tv Charlie Rose PBS October 9, 2014 12:00am-1:01am PDT
>> rose: welcome to the program, tonight a conversation about terrorism with matt olsen. physical a few weeks ago he was director of the national counterterrorism center. >> you know, i think there is a danger with the intelligence community, and i think this is important for analysts like at nctd c, to not always feel the pressure to say that every threat is, you know, is a ten. not every threat is the very worst existential threat to the united states. and it's important that analysts have the ability to really define carefully the scope in nature of the threat. so that we can make wise decisions. >> rose: matt olsen for the hour, next. >> funding for charlie rose is provided by the following.
a decisional funding provided by: from our captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: matt olsen is here, the direct of of the national counterter civil center until he stepped down last month. the agency is tasked with chrekteding data acrossed u.s. intelligence apparatus. announcing his resignation, president obama said of him most americans may not know matt olsen's name, but every american is safer because of his service. his 24 year career in government includes nfa general counsel and director of the guantanamo review task force. he was a federal prosecutor
in washington an held various positions at the department of justice. as a young man he aspired to become a reporter and started that after graduating from college, he briefly worked as a copy aid at the "washington post". i am pleased to have him here at this table for the first time in his first major interview since leaving government, thank you for coming. >> great to be here, charlically. >> rose: so what was wrong with being a reporter. >> it was a very difficult road, i learned, in that one year out of college. i went to the "washington post" as a copy aid. worked with a lot of reporters there, basically making copies, answering phones. and i learned you couldn't just walk in and be a reporter at the "washington post". you needed to go somewhere else and somewhere else and somewhere else so i decided to apply to law school. >> rose: let's talk about what you do. tell me about the national counterterrorism center. >> sure. so as you mentioned, i just left. i just stepped down a week and a half ago as the director of nctd c. i was there for three years starting in august of 2011. and nctd c just accept
bratted its 10th year anniversary. so it is a post 9/11 creation, part of the broad reform of the government, intelligence community in particular, after 9/11. the main role of nctd v-- nctd c is to be the government's indispensable source for the synthesis and analysis of terrorism information so it was really founded on this somewhat bold idea it doesn't sound so bold now at the time looking back. but at the time quite bold that every bit of terrorism information, regardless from where it was collected, overseas, by nsa or cia or inside the united states by fbi should all come together. and in that one place, intelligence officers from around the community are working on it together. >> rose: was this in response to the fact that some people look at the fact that there was not enough sufficient communication between fbi and cia. >> exactly rdz that might have somehow, somehow impeded or stopped. >> exactly. it was that observation, and you know, the 9/11
commission made that observation. congress as well. that we just didn't do a good enough job sharing information, particularly cia and fbi in the run-up to 9/11. and that we were going to do something to solve that and that was really what really lead to the creation of nctd c. it is one thing to say in law that nctd c has this role as was written into the law in 2004. but it's been, you know, a ten year effort to really achieve that vision, of really breaking down those stove pipes. an working with partners like the cia and fbi, nsa to bring all that information together in 1 place. >> you believe that we're safer today than we were pre9/11, because of what has happened since 9/11 in terms of developing safeguards. >> absolutely. we're safer today than we were before because of the way we changed our approach to counterterrorism and the way the government has postured. >> terrorism has changed too, and they have new tools. >> the threat has not gone away, absolutely not. in fact, in some ways it is
more complicated than it was before 9/11 or even five years ago. so the threat is persistent and it's complicated and it's dynamic so we see these group as dapt to our efforts. we see them watching us, learning from us. and seeking to evade our, you know, our defences. so they're quite adaptive. and that's a real hallmark of the nature of the terrorism threat today. >> president obama has said we must, in fact, define the nature and the scope of the threat of terrorism. >> right. they said back at the national defense university last year. i was there for that speech. and that, i felt, you for example he was really speaking to all of the american people. but also to us in the intelligence community. and even just, you know, speaking parochially to the national counterterrorism center. because that i see as our job to be really precise and analytical about how we see the threat, so that we can
prioritize, what are the different groups that pose a threat to us. what is the nature of that threat. what is the scope of that threat. so that we can then align our resources in a way that makes sense. and you know, that was in the-- in 2013 post ben gaddee-- benghazi when there was a lot of talk about, was this al qaeda or not al qaeda that carried out the attack in benghazi. and the answer was-- . >> rose: you are the first to say it was a terrorist attack publicly. >> hi a-- i didn't have time to think too much about it and right off the bat, the chairman of the committee senator lieberman asked me, was this a terrorist attack. and the answer was absolutely it was a terrorist attack. and that is how we treated it from the beginning. not all terrorist attacks are the same. >> rose: let me come back to that, because benghazi is a whole other issue to talk about with you. ben fine the threat today. >> the threat today, much more complicated than it was five years ago or even really three or four years
ago when it was more centralized, more focused on the core of al qaeda. 9 al qaeda senior leaders hunkered down in pakistan, in the tribal areas of pakistan, in limited areas in afghanistan. it now is involves a number of different actors. and those include groups that are formerly affiliated with al qaeda like al qaeda in at rabbian peninsula, or aqap which is based in yemen. al shabob based in some amia. those are grouped officially affiliated with al qaeda, sworn allegiance to al zawahiri. but beyond that you have groups that are allies of al qaeda like boko haram, vicious, extremely violent groups, groups like sharia in benghazi n lib ya, these are groups with more local or regional. >> how about al-nusra. >> so al-nusra is based in syria. that say group that is officially affiliated with
core al qaeda. they are-- they've set up shop in syria, very permissive environment and they are a formal affiliate of al qaeda. but even beyond the diversity of the actors,-- . >> rose: do they speak to each other? >> they do. they definitely do. they speak to each other. they share resources like fighters, weapons. they share tactics. and they take advantage of poor supporters like in north africa. >> to move people and resources and material. so there's definitely a degree of collaboration and cooperation. >> rose: so explain to us where isis came from? >> so isis is not new. isis has been around since really 2004 when it was al qaeda in iraq. that's the origins of the group. zarqawi was the leader, vicious guy, swore allegiance to bin laden at the time, in 2004. and was focused on carrying out attacks in iraq.
>> rose: had a lot to do with the sectarian conference that a rupted there. >> exactly. took advantage of that and ferr amed more of that sectarian conflict. that lead, as you recall, to sort of the sunni awakening of 2007, the backlash. which was also aided by our presence there, and iraqi counterterrorism. that really put al qaeda in iraq on the run. what we saw then is 2011, we withdrew. the iraqi government became much less effective as a counterterrorism force. and you saw the resurgence. >> rose: why was that? first of all, they didn't want to have anything to do with the sunnies. >> they really allowed for the disaffection of the sunni population. and they did not take care of trying to create an inclusive government in iraq. so you had really the reemergence of the sunni extremists, the aqi, al qaeda and iraq group, starting in 2011.
so we've seen this for the last few years, going from in baghdad alone, you know, five or so suicide bombings a month in 2011, to upwards of 40 suicide bombings a month in 2013. something that we've seen grow in terms of the violence over the last few years. and it's been very concerning. >> rose: why are most of them sunni rather shi'a even though you have shi'a militias. >> we certainly have shi'a militias and we have shi'a terrorist groups. but it is, and i actually don't know the answer to that question. why it is more associated with sunni islam. >> rose: is it because of-- i don't know what it is that makes them-- so many of them. >> yeah, but if certainly isn't-- all the groups i mentioned in term of al qaeda and the al qaeda ideology, is a subi extremism movement that has spread from, you know, its center in pakistan, outward to all these different countries. and what we've seen as its
spread is it's gone from, again, afghanistan and pakistan, across south asia, across the middle east and across africa west to places like mali. >> rose: i want to get to what the attraction is. but let me just say, zarqawi, one of his lower level lieutenants is the guy who now leads icist. >> baghdadi. >> rose: was once in iraq a lower level guy in czar what quarteree. >> and quite capable. quite kanl. shadowy figure. >> rose: when do we know that? >> i think we've known that for the last few years. you know, we've had some in-- some insights. but i think the more general point here, charlie, is that our insights in iraq and in particularly syria are limited so we do not have the intelligence collection in syria, for example, that allows us to really have real fiddlity on the specific intentions of a lot of these individuals. >> rose: obviously we have surveillance intelligence, obviously.
because they use things like that to a degree but we don't have human intelligence. is that what we don't have? >> it's partly that. we don't have the human source network, that in certain places that we have in other places. i mean that just goes, that follows common sense. but the other thing is we-- i woon overstate the degree to which we have surveillance other wise, these individuals are quite savvy. they understand as a general proposition again that we seek to intercept communications of bad guys. and so they take steps to avoid that. >> rose: how-- are we to people like that who have the potential to be what he is? >> yeah. i mean, you know, al baghdadi is also known as abu duo, another name for him you may see. he is a shadowy figure. he's been very careful some we have limited insight into his exact role, his whether radio whereabouts, certainly. but the broader point of, the question should we have seen this coming, you know,
i think the answer is-- . >> rose: first him and then the rise of isis. >> we saw sort of his role but what al qaeda in iraq, and then isil did is they set up shop in syria. and they had a cover group, al-nusra. that was in 2011. >> rose: the focus was on al-nusra. >> we were focused on al-nusra. we knew this was a cover organization for them. and then obviously these two groups split in 2013. >> rose: and became hostile to a degree. >> and are actually very hostile to each other and are fighting each other. so part of the point there is just it's a very fluid situation and very dynamic. but the question of whether we saw this coming, we absolutely saw the rise of the group in iraq, the rise of violence in iraq. the role of the sunni extremists in iraq and perpetrates the violence. i think and director clapper talked about this. >> rose: he did, indeed. >> one of the challenges we had and i think where we did not anticipate, is the lack of will of the iraqi security forces.
>> rose: he made that great point. >> and i think that's fair. i think we all felt, we see a lot of violence but the iraqi security forces will be in a position to stem the movement of isil. >> rose: so talk to me about what you think of and know about isis today. why have they grown as they are? and why do they have the size that they do? >> there are a number of reasons that isil rose to the prominence that it now has in that part of the world. the first and most significant reason is the safe haven that they've benefitted from. and that's the conflict in syria. so three years of conflict in syria has created an absolute security vacuum that allowed isily]=h to amass people, arms, gain money and territory. and then on the other side of the border, really no border now between syria and iraq, but on the iraq side, it was really, again, the lack of inclusiveness of the
maliki government that led to disaffection in the sunni communities. so that is one of the reasons, the large safe haven that isil enjoys in syria and iraq. they are an effective fighting force, they are very effective. they've got a lot of resources, upwards of a million or more dollars a day that they make from this illicit oil sales. and so-- . >> rose: hostages. >> hostages and kidnapped for ransom. and then a third point is the propaganda machine that they've proven to be. >> rose: are they just smarter than the rest of them? >> never's very focused on this. they do have individuals that are quite adept at propaganda and the use of social media. they have taken advantage of the internet as a way to recruit, in particular foreign fighters. so if you look at the numbers, the numbers are daubtsing. we think in terms of isil as a group overall, anywhere from 20 to 30,000 members. in the group. >> rose: 20 to 30,000. >> that's been the latest. >> rose: on the ground. we thought for a wile ten but it's now 20 to 30,000.
>> right. and then you add on top of that, as many as 15,000 foreign fighters. so that's on top of the individuals that are in isil. these are 15,000 people who have come from other cou to fight with isil. you know, so the numbers there, that's really significant. >> rose: so they could get up to 50,000. >> i mean the prospect is those are the kind of numbers we're talking about in terms of the overall. >> rose: what does that mean in terms of their ability to take and hold land unless there is a significant and equally counterbalancing ground force? >> right, that's why the strategy that the president has talked about, and sought to implement is to both with the u.s.-lead air strikes, build the capacity of our partners, the iraqies in particular, the kurds, to have an effective ground force. >> rose: and the syrian opposition, opposition, and free syrian army.
>> right. >> rose: i'm asking thisment because they can't do that overnight. that's going to take time. >> right. >> rose: to train these free syrian army. they are the principles core of it. >> right. >> rose: in syria. >> right. >> rose: an they're on the march. in the meantime, they're about ready to take-- the city. >> that's an important city, but it's again, their goal is to establish a caliphate and that is why they're moving to gather and hold this territory. they-- i think our sense is that there are some vulnerabilities. one of the things i think is important, the point i make, is this group is not invincible. we've already seen the air strikes. put them on the defense difficult. and stop their momentum. so those air strikes have been effective in stopping the momentum of isil. they are going to find it more difficult once they start to seek to govern territory than to just take territory. >> rose: you can shut down their financing? >>. >> we can take on the financing. we can air strikes on some of theirjf infrastructure.íluñ
these are the ways that will slowly erode their capability. and beyond that, we've also seen over time that their message is one of such hopelessness and violence that it bears in it the seeds of their own demise. >> if you look at it, it seems to me that for these, when you listen to these young men and women. >> and women, who are joining isis, it's like a romantic crusade for them. they have bought into whatever the ideology is. >> right. >> rose: uz know that this is a crusade with the black flag and we are he on the march and we represent, you know, a religious passion. >> my own sense on that is-- i understand that. i mean that is -- >> that message has some appeal to some people. >> i understand that has some appeal to some people. what i think the counterbalance that will take some time but is there, is the vast, vast majority really almost unanimous rejection of that by sunni
leaders, clerics. some of whom are not pro u.s., but are nonetheless totally against the isil message. >> rose: some who hate each other like the saudis and iranians, hate each other but they're one in terms of we've got to stop isis. >> right. and that's why i think, again, not invincible. it's going to take time. and it's going to take time for that message to be an feblingive counterbalance to the initial appeal perhaps that isil has had. >> rose: what do we know about not the government, but private citizens in saudi arabia or the emirates or other countries, going against the devout purpose of their country's government to support isil for whatever reason? >> is it significant in. >> well, i don't want to talk specifically. i think we've even-- over the years, that there have been individuals who have supported some of the extremist groups. and in some cases it has been a significant amount of money. >> rose: and it still is. >> i actually don't know if it still is. you know, we do a pretty
effective job through the treasury department in stemming that flow, and working with the partners in the region to put a stop to that. >> rose: so where do you come down, back to the earlier question about the intelligence and what the president said in the famous interview with "60 minutes" and steve kroft in which he basically said the point that clapper had made, that we did not recognize how bad the iraqi army was. >> right. >> rose: or how fast isis would grow in syria. >> i mean, i think there were limitations to what we understood about the iraqi army. >> rose: that's you, isn't it, aren't you the guy that collaborates all this stuff. >> yeah, we put all that together. >> rose: coordinate, not collaborate. >> we are always looking inward to see did we do everything we could. did we see this coming. did we-- and believe me, there's a lot-- that's a con starningts you know, kind of learned lesson, have we made mistakes, as an intelligence community. here on the question of the growth of isil, you know, i don't think that's the case. i think we saw the rise of
that group. we saw them earlier this year, generally take fruition. so there was no-- and that was well understood throughout the government, you know, and including in the white house. i don't think there was any doubt about that. >> rose: people like flynn went to congress and testified about it. >> i think there's a danger with the intel against community. and i think this is important for analysts like at nctd c to not always feel the pressure to say that every threat is a-- you know, is a ten. not every threat is the very worse existential threat to the united states. and it's important that analysts have the ability to really define carefully the scope and nature of the threat. so that we can make wise policy decisions. so i think there's a danger in too much second-guessing. because then the pressure would be on an analyst just, the safe thing to do would be to say every threat is the most significant threat we've ever seen. >> rose: but the question then arises, what is our
overall strategy? are we going against-- wherever we see them, whether it is yemen, or syria, or iraq, or wherever it might be, somalia. >> right. >> rose: or are we saying right now, we have to totally focus on isis. >> so i think that's a really important point. and that is, understandably we are really focused on isis right now. that's the right answer. we need to be given the threat it poses to us in the region. and it is a regional iraqi-based threat to the united states right now. but the potential that it could pose a threat to us here at home. >> rose: what is the threat to us? >> so the threat to us, i would sort of look at it, you know, focused first in iraq. certainly we are-- there's really an acute threat to us in terms of our embassy presence, our consul eight there irbil. you know, we are threatened by isil directly. in the region, isil poses a threat to places like in lebanon. other places in the region where we have interest.
the other area is europe. isil has sought to put op rattives in europe, we know. and those op rattives could strike either european targets, certainly european targets, in the united states we don't see an operational presence by isil. we do know that earlier this year the head of isil said that conflict with the united states was inevitable. and a strategic enemy. that was a public statement that isil made. so they see that as a longer-term threat. and that's why i say it is a potential threat to us. now that, i need to say that the one issue is foreign fighters. we know that there are americans that have traveled to syria. some of whom have fought alongside of isil. >> rose: how many do you think? >> well, our estimate right now, we would-- over a hundred americans have traveled to syria, or sought to travel to syria. >> rose: we know who they are? do we know where they are? >> we know who they are, to some degree. >> rose: we know that they haven't tried to come back
so far. >> some have come back. >> rose: so we keep an eye on them. >> we keep an eye on them. >> rose: they must know we're watching them. >> and the fbi director talked about that. >> rose: on "60 minutes" as well. >> exactly. but the issue also is, so those guys could come back and pose a threat. now sort of small scale type attacks, i think. but the other is the home group extremists, the person who never travels, who sits in their basement, on the computer, reading this propaganda and decides hey, i can blow something up. someone obviously misguided. >> rose: is this the boston marathon. >> a little bit of that model, yeah. that model. >> rose: they didn't make a trip to chechnya. >> so obviously it wasn't a syria issue but it is that same mind-set. and very hard for us in the intelligence community to eliminate that threat all together. because its-- because it's too easy to become radicallized on the internet, make a relatively unsophisticated improvised explosive device. >> rose: what do you think they're learning in syria? >> well, so its big concern
right is the individuals, these foreign fighters that we've talked about going to sirria. i mentioned the number 15,000. of that number we think probably 2,000 or so are from western countries. that is a big number from western countries. they go to syria. they certainly become radicallized further, if they might with the extremists they become battle hardened in the conflict there. they get trained on, you know, small arms and explosives. and then you know, especially the werners, they have western travel documents. it's very easy to travel from western europe, uk, france, germany, belgium through turkey into syria. so that flow of people is a huge concern. we're working really closely with our european partners too. >> so when they come back, i mean do we meet them at the customs, they come, we want to have a conversation with you? >> we take different steps, depending on what we know. and so but there are opportunities to interview individuals coming back in the united states, to learn more about who they are,
what they have been doing. we have other tools at our disposal. and we use those. but one of the key points right now that we're working on is making sure that we're sharing that information with our european partners. they know who we're concerned about. we know who never's concerned about. and we can work together. >> and you share it with local police departments like nypd or people like that, i assume. >> so we work, really from nctd c and our intelligence collection and synthesis of that information, really goes through the fbi field offices, so here in new york the joint terrorism task force, in new york. includes a significant number of nypd deckives. >> the president uses language that some people say wait a minute, we don't want to use that kind of language, when he says we've got to destroy isis. that it's more appropriate to say we're going to degrade them. what language do you use? >> well, i think the president-- has been pretty clear. the goal is to dismantle or degrade isis in the short medium term. but over time to destroy them. so that is the ultimate
goal. >> rose: it's not just isis, it's all isis and al qaeda-affiliated groups. >> absolutely. we're at war with al qaeda and the ultimate objective is to destroy them. now but the, you know, the longer answer, the more serious answer is we're not going to eradicate every individual who has ever sworn allegiance to bin laden or za what here, we're not going to eliminate completely the threat that is polesed by a group like isil. what we can do is, you know, over time, with a sustained systemic and comprehensive effort that involves a lot of other countries, particularly those in the region, we can reduce to an acceptable level the threat that that group poses to us in the united states. and when that threat is no longer one that we see as something that would affect us, or our allies, you know, then i think we can say we have effectively destroyed that group. and we've made a lot of headway, for example, against al qaeda core. you know, they have been unextraordinary pressure and
they are not anything like what they were. >> the original al qaeda. >> the original. >> bin laden,. >> the group that brought us 9/11. >> yeah. we were able to decimate their leadership. >> exactly. >> rose: but at the same time, look where we are today. you wonder, or even look at what happened in somalia. you destroy a leader and you know, you take out a leader and all of a sudden they have already dominated the next leader. >> so one part of that strategy is decimating them from the top. but that's not the whole strategy. that can't be the only way we're going to go after these groups. and that's why it requires, action by the united states, direct action where appropriate by the united states. but it requires over time, again, this is a longer-term effort. and it's going to take a long time in iraq and syria, several years, i don't know, you know, i wouldn't necessarily-- exact time on it but it's going to take more than just a couple years. >> so beyond this presidency for sure. >> yeah, i think so, in iraq, for sure. >> and what is victory. >> victory is, you know,
there will be stages of victory there will be stages when we take our leaders, when we eliminate or diminish the safe haven. when we slowly start to build up the capacity of our partners, particularly the iraqis. and we see a political transition, not only in iraq but in syria. so these are stages along the path to victory. but ultimately the victory is that we no longer have extremist ideology moving on the individuals to join these groups. >> rose: what are we doing in terms of the battle of ideas. if this is an attractive thing for some kids to join, young people to join, wherever they learn, whether on-line, at a mosque, wherever it might be, from friends, how do you combat that? >> yeah. >> and is that injure job-- your job? >> well, it is our job it is a part of our strategy. and in fact, at nctd c, we were quite involved in that effort. both overseas but also here in the united states where it's an issue as well.
but just focusing overseas, it is understanding, first understanding that message. analyzing, how does that affect people, why does it resonate with some and not with others. i mean it also has to do with the root causes. we've got lots of unemployed, 25, 50% of young people in certain countries. >> yeah. so it's working with moderate leaders and strong leaders to put out a message of hope. >> rose: is that an issue for you? have moderate leaders spoken out strongly enough? >> you know, and are they-- do they have all i had kinds of limb nation-- limitations on how far they want to go because they have other interests? it is said that turkey is unwilling to go much-- as far as we want them to go with respect to isis, because they want us to sign on to, as i was reading today's paper, they want us to sign on to doing, oh, they're throwing us off. and we're saying let's get isis first, thank you very much. >> right, so it's extremely
complicated. and i think any one walking into this arena, acknowledge a degree of hum-- humility about these problems. exactly as you put it, charlie, turkey has been focused on overthrowing assad and therefore has been previously somewhat reluctant. >> and worried about doing something in syria that would arm and give more possibilities to radical kurds that threaten them. >> right. is here hats off to our state department, secretary cary and others, especially in the last couple of months to build this coalition that involves now, dozens of countries, including in the region, saudi arabia, uae. >> rose: but we do need for moderates, and leaders, both religious and secular, to speak out. >> right. i interviewed sisi, president of egypt, rouhani,
president of iran, erdogan, president of turkey last week. they all spoke out against this isis. i mean in the most extreme words saying this is blass if he house to islam and all those kinds of things yet at the same time, the president is saying we need to coming to here and figure out a way we can stop this. because it is a black mark against civilization. >> right. >> and i think we're seeing that happen now. it's been a lot of effort by the state department to work to build this coalition. but i do think we're seeing that happen now. you know, and i mentioned also in the united states, is also an effort to really win over this battle of ideas. and part of that is again working with the fbi, and department of homeland security. get the message out. help communities that might be vulnerable to the message of isil, and the message of extremism. understand that message and have the tools to combat it. >> rose: and that is what
muslims say about it, not just people in the west. >> that's right. >> rose: of which there are a lot of muslims as well. your previous role as general counsel of nsa, how many hours did you think about edward snowden? >> so when the leaks occurred last year and my job at nctd c, i would com come-- nctc and company out and rant about what was going on. my colleagues would say go back and do your job, are you not at nsa any more. my job at nctc is to pull all that together. and nsa is really some of our best information on counterterrorism, comes from nsa. >> rose: from the surveillance that nsa does. >> the surveillance that nsa does. there are instances that it is the single most important source of our information about the attentions and capabilities of these groups and terrorists that we're talks about. it is absolutely fundamental to our ability to understand what they're doing. >> rose: with that, i know you want to talk specification. but you don't have to go
to-- you don't have to do some of the more egregious things that we have heard about in terms of tapping the phone of chancellor merkel. >> merkel, right. >> rose: i means that's not necessary. i mean do you now today say look, as i think the president has suggested, because there are reforms on the table. >> right. >> rose: we went too far, or where do you come down? >> i come down, you know, i think we-- i don't think we went too far. i think this is an important debate to have. i think the key point i would make is the debate that we're having now about the classic debate, security on one hand and privacy on the other, this is not a new debate this is a debate that has been going on many, many years. and certainly predated the leaks about nsa cap abilities. -- capabilities. and really a lot of lawyers, good faith professions, intelligence officials have been involved in trying to
strike that right balance. i think one of the key points about what snowden had revealed was that those programs, the nsa programs that were got the most attention were not unlawful. those were legal intelligence collection programs, approved by congress, approved by the foreign intelligence surveillance court, overseen by all three branches of government. >> rose: and i guess some taken to the fisa court. >> actually both. the two big programs under secretaries 2, under section 215, both underanswer, overseen by the fisa court and approved. i do, look,, think we are where we are on this debate and we need to regain the trust that has been eroded of the american people in the way we do intelligence collection. and we need to undertake some degree-- . >> rose: i do hear you saying i don't think nsa did anything they shouldn't have done, we didn't overstep our bounds at all, everything we did was legal and everything we did was necessary in order to protect the
national security. that's what you are saying? >> look, i think everything was legal. there they are approved by congress and the courts, at least the two major programs. >> rose: do you think that congress understood that. >> yeah, i do. i was part of the defert-- . >> rose: the intel against economies, in other words, they have no right to say we didn't know because they should have known. >> the part profit ses was to brief the committees and make these documents available to congress. look, i do think that there-- that there is now, we are in this debate. and look, these programs were aggressive. they were designed to be aggressive, especially the metadata bulk collection, that has been essentially the president said we're going to work to top doing-- stop dhooing. >> rose: do agree with the president on that. >> i agree with the president rses it should have been done-- shouldn't have been done. >> everything we did was right-- nothing was done that we shouldn't have done. >> rose: did the president say he was going to stop it. >> he did say that. >> rose: does that mean you
shouldn't have been doing. >> no. >> rose: what is the reason to stop it? >> i think the reason is the public outcry over that. >> rose: we thought it was a good idea, and we are happy we did it, the only reason we are going to stop doing it is because the public seems to be up set. >> i wouldn't be quite so glib. we're always trying to get this right had. this is my main point had. there is lots of discussion, what is the right thing to do here. that program was one that was believed to be necessary by the intelligence community. but once it was revealed and the president made the decision to reform it, then we're going to move forward. and again, the main point is that the president has made is that we're going to be okay with reforming it in a way that maintains its operational fifkness. so even with the reforms, the goal is to keep it as operationally effective as it was before. >> did it hurt in any significant way our relationship with any country that we have, have had a relationship that is in our national security to have a very positive relationship? >> i don't think that these
programs -- >> you know there were other aspects of what was revealed about the way nsa does collections that interfered with and harmed those relationships. i mean you mentioned the german chancellor. so but again-- . >> rose: i think the answer of the government was, it is no longer, we are not doing that any more. >> and one of the points there is, you know, so much of what was revealed had nothing to do with the privacy or civil liberties of americans. it had to do with nsa's intelligence collection capabilities overseas. not privacy or civil liberties. and that's where we've seen, you know, an erosion in terms of trust and relationships with partners. and we've seen, you know, a lack of confidence of the american people. that's why we need-- we need to go forward. i want to say that this is not without cost can. in other words, t we, i have seen from inside, the terrorists change how they behave. they always were suspicious that we could collect
communication, and they were to a degree careful. but in the last year they've been increasingly cautious and security conscious about how they communicate. they increase use of encryption. they changed e-mails. they changed service providers. and in some cases they've gone dark, just dropped off all together. >> rose: if they know what we can do, then they done do things that we know -- >> exactly. they watch, they read the news. and they have changed their behavior based on what they've read. >> is there any evidence that anybody lost their life because of the disclosure -- >> no, i'm not aware of anything that direct. that would be an extraordinary sort of example if there were anything like that. i think again look, what i'm concerned about is a drop in our ability to see these terrorists, these plots unfold. i mentioned earlier our best chance of stopping an underwear bomb from getting on to an airplane not at the airport.
it's when those plots are being hatched in places like yemen. >> rose: intelligence. >> through intelligence collection, and that's largely through the collection and interception of their communications. >> rose: but there was such an outcry about snowden and being called a traiter and all the things, accusations made, yet, that successor to keith alexander in testimony, i think, said literally downplayed the harm done by edward snowden. >> right. you know, admiral rogers the successor to general alexander. my experience is, first, there has been harm, no doubt there has been harm. but-- . >> rose: along the lines you were suggesting. >> they changed how they communicate, made it harder for us to collect. and i would say another, and potentially more far reaching damage is the relationship with these service providers. the internet service providers and telecommunications companies. >> rose: they are less coop rattive. >> that is a real paradigm shift from where we were several years ago
when-- where if we went to a company with an order or a lawful directive, you know there was a presumption that that was something cooperation. >> rose: now they pushback. >> i think that has changed. >> rose: they say unless you can prove that i'm forced to do this, i'm not doing. >> and that's harmful for-- . >> rose: is that their attitude what i just said. >> i don't want to be speak too generalize being it but i think we definitely see an example of that. going back to your question about the nsa director. look, i worked at nsa. it is a really extraordinary organization. an my sense is that they will work day and night to overcome these obstacles. and they have really brilliant people. mathematicians, computer scientists, analysts. they will over time be able to make up for the ground we've lost, but it is going to take time. >> rose: when you look at the power of cyberwar fare and then you think about government and you think about people that in private sector that are relates todz government and all of that. >> right. >> rose: it is a powerful threat, it seems to me. >> yeah. >> rose: and then you ask yourself, what if it came
within the possibility of the kinds of groups that we have talked about, for most of this conversation. >> right. it's a really important question. and we spent a fair amount of time within the counterterrorism community talking about have we seen a cybercapability among these groups. look, i mean they're dead set oncoming after us. if they had that capability, they would use it. they would deploy it against us. and we know the power of cyberattacks, you know, again now going after financial institutions like its one you mentioned, the, and how vulnerable we are. and how reliant we are on these systems that are internet-based. but at least right now, al qaeda and these groups don't have that capability within their means. that's not to say that they couldn't develop them or that they couldn't recruit or pay somebody who does have that capability to act on their behalf. >> rose: that's what is really different. when you go in an empty the banks and you can sell oil,
what they are doing as well, selling oil. >> that's right. they're quite sophisticated. so they're selling oil. >> they are generating a million or so dollars a day, and you can afford a lot of very sophisticated computer equipment. >> right, or even easier to pay sort of a mercenary cyberattacker to carry out an attack. so you know, one of the-- one way is to try to figure out who they are and why they-- where they are and stop them there. but the other important part of that is to increase our cyberdefences leer in the united states. and you know, particularly in the types of industries and sectors that are really important to our way of life. banking to energy and the like. so that's another part of what nsa is involved in and i worked on that that i was at nsa. >> rose: what worries you the most? >> well, what worries me the most has been the-- we talked about it. you know, the sort of aviation targets that groups like aqap have shown an
endpuring interest in. one of the groups that has been in the news lately is the corosan group. >> rose: they evidently has some plot against the united states, an active plot. >> this is a group, we have been following this group for a couple years. they are not isil. they are not-- they're different from-- . >> rose: they're old al qaeda. >> they are veteran al qaeda guys, out of, you know, out of pakistan and that region who have moved to syria because of the permissive environment in syria, taken advantage of their relationship with al-nusra, really to provide sort of cover and support. but the issue there is that they have had an external focus. they are not focused on assad for their regime in syria. they are focused on carrying out an external attack. >> rose: against us. >> against the united states and the west. and that plot we saw progressing. and that was the impetus for the strikes there. now so that, when you ask me, charlie, what worries me the most, in the last several
months it's been that group. because of their sophistication and their focus on the west, and in particular on the united states. >> rose: and what do we know? >> well, we know that they had-- . >> rose: i don't mean that what worries you is a group like that, and the association they have because they're directed towards us. >> yeah. >> rose: and my question went to the idea of are the other people we don't know about, are there others who may be doing something, what is on our radar, and do we have everything fully in our scope. >> right. and the just common sense answer is no, we can't-- i mean the world is too big, too complicated, too interconnected. >> and moving too fast. >> and these groups are really adaptive. so one of the things these groups have done, like al qaeda in yemen, they knew it was hard to get to yemen. and they knew we had a pretty good ability to track people. so their propaganda is, don't travel to yemen. don't communicate with us. just wherever you are, carry out an attack in that location. and here's the instruction
manual on how to carry out an attack. so they've proven to be quite adaptive to our defences. so that makes it hard for to us know everything. and we go back to even like the boston marathon bombing last year. you know, very difficult for the police, the fbi, homeland security, the intelligence community to stop, a smaller scale attack by one or two individuals, again using sort of basic devices like essentially pressure cooker, fireworks and ball-bearings. >> let me ask you this. there is this idea of a kill list. we have a kill list. who gets on it? and who decides? >> so what we have is, we have individuals that we've identifies in places like yemen who meet the threshold or a standard, after a lengthy process, for, you know, potentially for lethal action. i mean the president has
talked a lot build this, and described exactly what that process is, and what that standard is. you know, the main and first point is, and the president has been quite clear about this, and this is my experience being in meetings with the national security council, where there is a threat to the united states, to u.s. citizens, and we can identify who is responsible for that threat, there is no shortage of willingness to take action. and that's what we've seen in places like yemen and in somalia as well. so that process, though, the president has really made an effort, again through the national security council and through all of us who participate in this process, to institutionalize that and make it so it's based on intelligence and where there are standards. the standards are one, if we can capture a person, we capture them. no direct action to capture them is feasible. capture is not feasible, then only would we have somebody without would be you know, subject to direct action if they pose a continuing and imminent threat to the u.s. persons.
>> then the question is how do you define imminent? >> well, right. and that's a really important question. and imminence, you know, has to be defined based on the context that we find ourselves in. it's not just a time sense. it's not just today or tomorrow. it is based on the idea that you know, we're dealing with groups that hide, that don't wear uniforms, right, that they, their whole goal is to kill americans, as many as possible, innocent people, and do so in the shadows. i mean we look at it as, one way to think about it is, when is our-- are we at a point when we have a window of opportunity. and are we approach og perhaps the last opportunity to stop a plot from going forward? so it that plot is in the works. we have seen it moving forward. we know that it's going to threaten americans. and we now have a window of opportunity. and that's also the context, the context there of limited, you know, insight, limited intelligence question, where this might be our last best opportunity to stop that
from going forward. and that's how we think and talk about innocence. >> does the president have to sign off? >> yeah, so the president-- . >> rose: he looks and says yes, go or no don't? >> ultimately these decisions are brought to the white house. and we participate in keying these up. for my role at nc tc, we are often asked to conduct intelligence assessment of an individual. what is this person's background. what is their involvement in plotting. and do they, essentially meet that policy threshold of posing a continuing and imminent threat to u.s. citizens. the other part of this that is important is that only can a strike go forward where there is near certainty that there will be no innocent people. really, the highest standard that one could have. >> so there have been some cases that couldn't go forward, so because of collateral damage. >> absolutely. cases where there was no action taken because of the
pont of-- killing of innocent peopleeing killed, shutly. >> finally this and i'm way over, but guantanamo, how many people still there? >> 149, i think. >> rose: how many of those are considered hard-core? >> you know, a minority of those. you know-- . >> rose: so it was 150,-- 150, is it 20? >> it's in the-- it's in that range. >> rose: 50. >> i would say fewer than 50, hard-core, there is the ksm, the 9/11 plotters, there are guys who are -- >> that are-- they are its true hard-core terrorists. and you know, i was involved in the process of reviewing this in 2009 after the president issued the executive order asking for an-- to review, at that time 240 individuals. most of them, we threw an interagency process with unanimous agreement approved them for transfer. if security measures could be put in place, in the countries they would be transferred to. the biggest problem in some ways is yemen. that's the largest single
country from which these individuals came. and yemen, the problem isn't the individuals themselves. they sort of fit the pattern of foreign fighter who went to afghanistan, not hard-core terrorist. still potentially a threat. but the problem is, the security situation in yemen is not conducive to repate ree ating these individuals. lots of work going on to approve the transfer of those individuals. and you know, and ultimately achieve their goal that the president set to shut down guantanamo. >> have we learned a lot from them, guantanamo, from the interrogation taking place? do we understand, a deep understanding of al qaeda because those guys? >> you know, i think i anybody rally there was some we learned. you know, but of course it's been, most of them were picked newspaper 2001, 2002. the value of that information is diminished. >> in terms of what they know. >> they're really nothing. >> two other things. one, bergdahl, when we made the exchange for bergdahl, we took five people from
guantanamo, and sent them t to-- did that bother you? you were worried about people who may commit terrorist attacks. >> i'm always concerned whenever there is a potential for another terrorist being out there when these guys were transferred under pretty strict controls. and we're in a position to maintain that. >> to monitor them. >> yeah. and you know-- it is hard to argue with getting an american back. ever hard to argue with that. >> rose: and finally, benghazi, why is it such a controversy? i mean did the administration fail to say clearly and specifically thises with a terrorist attack, for whatever reason? >> yeah, it-- i think you have to ask other people why it is such a controversy. it's been something i've wondered myself. i mean-- look, within a week after benghazi i was in an open hearing. and i said this was a terrorist attack,
absolutely. they shot mortars at a cia annex in benghazi, right? killed, instanley we treated-- . >> rose: from washington d.c.. >> the night it happened, i was on a secure videoconference lead by the white house. all the-- national security team was on that conference call, you know, videoconference. we all were treating it, this is a terrorist attack. there was no sense that this was anything other than that. now we did have multiple, upwards of 20 different reports from the press and from social media and classified sources that there had been some type of demonstration or protest. and remember this was after the release of that video. and there were protests. >> rose: starting in cairo. >> a protest in cairo and protests all over. and we heard that. so we all initially thought that that was, in fact, the case it wasn't until some time later that we learned that, in fact, there hadn't been a protest. but the protest points-- . >> rose: what does some time later mean. >> i think it was about a week or ten days earlier. >> rose: it was earlier than that, want it?
>> there was certain information coming in. >> rose: i'm confused. help me solve my confusionment one, you said we were all sitting there, like the night of the attack saying this is a terrorist attack. >> yeah,. >> rose: . >> we treated it as a terrorist attack. we didn't even have to articulate it. it waenlted something that needed to be spoken t was a national count terrorism center and we were involved in working on it. >> rose: then why didn't the u.s. government go out and say this was a terrorist attack? >> frankly, i don't think it was really a question that-- that we considered to be an open issue. and so it almost struck me, when i was asked that question in what that hearing, of course it was a terrorist attack. not all terrorist attacks are the same wz that was not the language that susan rice used when she appeared on its sunday-- . >> again, not all terrorist attacks are the same there are attacks that make months and months of planning and are sophisticated. this one was not sophisticated. >> rose: its did did not arise from a -- >> apparently there hadn't been a process,-- protest. we thought there was a
profest, and in fact there hadn't been. but again, that was sort of a side issue. it-- you know, and so again, to your initial question why, why the controversy, you know, i really don't understand the controversy over it. >> rose: it is a pleasure to meet you. >> pleasure to be here. >> rose: pleasure to you have here. good luck in the private sector. >> thank you very much. >> rose: you're leading a very exciting life behind. >> yeah, well, i'm going to stay engaged in these issues. i'm going to teach a little bit, at harvard. >> harvard law school next semester and i'm going to find some work that will keep me connected to these issues. >> rose: good, thank you. >> thank you very much. all right, thank you. >> rose: for more about this program and earlier episodes, visit us on-line at 3 bs.org and charlie rose.com. captioning sponsored by rose communications
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