Articles

Jan 06, 2004

CBC interview about Bin Laden, Al Qaeda

Copyright 2004 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
CBC TV

SHOW: The National

January 6, 2004 Tuesday

LENGTH: 1396 words

ANCHORS: Peter Mansbridge

BODY:

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Well, as promised, Peter Bergen joins us now from Washington. He’s a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington and author of the book “Holy War Inc., Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.” Well, when you listen to that latest tape, what does it tell you? You’ve heard many of these in the past; what does this one tell you?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Well, I think most importantly, it’s a very recent proof of life of Osama bin Laden. That tape must have been made either in early December or mid-December, so within the last three to four weeks. It’s an unusually quick turnaround for one of these bin Laden tapes, and he actually begins the tape by saying “this is Osama bin Laden,” which I’ve never heard him say before. So a rather self-conscious effort to show that (a) he’s alive and (b) he’s influencing the debate; he’s trying to provoke attacks against Middle Eastern governments that are cooperating with the war on terrorism and also calling for attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

As you say quick turnaround as opposed to some of the others. The one in October, it could have been months in the making.

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Yeah.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Why do you think he was in a rush here? Was it the beginning of the New Year, or what?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Could have been that. I think, no, it was just happenstance or luck. The chain of custody of these tapes is the one weak link that brings you back to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his number two. So clearly there are a lot of cut-outs between al Jazeera and bin Laden and getting them from one cut-out to the next and, of course, you’re talking about very difficult terrain where they’re likely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, so the process itself may be quite lengthy to get it out. Why it came out quicker this time, who knows?

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

You mentioned something that always made me wonder, the route that it gets from bin Laden to al Jazeera, what’s your best guess on how that works and why it can’t be traced back?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Clearly that’s a vulnerability and a vulnerability that people haven’t been able to penetrate, obviously. One thing is that bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri release tapes sort of infrequently and don’t necessarily give them to the same al Jazeera bureau. Sometimes they don’t even give them to al Jazeera. They give them to other Arab networks. So, you know, obviously the chain of custody is a real vulnerability, but it’s quite hard to monitor all the possible points that these tapes might be coming, and also they come, there’s no pattern. Sometimes there’s one every month, suddenly there will be a space of three months. So clearly there must be people looking at it. It just makes sense, but obviously without much effect so far.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Now, we know that the Americans have been successful in catching some high-level al-Qaeda members over the past year or two years, but they haven’t got anywhere near bin Laden or al-Zawahiri as you mentioned is his number two. Why do you think that is?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

They’re not doing the sort of things that get you captured. For a start, these are quite intelligent people. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a surgeon, bright guy. Bin Laden himself is pretty intelligent. So they’ve thought this one through. They’re not chatting on their satellite phones, they’re not chatting on their cell phone. They’re communicating by courier if at all. They’re not meeting a lot of people. The cash reward that’s been on bin Laden’s head since ’99 which went up to 25 million dollars after 9/11 obviously isn’t working because the people in the immediate circle aren’t motivated by money, they really believe in the cause. And there’s clearly no mole inside the group from American intelligence or indeed, other intelligence agencies that liaise with the Americans that could give you real-time information to find bin Laden. If you think back to the Atlanta Olympics when a bomb went off there, a guy called Eric Rudolph allegedly let off that bomb; he was one of the most wanted men in American history. Huge m
anhunt inside the United States. He evaded the FBI for five years, finally caught, basically, because of dumb luck. Times that story by about a hundred and you get an idea of the problems of finding bin Laden who has, you know, a support system. He knows the Afghan-Pakistan border terribly well, he’s been visiting there since his early 20s. You’ve got a very tough problem. My impression from talking to people inside the U.S. government and from visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan last summer looking into this very question, you know, they basically don’t have anything. They’re back to square one. They’re stalled, they’re stymied, it is not going particularly well. By the law of averages, he will be found eventually. But will it be tomorrow or ten years from now, who knows?

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Dumb luck is what they may need.

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Dumb luck, sometimes that works.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Al-Qaeda itself, how has it changed since 9/11? Obviously with him on the run, close circle of advisors, very close obviously at this point, how has the organization, which is much bigger than that, changed?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Al-Qaeda, as you possibly know, means “the base” in Arabic and they took a tremendous hit post 9/11 with losing their base in Afghanistan, losing the infrastructure, the training camps. They basically had a country at their disposal. We used to talk about state-sponsored terrorism, this was a country that was actually run by terrorists. Towards the end of the Taliban regime, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were really kind of calling some of the shots within the Taliban government. So they lost all that so the organization took a big hit. In my view, al-Qaeda is (a) a shorthand for a lot of different phenomena, the group itself, groups allied to, but (b), it’s become sort of an ideological movement. If you look at opinion polls around the Muslim world, in countries like Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, all countries typically allied with the United States, in opinion polls this past year, 2003, Morocco and all those countries, people say they have more confidence in bin Laden than president Bush, which is
a fairly astonishing thing. Obviously the Iraq war turned a the lot of people against the United States in those countries and particularly against president Bush, but the fact is that al-Qaeda, bin ladenism is now an ideological movement. The word has gone forth. Bin Laden’s statements are aired on al Jazeera, CNN, CBC, or whatever. They get a lot of coverage, and in a way, bin Laden is no longer really running a terrorist organization. He is the sort of, if you will, ideological godfather of a movement in the Muslim world, which is not a mass movement necessarily in the same way that communism was in the 20th century, but has nonetheless got quite a lot of adherence around the world. Even in the West, in places like Canada, as we know, there have been Canadians actively involved in al-Qaeda, and obviously in the United States. So in lots of countries around the world, this is an ideology that has gained a number of foot soldiers.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Let me leave it with one quick question to you: what do you see as the next part of the bin Laden story?

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

That’s an interesting question. It could go so many different ways. I think the worst thing we could do is kill him and martyr him. I think the smart thing would be to capture him and do the same thing we did with Saddam. Those pictures of Saddam being captured did a lot to deflate his mystique and I think the same would be true with bin Laden. Put bin Laden on trial for his crimes in perhaps an international forum, after all, bin Laden has killed a lot of Muslims as well as Westerners, and I think that would be the most effective way to deal with him. If you kill him, you turn him in to a big martyr. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea.

PETER MANSBRIDGE (HOST):

Peter Bergen, we appreciate your time as we always do. Thanks very much.

PETER BERGEN (JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY):

Thank you.

LOAD-DATE: January 7, 2004
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