Transcript of Michael Scheuer on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris" is anonymous no more. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is our guest. He's next coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The hunt for Osama bin Laden and the war on terror with the no-longer-anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris." Michael Scheuer after this brief station break.
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MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Mr. Anonymous, Michael Scheuer, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. MICHAEL SCHEUER: Good morning, Mr. Russert. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers from your book this quote: "U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious: We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency--not criminality or terrorism--and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces."
Do you believe we're losing the war on terror?
MR. SCHEUER: I think without question we're losing the war on terror, sir, not because they are stronger than us but because we resolutely refuse to recognize the motivation of the enemy is grounded so thoroughly in their religion and their perception that American policies are a threat to annihilate that religion. And that's not to say we should sympathize or empathize with their position, but certainly if you're going to destroy your enemy, you better understand what he's about.
MR. RUSSERT: The deputy commander of Central Command, General Lance Smith, said this yesterday. "Pakistan's military has been so effective in pressuring al-Qaida leaders hiding in the tribal region of western Pakistan that Osama bin Laden and his top deputies no longer are able to direct terrorist operations." "`They are living in the remotest areas of the world without any communications--other than courier--with the outside world or their people and unable to orchestrate or provide command and control over a terrorist network.'"
Do you believe that?
MR. SCHEUER: No, I don't, sir. You know, there's a movie opening in Washington this weekend about the author James Barrie of "Peter Pan" finding--it's called "Finding Neverland." And I think Americans have found Neverland through the statements of many of their leaders.
For example, on that one, the Pakistani military has done more than we had any right to expect them to do. They have been in this case very good allies. But we're talking about a border that's 1,500 kilometers long. It's intensely mountainized territory, and it's simply not rational to believe that we have put very much pressure at all on Osama bin Laden. I would say the Special Forces of the United States and the clandestine services of the United States have done exemplary work catching these people one man at a time. But it's such a large organization in such a big area that a statement like that is clearly misleading to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Osama is still fully in control of al-Qaeda?
MR. SCHEUER: I think it's wishful thinking to think that he isn't, sir. The one example is the tremendous sophistication and spontaneity of his media machine. There has to be some command and control there. And to imagine that it doesn't--that he's unable to do it is just absolutely incorrect. He's really a remarkable man, a great man in many ways, without the connotation positive or negative. He's changed the course of history. You just have to try to take your fourth-graders' class to the White House visitors' center...
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "great man," people cringe.
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir. Absolutely they cringe, but a great man is someone--a great individual is someone who changes the course of history. And certainly in the last five or six years, America has changed dramatically in the way we behave, in the way we travel. Certainly he's bleeding us to death in terms of money. Look at the budget deficit now. Much of that goes against Osama bin Laden.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you see him as a very formidable enemy?
MR. SCHEUER: Tremendously formidable enemy, sir, an admirable man. If he was on our side, he would be dining at the White House. He would be a freedom fighter, a resistance fighter. It's--and again, that's not to praise him, but it is to say that until we take the measure of the man and the power of his words, we're very much going to be on the short end of the stick.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to read something else from your book. "The military is now America's only tool and will remain so while current policies are in place. No public diplomacy, presidential praise for Islam, or politically correct debate masking the reality that many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims hate us for actions, not values, will get America out of this war."
"Actions, not values." What are the actions that created this hatred in the Muslim world?
MR. SCHEUER: Our foreign policy, sir, about six items that bin Laden has isolated. I think if has a genius, that's one of them. He has created an agenda that appeals to Muslims whether they are fundamentalists or liberals or moderates. Our unqualified support for Israel is one. Our ability to keep oil prices low, enough for Western consumers, is another. Our presence on the Arabian peninsula certainly is another. Our military presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in Yemen, in the Philippines, in other Muslim countries is a fourth. Our support for governments that are widely viewed as suppressing Muslims--Russia and Chechnya, for example, the Indians in Kashmir, the Chinese in Western China. But perhaps most of all, our policy of supporting what bin Laden and I think much of the Muslim world regards as tyrannical governments from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, whether it's the Al Sauds, the Kuwaitis, the Egyptian government, the Algerian government. He's focused Muslims on those policies and it is a very resonant agenda.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "unqualified support for Israel," I received an e-mail from a former colleague of yours at the CIA and it said that Scheuer's basic premise is blame the Jews, that the reason we're in this fix is because of our support for Israel.
MR. SCHEUER: No, that's hardly the case. Indeed, the Arab-Israeli problem for so long was just a minor annoyance in the terms of our perception in the Muslim world.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "politically correct debate," what are you talking about?
MR. SCHEUER: Yeah. What I'm talking about is an American landscape littered with politicians who have dared question our relationship with Israel. No one is advocating dumping Israel as an ally. We have, unfortunately for America, a long history of abandoning allies. But there is a perception in the Muslim world, and I think there's a perception on the part of many Americans, that the tail is leading the dog on this case. And perception, for better or worse, is often reality.
MR. RUSSERT: So what would you do?
MR. SCHEUER: I think we need to take a position with Israel that suits American interests.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
MR. SCHEUER: Such as perhaps being more insistent on some arrangement with the settlements. Certainly, no one is going to withdraw the protective umbrella of the United States, but at some point, Americans need to look after their own interests first.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe that being "tough on Israel" would in any way change Osama bin Laden's agenda or desire to destroy America?
MR. SCHEUER: His agenda is not to destroy America, Mr. Russert. He simply wants us out of his neighborhood. He wants us out of the Middle East. And I'm not--no, it would not change his agenda, but my point here is that America has a choice between war and endless war with the forces led by Osama bin Laden. And at some point, we need to take actions in our own interests that limit his ability to grow in power and popularity in the Muslim world.
MR. RUSSERT: But if America removes itself from the Middle East, isn't that appeasement to...
MR. SCHEUER: No, sir, I'm not suggesting that we remove ourselves from the Middle East. My book, if anything, is a hawkish statement that we have not nearly applied enough military power or intelligence power to our enemies. There is a great deal--and it's not very popular to say it--but there's a great deal of killing to be done. Some of the actions in the brilliant operation in Fallujah this week by the Marines is the kind of operation we're going to have to undertake, but the point is military and intelligence work by itself is never going to solve this issue. There has to be an economic component. There has to be at least a debate in the United States on the set of policies bin Laden has identified, and we need to make sure that those policies, which have been on autopilot for 30 years, still suit American interests.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that if we are able to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would neutralize some of the Muslim world?
MR. SCHEUER: I think it would. I definitely think it would limit the ability of bin Laden to continue to expand and influence.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me also show you something else you wrote in your book. "This war has the potential to last beyond our children's lifetimes and to be fought mostly on U.S. soil. ... I write this book, then, with a pressing certainty that al Qaeda will attack the continental United States again, that its next strike will be more damaging than that of September 11, 2001, and could include use of weapons of mass destruction. ... That heads did not roll after September 11 is perhaps our most grievous post- attack error."
Let me talk about heads rolling and September 11 in a bit, but the fact that you believe al-Qaeda will attack the United States with more ferocity than September 11, isn't that an indication that Osama wants to destroy us?
MR. SCHEUER: He wants us--he doesn't think we have the moxie, if you will to, as President Reagan used to say, stay the course in the Middle East. He has identified the United States as a power that is unwilling to suffer casualties at a very large rate, at a rate that's acceptable, for example, to the Islamic resistance. And he feels he can push us out of there, out of the Middle East, simply by inflicting pain in terms of lives and money. In predicting an attack, I really am not alone. I'm simply echoing Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, most American leaders.
MR. RUSSERT: You think it's coming?
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir, I do think it's coming. I think we fool ourselves if we think that we have crippled al-Qaeda to the point where they can't attack the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think he has a nuclear capability?
MR. SCHEUER: I believe certainly since 1996, we've known that he has an extraordinarily professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And during the last campaign, we were told that the former Soviet Union's weaponry and nuclear assets won't be fully under control for several more years. You put the two together, sir, and I think it's a just cause for worry.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to refer you an e-mail that you sent to the September 11 Commission. "I have finished"--reading--"my second cover-to-cover reading of your report. It is disappointing in the extreme. ...your report seems to deliberately ignore those who were clearly culpable of negligence or dereliction. ... By finding no one culpable, you allow the mind-set that got America to 9/11 to endure and thrive in whatever new community structure is established."
Who do you believe is culpable for dereliction of duty for the events of September 11?
MR. SCHEUER: I think that--my books were designed, first, to try to educate my fellow citizens, if you will, about the danger of Osama bin Laden, but a second point was to describe to them the fact that very seldom does the protection of Americans come first in the deliberations of their government in terms of the senior bureaucracy and the senior leadership of the intelligence community. Myself and literally dozens of officers testified before the Graham-Goss Committee in the Congress and the 9-11 Commission, describing numerous instances where problems within the community could have been rectified, problems that were brought to the attention of the senior-most officers in the community. Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt, the deputy director of operations at the CIA, certainly Mr. Clarke at the NSC, Judge Freeh at the FBI.
MR. RUSSERT: So they're culpable?
MR. SCHEUER: My view is that most of them got off scot-free without a question. For example, much of the animosity between the FBI and the CIA had to do simply with the fact that the FBI didn't have a computer system that allowed communications with its field offices, let alone other members of the intelligence community. And yet, before the 9-11 Commission, no one asked Judge Freeh how it was that under his tenure he couldn't find a way to buy a computer system.
MR. RUSSERT: But didn't he start a new era of cooperation with the CIA and Mr. Tenet?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, I think much of that--the truth of the matter is that Mr. Tenet carried--and the CIA carried the FBI on its back simply because it's not a modern organization and not an organization that's willing to share information. That's another point in the 9-11 Commission series. It's replete with errors. They put together a box with 10 missed opportunities to intercept two of the 9/11 hijackers. In six of those, they said the information was withheld or not shared by the FBI. Well, I can speak directly to that point as I was the chief of bin Laden operations for three and a half years. There was no piece of information that came into the CIA electronically or on hard copy that wasn't available to the FBI.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we had at least 10 opportunities to take out Mr. bin Laden?
MR. SCHEUER: Without question, sir. They weren't perfect opportunities, clearly. And Mr. Tenet, Mr. Clarke and others have gone out of their way to denigrate the quality of the intelligence. But I think what Americans should know is that the defense of American citizens very seldom was part of the decision not to attack, and the 9-11 Commission reports it--documents that very clearly. One time in December 1998, they were afraid to shoot at Osama bin Laden with a cruise missile because the shrapnel might have hit a mosque, which is an inanimate object. One time they were afraid to shoot because bin Laden was having lunch with an Arab prince.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't this a presidential decision?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, there are several books, Mr. Clarke's book included, that sometimes these things weren't even taken to the president. But what I'm saying, sir, is if you have cancer and the doctor says "We have to operate" and there is only a 20 percent chance of your surviving, I think most Americans would take the shot. The decision not to shoot or not to capture Osama bin Laden because of the fear of offending Muslim opinion, the fear of offending Europeans, the fear of killing an Arab prince--for goodness sake, there's lots of Arab princes. But all of those things lead directly to 9/11. It's a mind-set that is somehow not properly devoted to protecting American lives.
MR. RUSSERT: You've talked about Iraq being a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda, that you said the invasion of Iraq was not a pre-emption, it was an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat. But I want to bring you to an interview you had on Tuesday on "Hardball" where you said, "The only part of [the case for the war in Iraq] that I know about is that I happened to do the research on links between al Qaeda and Iraq." Question: "And what did you come up with?" Scheuer: "Nothing."
If you go back and read your first book, "Through Enemies' Eyes," you seem to lay out a pretty strong case of connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Let me show you page 190: "In pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, bin Laden has focused on the [Former Soviet Union] states and has sought and received help from Iraq."
This week's new Weekly Standard lays out this one: "There's information showing that in '93-94, bin Laden began" working "with Sudan and Iraq to acquire a [chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear] capability."
And this: "We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking [chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear] weapons ... and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden."
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: So you saw a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?
MR. SCHEUER: I certainly saw a link when I was writing the books in terms of the open-source literature, unclassified literature, but I had nothing to do with Iraq during my professional career until the run-up to the war. What I was talking about on "Hardball" was I was assigned the duty of going back about nine or 10 years in the classified archives of the CIA. I went through roughly 19,000 documents, probably totaling 50,000 to 60,000 pages, and within that corpus of material, there was absolutely no connection in the terms of a--in terms of a relationship--in the terms of a relationship...
MR. RUSSERT: But your book did point out some contacts?
MR. SCHEUER: Certainly it was available in the open-source material, yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Porter Goss, the new head of the CIA, is now cleaning house, if you will, saying that people in the CIA should support the administration's policies. Do you agree with that?
MR. SCHEUER: I think Mr. Goss deserves a chance to run his agency as he sees fit. I truly believe that the agency has always, at the working level, supported whatever administration happened to be in power at the time. I think his memo to the work force was clearly a very poorly written piece of prose. I think it's--much of the problem is just the change in tenure from Mr. Tenet, who was our kind of first rock star DCI, and to Mr. Goss, who's a much more buttoned-up man. But I would say the biggest problem is the clandestine service feels very much scapegoated for 9/11. And if you read the 9/11 report with any kind of objective eye, the clandestine service clearly provided this government 10 opportunities to take care of bin Laden long before 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it appropriate for you to write a book which many viewed as critical to President Bush while you were still a CIA agent?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, that was clearly, sir, the decision of the agency. Any officer serving who writes anything has to put the book through the most--a very rigorous process.
MR. RUSSERT: But people over there stated you were ranting and throwing a tantrum, threatening lawsuits if they didn't approve your book.
MR. SCHEUER: No, sir. There is a whole question of how I was treated as an employee, which is one that I will not talk about, which you can ask the agency about if you would like to. I did not rant. I did not rave. And, indeed, once the book was published, it was misunderstood as an attack on President Bush. Mr. Tenet, who was in charge then, and his deputies let me speak about it as long as the book was misunderstood. When I turned the interviews around to show that it was a critique of people who have failed to serve the president well, whether it was Democratic or Republican, they shut me up.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you do now?
MR. SCHEUER: I'm going to look for a job for the first time in 25 years, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: And you have no regrets about this?
MR. SCHEUER: I--the greatest regret I have is not working at the CIA anymore, sir. It's the best place to work on Earth. It's a--the clandestine service is on the front lines of defending America, and any...
MR. RUSSERT: But you resigned?
MR. SCHEUER: I did, sir. I needed to say--I have four children and three grandchildren, and they are not being protected by the decisions that are documented in the 9/11 book, in the 9/11 report, and, you know, I'm just a midlevel manager, the kind that Mr. Clarke says doesn't appreciate the nuances of diplomacy. I appreciate the need to protect Americans, and I think Americans need to know that, at least in regard to Osama bin Laden, they were not well-protected by decisionmakers. They were well- protected by the clandestine service.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael Scheuer, we thank you very much for sharing your views.
MR. SCHEUER: Sir, it's my pleasure.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.