Was [Sept. 11] shocking to you? How did it affect you? What were your first
thoughts when you started hearing what was going on?
I had two thoughts in the first moments after these attacks. One was the
audacity of it, to have carried out a coordinated effort that was fairly
complicated. But secondly, that it was bound to happen. Our FBI has been
awfully good at trying to track and follow potential attackers, and they've
defeated dozens of attacks or efforts. But the nature of our system -- the
principle of defense of freedom, movement, and so on that we have to preserve
-- makes us a very vulnerable target. It just was inevitable.
Bring us back: it's 1983, you are appointed national security adviser, and
less than a week after, the Marine barracks in Beirut is blown up. Do you
remember that event as it happened? How did you hear about it, and what took
place immediately afterwards?
The bombing of Marines in Beirut in October of 1983 occurred a little less than
a week after I'd been appointed. I had come to the job from Beirut, and there
the presence of the Marines at the airports was a concern of mine -- that they
were vulnerable. Separately, but related, the presence -- known presence -- of
training centers for terrorists in the Bekaa Valley was something we should
have been going after all along.
But we had, at the time, a disagreement at the cabinet level between the
secretaries of state and defense over how involved we should become, and a
resistance on the part of Secretary [of Defense] Weinberger on having the
Marines take a more proactive role in seeking to push all foreign forces out of
Lebanon, notably Syria, but also to negotiate the withdrawal of Israel so that
Lebanon could once more become a buffer state. But the impasse -- that is, the
Pentagon wanting not to have military involvement, the State Department wanting
a more integrated diplomacy and military movement -- led to paralysis and to
the vulnerability of the Marines at the airport.
Can you expand on that debate? I mean, not only on this event ... How did it
affect policy overall against terrorism?
Well, it was a very complicating element in trying to forge sensible policy,
because to tackle terrorism, you have to have an integrated approach involving
diplomacy to build coalitions, but underwritten by the ability and the means
and the will to use force when necessary. And we simply were inhibited there,
because Secretary Weinberger felt strongly that if you used force and began to
kill, in this case, Muslims, that it would have a very harmful effect on our
relations with even moderate Arab states. And that was the problem.
Did Vietnam still cast a large shadow over all our attempts to deal with
The conclusion that many uniformed military came away from Vietnam with was
that political interference, dominance of strategy and even tactics were a very
bad way to conduct a war, and that indeed, if that was going to be our
practice, that we shouldn't wage conflict again. We should never use the
military force unless there would be no disagreement between the political and
the military elements of our government on the mission -- that it was something
clearly in the national interest, and that the people were behind it; in short,
that you had the will, nationally, politically, and the overwhelming means to
get the job done. Unless you've fulfilled all those criteria, that you
shouldn't be involved at all.
In this case, in the Reagan years, we often faced something that threatened
that important interest -- a terrorist event, for example -- however, without
consensus within the government or in the body politic on how to deal with it.
So the result was paralysis.
How did the Marine barracks bombing affect the president?
President Reagan was concerned -- deeply concerned, emotionally concerned --
with the loss of life of any American, but especially with the lives of
military soldiers, Marines, navy. And this event, which I woke him up to
explain at about two in the morning on a Sunday in Augusta, Georgia -- he was
shaken by it and deeply saddened. And his next feeling soon after was
determination to go and deal with the perpetrators.
How did it affect you personally and your attitude toward the direction that
should be taken?
I felt a deep sense of personal loss. I knew these men. I'd come to the job
from Beirut ... and in a policy context, I had advocated that the Marines not
sit at the airport, but be used proactively to advance American policy in
getting the foreign forces out. So I felt saddened at first, but then wanted to
get on with going after those who did it, who we knew, and to come back to
Washington and to get the means organized to go and deal with the
What was our reaction at that point? Soon after the event, how did we
The president assembled his [National Security Council]. We got the best
information we could, tasked the Pentagon to plan an attack on the terrorists
in the Bekaa Valley, and with high confidence [of] their location and so forth
and the ability to avoid civilian causalities, he directed an attack by
aircraft from the Sixth Fleet ... about ten days later. The meeting was held,
the approval was given, and the attack was to occur the following morning. And,
unfortunately, Secretary Weinberger aborted it out of a sense that it could
have a harmful effect on our relations with other Arab states.
... [A] mistake?
I think a big mistake. If you have the means and the good intelligence and an
accurate location to go back and destroy a center of terrorism, which we knew
this to be, [it] was the right thing to do, and we should have done it. Not to
do it showed a division in our government, a lack of resolve, and paralysis.
Eventually, the Marines were pulled out -- in February of 1984. What was the
debate about that decision at that point? How did it come finally to deciding
to take the Marines out?
The position of the State Department, [of Secretary of State] George Shultz,
and my own position, was that either the Marines should be employed in tactical
movement to liberate the country from foreign occupation -- Syrian, primarily
-- or they shouldn't be there. Actually, George wanted them to stay regardless.
However, I thought that their vulnerability dictated that they begin to move
out. ... Cap [Weinberger], on the other hand, was strongly in favor of pulling
them out, that they had no business in a normal tactical deployment because
that would damage our relations with Arab states. So this confrontation between
Shultz, for more activity, and Weinberger, for a pullout, kept the Marines in
an airport-fixed position as a sitting duck. And though I had sided with George
throughout for this more proactive policy, given the paralysis for now four or
five months' time, to me the vulnerability of the Marines dictated that they be
pulled out; I sided with Cap, and the president approved that.
Was it seen as a defeat of our forces, or of a part of the policy?
I think it was ... seen to be a defeat. There's no other way to read it. We had
been bombed, and five months later we pulled out.
The next stage, it seems, of the terrorist acts [was the abduction of the
CIA's William Buckley in Beirut]. When Buckley was taken [in March 1984], soon
followed by others, what was the thought on how we deal with this? What was the
debate? How did we work at a solution?
We could see that the ability of the terrorists to kidnap Americans would
persist for as long as there were any Americans there, and that you couldn't
really defend, physically, the people at Beirut University or other
installations there, and so we were going to face this. And we needed to go to
the source to try to influence the root cause, to deal with the terrorism where
it was being sponsored.
What was Syria's and Iran's position, and what did we know about their
Iran was providing primarily financial support to Hezbollah terrorists that
were being trained by Syrian elements and with Iranian support in the Bekaa
Valley of Lebanon. The cooperative arrangement -- with Iranian finances and
some guidance, and Syrian logistic support -- was leading to the growth of
these Hezbollah elements in Lebanon. But the issue was getting at sponsorship
in Iran, primarily.
Simple question: Why did we decide not to hit them militarily at that
The question that always confronts you when you wanted to deal with a
state-sponsored terrorist problem is, "Can you really find and hit the boss?"
as with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, and secondly, "What if you do? Who
governs after that?" And so you first ask yourself, "Do we have good enough
intelligence to find the target we want to hit?" And secondly, "If we do, are
we confident the future is going to be better politically with a new
In the case of Iran in the mid-1980s, our conclusion was that you couldn't
expect militarily to be able to dislodge the Khomeini regime -- that to do so
would take an invasion and a major [sustained] military effort ... which would
not be supportable, either by the American people or our allies. So the
alternative was, "Can you change that government?" And to explore that question
was approved by the president in the summer of 1985.
And what was the result?
The result was that after four months of engaging with people who alleged that
they would have the means and incentive to change the government of Iran, that
it became evident to me, just before I resigned from government, that these
people didn't have the means, and that indeed they were no more than
self-interested arms merchants. So I left government, recommending to the
president that he terminate this exploratory idea and bring it to a halt. He
didn't, however, and after I left, he continued to try to encourage these
people we had been dealing with through the use of arms, which he hoped would
strengthen their side and perhaps give them the means to overturn the
government. But it was a misguided policy, because they didn't have the means
nor the intention of being more than arms merchants.
When that was disclosed, eventually, what was the result? How did it affect
our policy towards trying to deal with terrorism?
It had been an unsuccessful effort, obviously, and it was misguided and based
on a false premise. Unfortunately, the focus within our government turned to
other accounts, however. We allowed ourselves to be seduced into thinking that
this was not as important or as large as the Cold War issues, as the collapse
of Marxism, the reunification of Germany. And separately, we were very weak in
our ability to gather intelligence on the nature of this problem and on its
centers of sponsorship, because we had terminated our relationships with our
spies in the Middle East and the Gulf area in the late 1970s. And so if you
don't have the means to gather information and learn more about a given
problem, ignoring it is one alternative, and that's what happened in the late
The [Beirut embassy] annex is hit in September of 1984. This is the third
big hit. Why no response at that point? We have an interview [with George
Shultz] where he talks about this, and he basically says that the government,
our government, was paralyzed at that point. We didn't quite know in what
direction to go, and thus there was no action taken. From your point of view,
after this third large hit, the terrorists were known, the connections to other
countries, terrorist states, were known. Why no hit? Why no response at that
[In September 1984], it was essentially the same disagreement ... over the use
of force, and its impact on alienating moderate Muslim states. That led to
paralysis in response to the attack on the embassy annex. Secretary Shultz
favored a very strong response with the Sixth Fleet, and Secretary Weinberger
simply opposed it.
And that was it?
This problem of dealing with force -- did it push us in the direction of
This paralysis in terms of using conventional force leads to the question, "Can
we do it clandestinely?" But as a practical matter, we didn't even do that.
This was, as you recall, an election year. And there were those outside of the
national security community that didn't want there to be a use of force or
violence, which tends to alarm people -- Americans. That was a factor at the
time in our doing nothing to respond to this attack.
The one thing that did come up in reports afterwards was our help to the
Lebanese intelligence [service], who then got themselves involved in the
bombing situation that killed 80 civilians. Can you remember that event and how
we dealt with that issue? Why were we pushing in that direction? What was the
reaction after the failed [bombing attempt to kill Sheik Mohammed Hussein
Part of our strategy in restoring a sovereign Lebanon was to rebuild a true
Lebanese army with representatives of all of the leading factions -- Christian,
Jews, Sunni, Shiite. And we were reasonably well along in doing that, and the
Pentagon was doing a very good job of training a new Lebanese army with genuine
representation. One of your vulnerabilities when you do that is that in
building an intelligence service using people that do have a legacy of
bitterness with other factions with whom they've been operating -- that is, a
Christian intelligence service may have a vendetta against a given Sunni or
Shiite or Jews.
If you don't watch out, someone in that intelligence community to whom you are
giving money and resources is going to go out and use them in some fashion
that's self-serving and not in Lebanon's interest or ours, some essentially
rogue operative that you're always vulnerable to when you're supporting a
foreign intelligence service. And that's what happened there. The intelligence
that we were getting was often flawed, and the portrayal by the Lebanese of a
target which they alleged they could destroy ... they simply didn't have the
means to do. Their intelligence was quite bad.
The attempt on [Fadlallah's] life, was that event itself sanctioned by our
There's debate about that. [CIA Director] Bill Casey is no longer alive. It was
never framed that way for the president, and there was no presidential
authority towards assassination. There was an approval of support of Lebanese
operations against a known terrorist cell, and that was its portrayal.
Did that event and the disaster that occurred and the loss of many lives --
did that take away a tool for us? Did that prevent us from going through with
other covert actions that perhaps would have been very valuable?
I think that the failure of the Lebanese to be able to act for us to deal with
terrorists there weakened our confidence, certainly, in Lebanese skills and
capabilities, and essentially did take out that possibility as an option for
dealing with terrorists in Lebanon at the time.
How did [the hijacking of TWA 847] change policy? How did that unfold, and
what was the importance of it?
The seizure of TWA 847 in June 1985 presented a challenge of, first, how do you
recover the hostages with least harm, and then can you, in the follow-up, deal
with those who are responsible? It was resolved with the loss of one American,
[Navy diver Robert Stethem]. Through essentially a coordinated diplomatic
strategy, we were able to secure the release of all the other hostages with no
further loss of life.
Was it a turning point in the way you all viewed how to deal with
I think the successful release of the TWA hostages in June 1985 gave us some
renewed confidence that this was not an insuperable problem. However, the root
causes, the sources of terrorism, the training and the resources behind the
movement clearly had not been overcome, and we knew that we were going to have
to face this problem again and again.
There was a release of prisoners by the Israelis after TWA 847. Was there a
deal? Was this a negotiation, in effect, with the terrorists?
There wasn't a deal. As a practical matter, before the hostages were ever
taken, Israel had planned to make a release of hostages, captives, prisoners
that they held. In fact, we asked them to delay, because it wasn't a quid pro
quo and it would have seemed so, however, had they done it in the context of
the TWA capture. Afterward, some two weeks or more, they did release them. It
looks, on the surface, implausible. As a practical matter, the truth is Israel
intended for its own interest, in the interest at getting back an Israeli pilot
that had been captured sometime before in Lebanon, to try that stratagem, but
it had nothing to do with TWA 847.
You launch a nine-month program at the time, leading to the attack on Libya.
Can you tell us about that? Why did that occur right then? Why the thinking
that this was the direction to take with Libya?
In dealing throughout the Reagan years with state-sponsored terrorism, notably
by Libya -- there were two attacks, one in 1981 and one in 1986 -- it is a
useful point to note that there are different kinds of state sponsorship. There
are different kinds of terrorist movements, and specifically you occasionally
face a bully, a Qaddafi. But a bully is different from a zealot. A bully you
can deal with, with force, and persuade that bully, through force alone, to
stop what he was doing.
In 1986, actually, after I had left the administration, in response to a
Libyan-sponsored blowup in a Berlin discothèque, President Reagan, to
his credit, decided to go after Qaddafi in a very, very firm bombing attack
with aircraft from Great Britain. And he did so, and it had a very salient
effect in ceasing Libyan-sponsored terrorism for a long time. ...
How relevant is [this history of the 1980s] to the present day and decisions
that need to be made?
I think the history of the 1980s is not terribly relevant to how we will or we
should deal with the threat we face today in the wake of Sept. 11. And I say
that because we were dealing in the 1980s with state sponsorship, and today
we're dealing with a movement that ... derives help from states here and there,
but it is a more, well, it isn't even ideological. It is a fanatic group of
people who resent our Western way of life, and its potential influence on the
Middle East. It exists, physically, in its headquarters in Afghanistan, with
the tolerance of a fanatic Taliban government. This is something, however,
that's spread beyond Afghanistan to affiliates in cities, 50 or more,
throughout the world. In some cases, it derives significant support from the
host government where the cell resides. We face a much broader network of
terrorism right now, but we have the means to begin to destroy it. And, I
think, fortunately this time we have the cooperation of people in Afghanistan
who are willing to go after it themselves.
From all the events that did take place, what lessons have been learned by
the folks currently in the administration that they can use in trying to
develop a policy to uproot and defeat terrorism?
From the 1980s, we did learn the important lesson that you must avoid
paralysis; you must have an integrated diplomacy with military force
underwriting it; that these must work together; and that you must have the will
and fortitude and means to use force, but to do it in conjunction with a
diplomatic effort to hold together the support of regional states and others
that can be helpful.
What did the terrorists learn? In general, those who used terrorist
activities against us -- what did they learn from all those years and how we
responded to terrorism?
They learned that the American people can be traumatized by terrorism, that it
can create pressure on the government, and that our government response in the
1980s tended to be rather conventional and heavy-handed. They learned that by
presenting elusive targets, hiding, that terrorism is extremely appealing
strategy for engaging the West -- that we were not in the 1980s well equipped
in terms of power or political understanding to deal with it. And so they have
continued to use it, and they've expanded their networks and their
During those years, did we have a policy that evolved? Or was it more of a
crisis-management situation, where each new terrorist act was treated in a
different way depending upon what we had in hand?
During the 1980s, the terrorism we faced was state sponsored. And so we did
have a policy for trying to focus on the states who sponsored it, and to bring
to bear influence, pressure, both political and economic sanctions as well as
military power when we had a good target. But all of those things were
integrated. Today, however, it's a very different issue. We're not facing a
state sponsorship. It's a different kind of problem.
The Achille Lauro incident, the taking down of the terrorists ... You were
really in charge of that. How was that a turning point in what we thought we
could or could not do with terrorists, and the use of force?
The Achille Lauro, captured in October 1985, underscored the importance of good
intelligence and how large a difference it could make. In that case, when the
terrorists moved from the ship to shore in Egypt, our intelligence capabilities
there were quite good at the time, so we were able to determine what their
intentions were, where they intended to move. And by isolating them on that
movement, we were able to bring our own force to bear with very high confidence
that we would get them. In this case, they flew out of Cairo toward Tunisia. We
knew where the aircraft was, and we were able to plan in advance to bring the
Sixth Fleet to bear against them, and brought it down in, I think, Sicily.
Did that change your thoughts, the president's thoughts, in how to deal with
Well ... it simply said, "Let's make sure in the future our intelligence is as
good or better." Unfortunately, we didn't follow up with the means and the
resources and the appropriations and the recruitment that we needed to be able
to be more effective.
I guess the question is, why wasn't that undertaken?
It is somewhat inappropriate to be discussing publicly what was or was not done
to improve human collection. As a practical matter, much was done to begin...
Bear in mind what you need to achieve is to identify someone who, early on, is
born, raised, lives in a given country and penetrates a given organization. You
simply can't recruit people like that overnight. There have been some. We are
making progress. But it's going to take more time before we have, in all of the
places we need to have them, enough people to do the job well.
Looking back now at the policies and decisions that were made, would you
have changed anything that might have rooted out or prevented a bin Laden from
being able to achieve what he has achieved against us?
I think the problems of the 1980s in dealing with this were largely problems of
fundamental disagreement within our decision-making apparatus -- fundamentally
different judgments about whether one could undertake operations against Muslim
terrorists without alienating the broader Muslim world. And, I think, we have
learned since then, that yes, moderate Muslim states acknowledge that this is a
menace, a threat. Saudi Arabia [took away] the passport of bin Laden years ago,
and is in a more cooperative mood. And, I think, our own government understands
that, and has become more adept at being able to rally moderate Muslim states
to cooperate in dealing with the problem.
Dealing with Iran back then, with the arm sales -- was that an attempt at
diplomacy? ... What was the hope at the beginning, and why were we going in
that direction? Was it because military options seemed to be limited?
In 1985, the Iranian sponsorship of terrorism was clear, solid evidence. We
could not, however, go at them militarily. It was too large a task. And
politically to engage in diplomacy seemed pointless because of the profound
fundamental differences in philosophy and ideology. And so the only course was
to ask the question, "Is there potentially a viable alternative government that
might succeed Khomeini, either by force or evolution?"
To explore that question four months time roughly were devoted to determining
whether the group that Israel had recommended to us was capable of doing that.
And it became clear to me, after four and a half months that they were not, and
I recommended it be terminated.
Were there any other turning points that are relevant to decision making
being made by individuals in power today -- anything that they might look back
at and sort of learn from in dealing with the horrendous situation we have
I believe that Secretary Powell has come through a 30-year history with some
important lessons that make relevant that experience to dealing with bin Laden,
from Vietnam and from the Gulf War. I think he understands that you don't want
to use force unless it's going to be effective, but if you do use it, use it
In this case right now, I think he understands that we don't have good targets.
And, therefore, if we used it today, we would risk disrupting the coalition
that he's tried so well to build. But I think he is beginning to explore that
Afghans on the ground, who have been so oppressed by this Taliban cabal, have
the means, have the numbers, the incentive, and the call from their own king to
rise up and throw this Taliban crowd out, and that they ought to be given a
chance to do so.
I think it's to Secretary Powell's credit that he has encouraged us to hold
back the use of military force, because we don't have good intelligence. Let
the Afghans have a go at it. And the worse-case outcome is that if they don't
succeed, they may then invite our use of force and we have them on the ground
providing intelligence. It's bound to be better than ours, and will not risk a
disruption of our Muslim coalition partners.
Do you think the debate going on today in the Bush administration is similar
to the debate that went on for many years in the Reagan administration?
It has some analogies. I think there was always in the Reagan years a question
of, "Do we know who did it, and can we, with high confidence, hit them
effectively?" That same debate is going on today. And I think Secretary Powell
understands that today, in mid-September, we cannot, but we may be able to,
relying on Afghan help. I think that's likely to be a successful policy.
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