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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 4)

Q: Say Ollie North gets the phone call tomorrow: We want you in charge of the antiterror campaign. What would you do differently?

A: Well, I've been replaced by a four-star general at the White House. He's doing a great job. Quite honestly, a lot of us, who worked for a great president, looked with some envy on what this president's been able to do. Now, no one would envy what happened to bring it about, but what this president's been able to do is to galvanize the world to cooperate in a manner we were unable to do. That's a sign of real leadership. That's a sign of steadfastness.

Q: Today, the country was given another alert to be ready for another attack (February 13). Do you think those alerts are a wise thing? If you were running the campaign at this point, would you be constantly reissuing alerts?

A: Yes. For two reasons. Look at the Richard Reid shoe bomber case. Richard Reid's flying from Europe to the United States and he tries to detonate his sneakers. An alert passenger alerts the flight attendant, and the flight attendant and the passenger and then several other passengers disable the guy and take him out from maybe blowing a hole in the airplane.

When you send out an alert like today, and this is the fourth one, the chances are that some people will pay more attention. Certainly the 18,000 law enforcement organizations—federal, state and local—are paying more attention. I think what you do is you have to chance that an alert passenger or an alert American driving down the street says, "That's the guy I just saw," and calls 911 or the FBI tip line. John Walsh, who's also a Fox network guy, had to convince the FBI to help out. The FBI did not want to cooperate with John Walsh when he started "America's Most Wanted." Well, there are thousands of people who call in every week; there's millions more who just watch. Scores of criminals have been caught. Lives have been saved because people have said, "Hey. That's the guy down the street." I think there's proof that that kind of thing can pay off. Does it? No, not yet, but I think it's a good chance that some alert American is going to say, "I saw that guy! He delivers my newspaper."

Q: Isn't there the danger of the government crying wolf once too often?

A: Politically it's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. You don't do what Governor Gray Davis did in California by saying, "Oh my God. Everybody stay off the bridges!" What you do is you say, "We've got a definitive threat. We don't know where it is and here are the people who may well be in the country trying to perpetrate it." Meanwhile, you've got Interpol and every national law enforcement organization in the world alerted to the fact that if this guy's in your country, we want him!

Q: What's your assessment of how the government responded initially to 9/11?

A: Well, we're now looking back 154 days from today. If you consider what took place on 9/11, there are several remarkable things about it. Number one: it is the most serious terrorist event that's ever happened in the history of man. Number two: there were more American casualties than any other terrorist event. Number three: there were more aircraft hijacked than in any other single event. Three was the other record, back in the '70s. Number four: a larger number of terrorists who were involved in it than any other single terrorist event.

Over the course of my time when I was the U.S. government's counterterrorism coordinator, from 1983 to '86, we were concerned generally about the Soviet proxy—supported terrorist organizations that have [now] all disappeared: M-19, Baader-Meinhof, the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigade—all of those groups that somehow disappeared when the wall came down. They were generally very small organizations, not suicidal. The effort was to perpetrate an act of terrorism and survive the experience, because they wanted to crow about it.

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