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
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
political stunt or whether it foreshadowed another terrorist attack
inside the United States. Scheuer believes the latter.
Q: Is he reading us our
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?
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
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
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
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
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
Q: Then why this message
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.