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michael scheuer

Friction between Europe and United States is something that certainly benefits Osama bin Laden, without a question. [When you began running the CIA's bin Laden unit in 1996], Osama bin Laden was not a well-known name, right?

No, he wasn't, although we quickly developed more intelligence on bin Laden than we ever had on any other so-called terrorist group that we ever had. By '98 or '99, we were fairly certain that he presented a threat to the United States that was unprecedented in terms of terrorist groups.

That's because of the Nairobi bombings and other information?

Certainly because of the actions themselves -- the bombings in Nairobi [in '98], the one in Riyadh in '95, his activities in Somalia in '94. But we were just very successful in terms of collecting human intelligence describing his organization and its dimensions, its size, its activities in terms of military preparations and the search for acquisition of WMD weapons.

So by '98, even before the East Africa bombings in August, we had a fairly good handle that this was a species of terrorist we had never seen before.

And he had an international network.

Yes. He clearly built the network beginning about 1988 in Afghanistan, making connections with foreign Muslims who came in -- not only Arabs, but Malaysians and Filipinos and Canadians and British people. Muslims from all over the world came to Afghanistan.

Europeans of various kinds?

Oh, yes, yes. Some were Europeans who converted to Islam, but others were simply Muslims who had lived in Europe -- in France and Spain and Britain -- for a number of years, or their offspring who came to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

So before 9/11, bin Laden's network extended into Europe?

Very much so, yes -- into Germany, into Spain, into Italy, certainly into the U.K. One of the reasons that occurred was the E.C. [European Community] rules against deporting people with death sentences over their heads to countries that will execute them when they return. So as a result, there was a fairly substantial number of Algerians and Egyptians who had fought in the Afghan war who had been wanted for terrorist crimes in their home countries who got into Europe and got a green card or whatever the equivalent is in the European Community, and as a result are there now. So many of them are now there today as citizens, and so it was fairly easy to get into Europe. ...

So was it a surprise to you after 9/11 that the investigation led to Europe?

No, not really.

photo of scheuer

From 1993 to 1996, Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA, headed a special unit the agency set up to track Osama bin Laden. Scheuer, who retired from the CIA in November 2004, has authored two books under the pen name Anonymous: Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror; and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. He tells FRONTLINE that he was not surprised that the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks led to Europe. "We had a very difficult time, as one intelligence agency to another, convincing the Europeans that bin Laden and Al Qaeda were really a threat," he says. Scheuer also discusses the policy of rendition, whereby the clandestine services capture suspects and send them to third countries, a policy that he says was "cobbled together" by the CIA. "The back end has never been discussed, has never been settled," he says. "How do we handle the people we capture? The only answer we came up with -- and it's the agency that came up with it and it was blessed by lawyers -- was to take these people to countries that wanted them for their crimes of terrorism." This interview was conducted on Jan. 10, 2005.


Well, what we had over the course of -- at least when I was chief from '96 to '99 -- we had a large number of leads with bin Laden-related people into Europe. And we had a very difficult time, as one intelligence agency to another, convincing the Europeans that bin Laden and Al Qaeda were really a threat, even as, after the East Africa bombings in '98, most of the Europeans were not very eager to assist us in tracking down these leads. Probably the best of the European services were the Italians, but people like the Germans were very, very uninterested in helping.


I think they were kind of of the opinion that any state sponsors of terrorism, and especially Iran, were the bigger problem, and that a terrorist group really wasn't a serious threat unless it had a state sponsor. ...

To some extent, that paradigm dominated the U.S. policymaker thinking. But I think also there is in Europe a certain sense that this is the Americans' problem, and we really don't want to get involved in putting ourselves on the same bull's-eye.

And so the period between 1996, when we first started chasing Al Qaeda, and 9/11 was one of I think fairly strained relationships between the CIA and most of the European services over Al Qaeda.

And that got better, obviously, after 9/11?

I think some of them got better, some of them marginally, some of them more than marginally. I think there's a ways to go. The problem that's surfacing, I think that will surface over the next several years for the United States, is the borderless, visa-less European Community.

Explain that.

If someone manages to get across the border into the European Community from Turkey or from Russia into Poland, they can basically move to Heathrow [Airport in London] without anybody checking on their bona fides, if you will. If they have documents of one or another of the European Community countries, they're going to be able to scoot right through and get to London without much of a problem.

So for America, Europe has become a very, very dangerous place in terms of transit. And it's something that hasn't really perked up to the surface yet, but I think it will in the future, because it's really going to be a soft spot in terms of America's defenses.

So you weren't surprised that there was a group in Hamburg who launched these attacks, who were the pilots, who were the leadership in the attacks?

No, not at all. Al Qaeda is overwhelmingly a middle-class and upper-middle-class organization. It's well educated. Most of the men who lead it or are the important leaders in Al Qaeda come from families who are not illiterate, not uneducated, not without good economic prospects. So to find Al Qaeda having placed men in universities in Europe I think is not surprising at all. It's something we have known they had been doing. ...

[Do you think that] Europe had become a center for the radicalization of Muslims?

I think so, for two reasons: first, because they're not well integrated into European society, and there is a certain, I think, racism vis-à-vis Europeans and the Muslim population; but also because of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had become, for better or worse, the dominant Islamic leader in the world, the only really heroic figure in the Islamic world at the moment.

So by default, bin Laden has become a very influential figure, and he does things that he says he's going to do. He hits the Americans. And so the combination of being unassimilated, if you will, in Europe and suddenly this man appearing as an Islamic leader I think contributes to the radicalization of the young Muslim population in Europe. ...

How would you compare the terrorist threat in Europe to the threat here, and then also the threat of terrorism in Europe to us?

I think from Al Qaeda, the threat in Europe is not significantly higher than it was on 9/11 in terms of big terrorist [attacks]. Bin Laden's genius has been to keep his focus on the United States. He intends to incrementally increase the pain on us in order to try to drive us as far out of the Middle East as he can.

One of the things that occurred in the last several years that's been to his benefit is the rift of the transatlantic alliance between Europe and the United States, most dramatically because of the war in Iraq. But I think Al Qaeda does not want to be in a ridiculous position of being the agent of transatlantic reconciliation. So attacks in Europe, I think, will be perhaps at the level of what happened in Madrid.

But I don't think bin Laden himself would want something of the level of New York and Washington to happen in Europe, because he would be afraid it would drive the Americans and the Europeans back together again.

But the attacks on Madrid, as we've heard from a number of people, had a certain amount of political logic to it because of the election, which made it very unusual.

It may well be so. I'm not convinced that the command and control on that operation was timed to do the election. It may have been.

But I think the more important aspect of that attack was it looked like it was the result of Spanish participation in Iraq, and I think that sent a message that reinforced the split between the United States and Europe over the issue of Iraq.

That there's a price to pay?

That there's a price to pay. Most of bin Laden's attacks since 2001 have been aimed at countries that supported the United States either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. He and [Ayman al-]Zawahiri named 23 countries since 2001, countries that had helped us in one or the other place, and all of them had had some kind of attack against them since. Whether or not all of them were by Al Qaeda, I can't say, but I think it's a little absurd to think it's a coincidence that they're 23 for 23.

So what you're saying is that Al Qaeda or bin Laden, in the sense that they can control what goes on -- because it's not a monolithic movement --

That's right.

-- that they would say, "OK, you can attack, but don't make it very big."

Yes. The one thing we sometimes forget is that bin Laden has never sought command and control of anything outside of Al Qaeda. He's always said that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda cannot just defeat the Americans by ourselves; we can execute military operations against them, but we're going to need help, and our main job -- "our" being bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- is not to serve as the military engine, but to serve as the inspirer, the instigator of jihad around the world.

And so he's very happy with attacks like the Madrid attack, with the recent killing of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, because they're all leading in the same direction: anti-Western, anti-American to some extent, or certainly damaged the Americans in terms of our alliances.

And that's what he's looking for. He's looking for a worldwide effort not controlled by him. I've never seen any evidence that he aspires to be the man who's manipulating everything.

This isn't like some centralized command.

No. I think the only centralized function he wants to serve as is leader, the leader as inspirer, the man who speaks what everyone else is thinking. I think he's pretty much settled into that mold. And clearly, from the way the international media drops everything to cover his speeches and the prices of oil go up, he's very much gotten to the point where he is the preeminent Islamic leader in the world. ...

How do you explain this rash of attacks across [Europe since 9/11]?

I think it's exactly what bin Laden has wanted. The rash of attacks are groups sympathetic to his ideology, or even more radical than he is, taking it upon themselves to attack America and its allies.

Part of it probably simply comes from resentment from the way the Muslims are treated in Europe. Part of it comes, as I said, [from] inspiration from what bin Laden has said. I think another part of it comes from the kind of outflow of radicalism and animosities that have occurred since the invasion of Iraq. So I think there's a number of things at play in those attacks that you speak about.

But Sir David Veness of Scotland Yard said to us that what makes this group different, this movement different, is their intent on mass murder. And they have obviously stopped a whole bunch of attacks in the U.K.

Yes. All I know is from what I read in the media, but I'm not sure that any of them panned out as mass-murder attacks.

There was the kind of flap over whether or not those people were experimenting with ricin. The second big one had to do with fertilizer bombs of a more traditional -- not that they're not evil, but they're not --

More truck bomb --

Yes. So they're clearly out to murder. Mass murder? Again, I don't know what I don't know, but I don't think we've seen any effort to mass murder in Europe.

Other than Madrid.

Yes. ...

The Germans have brought charges against two gentlemen, [Mounir el-]Motassadeq and [Abdelghani] Mzoudi, as accomplices in the attacks. How important is that case?

I'm not really sure, but I would just step back one step further. In the fall of 1998, German police in Bavaria arrested a gentleman called Abu Hajer al Iraqi, who was bin Laden's procurer for communications equipment and for components for weapons of mass destruction.

And he was eventually extradited to the United States and now is in prison after being tried and convicted. So from that point in the fall of 1998, we had a very strong confidence that Germany was important in terms of Al Qaeda's European activities. We just had a very hard time convincing the German services at the local police level that it was an important issue.

But this is because of Germany's, if you will, history that they are loath, if you will, to violate people's civil liberties and to show discrimination towards any particular group? Is that the reason?

Well, it seems clear to me that no, I just don't think they appreciated the --


-- significance of the problem. They also were worried about the fact that America has the death penalty, which again brings in the whole European Community context. And they just weren't particularly interested in assisting us.

I think there's a fear in Europe to some extent that anything they do to help the Americans on the issue of terrorism can only help to further radicalize their domestic Islamic populations. And so there is kind of a standoffishness about their cooperation.

And the domestic Islamic population is the fastest growing population in Europe.

Yes. And I read, too, that it's the youngest part of the German population, the overall Muslim presence in Europe and in Germany. ...

One of the things we're sorting out here is that we haven't extradited these people from Germany. The Germans are prosecuting them, and then they come to this difficulty, which is they need the exculpatory witnesses because they have a regular judicial process, and we won't provide them. And it looks like they may walk.


How important is this problem?

In the scope of things, I think there's a great many more things to worry about than these two gentlemen. Clearly we would like to get them off the streets one way or another.

Well, they were involved in 9/11.

Yeah. Well, law enforcement is never going to be the answer to this problem. We can't possibly arrest and convict enough of these people to put them in jail to solve the problem. But all times you can do it, it's a worthwhile thing to do, whether in the United States or Germany or Morocco. But it's an adjunct to the war against Islamic militancy. It's not a primary tool at all.

So whether or not they are convicted, whether or not they still walk out on the street, that's not really something we should be concerned about.

We should be concerned about it, and certainly I would think that if they walk, they're going to be followed very closely by a number of Arab and Western intelligence services. But it's not breaking the dike and the flood will come after that, I don't think.

An FBI official said to me that the problem here is that the Germans were very cooperative and have become very cooperative after 9/11, as the Spanish have. But in the German case and in [Spain] … the reaction is going to be, "Why should we help you if you aren't going to help us?"

Right. Well, one of the problems the United States has had in terms of getting Europeans to work with us, beyond the death penalty issue, has been that the United States government never gave the U.S. intelligence service, the clandestine service, the CIA, any place to bring people who were arrested before 9/11.

The mission that was assigned to the CIA was to dismantle, disrupt and destroy terrorist cells overseas. We said: "Fine, that's the mission you gave us; we'll execute it. Where do you want us to take them?"

And people at the NSC [National Security Council] and people at the Department of Justice said, "That's your problem." And so we developed the rendition system where we, if we located someone in a country, we would ask a local service to try to help us capture that person. But once you captured him, we had no way to use American resources to imprison him and to process and to try and convict him. We had to work with a third country to take him and hold him in custody.

So in a sense, America has never developed a system for handling these people very well. We're dealing with third countries as places of imprisonment. Now we've got Guantanamo in Cuba. So on the American side, it's been a policy failure. The policymakers never stepped up and said, "Not only is this your task, but once you do it, here's how we're going to help you with it." ...

But in your experience, it's forcing the clandestine service to get involved in doing things for which it will later get blamed?

Right. It was a perfect opportunity for people on the NSC to have done what they wanted to have done, and at the end of the day, if it goes south, the clandestine service is left holding the bag.


Deniability and hand-wringing. And the clandestine service has done everything possible to make sure that it's been legal every step of the way. Every operation we've done has been approved by the lawyers, but you know how things work: It's always better to have the policy guys step up to the plate and take responsibility. ...

We normally hear the discussion as being a change from prosecution to prevention. That's what happened after 9/11. But what you're saying is there's a place for prosecution, and there's a place for prevention. What we really haven't done is we haven't figured out how to make that prevention part of it, if you will, not a place of risk for our government agencies and a place that produces contradictions, if you will.

I think that's exactly right. It's been a cobbled-together system by the clandestine service to execute its mission, and it's not been well thought through in terms of the government as a whole. So I think you're exactly right.

So that's why we're having a problem now dealing with the fact that we can't produce, for instance, Mr. bin al-Shibh or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to help the Germans finish their prosecution, because they're in some Neverland somewhere.

I would assume that they are in some Neverland. That certainly makes it very difficult to produce them for use in other court systems. It's a problem.

But that seems to be causing friction with the European --

Yeah, without a question, I'd say -- although in my experience, there have been times when we would have liked to talk to someone, too. There's problems both ways, but the point of the matter is, the agency is not involved in prosecutions. That's not our charter. We are not a domestic prosecution organization.

We are in the prevention business, and although it's hard to believe for most Americans, the clandestine service has done an extraordinary job in attacking Al Qaeda. And failure on the part of policymakers to create a system at the other end -- where once we had these people, they could be processed to everyone's satisfaction -- is one of the dangers that lies ahead as we pursue this with more fervor.

So the cases in Germany and Spain are in some ways a portent of things to come?

I think so, a portent of frictions between legal systems, yes. And again, I think there's a portent of things to come regarding the whole security situation inside the European Community and the safety of the United States. I think that's another issue.

And the longer that goes on, it sounds like that will also help bin Laden achieve what he wants, which is more friction between the U.S. and --

Yeah, friction between Europe and United States is something that certainly benefits Osama bin Laden, without a question.

[Do you think the war in Iraq has created more danger for Europe?]

... The invasion of Iraq was a godsend to Osama bin Laden, very literally, because it validated so much of what he has said and told Muslims: that the Americans want Arab oil; that the Americans will destroy any Muslim regime that appears to be powerful; the Americans will destroy any country that appears to be a threat to the Israelis; and they're willing to invade any Muslim country if it suits their interests.

So the invasion of Iraq just validated everything that he said in the past decade about the United States. And so that's just not a problem for the Europeans; it's a problem for any country that has a population of expatriate Muslims, especially Sunnis, who are young, not fully assimilated.

Iraq has become an agent of transformation for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is moving from being a man and an organization to being a movement and a heroic symbol of leadership, a philosophy.

That's what Iraq has done. It's increased danger in Europe, but also [in] the United States, Canada and Australia, the Far East -- danger in the sense of not bin Laden command and control, but danger in the sense of Muslims striking back for the invasion of Iraq, which, after all, is the second holiest place in Islam.

And Iran and Syria, I think that's a problem. But the bigger problem, of course, is Saudi Arabia.

In what sense?

Osama bin Laden is not an aberrant personality in Saudi society. He is the poster boy for their educational system. ...

He's a Salafi jihadi.

He's a Salafi jihadist, Wahhabist -- however you describe him, he is it. And he is the type of person that is going to go to fight in Iraq. People worry about the Iranians, and people worry about people coming over the border from Syria -- and I think there is some worry about that -- but the real danger comes out of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates, the same people who supported the war in Afghanistan.

In terms of money, probably the Gulf is supporting most of the insurgent activities in Iraq. It's not a coincidence that so many of the dead foreign insurgents are Saudis. That's where the real problem is.

We interviewed Prince Turki [of Saudi Arabia]. He said, "I'm a Salafist; I don't want to come and kill you." It is, in his view, a calumny on the Saudis to say that, what you just said.

Well, Prince Turki is a very slick, very educated, very intelligent man. I just happen to disagree with him. But he is right. Just being a Salafist does not make you a terrorist. A Salafist is a very -- in terms of Islam, he's a very respected man in many ways, or woman, because they're very austere; they're very devout; they're very concerned with the welfare of other Muslims.

What Prince Turki didn't say was that the invasion of Iraq occasioned the declaration of a jihad against the United States by clerics across the Islamic world, and not necessarily clerics that are supportive of Osama bin Laden, but the invasion of Iraq drew forth declarations of jihad from very respectable clerics of all ideology in the Muslim world.

And so Salafists, perhaps more than anyone else, will feel it incumbent on themselves to go and fight the Americans in Iraq and will have a religious sanction to do so. So you got most of the story from him, but maybe not the whole story.

But Prince Turki says: "What are you talking about? We didn't want the invasion -- we, the Saudis -- of Iraq. And furthermore, we're Osama bin Laden's number one target."

Well, they are in the long run, but in the near term, with Saudi Arabia, bin Laden walks a very fine line. The one thing he doesn't want Saudi Arabia to do is to fall too soon. I think he sees how fragile the Saudi government is and the Saudi monarchy and how much it's disliked in its own country.

But it has to come in series to make bin Laden happy, if you will. We have to get the Americans as far as we can out of the Middle East before the Saudis fall, because if it happens the other way around, bin Laden fears the Americans will occupy the oil fields in the Peninsula, and then he's got a bigger problem with Saudi Arabia than he had before.

So in that sense, they're not an immediate-priority target; they are the long-term target.

Now, Prince Turki also said: "Look, the real dangerous people are the sectarian Muslims who have developed here in London, in Europe -- are the Takfir."

... But none of those people are Takfiris. Takfir is a sect of Islam who believe they can decide for themselves who is a good Muslim and who's not a good Muslim. You die, you don't; they die, we don't. Bin Laden is not a Takfiri. …

Takfiris are the kind of people who would try to kill Osama bin Laden because he's not a good enough Muslim. They're the people who tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden in Khartoum in 1995, before he moved back to Afghanistan.

So Prince Turki, again, I yield to his knowledge of Islam, but those folks are just not Takfiris.

Are we in danger, though, from the Takfirians? Are they just sort of like a wild card out there on top of Al Qaeda?

Well, the one thing to keep in mind is that has never been a huge sect in Islam, the Takfirians. But there's always something worse ahead. Takfiris would be very much worse than Osama bin Laden. They're more indiscriminate; they're more prone to kill Muslims instead of just Westerners. So Takfiris are people who you really don't want to cross swords with unless you absolutely have to. ...

And it's present in Western Europe?

It's present in Western Europe. It originated in Egypt, the Takfiris did, and there was a strong Takfiri influence in Algeria after the elections were disallowed in 1991. The people who were slitting the throats of foreign workers and women and tourists, that was a Takfiri element there. But generally in the Muslim world, it's not a widespread phenomenon. ...

What we're told is that particularly England is a center for, if you will, radicalization of Muslims.

... London has been a place where many people [who] had fought a jihad against the Soviets or subsequently in the jihads in Tajikistan, in Chechnya, in Bosnia have gravitated to London.

And it's become a recruitment center?

I suppose it is a recruitment center, though I'm not --

Well, Richard Reid, the man who, you know -- the reason I have to take my shoes off at the airport now, right? [Zacarais] Moussaoui, right? They all come through there.

They come through there, but what I think is more important is, or as important is, that the imams, the prayer leaders in the mosques, are heavily represented by people who have fought in jihads, whether it is [Abu Hamza] al-Masri or Omar al-Bakri, people who have had a long-term connection with the jihad/mujahideen movement. And so I think it's very possible that radicalization proceeds more quickly in Europe than it does in Morocco or Algeria or Egypt of Saudi Arabia.

The other reason that it happens is because England and France and Germany are not police states. The secret service and the secret police of Morocco are not breaking up meetings or throwing people in jail in London. The British aren't going to interfere with what's talked about or what's preached inside of a mosque.

It's simply not acceptable [because of] freedom of speech. If you're in Egypt, there's probably a secret service person in most of the important mosques in Cairo, for example, that are known to be teaching radical Islam, militant Islam. So the absence of a police state in Europe is another thing that lets these teachers and these preachers talk to the young. ...

[European officials have said to us]: "We understand the tension and prevention probably better than the Americans do, because we were dealing with terrorism for 40 years. But the problem is it has to be done within certain legal rules and procedures, and the problem we're having" -- this is in Spain and in Germany -- "is that the Americans aren't playing by those rules part of the time. And that's creating problems for us."

Yes. Well, that may well be. I would make two points: [One is] the type of terrorism they've handled over the past 40 years has very little resemblance to what we're fighting today.

The second point I would make is that prosecutions of any kind are extraordinarily time-consuming, and the way in which an individual has to be treated within a legal system does not always allow for a type of questioning that may elicit information necessary to the defense of a country.

You mean torture.

No, I don't mean torture. But there are aggressive means of questioning people without pulling out their fingertips or actually hurting them in any kind -- whether it's the deprivation of sleep, the questioning by teams in four-hour shifts for a prolonged period of time.

That's because there's imminent danger, or something may happen.

Yeah. But the problem is, we don't know what the danger is or when it's going to happen. And so there is a reluctance, I think, on the part of the United States to trust entirely to legal systems. And we indeed are looking for opportunities where we can follow up on leads, especially in the Third World, where we can take action ourselves with one ally or another in the Third World to capture someone without the near-term intention of a prosecution.

Yeah, but what do you do with them after you get them?

Exactly right. We come back to where we were at the beginning. We have never had our policymakers think through that issue about where to take them, what do you do with them, when do you release them, how do you try them. That has never been part of the package.

FBI officials who I've spoken with have said what happened after 9/11 was there was this great fear of a second-wave attack.


So we did things like detain people, order the CIA to go out and do renditions, if you will, as you called them.

Yeah, well, no one ordered the CIA to do that. The CIA has been doing that since the middle '90s simply because that was our assignment to take these people off the street. And as I said, we had no place to take them, so we worked with third countries.

So now really, four years after 9/11, we have these people in custody, and we have created a situation we never thought through, which seems to be creating problems not just here at home in terms of domestic political and legal [problems], but overseas as well.

I think that's a very good description of the situation we have, except I disagree that the CIA hadn't thought it through, because we repeatedly went to policymakers and said: "Listen, the back end of this deal is missing. We're not able to process people in a way that's going to be acceptable to Americans. What are you going to do to help?" And they said, "Carry on." And so third countries remained until 9/11 the primary venue for taking people. ...

When you say policymakers, who?

NSC, FBI, the law enforcement community, the Department of Justice, the -- you know, the president.

This is an issue that clearly can't be solved by the clandestine service. The clandestine service is an overseas tool for the United States to protect its interests. Our assignment is to destroy, disrupt, dismantle, capture, detain. We do that -- perfectly legal in terms of our statutory authorities and our ability to work with other people overseas.

The back end has never been discussed, has never been settled. How do we handle the people we capture? The only answer we came up with -- and it's the agency that came up with it, and it was blessed by lawyers -- was to take these people to countries that wanted them for their crimes of terrorism. So that's where we are today.

So when I say that it's not been thought through, it clearly is not an issue that has riveted the attention of the Department of Justice, for example.

The FBI says, "We don't want any part of these interrogations of these high-level detainees, wherever they're being held." Well, the FBI doesn't want any part of capturing anyone if they can't be put into a prosecutorial environment, eventually go to court, be tried and convicted. That's what their job is.

So what we're talking about is some kind of a new law, a new procedure, a new something that's out of the ordinary. But no one has addressed that so far as I know. It's not to criticize the FBI. The FBI's business is prosecution. …

When the president of the United States said in his State of the Union address and repeated afterwards that -- he used a number like 75 percent of Al Qaeda has been destroyed, is that a meaningless statement?

It is a meaningless statement to me. It's a body count. I think we have to give the devil his due, if you will.

We destroyed two-thirds of the leadership of Al Qaeda that we know about on 9/11. Unfortunately, one of the people we didn't know about was a guy named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was in the leadership. So we're talking about a number, a body count.

One of the problems in the American intelligence community is we continue to treat Al Qaeda as a terrorist group. It's much more modeled on an insurgent organization such as those that fought the Soviets. And because we don't have an order of battle for Al Qaeda, an estimate of size of units and total numbers, it's very hard to have a metric to say we've destroyed two-thirds of this or one half of that.

But you sound like one of the French analysts we talked to, Mr. [Xavier] Raufer, who said it's silly to talk about this; Al Qaeda or the jihadist movement is more like a proliferation of amoeba or a large school of fish.

Well, he's right to some extent, and Raufer was a person who paid close attention to the Afghan insurgency.

In terms of the general Muslim world, it is like an amoeba. People are growing more militant. People are taking actions off their own hook. But Al Qaeda is a command-and-control organization. It is an organization that has finite limits, has a structure and has manpower divided into those various components of the structure.

And because we treat it as a terrorist group, no one has ever tried to sit down and do an order of battle. So when we talk about two-thirds, it is a meaningless number. ...

From your own experience, the cooperation that the U.S. government [has], in both law enforcement and intelligence people, with Europe increased after 9/11.

I think that's right, yes. I'm not sure it's where we want it to be at. I think our cooperation with the British is good. With the Italians, the Italians have always been very, very reliable allies in the war on terrorism.

The Germans give office space to the FBI.

Yes. Again, I'm sure it's better than it was.

But it's still not where it should be.

It's not where it should be. I'm not sure how much further it can go, and I'm not one who thinks that, frankly, law enforcement is something that's going to win this war for us. As I said, it's a nice accompaniment, but it's not ever going to be the main driver.

So it's a policy issue really.

It's a policy issue for the United States. Bin Laden is fighting against us not because of who we are or what we do or that we have elections or women in the workplace -- none of that stuff that the president and Mr. [John] Kerry say, and Mr. Clinton before them. They give those as the reason. They hate us for our freedoms and our liberties. There's nothing further from the truth than that.

Bin Laden has had success because he's focused on a limited number of U.S. foreign policies in the Muslim world, policies that are visible and are experienced by Muslims on a daily basis: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices at a level that is more or less acceptable to Western consumers.

Probably the most damaging of all is our 30-year support for police states across the Islamic world: the Al Sauds and the Egyptians under [Hosni] Mubarak and his predecessors; the Algerians; the Moroccans; the Kuwaitis. They're all police states. ...

So America is in a fix. As long as the policies remain the same, we only have two options to fight this war: the military option and the intelligence services. That's it.

If our policies stay the same, no one is going to listen to our diplomacy. No one will listen to our propaganda. We are just not heard in the Islamic world. It's not a matter of them not knowing what we're up to. The problem we have is they think they know what we're up, to and that's supporting tyrannies; we're after their oil; we're supporting the Israelis over the Palestinians at all times; we're supporting governments that oppress Muslims elsewhere, such as the Chinese, the Indians and the Russians. It's a matter of policy.

And Europe becomes important because that's a place where Muslims can go or live and talk about these things, organize about these things, and the traditions of Western Europe allow them to do that.

Yes. Western European traditions are much like ours in terms of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and it's a very convenient place for them to be.

And also, next to the United States, Europe is probably the hub for the communications revolution. In terms of telephonic communications and Internet communications, Europe is the place to be.

So there's almost -- someone has called it a cyber umma; that Muslims are able to be in contact with other Muslims and are growing a sense of identity not as Saudis or Egyptians, but as Muslims.

Umma meaning "the world" --

The worldwide community of Muslims, yes. ...

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posted jan. 25, 2005

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