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America Under Attack: Gen. Wesley Clark Discusses Ongoing Terrorist Situation

Aired September 11, 2001 - 11:28   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Former commander of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is joining us from -- is it? -- from Little Rock, Arkansas.

General Clark, from your knowledge of the military you know the Pentagon, what are you thinking right now?


First of all, we've got to try to assess what's really happening. And as all of the new reports indicate, this is -- it's clearly a coordinated effort. It wasn't announced. It hasn't been announced that it's over. We don't know how it will finally conclude. So there's likely to be more trouble before all of this concludes.

So we've got to protect the American people first. We've got to look after those who are injured. We've got to take precautionary measures to deal with future incidents. And I think all of that's under way with a lot of responsible action by people everywhere.

The damage at the Pentagon is unclear from all the news reports that I've seen. The one report that said it crashed into the Army- side of the building. There are command centers in various places of the Pentagon and there are many other alternate command centers. So I don't think there's really any issue about the command and control of the United States armed forces. I'm sure that's very solid right now.

WOODRUFF: General Clark, why do you say there are likely to be -- there's likely to be more trouble?

CLARK: Well, we're hearing, still, reports of aircraft that are out there. There's no way of knowing when all of the possible incidents have either taken place or been aborted by whoever it is that's behind this.

CLARK: And so, we have to -- we have to be ready for whatever might happen next.

WOODRUFF: General, can you give us some sense of -- clearly the United States has never experienced anything of this magnitude, but what is the -- what are the leaders of our military, the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of defense and others, what presumably are they doing right now, in order to be on top of the situation, where you have the Pentagon on fire, New York City in a state of chaos, and every federal building in Washington evacuated?

CLARK: Well, first of all, we'll be trying to -- we'll be trying to assess what happened. We'll be making sure that the protection posture of our bases worldwide and all of our units out there is raised so that we're able to protect our forces and our family members.

And then we'll be looking to provide assistance to wherever such incidents might occur, whatever military capabilities there will be that could be of use will be certainly made available to the other agencies of state, local and federal government who are involved in trying to deal with these tragedies right now.

Then, beyond that, we'll be waiting for the information to come in about who may have been behind this, and we'll be looking at what measures can be taken to strike and prevent further actions or in punitive retaliation.

WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of that, General Clark, wouldn't you agree there are very few of the terrorist groups, at least that we're familiar with, who would have the capability to pull off something this coordinated, on this scale?

CLARK: I think that's exactly right. There is only one group that has ever indicated that it has this kind of ability, and that's Osama bin Laden's. So obviously, that will be the first suspicion.

WOODRUFF: Are you -- clearly, we are all in a state of shock, General Clark. But is it fair to say that you're not truly surprised by this given what we've heard from that particular group? And again, we don't know who is behind this, but given what we do know.

CLARK: Well, there have been many threats made against the United States, and threats of terrorism. And we know that the World Trade Center has been a target. We know that aircraft have been hijacked, and we know that car bombings are used in many places in the world. And there is no doubt that for a long time there have been groups who have tried to target the United States.

Normally, many times, we've gotten indications, we've been able to take actions that the American public never knows about that have broken up these attempts. In this case, for whatever reason, we didn't have the information. We weren't able to take the actions to break it up.

WOODRUFF: And General, what do you say to those Americans who are looking at these horrific pictures that they've been watching now for almost three hours on television, who are thinking, "Will I ever feel safe again in an airplane, in a tall building in this country?

CLARK: I think that that will be one of the primary issues that has to be addressed by government leaders is how to restore ever a sense of normalcy to the country. Will it ever be the same? And that's a question everybody will be asking. But I think it's too soon to expect any answers to that. I think we've got to assess this. We've got to track this down.

I think one thing that come through very clearly now is, if this is terrorism and international terrorism, then clearly there has to be a much greater degree of cooperation between nations to deal with this.

Whoever did this lives somewhere. He's supported by someone, and people know him. And someone knew that these events were being planned. And if we didn't have that information, we should have. And I think that's one resolve that will come out of this from nations all over the world that more has to be done collectively together.

WOODRUFF: But in a large sense, General Clark, whoever was behind this has clearly succeeded in the most horrific and devastating way.

CLARK: Well, it's been a tragedy for America, there's no doubt about that. And for so many people and their families, our hearts go out to them.

WOODRUFF: General, we're looking -- as I'm talking with General Wesley Clark who is a former NATO commander, he's talking to us from Arkansas. We're looking at helicopter patrolling, I believe, it's the area around the Pentagon, although, I can't tell by the banner across the lower part of the screen.

WOODRUFF: We do know that President Bush was in Florida this morning. He abruptly cut his trip short in order, we think, to fly back to Washington.

And, General Clark, while you are with us, what would the plans be for the president in this situation, without giving away secure information, would the president necessarily return to Washington? Is there always a plan in place in these situations?

CLARK: Well, there would have to be a plan always in place to take the president to where he can best control what's going on and monitor it and make decisions and also where he will be safe. And you can be sure that there are plans and backup plans and alternate plans to the backup plans. There'll be no shortage of efforts under way to assure his safety and his ability to maintain the continuity of government.

WOODRUFF: And once again, just finally, General Clark, as we look at these live pictures of the Pentagon, describe for us what you know of the section of the building that evidently was hit by the commercial jet liner?

CLARK: Well, that picture seems to be from the area of the bridges, the 14th Street bridge, looking at the corner of the Pentagon that is opposite from where the strike was. So it looks like the strike hit between the fourth, fifth, maybe sixth corridors of the Pentagon, perhaps on the Army side of the building. There are a number of offices there, administrative offices, where Army leaders and staff officers work on a daily basis.

They deal with things like planning and logistics and congressional relations and public affairs in that area. And the Army leadership is probably close to where that may have impacted. There are a number of other facilities below ground, some of which have been relocated and it's impossible to see from that picture what the condition might be there.

WOODRUFF: General Clark, any final word before we let you go?

CLARK: Well, I think that we've known for some time that there were groups planning this. And I think that the American people should know that the men and women in government and all the agencies have worked very hard and very diligently against this.

Obviously, we didn't do enough. We didn't either have the tools or the cooperation or somehow get the information that we needed to have prevented it.

And you can be sure that those men and women are right now resolved to do more and to be more effective. This is a national challenge and I'm confident that we'll meet it.

WOODRUFF: All right, General Wesley Clark joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas. He is, of course, the former commander of NATO.



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