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War on Terror: Mission Impossible?

Aired November 24, 2002 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT with Anderson Cooper
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I am Anderson Cooper. Tomorrow the United States takes a major step in the war on terror. President Bush will sign the homeland security bill, and our government will begin its biggest reorganization since the start of the Cold War. You've no doubt heard it before; the war on terror is a new kind of war for the United States. A shadow war fought both at home and abroad. It is a war in which success is difficult to define. Tonight we take stock, ask some tough questions.

Are we fighting this war on terror correctly? Are we winning, or is the war on terror in fact, a mission impossible? In the next hour, we will look at the terrorists who have been killed and captured, who is still at large, what are they planning, where might they be hiding? We will also look at how the showdown with Iraq might affect this war on terror, and we will see how your life will change as you brush up against the government reorganizing itself on a war footing.

We begin at the nerve center for this war: The Pentagon, and especially the White House. CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley.

Frank, how confident is the White House in their ability to fight this war?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the war on terror being fought from this White House, the building behind me. The administration confident in it's war so far. The president beginning each day with a threat assessment from the CIA director and other officials who tell the president about potential threats to the U.S. Yes, Iraq is looming, but this administration says that the war on terror is still a central focus of this administration.


(voice-over): What no one disputes is the military victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. That there has been some disruption of the al Qaeda networks.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: But there is a long way to go before we can declare victory in the war against terrorism or the more specific war against al Qaeda. And that war will not be over until we capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

BUCKLEY: A goal set by the president himself more than a year ago. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, "Wanted. Dead or Alive".

BUCKLEY: But despite intense efforts to locate bin Laden, he has alluded capture, and he recently warned of alleged attacks to come.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): Just you like you kill us, we will kill you.

BUCKLEY: These days, White House officials say the war is not just about one person. And they point to what they say are the successes in the war. Examples: more than 90 countries are allied with the U.S. in the war, 167 countries are blocking terrorist assets, with more than $113 million in assets frozen. And while bin Laden remains at large, others are in custody. From 650 detainees to high- ranking al Qaeda operatives like the recent arrest of the organization's Persian Gulf operations chief, Al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which the president talked about after his meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BUSH: And America and Russia and people who love freedom, or one person safer as a result of this kind of step.

BUCKLEY: U.S. soldiers remain deployed in Afghanistan, but they are also on station in the Philippines, Georgia, and Yemen, as the war on terror continues.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, (R) ALABAMA: We have made some progress, but we haven't won the war, but President Bush has reminded the American people all along, that this war is going to go on for years. I think the first year, year and few months, we're doing well. But we've got a long way to go.


BUCKLEY: And unless Saddam Hussein allows U.N. inspectors to do their job in Iraq, that may be the next step for a U.S. military forces, because the Bush administration sees Iraq as part of the war on terror. Their view is that this is a hostile regime with Saddam Hussein. They have a history of supporting terrorists and they are armed with weapons of mass destruction -- Anderson.

COOPER: Frank, ever since September 11, President Bush has been very careful to say this war is going to be a long one. How confident is the White House that the U.S. public has a resolve needed to see this thing through?

BUCKLEY: Well, so far the White House believes that the president's popularity is in tact. As you say, Anderson, the president has repeatedly said that this is a war that is going to take years. Some parts of the war we will see, some parts of the war we won't see. But clearly, there are some critics, notably in Congress. Tom Daschle recently thinking aloud that is Osama bin Laden is still alive and these attacks are still going on, and there are still threats, how can this be a success on the war on terror? COOPER: A final question. You know, with possible action looming in Iraq, how confident is the White House they are going to be able to fight what is basically will be a multi pronged war, both against Iraq and against terror?

BUCKLEY: Well, the U.S. believes it has the forces needed to go alone if necessary, but the hope here is that they won't have to do that. Clearly Britain is aboard, the U.K. is aboard, has pledged its military support. We know that the U.S. officials are telling us that some 50 countries are being approached right now to find out what level of participation the U.S. might expect, and the U.S. has pledged to go back to the Security Council in hopes that it will pick up some more support there, if military action is required. But again, the U.S. retaining the right, they say, to act unilaterally if necessary.

COOPER: OK. Frank Buckley live at the White House. Thanks very much.

Now, if nothing else, al Qaeda's brain trust has been crippled compared to what it was a year ago. Osama bin Laden is, of course, still at large, as is the man thought to be bin Laden's number two, his doctor and spiritual adviser, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Al Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef is dead, killed in a U.S. air strike, and Abu Zubaydah, the man who ran al Qaeda's terrorist camps is under arrest. Crucial to finding those terrorists still at large will be the continued support of our allies.

As Frank Buckley reported, more than 90 countries are allied with the U.S. in the war on terror, but there are doubts about some of those nations resolve. In particular, Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and this weekend, after it came to light that money from the Saudi government may have made it into the hands of at least two of those hijackers, the criticism of Saudi Arabia grew more pointed.


LIEBERMAN: President Bush has taken a lot of abuse in the last two years because of the connections of this administration with Saudi Arabia. And I think it is time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11. You are either with us or you are with the terrorists. I think the pressure is now on the Saudis to prove to us that they are with us.


COOPER: With us live in Washington, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, thanks for being with us tonight.


COOPER: Let's talk Saudi Arabia first. Is there a smoking gun at this point?

BERGEN: I think this story about the money transfers from the wife of the Saudi ambassador possibly to these hijackers, when you look at it, may not add up to very much. She probably didn't know where the money was going. It is not even clear if it ended up in their pockets.

However, I think there is a wider point, Anderson, which is that Saudi Arabia historically has never cooperated with investigation in terrorist actions against Americans, but that was in the '90s, and the attacks against U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia, Dhahran and Khobar Towers. But again in the 9/11 investigation where you would have thought they would be pretty cooperative. I know some people directly involved in the investigation. They use the words like "useless," "obstructionist," "despicable," so those are the words that are printable.

COOPER: And yet that runs very counter to what we often are hearing, especially in the last few months, from the administration, who have said they haven't been dancing for joy over Saudi cooperation, but publicly they stated that they are satisfied with Saudi cooperation.

BERGEN: I think that fails a common sense test, Anderson, which is the following. If there -- 15 of the hijackers, as we all know, were Saudi. Isn't it rather puzzling how few of their associates or family members, or people that they may have sort of done business with, in Saudi Arabia, being arrested.

I mean, the number of people that have been arrested by the Saudis who are members of al Qaeda can be counted on two hands. The fact is that Saudis play a very large roll in this organization, not least of course, Osama himself. Of course the problem is that the Saudis are sort of in a difficult position. They reject Osama, but if they look too carefully at the roots of support for Osama, they begin to find some uncomfortable truths. There was a militant Saudi opposition group against the Saudi royal family. They don't want to disturb that hornet's nest any more than they need to.

COOPER: All right, lets look at al Qaeda for a moment. How strong are they still?

BERGEN: You know, we don't know that we don't know. That is the problem. I mean, there is a very simple fact we can all agree on. They haven't been able to pull off a 9/11 since 9/11. Can they do it again? I doubt they can pull off something that catastrophic. What we have seen is a number of low level attacks against soft targets, against discos in Indonesia, oil tankers in Yemen, a synagogue in Tunisia, French defense contractors in Karachi, the U.S. consulate in Karachi. All of these attacks, of course, an individual tragedy. But nothing amounting to a 9/11.

COOPER: What seems interesting about the nature of some of the most recent attacks, and I think about the bombing in Bali. Targeting what some people refer to as soft targets, tourism destinations, things of the like, but also carried out by individuals or groups which may not have a direct immediate present day connection to al Qaeda, but seen in some way emboldened by the actions of al Qaeda.

BERGEN: I think that is absolutely right. I mean, the right wing militia movements in this country have a notion of leaderless resistance, and we are seeing some people acting like al Qaeda wannabes. A couple in Germany trying to blow up the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg. Absolutely no connection to al Qaeda. In the Indonesia case, I think that we will find that there are -- it is an al Qaeda affiliate operation. It is not al Qaeda itself, but the people involved trained in Afghanistan, probably in al Qaeda's camps. So that sort of -- while it is not al Qaeda itself, it is more than just simply al Qaeda wannabes.

COOPER: We all know Osama bin Laden is still at large. Who else is out there who the U.S. really wants to find right now?

BERGEN: Well, on your chart, you had Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number two, is largely regarded as the brains of the operation, and then we also have a guy Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who interestingly enough, actually studied at a university in this country in North Carolina. You can see him on the top left.

He is incredibly important. He is now the military commander. He has got his fingerprints an attacks, maybe even the first World Trade Center attack in '93, had plans to blow up U.S. airliners in the Philippines, perhaps links to even this Indonesia attack. So he is very important.

And then on the right you have got Saif Al-Adil who is also regarded as important. So there are a number of people in, lets say, the top 10 who have not been caught.

On the other hand, there have been successes. We -- Abu Zubaydah, the travel agent who brought people in and out of the terrorist camps, as you mentioned. Also Ramsi Binalshibh, who played a very critical role in the 9/11 attacks.

So I think that we -- there has been progress, but there are -- and also, I think the larger point is, al Qaeda is more than just a particular set of individuals. We are seeing all these people that there even not any pictures of. The organization is more than a cult that is I just think to be focused around bin Laden. It is more like a mass movement.

So you knock out a few of these people. It is not like the thing goes out of business tomorrow, and we are seeing on the top right, getting al-Nashiri last week was quite important, because in fact he probably -- was probably played a staring role in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. He also played an important role in the meetings in Malaysia, and he is somebody who, I think, the administration rightly regards as being important. But they are not out of business.

COOPER: All right. Peter Bergen. Thanks very much for joining us tonight. Appreciate it.

Now the hunt for Osama bin Laden. U.S. officials have confirmed that his voice is on a recent audiotape, but it has been nearly a year since they really had a handle on where bin Laden may be hiding. They were hoping to capture him during an assault on Afghanistan's Tora Bora Mountains, but bin Laden vanished. CNN's Cairo bureau chief Ben Wedeman covered that military offensive, and joins us now from Egypt. Good evening, Ben. How is the hunt for Osama bin Laden going? Is the trail simply gone cold?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Well, it does seem to be lacking in heat at this point. Since the December operation in the Tora Bora area, really no hard clues as to where Mr. bin Laden could be. It is widely believed that he is in the northwest frontier provinces of Pakistan, or somewhere just over the border in Afghanistan, possibly in Karachi. But really in terms of hard leads that we are aware of, none rally. Some people, for instance, in this area believe he may even have escaped to his homeland, Saudi Arabia.

But at this point, that is the $27 million question -- $27 million being the reward that the United States is offering for the capture of Osama bin Laden, and at this point no one seems to be near cashing in that money -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, you are in Cairo, and it is an interesting place to be tonight, because there is really a long-term battle. I mean, this war on terror is not just a short-term punch against an al Qaeda or other groups that are out there. But there is also a long-term battle that the U.S. must wage against the Islamists, so called, the Islamic political movements, in many countries. In Egypt, which has a government which is friendly to the United States, Mubarak. There are movements, the Muslim Brotherhood, other movements, which are opposed to the government and which are sort of breeding grounds, some say, for future terrorists. How is the U.S. -- or how can the U.S. try to fight this longer term, more shadowy battle?

WEDEMAN: Well, the United States has to be very careful, first of all, because some of these Islamic movements -- yes, Islam is the basis of their program, but they should not be immediately or automatically seen as enemies of the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, is by Egyptian standards, fairly mainstream. Yes, Islam is their political platform, but to throw them into the lot of the enemy, so to speak, of the United States, could be catastrophic, because many people in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world consider Islam to be a legitimate form of political activity. And therefore, the United States has to be very, very careful, because it could very much upset many people around the region by defining Islam or Islamic political movement as the enemy.

Really, what's involved here is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of this region. The United States by enlarge, has failed miserably in this regard. The United States is universally seen in this area for instance, as siding with Israel against the Palestinians. It is very widely seen as disregarding the suffering of the Iraqi people under the sanctions, in pursuing this Saddam Hussein at the expense of ordinary Iraqis, so it really is a very delicate battle, and by enlarge, the United States is seen as losing that battle at the moment -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Ben Wedeman from Cairo. Thanks very much. Winning hearts and minds, never an easy thing. Catching terrorists is one thing, getting them to talk, another thing entirely. How does the U.S. military do it? Mike Boettcher is here with the inside story, and the tale of an al Qaeda operative who -- well, he lost his dignity, shall we say, in the hot seat. Don't miss it, we will be right back.


COOPER: Over the past year, we have gotten some fleeting glimpses of captured al Qaeda prisoners, first in Afghanistan, later in Cuba. There are other detainees of course. We know they are in custody, but the U.S. government isn't saying where. What have we learned from them? And how do interrogators get them to talk. CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher has some of the answers. Good evening, Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Anderson. Well, above all the war on terror is an intelligence war, and some of the best information has come from the interrogations of al Qaeda prisoners. Now recently, we went to Fort Wachuka, Arizona, to the Army Intelligence center and school, where soldiers are taught to ask the right questions.


(voice-over): Captured fighters on the Afghan battlefield. Each one a potential gold mine of information. But how does the Army get at the information locked inside the mind of the enemy?

After 63 days in Arizona, these U.S. Army trainees will know how. Here at the U.S. Army Intelligence Training Center at Fort Wachuka. Student soldiers learn the steps to breaking a prisoner.

PVT MICHAEL GOULARTE, U.S. ARMY: I think a lot of people get this impression, interrogation, it is just real -- you know, being intimidating, seen as like -- you know -- it's a dark room, and there is all this like -- almost like detectives. You know, they are like pushing you, shine the light in your face, when it is really it's not. It is very methodical.

BOETTCHER: Through exercises with role-players and instructors, student interrogators practice their techniques. Here, Private Timothy Schultz (ph) uses an approach labeled pride and ego down, trying to deflate an arrogant enemy special forces prisoner, whose pride is his armor against questioning.

PRIVATE TIMOTHY SCHULTZ, U.S. ARMY: My understanding that as special forces solders, you can fight and put up ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't want to hurt the last few men.

SCHULTZ: Oh, so your men, you even know where your men are now?


BOETTCHER: And combines that with an incentive approach.

SCHULTZ: Tell you what. Lets talk here, you answer my questions, we will get done here, I will even bring you to them. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will take me to my men?

SCHULTZ: Why not?

BOETTCHER: One instructor who asked that his identity not be revealed, recently returned from Afghanistan where he questioned suspected al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. As is the case with prisoners of any type, many in Afghanistan respond to a simple direct approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will be amazed at what a kind word and a cup of hot cocoa on a 15 degree night will get you as far as determination.

BOETTCHER (on camera): The tough image the U.S. military projects in the world can also work to the advantage of interrogators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those who are scared out of their skin anyways, and you know, they knew that we were Americans. But they didn't really know exactly where in the structure we fit.

BOETTCHER: Did the reactions vary according to their status inside even the Taliban or al Qaeda? I mean were those of higher rank and status harder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Actually, oddly enough, it seemed the opposite. One of the highest-ranking al Qaeda guys that came through, I was amazed. They brought him in, he started crying. He was one of the ones that peed his pants before we said a thing to him.

BOETTCHER (voice over): There are rarely aha moments, instead small puzzle pieces of information that can be key to knowing an enemy's plans.

(on camera): You believe the information you are able to gather from the interrogations save lives?



BOETTCHER: Now more and more, interrogators are needed, but what they need as well are those that can speak the language of the suspected terrorists and in this global war, that is a lot of languages.

COOPER: I can imagine. That was an interesting piece. The soldier -- the interrogator in there who you talked to, said that you would be surprised what a kind word and a hot cocoa will do. It is not all -- I mean, interrogating is not all kind words and cocoa. I mean, there is an implied threat of force...


COOPER: How do U.S. military deal with that? BOETTCHER: Well, if you look at the al Qaeda suspects who are brought in, look at the cultures they come -- came from, the countries they came from. They fully expect to be tortured, if they are in U.S. hands, because that is the norm in their area. And that is played upon. The U.S. forces say they do not use physical torture, and there is no evidence that physical torture is used. That is against their rules. But they use a lot of psychological pressure.

COOPER: How is fighting this war on terror different than fighting a conventional war, or a potential war against Iraq, say.

BOETTCHER: Well, it is funny. In a way, those two conflicts will be very much alike. They are not linear wars. The war on terrorism is fought with special operations in many different fronts., and I believe that is the way the war Iraq will go. It will not be linear frontal war. It will be a war where there will be quick assaults on several different targets, and a lot of bombardment, and a lot of pieces brought together at once. But the difference is, is that in Iraq it will be much easier to identify targets. On the war on terrorism, it is very, very difficult to identify those targets, and both of these will rely heavily on special operations.

COOPER: All right. Mike Boettcher, thanks very much.

BOETTCHER: You are welcome.

COOPER: Well, tomorrow, the homeland security bill will be signed, but will it make us safer? Some good news and some bad news when we return, and the successes so far on the war on terror. Lives have been saved, terrorists captured, a look at who is in custody and why. WAR ON TERROR: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?, continues.


COOPER: In the war on terror, as in any war, there have been missteps, miscues, and missed opportunities, but there have also been successes. Significant ones. Attacks foiled, lives saved.


(voice-over): Back in 1999, the world was set to party. The new millennium approached. Ahmed Ressam had other plans in mind. U.S. customs agents stopped the Algerian man with ties to al Qaeda as he entered the United States from Canada. In his car trunk, explosives and timing devises. Ressam testified in court he planned to detonate a suitcase bomb at Los Angeles International Airport. Another Algerian who trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan was arrested last year in Europe, for plotting, among other things, to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris.

Both men have ties to Abu Zubaydah, the al Qaeda operations chief arrested in Pakistan earlier this year, and now in U.S. custody. Other plots have been foiled as well. In Singapore a plan to attack U.S. military personnel. Videotape evidence shows the alleged plotters casing possible targets. In the Strait of Gibraltar, a plan to use explosive laden boats to attack American and British ships. In Afghanistan, a fuel truck with nine sticks of dynamite intercepted. The truck's target, Bagram air base, the main headquarters of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. In the Unites States, Jose Padilla arrested, a man the U.S. government said planned to build and explode a radioactive dirty bomb. And in London, three people said to have al Qaeda links are in custody. British media report they were plotting an attack on the London subway system.


COOPER: Lives have been saved. As we said at the top of the hour, Monday will be an important day in U.S. history. Maybe not one of those instantly recognizable dates like December 7, or September 11, but tomorrow our government will begin a major reorganization. Tomorrow President Bush signs the homeland security bill. It is supposed to make us all safer, though nothing will change overnight. CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins us now from Washington.

Jeanne, what is this thing going to look like?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is going to be monstrously huge. The question -- the bottom line question is, will it make us safer, and the answer to that, frankly, is unknowable. The theory is that by blending together agencies that have had a piece of homeland security into a single department whose primary mission is making the country safe, attention and resources will be focused on the issue as never before. But the task is enormous. This is the biggest reorganization of government since the Department of Defense was created after World War II. It will merge together 22 different agencies and departments, and it will involve 170,000 employees.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And I think the question in the short-term will be, how fast can we modernize Immigration and Naturalization Service, how fast can we change other things? Just having the same tired incompetent bureaucracies in a chart doesn't get anything done. I think Governor Ridge, or whoever ends up as the head of that department, has a big, big job to make it effective.


MESERVE: Now some experts believe the new department will be too big and sprawling to be effective. Some feel it may not be big enough, pointing out that by the president's own count, there are still about 80 agencies dealing with Homeland Security that are not being brought into the new department. There is also a big question about money, particularly from the nation's mayors.


TOM MENINO, MAYOR OF BOSTON, MA: That's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They went home. They didn't even deal with the finances for cities. Cities have spent about $2.6 billion since last September, and we are asked to be on the front lines every day. But nobody is willing to help us meet those costs.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS, MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Congress has a duty to see that local governments are your first line of response, has the resources to help the federal government execute a homeland security strategy. You can't do that with nothing.


MESERVE : Some of the immediate challenges establishing a chain of command and lines of communication within the department, finding a location for it to be headquartered, resolving nuts and bolts operational issues. Things as simple as making sure that everybody is using compatible computer and e-mail systems.

And there are some very thorny issues relating to employees. They don't know who they are working for or how their jobs will be affected. They are jockeying for power in the new bureaucracy, and some of the agencies for whom they work. Some state and local officials say these issues have been distracting from the homeland security effort for months, as the legislation creating the new department moved through Congress and most observers believe short- term, that that negative impact could grow. The long-term prospects for the new department are unclear. Most experts think it could make us safer, but likely not for years -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jeanne, and this may not be a question one can answer at this point, because it seems like a lot of this is not known. How will life change for the average citizen in the united states? Will anything change in relation to this department? Will it have any impact in their short-term on our lives?

MESERVE: I would suspect, Anderson, that the place where Americans might see it and feel it most is at the borders. The guts of this proposal is to bring together the Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization, the Border Patrol, and Customs, and merge them all together. And so processes are likely to change at the borders, so that the 350 points of entry in this country, that is where citizens might find the most obvious change.

COOPER: All right. But as you said, change does not happen over night. Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Of course, Monday's homeland security bill signing will be covered live here on CNN. Our special coverage, "What Does It Mean for America?" begins tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. Pacific.

From American tourist kidnapped and beheaded to a deadly bombing in an island paradise. Is Southeast Asia the biggest hotbed of terrorism today? We will be right back.

ANNOUNCER: October 12, two bombs ripped through nightclubs on the resort island of Bali. More than 180 people are killed, most of them tourists. The alleged mastermind is in custody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: In the hunt for terrorists, authorities are increasingly looking towards Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, countries with large Muslim populations and numerous radical groups. The bombing last month in Bali is evidence that the danger from some of these groups is all too real. For a look at terror in Southeast Asia, we turn live to CNN's Jakarta bureau chief Maria Ressa. Good evening Maria.

MARIA RESSA, CNN JAKARTA BUREAU CHIEF: Good evening, Anderson. Keep in mind that Indonesia does have the world's largest Muslim population, combined with the other nations in Southeast Asia. The Muslims here account for more than one-third of the world's Muslim population. Even more significant than that is the fact that after September 11, even after September 11, much of al Qaeda's network in Southeast Asia remained in tact. It really wasn't until after the Bali bombings, which happened a little more than a month ago, that Indonesia began to take the threat seriously, and to move against it.


(voice-over): Al Qaeda was waging war against the United States in Southeast Asia long before Americans were aware of it, setting up its infrastructure here as early as 1988. Parts of every single major al Qaeda plot have been planned here. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 plot to bomb 11 U.S. airplanes in Asia. The 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in east Africa. The 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. The September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings. Information from Omar Al-Faruq (ph), an al Qaeda operative now in U.S. custody pushed the U.S. to raise its terror alert warning, and closed several embassies in the region last September. That threat remains today.

MARIE HUNTALA, U.S. AMB TO MALAYSIA: We are still very much aware that there are hostile forces out there. In fact, the State Department put out a threat warning just a couple of weeks ago for southeast Asia.

RESSA: Now U.S. officials are working closely with their counterparts in Asia to dismantle al Qaeda's network. Most recently, in building a case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI questioned this man, Yazid Sufaat, now in Malaysian custody. He owns this apartment in Malaysia where Moussaoui stayed, and where months earlier, a high level al Qaeda meeting was held, U.S. and Malaysian officials say, to plan the bombing of the USS Cole and the September 11 attacks.

The man who chaired the meeting was Khalid Sheik Mohammed, now al Qaeda's most active operations planner. The meeting organized by a man known as Hambali (ph), whom investigators say planned the bombings in Bali last month, which killed nearly 200 people. Authorities are still hunting for both men, but have made some significant arrests in the past few weeks.


RESSA: Behind the scenes U.S. authorities are quietly talking and interrogating several terrorists in custody in Singapore and the Philippines, in the hopes of finding out more about al Qaeda cells and their plots to try to prevent future attacks. Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Maria, how large is the threat right now in Southeast Asia toward Americans?

RESSA: Unfortunately at this point, it remains relatively significant, again, although two men have been arrested in connection with the Bali plots. One, according to Indonesian officials, the mastermind. It leads all the way up to the top of the network, and much of that still needs to be dismantled. So the threat at this point, in Southeast Asia, the warning is still out for Americans.

COOPER: It was pretty shocking in your piece, when you said that even after 9/11, a lot of the governments in Southeast Asia were not actively trying to hunt against these al Qaeda cells. How proactive are they being now, in the wake of the Bali bombing?

RESSA: Much more. Bali was a wakeup call to Indonesia in particular. Indonesia was the one that was in denial for many, many months, pressured not just from the United States, but also from its neighboring countries. Now other nations are also -- again, terrorism -- al Qaeda -- dismantling this network will require more than the efforts of one nation, because they just cross borders, and I think that is something that southeast Asia nations are starting to figure out.

COOPER: All right, Maria Ressa, appreciate it. Live from Jakarta. The other side of the world.

Up next, taking on Saddam. Does it help or hurt the war on terror? Nic Robertson is live in Baghdad next. Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: October 23, dozens of Chechnyan rebels storm a theater in Moscow, taking the 800 plus patrons hostage. For three days, a standoff. Then Russian special forces stormed the building, pumping an anesthesia gas inside. One hundred seventeen hostages are killed. All but two by the gas. The hostage takers had demanded Russia pull its troops from Chechnya.


COOPER: This week, United Nations weapons inspectors go back to work in Iraq after an absence of nearly four years. The Bush administration says disarming Iraq is absolutely vital to the war on terrorism. Everyone's worry is that it will easier said than done. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Baghdad. Nic, thanks for being up with us so early in the morning. What is the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, that team arrives in here in a little over 12 hours. They are going to land at the airport very, very close to Baghdad.

Among the team, there are going to be 12 specialists in the missile chemical and biological weapons area, and six specialists in the nuclear weapons area. Now by the time they land here, it is just about dawn now, and by the time they land, it will be just beginning to get dark. So they are going to go straight from the airport to their hotel, check in there, and they probably won't go to their offices where we have seen equipment building up over the last few days, until Tuesday morning. Now that equipment has been going into refurbish their offices there. They have put in computer equipment, laboratory equipment, and we are told that by the time they arrive, the advance team hoped to have one or two office there serviceable for this advance, and they certainly won't have the whole premises up and running.

Now the team gets to work for the first time on Wednesday. We don't know exactly where they are going to go, but we are told that it is likely to be a site that was monitored during the U.N. weapons inspection program in the 1990s, possibly a dual use site.

Now, these sites have things like video cameras, monitoring equipment monitoring processes going on at these sites. What these inspectors are going to do is essentially what they say is try to redraw their baseline. Go to these sites, check the monitoring equipment, replace it if it faulty, examine it if it is still working, find out if it is recorded any useful data for them. But essentially, bring themselves back up to speed with what has been happening in Iraq over the last four years -- Anderson.

COOPER: Nic, do you know if the inspectors intend on making surprise inspections at sites?

ROBERTSON: It doesn't appear so at the moment. It appears as if they are setting about their operations here in a fairly softly, softly manner, if you will. They're not ruling it out. Obviously the most contentious sites are those presidential palaces. They are not ruling it out. But at the moment, they don't have in place, their secure communications.

So perhaps to try and go to a site which could cause them problems, potentially, would not be a smart move for them without these communications facilities in place, and we have seen other indications that they are trying to build on the cooperation that Hans Blix feels that he got with Iraqi officials when he was here earlier in the week. They don't have, for example, details of how they will question Iraqi scientists' work how they called for under the resolution, to be able interview Iraqi scientists in private, even outside of the country, with the details of the mechanism of that are really yet to be worked out, Anderson.

COOPER: Nic, where does Iraq fit in the larger war on terrorism according to the U.S.?

ROBERTSON: Iraq, as far as the United States is concerned, is potentially an ally to terrorists around the world. It is potentially a sponsor of terrorism, according to the United States. Now Iraq has long said, from its point of view, that it disapproves of Osama bin Laden. It disapproves of his style of Islam. Iraq has tended to be a very secular country. In the recent years, there has been an effort by President Saddam Hussein to build up, if you will -- if you like, the Islamic infrastructure here. But it has never been a revolutionary type of Islam here. The president (UNINTELLIGIBLE) trying to build some of the biggest mosques in the world in Baghdad right now, spending huge amounts of money on it. But certainly, as far as the United States is concerned, President Saddam Hussein has the same vested interest, if you will, as Osama bin Laden. That is as far as the United States is concerned, he is an enemy of the United States, an that puts him essentially in the same category as a potential ally of any of these terrorists, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Nic Robertson, live in Baghdad. Thank you very much. It is dawn in Baghdad, you could hear the call of prayer behind Nic Robertson.

When we return, how safe are our skies?

Airport security has certainly improved. What more needs to be done? Air marshals, gun toting pilots? Some answers when we return.


COOPER: Guns in the cockpit. A good idea? Or a dangerous prospect? Well, when President Bush puts his signature on the Homeland Security bill tomorrow, the question will be moot. Among other things, the legislation gives airline pilots the option of arming themselves in the cockpit. For more, we go to CNN's Patty Davis.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): American Airlines pilot, Steve Callahan (ph), could be packing a pistol in his MD 80 cockpit in the near future. None too soon, he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we saw on September 11, when there is really no means to defend yourself, disastrous things can happen.

DAVIS: The Homeland Security Act gives guns to Callahan and the 85,000 other pilots of commercial passenger plane if they want them. A big win for pilot groups, who say pilots are the last line of defense against terrorist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is going to be a 100 percent deterrent. If you were a hijacker on 9/11, you wouldn't have tried it. It would have never happened, knowing that the pilot has a gun.

DAVIS: Pilot groups expect 30 percent to 40 percent of pilots to sign up initially. Those who volunteer will undergo extensive training based on the Federal Air Marshal program. And they will be deputized as Federal law enforcement officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they are trained well enough to know how to handle that, I think we are better off with it.

DAVIS: But not all passengers think pilots with guns is a good idea. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a potential danger in it, in that you are bringing a weapon on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I just don't think that we are ready to train pilots to become police officers on a plane.

DAVIS: Major airlines aren't thrilled about arming pilots either. They worry about guns going off accidentally, and say air marshals should be the only ones to carry guns. Even the Transportation Security Administration originally opposed arming pilots, but is now on board. The TSA has 90 days to get to training in place and work out sticky questions, such as what type of guns pilots will carry. Where they will store the firearms, and how the agency will pay the estimated $900 million cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a wide variety of questions that need to be answered. Our task, over the next 90 days is to find them and try to reach a solution, or a resolution, to each of them.


DAVIS: While pilots on passenger planes could be carrying weapons as early -- as early next year, those who fly cargo planes were left out. Now pilots could call that a significant hole in security, and they plan to lobby Congress to fix it next year -- Anderson.

COOPER: Patty, I fly a lot. I certainly think airport security has gotten better on the ground. But I haven't heard much about air marshals lately. What is the status of that?

DAVIS: Status of air marshals is they are continuing to ramp up that program. They have thousands of them. They will not detail how many, in fact, that they have. But the Transportation Security Administration gives lots of assurances that they are on lots of planes, and that they are making flying safer than ever. Now you add pilots having guns on top of that, and they say we are in really good shape in the air -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Patty Davis. Thanks very much. Live in Washington's Reagan National Airport.

Is it really possible to wipe out terrorism? Some thoughts when we return.


COOPER: So we began this hour asking the question, is the war on terror a mission impossible? At the risk of sounding cliche, in the final analysis it really depends on how you define success. Can the U.S. ultimately destroy a terrorist organization like al Qaeda? Certainly. Given time, cooperation of allies, and the resolve of the American people. The terror organizations that gained so much prominence in the 1970s and early '80s -- Abu Nidal, the Red Brigade, and others. They now seem a distant memory. Can the U.S. prevent all attacks against its installations, citizens, and representatives? No. With good intelligence, swift action, we can prevent some attacks, particularly large scale ones. But we can never stop all those who hate us. Terror is both a military and political weapon that has been used for centuries. It is the weapon of the weak against the strong. A weapon designed to demonize, demoralize, and ultimately destroy. For generations, governments have wrestled with how to respond to terror attacks, how to fight it appropriately.

One lesson we have learned from their struggles is that terror only wins if we let it. It is a lesson learned by New Yorkers who refused to abandon their city after the World Trade Towers were hit. It is a message sent by those in the Pentagon who rebuilt the concrete and glass, and resumed their work without fear.

Is the war on terrorism mission impossible? In large part, it depends on you, on me, on each one of us together. Thanks for joining us for this special live report.

Coming up at 10:00 Eastern, all the day's news including an Ivy League scandal. Harvard University's so-called "secret courts" used to interrogate and expel gay students in the 1920s. We will talk to the reporter who uncovered this 80-year-old secret. Now Larry King and the only survivor in the car with JFK on that fateful November in Dallas. Nellie Connolly on "LARRY KING WEEKEND" begins right now.


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