Articles

Sep 09, 2003

Wolf Blitzer CNN second anniversary of 9/11

BUSH: We must never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001, a sobering reminder that oceans no longer can protect us from forces of evil who can’t stand what America stands for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A solemn vow from President Bush.

Welcome back to “LATE EDITION.”

Joining us now for some perspective on 9/11, the latest terror alerts and much more, three special guests. Here in Washington, California Congresswoman Jane Harman. She’s the ranking member of the Select Intelligence Committee. In Los Angeles, the terrorism analyst Brian Jenkins with the RAND Corporation. Also here in Washington, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Welcome back to “LATE EDITION.”

Congresswoman Harman, begin with you: What do you want to hear from the president tonight that will reassure you he’s on course as far as fighting terrorism?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let’s start with postwar planning in Iraq. It’s a shambles, despite the talent of Jerry Bremer. He has too little, and he’s there too late.

I want the president to tell us what’s really in store for Americans. How much are we going to pay? What is the possible loss of life going forward? And how is he going to repair the damage to our relationship with international organizations, so that they step up and bear a reasonable share of this?

I think they have to share in the economic benefits. One of the ways to get France and Russia back at the table is to honor some of their prewar contracts and give them some opportunities in the marketplace in Iraq.

BLITZER: The president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on this program said the president will tell us how much he expects this operation, over the next year or so, will cost.

We’ve heard all sorts of numbers: $60 billion to, maybe, even $100 billion.

HARMAN: Well, I’m from California, and I know what a $38 billion deficit means. We’re talking twice that or three times that in Iraq.

Also, our Homeland Security Department is in shambles. Front- page story in The Washington Post. The budget there’s only $36 billion per year. If you think about where Americans might die in terrorist incidents, the real tragedy could be in America in our hometowns, and we’re underfunding everything.

So there’s no possible way that we can pay those costs in Iraq.

BLITZER: Brian Jenkins, what do you want to hear from the president tonight? You’ve been studying terrorism for so many years.

BRIAN JENKINS, TERRORISM EXPERT: Oh, I think the president, basically, is going to have to give the American people an honest appraisal of the situation.

We have made considerable progress in dealing with al Qaeda, although the threat remains. At the same time, we are now facing these new threats in Iraq.

Iraq itself is going to become increasingly a magnet for the religious extremists. I think it’s going to, in the future, be something different from the primarily Saddam Hussein loyalist-based resistance. And we’re going to have to deal with that. And we’re going to have to deal with it fairly rapidly; otherwise, we’re going to be looking at an even costlier future than Congressman Harman has talked about in Iraq.

BLITZER: Brian, we asked the American public, the latest CNN/Time magazine poll — we’ll put it up on the screen — whether they expect a major act of terrorism in the United States over the next 12 months. Look at this: 72 percent of the American people say it’s likely. Twenty-six percent say not likely.

What is your biggest fear, Brian Jenkins, about a terrorism attack in the United States? Chemical, biological — what kind of terror attack is your biggest concern?

JENKINS: I don’t want to discuss the specific scenarios.

The problem is that, number one, we can’t predict what they’re going to try. We can only look at what they have done in the past. And what we know from the interrogations and from the training manuals that were found what they are contemplating.

They are certainly — we talk about 72 percent of the American people expecting an attack. Well, 100 percent of our terrorist foes are looking to carry out some kind of attack.

Whether it’s the next year or two years, that’s hard to say. We are an impatient people. This, for them, is a continuous condition. That is, we look upon warfare as a finite undertaking. They look upon warfare as a perpetual condition, and they mean to impose that upon us.

BLITZER: Peter, is al Qaeda forging an alliance of convenience, if you will, with secular terrorists out there — Saddam Hussein loyalists — that they get together and they go after any target that presumably could hurt the U.S.?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We still don’t know exactly who is behind the various attacks against the United Nations, against the Iraq — the cleric, against the Jordanian embassy in Iraq.

But I think that you have to identify al Qaeda as the leading suspect, particularly against the United Nations. That was a suicide attack. I don’t see a lot of Saddam loyalists doing suicide attacks. The professionalism with which the attack was done — al Qaeda has long been on the record about being against the United Nations.

In fact, we just have an audio tape now where they deny any involvement in the Iraqi cleric attack, but they take a pass on the United Nations. So to me that may indicate that they were indeed behind it.

BLITZER: What do you think, Congresswoman Harman? Because as we approach the second anniversary of 9/11, there’s some speculation out there, is this the time when the U.S. should raise the threat level from the, sort of, the mid-range right now, the yellow to the orange, from elevated to high?

HARMAN: Well, first of all, let me point out the irony that one of the reasons the Bush administration now says we went into Iraq was to rid Iraq of any connections to al Qaeda, and instead it’s become, as Peter says, flypaper, and al Qaeda is now possibly more active in Iraq than it was pre- the military action there.

BLITZER: So are you saying the American people are worse off now than they were before the war? Because you supported the war.

HARMAN: I supported the congressional resolution. I still support the congressional resolution. Let’s remember what it said. It said a maximum effort has to be made to work through the U.N., and only as a last resort should military action be used.

Well, in hindsight, rolling back what we now know, there was no imminent mushroom cloud, I don’t believe. I think a lot of the intelligence, prewar intelligence, was flawed, and we’re investigating that, and we’ll learn more later.

But I don’t think if David Kay comes up with — David Kay, the fellow in charge of the search there, comes up with some traces of programs that that’s going to persuade me that that was close to this mushroom cloud, or the grave and growing danger the president said.

I think, looking at this now, Iraq is a very dangerous place, dangerous in a different way than it was pre- the war, and the U.S. in many ways is as or more dangerous than it was pre-9/11.

Our homeland security effort isn’t working. As far as these threats go, there have been threat warnings made better than the color system. We know, for example, it’s been declassified, that al Qaeda and others are still trying to use airplanes as weapons, and we’re taking steps to try to be more vigilant about these transit visas and other ways that that could happen, and cameras and small explosive devices that could be on planes.

So I applaud that, but our threat warning system needs a lot of work in America.

BLITZER: Brian Jenkins, did the war in Iraq make the situation worse as far as terror threats against the American people?

JENKINS: Well, in one sense you’d probably want to deal with them in Iraq than deal with them here on our soil, or deal with them in Europe or elsewhere, so that may be the one useful quality out of this.

But the fact is the situation has become more complicated; no doubt about it. The current conditions in Iraq are going to attract these religious fanatics, the jihadists that swarm around bin Laden.

It doesn’t require a central decision by al Qaeda. The recruiting has gone on anyway despite the pressure we’ve put on al Qaeda, and these people are eager for action.

Action for them is a path to redemption. It’s an opportunity to kill infidels, and they’re starting to show up there and will continue to do so regardless of even any central direction coming out of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

BLITZER: Peter, this past week, as you well know, the FBI put out a most wanted list for four suspected al Qaeda operatives that may be in the United States, may not be in the United States, but they’re presumably seeking to go after U.S. targets.

We’re showing our viewers the picture right now.

But what do we know about this specific threat, because there are four faces, four individuals who may be involved in plotting a terror attack right now?

BERGEN: Well, two out of these individuals have been people the FBI had already publicly said they were looking for. I don’t think it’s very clear exactly, they don’t even know where they are, whether they’re in the United States, whether they’re outside the United States, so I think in terms of the generalized threat, I think the 9/11 anniversary is important for the following reason.

You look back to last year, Wolf. After the 9/11 anniversary, there were attacks in Indonesia, there was an assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, there was attacks in Kuwait. They took the opportunity, the anniversary, to release more audio tapes. We’ve already seen one today. I think we’ll see more. It is an important anniversary for them. I think we will see heightened activity in the next few weeks.

BLITZER: And what about the next few days, on 9/11?

BERGEN: I don’t think necessarily right on the anniversary, but in the time frame of 9/11, forward four weeks.

BLITZER: All right.

On the cover, the new cover of Time magazine, Congresswoman, they have a big cover story on Saudi Arabia. We’ll show it to our viewers. “The Saudis: Whose Side Are They On?”

And CNN/Time has a poll asking the American public, is Saudi Arabia cooperating with the U.S. as much as possible on terrorism? Twenty percent say yes, 71 percent say no.

You’re privy to inside information. Is Saudi Arabia cooperating fully with the U.S.?

HARMAN: Not adequately, not yet.

Part of the unfinished business of Congress is to implement the recommendations of the joint inquiry, which was a 37-member House/Senate bipartisan investigation into the plot of 9/11.

One of our recommendations is that we need to explore more fully whether foreign powers were or are engaged with terrorist activity in the United States. And I think that’s top of our agenda in the House Intelligence Committee, and Saudi Arabia is not exempted from that investigation.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Jane Harman, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

Brian Jenkins, as usual, appreciate your being with us.

Peter Bergen, of course, we appreciate you, as well.

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