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A closer look at the Bush record -- from the war in Iraq to the war on the environment

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Colin Powell's sterling reputation in Washington hides his life-long role as water-carrier for conservative ideologues.

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Scheuer on Bin-Laden 'Truce' Tape

By Richard Fricker
February 3, 2006

Editor’s Note: Below is an interview with Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counter-terrorism expert on al-Qaeda, commenting about Osama bin-Laden’s proposed “truce” for the United States if it leaves Iraq and halts other military operations in the region.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration rejected bin-Laden’s offer, but there has been a difference of opinion among Middle East analysts about whether bin-Laden’s “truce” offer was just a political stunt or whether it foreshadowed another terrorist attack inside the United States. Scheuer believes the latter.

Q: Is he reading us our rights?

Scheuer:  In many ways that’s exactly what he’s up to, one final try to get us to change our policies or he’s going to attack us again.

Q: Can he do it?

Scheuer: Oh sure, our borders are wide open. The other thing I always point to is that the Soviet nuclear arsenal isn’t under control. Also the message is very much in the tradition of Islamic history. The prophet offered truces to infidels; Salidin offered truces to Europeans during the Crusades. It will be a message that resonates very loudly in the Islamic world, in a positive way.

Q: Can he carry out an attack?

Scheuer: Oh sure, I don’t know why not. We’ve been whistling past the graveyard on this.

Q: All that we’ve been doing on homeland security with the shakedowns of people and the intercepts of phone calls and e-mails and the like, and now this guy pops up and says, “By the way I’m getting ready to do it again, you might want to know that.” Have we just been fooling ourselves, has all this been for naught?

Scheuer: I’m not sure it’s been for naught, but I think we’ve been fooling ourselves because we’ve been continuing to tell ourselves that he’s isolated, the whole organization is broken, he can’t communicate with people. We’ve assumed he’s gone away rather than really trying to take any scientific measure of how much damage we’ve done. We haven’t done a hell of a lot .

Q: So a lot of this has just been window dressing and self-massage?

Scheuer: And, self-deception. We want to believe that these people are just a small bunch of lunatics and gangsters. This is a very big worldwide movement and bin-Laden is very important. Until he’s dead. he will be a dire threat to America.

Q: Does this mean that George Bush’s view of the war on terrorism has been fatally flawed?

Scheuer: Not only George Bush, but Bill Clinton and George Bush’s father before him.

Q: Yes, but George Bush is in charge now.

Scheuer: Yes, the whole American political elite.

Q: So the whole system if fatally flawed?

Scheuer: Yes, fatally flawed.

Q: Regarding nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union, what is out there and who has access to it?

Scheuer: Anyone who has money has access to the weapons. There was a program set up in Congress to get the weapons cleaned up, but Congress cut the money for it. We know that al-Qaeda has been looking for a weapon since ’96. We know that money is no problem. And, we know that there’s any number of people in the former Soviet Union that hate us.

Q: What qualifies as a weapon?

Scheuer: Anything from a nuclear warhead payload to a landmine. I was at a briefing recently from one of the nuclear labs and they said the only problem with constructing a bomb would be getting the fissile material, it’s highly enriched uranium. There’s no shortage of the stuff world wide.

Q: How do you know that bin-Laden has been trying to buy nuclear weapons since 1996?

Scheuer: We had solid intelligence at the CIA that he had set up a special unit composed of scientists and engineers to make sure they weren’t scammed. A lot of scamming goes on around the world.

Q: From your position, what kind of delivery system would they use?

Scheuer: If I were running the operation, I would use a truck. And pick a city in the Southwest where I could drive and detonate the same day, drive in from Mexico. The city that occurs to me is Houston. You don’t want to have to drive into the country and wait.

Q: What would be the goal or purpose of another attack?

Scheuer: Their goals have always been three-fold: First as much economic damage as possible, Second is as many casualties as possible. And the third – and this is the reason they want nuclear weapons – is to cause damage only the U.S. military could administer. For example, a nuclear devise would require martial law, it would require all kinds of airplanes to move things around. Their goal is to create a situation that would cause the military to commit so much of its assets here that they could keep up the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bin Laden says that very specifically in at least two of his speeches.

Q: So, he’s offered this truce and we’ve said no, now what happens?

Scheuer: I think there will be an attack on America within the next year. I think
it was about nine months after he warned the Europeans that London occurred. I would think before the November ‘06 elections, but I’m not sure he’s interested in influencing the elections. Although he clearly prefers the
Republicans to the Democrats. He’s afraid the Democrats will fool Muslims by not changing policy but having a softer rhetoric.

Q: Have you talked to anyone in the intelligence community since the tape
was released? And, are they taking it seriously?

Scheuer: A couple of people. And yes, they’re taking it very seriously. I’m just not sure the politicians and administration is taking it seriously.

Q: What does bin-Laden mean by a truce?

Scheuer: He means surrender. He means exactly what he says, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and we won’t attack you. We, the Muslims, will rebuild those countries. He stays on message which is “we have no war with you, we just want you out.”

Q: So if we’re not there we won’t get attacked, then why 9/11?

Scheuer: Because we were in Saudi Arabia and the money we give to Mubarak and the money we give to Israel., that’s all part of being there.
Q: Is the war on terror as now configured by the Bush administration winnable and what is winning?

Scheuer: We don’t have a choice between war and peace, we have a choice between war and endless war. Winning is using your military to kill as many of this generation of terrorists as possible and then formulating polices to prevent the generation after that from coming after you. Something must be done about oil, the whole region would not be worth one Marine life if it weren’t for oil.

Q: Are you aware of any intelligence that al-Qaeda has acquired weapons out of Russia?

Scheuer: Not as of a year ago.

Q: Then why this message now?

Scheuer: The message indicates they are ready to attack in the United States, he did the warnings, the offers of conversions, he’s gotten the requisite religious permissions. Now, he gone the extra mile, he said, “I didn’t intend to do this” to warn you.

Q: If he does attack, what will be the reaction in the Muslim world?

Scheuer: There will be a tremendous feeling of satisfaction that the Americans
finally got theirs. Had we not invaded Iraq there may have been some revulsion, but now it will be that we got what we deserved. I think it will ripple around the world, absolutely.

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