Can you summarize
U.S. efforts against terrorism during the '80s?
I'll go back to the Middle East in the '80s. We had the American embassy
bombed, we had the Marine compound bombed, we had hostages taken, we had a
number of aircraft hijackings. And throughout that whole period, we really
didn't take a proactive approach in getting back at these people.
When the Marine compound was bombed [and] 241 servicemen were killed,
that same day right down the street, French barracks was bombed,  Frenchmen
killed in that. The French retaliated immediately against targets that they
identified as being terrorist targets. ... Meanwhile, here in the United States
the president had gone before the nation and said, "We're not going to put up
with this. We're going to strike at those who caused this to happen." Secretary
of Defense [Caspar Weinberger] within a week said, "We're going to react. We're
going to send a team out there, and we're going to get going."
Well, I was a member of this team whose purpose was to go out and prepare for
retaliation against those who had done this to us. It took five weeks for the
coordination process and the Pentagon to finally allow us to get on airplanes
to go. Every day I left home with my bags, said goodbye to my family, got
ready to get on a plane, every night I was home again. ...
So we have a long-term history. ... We didn't do anything.
What message does that send to the terrorists?
That we're pretty soft on terrorists. ... Now, if you want to make the argument
that firing a cruise missile at somebody as a way to respond, I would tell you
from their perspective they were laughing when it happened; they're probably
still laughing now. Cruise missiles are not the way that you respond to
somebody who's out there trying to kill you in large numbers.
How do you respond?
I believe a military option is the only thing. ... [George Schultz], when he
was Secretary of State, had a policy saying that we should be proactive. ... We
need to get out there and go after people as soon as they have something. We
should have the kinds of intelligence on terrorist targets that we had in the
past about the Russians when they were our big enemy. We spent billions of
dollars identifying Russian targets that we could strike against if the
Russians did something to us. I don't know what we've spent on identifying
terrorist targets, but I expect it's not very much money. We wait until
something happens and then we look.
When Rich Higgins was hung [in July 1989], pictures of him showing hanging in
Beirut, we did not have one target pre-selected that we were going to go after.
We didn't know what to do. We were in shock. We had a picture of a Marine
Lieutenant Colonel hanging with the terrorists there, and we didn't have any
plan to do anything. ...
Tell me more specifically about when we got the picture [of Higgins]. Where
were you when that was released? And sort of what the debate was at that
I was actually out of the military by then. I was working on Capitol Hill, so I
had a different set of people I was talking to -- White House, CIA and
Pentagon, and there was clear anger. Those of us who'd come out of the
operational field who had worked Lebanon and knew Beirut pretty well, knew
quite a bit about the terrorists and where they were training. We were all
incensed, upset, disappointed, certainly saddened by Rich's death, but pretty
upset that the Pentagon had not really done the kind of work they should have
Let me start back just in general on the early days of Beirut. Why were you
sent to Beirut?
We took a team in two times. After the bombing of the U.S. Embassy, of
course, Secretary Schultz was on TV expressing a lot of sorrow and sadness.
There were a lot of feelings that this was somewhat of an intelligence failure;
the United States was unprepared for these kinds of things to happen to an
embassy. Secretary Weinberger, of course, at that time had a large
military presence in Beirut and I'm sure that he saw the bombing of the embassy
[and] probably thought, "I don't want that to happen to my military
So, we sent a small team into Beirut whose primary purpose was to ascertain the
intelligence situation. That is, was there sufficient intelligence being
acquired? How was it being acquired? Was it moving around? Were the right
people seeing it?
We, in the United States, had a lot of intelligence activities in Beirut at
that time. They didn't all report to the same person. ... The real issue was,
was all this intelligence come in one place where it could be analyzed and put
to good and immediate use? The answer was no. ...
When the embassy was bombed, how much of our intelligence capability was
The CIA station chief and a number of people who worked for him were killed
when that happened. So for the most part, the CIA operations in Beirut were
essentially terminated at that point. ... When you lose people like that, you
lose the connections to their sources, to their agents. ... All these things
have to be reconstituted and put back together. ...
You also sent back a report. What did the report say?
... We sent back a report to the secretary of defense that really we needed to
have an intelligence operation over there that was more focused, where all the
intelligence that was available came to one place. And we needed to be sure
that it was analyzed properly, and that that intelligence went directly to the
military forces inside Beirut so that they could be aware of threats and
prepare to defend themselves if a threat, in fact, came about.
You actually proposed in that report that it was a good possibility of
We said in that report that if there were not something done to improve the
intelligence gathering, sharing of information in Beirut, that in fact, a
military presence was at risk. ...
So, what was done?
Well, nothing was done. We ran into bureaucratic procedures. ... Generally, we
ran into bureaucratic stonewalling about making any changes. No changes
whatsoever from our recommendations were implemented until after the bombing of
the Marine compound. At that point, every recommendation was implemented, but
it cost 241 servicemen to get there.
You go back after the Marine barracks got bombed. Why?
We went back after the bombing because the president had said we were going to
retaliate [and] the secretary of defense wanted us to go over and see about
We had a very small team. ... We were receiving information from Washington,
D.C., about who might be the targets and where the targets might be located. We
took that information and we got on the ground and tried to verify what we
could. ... We had a number of targets that we had no problem identifying. ...
You also had a list of people that were targeted basically. Why, and for
We had a list of people provided by the CIA, and that's because the CIA had
good information on people that were involved in the bombing. We were not
looking specifically for those people inasmuch as we were looking for where
they were located. What houses were they living in? What buildings were they
frequenting? So, we were looking for places more than we were the individuals
that were in them. The CIA really had a handle on the folks; we were looking to
have a handle on the locations.
Assassination as a tool, tell me the possibility of that, and the pluses and
At that time assassination was certainly not something that was on the table.
... We had an executive order at that point banning assassination. ... We
certainly on our own team were not looking at targets in terms of
assassination. Assassination is where you specifically target that one person,
and you focus on taking him, and only him, out. And that was never where we
But, looking at a location where someone is, isn't that in some ways
I think from a military perspective, you're targeting him, you're targeting the
building, you're targeting the command post around him. ... I never looked at
any of this as assassination.
So, what was possible? What did you guys find? What did you guys report?
I can't speak about all the things still. Some of it is still clearly
classified. I'll start right at the top.
Two Syrian anti-aircraft positions, nowhere close to any civilian people,
nowhere close to any place where somebody who was not a party to the military
action could not have been hit. ... They were in Lebanese territory, not inside
Syria. In terms of the rest of the terrorists, the people we were after, the
buildings they ran it out of, were clearly identifiable. A precision bomb in
any one of those would have created some collateral damage. ...
And what happened?
Nothing at all was done. We did nothing whatsoever. In fact, when we came
back to the Pentagon with a rather substantial report that talked about the
options we could do -- not just in terms of striking back, but other rather
good intelligence operations that we could have activated -- we were met with
anger, we were not welcomed. We had people who absolutely berated us for even
suggesting that we retaliate. We were surprised, to say the least. It was a
very small report. Not many people saw it, but it clearly was put away in a
back drawer very, very quickly. There was absolutely no follow-up to anything
... I think it was turned down because people remembered Desert One,
1979, when we tried to rescue hostages in Iran. It was failed mission and it
cost [Jimmy Carter] his presidency, it probably cost general officers and
civilian leadership inside the Pentagon careers, maybe, or promotions in one
form or another. And I tend to think that people were just afraid to endorse
something that may not work, and would put their careers on the line.
We were able to get into the White House and have an audience with Mr. Ed
Hickey, a nice one-hour session with him. We talked with him about our report.
We talked with him about our recommendations, he listened carefully, he asked
very good questions, and when we were all done, he said, "Gentlemen, if the
president could hear what you have to say, he would order it done immediately,
but they," and he pointed back towards the Pentagon, "will never let him see
it." And he was exactly right. He never saw it, and nothing was ever done.
What was the debate at that point between, for instance, the State
Department and Defense Department?
As it turns out, Secretary Weinberger had a stated policy of not really
getting engaged in military activities that didn't have clearly defined
targets, clearly defined goals and objectives. He was reluctant, as perhaps
many in the military were, to take military action [when] you didn't see a
clear path to something decisive in a positive vein. He was not predisposed to
stroking back at terrorists, nor were those around him.
In contrast, Secretary Shultz was on the other side. He was very vocal about
the need to strike back at terrorists when we could. Certainly if we knew
about an attack before it was going to happen and we had good information, to
be proactive, strike at terrorists before they could strike at us. So it was
strange to find the State Department proactive about striking at terrorists,
and the Department of Defense reluctant and hesitant. ...
State sponsorship of terrorism has always been talked about a lot, but back
in the days that you were in Beirut, what was the evidence of who these
terrorists were being sponsored by, and how large the involvement was?
In the early days of Lebanon, ... the name Hezbollah did not exist, for
starters. We had a lot of Shiite Muslims in Lebanon who were radicals, and who
were not quite banded together. They were clearly getting support from Iran,
and it evolved into a very dedicated Syria participation in this. The Syrians
have a long history of being involved in terrorist acts against us. The White
House admitted it when questioned directly back in 1985, and that involvement
on the part of the Syrians included the bombing of the Marine embassy, the
bombing of the Marine compound, the taking of hostages. Syrians were involved
until the very last hostages were released.
So we had Iranian involvement, we had Syrian involvement. Clearly we have those
groups operating in Southern Lebanon and in Beirut itself, with the Hezbollah
factions of people. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we've not really taken
[Syria] to task. ... Damascus right now still houses a number of terrorist
organizations whose headquarters are right there in Damascus.
So this is at a time when Shultz is out there sort of saying, "We're going
to hit hard at terrorism, we have the force, we will use it, this is not
acceptable." We had the evidence of the involvement, so what did we do in
regard to Syria?
We've never done anything with regards to Syria. We haven't even done that
well with them diplomatically up until [former President of Syria] Hafez
al-Assad died here a couple of years ago, and now his son is in there. ...
Things may have changed, but the reality is the Syrians have been in most of
these things up to their elbows. Pan Am 103 they were involved in; we were
content to put a couple Libyans on trial for it, but those Libyan's tracks went
right back to Damascus, where a lot of the planning was done and where I'm told
that some of the bomb fabrication was done, or at least planned.
When the president speaks of striking back at states that harbor terrorists,
it's pretty difficult for those who have been in the terrorism,
counterterrorism, and intelligence worlds for a long time, not to immediately
question what are we going to do about Syria. ...
So we're back in '84 and we find evidence that [Syria is] involved very
directly in the bombings of the embassy and then the bombings of the Marine
barracks and the loss of marines. ... One would assume that with the rhetoric
that was going on at that point, that that would be a sure push of our
politicians to take severe action. Why not?
... For some reason our national command authority had just kind of put all
this stuff off on the side. I think they wanted to forget that we were pulling
the Marines out. It's almost as if we wanted to put that whole Lebanon chapter
behind us and close the door. In fact, that's what we did. Maybe there were
concerns that if we struck back it would create more enduring, lasting tension;
maybe there were concerns that if we did something to Syria it would impact on
the relationship between Syria and Israel. ...
Many of us who were involved in the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, in the
'80s and into the '90s, who [warned of] Syrian involvement in all of these
major incidents, have always asked, "Why were they never taken to task? [Or] at
least publicly called to task for it on a major scale?" Let the American public
know what Hafez al-Assad and his people were doing to us over that long period
There's no clear answer, and I've asked plenty of people, smart, knowledgeable
people, in and out of government. ...
Then, the one action we find that we can do is we get involved in sponsoring
Lebanese intelligence. Tell me about that.
There were allegations that we were involved with Lebanese intelligence and the
bomb that tried to blow up Sheik Fadlallah's house. In fact, the CIA had
been working with a group of Lebanese military people, but the intent was not
to take out a target or to go back and blow up Sheik Fadlallah's house or his
headquarters. ... The real point of that work at that time was to try to
develop an effective counterterrorist unit.
My understanding is that it was a group of rogues within that that thought they
would go ahead and blow that up because it would make us happy. But I had good
associations with the agency throughout that period. I've been told by numerous
people that it was not an operation intended to do that. I believe it, because
it was poorly executed. I believe, had the CIA been involved it would have
been a better job.
What was the reaction, though? What's the fallout from it?
The reaction, obviously, was that we create more hate and discontent towards
us; people clearly rose up against us. Hezbollah then grows by numbers, we
create more terrorists than we had before we started, we get a black eye
throughout the Middle East, it hits the front page of the newspaper. And it's
an enduring problem.
How does it affect our abilities to gather intelligence, to use covert
... I believe any time you conduct an operation that causes civilian
casualties, you lessen your ability to effectively work in and among those
people you're trying to target. Our only success in dealing with terrorists --
whether they be in Lebanon or wherever throughout the world -- is our ability
to find Muslims who will support us, who will do things for us, who are willing
to go into some of these areas and acquire intelligence for us. When we,
intentionally or otherwise, kill civilians, create collateral damage, we're
less likely to find people who will do things for us.
Why did we not have any human [intelligence]?
We've done bad job, unfortunately, over the years. ... Mid-seventies, President
Carter, Admiral Turner, who's director of C.I.A., made a rather substantial
shift in our intelligence collection. They both made public statements that we
really needed to focus more on technical systems to collect intelligence; that
satellites, whether they be getting imagery or collecting signals, were really
the way that the United States needed to go. So we had a clearing out of a lot
of the human intelligence capabilities -- the case officers we had at the CIA.
Over the years, successive attempts to build that capability up again have had
difficulty. ...We've had budgets that have maintained a pretty straight line
profile. Technical systems take a big chunk of that; personnel costs us more
money. So over the 25 years or so we have just not been able to grow. And now,
Mr. [George] Tennet, as the director of the C.I.A., has tried to grow that
back, and he's done a reasonably good job.
Director [John] Deutsche, when he was the director of the CIA, he put out a
policy that we will not deal with unscrupulous people. Well, we're dealing
with unscrupulous people when you're trying to deal with terrorists. That
policy impacted on our ability to go out there and recruit agents who were
terrible people, but they were the kind of people that had access to the
information or the information that we needed to have to fight this war on
terrorism. ... [Before Director Deutsche], I'm led to believe that we in fact
were working on some very good operations that had potential to grow into
bigger things, and that many of them were terminated while he was the
We have another problem at the agency, and in fact here at the government: If
today you wanted to run an audio -- that is, a wire tap -- operation outside
the United States, it requires 14 signatures, inside the CIA, to approve it.
That just tells you right there that we've got such a bureaucratic problem to
run operations that the system will stifle you, long before you can get an
operation up and going. ... Unless it's an extraordinary target, it's not worth
it to go back here and fight the bureaucracy to get approval.
Bill Buckley. ... What is the significance that they take him, and why was
that so important?
Losing Bill Buckley as the CIA station chief was significant, was unfortunate.
Many people would say he got lax with his own personal security. Clearly, it
was a coup to grab a CIA station chief and be able to keep him. ... When you
can take a CIA station chief, you're making a very substantial impact on the
ability of our government to operate.
We at one point were very close to running a rescue operation to get Bill
Buckley back. I was told by people who would know that we had a very good fix
on where he was. We had somebody inside that building who was providing good,
credible information. We in fact moved forces into Europe, maybe further, in
preparation to rescue Bill Buckley. And the operation was canceled by the White
House. Some say by Oliver North. It was canceled shortly before it was going
Those who've I've spoken with who were in the know say it was canceled because
we had a very active program going on, out of the White House, arms for
hostages, and the rescue of Bill Buckley might have impacted negatively on
that program. ...
Well, wait a minute. I thought that policy was developed to get the
That policy, in turn, was a great deal for the Iranians: We'll give you two
hostages and we'll go pick up two more. It's an endless source of money. I'd
be happy to run an operation like that. You keep paying me for something, I'll
may sure I've got plenty of it.
So how absurd was it that we went in that direction?
Unbelievable. I think people in the state department, clearly people at the
CIA, certainly people [at the Department of Defense] who understand terrorism
and counterterrorist operations were aghast at the whole thing. It was
amateurish at best, absolutely amateurish.
What did it do to our ability to deal with terrorism?
It undermined the whole thing. ... When you are trying to run undercover
operations and suddenly you've got some crazy operation, by any standards,
being run, you've lost all credibility with those with whom you're dealing.
... When you're fighting a war in the shadows, where deception is used by
everybody, from your lessons learned in Beirut, how does one fight this
The way we operated in Beirut was very, very low-key. I mean, the most
important thing you can do in doing the kinds of things we were doing is be
unobservable. Stop and talk to people of all types. Never act like you're
doing something sinister. We would stop and talk to anybody who we could get
eye contact with. We always said, "All right, we talk to Muslims, we talk to
Christians." We'd stop and have a cup of coffee, we would walk the streets.
We'd be laughing all the time, we'd be having a good time. But the bottom line
was, in all those things we were doing, we were collecting information. ...
Let's just talk about PanAm 103 for a second, ... the idea that one can deal
with terrorism through the legal system. What does that get you and what do
... When we capture people and we go into a long, drawn-out, legalized process,
we're doing what it is we believe in, but we're not sending out the message
that we're dealing harshly with people.
How does this tie into, also, the state sponsors? How did we miss the boat,
when it came to Pan Am 103?
PanAm 103, there were clear indications that trails went back to Syria. We
found two low-level guys, I believe, in the Libyans. We showcased them, we ran
them through trials, we did this, we did that, but the whole time that was
happening, those who were the masterminds and the money people behind this had
to be sitting back and watching this with glee. Because, once again, we were
not going after the people who were truly responsible. And I believe our
government knows who in fact was truly responsible. It wasn't two guys out of
These events, how do they relate to the present day? Have we shot ourselves
in the foot to some extent?...
... First off, [the terrorists of today are] probably surprised that we are
indeed reacting. Now, we've not quite reacted yet, but we're threatening to
react, we're making all the moves that we're going to react. I don't believe
that they thought we would react other than perhaps firing some more cruise
... Every time somebody has struck at us, we've threatened, we've stood up,
we've pounded our chest, we've blown out fire out of our mouths, smoke out of
our ears, and then within a couple of weeks we've sat back down and gone back
to business as usual. So we've sent a message over the years that we weren't
quite serious. We would take legal action. We would trace you down, track you
down, that we'd take you to court. But we wouldn't do to you what you're
willing to do to us, and that is, go right into the face of danger and strike
at you and fight you and kill you and root you out, and do the kinds of things
that they're more likely to understand. ...
We do go after one country, one man, [Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi].
Why is that different? How come, all of a sudden, we bring down the wrath of
God on that state?
My honest answer to that is, probably Ollie North deserves the credit. ... I
believe that Ollie, because of his position in the White House, and because of
intelligence that indicated the Libyans were involved, that Ollie was probably
able to convince the president, directly or indirectly, that we could do
something, that it was low risk and maybe high impact. ...
So, why though? Why Libya?
The Libyans were involved in the bombing of the La Belle disco and we
had clear intelligence on that, and I think we strictly wanted to strike one of
these easy targets. Our big bad guys at that time were Iran still [and] ...
Hezbollah, mostly in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, controlled by the Syrians. We
were really talking about other geopolitical implications to go back into
So here we had Libya, isolated country, isolated target. Qaddafi was running a
lot of things on his own, so it wasn't like we were going to strike at him and
find that we had upset the entire rest of the Muslim world. So he was a
focused target. ...
How successful was that event?
Qaddafi really didn't do anything against us after that. I think he was kind
of surprised that we had done it. He probably had a close call with death.
Whether the bomb came within 500 meters or 50 miles, he realized that we were
serious about maybe doing something to him. So that was our only real attempt
to strike back at people. ...
So you look back at it now, ... Should [military force have] been used way
back when, and much harsher? Could that have helped, in fact, change
I believe that if we used military force at that point, that we would have sent
a message that would still be out there today: that when somebody strikes at
all -- particularly when you kill 241 servicemen -- you would think, the
American public should think, that we're going to do something about it. To
not do anything at all I believe sent a clear message to those terrorists back
then, people who are terrorists now, and those in the future. And the only way
we're going to change that image is to do something, to do it right, to make
sure that the targets we hit are the targets we want to hit, and I believe that
we'll start to have a shift in terrorism when we're able to respond. ...
How does that affect a bin Laden?
Bin Laden, a year or two ago, did an interview with somebody and in that
interview he reminded the person he was being questioned by that we have never
done anything. Bin Laden is acutely aware of the fact that, as a nation,
historically, we don't have a record of striking back at those who have stuck
at us. ...
lessons from the 1980s +
links & readings +
tapes & transcripts
pbs online +
photo copyright © reuters newmedia inc./corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation