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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Translator Who Pulled Saddam from Hole Shares Story; Officials Say Al Qaeda Members May be in U.S.; 9/11 Commission Urges Adoption of Proposals
Aired August 4, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HEIDI COLLINS, HOST: Tonight, a CNN exclusive.
SAMIR, HELPED CAPTURE SADDAM HUSSEIN: I found a real story here.
COLLINS: A young Iraqi, forced to leave his country and his family, on the run from a brutal dictator.
SAMIR: He would have killed me, for sure.
COLLINS: Until fate brings him back.
SAMIR: I want to help. I speak the language. I can do something.
COLLINS: To a small village, to a spider hole.
SAMIR: We heard noises in the bottom.
COLLINS: Face-to-face with Saddam Hussein, begging for mercy.
SAMIR: He started yelling, "Don't kill me. Don't shoot."
COLLINS: It's a story of courage, justice and retribution: "Samir's Story."
Good evening, everyone. Thanks for joining us tonight. I'm Heidi Collins. Paula Zahn is off.
As difficult as the last year has been in Iraq, it's important to remember the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his capture was and is a dream come true for millions of Iraqis who suffered under his regime.
Tonight we'll here from one Iraqi man -- we call him Samir -- and a journey that takes him from repression to rebellion to exile and finally, in an amazing turn, face to face with Saddam Hussein.
Samir shared his story with someone whose story is also remarkable, Ron Young, former helicopter pilot, shot down in Iraq. Ron, who spent three weeks as a POW before being rescued, is now a CNN special contributor.
Welcome, Ron. Nice to see you tonight.
RON YOUNG, CNN SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you. COLLINS: You know, this guy, Samir, his character must have been just unbelievable. I mean, he is truly what we would describe as a patriotic American.
YOUNG: Well, he's also a patriotic Iraqi. He loves the Iraqi people. He has family still there. He loves his family deeply, but, yes, he is a patriotic American.
COLLINS: He loves the United States, too. Ron, let's go ahead and get to part one now of "Samir's Story."
SAMIR: I told him, "If you were a real man, you should have killed yourself."
YOUNG (voice-over): Tough words for a man who grew up in a tough world.
SAMIR: I was there during execution. I lost two cousins under Saddam's regime. Neighbors, friends I know. They're executed by Saddam. They shot them dead before even their parents. They get the body, they have to pay a fine for the bullets.
YOUNG: Samir grew up in Nasiriyah. As a teenager he hated Saddam Hussein, wanted to rebel but feared the consequences.
SAMIR: If you tried to overthrown Saddam, economic.
YOUNG: Finally, Samir's chance came.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, the battle has been joined.
SAMIR: It's in 1991 during the Gulf War. I think pretty much a lot of Iraqis thought this is the best time for Iraq to have a new president, to get rid of Saddam.
We had guns, and we went to the building, Ba'ath Party building and places for Saddam, his security was the prison, torturing people inside the prisons. We broke the doors, and we got some prisoners out.
We thought we're going to get help, maybe from the United States. But it didn't happen. We just left behind.
YOUNG (on camera): What happened to you after that?
SAMIR: I went to my family, my parents. I told them, "I'm leaving. I cannot live here anymore."
I went to the border between Iraq and Kuwait. There was U.S. military between the borders, and we asked for protections. And they did. They protect us, and they give us food, a tent to live, medicine, anything we need. They managed somehow with the Saudi Arabian government. And they built a refugee camp for the refugees. We were thousands. A thousand refugees left the country.
I lived there for three and a half years. It's really tough. It's not easy. But you have no choice. You have no choice. Either you stay or you go back to be killed.
I have a cousin, he came here to the United States in 1992. He sent me letters when I was in Saudi Arabia in that camp. And he explained to me the life, and I was like, "That's where I want to be, United States." Just got lucky.
YOUNG: The U.N. granted Samir refugee status, and he settled in St. Louis.
SAMIR: When I came to the United States, I had no English, don't speak English. I have six bucks in my pocket, six dollars. Now I'm driving a nice car.
YOUNG: Samir thrived in St. Louis. He learned English, became a citizen. Part of his heart, though, remained in Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorist allies constituted an axis of evil.
SAMIR: When President Bush started talking about going to war against Saddam, Samir became excited.
SAMIR: I just want it to happen, because that's the only chance. The only chance is the United States to go to Iraq and kick Saddam out of there. I want to help. I speak the language. I can do something.
I applied for the job as a translator, and I got the job.
YOUNG: (on camera) And you weren't nervous about this decision?
SAMIR: No. I was completely fine, 100 percent, to do it. They sent us to Iraq after about the fall (ph).
YOUNG: But Samir wasn't sent to Baghdad.
SAMIR: And they asked my boss, "What city in Iraq we are?"
He said, "This is Nasiriyah."
I was, like, almost having a heart attack. I told my boss that night, told him, "I'm from here. And I got kicked out of the country in 1991. I haven't seen my parents yet."
They said, "We're going to take you home to see your parents tomorrow."
We walked in the village, me and the American forces. Everybody crying. My dad hugged me. My brothers, my mom. I cried, too. It was a great moment. I came with America to free them and to see family. That was a great moment for me. That was the best moment ever.
YOUNG: But soon, there would be another moment that would change Samir's life.
SAMIR: I had to really, like, yell at him and stuff. He said, "I'm Saddam Hussein."
COLLINS: Welcome back. We are here once again with CNN special contributor and former POW, Ron Young.
Ron, by now Samir is actually taking part in the hunt for Saddam Hussein.
YOUNG: Absolutely, Heidi. You have to understand that this is the most intense manhunt that the military had going on at this time. And you can only imagine what Samir's thinking as he brushes back the leaves and uncovers this spider hole where Saddam lie inside.
COLLINS: We'll find out now exactly what was said and what happened atop that spider hole. Part two of "Samir's Story."
SAMIR: I want to show the world. I want to show all the people I know. That's the hole we dragged Saddam out of. From that little bitty dirty hole.
YOUNG (voice-over): For Samir, capturing Saddam was personal. Forced to flee Iraq in the U.S., his heart hurt for his family still suffering back home.
When the U.S. went back to remove Saddam Hussein, he wanted to help. He was sent back to Tikrit as a translator with the U.S. Special Forces.
SAMIR: They don't want to see you in the uniforms. They don't care for Americans or if you're Iraqi. They don't care.
YOUNG: Samir was assigned to the tedious and frustrating search for Saddam. Sparks of hope would quickly fade.
Then, the brake they were looking for.
Now for the first time someone on the mission tells what happened the night Special Forces caught Saddam Hussein.
SAMIR: On December 15, we know what we have, Saddam Hussein is on that farm, hidden somewhere in the farm. But we had his bodyguard. He's the one we were looking for, because we knew he lived with Saddam. I was the translator for this guy.
And he start crying. He said, "Don't kill me. I'll show you where Saddam is."
And we got on that farm about 8 p.m. Saturday night. And forces went inside. And they searched the whole farm, and there's no sign of Saddam. The guy show us exactly where the bunker is.
YOUNG: The bodyguard showed you where the bunker was?
SAMIR: He said -- pointed with his finger. He said, dig in here.
It's really hard to see where the bunker is. It's like it's covered with dirt. What they do was Saddam go in. They take leaves from trees, and they throw it on top of that.
They make it look like it's been there for a long time.
We dig in there and found a hole. A little bitty hole. It can't be. Especially when you think about looking for Saddam Hussein, the dictator, the one who has the power over his people. It just -- it doesn't cross your mind. But he was there. He was there.
He heard shots, and he started yelling inside. And they said, "Samir, come talk to him. Tell him to come out."
And he start saying, "Don't shoot. Don't kill me. Don't shoot." He asked me to tell him, to ask him, "Put your hands up. We want to see your hands." I told him, "Put your hands up."
It was like one hand.
I said, "Let me see your other hand." And he did this. I said, "No, both hands up."
YOUNG: And you're looking down the hole at this point?
SAMIR: Yes. I was like, this guy's like pulling me back, because they didn't know what's in there. A bomb's going to come off or something. I tried to talk to him. This guy's, "Samir." They pulled me back. And like we had helicopters, about eight of them.
Anyway, he stick both hand up. And I reach him. And I grabbed him. I grabbed him. I was like, "I'm not going to let him go." Everyone got a piece of Saddam. We pulled him out.
I look at him, I knew that's Saddam from his face. And I told them, "This is Saddam." They didn't believe me first.
They said, "Ask him his name."
I said, "This is Saddam."
They said, "No, ask him."
And I asked him, "What's your name?"
He said -- at first, he said, "Ah..."
"What's your name?"
He said, "I'm Saddam."
"Saddam what?" I had to really, like, yell at him and stuff.
He said, "I'm Saddam Hussein."
COLLINS: When we come back, Samir finally confronts Saddam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMIR: He called me a traitor and a spy. And he made me really upset. And I had to bite my tongue (ph).
COLLINS: Welcome back, everyone. The search for Saddam Hussein lasted nine months.
And you know, Ron Young, when I walked into the newsroom that morning last December, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I was going to the desk to actually cover the capture of Saddam Hussein.
YOUNG: It was an absolutely unbelievable day, and for Samir it had to be the most unbelievable of all. I mean, he's the first person to put his hands on Saddam Hussein.
COLLINS: Now, the conclusion of Ron Young's exclusive report, "Samir's Story."
SAMIR: At that moment, I was -- I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do, that this is the guy who destroyed million of lives. He's in my hands.
I don't know. I just -- to kill him right away is not a good idea. I don't know what to do, really.
I told him, "You call yourself a hero and a leader of the Arab nation. You are nobody."
And he called me a traitor and a spy. And he make me really upset. And I had to punch him. I was so angry. I don't know really punch him a couple of times in the face. I grabbed him from his beard and they told me to stop: "That's enough."
Saddam spoke two words in English when we pulled him out. When we pulled him out, he spoke the word because he thought nobody speak Arabic with this forces. He said, "America. Why?" He said it three times, "America why? America, why? America, why?"
And I remember once of the forces told me to tell him. They said, "Samir, tell him the reason we're here. Because President Bush sent us to find you."
YOUNG: How did he react?
SAMIR: He had mad words (ph). He said, "My shoes are better than you and your family." Any question you ask him, he's crazy. I think he's crazy. He's like, "The war is not over." He said, "I'm a hostage or I'm a prisoner?"
YOUNG: He had no idea?
SAMIR: Yes. He said, "You didn't win the war." He said, "You didn't win the war. The war is not over."
We told him that. "The war is over. The war is over. It's over. You gone. You gone.
He said, "No, the war is not over."
YOUNG: Special forces took Saddam Hussein back to one of his palaces. He was no longer president, but a prisoner.
(on camera): Was he crying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wasn't really crying, but he was like -- felt like he's not Saddam anymore. He's not the president anymore. He felt he -- it's was gone.
I remember a couple question they asked him when I was there. They asked about the master graves and he denied it. And he blamed the vice president, Iraqi vice president, al-Duri. He said, America, kill this? Why you coming like crossing the Atlantic? You come in here.
Like the way he talk.
You come in here to Iraq? What do you know about Baghdad?
PAUL BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
YOUNG (voice-over): Soon, word traveled to Nasiriyah and, later, the pictures.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom, when she saw the picture, the first picture came out, like, they blocked my face. She said from his hand, I can tell was Samir (ph). My parents, they are proud of me.
YOUNG: Samir returned to Saint Louis. He told only a few people what had happened. He tried to tell his story to President Bush in an e-mail, but it bounced back. Then, last month, friends arranged for him to meet President Bush.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like, it can't be. It can't be. I was like -- I couldn't sleep that night. I just couldn't believe it. I shook the president's hand. And I told him, Mr. President, thank you. Thank you what you have done to Iraq to free the country. And it's just -- that's a great moment. You know, I told him, sir, this is me and Saddam. And he said he saw it. He saw the picture.
PROTESTERS: U.S. Out!
YOUNG (on camera): What would you say to the people in this country who say that our going to war wasn't worth it, that the cost is too high?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to say, like, especially the whole family, they have son or kids that have daddy or mother serving in Iraq. I want to tell, what they are doing in Iraq, it is the right thing because they save a life. They changing the Iraq. Going to Iraq I think is the right thing.
COLLINS: Ron, there are people in this country who are very upset about the lack of weapons of mass destruction, or at least not finding them to this point. Given that, how does Samir feel about the occupation and the criticism of the United States?
YOUNG: Well, he expressed to me that he hoped the United States would definitely stay there, that they definitely need us to be there to help them get over the problems they have, and at least until they get the government up and running.
Also, for them, the weapons-of-mass-destruction issue is not a big deal for them, like it is for us, because, for them, the Kurds up in the north have felt it firsthand and they just want their freedom.
COLLINS: They want their freedom. What does he hear when he goes to Iraq from the Iraqi people walking the streets?
YOUNG: He hears that, basically, it honestly depends on which part of the country you're in.
But, most of the time, he says he hears that he's happy -- that they're happy over there about what's happened, that they're happy that the American forces are there and that we are basically providing them with security right now, and that the insurgents -- they -- every Iraqi that he's talked to, basically, views them as being foreign fighters over in Iraq.
COLLINS: So there is a difference they see between the insurgency and the United States forces as the occupation?
COLLINS: All right.
Talk to us a little bit about Samir's plans. He seems like kind of a torn man. He loves the United States. We described him as a patriotic American, but also a patriotic Iraqi.
Samir is a very heartfelt person. And there is a level of depth to him that you don't find in a lot of people. And he's definitely torn. He wants to stay over here in the United States because he has opportunities here that he doesn't have in Iraq. And he's expressed that to me, that once Iraq is free and that the government is established and that he can have the same opportunities there, he wouldn't mind going back and living with his family.
COLLINS: Has his definition of freedom changed?
His definition of freedom has changed to -- he went home and he liberated his family with the Americans. And that is his definition of freedom, giving it to someone else.
COLLINS: CNN special contributor Ron Young, thanks so much for bringing this exclusive report to us.
YOUNG: Thank you.
COLLINS: We also would like to take a moment to thank our CNN producer Jen Pfeiffer (ph) for helping us to put this together.
YOUNG: Absolutely. She was great.
COLLINS: She was.
Ron, thanks so much. Great, great story.
YOUNG: Thank you.
COLLINS: We turn next to another very different issue, but still very much about terror and saving lives, this week's beefed-up security and an important new lead that may have triggered it.
COLLINS: The threat of a terrorist attack against the U.S. seemed so immediate last Sunday when the alert level went up for financial institutions in three cities. But then we heard that much of the intelligence used to make that decision was three years old.
Today's news might make your sense of whiplash a little bit worse. Two U.S. government sources tell CNN suspected al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan has contacted someone in the U.S. in the past few months. CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena was the first to report this information. She joins us in Washington tonight now with the details on this.
Good evening, Kelli. Thanks a lot for being here.
What are your U.S. sources telling you now?
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. officials, senior U.S. officials have told us exactly what you said, Heidi, which is that there is evidence in the intelligence that was gathered in Pakistan that alleged al Qaeda operatives there contacted an individual or individuals here in the United States.
Now, they would not characterize how that contact was made or what information was shared, but obviously, this does lend some credibility to the concern that there are al Qaeda operatives here in the United States that are poised to attack.
COLLINS: Well, of course. How does that information then compare with what authorities in Pakistan are saying?
ARENA: Well, a little different. The Pakistani officials go a little further. This is information that we have not confirmed with U.S. officials, but Pakistani intelligence officials at a very senior level have told CNN that, yes, there was contact made by the alleged al Qaeda computer expert, Muhammad Naeem Noor Kahn -- we've heard a lot about him lately -- that he had allegedly contacted six, what they call al Qaeda operatives here in the United States.
So they go further to define the people that are here as al Qaeda operatives and put a number on it, six. As I said, U.S. officials not confirming that part of the story, but Pakistani officials very definitely saying this is what happened.
COLLINS: But is the U.S. then saying anything about how much cooperation they're actually getting from Pakistan?
ARENA: Well, many law enforcement and government sources have said that the cooperation from Pakistan is getting increasingly better, that there has been a lot of political diplomatic pressure placed on Pakistan.
As you know, there have long been reports that many of the senior al Qaeda operatives are thought to be with -- on the Pakistan-Afghani border, so lots of problems in the tribal areas in Pakistan.
These recent arrests are happening right in the middle of the city, Heidi, so it does seem that the Pakistanis have upped the ante a bit, have gotten more aggressive. And across the board, not only in the United States, but in other countries as well, they're saying that this -- this intelligence gathering process going on in Pakistan is really proving to be very beneficial.
COLLINS: Well, it's happening right in the middle of these new terror alerts as well. So how much does this new information actually play into the recent warnings?
ARENA: Well, we're told -- and this is where it gets tricky -- we're told that it was a major factor.
We also heard today from Bush administration officials that it was not only the information in Pakistan that we all heard about, which was a surveillance of these buildings here in the United States that was done in such great detail, but that there was also another stream of intelligence coming in from human sources overseas also indicating that financial targets were being up by al Qaeda.
So you had so many different sources of intelligence coming in, but I am told that this alleged communication was high on the list of concerns.
COLLINS: So because of these concerns now, do you know whether or not the government is actually considering raising the alert level across the board all across the country?
ARENA: We haven't heard that, Heidi, and I think that the general consensus is that they've in essence done that, that the alert has been raised, the public is aware. We're also aware that homeland loosened up some funds that normally would not be available unless the country went to orange, but they've loosened up some money for some localities to use for security purposes.
So in effect many homeland observers say that it's almost as if they are at orange. I think if there were any other specific information that came in, the government would reassess. As you know, they reassess that decision every day. But right now no one is talking about going to orange on a national level.
COLLINS: All right. CNN's Kelli Arena in Washington tonight. Kelly, always happy to have your insight. Thanks again.
Let's get some expert analysis now on the information that Kelli is talking about. Joining us tonight from our London bureau is John Gohel. He's the director of international security at the Asia Pacific Foundation.
Mr. Gohel, thanks to you also for being with us tonight.
As you know, about 2 1/2 years ago, U.S. forces went to Afghanistan to basically try to destroy the infrastructure of al Qaeda. Does this latest information mean it was a failure?
JOHN GOHEL, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: What we have to remember, Heidi, about Operation Enduring Freedom is that it was a full frontal exercise. They went in there, totally committed to try and rout out al Qaeda.
But what happened was nobody was guarding the back door, particularly the Pakistani authorities. So all the leading al Qaeda individuals just moved the operators, their personnel and went to Pakistan, where they have stayed. And Pakistan now has become the new center for al Qaeda. And, unfortunately, yes, there were failings made in that, and unfortunately we've not totally eliminated the total terror structure.
COLLINS: Give me a little bit more clarification on what you mean by not guarding the back door?
GOHEL: There -- there was expectation by the U.S. on the Pakistani authorities that they would pick up any al Qaeda people that were trying to flee from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
The long border was expected to be manned, properly secured, but it wasn't. Instead, thousands of al Qaeda individuals and Taliban fighters just simply walked across the border, where they made Pakistan their home.
Let's look at the fact that major key arrests in the last few couple of months -- sorry, last year, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the master planner of 9/11, he was arrested in an army compound in Rawal Pindi (ph). You had Abu Zubaydah, Taki bin al-Taj (ph), Ramzi Binalshibh, other key al Qaeda individuals, all picked up in major cities north in the border regions right in the major cities.
COLLINS: In Pakistan. Tell me then, and I don't know how you characterize this, but how much communication is there actually going on between al Qaeda abroad and then right here in the United States?
GOHEL: Well, one thing we always have to remember, Heidi, is that al Qaeda will always reserve its biggest, most spectacular attacks for U.S. interests in the U.S., as well as abroad.
And certainly, what we have to remember, that 9/11 was a declaration of war on the U.S., and we witnessed follow-up attacks elsewhere in the world.
But certainly one thing is a fact, that there are strong communications between al Qaeda cells throughout the world and particularly with those remaining cells that exist inside the United States. And they're mainly done through the Internet, through Internet chat rooms, which has become a primary source for information to spread amongst cells, because it's very easy to do that. And that is a source that the terrorists have certainly used to their advantage.
COLLINS: Because -- Sir John, do you think that -- that this new information could actually mean that someone has been given a direct order or that a terrorist cell, a sleeper cell has been activated?
GOHEL: I think because this is such a key, critical year for the U.S., a presidential year, there is a strong fear, a very realistic fear that al Qaeda and its affiliates would be planning a similar type of terrorist attack that we witnessed in Spain to proceed the presidential elections, to create maximum fear and damage and to basically derail the political process, to target the world's most powerful democracy.
And certainly because it is now we're approaching that stage, there will have to be a high level of vigilance, because certainly al Qaeda is not finished with the U.S. And we will, unfortunately, witness more attempts, more plots for them to target the U.S.
COLLINS: Sir John Gohel from the Asia Pacific Foundation, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
GOHEL: My pleasure.
COLLINS: Coming up next now, the 9/11 commission still hanging in and stepping up the pressure for change.
COLLINS: It may be shaping up as the next great political fight in Washington. That is, what to do with the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. There are dozens of them, but should they all be adopted?
One Republican senator says Congress will thoughtfully review the recommendations, but that it won't act as a rubber stamp.
Yet, some of the heaviest pressure on Congress and the White House to take action is coming from 9/11 commissioners themselves, both Democrat and Republican.
COLLINS (voice-over): When they released their report almost two weeks ago, 9/11 commission members made a promise.
THOMAS KEAN (R), CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: All ten of us have decided to keep in touch, to work with these recommendations and do whatever we can, whether it's testimony or lobbying or speaking or whatever is necessary.
COLLINS: And issued a warning.
KEAN: An attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time.
COLLINS: But despite the commission's appeals, some say, so far, there has been more talk than action.
JACK CAFFERTY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": A number of days since the 9/11 made recommendations for protecting the country against terrorism: 11. Number of recommendations adopted by Congress, zero.
COLLINS: On Monday, 11 days after the report was issued, President Bush endorsed some of its proposals, including the creation of a national counter terrorism center and a national intelligence director.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And will serve at the pleasure of the president.
COLLINS: But it's not clear how much power the director will have. That, some commission members say, is unacceptable.
SEN. BOB KERREY (D), 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: You're better off not taking action if the action produces another agency that doesn't have real statutory authority.
COLLINS: Presidential candidate John Kerry has said he would immediately endorse all of the 9/11 commission's recommendations.
And what about Congress? There are a dozen congressional committees and subcommittees studying the report. The problem is, as of today, while two have started hearings, the rest are in recess.
REP. SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (R), NEW YORK: People say we've got all the answers to all of the questions now, let's go forward instantly and reconvene Congress tomorrow, pass it and our problems are involved. That's not the way it works.
COLLINS: And meanwhile, the clock is still ticking.
CAFFERTY: Number of days since the 9/11 commission made recommendations for protecting this country against terrorism, 13.
BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Thirteen!
CAFFERTY: Number of recommendations adopted by Congress: zero.
COLLINS: Joining us now from Seattle, a member of the 9/11 commission, Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste is also a former Watergate prosecutor.
Thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate your time tonight.
First I want to ask you, sir about your reaction to suspected al Qaeda operatives, reports that we have that those in Pakistan might actually have been contacting individuals here in the United States.
From the work that you've done on this commission, can you shed any light on those communications?
BEN-VENISTE: The intelligence community has known for quite some time that there were al Qaeda cells in the United States.
Richard Clarke communicated that information to Condoleezza Rice soon after the transition into the current administration in 2001, and, quite clearly, that information was communicated to the president in the August 6 PDB from the CIA to the president.
So we had that information, and we need to act on that information to make ourselves more secure.
COLLINS: There actually is a whole section in this 9/11 Commission report on Pakistan. Do you think Pakistan is doing all it can to rout out al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan?
BEN-VENISTE: We know that they're doing a lot better than they had been. Of course, the Taliban, which protected al Qaeda, was largely the creation of the Pakistani government. So we've come quite a distance. That's fair to say, but as your earlier guest...
COLLINS: Pardon the interruption, but as you know, "The New York Times" today reporting a couple of different things I just want to ask you about, saying that Pakistan is allowing the Taliban to train right there in their country. Also, recent arrests have been, as we just heard from one of our guests, all in cities in Pakistan.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, as I began to say, the effort in Afghanistan was not fully successful in wiping out al Qaeda and, quite clearly, there are al Qaeda operatives throughout the Middle East and Asia, as well as, we believe, in the United States.
COLLINS: How do you really know? I mean, is there a person who goes and says, "OK, this is what Pakistan said that they were going to be doing and they really, indeed did it?"
BEN-VENISTE: How we know is through our intelligence agencies, through other foreign governments who will cooperate with us, and through our own contacts in the Pakistani government.
COLLINS: All right. Let's talk, if we could, for a moment and turn the corner with the 9/11 commission recommendations. Do you feel that Congress is dragging its feet?
BEN-VENISTE: I don't think so. Actually, I'm encouraged by the fact that Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman held the immediate hearings right after the 9/11 commission issued our report.
Other hearings have been scheduled. There was one yesterday and today. There were -- I'm going to be testifying with Senator Gorton in Los Angeles on Friday at another hearing.
I think that Congress is beginning to pick up speed, analyze what we have recommended, read our report, which was a painstaking analysis over more than 18 months of why we got into the position that we were in.
How was it that we were unable to detect and defeat the plotters who pulled off the worst catastrophe in American history? How did that happen?
Well, we think one of the reasons is the failure of the intelligence community to communicate amongst itself. They got a failing grade in works and plays well with others.
Now, in all seriousness, our suggestion of the creation of a national intelligence director is directly coming from those things that we found out over this long period of time. And we suggest that in order to coordinate effectively and efficiently our intelligence community's work, we need to have a quarterback in charge with budget authority. That's critical. COLLINS: Right.
BEN-VENISTE: So unless that happens, we're going to have a figurehead who could well make things worse.
COLLINS: All right. Certainly some more questions surrounding that and how much power that individual will have.
Richard Ben-Veniste, we certainly appreciate your time tonight.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
COLLINS: Thanks so much.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
COLLINS: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge will be Aaron Brown's guest on "NEWSNIGHT." That's tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
From trailing terrorists, we go next to the candidates trailing each other.
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BUSH: Great to be back here in the Quad Cities area. It's a great place to work and raise your family.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is wonderful to be here in Davenport this morning, the Quad Cities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: The Bush and Kerry campaigns blocks away, worlds apart. That's coming up next.
COLLINS: If people in Davenport, Iowa, feel special tonight, who could blame them? It's rare that a president seeking reelection and his rival for the Oval Office campaign in the same city on the same day at the same time. Coincidence? Hardly.
So why is this city on the banks of Mississippi so special that the Bush and Kerry campaigns held events practically next door to each other in downtown Davenport? White House correspondent Dana Bash explains.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is summer in Davenport, Iowa. Minor league baseball on a sweltering August night. Gambling on the banks of the Mississippi.
If you thought presidential politics was only a winter sport here with the Iowa caucuses and all, you'd be wrong. This local headline says it all.
Even for these hardened veterans, a president and his challenger descending on a city of 100,000 at the same time is a bit overwhelming. Just ask Police Chief Mike Bladel.
CHIEF MICHAEL BLADEL, DAVENPORT POLICE: You can't compare this. This is a once in a lifetime issue. You know, it's kind of odd that they hit here on the same day. We're glad to have them.
BASH: Mike has canceled vacations and borrowed officers from around the state to cover the dueling visits. And it's not just the timing, it's the location.
We're standing at the Bush site.
BLADEL: As you look over here to the brick, light brick building here, it will be just to the north of that up at -- up at the river.
BASH (on camera): So it's a stone's throw?
BLADEL: It's -- yes, just about a stone's throw.
BASH: For somebody with a strong arm.
(voice-over) But as the president's bunting goes up, placards and risers erected, a mirror image up the road for the Democratic campaign.
So why are they both here?
Mr. Bush lost Iowa by just 4,000 votes in 2000. These blocked streets are proof both campaigns think this community could tip the state.
(on camera) Senator Kerry's event site is here, and President Bush is down by the Mississippi just a few blocks away. Everywhere in between, we found undecided voters.
(voice-over) Even Republican Mayor Charles brook.
MAYOR CHARLES BROOK (R), DAVENPORT, IOWA: I want to see both of these candidates face-to-face myself, because I'm not sure I've made my mind up yet either.
BASH (on camera): You haven't?
BASH: You're a Republican right?
BROOK: That's true, I am.
BASH: So how come you haven't made up your mind?
BROOK: There's a lot of things that I like about both candidates, but there's some things that I don't like about both candidates, so I'm still wavering.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two pitchers of Bud Light.
BASH (voice-over): At the Starting Line Tavern, smack in the middle of the two sites, an office gathering for three coworkers fired from their downsizing accounting firm just a few hours before the candidates arrived.
Nancy Koberg worked there 35 years. It's a familiar Davenport tale: lost jobs. A political headache for the president, but she's still undecided.
BASH (on camera): How is what happened to you today going to effect how you vote?
NANCY KOBERG, UNDECIDED VOTER: Well, you know, Bush can't do everything by himself, you know? He can't make all of the decisions himself.
BASH (voice-over): Brandon Bale is now looking for a job, and his vote is up for grabs, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were picked here in the Midwest. There is a lot of other places I guess they could of focused on larger than here so it's kind of neat that they're right here.
BASH: But the not so secret strategy for both campaigns, it's not only here in Davenport they're trying to reach.
KERRY: It's not about red states and blue states. It's about the red, white, and blue.
BASH: Local news coverage is the name of the game. Davenport and its sister cities make up the third largest media market in the region, reaching parts of neighboring Missouri and Illinois.
Is all this coincidence? Kerry's aides say President Bush is following him here, trying to show him up. Republicans scoff at that but are quite eager to point at this: throngs of people waiting to attend a traditional rally. A different feel over at Kerry land for an intimate economic discussion.
But not to be outdone in the politics of imagery, an unscheduled stop to shake hands at a construction site.
This is more than a duel. It's a battle in the war for undecided voters. And despite the disruptions, people here seem to like all the buzz and, besides, the mayor says.
BROOK: Well, Thursday, everybody is going to be gone, and we'll be back to normal.
BASH: Until next time, anyway. For now, back to baseball.
COLLINS: Dana Bash reporting.
One interesting side note, though on what else was happening in Davenport during those campaign stops. Three banks were held up at gunpoint. Police say one person is under arrest. It's not clear if the robberies are connected.
We'll be back right after this.
COLLINS: Thanks for being with us tonight, everybody. Tomorrow, the health care industry aims billions of dollars in advertising at you and your doctor. A look at how that effects your health care tomorrow.
And I'll see you tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING." For now, "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night, everybody.
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