Domestic Safety Since Sept. 11: Michael Scheuer

More Interviews in the Series

From 1996 to 1999, CIA officer Michael Scheuer ran the unit charged with hunting down Osama bin Laden. Scheuer says he believes the United States is actually less secure today than it was on Sept. 11, 2001.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, processing the events of 9/11 and the pain that followed through photography. Go online now to npr.org. You can see what we're going to be talking about.

BRAND: First, the White House says it has asked all broadcast networks to carry a speech Monday night by President Bush. A spokesman said the president wants to speak to the country on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and said his remarks would not be political.

CHADWICK: This week, various experts have been explaining to us how they think the U.S. has managed to avoid a second attack. We conclude today with a former CIA officer, Michael Scheuer. He once led the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. When I asked him why we haven't been hit again, Michael Scheuer said we have been.

Mr. MICHAEL SCHEUER (Former CIA Agent): The enemy we face has defined the war as: bleed America to bankruptcy. And if you look at it from the enemy's perspective, America's been attacked every day since 9/11. We're mired in two losing wars overseas, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're spending extraordinary amounts of money on Homeland Security and the military overseas. Our politics are as polarized as they have been in the last quarter century, and the American public is psychologically prepared for yet another attack.

It would be very difficult for me to say that America hasn't been under attack every day since 9/11.

CHADWICK: But we haven't suffered a big, spectacular terrorist incident anything like 9/11.

Mr. SCHEUER: That's right, sir.

CHADWICK: And we have said, various leaders have said, the president's advisor on terrorism said this week, we're overdue for an attack. Why hasn't that occurred?

Mr. SCHEUER: It hasn't occurred because the one maladroitness of bin Laden's and his lieutenants of their rhetoric has been to promise that each attack would be more severe than the last. And so in a sense, they're the victim of their own success. They need to attack us, but it has to be larger than 9/11 or else it will look like a defeat. And frankly, if they had been willing to settle for intifada-type attacks, blowing up restaurants or pizza parlors or movie theaters or shooting up a mall, they would be doing that today. America is just about defenseless against that kind of intifada-type attack. I would take very little solace from the fact that we haven't been attacked yet.

CHADWICK: One wonders, because in the document released by the White House this week on the national strategy on the war on terrorism, that document describes al-Qaida as badly damaged, as severely impacted by what we've done so far, and no longer so centrally directed. Rather, it describes the threat as a series of more or less autonomous cells, the kinds of groups which one would think would carry out exactly the kinds of smaller-scale attacks that you describe.

Mr. SCHEUER: Mr. Chadwick, I really think that that is more analysis by assertion than anything else. It sounds good if you say it fast, but there's really no substance to that assertion.

CHADWICK: Are you speaking to mine or the administration's?

Mr. SCHEUER: No, sir, of the administration's, I'm sorry. Unfortunately, when the president or Senator Kerry or really any politician says well, we've killed two-thirds of their leadership since 9/11, that's both true and irrelevant.

Al-Qaida at base is not a terrorist organization. It is an insurgent organization. It was formed during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and they planned for succession. They don't want to lose leaders, but they're always expecting to lose leaders. You know, the proof of the pudding is in the fact that we've captured so many number twos and number threes and number fours in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The simple multiplicity of those people that we've captured I think is a very strong indication of how well al-Qaida plans for succession.

CHADWICK: When the president announces that we have been running these secret prisons overseas, that we are taking the prisoners from them and moving them to Guantanamo Bay and that he needs new legislation to determine how we handle these prisoners and how we try them - how we try to bring them to justice - what is your view of what has developed this week in the war on terror?

Mr. SCHEUER: Well, I hope it means that we have exhausted the utility of these gentlemen that we captured before we transferred them to Guantanamo Bay. I have always been of the opinion that these people should be treated as prisoners of war, just as we did the Germans or the Japanese during World War II. They can still be interrogated, we would still have the information that we captured along with them, whether it was computers or address books or telephone agendas. That would remove the self-inflicted wound, whether it's CIA prisons or Guantanamo Bay or whatever it is. I'm not one that believes these people are rightly put in the category of criminals. I think they are a combat enemy and should be treated as such.

CHADWICK: Michael Scheuer, do you think we are safer now than we were on September 11, 2001?

Mr. SCHEUER: No, I don't think so, sir. I think at the end of the day, there was a couple of touchstones for American security, domestic security, after 9/11. The first was the very touchy but necessary subject of border control and immigration. All levels of U.S. law enforcement are unable to find out who is in our country on any given day. So if we did nothing to control the borders, and that's exactly what happened, that was not a step in the right direction.

The second touchstone for me, and I hate to be the guy that, you know, is saying the sky is falling, but it seems to me that a huge piece of negligence on the part of the American government has been the failure to push to conclusion the program that we have with the Russian government to secure the rest of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, an arsenal that numbers 22,000 nuclear weapons.

When you combine open borders with the very strong possibility of some kind of a loose nuclear weapon, and you know that al-Qaida has been after such a weapon since at least 1992, and plus when you add in Iraq, that just broke the back of our counter-terrorism program. There is no way to think that America is any safer today than it was in 9/11.

CHADWICK: Michael Scheuer worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for more than 20 years. From 1996 to 1999, he ran Alec Station, the unit focused on hunting down Osama Bin Laden. He's the author of the books Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies' Eyes. Michael Scheuer, thank you.

Mr. SCHEUER: A pleasure, sir, thank you very much.

CHADWICK: This debate continues, of course. DAY TO DAY invites you to participate. Why haven't we been attacked again since 9/11? At npr.org, click the contact us button. We'll read from your responses next week. And stay on the Web site for this next story so you can see what we're talking about.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: