Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bin ladin's head on a pike and on dry ice? where will they get dry ice in Afganistan

Transcript for May 8
Guests: Gary Schroen, former senior CIA agent, author; James Carville; and Mary Matalin
NBC News
Updated: 11:34 a.m. ET May 8, 2005



Sunday, May 8, 2005

Guests: Gary Schroen, former senior CIA agent, Author of “First In: How seven CIA officers opened the war on terrorism in Afghanistan;”

James Carville, political strategist;

Mary Matalin, political strategist

Moderator: Tim Russert, NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: This man, the third ranking al-Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj Al-Libbi, is captured. Why is this man, Osama bin Laden, still on the loose?

Click Here!
And will this man, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, sell nuclear weapons to al-Qaeda or use them to blackmail the world?

With us, Gary Schroen, a CIA officer for 32 years and author of "First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan."

Then: Social Security, John Bolton, Tom DeLay, the Bush second term and the field for 2008. With us for the Democrats, James Carville; for the Republicans, Mary Matalin. The political odd couple square off.

But first, the war on terrorism through the eyes of CIA veteran, now author, Gary Schroen.

Mr. Schroen, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. GARY SCHROEN: Thank you very much, sir.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you this photograph. Here is Abu Faraj Al-Libbi, captured, described as the number-three man in al-Qaeda. How significant was his arrest?

MR. SCHROEN: I think it's significant in two ways, Tim. He is the number-three guy. He replaced Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was a mastermind of many of the attacks. His arrest will significantly damage the al-Qaeda organization. It's important in a second way because it demonstrates that the Pakistani government and military are willing to go into tribal areas north of Peshawar, where it's most likely that bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahari are hiding.

MR. RUSSERT: Number one and two.

MR. SCHROEN: Number one and two.

MR. RUSSERT: Richard Clark, who headed up counterterrorism for the White House said on Wednesday, "I think the original al Qaeda, the people who attacked us on September 11th, really doesn't exist any more as a threat, as an organization. But there are other organizations out there related to the original al Qaeda, that pose a significant threat."

Do you agree with that?

MR. SCHROEN: To some extent. Bin Laden is isolated, but I believe that he is able to still influence and communicate with his organization. It's true that terrorism has been globalized now in a way after 9/11 that's significant. But bin Laden remains a critical figure for us to focus on and to capture.

MR. RUSSERT: And direct the operation?

MR. SCHROEN: I don't know if he is actually directing it, but his spiritual guidance and his encouragement certainly adds emphasis to attacks around the world and groups around the world operating against us.

MR. RUSSERT: On September 1, 2001, you began a 90-day phaseout retiring from the CIA. Then came the horrific day of 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001. All our lives changed. You were asked to stay on at the CIA. On September 13th, you were summoned to the office of Cofer Black, the head of counterterrorism for the CIA. What did he tell you? What was your mission?

MR. SCHROEN: The mission was to--the first part of it was to go in and link up with the Northern Alliance, formerly headed by Ahmed Al-Massoud, and to win their confidence and their agreement to cooperate militarily with us. They were the only armed force on the ground in Afghanistan opposing the Taliban. The second part of it was, once the Taliban were broken, to attack the al-Qaeda organization, find bin Laden and his senior lieutenants and kill them.

MR. RUSSERT: Kill them?

MR. SCHROEN: Kill them.

MR. RUSSERT: Wasn't it illegal for us to kill foreign leaders?

MR. SCHROEN: I don't think at that point that the--I think the administration had gotten to the point where bin Laden and his guys were fair game.

MR. RUSSERT: As part of war?

MR. SCHROEN: As part of war.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Black gave you specific instructions on what he wanted you to bring home.

MR. SCHROEN: That's true. He did ask that once we got bin Laden and killed him, that we send his head back in a cardboard box on dry ice so that he could take it down and show the president.

MR. RUSSERT: Where would you find the dry ice in Afghanistan?

MR. SCHROEN: That's what I mentioned to him. I said, "Cofer, I think that I can come up with pikes to put the heads of the lieutenants on," which is the second part of what he wanted done. "Dry ice, we'll have to improvise."

MR. RUSSERT: Why couldn't you find bin Laden?

MR. SCHROEN: Initially, when we entered Afghanistan, I don't think there was a real clear view back in Washington or in the field as to what we would face there. We were actually behind the lines. We were deep into Afghanistan about 30 miles from the Taliban front lines hosted by this armed force, and it was almost impossible for even Massoud and his organization to operate beyond the limited area that they controlled.

MR. RUSSERT: And so it's just impossible to penetrate.

MR. SCHROEN: At that point, it was and it became very clear to actually go after the al-Qaeda and to get at bin Laden we would have to defeat the Taliban militarily and take them out of the equation.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, you brought with you $3 million in American cash, 100-dollar bills.

MR. SCHROEN: That's correct.

MR. RUSSERT: How many suitcases is that for that amount of money?

MR. SCHROEN: One very big, very heavy suitcase.

MR. RUSSERT: And what did you do with the money?

MR. SCHROEN: We basically used it to assure the leadership of the Northern Alliance that we were serious, that we dispensed the money to allow them to buy equipment, materiel and other things that they needed to bring their forces up to full combat strength.

MR. RUSSERT: We had read at that time that John Walker Lindh, this young American teenager, in effect...


MR. RUSSERT: ...had become part of al-Qaeda.


MR. RUSSERT: And the question I asked then and I ask you now is how could an American teenager infiltrate al-Qaeda and not the CIA?

MR. SCHROEN: Well, that question's been asked a lot in discussions: Why don't we infiltrate? But if you actually look at what John Walker Lindh was and where he was at, he was a foot soldier. He was never going to be trusted to do anything other than carry a gun and carry out the most basic orders. He was certainly never going to sit in a council with bin Laden or his senior lieutenants. And in the end, he ended up standing in chest-deep ice cold water in the basement of Qala Jangi prison, a fort there, fighting it out with American forces.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to your book and talk about Mr. bin Laden. "Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They are undoubtedly being assisted by tribal leaders who dislike the Pakistani government and who enjoy the financial rewards bin Ladin brings to them. Winning full Pakistani military cooperation, refocusing military strategy by U.S. forces on the Afghan side of the border, bringing back Special Operations units, and beefing up the number of CIA teams in the border areas would allow for coordinated military operations on both sides of the border. This is the only way to locate and eliminate bin Ladin ..."

Why aren't we doing what you recommend?

MR. SCHROEN: We're--since that was written, I think we've started to pull--there are more Special Forces troops there. We are still shorthanded as far as CIA officers on the ground in those border areas. Again, the demand on personnel, both special operations and military, and CIA in Iraq are huge and it makes staffing there difficult.

We are able to operate effectively on the Afghan side of the border. The problem rests in Pakistan. The Pakistanis' military and intelligence service is very reluctant to go into the tribal areas north of Peshawar, Bashir, Derr and Momad agency. I have a long felt personally that that was where bin Laden went to after they escaped--he and Zawahiri escaped from Tora Bora.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that we know where bin Laden is right now?

MR. SCHROEN: No, we don't know where he's at other than the general area.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Pakistanis have a pretty good sense where he is?

MR. SCHROEN: I think within the military and ISID at a a certain level, they certainly do now where he is.

MR. RUSSERT: ISID being Pakistani Intelligence...

MR. SCHROEN: Pakistani Intelligence Service.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the map of the border area. It's the border 1,640 miles long, the mountainous region about the size of the country of Ireland. And you think up there in the upper right hand corner?

MR. SCHROEN: Upper right hand corner, there is a little--you know, the little jot out there is where Peshawar is, and north of that is a rugged area. It's traditionally been the most hostile area to any kind of government control. The tribals there have made centuries of living smuggling and it's one of the main drug trafficking routes in and out of the country. And bin Laden is very respected and liked in that area.

MR. RUSSERT: And they're protecting him?

MR. SCHROEN: I think they're protecting him for a number of reasons. He is considered to be a Robin Hood-like figure. He has made a, you know, mockery of our efforts to catch him for all these years, and he probably has a nice checkbook that he is writing sizeable amounts of checks for these people hosting him.

MR. RUSSERT: Tom Brokaw interviewed General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and talked about capturing bin Laden. Let me show you part of that interview.

(Videotape, May 4, 2005):

MR. TOM BROKAW: Is there a danger for you, personally, and for your government, that if Pakistani troops take down Osama bin Laden in what would probably be a difficult struggle, it would cause an uprising in some of the cities in your country, and in the refugee camps?

GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, there would be effects, but we shouldn't be so naive as to capture him and then go around telling everyone and going around with him everywhere. I mean, there is a method of dealing with the situation.

MR. BROKAW: But it would be delicate, wouldn't it?

GEN. MUSHARRAF: It would be certainly delicate, not only here but even in the Islamic world.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Musharraf: "It would be delicate here in Pakistan and the Islamic world." Is there a distinct possibility that Mr. Musharraf is afraid of capturing Osama bin Laden because he would fear that his government would be toppled?

MR. SCHROEN: In my opinion, that's a real likelihood, that the Pakistanis have cooperated pretty wholesomely in helping us capture a lot of al-Qaeda officers up to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and this-- the capture of Al-Libbi recently is a significant event but to take on bin Laden, there would be an uproar within that country and around the Islamic world that would really cause the foundations of the Pakistani government to be shaken.

MR. RUSSERT: After Al-Libbi was captured, some citizens in the town told NBC News: "If we had known it was him, we would have protected him."

MR. SCHROEN: I think that's probably very accurate. And if we were able to find bin Laden, and identify that to the Pakistanis, I would suspect that there would be a great reluctance and probably a refusal to move forward. That's my opinion.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1999, we had located bin Laden at a hunting camp where some Arab princes were also hunting with him. And there was a big discussion, debate whether or not to launch cruise missiles and take out bin Laden. Why didn't we do it?

MR. SCHROEN: The debate came down to the fact that we would be using cruise missiles and that this camp would be undoubtedly totally destroyed. There were a number of princes from the United Arab Emirates. This was a camp that was being supported by the UAE government, UAE military; C-130s were supplying these guys with the amenities that they needed. Bin Laden was there. And the debate-- we had the plan, our guys had scoped the camp out, put a beacon down so that we knew it was the exact camp. And then it got into, "Well, what tent does bin Laden sleep in? Where does he eat? Where does he go to the bathroom?" So these kinds of questions dragged on and on for two weeks. And, finally, the administration's decision was not to take the strike because of the collateral damage that would occur.

MR. RUSSERT: This is the Clinton administration?


MR. RUSSERT: You're convinced we could have gotten bin Laden then?

MR. SCHROEN: Absolutely. Our guys had eyes on him. Well...

MR. RUSSERT: And the what-ifs. This was in 1999, two years before 2001.

MR. SCHROEN: Exactly. The what-ifs.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to bin Laden and the president's comments on September 17, 2001. Here's George W. Bush.

(Videotape, September 17, 2001):

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want him--I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said "Wanted, Dead or Alive."

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: In December of 2001, the battle of Tora Bora. This is what you write. "In early 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Tora Bora and the subsequent escape of Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahari, CIA and specially trained U.S. military Special Operations units began to organize teams in the provincial areas east and south of Kabul, along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan."

You have no doubt that bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora?

MR. SCHROEN: No doubt at all. When the first film--videotape that was made--that he made afterwards shows him that he was holding his left side and was probably wounded there in the battle, but every bit of information we had at the time indicated that he had escaped and moved into the Waziristan area which is south of Peshawar.

MR. RUSSERT: How did he get away?

MR. SCHROEN: We had done--followed the same lead we had taken since September of '01 in defeating the Taliban. We were attacking with U.S. military forces against the al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, and we hired local tribal leaders to guard the escape routes into Pakistan. Unfortunately, many of those people proved to be loyal to bin Laden and sympathizers with the Taliban and they allowed the key guys to escape.

MR. RUSSERT: In the heat of the presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry as part of his stump speech in effect would say things like this. Let's watch.

(Videotape, October 30, 2004):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords who a week earlier were fighting against us.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Should we have had more U.S. troops in Afghanistan circling Tora Bora to prevent his escape?

MR. SCHROEN: In hindsight that would have been ideal. We fought a special operations war. It was CIA and Army Green Berets on the ground directing the bombing campaign. It was only late in the campaign that U.S. ground forces came in, and the evolution, I think, simply we didn't take it far enough. If we'd have had one more battle after Tora Bora, we probably would have gotten it right.

MR. RUSSERT: Again, in October of 2004, in the presidential campaign, after John Kerry made those charges, General Tommy Franks offered this observation. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. ...Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp."

You just disagree with that?

MR. SCHROEN: I absolutely do, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And President Bush and Vice President Cheney all quoted General Franks, saying: "We don't know if bin Laden was at Tora Bora." You have no doubt.

MR. SCHROEN: I have no doubt that he was there.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn again to your book. "The United States is continuing to pour billions of dollars and sacrifice the lives of American soldiers in order to bring peace and democracy to Iraq. This is being done at the expense of Afghanistan. ... Given the total preoccupation with Iraq, I am not confident that the U.S. government will make the policy adjustments necessary to improve conditions for the success of the democratic experiment in Afghanistan, or refocus diplomatic and military efforts back to the South Asia region in order to capture Osama bin Laden and defeat al-Qa'ida. The opportunity to make these changes exists now; if we fail in these efforts, we do so at our peril."

Are you suggesting--do you believe that Iraq is a distraction, a preoccupation, and it is really limiting our ability to capture Osama bin Laden and secure Afghanistan?

MR. SCHROEN: I absolutely do. Afghanistan gets a distant second on all aspects, whether it's going to be military or aid that's going to be given to the country. Afghanistan is--the elections were successful. There is a beginning of democracy there. It's very fragile. The--but I think the entire population wants peace. It's a matter of how they share the pie. And we could do a lot more to bring that democracy to full birth if we would focus more attention, more money on that country.

MR. RUSSERT: Which is more important, do you believe, to the war on terrorism, Afghanistan or Iraq?

MR. SCHROEN: At this point, unfortunately, the Iraqi situation has gotten so large that it's become a major issue that has to be dealt with. I think, though, that ultimately we owe it to Afghanistan and to ourselves to end this al-Qaeda threat there and defeat the Taliban completely and let that country move forward so it doesn't become a safe haven for terrorism again.

MR. RUSSERT: In October of 2003, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld wrote an internal memo where he was opining about terrorists. And he said, "Today we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

Let me just there. That's a pretty interesting question. What do you think?

MR. SCHROEN: I think, unfortunately, the attack on Iraq has caused, really, a sort of insurgent rebirth. I mean, there are a lot of more terrorists out there now. People are--they don't have to take their orders from bin Laden. They see this as an international jihad. And I think it is difficult to measure. I think we probably at this point are barely holding our own.

MR. RUSSERT: Can we win the war on terror without winning the hearts and minds of the Islamic world?

MR. SCHROEN: No. I don't think we can. Part of the problem is that we are not hated by these people because of who we are, but the policies that we follow in the Middle East: "occupation" of Saudi Arabia, our policies in Iraq prior to the war, our support for Israel and all. These are issues that burn deeply within the Islamic world.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, I want to take advantage of your expertise on another issue. The Robb- Silverman commission--the president--Chuck Robb and Lawrence Silverman, on weapons of mass destruction not being found in Iraq--added this note: "The [Robb-Silverman WMD] commission made it clear it is concerned about the quality of intelligence on nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. `The intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors,' the commission reported. `In some cases, it knows less than it did five or 10 years ago.'"

That's pretty chilling.

MR. SCHROEN: It is, especially when you look at--well, Iran is an area that I know well, and it--I think we probably do know less now than we did a few years ago.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you have any doubt that Iran would like to have nuclear weapons?

MR. SCHROEN: Oh, absolutely. They would. They're the strongest supporters for the Palestinian cause. They support the Hamas and the Hezbollah there. They would like to have a nuclear weapon very, very much.

MR. RUSSERT: If Kim Jong Il in North Korea has six nuclear bombs, what are the possibilities that he would, being starved for money, decide to sell a nuclear weapon to al-Qaeda?

MR. SCHROEN: I'm certainly not an expert on Kim Jong Il, but I think that there would be a really strong possibility that he would consider that at any time, if the offer was right.

MR. RUSSERT: And North Koreans and the Iranians, if, in fact, they begin to possess nuclear weapons that can be detonated, the possibility of blackmail against the world?

MR. SCHROEN: Exactly. It's a frightening scenario.

MR. RUSSERT: Is there anything we can do to stop it?

MR. SCHROEN: We--with the Iranians, we'd have to sort of reinvent our diplomatic approach to them and all, and I think that this administration has started that by dealing with the Europeans. But it's a long, hard road. There are no moderates in Iran, really.

MR. RUSSERT: Is there any possibility militarily for us to stop the production in Iran or North Korea?

MR. SCHROEN: I'm not an expert on that. I would think that would be the worst thing we could do, though. If we want to set back our relations with Iran and send them--the last thing we need to do is attack Iran.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, will we ever capture Osama bin Laden?

MR. SCHROEN: I think with the capture of Al-Libbi recently--gives some hope that the Pakistanis will cooperate if we put enough pressure on them, and maybe we end up doing it unilaterally but I think we're going to get him within the next three to four months.

MR. RUSSERT: Three to four months.

MR. SCHROEN: Well, that's my hope.

MR. RUSSERT: From your lips to God's ears. Gary Schroen, we thank you very much, and our condolences on the loss of your mom, Fern, on Friday.

MR. SCHROEN: Oh, thank you very much.