Should U.S. intelligence agencies have seen September 11th coming?
Have we failed to keep up with the activities and plans of terrorists
around the world? Former CIA operative Robert Baer has written an explosive
new book called See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the
Cia's War on Terrorism.
He talked with Pat Robertson about the major changes he has seen in the
CIA in the last two decades and how those changes have crippled the agency.
PAT ROBERTSON: Ladies and gentlemen, if you read this book,
called See No Evil, it really will bring tears to your eyes or anger
at your heart at the failure of U.S. intelligence over the years. And
I want to read something from the latter part of it. It says, "Whether
it was Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat, Iranian terrorism, Saddam Hussein
or any of the other evils that so threaten the world, the Clinton administration
seemed determined to sweep them all under the carpet. Ronald Reagan
and George Bush before Clinton were not much better. The mantra at 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to be: ¡®Get through the term, keep the
bad news from the newspapers, dump the nay-sayers, gather money for
the next election, gobs and gobs of it, and let some other administration
down the line deal with it.¡¯" And what was worse, the CIA
went along for the ride. Robert Baer, this is a very intriguing book
you have written. How did the CIA let you get away with it, by the way?
ROBERT BAER: It took me two years working with them before we
arrived with a text. But still, they are not very happy.
ROBERTSON: This is a damning indictment, of the Clinton administration
particularly. Dick Morris was talking the other day about how they ignored
it. What was it? You are saying the politicians just didn't want to
hear these pieces of bad information?
BAER: Let¡¯s start with Iran. We knew that Iran was planning
to blow up a U.S. facility in Saudi Arabia from 1991 and we did nothing
about it. It finally happened in 1995 and again in 1996 with Khobar.
We turned the other way. That¡¯s why the book is called See No Evil.
We just ignored it.
ROBERTSON: Talk about Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, I understand,
supposedly arrested a couple of people and executed them immediately
without giving us a chance to interrogate them. Are the Saudis the people,
from your knowledge, are they with the terrorists in terms of what they
are doing against America?
BAER: Pat, absolutely, they are complicitous. They covered up
the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. They didn't help on Khobar, they
didn't help on the National Guard barracks in which five Americans died,
and they are not helping with the current investigation. This operation,
September 11th, was funded through Saudi Arabia and not just Afghanistan.
We are getting no cooperation. It¡¯s scandalous.
ROBERTSON: You talk about the Saudi Arabian royals. I don't
know whether the term would be "stealing the money" or just
profiting from this gusher of oil money that comes in to them and the
poor are not getting their share. Is that the way it is?
BAER: It¡¯s true. The people who were the suicide bombers
came from Assir Province where they don't have jobs, they don¡¯t
have work, and the royal family takes all of that money and goes to
Switzerland and Nice [France] and spends it on who knows what.
ROBERTSON: You were in Lebanon, and I understand you had a line
on the man who blew up those marines in Lebanon. And you wanted to get
him but you couldn't?
BAER: Pat, I had the opportunity to eliminate the man, let¡¯s
put it that way, but it is against the law, and I certainly wasn't going
to do that on my own hook. We in the CIA have always obeyed the law
when we can, there¡¯s been a few exceptions. But I just couldn¡¯t
do it because the policy was not to assassinate people and I let the
ROBERTSON: What was his name and is he still at large?
BAER: Imad Mugniyah. He is still at large and there¡¯s an
award for him. There¡¯s a good chance, and I have no current information,
but there¡¯s a good chance he was working with Osama bin Laden and
ROBERTSON: Mugniyah was funded, I presume, out of Iran. Did
you have a clear connection with that?
BAER: He was funded entirely from Iran. We saw the connection.
The first embassy bombing in 1983 and the Marines bombing later that
year were all funded and coordinated by Iran. It was very clear to us.
ROBERTSON: You wanted to capture him but your contacts said,
"We can't capture him but we can kill him for you."
BAER: That¡¯s the way things work over in Lebanon. They
thought I was crazy to arrest him. They said, "Are you nuts?! We¡¯ll
blow him up with a car bomb."
ROBERTSON: You sent the information back to the CIA headquarters?
What did they tell you?
BAER: On the car bomb, I didn't bother telling them because
I knew what the answer was going to be. I just let it go, I dropped
the contact. That kind of contact got us in trouble back in those days
with the Department of Justice and I got rid of them.
ROBERTSON: Now let's switch a bit to our friends down there
in the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. You said in your book,
as I recall, that the first telephone call to Ayatollah Khomeini was
from Arafat. How close were they with the Iranians?
BAER: They were very close. When the new regime came in Tehran
in 1979, Arafat helped to carry out a couple of terrorist attacks in
Paris and Germany and Lebanon. He turned his networks over to the Iranians
ROBERTSON: What is the deal with him? He got a Nobel Peace Prize.
Are we being totally hoodwinked, we keep saying we want him to restrain
terror, but he¡¯s the leading terrorist. How does that compute?
BAER: It doesn't compute. Because in 1993 when he decided he
wanted to make peace, I would have forced him to give up the terrorist
networks and tell us who these people were and help us with the arrests,
but we didn't. It was just too easy putting everything behind us and
I think that was a mistake.
ROBERTSON: How do these things link. Do they link? You have
a number of groups: Egyptian Jihad, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.
How do they tie together?
BAER: They all work together and are at war with the United
States. All are in the same side in this war. And they all want to throw
us out of the Middle East.
ROBERTSON: What do you do about it, as a nation? How do we handle
BAER: You insist on any nation that supports terrorists and
covers up terrorist operations or harbors them, you have to do something
about it early on. The problem gets worse as we saw in the 80¡¯s.
ROBERTSON: You can't assassinate these guys and we¡¯re certainly
not going into Iran and capture terrorists, you¡¯re not going to
do the same thing in Iraq. I recommended a couple of years ago that
we go in after Saddam Hussein and take him out, but there was, you know,
a shudder of horror in America, what a shocking suggestion. But how
do you deal with them?
BAER: You can do a covert action. If the Iranians support terrorists,
we can find terrorists that oppose them, if we want, just to teach them
a lesson. You have to go to war with these people, they are at war with
us. You just can¡¯t ignore it.
ROBERTSON: Let¡¯s go into Iraq. I understand you were in
on a very well planned operation that was going to move Saddam out.
Can you tell us what was planned there?
BAER: It was a two-phase operation that was going to start in
March 1995, with an insurrection in the North, what we considered a
diversion. But the diversion was only to cover a well-planned coup d'¨¦tat
against Saddam in Tikrit. We had 12 tanks, we were going to box him
in and remove him from power all in the course of 12 hours. But 36 hours
before the operation went down, I received a message from the White
House saying that the operation was totally compromised. That was never
explained. They never said whether the 12 tanks were compromised, and
it ultimately failed although in the end we did overrun three Iraqi
ROBERTSON: This Tikrit thing, Saddam was going to flee from
Baghdad because the generals were going to squeeze him and he would
go up to the safe house?
BAER: As a safe haven, he had a small fortress up there. But
that was the trap. We had somebody in his security service that was
going to tell us when he would leave Baghdad, go to Tikrit, and as soon
as he got on a helicopter or in a car we were going to move on him with
the twelve tanks.
ROBERTSON: And the Clinton administration, was it the White
House or was it the CIA headquarters?
BAER: It was the White House that pulled the plug.
ROBERTSON: The White House. Who in the White House did that?
BAER: Tony Lake [former Clinton national security advisor] and
ROBERTSON: And Clinton. Together?
BAER: Together, in a meeting.
ROBERTSON: And why not? Why didn't they want to move. They said
it was compromised, but that was part of your plan, wasn¡¯t it?
BAER: It was. It was part of the diversion. I think they were
scared that Iraq, as far as I can tell ¡ª and I wasn¡¯t in these
councils that were going on, and no one ever told me what happened afterwards
¡ª I think they were afraid of what was going to happen and they
only cared about the status quo. It¡¯s just like Iran. All we cared
about was keeping the status quo, pushing the problems off to the next
administration, and that's why this administration is facing a terrible
problem with Saddam, a worse problem.
ROBERTSON: You mentioned that there was a particular lady trying
to favor an oil company and therefore was sort of cooling our response
to Iran. Could you elaborate on that?
BAER: She wanted us to stand down on operations against Iran
in the Caspian. And she forbade specifically an operation against Iranians
in one country which I can¡¯t mention, and that was later withdrawn
under the threat of Congressional pressure. But they were more concerned
about building that pipeline from the Caspian to the Mediterranean than
they were about stopping the Iranians.
ROBERTSON: And she was high up in the Clinton administration?
BAER: On the National Security Council.
ROBERTSON: And she's still there?
BAER: No, she has left.
ROBERTSON: We can be grateful for that.
ROBERTSON: Tell us how the set-up is. I was talking to someone
that was in touch with some high level people in the Justice Department.
And the word is that these terrorists are still out there still looking
for an opportunity and they are coming against us pretty heavily. Can
you tell us where you think they'll hit next?
BAER: They will hit the United States. They will do a big operation.
The fact that bin Laden got away, they¡¯ll give that time to set
in, then they will hit us and he will announce it, it¡¯s psychological
warfare. And all of these people are compartmented, it¡¯s very difficult
to run them all in. And in any covert action of war like this, you have
to have a follow-up operation to September 11th, it is going to be on
their timing, and it¡¯s going to be surprise to us where and when.
ROBERTSON: Do you have any kind of back-channel feeling as to
what the next target will be in America?
BAER: No, sir.
ROBERTSON: Is the CIA back in the game or on the sidelines?
BAER: The CIA is getting back in the game. It is going to be
hard to do, putting people back on the ground. But I think this current
director is committed to restoring the CIA. It wasn¡¯t his fault,
I think he's a good guy. Now, he's been given a mandate to go back in
business and that will take us a couple of years, maybe three or four.
ROBERTSON: But we don't have three or four years.
BAER: We will get hit before they are back in business for sure.
ROBERTSON: One more question, and I could talk for an hour or
two because this is so fascinating. Stansfield Turner under Jimmy Carter
was the one who was blamed for dismantling the human intelligence at
the CIA, is that where the blame should be or is it a cumulative thing
over the decades?
BAER: It¡¯s cumulative. But when he came in, I was working
at the CIA during the October massacre when he fired hundreds of people
and demoralized the agency. I was too junior to know the long-term effect.
But he certainly contributed to bringing the CIA down, no question about
ROBERTSON: And were subsequent directors the same? John Deutsch
didn¡¯t exactly cover himself with glory.
BAER: Deutsch came out and said he didn't like the CIA. He said
the officers were not any good, and the director of operation. That
destroyed morale and this came out in The New York Times Magazine. That
hurt a lot, too.
ROBERTSON: This is a tough problem, I don't know what to say.
You said in your book with all of the resources we have, it was a couple
of brave Americans that kept one of those planes from hitting the White
House. I guess that¡¯s the last line of defense, brave Americans.
BAER: When I heard that I was furious. What are we spending
$30 billion for if we have passengers on a passenger airliner defending
the White House.
ROBERTSON: That's the way it is. Robert Baer, I wish we could
talk more. But ladies and gentlemen, this is a fascinating book, you
ought to get it. See No Evil, by Crown Publishers, available
in the bookstores now. And you really ought to read this one. Thank
you so much.
BAER: Thank you for having me.
ROBERTSON: We appreciate it.