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Interview With Mike Baker

Aired November 9, 2003 - 07:02   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story now. Saudi Arabia is blaming the al Qaeda terror network for last night's explosions in a Riyadh neighborhood. The Interior Ministry says terrorists attack with car bombs, but witnesses also heard gunfire.
Caroline Faraj of is in Dubai. She joins us now by telephone.

Caroline, can you give us the very latest? A lot of information unknown at this time.

CAROLINE FARAJ, CNN.COM: Well, yes. Regarding the number of casualties, up till now we're seeing a lot of confusing and contesting numbers, if you like. The officials are still using the same figure, which is that two killed, and one Sudanese. Apparently there was a guard (ph) at this camp and 86 were injured. And most were either children or women.

However, we were still receiving some information from diplomats, as well as journalists, telling us that there are as many as 28 to basically -- to 30. Some of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) newspapers were published today. They're using the number five, saying that three Lebanese, as well as the other two, the Indian and the Sudanese.

COLLINS: Let me also ask you if I could, Caroline, obviously those numbers are going to take awhile to firm up. We would imagine that. But we did hear a little bit about the bombers being disguised as security guards. What is your information on that there?

FARAJ: Well, sources told us that these terrorists, they used a jeep that was apparently stolen from the security forces in Saudi Arabia and they entered the camp. And the security forces of this camp, they just opened the doors for them, assuming that they were members of the security forces. So when they entered, immediately they started (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shooting, and they killed the guards. And some other sources are telling us that there also was some shooting coming from outside the camp.

So immediately after the shooting started, they just exploded the car that was piled, according to the security forces, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) piled with explosives. And immediately, you know, the fire just like started and the blasts covered all over the place.

COLLINS: Caroline Faraj of reporting to us this morning live from Dubai. Caroline, thanks so much. Well, this time, the intelligence was right on target. The warning, issued the day before the bombing, nailed it. "There's credible information that terrorists in Saudi Arabia have moved from the planning to the operational phase of attacks."

Mike Baker was a CIA field agent for about 14 years, and counterterrorism was one of his specialties. He joins us this morning from New York to talk more about this.

Mr. Baker, thanks so much for being with us this morning. We just heard from our correspondent there in Dubai talking about these bombers possibly being disguised as security guards and getting right into this compound. Is that something new?

MIKE BAKER, FMR. CIA FIELD OFFICER: No, it's not anything particularly new. The methodology used by al Qaeda tends to be fairly consistent from attack to attack. The reports out of there so far also indicate there was a gun battle perhaps either upon arriving at that particular compound or as they were going through and past the security guards. But there tends to be -- in previous attacks, there tends to be some effort to distract the initial perimeter security prior to delivering the vehicles that may carry the explosives.

COLLINS: So is it these tactics then that lead the Saudi people to believe that it's al Qaeda, in fact?

BAKER: Well, there's probably several reasons why the Saudi Interior Ministry came out so quickly, even as of last night, reporting that they feel confident that this was al Qaeda. Part of that could be intelligence that they and ourselves have received prior to this.

As you correctly pointed out, the U.S. government had indicated and had issued warnings, saying that terrorist activities appeared to move from the planning stage to the operational phase. Now, oftentimes, that's a result of what they're picking up from signals intercepts, from communications that may be going on. And so there could be partly that to explain it. It could be also that they're basing this in part on methodology and the way that this attack took place.

COLLINS: There had been much debate about how aggressive Saudi Arabia has been in cracking down on terrorists in their country. In recent weeks, what is your feeling on that?

BAKER: Well, that's true. The Saudis have come under a lot of fire for their perceived failure to cooperate or their lack of motivation in cooperating with us on the war on terrorism. In part, that's not necessarily fair.

There's a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes. And part of the issue with counterterrorism is you obviously -- for good and clear reasons, you don't advertise your successes. So, to some degree, behind the scenes, the cooperation has been approving. Now, certainly after the attacks in May that took place in Riyadh, and after the unfortunate attack that took place Saturday night late, this now moves into an issue of self-interest for the Saudis.

Prior to this, you could argue that our self-interest and the Saudi's self-interest were not particularly similar. That's changed now. I mean, even near this compound there are several members of the Saudi ruling family that live nearby the compound that was attacked. This has definitely shook them to the core.

COLLINS: That's a great point; something to think about indeed. Quickly, before we let you go this morning, as you mentioned, the U.S. of course already warned about those terrorist attacks. What does it say now about prevention now that this warning has come true possibly for another attack?

BAKER: Well, the problem with counterterrorism also, in battling these attacks, is that we've got to get it right all the time. There is no room for error. The terrorists just have to get it right occasionally.

Despite the efforts that we undertake, despite all the improvements that we've had in gathering, analyzing information in trying to prevent these sort of attacks, occasionally something is going to occur. I mean, it's just real life. This is not a zero sum game where eventually we're going to get to the point where there are no attacks. However, we have made incredible headway in working with our liaison partners, including the Saudis, to prevent these sort of attacks.

COLLINS: All right. We certainly appreciate your insight on all of this for us this morning. Mr. Mike Baker, former CIA officer, thanks once again for your time.

BAKER: Thank you.


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