tv This Is America With Dennis Wholey WHUT April 3, 2011 6:00pm-6:30pm EDT
>> our guest this week on "this is america" is peter bergen, cnn's national security analyst, director of the national securities studies program at the new america foundation, and the author of "the longest war: the enduring conflict between america and al qaeda." peter, good to have you here. thank you for joining us. >> thank you. >> you say in this incredible book, 9/11, "the greatest security failure in american history." how so? who missed the ball? >> more americans died on 9/11
then died at pearl harbor. who missed the ball? a lot of people. i try to weigh the bush administration against the clinton administration. i think clinton had a better understanding of al qaeda. the bush administration came in, most of them have been out of office for at least almost a decade. many of them are cold war warriors, whether it was condoleezza rice, the pentagon in the 1970's, the soviet threat. al qaeda just did not track with them as being a problem because it did not fit with the scenario of the states being a problem. they were concerned about iraq and china and anti-ballistic missile defense, which of course anti-ballistic missile defense would not stop a terrorist attack. >> but did you say that clinton failed to go after them when he should have? >> the response was kind of
ineffectual, cruise missile attacks aimed at their training camps in 1998 did not kill them, stop their operations. part of the blame also goes to the u.s. military because when clinton was saying what kind of military operations can we do against al qaeda and afghanistan, the army would come back with the invasion of normandy as a plan, not the small-operations plan that clinton wanted. soak the plans were never going to fly. the cia -- so the plans were never going to fly. the cia th, when it came the moment to pull the trigger, the intelligence was off. so the national security advisor and other people in the chain would say we do not have it. we don't really know if he is going to be there, this osama
bin laden. in the trigger was never polls. >> let's jump a little bit into the bush era. the summer of 2001, you say it was an open secret abroad, especially in the area of the taliban, that there was going to be something big directed toward the united states, an open secret, you say. >> certainly around the camp fires in the al qaeda training camps, people were talking about the attacks. not only that, bin laden and his top leaders gave talks to top tv stations saying that it was going to attack the united states. that was picked up by "the washington post's" in july, 2001. information was publicly available, information was privately available. the presidential daily brief, entitled "bin laden intending to
attack the united states" was briefed in 2001, and it was stating the blindly obvious. he had said he would attack the united states water years earlier and repeated it on cnn news. >> i want to take you back to july with george tenet, then director of the cia. even richard clarke, on the national security -- they all run to condoleezza rice and say this is serious business, red flags all over the place. >> right, and condoleezza rice does not emerge from this particularly well, to be honest. she claimed before the 9/11 commission that bush military was at battle stations. there is no evidence of that. she heard them but did not process it it. she did not put the apparatus in
place as sandy berger had done. sandy berger at that time was convening almost daily national security meetings, the national security council. that did not happen in the summer of 2001. >> the fbi had as many as 70 different investigations going of potential or probable or maybe cells operating in the united states and around the world. >> in the presidential daily brief in august of 2001, that is what is claimed. the number is an exaggeration. the fbi did have many investigations but not as many as 70. >> so here we come, and there was something happening with a plea bargain or a plea deal in los angeles? >> yap. >> all these things are kind of
conspiring. >> and don't forget, the trade center had been attacked in 1993. six people were killed. in defense of everyone involved, i had investigated al qaeda at the time of the attack in 1993. even with the information that was all there, it was hard to believe that they would do an attack on the united states, certainly on the scale of 9/11. but with the benefit of hindsight, they had already tried to attack was angeles international airport, blown up a bomb in the trade center in 1993, and there was a lot of information out there that they were going to do this again. >> soap on september 11, 2001, -- so on september 11, 2001, the world watched, and bin laden listened. >> yes, he was listening on -- do not forget, television was banned, so they tried to set up a tv and satellite receiver in
afghanistan. they were listening on a radio receiver. >> peter bergen is the national security analyst for cnn. his book "the longest war: the enduring conflictenetwe between american and al qaeda. sit tight. "this is america." "this is america" is made possible by -- the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the american federation of teachers, a union of professionals. poongsan corporation, forging a higher global standard.
and the rotondaro family trust, the ctc foundation, afo communications, and the american life tv network. what do you think bin laden is thinking today as he surveys what is happening in the middle east? >> i think he is looking at it with a mixture of glee and disparate glee. one of the themes of the book is that bin laden and al qaeda are losing the war of ideas in the western world, not because the united states is winning them but because al qaeda -- muslims realize they have killed a lot of muslim civilians. they are not offering anything positive, but do they have a plan for the massive unemployment in the middle east? of course not. they have made a world of
enemies, and muslims are increasingly -- support for bin laden, al qaeda, and suicide bombing is dropping very quickly. if he is looking at these events, he is realizing his ideas are a part of this, and the outcome is not going to be to his satisfaction. it is very unlikely there will be a big demand for taliban- style theocracy in egypt. >> that was part of the mission. part of the mission was establishing all of this -- >> the reason -- the idea was that we would pull out of the middle east because of the attack, that the authoritarian regimes with then crumbled. as an idea, that did not turn out to be true. the united states did not pull out of the middle east. it occupied afghanistan and iraq. the american relations with the saudi family became stronger because they were helping us against al qaeda.
>> why this idea of a global conspiracy to destroy islam by the united states? where did that come from? >> to some degree it is really bin laden's big idea. america in the muslim world, go back to the suez canal crisis. the united states was the hero figure in 1956 for intervening on the side of -- against the israelis and the british. so the anti-american sentiment has not been with us forever. but in lawton, he has always been -- but bin laden, he has always been anti-zionist, and the american soldiers came to saudi arabia in 1990 as part of operation double as a storm -- operation desert storm and turn the dislike for america into hatred. >> president bush said on a number of cases that we are not at war against islam, but truly
this was, as far as bin laden is concerned, a religious war, huh? >> certainly it is a religious war, and bin laden is a religious zealot. i have interviewed his school buddies, family members. he would bring teenage buddies around to his house, and their idea will of entertainment was you had these chants about palestine. definitely sees themselves -- sees himself as a religious guy and sees this as a religious war. there is no doubt about that. >> you say in the book, "1.2 billion muslims around the world." you say about 6% or 7% of them follow his line of thinking. that is 100 million people. >> it is a lot of people.
>> it is 100 million people signing on to that kind of jihad. >> here is the question. the 7% figure comes from a gallup poll, and the question was asked, do you basically approve completely of the 9/11 attacks? 7% of the people said they did approve. now, does that mean that 7% would engage in violence against americans or the united states? no. >> but they sign on to the philosophy. >> they approved an attack against american civilians. it is a disturbing number. i think a small percentage of that 7% with a gauge in violence. >> indeed. 1997, you were involved as a cnn producer in an interview of bin laden. the who, what, when, where, and why -- fill us in.
>> the attack on the world trade center in 1993 did not seem to beef by a diffe-- did not seem o be by a bunch of cabdrivers. at the time, he was a relatively obscure figure, bin laden. cnn was getting -- for a while, they were very paranoid and secretive. went into taliban-occupied afghanistan, met him in the middle of the night, probably the torah or region, where he declared of war -- he declared war on the united states. blindfolded, changes of vehicles. heavily armed guys with russian submachine guns and rocket- powered grenades and a certain amount of performance attached
to it. they were probably laying it on a bit thick, lots of people jumping out of the darkness challenging us. they definitely wanted us to understand that there were a lot of people in that group that were observing us. they swept us for electronic tracking devices, told us not to bring anything with us but the clothes we were wearing. >> no cell phones obviously, no cameras. so he walks into the room and you had your cameras set up. what do you make of him? >> they provided a camera, and he walked in. >> they provided a camera? >> yes. >> he is p.r. savvy, isn't he? >> yes. he embraced the limelight and enjoyed it. when he walked into the room, i thought they might be something of a revolutionary. he was very low key, said
everything with a lot of seriousness. he was speaking arabic even though he speaks english because he wanted to be very precise about what he wanted to say. we made it clear in the interview, i just took questions about his politics and at the end of the day we were there because why was he declaring war on the united states essentially? what he said those very interesting in the sense that he did not mention hollywood or madonna or drugs, alcohol, feminism, tolerance of homosexuality. >> he was not interested in social issues, was he? >> not at all. nowadays he occasionally does because he tries to keep himself relevant and will mention some cultural issues. but his predominant beef is united states foreign policy in the middle east. >> and in that interview he declared war on the united states with a western audience
for the first time, and big time, right? >> yeah, it was not unclear. he was very clear about it. i would imagine the na japanese high command in 1947, -- in 1937, pearl harbor probably would have turned out differently. the warnings were pretty loud and clear. >> let's talk a little bit about his background. 1957, so he is 54 right now. >> he celebrated his 54th birthday on february 15. >> father in the construction business, a billionaire or millionaire? >> his father is probably a billionaire. bin laden was 3 of other siblings. -- of 53 other siblings. ons25 sons, and so the s
get more money than the daughters do. >> how do you think his father was involved in the reconstruction of mecca, medina, and something in -- >> jerusalem. >> how do you think that influenced his interest and fanaticism about religion? >> i think pretty largely because when you are the family responsible for restoring backed up or medina, it does not get bigger than that. and then a mosque in jerusalem, the third most sacred, there were also involved in restoring that. they also owe their fortune to this. rebuilding that and medina so that it would fit millions of tourists and pilgrims. so i think that the family owes some of its standing to the fact that it was a large project.
bin laden was a very religious kid. >> you said shy, and "priggish" isn't tie an additive that you . >> yes, a priggish. he was not watching tv at all. never made a crack of an inappropriate joke. he got married when he was 17 for the first time. >> he was married five times? >> married five times, yes. >> and has 20 kids himself? and that probably around 20, yeah. >> and some have bailed on him? >> i think the younger kids may still be, if not with him, in his orbit. >> he used to take them on these trips through the mountains and make them sleep in places where
there was no air conditioning and electricity, and "be prepared, for the time will come when you do not have these luxury's." >> he seems to be preparing for life on the run -- for more than a decade. >> where does it fit in into his upbringing, that his father died when he was 10? his father did not have time to spend with the kids anyway. >> he has claimed that his father wanted his sons to fight for islam. it is a claim that is not approved. if and what was one of the number sons, there would -- if you wanted to prove something to his dad, doing what he's doing might be one way to do it. but i'm not a psychologist. when your father dies when you are 10, it obviously has an impact. but when you have 53 siblings, you do not want dad spending a
great deal of time with anyone of them. >> especially when you are such a successful businessman as well. >> and you have 20 wives. >> indeed, indeed. the soviet union invade afghanistan in his early 20's, and that has a huge impact on him. >> the most transformational in back on him. >> the most transformational? >> he is working the family business, he decides to do something about it personally. he starts traveling to pakistan, eventually moved to pakistan with his family he fights personally against the soviets, and this is -- most people define themselves in the 20's by what they do. by the time he is 30, he has set up outside of a year or two earlier. that was really based on his war against the soviets because they saw the war against the soviets winding down in 1998.
found al qaeda. >> so where was it found, and what was the early mission and the religious influences? >> well, it was found in peshawar roth, a city in northwest pakistan. over the course of a few weekends in august of 1988. it is basically a dozen guys sitting around, and their mission at the beginning was not necessarily anti-american, it was rather encompassing, which was to lift the flag of jihad around the world. the religious enterprise -- a religious enterprise, and the people who joined al qaeda were causing-religious and had a to bin laden. >> the prophet mohammad was not only a religious leader but also
a military commander. >> right. >> how did that model itself for bin laden? >> if you are an observant muslim or any moslem, mohammed led this ideal life. it is simply a fact that the prophet mohammad was not a great religious figure, he was also a successful military commander. he fought dozens of battles, major campaigns, conceptualized the idea of jihad, holy war. he conceptualize the idea of being a martyr in the service of islam. this is all part of the car ran a tradition. -- of the koranic tradition. at least in his own mind, he sleeps the way the profits slept, saw his exile in 1996 as sort of mimicking the exile of the profit to medina in 632.
bin laden sees mohammad as a role model, and the fact that he is a skilled military commander is part of mohammad's attraction. >> when saddam hussein in iraq invades kuwait, bin laden goes to saudi arabia and says let me help you, let me defend you, let me -- because i have a little gang of people out here. who can help out. >> they turned him down flat. they had been leading several muslim fighters against the soviets, and these guys were battle hardened. but the idea that they would be able to fight against saddam hussein, who had the fourth largest army in the world at the time, the saudis left him out of the woroom. >> so he gets his passport to go
to pakistan and never comes back to saudi arabia, is that right? >> through some high-level royal connections, he is already on the outs with the saudis, says emphatically i'm going to pakistan and closing up some of my businesses there, and then he never comes back to saudi arabia and moves to sudan. >> what causes him to go from sudan to afghanistan and link up with the taliban, who are running afghanistan at that time, right? >> right. the united states and other middle eastern countries put pressure on sudan to expel bin laden because they are well aware that he is treating a variety of people from around the muslim world, that he has training camps and is financing various islamic extremist movements. as anyone -- the only one place he could really go is afghanistan. he does not have much relations with the taliban, but the taliban takeover more and more of afghanistan and basically
acquiesce in having him in their territory. >> who is running the taliban at that time. >> lot of our -- mullah omar. continues to run the taliban. it was not just a safe haven for al qaeda. any muslim or terrorist insurgent group was headquartered or based in taliban, whether it was a fillip filipinr algerian group, guys from britain, members of al qaeda, they were all part of this essentially large training camp in afghanistan that came before the fall of the taliban. >> for online video of all "this is america" programs, visit our website thisisamerica dot net.
"this is america" is made possible by -- the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the american federation of teachers, a union of professionals. poongsan corporation, forging a higher global standard. and the rotondaro family trust, the ctc foundation, afo communications, and the american life tv network. network.