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Interview with Senator Richard Shelby

Aired November 25, 2002 - 08:05   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Back to some news out of Washington. A leading senator says America should expect another terrorist attack that could possibly rival 9/11.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), VICE CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it will be spectacular. Will it be on the order of the World Trade Tower or the Pentagon? I hope not. But that's something we've got to stop.


ZAHN: Also, the allegations that money from a Saudi royal found its way to associates of some 9/11 hijackers is starting to strain relations between the kingdom and the U.S. Saudi Arabia denies that charge.


ABDEL AL JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: What we have done is we have regulated our charities. We are going through the process of auditing every single one of them. We are, we have put in place requirements that the charities perform internal audits, because we want to make sure that the donors know how the charities are spending their money.

We also want to teach the charities how to have, how to enforce financial control mechanisms so that people do not take advantage of the laxness that may exist somewhere.


ZAHN: And joining us now from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to talk about that relationship and where it stands is Senator Richard Shelby.

Always glad to have you on the air.

Welcome back, Senator.

SHELBY: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: Happy holidays.

SHELBY: Thank you.

ZAHN: We wanted to start off with what we heard you say at the top of this introduction when you hit the air waves yesterday and you were talking about what you think is the distinct likelihood of another "spectacular attack on U.S. soil."

Why do you believe that?

SHELBY: Well, I hope it will never happen, Paula. But if you look at the history, recent history of the terrorist attacks, when you've had increased signal traffic, a lot of chatter, you had this recent message from Osama bin Laden himself, generally attacks have followed.

I do not have specific information and I don't think the FBI does at this point. What we've got to do is be diligent. But I believe there will be an attack on a soft target. Will it be this week, next week or a month or so from now? I'm not sure. It could be overseas on targets that we're trying to particular and we have great interest in then.

But you have to always watch our back side America.

ZAHN: So let's talk about that for a moment. There has been a great deal of concern, at least expressed to me, by law enforcement officials when they talk about that window after Thanksgiving, which would be the three week mark from which we last heard from Osama bin Laden. Is that of particular concern to you?

SHELBY: I think it's always concern. Sometimes these terrorists, if you'll look at it, they repeat certain patterns. Sometimes they deviate from the pattern. We try to gather the intelligence, probably try to outguess them. Sometimes we've been lucky, sometimes we've been smart. But right now we need some of both.

ZAHN: So do we have some of both right now?

SHELBY: I hope so. But, you know, I believe that the FBI and the CIA, although they've made some strides, they've got to do much better to protect the security of our own people.

ZAHN: So when you try to analyze the chatter that you've been exposed to, the intelligence you've been exposed to, are you of the mind to believe if they hit a soft target here in the United States we could be talking about something as disastrous as the attacks of September 11?

SHELBY: Well, we would always hope that it wouldn't be. We would hope there would never be an attack. But I think we have to be realistic enough to know that we have operatives in our own country here that could hit us any time. To think otherwise would be kind of foolish.

ZAHN: Let's move on to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly on the heels of this report coming out of "Newsweek" that suggests that a member of the Saudi royal family had sent some money that ended up with two guys in San Diego that might have, in turn, given some of those funds to some 9/11 hijackers. How concerned are you about this report?

SHELBY: Well, I've been concerned. I've been concerned a long time that a lot of the so-called charities are really fronts for getting money to the various terrorist groups. We know that, all over the world. And what happened as far as this particular instance or instances with the Saudi ambassador and his wife, I'm not sure. But we should pursue the money trail, get the FBI, get the accountants, follow the bank.

If we follow through the banks everything that we can regarding this, we'll get to the truth. There's a lot of denial right now. But I'm suspicious. I know Senator Graham, my colleague, is suspicious. And I hope that the FBI is very suspicious because our relationship with the Saudis is strictly transactional. You know, people say well what a good ally they are. Well, a good ally would not be putting impediments all the time in the way of us being involved in the Persian Gulf, perhaps in the war that will probably come with Saddam Hussein. They have to prove that.

But let's follow the money. If we follow the money, we're going to get to the truth and I think the truth will not be very nice.

ZAHN: Let's close with the Democrats that are lining up to attack the Bush foreign policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

Here's what Joseph Lieberman had to say over the weekend. Let's listen.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The congressional committee says the FBI wasn't aggressive enough in pursuing Saudi leads. The administration, the White House, the Bush White House immediately says yes, they were. That's not enough. The administration, the president ought to be demanding a full public accounting by the FBI and the CIA about what they know about Saudi involvement.


ZAHN: And then the senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer, piled on, saying it is about time "for us to tell the Saudis fess up."

Do you agree?

SHELBY: I don't have any quarrel with either Senator Lieberman or Senator Schumer's remarks. And I don't think this is a Republican- Democratic issue here. What this is is find out the truth of where this money went. If it was to aid terrorists, we need to know. We have a lot of victims in this country already. There will be more. We need to know what kind of ally we have here. I'm suspicious.

ZAHN: Sir, I can only get in 10 seconds more. Do you think the Bush administration is too soft on the Saudis? SHELBY: I don't know if they're too soft. You know, Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil. It's transactional, as I said. We need the oil. The West needs it. They need our support. I think we've got to fess up, as they say, to what type of relationship we have with Saudi Arabia.

ZAHN: Senator Richard Shelby, always good to see you.

SHELBY: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And if I don't see you before Thursday, have a great Thanksgiving with your family.

SHELBY: Thank you.


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