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America's New War: National Security Team Looks for Ways to Retaliate Against Terrorist Strikes

Aired September 14, 2001 - 17:50   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As the painful and treacherous search- and-rescue operation continues here in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell had some pointed comments today on the nature of the war ahead and how it will differ from any other war this country has ever fought.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is different. The enemy is in many places, the enemy is not looking to be found, the enemy is hidden. The enemy is very often right here within our own country.

And so, you have to design a campaign plan that goes after that kind of enemy, and it isn't always blunt force military. Although that is certainly an option, it may well be that the diplomatic efforts, political efforts, legal, financial, other efforts may be just as effective against that kind of an enemy as would military force be.

And the point the president made this morning is that the whole cabinet is involved, and we're going to use all tools and weapons at our disposal to fight this campaign and to win this war.


BLITZER: Our national security correspondent David Ensor has been checking with his sources in the intelligence community and elsewhere to find out precisely what's going on. What did you learn today, David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, U.S. officials are saying to me -- excuse me -- that there may still be, there is evidence there may still be terrorists inside the United States who are hoping to attack targets. So there's a real sense of concern, and that is why so many security measures are being taken. There is still evidence, as one official put it, "there's reason to believe not all the perpetrators are dead or in jail."

Officials say they can't rule out that there may be additional pilots with ties to terrorist organizations inside the U.S., and there may be other types of threats as well. So that perhaps is the headline. Now, concerning diplomacy and the efforts that Secretary Powell just talked about, tremendous number of calls out to allies and to other nations, particularly in the region obviously, and the message is, particularly with nations that may in some cases have hedged their bets in the past, it's time to choose sides.

And in one specific area, the United States officials say is asking for cooperation that can be checked. It's asking nations like Pakistan and moderate Arab states to stop the flow of any money to charities and other organizations that are thought to be fronts for the bin Laden organization, and it is saying that in the past a lot of the nations have turned a blind eye to wealthy Muslim people, individuals, sending some money, and it's been kind of considered a hedge. The U.S. wants these countries to enforce this now, and it says it will be looking to see whether they do or not. And it has sources and methods with which to do that, Wolf.

BLITZER: And David, this organization that Osama bin Laden heads, this Al Qaeda organization, how big of a group is this? How many people does the U.S. intelligence community believe is involved?

ENSOR: They really don't have an estimate on the numbers, size. It's a hydra-headed organization, it's not even really an organization, it's a sort of loosely-knit group of like-minded people. There are affiliations with things like Islamic Jihad in Egypt, where bin Laden's doctor is in fact the head of it. There are a lot of different kinds of groups, and the kinds of individuals that were apparently involved in these terrorist attacks in the United States, they operated very much separately. They didn't need to communicate. They didn't need to be in touch with anyone else. Their mission was started a long time ago.

So it operates in a very compartmentalized way, making it difficult for U.S. intelligence to track it. Nonetheless, they are tracking some of the communications, and they do still have -- and are continuing to find more evidence, they tell me, that the people who were involved in these attacks can be linked to the bin Laden organization.

Now, there may be other organizations involved, other ties as well. But that is one thing they are still saying, started saying Tuesday and they are still saying, Wolf.

BLITZER: And finally, David, we have all heard that Osama bin Laden is a wealthy Saudi fugitive. How much money does he have and his organization have? Is there any estimate how much money they have at various banks and how this money can be tracked, if at all?

ENSOR: Well, as you see on the screen, and as I was saying earlier, wealthy Muslims in a number of countries are known to send charitable -- what they think is charitable contributions, or maybe they don't think that, but contributions to charities and front organizations that then make their way into Pakistan, which is Pashara (ph) particularly, which is kind of the organizational headquarters for bin Laden's group and affiliated groups. A lot of money goes in there. He, however, has his own personal fortune. He comes from a construction millionaire's family in Saudi Arabia. He was estimated at one point to have had a fortune himself of $300 million. There may not be much of that left.

He doesn't -- it's not that the terrorists, for example these that just done this, needed money. What the U.S. is interested, though is in testing these countries to see whether they will cut off the funds, it's a test of them. Whose side are they on? That's the question the U.S. is asking countries today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Ensor, thank you very much for your excellent reporting.

Samuel Berger was the national security adviser during President Clinton's administration, and he joins us now from our Washington bureau.

Mr. Berger, thanks for joining us. And let me get to some of the points that David just reported about. First of all, the notion that there may still be other terrorists associated with this plot on the loose here in the United States. Is there a sense that Americans should not let their guard down?

SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, clearly security has to be a primary concern, not just in the short-term but in the long-term -- at airports, at our borders and more generally, this organization was able to operate in the United States in a way that was beyond, I think, the expectation of the law enforcement and intelligence community, and therefore, we have to look at security not just in the immediate context, but generally over the long term. We're obviously going to have to perhaps recalibrate the balance between convenience and security.

BLITZER: I'm sure you must have been thinking over these past few days about what, if anything, your administration could have done, the Clinton administration could have done, as far as Osama bin Laden, assuming his organization was responsible for this, that perhaps you didn't do for whatever reason, rethinking Monday morning, quarterbacking some of your decisions. Anything comes to mind?

BERGER: Well, bin Laden was one of the highest priorities certainly since the '98 bombing of the embassies in Africa. We had information that there was going to be a gathering of many of his operatives. We struck that gathering. We had some success, but not complete. There has been a very vigorous effort on the part of the intelligence community to take down cells at a number of countries. We broke up a multidimensional threat around the millennium, and we have looked for every opportunity during this period to strike at bin Laden.

Unfortunately, it's a very difficult target, as others have pointed out. You not only have to know where he is at a given moment, you have to know where he will be at a future moment. This is not a group that is easy to penetrate. You just don't show up from out of town and say you're a cousin who dropped by, but I think the intelligence community over the last year has had a full-court press on bin Laden, and we simply now, that he has escalated this beyond any imaginable level in the past, have to escalate our efforts by the same token.

BLITZER: Samuel Berger, the national security adviser during the Clinton administration, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Thank you.



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