hunting bin laden
Samuel R.  Berger

As U.S. National Security Advisor, he was part of a small group advising on the U.S. response to the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. President Clinton eventually decided to bomb a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan thought to be used by bin Laden and, a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan.
who is bin laden
trail of evidence
two terrorists
Mr. Berger, is terrorism on the increase in the world, in the United States?

samuel r. bergerThe statistics of actual terrorist incidents, I don't think necessarily reflect that. But there's no question in my mind that the terrorist threat is greater than it has been, if not in the United States, then globally. There [is a] proliferation of terrorist groups. They're increasingly sophisticated. They have access to modern communications. They have affiliations with each other. The weapons of terrorism now not only are the conventional weapons of bombs and conventional explosives, but we're now talking about the terrorists with the potential ... of having weapons of mass destruction: chemical weapons and biological weapons in particular. So, I think, the problem has gotten more complicated and more serious and certainly has prompted on the part of the United States government and this administration a far stronger and more comprehensive response.

So the actual number of incidents has decreased, and the actual number of casualties has decreased over time, but you see a greater potential?

I'm not exactly sure of the casualty numbers. I don't think there's been a dramatic increase of the casualty numbers. But we see proliferation of terrorist groups. And a large number of threats directed at the United States.

Why at the United States?

Well, I think we've always been a target. I think at the end of the cold war as the largest, most powerful country in the world, we've become in a sense a magnet for grievances worldwide.

Bin Laden has declared a war against the U.S. , we have to make the best judgments  we can about how to respond.  There is no question in my mind that this plant was associated with chemical weapons.I think there are individual grievances that fuel some terrorist groups. Our presence in the Persian Gulf I think is a matter that animates some groups. Our engagement in the Middle East peace process, is something that makes us the target of other groups. If you're Spain, I suppose, or Portugal, you don't quite have the same visibility profile--except obviously in local terms--as you do as the United States, which has a much larger presence in the world, a much larger role in the world, and therefore becomes in many ways the target for groups around the world. ...

But if the number of incidents are down, and the number of casualties are down, from all the figures we've looked at, and most of the incidents of terrorism are in Columbia, in Peru and in other countries, where is the growing threat?

... We just had two embassies blown up. We had twelve Americans killed, two hundred Kenyans killed. These are very, very serious incidents. Not so long ago, the Iraqis tried to assassinate George Bush when he traveled to Kuwait. We had broken up, over recent times, a number of other incidents. Individuals who wanted to blow up the Holland tunnel. Individuals who wanted to blow up airplanes leaving the Philippines. We've seen the incident with the World Trade Center. I don't in any way want to overdramatize this, but I think that this is an ongoing continuing threat. It is taking new forms, such as the use of more sophisticated weapons, such as the use of computers as instruments of terrorism ... . And we have to try to stay ahead of this curve, and we have to try to devote the resources to try to prevent loss of life and protect the American people. We'll spend about 100 billion dollars on terrorism ... .

How important is Osama bin Laden, really, in all of this?

Well, bin Laden unquestionably is responsible for the blowing up ... of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He has publicly declared on many occasions that he seeks to kill Americans, essentially at will, that he's declared [a fatwah] against the United States. And we consider him a very serious threat.

Is he a godfather of some sort of family? Does he give orders or is he some sort of inspirational figure?

No, more than an inspirational figure, I think that he is at the center of a network of terrorist organizations. He provides financing. He provides direction to many of those organizations. [He is] certainly not the only terrorist threat. There are other organizations in the world that also pose threats. But he is a particular concern to us.

If we capture him or he gets killed through some action of the United States or some other country, will it end the terrorism or diminish it in any significant fashion?

Well, [certainly], apprehending the person who is at the center of this particular network would be an important step in the right direction.

In the Muslim communities that we've been to in Africa, the United States, and Europe, what they're telling us is that we have made Osama bin Laden into a folk hero of sorts by focusing so much attention [on him]. And if we take him out there will be someone else to take his place.

Well, this is a dilemma because on the one hand, bin Laden killed those people in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. I think the American people are entitled to know that. We responded to that fact by going after certain training camps and other facilities of his where terrorist operatives were gathered. I think that's an important part of a strategy against terrorism which is terrorists must know that if they attack the United States, we will respond appropriately. ... I'm not suggesting that it's the greatest threat that the United States faces. But this is a man who controls a network that is determined to kill Americans.

You said he killed the people in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

I said he is responsible for those acts.

But that hasn't been proven.

There's no question in my mind that's true.

Absolutely no question.


Let me show you something. This is a piece of a cruise missile from Khartoum, one of the ones we sent over there. Now, was that a response or retaliation?

Well, I'll tell you exactly. You're talking about the Al Shifa plant. First of all we attacked Saudis in Afghanistan which were bin Laden training camps. We also attacked a facility in Khartoum. Let me tell you what we knew at the time we made that decision. We knew that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks on Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. We knew that bin Laden sought to attain chemical weapons. We knew that he had said that he wanted to use those chemical weapons against the United States. We knew that he had a close relationship with the government of Sudan ... . We knew that the government of Sudan, through a military industrial corporation, was developing chemical weapons. And we knew that this particular plant in Al Shifa was associated with a chemical empta that has only one use and that is nerve gas. Now, with that knowledge, I would ask you a question. Had we not gone after that facility--and by the way we did it at night, with a minimum of civilian casualties--and a week later, a chemical weapon had been dropped into the New York City subway system, would we have acted responsibly or irresponsibly by not going after that camp? I believe that we acted in a responsible way given what we knew, that facility was associated with chemicals that are only connected to nerve gas. And I know there's been a fairly substantial campaign to the contrary. But I believe that we acted in a way that [was] best calculated to protect the American people. And had there been a chemical weapon in the New York City subway system a week later, the set of questions that you would have been asking me, would be "How in the world, Mr. Berger, knowing what you knew, could you not have gone after that facility?" ...

The response that we hear in the Muslim world is that the United States is going to bomb, for instance, the Sudan, a Muslim country, without warning, without really solid knowledge that there was something going on at this point.

... Sudan is one of the principle state sponsors of terrorism in the world. Sudan has a huge famine in the south ... in which 1.2 million people are starving. We're trying desperately to get food to those people. The government of Sudan won't let us get food to the people. So, before we glorify the government of Sudan, let's put it in context. Now, the fact is that this is a plant that was associated with chemical weapons. Bin Laden was working with the Sudanese in developing chemical weapons. The military industrial corporation of Sudan was involved in its chemical ... weapons enterprise. I think we took the appropriate action. ... In a sense bin Laden has declared war on the United States. And I don't think that we can wait for an affidavit signed by Mr. Turabi of the government of Sudan, saying, "I certify that this plant is currently a chemical weapons plant," before we take action. We have to take action based upon the intelligence that we have, information we have, and the judgments that we have. And let me say one last thing. The President, who orders any military action, takes very seriously the use of force because whenever there is use of force, there is potential for civilian casualties. He specifically ordered that this strike take place at night, after we had determined that there was not a night shift at this place, at his request. It is a sober judgment when one uses force.

At the time we said that the plant was producing chemical weapons, and it had a financial link to bin Laden. That's no longer a belief, right?

I think there may have been some individuals who said the camp was producing...

I think you did, actually at the time.

I think that is not necessarily the case. I think it is certainly true that the plant was associated with chemical weapons and that bin Laden had made a financial contribution to the military industrial corporation, the kind of umbrella organization [through] which the Sudanese develop chemical weapons. And that Al Shifa was associated with chemical weapons.

But it wasn't part of a corporation, it was a privately held company.

Well, you know, ownership is not the issue here. The issue is what was going on in and around that plant, and whether or not bin Laden, who was seeking these chemical weapons with the Sudanese, had access, or would have had access to that. And I mean, I'm glad you're focusing on this. ... I hope you've interviewed the families of the people that were killed in the embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. There needs to be enormous rigor placed on any use of force. But we also have to recognize that there are people who are victims in these terrorist incidents, that bin Laden has declared a war against the United States, that we have to make the best judgments that we can about how to respond to that. And there is no question in my mind that this plant was associated with chemical weapons.

One question. I agree. But we don't want to have more enemies. We don't want to have people hating us more by our retaliation, creating more hatred in the Muslim world. We've run into all kinds of people who say basically, Muslims are free game for the United States. Poor Muslim nations in particular. Look at what the United States does. We send cruise missiles to Afghanistan, Sudan, the poorest of the Islamic countries.

Well, United States is also the country that stood up for the Bosnian Muslims when Europe turned its back. United States is also the country that is trying to find a decent resolution for the Albanians in Kosovo, many of whom are Muslims, and most of the rest of the world does not want to do that. We have a good strong relationship with the Islamic world. It is a very substantial part of the world's population. This is not about the United States versus Islam. The President has said it repeatedly. He has expressed his respect and admiration for Muslim people and Islam. And as I said, this country itself has become one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. This is about killers and people who have been killed.

The only thing I was going to ask is the people closest to bin Laden that we have been able to talk with say that the real problem is that we have become friends of their enemies.

Well, I mean, you know, they've bought this crap with line and sinker. ... We have a relationship with Egypt, yes. That's in our interest. We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia.

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