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Ali Soufan On Lessons From 9/11 And Terror Today; How Disruption Of The Ad Business Shapes The Modern Media. Aired 5-5:30p ETp ET
Aired June 8, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, lessons from 9/11 and why extremism will remain a threat for a very long time. My interview with the
former FBI special agent and interrogator Ali Soufan.
Plus, advertising, it is everywhere and it can be annoying. But what would happen to our news and entertainment if it all went away. I look at the
epic destruction of the ad business with media writer Ken Auletta.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
When it comes to the fight against terror, few people come close to Ali Soufan's depth of knowledge or experience. A former FBI special agent, he
made his name investigating al-Qaeda plots before 9/11 and interrogating al-Qaeda suspects after those devastating attacks, often obtaining
invaluable information from them, some of which is portrayed in Hulu's acclaimed new drama, "The Looming Tower".
Here is Soufan played by Tahar Rahim questioning Osama Bin Laden's bodyguard.
AMANPOUR: Soufan has since left the FBI. And now, he runs his own security consultancy. And he tells me that the threat from ISIS and all
the all al-Qaeda spin-offs remains very high indeed.
We spoke as the paperback version of his book "Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State" hit the shelves.
Ali Soufan, welcome to the program.
ALI SOUFAN: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: You have become known all these years later, after 9/11, as the explainer-in-chief about this terrorism, about this breed of terrorism -
al-Qaeda , ISIS - that we're having to deal with. And it started very early for you, didn't it?.
SOUFAN: Yes, it's 1997, I believe.
AMANPOUR: Which is really, really, really early. What did you know then that we didn't know?
SOUFAN: The East African embassy bombing in August of 1998 was the very first overt attack by al-Qaeda . So, now, we're taking him seriously.
We're taking his network seriously. So, we start working with our allies around the world.
Our first stop was in the UK. The main office for bin Laden was actually in London and we worked very closely with our colleagues in Scotland Yard
and the intelligence services here in the UK in interrupting the plots.
AMANPOUR: So, that was going to be my next question. Did the intelligence services here know what they were up against? Did they understand how
serious this was?
SOUFAN: Well, at the very beginning, I mean, there was no understanding even in the US itself, but when we were working on Osama bin Laden and we
actually indicted him in a sealed indictment in June of 1998, before the East African embassy bombing, we had a lot of difficulties convincing
people in Washington that that individual is actually a threat.
So, yes, most of the lslamists, if you want to call them, who were here in London, they were peaceful people, escaping the tyranny in their own
government. And there was no problem with them being - practicing the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression that a place like the UK
But you have a small amount of individuals, people like Khalid al-Fawwaz, people like Abu Hamza al-Masri, people like Abu Qatada al-Filistini, people
AMANPOUR: These are all the legendary names, if I can use that.
SOUFAN: And all of them in jail now.
AMANPOUR: Yes, all in jail.
SOUFAN: All in jail now.
AMANPOUR: You have written that al-Qaeda and its successes, basically, this entity is like a multi-headed hydra, it's like whack-a-mole.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's just not one thing. Has the West or those against this kind of radical jihadism got a grip right now? Is the combat against
them enough? I mean, it's really only military at the moment. Is that enough?
[17:05:00] SOUFAN: No, absolutely not. In order for the West to effectively take them down, we have to think in two separate ways. You
have the terrorist network. And it takes a network to down a network. We were effective after 9/11 in taking down that network.
However, the war in Iraq was the catastrophe that gave that network back its oxygen, its blood and everything it needs to grow and even grow bigger
than it used to be before.
The other element is combating the ideology, combating the narrative, combating the narrative that the West and the United States is basically
declaring a war on Islam.
And, unfortunately, throughout the war on terrorism, we played into the narrative of the bad guys. The invasion of Iraq, for example, with no
reason played into that. Secretive jails and black sites played into that. Guantanamo Bay played into that.
Dealing in the Middle East without a strategy, comprehensive strategy, of where we want to go played into that. Recent messages from the
administration about Muslim bans, for example, plays into that. The increase of Islamophobia in the West, even by politicians, taking the
extreme fringes and making them mainstream in our society is playing into that.
So, unfortunately, today, we are in way worse situation than it used to be, I believe, before 9/11.
SOUFAN: Absolutely. I'll give you an example.
AMANPOUR: You just said we took down the network. the United States has just declared, with its coalition, that it has, if not killed off -
SOUFAN: Until 2003 -
AMANPOUR: - severely neutralized ISIS.
SOUFAN: Absolutely not. Until 2003, we took the network, but the network is back. ISIS just is going through a phase. ISIS today is where al-Qaeda
was after 2001. It's going from a proto state now to an underground terrorist organization.
The idea is not al-Qaeda or ISIS or any name or AQAP or al-Shabab. The idea is the ideology and the message and the narrative that they have.
Christiane, before 9/11, al-Qaeda had 400 members - 400 members, 19 of them were killed on that day. Today, the people who adhere to the narrative of
Osama bin Laden are in the thousands.
Look at Syria in Idlib. Look at al-Shabab movement in Somalia. Look at Yemen. Before, we only had Afghanistan. We had Kandahar, Kabul,
Jalalabad, couple of training camps.
Now, because of many different things, to include the failures that have happened in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, we have vacuums and vacuums
all across the Muslim world. And, unfortunately, extremists, people like al-Qaeda and ISIS, are the only one who are able to fill these vacuums.
AMANPOUR: I mean, that is a lot more apocalyptic than I thought. I mean, we get told that the caliphate is over, that it's been disrupted, that
there are attacks against all these terrorist cells in all these various places that you've been talking about just now.
You are the expert on this. so, how does one confront this?
SOUFAN: First of all, this ideology, this narrative have been resilient. After 9/11, we swiftly destroyed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, kicked the
Taliban out for a period of time.
However, al-Qaeda again shifted. They shifted from being an organization to being a network, to being a message. And it's very difficult to fight a
The second element that I would like to talk about today is sectarianism. Today, sectarianism in the Middle East is the main unifier of a lot of
AMANPOUR: You mean, Sunni, Shiite, the whole divide that we see being played out.
SOUFAN: Absolutely. The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia benefiting the extremists on both sides. And sometimes they try to change
their name. So, now, we're not al-Qaeda , we're not Nusra. Oh, now, we're not Nusra, we're Tahrir al-Sham. Oh, no, we're not Tahrir al-Sham; it's
Ansar al-Sharia. So, they put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.
The third element of it is that the Arab Spring - the Arab Spring shifted the calculus of al-Qaeda tremendously.
And the fourth and last thing about this is to focus on the ideology, to focus on the narrative, to not play into the fear that if we talk narrative
and we talk about al-Qaeda and we talk about ISIS and we talk about them hijacking religious terminology that we're attacking Islam. We're not
I am a Muslim. And I spend my life fighting these groups because they don't represent anything about the beautiful religion that I believe in.
AMANPOUR: So, with all of this that you said, what is your prediction then? Where do they strike next? Is the West still in mortal danger?
SOUFAN: Yes, absolutely. I think now they are building a network. It took them - look, after the Soviet jihad, they didn't attack immediately.
It took them years to develop the network.
Now, frankly, if you talk to al-Qaeda or to ISIS, what do they want to do next? They don't know what they're going to do next. Now, they are
building the network. ISIS is trying to find new places to go to after their defeat in Syria and after the loss of the territorial lands of the
[17:10:14] AMANPOUR: It's extraordinary. And at the same time, we are reminded of the history that led to 9/11 in "The Looming Tower", which is
Larry Wright's Pulitzer Prize winning book. You featured very, very prominently in it. And it's been made into a multi-part series by Hulu.
First and foremost, have they got it right?
SOUFAN: Well, yes. There's definitely drama. It's Hollywood. Having said that, I think they stayed true to the investigative part of the story,
but it's amazing to see the power of television because so many people now are seeing it unfolding and they're realizing that 9/11 didn't come out of
thin air, that there was a lot of things that happened before that led to that day, a lot of mistakes that we did.
AMANPOUR: And it's really pointed out in minute detail by Larry Wright and also this Hulu series. The internal squabbling and conflict and holding on
to their own resources between the CIA and the FBI. So, not sharing certain information and, of course, that was highlighted in the commission.
Do you think the structure in the US is now properly aligned to avoid those kinds of mistakes?
SOUFAN: It is. And the relationship between the CIA and the FBI is way better than it used to be. But the problem, history is repeating itself,
not necessarily with the intelligence community. It's repeating itself because the political leadership now is not listening to the intelligence
So, the president has been briefed that Russia interfered in our election. They interfered in the 2016 election and they didn't get an executive
order, presidential order from the president to take any measures against that.
That reminds me of so many different ways when we used to say Osama bin Laden - in your first questions early on, the political leadership didn't
want to listen. And today, we have the same thing. It's a different type of threat, but it's as damaging.
AMANPOUR: And John O'Neill, just your reflections at this time on him.
SOUFAN: John was an amazing character. And I know you've seen elements of his personal life in the show.
AMANPOUR: Played by Jeff Daniels in the show.
SOUFAN: And Jeff Daniels, amazing. He did a great job. He played John O'Neill as seen by Jeff Daniels. So, he didn't listen to what everybody
else was telling him about John O'Neill.
But John O'Neill was an amazing guy. And John O'Neill had only one love ad one commitment and it was to the FBI. And everything else in the world
didn't matter. And that's why his social life unfortunately was in shambles.
But John was a great leader. He understood the threat. He understood what need to be done. And, unfortunately, it was so tragic because he's the one
who put the focus on Osama bin Laden.
He is the one who tried to get Osama bin Laden. But on 9/11, John O'Neill was in the World Trade Center and he was killed by al-Qaeda and by Osama
AMANPOUR: In the series, they also focus on your personal life. You met this wonderful woman. You had to keep explaining to her that you had to go
off on secret missions. You couldn't even tell her about it. I mean, you are the terrorist hunter. And yet, your marriage has lasted, you have
kids, your unit survived. How?
SOUFAN: Well, I think I'm lucky, I guess. I don't know we have angels watching over us. But she's amazing and she endured a lot.
And when I said, one day - I think we had an event at "The Washington Post" and somebody asked me about my date and that I left her in the restaurant.
She said, so did she take you back because it was -
AMANPOUR: As portrayed in the series.
SOUFAN: I said, yes, she is my wife now. And the guy is going, well, look, you shouldn't say that. I'm like, what?
AMANPOUR: Well, there is a happy ending. Ali Soufan, thank you so much indeed.
SOUFAN: Thank you. Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: A really important career and really, really important insights.
And now, we're switching gears to the demise of the newspaper, the rise of politically partisan so-called journalism, the dominance of social media
My next guest wanted to explain them all, and so he followed the old adage - follow the money. It led Ken Auletta to the advertising industry,
discovering it to be in a state of chaos.
It's the subject of his latest book, "Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)".
A long time writer for "The New Yorker", he told me why we should all care and also how, as an intrepid media reporter, more than 15 years ago, he
came close to getting the goods on Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse and why back then he couldn't publish.
Ken Auletta, welcome to the program.
KEN AULETTA: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, "Frenemies" - the book is called "Frenemies" and the subtitle is "The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)".
Right. So, explain, in this case, what frenemies means?
[17:15:06] AULETTA: Frenemies is basically, if you're in the advertising business and you have an agency, which does much of the advertising -
advertising and marketing is a $2 trillion worldwide industry. And so, it's huge. And it supports and funds all media and certainly - and much of
So, if you're an agency today and you suddenly - the people you sell your ads to, let's say "The New York Times" or "BuzzFeed" or a TV network, what
are those TV networks and newspapers and magazines increasingly doing. They're becoming ad agencies and they're saying let's bypass the agency and
create ads directly and go directly to the client.
So, your former partners who you sold - publishing partners who you sold ads to are now frenemies.
But PR agencies increasingly getting into the advertising business, the consulting companies that used to be Deloitte, who used to be accountants,
and McKinsey, which used to be your consulting companies, are aggressively buying up ad agencies and particularly digital agencies getting into that
business. Facebook and Google are bypassing you and going directly to the clients et cetera, et cetera.
Then, the biggest frenemy is the public. The public is basically saying we're annoyed by your ads. Your ads are too long. They're too intrusive.
Particularly on my cell phone, I don't want to be interrupted by your ads.
So, 20 percent of Americans, one-third of Western Europeans use something call ad blockers to block ads.
AMANPOUR: And yet, programs such as this one and many, many others on network television and the like depend on them, right? What will happen in
five years from now to the kind of programming we're watching on TV right now?
AULETTA: Sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.
The reason that I wrote this book, I don't see this is a book about just the advertising industry. I see it as a book about an industry that
subsidizes the media.
And without that subsidy, much of the media will continue to die in a much more accelerated rate.
AMANPOUR: So, let's just play slight devil's advocate. All of these things you say are correct and the story of the demise of the media as we
know it has been told over and over again. And yet, we're still flourishing.
And I would say, and many say, and you probably have written about it too, in the post-Trump era, it's flourishing even more. How do you square that
AULETTA: I don't think it is flourishing. I would actually challenge the assumption or conclusion that it's flourishing. Newspapers are dying.
I mean, you could argue that "The New York Times" is strong today and you could argue the ratings because of Trump are up. Certainly cable news
But what's happening to the "Detroit News". What's happening to local newspapers around this country and in other parts of the world. They're
dying. They're not flourishing.
And they're dying in part because advertising is dying. It used to be that, in general, the advertising revenues from classified ads provided
roughly a quarter of the advertising revenues for each newspaper.
There are no more classified ads in newspapers. And so, with that, the consequence of that are profound.
AMANPOUR: That has consequences beyond our business and beyond the right to have really professional journalism and news committees. Because, do
you think that the dying off of local news organizations, whether print, radio, TV, especially in the heartland of the United States - do you think
there's a straight line between that and the disconnect that we're all so surprised about in the Trump victory?
AULETTA: I've always had a question. I mean, one of the things that's really depressing as someone who covers the media and has for many years is
the low regard in which we are held by the public, including the public in the heartland, probably more so than in cities like New York or Los Angeles
And that's a huge problem because it means that when we report facts, those facts are not accepted as facts by large number of Americans who hold us in
low regard. And so, how do we adjudicate things?
I mean, we report that President Trump said the following. He then says, I never said that. Well, he did say it. And yet, a large portion of the
population believes him rather than the facts that we produce. That's very corrosive to a democracy.
And how do you do? What happens if, in fact, Trump is charged by special prosecutor Mueller with certain charges and people don't believe those
charges and they believe, as Trump has said, it's a witch hunt. Oh, my God!
[17:20:05] AMANPOUR: And what about - in the epic disruption that you describe in "Frenemies", what about this consolidation of media power? For
instance, you've got the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is local television stations, it controls almost 200 TV stations and reaches more
than 60 percent of American households.
And there's a new cycle, "Dead Spin", which produced an amazing sort of supercut of this. Let's just play this and we'll talk about it.
AMANPOUR: That's a little like Dante's, I don't know, "Nine Circles of Hell", but this is a deeply conservative organization, and that mashup was
scripts given to each and every station where they just had to read it over certain issues. So, every single station was reading the same thing.
So, describe for American viewers what means to their knowledge base.
AULETTA: The knowledge base is skewed to a certain set of facts that are ideologically driven. They satisfy President Trump's ideological desires.
They are his supporters. He's going to welcome that.
Whereas, he doesn't like CNN. So, he presumably has had a say on having the FCC and the Justice Department bring an antitrust action against AT&T
which wants to acquire CNN.
AMANPOUR: Ronan Farrow, who published his #MeToo exclusives in "The New Yorker", for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, he has won the Livingston Award
as we spoke as well.
He credits you and a lot of your previous reporting on Harvey Weinstein and a lot of your sort of mentoring and moral support to him for enabling him
to be able to carry on with this story. Tell us a little bit about that and why perhaps didn't you write this story.
AULETTA: Well, I tried to. In 2002, I profiled Harvey and I came within inches of having - I knew about his sexual predation. And I knew women. I
had names. I could - women would whisper to me. Men would whisper to me. But no one would put their name on the story.
I confronted Harvey Weinstein in 2002 with it. We almost - I thought we were going to come to blows over it because he was enraged, he knew I had
evidence of him - I thought I had evidence of him raping a woman during the making of "Shakespeare in Love".
And he basically said - his defense was - after he settled down, actually started to cry. He said Ken this was a consensual affair and you're going
to ruin my marriage and my kids' life - he had three young daughters then with his first marriage - if you print that.
David Remnick and I - the editor of "The New Yorker" - then had to make a decision. Do we publish something with anonymous sources even though we
believed it was true? As Remnick pointed out, "The Washington Post" had 11 women on the front page accusing former Senator Robert Packwood of sexual
harassment. These were women who identified themselves by name. We had no one by name.
So, we decided not to write the story. We wrote about Harvey, what a bully he was, and his sexual predation was an extension of that physical bullying
of other people.
Then, in 2015, I tried once again - twice - to nail him for predation and I couldn't get anyone to go on the record.
Ronan Farrow calls me up last spring and he says - he interviews me about Harvey. On the phone, we talk. He said, Ken, your papers and your tapes
of interviews or your pieces including Harvey Weinstein are donated to New York Public Library. Can I have access to them.
I gave him access to them. He listened to that. He said, can I come in? He interviews me. He tells me he had eight women, three of them on camera
testifying Harvey's predations and five of them off-camera, but nevertheless their voices talking about Harvey's behavior and he had the
tape of the Italian model who Harvey had grabbed her breasts and tried to solicit and the police had a tape of that.
I said this is fabulous. You've got the goods, Ronan. I said what's the next step. He said, I take it to NBC. I meet with the president of NBC
News the first week in August. This is last August.
So, I emailed him the second week in August; and I said, so what happened. He said they turned it down. They didn't think I had enough evidence to go
on camera. I said that's crazy.
I then introduced him to David Remnick. And I had nothing to do with it after. I mean, I just testified to David Remnick, this was a serious young
man as he's proven.
[17:25:03] AMANPOUR: Ken, you said that you couldn't publish your story because you didn't have people on the record and you just couldn't do it.
Do you, in retrospect, wish you had done it even with anonymous sources? And do you think if you had done it then, it might've protected and save
some of the subsequent women who claimed that they were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein?
AULETTA: That's a fair question, Christiane. But "The New Yorker" is not "The National Enquirer". We're not going to publish - you don't publish a
story that has a profound impact on people and children when you don't have proof.
And I didn't have proof. I basically had people whispering to me, but they didn't have the courage or they were too afraid to come public with it.
Might it have had an effect? Yes. Do I think about that? Of course, I do.
But I also think about journalism. And I think, as a journalist, I think the decision that "The New Yorker" made was the right decision at the time,
even though - do I have questions whether it would've had an impact? Yes.
But our job is not - means and ends matter here. And using foul means to get to a good end is not the way to go, in my judgment.
AMANPOUR: We I've in amazing times. Ken Auletta, author of "Frenemies", thank you so much for joining us.
AULETTA: My pleasure, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at Amanpour.com and you can
follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.