Mar 05, 2003

NBC News, Katie Couric, Re Al Qaeda 2.0

Peter Bergen, "Al Qaeda 2.0" discusses the evolution of al-Qaeda and the significance of key leader arrests ANCHORS: KATIE COURIC BODY: KATIE COURIC, co-host: With the arrests of top al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and one of his money men, US officials are hoping to gain important intelligence into future attacks planned by al-Qaeda operatives. Peter Bergen is the producer and host of "Al Qaeda 2.0," a one-hour documentary on what the world might expect from al-Qaeda in the future. It's going to be, I guess, a joint project between Discovery and The New York Times, is that right? Mr. PETER BERGEN ("Al Qaeda 2.0"): Right, airing on The Discovery Times channel. COURIC: All right. Well, nice to see you. Good morning. Let's talk about this latest arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Everyone is sort of applauding it within the administration and even most observers of--that have a lot of knowledge about terrorism say it's a very significant development. Do you agree? Mr. BERGEN: I basically agree. I mean, if you're going to take one person off the street, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be that one person simply because he's a--very organized, bright guy, speaks several languages, travels on many aliases, has been involved in anti-American terrorism since '93, including the first Trade Center attack. And it's somebody who's very active. Even after 9/11, plan--you know, the planner of 9/11. So certainly in terms of stopping some operations that might have been in the pipeline, yes. In terms of getting rid of al-Qaeda forever, you know, that--that is a much larger project. COURIC: Will it cripple, though, al-Qaeda considerably if he really was the so-called CEO of the organization? Without that leadership, does that create a vacuum that--that does hamper the organization? Mr. BERGEN: A little bit, but even if you were to arrest Osama bin Laden tomorrow or capture or kill him, al-Qaeda would continue, I think. Because al-Qaeda is not only an organization, it's kind of evolving into an ideology. And that's one of the reasons that we call this "Al Qaeda 2.0." It's like a new version. They lost their base in Afghanistan, but the word has sort of gone on out to attack Americans. We're going to see a lot of anti-Western attacks, I think, tied to the war in Iraq. They may not be spectacular, but I think we're going to see those. COURIC: Word came out yesterday, as you know, that--and--and actually, it's been reported within the last week, that the amount of terrorism will increase with an invasion of Iraq. Let's hear what Bob Baer, who's a former CIA operations director, had to say in your documentary about that. Mr. BOB BAER : Al-Qaeda's an idea, period. There's no membership cards, there's no badges. They don't have picnics, they don't, you know, they don't fly to Bali on vacation together and sing songs. You say you're a--I mean, you're recruited into the idea of jihad. Whether you go to Afghanistan to get your orders or you get it in San Diego, it doesn't really matter. If bin Laden's dead tomorrow, there will be this organization called al-Qaeda. COURIC: In fact, let's talk about their presence on the--the Web. That is really a very frightening development. As you mention, and this is why it's called "Al Qaeda 2.0," that you have--you don't need any human contact with other people. There's--they have their own Web site where it spews their philosophy. You can enlist, if you will. Tell me more about this. Mr. BERGEN: Well, there--there are a couple of Web--Web sites. One is called, another one called, and they kind of migrate around. But on those Web sites, you can get the ideology and--and you can get the explosive manuals. So in a way, you don't have to go to Afghanistan to get the training, you can find it there on the Web. This is, in fact, an explosives manual that we're looking at right now that's on one of these sites for RDX, which is a very high explosive. So, in a sense, there's a--there's a virtual al-Qaeda which is as important as the real al-Qaeda. COURIC: Any way of knowing, Peter, how successful this has been, in terms of using it as a recruiting method, or it's just impossible to ascertain? Mr. BERGEN: I think that's hard to tell because it's--but I think, you know, it's definitely out there. These sites are moving around, and if you're on the right kind of mailing list, you'll find where the site is and get the information, and they're updated very regularly. COURIC: Why can't this be shut down by the US government? Mr. BERGEN: Because they move around. Yeah, these things will stay up for two days. It will squat down a server of Dutch soccer club and then even the soccer club won't even know it's there. And they get taken down for one reason or another, and they--they find somewhere else to put it up. So it's very hard to track. COURIC: Well, obviously, you got a hold of it. Is the CIA able to monitor these sites with some degree of accuracy? Mr. BERGEN: Well, you've got to hope so. I mean, if--one--one hopes so. One hopes so. COURIC: How else has al-Qaeda evolved? In what other ways has it evolved since September 11th as far as you can tell? Mr. BERGEN: I think to some extent, they've franchised--they've done a franchised operation. If you look at what happened in Indonesia in October with the attack on the disco there, that was a group that has, you know, some links to al-Qaeda but is really a separate organization. And you're seeing various organizations around the world that have, you know, some links of one kind or another to al-Qaeda, but they're beginning--beginning to function fairly independently. So I think this franchise idea is an important one. COURIC: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, obviously, they're finding--getting a lot of information, and I guess they'll continue to try do that from his computer... Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. COURIC: ...and from other material. One, that the names of al-Qaeda operatives possibly living in this country. As far as you can tell, how many al-Qaeda supporters are right now living in the United States? Mr. BERGEN: Well, Senator Bob Graham, who at that time was head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in February that there were 100 members of al-Qaeda in this country. And since he's in a position to get those kinds of briefings, I think that's probably a reasonable number. COURIC: Do you think ultimately this arrest will lead officials, US officials, intelligence officials, to Osama bin Laden? Mr. BERGEN: That's the $25-million question. I mean, I'm not sure if--you know, Osama is a fairly bright guy, and we all will just have to see. I'm not sure it will lead to his immediate capture. COURIC: Peter Bergen, thanks very much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.