were other elements to our relations. You can't just go to war
with everybody over every issue. You have to have some prioritization when you
do foreign policy. ...
[In] dealing with Iran, in the end how did that come to bite us
in the butt, basically? How did that policy affect the policy in the
The decision to essentially buy our hostages' freedom from Iran was a real
failure. We had more American hostages being held at the end of the process
than at the beginning of the process, because as soon as it became evident that
the United States was willing to pay for the release of its citizens, for every
American walking around in Beirut, the price on his head went up.
As anybody who's dealt with blackmailers could have foreseen, therefore, the
policy failed. And it had a very chilling effect on our overall
counterterrorist policy for at least six months, because it removed the heart
of our policy, which was not to make concessions to terrorists. It made us look
hypocritical to the people around the world, our allies we were trying to deal
with, and of course it made us look weak to the terrorists.
I read a quote that was interesting from you a year ago that Afghanistan
was basically the Lebanon of the year 2000. Can you tell me what you mean by
There's a similarity in the challenge that's facing the [current]
administration and the problem of the 1980s, which is the terrorists are able
to operate freely in a territory. They were able to operate freely in Lebanon
in the 1980s, because there was no functioning government in Beirut. They
operate freely in Afghanistan now, because the government of Afghanistan
encourages them or lets them, and it has become a cesspool of terrorism.
In my view, in terms of how we respond now, some of the lessons of the wars of
1970s and 1980s against terrorism are still valid. We have to show the world by
our actions that we are really serious about this fight. If we can show the
world that we are really serious about punishing the terrorists who conducted
these attacks, and the government of Afghanistan, we will find that the rest of
the world will give us more support, not less. They will respect us for our
power. And they will understand that we're serious.
To some extent, this is a very difficult topic to deal with by any power.
There wasn't really a policy that was followed, but it was sort of always
catching up with what the event was, and coming up with something new each
time. Is that off track? Is that true? How did we deal throughout all those
years with the threat?
When the new wave of terrorism came on the modern world, which is the late
1960s, early 1970s, I think we spent about a decade, the United States and our
allies, trying to figure out how to deal with it. It was very tactical. We
didn't really know what we were up against. We underestimated the viciousness
of the terrorist groups. They overplayed their hands. And through a number of
terrorist attacks in Europe, and particularly the takeover of our embassy in
Tehran in 1979, that galvanized the public and political leaders, first here in
the United States and then in Europe, to come up with a strategy. I think we
had a good strategy in the 1980s to deal with the terrorism we faced. It was
based on no concessions, pressures on states, bringing terrorists to jail.
But the problem is that the terrorist threat moved out from under two-thirds of
that strategy during the 1990s. The terrorists shifted their motives. People
who were willing to die crashing an airplane into the World Trade Center are
not going to be particularly deterred by the threat of a five-year prison
sentence. So talking about bringing people like this to criminal justice is
Similarly, talking about having a policy of no concessions -- when they're not
asking for anything, there's no demand issue that says, "If you don't do X,
we'll fly into the World Trade Center." They're not trying to start a
These people hate the United States, not for what we do, but for who we are and
what we are. It's a different kind of a threat. In the 1990s, the terrorist
threat shifted out from under two-thirds of that strategy. The one part that
still is valid is putting pressure on states which support terrorism. But we
need to come up with a new and more flexible strategy for dealing with these
Pan Am 103 was an interesting event in the way it was dealt with -- the idea
that one can prosecute legally a terrorist, and somehow stop the threat. Tell
me about that, and why Pan Am 103 was a shift and what we learned from
Pan Am 103 is really the bookend to the 1980s fight against terrorism. The
handling of Pan Am 103 shows exactly that the strategy we designed in the 1980s
did not fit for the new kind of terrorism, because with Pan Am 103, the
objective was not to start a negotiation; it was to kill as many people as
could be killed, in this case 270 people.
The idea of, therefore, punishing the people who did it by bringing them to a
court of justice was wrong. It was ludicrous. It was the wrong answer. The
fact that what we eventually got almost 10 years later was a conviction of a
couple of minor operatives shows how naked this policy is in face of the new
kind of terrorism we have.
What have we learned from all those years?
I think what we've learned is that the terrorist threat is serious, but it
shifts. You cannot make a single person the sole focus of your
counterterrorism. We had Qaddafi as the number one enemy from the late 1970s to
the mid-1980s. Then we had Abu Nidal who appeared on the scene, and he was the
number one enemy from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s. Now we have bin
Laden. And the implication of that is if you can deal with this one guy, the
threat will go away. The threat doesn't go away, it evolves.
What you need to do, and certainly is sort of the central lesson, is you need
to have a policy and tools which evolve as the threat evolves. And that's the
challenge that we're into right now.
What have the terrorists learned about us?
The terrorists have learned that we have a lot of vulnerabilities, particularly
inside the United States, which had not been attacked before. The first
large-scale attack in the United States was the first World Trade Center attack
in 1993, almost 25 years after terrorism really started again. So it took a
long time for them to attack us. Now they know we're vulnerable here. And
that's certainly one lesson they've learned.
I hope they're going to learn, and as a result of our response, that it isn't
going to work. They're not going to change our life, they're not going to have
us throw out our Constitution, and they're not going to chase us out of the
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