Nov 26, 2002

CNN Special War on Terrorism

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL War on Terror: Mission Impossible? Aired November 24, 2002 - 20:00 ET ANDERSON COOPER: With us live in Washington, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, thanks for being with us tonight. PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: Evening, Anderson. COOPER: Let's talk Saudi Arabia first. Is there a smoking gun at this point? BERGEN: I think this story about the money transfers from the wife of the Saudi ambassador possibly to these hijackers, when you look at it, may not add up to very much. She probably didn't know where the money was going. It is not even clear if it ended up in their pockets. However, I think there is a wider point, Anderson, which is that Saudi Arabia historically has never cooperated with investigation in terrorist actions against Americans, that was in the '90s, and the attacks against U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia, Dhahran and Khobar Towers. But again in the 9/11 investigation where you would have thought they would be pretty cooperative. I know some people directly involved in the investigation. They use the words like "useless," "obstructionist," "despicable;" those are the words that are printable. COOPER: And yet that runs very counter to what we often are hearing, especially in the last few months, from the administration, who have said they haven't been dancing for joy over Saudi cooperation, but publicly they stated that they are satisfied with Saudi cooperation. BERGEN: I think that fails a common sense test, Anderson, which is the following.- 15 of the hijackers, as we all know, were Saudi. Isn't it rather puzzling how few of their associates or family members, or people that they may have sort of done business with, in Saudi Arabia, are being arrested. I mean, the number of people that have been arrested by the Saudis who are members of al Qaeda can be counted on two hands. The fact is that Saudis play a very large role in this organization, not least of course, Osama himself. Of course the problem is that the Saudis are sort of in a difficult position. They reject Osama, but if they look too carefully at the roots of support for Osama, they begin to find some uncomfortable truths. There is a militant Saudi opposition group against the Saudi royal family. They don't want to disturb that hornet's nest any more than they need to. COOPER: All right, lets look at al Qaeda for a moment. How strong are they still? BERGEN: You know, we don't know what we don't know. That is the problem. I mean, there is a very simple fact we can all agree on. They haven't been able to pull off a 9/11 since 9/11. Can they do it again? I doubt they can pull off something that catastrophic. What we have seen is a number of low level attacks against soft targets, against discos in Indonesia, oil tankers in Yemen, a synagogue in Tunisia, French defense contractors in Karachi, the U.S. consulate in Karachi. All of these attacks, of course, an individual tragedy. But nothing amounting to a 9/11. COOPER: What seems interesting about the nature of some of the most recent attacks, and I think about the bombing in Bali. Targeting what some people refer to as soft targets, tourism destinations, things of the like, but also carried out by individuals or groups which may not have a direct immediate present day connection to al Qaeda, but seen in some way emboldened by the actions of al Qaeda. BERGEN: I think that is absolutely right. I mean, the right wing militia movements in this country have a notion of leaderless resistance, and we are seeing some people acting like al Qaeda wannabes. A couple in Germany trying to blow up the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg. Absolutely no connection to al Qaeda. In the Indonesia case, I think that we will find that there are -- it is an al Qaeda affiliate operation. It is not al Qaeda itself, but the people involved trained in Afghanistan, probably in al Qaeda's camps. So that sort of -- while it is not al Qaeda itself, it is more than just simply al Qaeda wannabes. COOPER: We all know Osama bin Laden is still at large. Who else is out there who the U.S. really wants to find right now? BERGEN: Well, on your chart, you had Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number two, is largely regarded as the brains of the operation, and then we also have a guy Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who interestingly enough, actually studied at a university in this country in North Carolina. You can see him on the top left. He is incredibly important. He is now the military commander. He has got his fingerprints an attacks, maybe even the first World Trade Center attack in '93, had plans to blow up U.S. airliners in the Philippines, perhaps links to even this Indonesia attack. So he is very important. And then on the right you have got Saif Al-Adil who is also regarded as important. So there are a number of people in, lets say, the top 10 who have not been caught. On the other hand, there have been successes. Abu Zubaydah, the travel agent who brought people in and out of the terrorist camps, as you mentioned. Also Ramsi Binalshibh, who played a very critical role in the 9/11 attacks. So I think that we -- there has been progress, but there are -- and also, I think the larger point is, al Qaeda is more than just a particular set of individuals. We are seeing all these people that there even not any pictures of. The organization is more than a cult that is I just think to be focused around bin Laden. It is more like a mass movement. So you knock out a few of these people. It is not like the thing goes out of business tomorrow.