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Albright: U.S. unpopularity a 'gift' to al Qaeda

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright testifies Tuesday before the independent panel on the 9/11 attacks.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state during President Clinton's second term, testified Tuesday before the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The independent panel opened two days of public hearings focusing on U.S. counterterrorism policy from 1998 until 9/11 and the responses from the Clinton and Bush administrations to the increasing threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

The following are excerpts from Albright's testimony:

On the threat posed to the United States by terrorist groups after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998:

"Although terror was not new, we realized we faced a novel variation. Instead of being directed by a hostile country, the new breed of terrorist was independent, multinational and well-versed in modern information technology. ...

"Within a week [of the bombings of the U.S. embassies], we had clear evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible. The question for us was whether to rely on law enforcement or take military action. We decided to do both. ...

"In subsequent weeks, the president specifically authorized the use of force, and there should have been no confusion that our personnel were authorized to kill bin Laden. We did not, after all, launch cruise missiles for the purpose of serving legal papers.

" ... We occasionally learned where bin Laden had been or where he might be going or where someone who appeared to resemble him might be. It was truly maddening.

"I compared it to one of those arcade games where you manipulate a lever hooked to a clawlike hand that you think once you put your quarter in will actually scoop up a prize, but every time you try to pull the basket out, the prize falls away."

In 1999, Albright said the Clinton administration took a different approach regarding bin Laden:

"We went to each of the countries we thought had influence with the Taliban and asked them to use that influence to help us get bin Laden. One such country was Pakistan, whose leaders were reluctant to apply real pressure to the Taliban because it would alienate radicals within their own borders."

" ... Nevertheless, in our discussions with Pakistani leaders, we were blunt. We told them that, 'Bin Laden is a murderer who plans to kill again. We need your help in bringing him to justice.' ...''

"The other two countries we went to were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and both agreed to deliver the right message. The Saudis sent one of their princes to confront the Taliban directly. And he came back and told us the Taliban were idiots and liars."

On the threat al Qaeda poses:

"... It is the threat of our time. And the devil's marriage between these shady groups and the spread of weapons of mass destruction is unfortunately the problem that we are all dealing with, that we cannot deed to our children and grandchildren.

"So I am very glad that this commission is looking into this because it's the lessons learned, not so much the blame placing."

On how to fight al Qaeda:

"We were not attacked on September 11 by a noun, terrorism. We were attacked by individuals affiliated with al Qaeda. They are the enemies who killed our fellow citizens and foreigners, and defeating them should be the focus of our policy. ...

"We also need to remember that Al Qaeda is not a criminal gang that can simply be rounded up and put behind bars. It is the center of an ideological virus that has wholly perverted the minds of thousands and distorted the thinking of millions more. Until the right medicine is found, the virus will continue to spread, and that remedy begins with competence.

"Bin Laden and his cohorts have absolutely nothing to offer their followers except destruction, death and the illusion of glory. Puncturing this illusion is the key to winning the battle of ideas.

"The problem is not combating Al Qaeda's inherent appeal, for it has none. The problem is changing the fact that major components of American foreign policy are either opposed or misunderstood by much of the world.

"According to the State Department's advisory group on public diplomacy, published recently, the bottom has indeed fallen out of support for the United States. This unpopularity has handed bin Laden a gift that he has eagerly exploited."

On Saudi Arabia's cooperation with the United States regarding al Qaeda:

"... Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a very complicated one, and the Saudi record is a mixed one frankly. I think that they were helpful on a number of issues. ... They always did say that they would press and push on the bin Laden/al Qaeda front, but frankly it's hard to say how effective it was at what times."

On whether the United States pushed the Saudis to be more cooperative:

"One of the things about the Saudis is that they often do more things in private than is evident publicly, but I would say the record was a mixed one. I would say we pushed as hard as we could."

On why Albright said she was not surprised by the 9/11 attacks:

"Basically, we were looking at all kinds of potential ways that there could be attacks. And so the sadness of this was that we were always on the lookout for some terrible thing, and we were foiling many, many of the potential attacks."

On whether the Bush White House followed up on the Clinton administration's foreign policy recommendations:

"... Many of the policy issues that we had developed were not followed up. And I have to say, with great sad sadness, to watch an incoming administration, kind of, take apart a lot of the policies that we did have, whether it had to do with North Korea or the Balkans, was difficult."

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