Part III of Our Interview with Michael Scheuer
Posted by Joshua Price on September 6, 2007
Here is the third and final part of our interview with Michael Scheuer.
Price: Why do we continue to consider the UAE such a wonderful and important ally in the War on Terror? This administration continues to trot out how important it is to have an Arab ally in the Middle East, or at least that was one of the reasons given for the Dubai Ports scandal. I don’t disagree with the importance of having an Arab ally, but many, including myself, would not call the UAE a great ally, especially with their questionable ties to terrorism. Why do we still consider them an ally?
Scheuer: Because it’s very hard for Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton before him to tell the American people the truth-that we cannot cross these Arab countries on the Persian Gulf because of oil, and because they own so much of our treasury debt. You know people always say, Well we have to get the Saudis to do this or the Emiratis to do that, all we would get if we tried tell them to do something like that is a laugh because they’re a very realistic people and they’re survivors; they know they have us by the throat, really, if push came to shove.
At the end of the day, it’s another example of our relationships of people trying to undermine us-the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Kuwaitis. They know the score: they control the oil; they buy our debt; they’re very close to a lot of retired American ambassadors and generals and presidents. No American politician is going to say, listen, we really don’t have much independence anymore for these reasons and one of them, of course, is our beholdenness, if you will, to the Gulf Arabs.
Price: We all know the situation with our borders: out of one side of this administration’s mouth hear all about homeland and national security, and out of the other we hear about essentially giving amnesty to the illegals currently here. And with that said, there has been a lot of speculation-I don’t know how much of it has been substantiated-that there are al-Qaeda sleeper cells and other terrorists in this country, probably gaining access through our border with Mexico. Do you believe there are al-Qaeda members and other terrorists, and possibly even suitcase nukes, currently in this country? Do you lend any credence to those reports?
Scheuer: Oh absolutely. I think that the National Intelligence Estimate that came out just last month from Admiral McConnell was an excellent piece of work. It said that we haven’t seriously harmed al-Qaeda and that they’re here in our country-and there’s no reason to believe that they’re not. I think it was very courageous of Admiral McConnell to clearly rebut and refute the FBI’s claim that they’re not here. I think Americans should pay close attention to that NIE that was released.
The other thing I would say–you know when you’re under attack, it’s kind of important to do the things that are possible for you to control yourself. You can’t protect yourself from things you can’t control. But in the case of the aftermath of 9/11 there were only two things that we were completely able to do ourselves: the first was to control our borders. You know, all of this business about guest-workers and visas and amnesty-that’s all political stuff. What the borders are about is protecting America. We, since 9/11, have not given law enforcement, at any level-federal, local, or state-even a fighting chance to defend us. I think the last number I read was we have twelve million undocumented people in our country, and that pool grows every day. So we-all the talk about homeland security, and all the massive amount of money being spent, is really of marginal use. If al-Qaeda is stupid enough to come across the border at Windsor and Detroit on the Canadian border wearing an al-Qaeda t-shirt and carrying a nuclear device that they put through the x-ray, well we’ll probably stop them. But if they come across the Mexican border, if they come across the Canadian border in Alberta or Manitoba, we’re not going to stop them. So as long as nothing is done about the borders there’s no reason for Americans to take comfort in anything that’s been done visa-vi homeland security.
The other thing that absolutely had to be done and wasn’t was finishing the securing of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. Former Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar were just there this week pushing, pushing for that program to be completed. The last time I heard Senator Lugar mention a total he mentioned that forty percent of the Soviet’s twenty-two thousand nuclear weapons were fully secured; that leaves quite a few open for unaccountability, and we know that Bin Laden has been after one-that money is no object for him-that he’s been after one since 1992. So, when I’m in the discussion about homeland security those are the two things that occur to me immediately. If you haven’t done the things that you can control then you really have done much for your country.
Price: I want to ask a question that I have never really heard asked. Every holiday or major event like the Super Bowl, we hear about how we need to elevate our security awareness because of a potential attack. It seems to me that-and I’ve heard al-Qaeda characterize as a learning organization-is not going to attack on an obvious day or occasion. Do you think holiday like the Fourth of July or an event like the Super Bowl is too obvious for an attack?
Scheuer: Well, you know, I think it is. I think, first of all, the Super Bowl or a sporting event by and large doesn’t serve al-Qaeda’s purposes. It’s too small; it would have too small an effect on our economy; and it would, more or less, unite Americans more than it would to prove to them that their government couldn’t defend the country. So, in my experience, al-Qaeda pays no attention to holidays.
Between 1996 and when I resigned in 2004, all of my officers and myself basically lost New Years, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Super Bowl Sunday, because we had to work because the policymakers were afraid we were going to be attacked, and it seems to me that they were just covering their butts. When al-Qaeda attacks us they’re going to look for a target and an opportunity that’s bigger than 9/11, and they want three things: they want a lot of human casualties; even more they want economic damage. Bin Laden has described this war was the bleed America to bankruptcy war, so that’s their major target. And the third thing is they would like to cause enough damage that only the U.S. military could clean up-only the military would have enough doctors and policemen to quarantine areas if it was a WMD weapon, the medical doctors to bring in. They really want to tie up the American military to whatever extent they can inside of America.
So, I’m not one-and you know, you never say never-but I don’t think they’re going to try to key it to an American holiday. They might try to key it to something in the Quran or in the Prophet’s life, but I don’t think they care about attacking us on Thanksgiving, for example.
Price: Now it has been, I believe, over a year since we have heard from Bin Laden, either in the form of a video or audio. Is there anything to read into that? Do you believe that Zawahri is now in control of al-Qaeda and that he and Bin Laden are traveling separately?
Scheuer: You know, they have a record of traveling together. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re probably in roughly the same location. I’m one that doesn’t think they move very often. That wherever they are, they’re pretty stationary because when you’re a terrorist or an insurgent you’re most at risk when you’re moving. And if the Hollywood scenario that all of the presidential candidates spin about Bin Laden and his lieutenants running from rock to rock and cave to cave-if that was true we would have had him a long time ago. I think they’re pretty much stationary.
I also think that Bin Laden knows something that we in the West have forgotten, and that’s the power of silence. When he doesn’t speak for a year at a time or more people begin to play the game, Is he dead? What’s wrong with him? Did Zawahri take his place? Did Bin Laden retire? And then all of a sudden he pops up and dominates the international media and reminds everybody that the greatest superpower ever known on earth hasn’t been able to get him in the past six years-nearly twelve years now. So I think it’s a combination of those things.
I truly believe that if he was dead they would’ve announced it. In his culture death would be grieved of course, but it would be celebrated because he would’ve become a martyr. And also we have pretty hard evidence more than a decade now that al-Qaeda never tries to hide the death of its senior leaders, or their capture. Within twenty-four, fort-eight hours they announce the demise of a leader, and often they, at the same time, announce the replacement and often try to shove our nose in it by publishing on the Internet the successor’s curriculum-vitae.
So, I tend to think there’s a lot more thought going into whatever Bin Laden’s doing at the moment. The fear of being found, I don’t think that’s a big fear at all.
Price: Do you believe that if he stills has the capability he will follow is pattern of issuing a video or audio tape to announce an attack?
Scheuer: I think he’s done all he needs to do in that regard. After 9/11 he was criticized by his peers for three different things: first, for killing so many Americans without having valid religious authorization; second, for not warning us enough; and third, for not offering us a chance to convert.
On the last two, the warning and the conversion sound comical to Americans, but it’s very important in Islam. The Prophet said always fighting is your last resort, offer a truce, offer conversion-which implicitly there would be no more confrontation between two sides because they’d all be on one side-and warn them repeatedly. And Bin Laden since 2002 has warned us himself at least four times. Three times he has offered to lead us into Islam-to our conversion-and he’s offered two truces, one to the United States and one to the Europeans. So he’s punched all those tickets about Islamic requirements.
Price: Mr. Scheuer I hate to end on such a depressing note, but I want to ask about something I have heard you say in the last couple of years, and that is that Bin Laden received an Islamic blessing from a cleric or imam to kill no more than 10,000,000 people. Could you comment on that?
Scheuer: Yeah, he received-people call it a fatwah, but it was a treatise from a very important Saudi scholar. A young man about thirty-five at the time in May 2003, and the question that was put to this scholar was, Is it permissible to use nuclear weapons against the Americans and/or their allies? And the scholar, in a rather lengthy paper, went through the four different schools of Sunni Islam and discussed it against the criteria of all of those, and he came down with the decision that it’s perfectly acceptable to use that kind of weapon against the Americans because it would be a recompence for all of the Muslims that have been killed by Western armies and other factors from the West since, I guess, the end of World War II. And he put the figure at ten million-that up to ten million could be killed on the basis of this treatise. If they wanted to kill more than ten million, which I guess we should take some comfort from, they would have to come back to the scholars and ask again.
Now, the Saudis have told us this guy recanted and changed his mind, but that’s kind of like-in a police state, when the government says someone has recanted it generally means he recanted under torture. But as far as Islamists go that particular treatise is still valid, it’s still current.
So, as I said earlier, that was one of the things he (Bin Laden) was most criticized for after 9/11-was not having sufficient religious justification, and now he certainly has it.
We would like to thank Mr. Scheuer for taking the time to join us and share his thoughts with us.