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An Exclusive Interview with Oliver North

The Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Discusses Osama Bin Laden, the War on Terrorism and President Bush
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Spy Scandal, May/Jun 02

(continued from page 1)

Q: Do you think he believed it was a success?

A: He expected the casualties to be much greater. If al Qaeda really knew America, instead of attacking at 8:45 in the morning, the time to attack would have been 10:45 in the morning. Then, instead of 2,800 to 2,900 dead, you might have had 30,000 dead! But remember something about what I just said. This was a classic terrorist attack. The Irish Republican Army has done it. This kind of attack happens all the time in the Middle East. You set off the bomb. You wait twenty minutes for all the first responders to show up and then you set off the second one. That's what the World Trade Center was. That's why I say the World Trade Center was the perfect model. One airplane, twenty minutes later the other airplane.

There are a lot of folks who've looked at the attack that are convinced Flight 93, that went into the field in Pennsylvania, would probably have hit the White House twenty minutes after the plane that hit the Pentagon. The guy that hit the Pentagon just wasn't high enough when he made that turn, and basically wasn't in control when he hit it. He just didn't have quite enough flight training.

Q: Where do you think bin Laden is hiding?

A: I think bin Laden's dead. The guys on the ground are convinced that he's dead and they give two reasons. One, he hasn't been heard from since December; two, the guy is such a megalomaniac that there are hundreds of miles of videotape of this guy. It's not just the stuff we've seen. This guy was giving interviews for years to Al-Jazeera, which we all in the television business call Jihad TV. He had his own favorite news crew that he dealt with. He had his own favorite reporters with Al-Jazeera and a number of other Pakistani, Saudi Arabian and Yemeni and Egyptian newspapers. And we've not seen or heard from him since mid-December.

Q: Do you believe that he has been surprised by the U.S. response to the attacks?

A: Absolutely. He's shell-shocked, if he's still alive. I think he was shell-shocked the moment that that Penetrator landed on top of his bunker. He never imagined that an American president had the leadership ability or the guts to respond the way we have. I think he really did believe his own propaganda. Look at the things he's been saying about us, not only that we're 'the Satan,' but that we're hollow, we've no core, we've no courage. He believed it.

Q: If he is dead, as you believe, how do you assess the remaining capabilities of al Qaeda? A: There's an old Texas expression: when you fall into a snakepit, what snake do you kill first? That's the snake that last bit you! You grab it and you kill it. The organization without him as its visible leader is badly damaged. It's still dangerous. But he fired his best shot on 9/11. He took nineteen of his most effective terrorists and killed them. He had built a system. The president touched on this a couple of days after in the State of the Union. I won't try to paraphrase him, but look at what transpired in building up to 9/11. What bin Laden and his organization did is they took young men many times away from their families, put them into a tutoring system where he taught them to hate, taught them to kill, and taught them to kill themselves. That's all being broken up now.

So the long-range prognosis for al Qaeda's continued operations, and as a serious threat, is not good. Not just in Pakistan or even in Saudi Arabia, but in Indonesia, the Philippines. In much of the Islamic world there is a new awareness about how dangerous bin Laden's kind of philosophy is, or if you will, theology. It's a very twisted perspective on life. Therefore, as a viable entity, its long-range prognosis is not good. In the short range, I think we have to assume that security alerts like today [February 13] are going to continue. There are very likely dozens of other al Qaeda terrorists in the United States.

Q: When you were dealing with terrorism in your role in President Reagan's White House, there wasn't much doubt about where the terrorist groups were getting their support. It was a Cold War phenomenon that was being supported by the Soviet Union. In those days, was any thought given to this other version of terrorism, the Islamic fundamentalist group, and did anyone think then that it would transform into what it's become today?


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