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Are al Qaeda Operatives Hiding in United States?

Aired July 13, 2002 - 08:07   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Homeland security a top priority amid all the concern that al Qaeda operatives could be hiding in the U.S.

CNN security analyst Kelly McCann checking in with us to talk about this.

Kelly, good to see you again.

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Hi, Miles.

O'BRIEN: You know, when we hear this possibility of al Qaeda operatives, is there anybody who is surprised that that might be the case?

MCCANN: No, I don't think so. I think Attorney General Ashcroft hit the nail on the head when he said that they're hidden but active. In fact, you know, we explored the difference between operative and operator, and operative would be the one from London, for instance, Hamdi, who basically would set this up and kind of get a chain going to the United States where training could be conducted, etc., and is valuable because he has cover for action, cover for status. He appears to be legitimate or quasi legitimate.

The operator would go through the camp. He's the one that learns the hard skills, etc. Another example would be Osman. I mean if you look at Osman's background, he was born in Sierra Leone. He holds a permanent residency here in the U.S. based on his being involved with the U.S. Naval Reserve. But he was found to have a British passport and a Lebanese passport in his possession. I mean that's too much going on for anybody.

So, again, it's that whole kind of ambiguous state that can be exploited and is important for the operative.

O'BRIEN: Well, and I guess, though, one thing we're presupposing here is that these would be members of -- or Middle Eastern descent, put it that way. And what you're talking about is some of the profiling that's going on as people try to identify suspected operatives.

How concerned should we be about al Qaeda recruiting home grown Americans to participate in this, disgruntled, maybe some of those people who live in those camps out in the West and want to secede from the Union? MCCANN: Some of the most aggressive non-smokers are people who used to smoke. Similarly, some of the most virulent and some of the most vehement people that you can get are the religious extremists who once were criminals, thugs, etc., for instance, Padilla.

So I mean the fact is that once you recruit a person who has mental weakness and goes to that extreme kind of thing, they're righter than right, I think we should be concerned about it.

However, we have to understand, also, that, you know, al Qaeda crosses all cultural bounds. We know that, of course, the Philippines has Abu Sayyaf. They're linked. So you've got a different, you know, physical characteristics.

We can't put it based on a culture or a religion. We have to look more to behavior, patterns of behavior.

O'BRIEN: Well, what about this possibility of a training camp in the U.S.? Is that something that a terrorist group could successfully hide in this nation of ours?

MCCANN: Absolutely, and it goes to exactly how clever these people are. Where else can you go in the world where the gun laws are what they are here? And I'm a proponent for, you know, the second amendment rights, etc. That's a whole another bailiwick.

But the fact is...

O'BRIEN: Yes, let's not go there this morning.

MCCANN: Let's really not go there. But the bottom line is is that it is true that if you're a resident and you're here legitimately and a lawful person, or seemingly lawful, you can buy guns. You can shoot your gun. You can have a space to shoot your gun. So it is extremely clever and I think well within the boundaries of people like Zubaydah to figure out how to exploit that for their use.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's go on a quick tangent since you brought up the issue of firearms. A lot of people want to see pilots carrying said firearms. I myself don't have a problem with it. I already entrust my life to these pilots. You can't put a sky marshal on every flight. Let 'em pack some heat. What do you think?

MCCANN: Pack the GAT or not pack the GAT, you know what I mean? The bottom line is, Miles, that it goes to training. And, you know, some of the arguments have been, for instance, well, a lot of these guys are former military members and have a familiarity.

Well, qualifying with a weapon is not training with a weapon. It has nothing to do with duress, confined space shooting, draws. A lot of this comes down to time and distance. And the fact is that an attack can happen so fast that unless you do go through training similar to what the U.S. Marshals, you know, go through, then I think I would be against it.

Personal experience was we were contacted by a major carrier to teach in-flight intervention. And for that they allotted three days for us to train their instructors, and they were then going to teach a 30 minute program to their stewards and stewardesses. That's meaningless.

O'BRIEN: Well...

MCCANN: And I would suggest to you that the training for the pilots would go the same route.

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, and just, I mean to follow-up on that, because that, to me, says an awful lot about how seriously the airlines, or not seriously, the airlines might be about real security measures. Thirty minute programs don't really cut it, do they?

MCCANN: They absolutely do not. But let's not forget it is a business. Right now they're having a hard time staying in the black. Most of them are operating just in the red, or the very dark red, if you will, going towards black. And it goes to the bottom line -- how much can they make available to trainers their work force?

And then you have union issues. Did a stewardess become a stewardess to have to do an in-flight fight with a terrorist? No. Similarly, there are pilots who would say if you expect me to use a firearm to have to defend that, then I have to be compensated for that additional responsibility.

It's a quagmire. On the surface it sounds easy. For instance, the door is smashed in, I shoot this person. But in reality, it's not that easy at all.

O'BRIEN: All right, coffee, tea or a karate chop, I guess.

MCCANN: Or gunfire.

O'BRIEN: Or coffee, tea or a Glock, yes.

All right, Kelly McCann, one of our security analysts -- well, actually, really, he's our preeminent security analyst here on CNN. We appreciated, as always, your insights.

MCCANN: Thanks, Miles.

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