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Burden of Proof

Threats Against U.S. Forces Elevate Military to Highest State of Alert

Aired October 25, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, threats against U.S. forces have elevated the military to its highest state of alert. Are Americans abroad in danger? and can U.S. intelligence intercept and interpret terrorist threats?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADM. CRAIG QUIGLEY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The entire Central Command area of responsibility went to what we call Threat Condition Charlie immediately after the attack on the Cole. Now, today, the circumstance is that we have gone to a higher level, Threat Con Delta, Threat Condition Delta, in Qatar and Bahrain.

WILLIAM DALY, FMR. FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE EXPERT: Locations that are U.S. government installations that we can start to contain and control what goes on inside of those facilities as well as who leaves and who may go out into areas that could be more vulnerable, for instance, gathering places where Americans may go, to restaurants or to night clubs. So, there needs to be an increased level of security control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. The Pentagon announced yesterday that in the last few days, specific threats have been made against U.S. forces in two regions, Bahrain and Qatar. The threats have forced the American military to its highest state of alert.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: The heightened alert involves checking vehicles, and restricting parking next to U.S. facilities, as well as restricting the movement of people in those areas. Since the explosion, which blew a 40-foot hole in the USS Cole, U.S. forces in Yemen also have been on the highest alert.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us here in Washington Susie Sue (ph), CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen and Daniel Benjamin, former director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council. And in our back row, Paul McLane (ph) and Amy Farrar (ph). And also joining us here in Washington is CNN national security correspondent, David Ensor. David, first to you. Can you explain these levels of threats, and why it is that the U.S. military has elevated the threat.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you noted, the threat level that they are prepared for now in Bahrain and Qatar is the highest level there -- is Delta. And that means that they are basically in a war footing with nobody going in or out of bases without cars being checked, the people at the gates are fully armed. They are ready for an attack, in other words, if it should happen there. And that came about because they had what they regarded as specific and credible evidence that there was a plot to attack Americans there.

I should mention also the air base in Incirlik, Turkey where they're at the next level down because they believe there's a threat there, a specific plot against the air base there. So, a lot of nervousness in the region, particularly among the U.S. military, unease about the possibility of another terrorist attack.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, what do you make of the fact Pentagon's top intelligence experts on terrorist threats in the Persian Gulf region resigned the day after the USS Cole was attacked?

ENSOR: Well, first of all, I can confirm that there has been a resignation; I can't confirm the level of the person. It is a DIA, defense intelligence analyst. The wires are saying he was their senior-most counter terrorism analyst for Middle East. I don't know that myself yet. So, he has resigned. He says that according to one senator in a hearing today, he told the senators he resigned because he felt that his warnings that there were terrorism -- was terrorism in the offing were not listened to with enough attention.

COSSACK: Jim Woolsey, how do you decide when something goes to this type of level of threat that we just heard David Ensor describe? What factors do you take into consideration? and how do you know when to believe it or not?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: It's not easy. It in part deals with the credibility of the source, whether it is someplace that you've gotten information from before and has proved to be accurate. It depends on the level of the source, the nature of the source. Is it a communications intercept or an agent that is trusted? or is it a rumor that's second- or third- or fourth-hand? how specific is it? how does it fit with other intelligence? There are a whole number of things one looks at in order to make that kind of decision.

COSSACK: But Jim, you must get there, the CIA and the authorities, must get these kinds of threats, many, many threats per day from different kinds of organizations. And they come in from different kinds of people as you just described. The notion of being able to separate them seems, as I indicated, seems to be quite difficult. I mean, there must be some specific ways and things that you look at to make these decisions.

WOOLSEY: It is quite difficult. In some ways more an art than a science. I think one of the important things is that you don't want to leave yourself blind to indications from sources that might be particularly productive. And because of some changes that the CIA made in late 1995 -- I hasten to say I left in early 1995 because of some guidelines they are using for intelligence collection from human sources in terrorist groups -- I think that job is harder for them than it needs to be now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Daniel, do we have any idea how often these threats come in? I mean, it's sort of hard for me to put them in context unless I know: Is this a commonplace or is this something unique? Are we hearing about it only because the USS Cole or what you can tell me about the threats in general?

DANIEL BENJAMIN, FMR. DIR. FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: At any given time there's an enormous amount of threat information out there. There tends to be big spikes after attacks, all sorts of sources come in with new material. It becomes particularly important in the aftermath of an attack to be able to sort through it. There's another dimension here, which is that the last few major terrorist attacks or terrorist conspiracies that we've seen have come in multiple patterns. There was the East Africa bombing. So, there were two then, and there were at least one or two other attempts at that time, at the time of the millennium. There were at least three attacks planned in Jordan and then there was this whole issue of people infiltrating the Pacific Northwest. So, there's reason to think that there might be more than one plot at a time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, you are writing a book on Osama bin Laden. And this whole issue of threats is an awful lot of suspicion cast at his direction. What do you make of these threats? and is there any way to, at least from your perspective, that they might be able to suspect they come from Osama bin Laden?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think in 1999 I was very surprised to find out that there were 650 threats in the course of about nine months in 1999, specifically related to bin Laden.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meaning they come from him...

BERGEN: Well, bin Laden or his related organization, you know, which -- that includes other groups like the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. But, all those threats, six were deemed credible. Credible meaning that they either came from a reasonably good source or it was some sort of intercept that was regarded as valid.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you get these threats? I mean, how are they actually communicated? Someone picks up the phone, say we're going to do it, or is it e-mails? Or is it, you know, or is it just word of mouth?

BERGEN: It's not someone on a pay phone. I mean, that's not considered a credible threat. It is a source that has been reliable in the past, or some kind of secret intelligence which seems valid. So, that's how the threat is deemed credible.

COSSACK: Jim, you mentioned earlier, you said that changes came about in the CIA in 1995, which in your opinion at least, makes it more difficult for the CIA to be able to make these decisions regarding terrorist organizations. Tell me about what those changes were. Did they have to do with restrictions put upon how the CIA gathers information?

WOOLSEY: It's part of the law of unintended consequences in government. Sometimes when are you trying to accomplish something, you throw the baby out with the bath water.

What happened was as a result of an incident in Guatemala in which a man named Bamaca, who was the common-law husband of an American woman, Jennifer Harbury, was killed. Bamaca was a rebel in Guatemala, was killed by the Guatemalan military, and there were allegations that a Guatemalan officer, who had contact and perhaps paid by the CIA had known something or even presided over this.

Some changes were made in the guidelines for recruiting spies overseas. And the word that went out was that you need to be very careful about recruiting anyone who may have violence or human rights violation in his background. And so you need to go through several bureaucratic steps in order to do that.

I served on the terrorism commission that reported last summer to the government. And we concluded unanimously by talking to former intelligence officers overseas and current ones that this had a deterrent effect on young case officers trying to recruit spies who had dark pasts.

Now, inside a government, you might be able to put up with that because there are a lot of good people trapped inside bad governments. Most of the Soviets who worked for the United States over the years were people who really wanted to change the Soviet Union. They were not people who were in it for money.

But if you are the FBI getting informants in the Mafia or the CIA treating to get informants inside a terrorist organization overseas, there's nobody in those organizations except people who are criminals or human rights violators. If you are going to get information, you have to, essentially, pay money to people with unsavory pasts. And that is somewhat deterred now.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Up next, how e-mail and other new technology have aided the terrorist communication network, but now the feds are fighting back.

Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

In what is believed to be the first arrest in the nation to be made with the use of a DNA warrant, a Sacramento man was charged with a 1994 rape.

A DNA warrant identifies a suspect by his or her genetic code only. Other law enforcement agencies around the country have filed such warrants. (END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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 CNN.com/burden. 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, CMDR. CENTRAL COMMAND: We're determined to get to the bottom of this. We'll put the events that led up to Cole under a microscope. And, in fact, we've begun that process. We will find the facts we need to find and we'll use the lessens that we learn from Cole to provide the best possible force protection for our troops in one of the most dangerous regions of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: This morning on Capitol Hill, the head of military forces in the Gulf and Middle East testified about the attack on the USS Cole two weeks ago. Just a few moments ago, it was revealed that the Pentagon's top intelligence expert on terrorist threats in the Persian Gulf resigned a day after the incident. Now, according to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, the official quit in protest, feeling that there was a lack of attention to terrorist threat warnings he had provided his Pentagon bosses before the blast.

Daniel, you wanted to respond to something that Jim Woolsey said at the end of our last segment. Go ahead.

BENJAMIN: Yes, I'm just concerned that people get the idea that a lot of very good sources are being turned down because of an unsavory background. In fact, the CIA has a waiver process whereby sources are evaluated, and there has not -- never been a source that was turned down because of their background. So I think there needs to be a more balanced view of what our human intelligence capabilities are and what the practices are.

VAN SUSTEREN: But...

WOOLSEY: That's not the point. That's sort of the official U.S. government response. But the point is we interviewed on the terrorism commission a number of current and former intelligence officers who said they were deterred from making the request to recruit a source because of these bureaucratic procedures. So if you say nobody's turned down, that's really not the point.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, you want to jump in on this?

ENSOR: On this particular debate? No, thank you.

(LAUGHTER) VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well then let me ask you another question associated with the highest military alert. How is -- I mean, how do you, in looking at the military overseas, how do you know they're at the highest military alert? What's different today than last week?

ENSOR: Well, the forces in Bahrain and Qatar are at a level where no one will get in or out of the bases without having their car searched, the people are wearing armor. They're ready for an attack so they're at the very highest possible level of alert. And as I mentioned, other places like Incirlik, Turkey are also at a high level, but not as high as that. They are very concerned there may be more terrorism soon and the U.S. government, its national security agency with the ear, the signals intelligence people and the human intelligence people over at CIA are really beating the bushes trying to find out anything they can.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, David? As I listen to you say about the highest military alert, obviously I'm sitting here in the United States and I hear these reports and they tend to be rather terrifying, but they seem to have been going on a long time. Osama bin Laden's been under indictment for two years. He's a suspect, and a lot of people. It seems to me that I would think they would always be rather vigilant and under a high state of alert because it's not particularly safe in a lot of areas. I mean, has the military been sort of relaxed in the past two years in terms of security?

ENSOR: The point is, when you're at a high state of alert, everybody's in battle gear, they're armed, the weapons have been checked, nobody's going on any kind of leave. It's just a different state. You can't keep people at that state forever, all the time. So there are different levels of preparedness for an attack that the military has. And right now, as we mentioned, at a very high level.

COSSACK: Peter, let's talk about the gathering of intelligence. There seems to be reports, or at least suspicions that Osama bin Laden may be responsible for the attack on the Cole. Intelligence is being gathered, e-mails are being checked. What exactly -- how do they go about doing that? And do they check e-mails in this country?

BERGEN: I would guess the volume of e-mails that would need to be checked would be so enormous that by the time you've kind of sorted them all out, the information may be very dated anyway. I think the NSA has a problem with actually transcribing the information into something that's actually useful often.

But I wanted to address something about intelligence, something about the debate about spies that we were just having, which is I think that you've got -- in an organization, let's say, like bin Laden's, trying to penetrate that organization would be immensely difficult, even if you wanted to, even if you found somebody who might be somebody willing to kind of give information, because this is the kind of group, these people, have been together for a very long time. They're not usually very motivated by money, they're motivated by sort of jihad ideology.

VAN SUSTEREN: They just had a guy flip in New York in the criminal case up in New York last week against bin Laden.

BERGEN: Right.

COSSACK: Who apparently agreed to testify against bin Laden immediately after he was arrested. That procedure was kept secret for a couple of years.

VAN SUSTEREN: So there's a little -- there is -- can be -- a criminal indictment, you put someone in jail...

BERGEN: He was in the United States...

VAN SUSTEREN: Right.

BERGEN: ... and he was facing either execution or certainly life in prison, so he obviously kind of got religion on that front. I think that's an incredibly large break in the bin Laden case, parenthetically, because if you looked at the indictment previously, the actual links of bin Laden to the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa were pretty weak in the indictment. Now you've got somebody who was at least mid-level in the organization who can directly finger bin Laden.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why were two men and a teenager arrested outside Shea Stadium last night?

A: They used fake press passes and charged $100 each to smuggle people into Game 3 of the World Series.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Twelve Americans were among the 224 people killed in two U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Osama bin Laden with solicitation to murder. Bin Laden has never been arrested for the bombings, and is suspected of other terrorist activity.

David, in terms of tracking down terrorist activity, to what extent are e-mails of any value to intelligence?

ENSOR: A tremendous amount, and they go through literally hundreds of thousands of them. The National Security Agency, a cold war agency, is dragging itself into the information age, and now going through huge volumes of material as the information age explodes, e- mails, conversations on cell phones, the whole technology.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you, Peter, I mean, for some reason, I don't have the concept in my mind, maybe I need it, I don't have a feeling Osama bin Laden is sitting over there on a computer terminal sending e-mails.

BERGEN: He definitely isn't. He is keenly aware that somebody in the U.S. government has a voice print of his voice and is looking for any kind of phone conversations he might be having. So he doesn't communicate on cell phones, or he might communicate by radio at maximum.

COSSACK: Jim, we've been talking about, presuming as if perhaps Osama bin Laden is the person that is behind this Cole attack, but in fact there's really so far no definitive evidence, it could be state- sponsored, is that correct?

WOOLSEY: It could be or it could be a cooperation between bin Laden and, say, the Iraqi government. Cole was on her way to enforce the sanctions against Iraq. And Saddam and some of the Sunni fundamental terrorist groups have made peace with one another. They would have been at odds 15 or 20 years ago, but since the early '90s. Saddam has made up with them. And the possibility of cooperation between the Iraqi government, or even the Iraqi intelligence, doing something, and trying to make it look as if it were an independent terrorist group.

There's a new book out from the American Enterprise Institute by Laurie Millrow (ph) that focuses very hard on the possibility of an Iraqi government role in the World Trade Center bombing. And I think that whole thing deserves a lot more scrutiny than it has had in the past.

VAN SUSTEREN: Daniel, when you talk about the scrutiny that Jim is talking about, the other thing that you oftentimes read about, is the Echelon, in terms of surveillance. What is the Echelon? It is supposed to be so secret, but we all know a little bit about it.

BENJAMIN: Well, Echelon is the name that's often used for large American signals intelligence program that looks through a lot of different intercepts of various kinds. I can't go into what the different capabilities of it are, but America has an enormous ability to look through signals intelligence. At the same time, the U.S. is coping with an extraordinary explosion of communications. There are so many different kinds of cell phones, e-mail has been mentioned.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we don't do this alone, do we, I talk about the Americans, I mean this is a cooperative effort, is it not, with other nations?

BENJAMIN: There are other nations that participate in American intelligence programs and signals intelligence, that's correct.

COSSACK: Peter, we have had a suggestion perhaps from Jim Woolsey that if Osama bin Laden was involved, he may have been involved with a state, or there is some kind of a perhaps state cooperation. Is that something that you, as a student of Osama bin Laden, would expect him to be doing?

BERGEN: I think, as Mr. Woolsey said, that this would be unexpected some time ago, but some sort of peace agreements have been made. Bin Laden was supposed to have met with some people from Iran, who are Shia, which Sunnis usually don't like. Also, the man who is doing the plea bargaining we mentioned earlier in the program said that bin Laden met with Hezbollah in Sudan in the mid-'90s. So the notion that there might be some kind of agreements with either quasi- governmental or governmental organizations with bin Laden is certainly not impossible.

COSSACK: All right, I am afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," election 2000: Is a vote for Ralph Nader a vote against Al Gore? Tune-in, and weigh-in on the presidential race today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And tonight, on CNN "NEWSSTAND," as the clock ticks and election day approaches, new ads appear. Will abortion affect this election? Phone-in, send your e-mail questions, and tune- in at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And, of course, we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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