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Burden of Proof

USS Cole Investigation: New Clues Discovered in Deadly Bombing

Aired October 18, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: New clues are discovered in the deadly bombing of the USS Cole. As investigators widen their net, will they find a broader conspiracy?


REAR ADM. CRAIG QUIGLEY, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: Many have said over the past few days that we have many reasons to suspect that this was indeed a terrorist act, and no good ones that come up as to why we would not call it as such.

SAMUEL BERGER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We will hold accountable those who are responsible for this act. We've done that before in this administration and previous administrations. They need to be brought to justice, and if there are states behind them, then they need to be held accountable as well.

AMB. BARBARA BODINE, U.S. AMB TO YEMEN: The point of the investigation is to find out who these people are, find out where they are, and then be able to take action.


VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

A memorial service was held in Norfolk, Virginia today in honor of 17 sailors killed in last week's apparent suicide bomb attack on the USS Cole in the waters off Yemen. Meanwhile, new leads have surfaced.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Authorities in Yemen this week discovered bomb-making material in an apartment near where the attack occurred. While no suspects have been arrested, U.S. officials say information uncovered by Yemeni investigators is providing significant leads.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Atlanta is Robert Finke, a former CIA officer and special agent with the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. And here in Washington, former federal prosecutor, Larry Barcella, CNN terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen and John Anthony, president of the National Council on U.S.-Arab relations.

COSSACK: And in the back row, Julie Wehring (ph), Jonathan Davidson (ph) and Jennifer Corson (ph).

Peter, I want to go right to you. The investigation has begun; clues are beginning to be discovered. Bring us up to date on what they found so far.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Roger, the U.S. ambassador in Yemen, Barbara Bodine, described a quantum leap forward in the investigation. That doesn't necessarily mean that they've found the people who were behind this blast, but the level of cooperation with the Yemeni government is such that the Yemeni government has gone out and questioned hundreds of people that may or may not be related to this.

As you mentioned earlier, bomb-making materials were found in an apartment in Aden. A couple of, apparently Saudi or Gulf nationals were in this apartment. The real estate agent who rented the apartment, the owner of the apartment have been questioned. As yet, no further leads than that.

COSSACK: Do we know whether or not the two people that apparently perished in the suicide attack were the same people that were the occupants of the apartment? Has that yet to be...

BERGEN: That's not determined, Roger.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, one of the suspects is also a man who you are busily writing a book on, Osama bin Laden. And I underline the fact that he is a suspect, but, who is he?

BERGEN: Osama bin Laden is a spiritual guide, I think, for a lot of the people who operate in the Gulf in terrorism groups. His main aim in life is to get rid of U.S. troops on the Arabian Peninsula. That's in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Whether or not he's directly involved in this, I think that you will find that the people who are behind this explosion have been inspired by him. He's given out religious rulings that U.S. military targets should be attacked in the Arabian Peninsula. There are thousands of people in the Gulf who look to him as, sort of, a quasi-religious leader and will take those religious rulings seriously.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, why do you think Yemen? I mean, what's the history on Yemen? Why would that be a targeted place against United States?

JOHN DUKE ANTHONY, NATIONAL COUNCIL ON U.S.-ARAB RELATIONS: Well, Yemen is a place that's much frequented by international maritime traffic. Through the 1950s, it was the third busiest port in the world in terms of ships calling and tonnage handled. So, it has an international pivotal point for maritime.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there's other terrorism there.

ANTHONY: Yes, there has, not massive, and not as extensive as it could be.

COSSACK: John, why is Yemen in, first of all -- is it a geographically location that makes it strategically important? And second of all, why, the government of Yemen seems to be cooperating fully in this? Why would that happen?

ANTHONY: Yes, it is geographic strategic position. This is the only part in the entire Arab world that the British thought was so strategic as to call that a crown colony for itself. It had no other colony anywhere else in the Arab world. So, that's evidence.

COSSACK: And why is that? Because of a particular location that --

ANTHONY: Yes, it's at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It's at the entrance to the Red Sea. It's at the northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean. It's in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden. It lies astride the major east-west, west-east, maritime routes, since there has steam and sail and other kinds of navigation.

COSSACK: I just wanted to follow up. And their government seems to be cooperating fully. Why would that be?

VAN SUSTEREN: I would hope they would.

ANTHONY: Well, their government for the last 10 years has been bending over backwards to try to accommodate most of America's needs, concerns and interests in the region, and those of the World Bank and the IMF as well. Madeleine Albright focused on Yemen a year ago to have an emerging democracy forum there, and 16 countries sent either their heads of state or prime ministers there because Yemen was showcasing its ability as less a developed country to enhance the popular participation in the development process nationwide.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, Osama bin Laden, as I said, is one of the suspects that everyone seems to have, but there's an indictment outstanding for him in New York. Why can't we bring him to justice, at least in New York?

BERGEN: Well, I think he's keeping a very low profile. He's moving all the time. Even at a point where the U.S. sent cruise missile attacks in his direction in August 20 of 1998, shortly after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. You've got to have real time intelligence. He wasn't at the place these cruise missiles landed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does he move around?

BERGEN: I think he moves around all the time.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's all the time?

BERGEN: I mean, I doubt he spends one night in the same place. The time I met with him, I met with him in a hut in the middle of the Afghan mountains, a place I'm sure that he's never going to go to again. But, you mentioned the indictment, and the indictment is interesting about Yemen because it specifically says in the indictment that Bin Laden's people have operated in Yemen since '92. That he's issued Fatwahs, religions rulings, to attack targets in Yemen since '92. And the indictment doesn't mention it, but an attack was made in Aden in 1992, according to U.S. officials, that was linked to Bin Laden, that was targeting U.S. servicemen in a hotel. No U.S. servicemen were killed but Australian tourist was killed.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, that raises an interesting question that you just in a response to Roger's remarks about how Yemen is cooperating in this investigation, and it sounds like, from Peter's recitation, that there's been certainly a lot of warning signs that there's a problem in that country, at least vis-a-vis Americans and terrorism.

Has Yemen, in the past, sort of, looked the other way? or have they been aggressive?

ANTHONY: There have been problems against Americans per se. These are incidents largely aberrational in nature and number here. The incidents that have been targeted towards Americans or American interests have been very few and far between. The only two of the two that are cited over the past 10-year period and prior to then there were none to my knowledge.

COSSACK: Peter, no one has, so far, no one has claimed responsibility, at least officially, that, for this attack. Is that unusual? and if this was Bin Laden, would we expect him to claim responsibility?

BERGEN: I think, Roger, in the past few years we've seen less legitimate claims of responsibility. There are always claims of responsibility. In this case, there have been three claims of responsibility, generally regarded as bogus. And if it was Bin Laden or groups attached to him, it wouldn't be part of their M.O. to claim responsibility, probably because the U.S. government would send a cruise missile attack very quickly thereafter.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, a terrorist attack on a U.S. target: What obstacles do investigators face in tracking down those responsible? Stay with us, BURDEN OF PROOF will be right back.


The Lockerbie trial was delayed again Tuesday so prosecutors could investigate new information concerning the two Libyans accused in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, December 21, 1988.



VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers. You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.


BERGER: I think the best thing at this point is that we are receiving extraordinary cooperation from the government of Yemen. They are not just letting us investigate, they are investigating with us in a vigorous way. That has produced a number of significant developments.


COSSACK: As the United States mourns the loss of 17 sailors killed in the bomb attack on the USS Cole, American and Yemeni investigators step up the hunt for those responsible.

Well, let me go right to Bob Finke.

Bob, your expertise, of course, is in these kinds of investigations. First of all, tell me a little bit about the explosives that were used, what you think they were and whether or not they leave some kind of an imprint so as to better be able to trace these explosives.

ROBERT FINKE, FMR. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, CIA: Well, Roger, based on what I've seen, I have some difficulty. I think it's a very complex situation here. Number one, I have not heard conclusively was the boat fiberglass or was it a Zodiac type. If it were, say, the fiberglass type, they could have had explosives, either very high like Symtex or some other type of explosive, molded to form a shape charge.

Now, based on the hole in the side of the ship, I have a strong feeling that some of those explosives were carried below the water line on that boat that went up to help moor it.

Now, as for an imprint, once the immediate search team gets in there -- well, they're already in there now, they're going to start in the blast area and work outwardly. And they are going to be able to make determinations from some of the residue just from field testing there -- there's several field tests they can do -- of possibly what type of explosive it was.

Again, I feel like, just watching all the coverage on it, that it was some type of shape charge. I don't think that boat could have held thousands of pounds of explosives.


COSSACK: What is a shape charge, briefly?

FINKE: What is a shape charge? Basically what it is is a molded type of explosive. Some of them are used in artillery shells to penetrate tanks. In this particular case, rather than a linear-shaped charge which is used for cutting steel, it probably would a conical which could use -- a type of shape charge used to punch a hole into something. And of course you have about a 40-by-40-foot hole there. VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, obviously we've got so many levels of investigation going on here, but one of the thoughts that the Justice Department must have some involvement in this because they're hoping someone will be prosecuted for this crime, assuming it's not just the two suicide bombers. What's the role of the Justice Department at this stage?

LARRY BARCELLA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the Justice Department gets involved at very early stage because, of course, they would have jurisdiction over the murder of American servicemen abroad. That is, jurisdiction to actually investigate, try that case here in the United States, if they are ever to be able to find suspects and bring them here.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did they get that jurisdiction? When you think about it, I mean, you know, if a French citizen is killed on the streets of America, you know, we try whoever is accused of doing that. I mean, how do we get jurisdiction halfway around the world?

BARCELLA: You know, actually, for many years, the United States had less jurisdiction over events that occurred outside its borders than most countries did. We started catching up. But part of this goes back 200 years to laws that were passed during the era of the Barberry pirates so that the United States does have long-arm jurisdiction or the ability to go out and reach out and grab these people for certain offenses that occur against U.S. citizens, U.S. interests, U.S. military. So we have the jurisdiction to be able to do it, we have the investigative power to be able to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does it require, though, the cooperation of the government of Yemen in order to? I mean, I suppose if they get -- if they've got all the evidence, they've got it there in their country. I mean, does it require...

BARCELLA: It makes a huge difference, Greta. I mean, take a number of years ago the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were reluctant to the point of refusing to give the U.S. forensic experts, explosive experts access to the Khobar Towers where the bombing took place. That caused not only a rift, frankly, diplomatically between the U.S. and Saudi over it, but it also just totally undercuts the ability of forensic experts to conduct their investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, let me just ask a follow-up question: Does Yemen have any laws to deal with this situation in terms of a terrorism against a foreign country, here the United States, American sailors?

ANTHONY: The two standard ones that we have elsewhere that govern these relationships are defense cooperation agreements. We have one with Kuwait, with Bahrain, with the United Arab Emirates and Oman. We do not have one with Saudi Arabia. And another one, a bit old-fashioned, used to be called the Status of Forces Agreement, whereby if an American personnel, usually military, committed a crime in that country, that individual would be tried through the American military system of justice and not by local laws as such. With regard to Yemen, the situation has neither a Status of Forces or a Defense Cooperation Agreement. However, a crime of this nature, a terroristic crime, is a capital crime as viewed by the state and viewed by the president and prime minister, and virtually the entire cabinet.

COSSACK: Peter, let's talk a little bit more about the investigation and the ability to find out exactly what happened. What are the chances, from your experience, that the United States or the authorities will ever be able to find out exactly who did this and what group is responsible?

BERGEN: Well, Roger, I think there's to things to that. Larry just mentioned the Khobar Towers where, you know, 19 U.S. servicemen were killed in a bombing that's never really been solved, partly because the Saudi government, as Larry said, was uncooperative. We don't know who did that. At one point, some people mentioned Iran, but it's still not very clear.

As you know, in the Oklahoma City bombing, Tim McVeigh was arrested on a traffic violation, and very quickly the whole case was solved. If you can get people very quickly, as perhaps they are going to do in Yemen, actually have some real, live witnesses and possible suspects, this thing could be solved. In the U.S. embassy attack, a gentleman was arrested in Pakistan on an immigration violation, turned out that he was one of the people involved in the U.S. embassy attack in Africa.

So I think the short answer to that is, if you can find somebody rather quickly who actually may be involved in the plot, you may be able to solve the investigation. But if it goes longer, you may never know.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break. When we return, bringing terrorists to justice. Stay with us.


Q: Why has the state murder trial of convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols been put on hold?

A: A court disqualified the District Attorney and his staff from prosecuting Nichols because of comments he made to the news media.



VAN SUSTEREN: FBI Director Louis Freeh is traveling to Yemen as part of the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole. While no evidence has been cited, U.S. officials have identified exiled Saudi militant Osama Bin Laden and his followers as possible suspects.

Bob, I want to go back to the actual explosion and what caused the tragedy over on the USS Cole. Does the explosive that was used leave almost, like, a fingerprint in the sense that you can trace almost the source of it? Does it give us that much of a clue?

FINKE: Well, it can, Greta. Again, a lot of this is going to go back to the residue.

Now, based on my knowledge, and I don't know if the program has been completed yet, but the ATF had developed a program over the past year where they had set off various explosive charges to measure the craters and all to give exactly what you're saying: an imprint of what type of explosive and how much it was.

The seriousness, here, for the investigative teams, especially in the immediate area and general area of searching is almost like TWA flight 800, but in microcosm in that much of the structure is above the water that can be searched, but there's an awful lot below-water which is going to present a serious difficulty for the divers in locating evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you mentioned Semtex as a possible -- what caused the explosion. How available is that?

FINKE: Well, that's an explosive that's manufactured in Czechoslovakia, and it's been used extensively throughout the former Soviet Union and its bloc countries. It is available commercially and on the black market; and I think a lot of the Middle Eastern terrorists have access to this to use it.

It's what we call a primary high explosive, in that it has a very high brisanse, a very significant shattering effect as opposed to ANFO, which was used in the Oklahoma City bombing and World Trade Center bombing, which is more of a heaving, cratering effect.

COSSACK: Bob, you've also, in your career, done some studies of the makeup of the kind of person who becomes a suicide bomber. Tell us a little bit about what you've discovered.

FINKE: Well, Roger, it's based on a lot of the studies that the Israelis have done. Of course, they've had enough suicide bombings to have it firsthand.

And, typically, these individuals are referred to as Shahids. Translated from Arabic it means "martyr." And the reason they have to say Shahid, or martyr, is because suicide is against the Islamic faith. The actual act of suicide bombing is referred to as istishhad, and these subjects, or suicide bombers, have benefits that they derive from this.

On the temporal level, their families receive monetary rewards and, also, they receive higher status in society. Now, the Shahid himself is guaranteed eternity in paradise. He gets to see the face of Allah, he is attended to by the loving kindness of 72 virgins while he remains in paradise and he's allowed to bring in so many of his family members to paradise after they die. Another interesting thing, prior to an attack, and after he's familiarized with the method of the explosive and how it's detonated, they may actually have him lie down in a grave for several hours to overcome the fear of death. They're very interesting people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, let's assume the best -- that we're going to find out who did this or, at least identify who we think did this to bring him to justice.

Three ways for Americans to get the culprits back: there's extradition, there's trickery and there's kidnapping. What's the difference between the three?

BARCELLA: Well, extradition, of course, would depend on the country where the suspect is found -- whether or not we have an extradition treaty with them and whether or not we have the evidence to request extradition.

Trickery, as you and I know from a case where you and I were on opposite sides many years ago -- trickery is something that the United States, that any country, can use to lure somebody to a location where they can then arrest them, extradite them or, third, kidnap them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which -- you successfully got my client back, by the way.

And the third is kidnapping.

BARCELLA: And the third is kidnapping. And, depending upon where the suspect may be, oftentimes the only way the get them back is, basically, to send a team in to go in to grab him and bring him out, that has...

VAN SUSTEREN: And the Supreme Court's view on that?

BARCELLA: The Supreme Court says that it doesn't get involved in fugitive cases. If you're a fugitive outside the United States, the court shall not inquire as to the manner and means by which a defendant is brought before the court unless there's excessive violence used.

COSSACK: That's enough for today. That's all the time we have. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Later today on "TALKBACK LIVE," it's your chance to rate last night's final presidential debate and talk politics with actor Christopher Reeve and musician Lee Greenwood.

E-mail Bobbie Battista with your comments and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And join us again tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.



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