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Ali Soufan on Lessons From 9/11 and Terror Today; Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 29, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:16] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Coming up, we are looking back at some of our favorite interviews this year.
In this edition, lessons from 9/11 and why extremism will remain a threat for a very long time. My interview with former FBI special agent and
interrogator, Ali Soufan. Plus, one of the world's celebrated novelist and feminist, the award-winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I am Christiane Amanpour in London.
When it comes to the fight in terrorists few people come close to Ali Soufan's depth of knowledge or experience. A former FBI special agent, he
made his name investigating Al-Qaeda plots before 7/11 and interrogating Al-Qaeda suspects after those devastating attacks, often obtaining
invaluable information from them.
Some of which is portrayed in Hulu's acclaimed new drama "The Looming Tower." Here is Soufan played by Tahar Rahim questioning Osama bin Laden's
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AMANPOUR: Soufan has since left the FBI. And now, he runs his own security consultancy and he tells me that the threat from ISIS and all the
Al-Qaeda spinoffs remains very high indeed.
We spoke as the paperback version of his book "Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State" hit the shelves.
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AMANPOUR: Ali Soufan, welcome to the program.
ALI SOUFAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: You have become known all these years later, after 9/11, as the explainer-in-chief about this terrorism, about this breed of terrorism, al-
Qaeda , ISIS, that we're having to deal with. And it started very early for you, didn't it?
SOUFAN: Yes, it's 1997, I believe.
AMANPOUR: What did you know then that we didn't know?
SOUFAN: Well, you know, my major was in international relations and my focus was the impact of (INAUDIBLE) actors on the stability in the Middle
East. So, I was reading the newspapers and I stumbled into this man, Osama bin Laden, who was doing interviews in Sudan and talking about his vision
and what he wanted to do. And so, I wrote a memo about it, I went to my boss, John O'Neill.
AMANPOUR: Who was famously the new director of the FBI?
SOUFAN: He was the head of National Security and the FBI. And when he read the memo, he actually told me, "We have a case already opened on this
man," and there are small group of people and the CIA and the FBI already working on him and they look upon him as a terrorist financier.
AMANPOUR: He was the instigator, he was the whole thing. I mean, it was Osama bin Laden.
SOUFAN: And that was, you know, East Africa embassy bombing in August of 1998 was the very first overt attack by al-Qaeda. So, now, we're taking
him seriously. We're taking his network seriously. So, we start working with our allies around the world.
Our first, you know, stop was in the U.K. The main office for Bin Laden was actually in London and we worked very closely with our colleagues in
Scotland Yard and the intelligence services here in the U.K. and disrupting the plots.
AMANPOUR: So, that was going to be my next question. Did the intelligence services here know what they were up against? Did they understand how
serious this was?
SOUFAN: Well, at the very beginning, I mean, there was no understanding even in the U.S. itself. You know, when we were working on Osama bin Laden
and we actually indicted him in a sealed indictment in June of 1998, before the East African embassy bombing, we had a lot of difficulties convincing
people in Washington that that individual is actually a threat.
So, yes, most of the lslamists, if you want to call them, who were here in London, they were peaceful people, escaping the tyranny in their own
government. And there was no problem with them being -- you know, practicing the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression that a place
like the U.K. would give. But you have a small amount of individuals, people like Khalid al-Fawwaz, people like Abu Hamza al-Masri, people like
Abu Qatada al-Filistini, people like --
AMANPOUR: These are all the legendary names, if I can use that.
SOUFAN: And all of them in jail now.
AMANPOUR: Yes, all in jail.
SOUFAN: All in jail now.
AMANPOUR: You have written that al-Qaeda and its successes, basically, this entity is like a multi-headed hydra, it's like whack-a-mole.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's just not one thing. Has the West or those against this kind of radical jihadism got a grip right now? Is the combat against
them enough? I mean, it's really only military at the moment. Is that enough?
SOUFAN: No, absolutely not. In order for the West to effectively take them down, we have to think in two separate ways. You have the terrorist
network. And it takes a network to down a network. We were effective after 9/11 in taking down that network. However, the war in Iraq was the
catastrophe that gave that network back its oxygen, its blood and everything it needs to grow and even grow bigger than it used to be before.
The other element is combating the ideology, combating the narrative, combating the narrative that the West and the United States is basically
declaring a war on Islam. And, unfortunately, throughout the war on terrorism, we played into the narrative of the bad guys.
The invasion of Iraq, for example, with no reason, you know, played into that. Secretive jails and black sites played into that. Guantanamo Bay
played into that. Dealing in the Middle East without a strategy, comprehensive strategy, of where we want to go played into that. Recent
messages from the administration about Muslim bans, for example, plays into that. The increase of Islamophobia in the West, even by politicians,
taking the extreme fringes and making them mainstream in our society is playing into that.
So, unfortunately, today, we are in way worse situation than it used to be, I believe, before 9/11.
SOUFAN: Absolutely. I'll give you an example.
AMANPOUR: You just said we took down the network. the United States has just declared, with its coalition, that it has, if not killed off --
SOUFAN: Until 2003 --
AMANPOUR: -- severely neutralized ISIS.
SOUFAN: Absolutely not. Until 2003, we took the network, but the network is back. ISIS just is going through a phase, you know. ISIS today is
where al-Qaeda was after 2001. It's going from a proto state now to an underground terrorist organization.
The idea is not al-Qaeda or ISIS or any name or AQAP or al-Shabab. The idea is the ideology and the message and the narrative that they have.
Christiane, before 9/11, al-Qaeda had 400 members, 400 members, 19 of them were killed on that day. Today, the people who adhere to the narrative of
Osama bin Laden are in the thousands.
Look at Syria in Idlib. Look at al-Shabab movement in Somalia. Look at Yemen. Before, we only had Afghanistan. We had Kandahar, Kabul,
Jalalabad, couple of training camps. Now, because of many different things, to include the failures that have happened in the aftermath of the
Arab Spring, we have vacuums and vacuums all across the Muslim world. And, unfortunately, extremists, people like al-Qaeda and ISIS, are the only one
who are able to fill these vacuums.
AMANPOUR: I mean, that is a lot more apocalyptic than I thought. I mean, we get told that the caliphate is over, that it's been disrupted, that, you
know, there are attacks against all these terrorist cells in all these various places that you've been talking about just now.
You are the expert on this. So, how does one confront this?
SOUFAN: First of all, this ideology, this narrative have been resilient. After 9/11, we swiftly destroyed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, kicked the
Taliban out for a period of time. However, al-Qaeda, again, shifted. They shifted from being an organization to being a network, to being a message.
And it's very difficult to fight a message.
The second element that I would like to talk about today is sectarianism. Today, sectarianism in the Middle East is the main unifier of a lot of
AMANPOUR: You mean, Sunni, Shiite, the whole divide that we see being played out?
SOUFAN: Absolutely. The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia benefiting the extremists on both sides. And sometimes they try to change
their name. So, now, we're not al-Qaeda, we're not Nusra. Oh, now, we're not Nusra, we're Tahrir al-Sham. Oh, no, we're not Tahrir al-Sham; it's
Ansar al-Sharia. So, they put lipstick on a pig, but it's still, you know, a pig.
The third element of it is that the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring shifted the calculus of al-Qaeda tremendously.
And the fourth and last thing about this is to focus on the ideology, to focus on the narrative, to not play into the fear that if we talk narrative
and we talk about al-Qaeda and we talk about ISIS and we talk about them hijacking religious terminology that we're attacking Islam. We're not
I am a Muslim. And I spend my life fighting these groups because they don't represent anything about the beautiful religion that I believe in.
AMANPOUR: So, with all of this that you said, what is your prediction then? Where do they strike next? Is the West still in mortal danger?
SOUFAN: Yes, absolutely. I think now they are building a network. It took them -- look, you know, after the Soviet jihad, they didn't attack
immediately. It took them years to develop the network.
Now, frankly, if you talk to al-Qaeda or to ISIS, what do they want to do next, they don't know what they're going to do next. Now, they are
building the network. ISIS is trying to find new places to go to after their defeat in Syria and after the loss of the territorial lands of the
AMANPOUR: It's extraordinary. And at the same time, we are reminded of the history that led to 9/11 in "The Looming Tower", which is Larry
Wright's Pulitzer Prize winning book. You featured very, very prominently in it. And it's been made into a multi-part series by Hulu.
First and foremost, have they got it right?
SOUFAN: Well, yes. You know, there's definitely drama. It's Hollywood. Having said that, I think they stayed true to the investigative part of the
story, but it's amazing to see the power of television because so many people now are seeing it unfolding and they're realizing that 9/11 didn't
come out of thin air, that there was a lot of things that happened before that led to that day, a lot of mistakes that we did.
AMANPOUR: And it's really pointed out in minute detail by Larry Wright and also this Hulu series, the internal squabbling and conflict and holding on
to their own resources between the CIA and the FBI. So, not sharing certain information and, of course, that was highlighted in the commission.
Do you think the structure in the US is now properly aligned to avoid those kinds of mistakes?
SOUFAN: It is. And the relationship between the CIA and the FBI is way better than it used to be. But the problem, history is repeating itself,
not necessarily with the intelligence community. It's repeating itself because the political leadership now is not listening to the intelligence
So, the president has been briefed that Russia interfered in our election. They interfered in the 2016 election and they didn't get an executive
order, presidential order from the president to take any measures against that.
That reminds me of so many different ways when we used to say Osama bin Laden -- in your first questions early on, the political leadership didn't
want to listen. And today, we have the same thing. It's a different type of threat, but it's as damaging.
AMANPOUR: And John O'Neill, just your reflections at this time on him.
SOUFAN: John was, you know, an amazing character. And I know you've seen elements of his personal life in the show.
AMANPOUR: Played by Jeff Daniels in the show.
SOUFAN: And Jeff Daniels is amazing. He did a great job. He played John O'Neill as seen by Jeff Daniels. So, he didn't listen to what everybody
else was telling him about John O'Neill.
But John O'Neill was an amazing guy. And John O'Neill had only one love ad one commitment and it was to the FBI. And everything else in the world
didn't matter. And that's why his social life unfortunately was in shambles.
But John was a great leader. He understood the threat. He understood what need to be done. And, unfortunately, it was so tragic because he's the one
who put the focus on Osama bin Laden. He is the one who tried to get Osama bin Laden. But on 9/11, John O'Neill was in the World Trade Center and he
was killed by al-Qaeda and by Osama bin Laden.
AMANPOUR: In the series, they also focus on your personal life. You met this wonderful woman. You had to keep explaining to her that you had to go
off on secret missions. You couldn't even tell her about it. I mean, you are the terrorist hunter. And yet, your marriage has lasted, you have
kids, your unit survived. How?
SOUFAN: Well, I think I'm lucky, I guess. I don't know we have angels watching over us. But she's amazing and she endured a lot. And when I
said, one day -- I think we had an event at "The Washington Post" and somebody asked me about my date and, you know, that I left her in the
restaurant. She said, so did she take you back because it was --
AMANPOUR: As portrayed in the series.
SOUFAN: I said, yes, she is my wife now. And the guy is going, well, look, you shouldn't say that. I'm like, what?
AMANPOUR: Well, there is a happy ending. Ali Soufan, thank you so much indeed.
SOUFAN: Thank you. Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: My next guest has used her Blockbuster books and the platform they have given her to tell often deeply uncomfortable truths about race,
gender and politics. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one the world's most celebrated authors and she joins me now here in our studio. Great to have
you with us.
Let me start by asking you then around the whole MeToo debate, which you talked a lot about. You surprised quite a lot of your devotees and the
people who hang on every word with a speech you made in Stockholm this week where you revealed for the first time that, at 17, you had been aggressed,
you had your own ugly unpleasant #MeToo moment. Tell me about it.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, AUTHOR, "AMERICANAH" AND "WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS": There was a man in Lagos (ph) who was -- who I thought would
help me with my first -- I published a book of poetry. A terrible, terrible book that I hope nobody ever reads. But I was young and I thought
it was a wonderful book. And so, I thought the world should know about it. And so, I wanted to do a book launch.
And I went to this man's office. And he was very nice, very helpful. I was sitting across his desk and he said he was so impressed because young
people were not reading and I had written this book at 17 and then he got up and came around and very casually slipped his hand under my shirt, under
my bra and squeezed my breast.
AMANPOUR: Just like that?
AMANPOUR: Did you even get a sense of foreboding when he got up --
ADICHIE: No. Because nothing had prepared me for it. Nothing had -- nothing in his behavior had suggested that he was going to do anything like
AMANPOUR: You were 17?
AMANPOUR: So, how did that shape you? How did that turn you into the feminist you are today?
ADICHIE: I think I was a feminist before then. I've been a feminist for as long as I can remember, which is simply to say that as a child I was
very much aware that the world did not treat men and women the same way.
AMANPOUR: Just like we heard from Sylvia Earle.
ADICHIE: Yes. I didn't read any feminist text. So, I didn't have a moment when I rose up and said I am a feminist. Actually, I didn't know
what the word feminist meant for a long time, but I was one. I was one.
AMANPOUR: Why did you decide to tell this story now given that it's been six months or more since this whole revolution had started?
ADICHIE: You know, I think partly because -- and I am not interested in naming names because that's not what it is for me. It's simply to say this
is happening, it happens to most women, it's not unusual, I don't think I'm remarkable, but I wanted to use it to talk about why we don't talk about
Like, the thing about social conditioning that women go through that makes them reluctant to talk about these experiences, that somebody will say,
"Why you are talking about it now, why didn't you do something, why didn't you push him or slap him," and how our socialization teaches us to be nice
and kind even to people who hurt us.
AMANPOUR: And you do describe an internal change that happened to you after this. I mean, you know, all the women are asked why didn't you, why
you are only telling us now, why did you keep quiet, why weren't you, et cetera, as you just said. But your whole body broke out, you described.
ADICHIE: I broke out in rashes shortly after that and all over my chest, my neck, my face and I remember -- and the only person who knew was my
bestfriend, Uju. And I remember Uju saying to me, "Your body is saying what your lips do not say." Sort of this loathing that you feel is -- and
I don't know if that's why I broke out. Maybe I was just using the wrong moisturizer.
AMANPOUR: Stress can do that.
ADICHIE: Yes. But the point is that even if the rashes had nothing to do with it, my spirit had a very visceral reaction to it.
AMANPOUR: Now, is this best friend, the same one who told you that -- or was it another friend, who told you that feminism is not part of our
ADICHIE: Oh, no. No. My best friend is too reasonable to say that.
AMANPOUR: But it was a friend who said that to you?
ADICHIE: It was a friend who said that and this friend meant well. And this is just a way of silencing women because, of course, the idea that
feminism is part of any culture or not part of any culture is ridiculous.
I think my great grandmother was a feminist because she spoke her mind, wanted her own, to be her own, if that makes sense, and was known to be a
troublemaker, which I think is a wonderful tag for a woman, which meant she was feminist.
And for me, I don't really -- so now, because I'm sort of being this feminist icon, which is something I feel very ambivalent about, it was
never the plan, but the kind of feminist discourse in the West, you know, when people talk about first wave feminism, second wave feminism, it
doesn't really appeal to me.
I don't really feel a connection to it because it's not my story, but I didn't become a feminist because I read about second wave feminism. I
became a feminist because I grew up in Nigeria and observed the world, and just saw what felt to me like an injustice that made no sense. Why were
women judged more harshly? Why were all the positions of real power occupied by men? Why were the cultural practices that had prestige somehow
only for men? You know, those things, just it didn't make any sense to me at that time.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I do again recount in one of your TED Talks, an extraordinary story where you are with a male friend and you are in the car
park or something and you want to give a tip to one of the workers there. And you give a tip and what happens?
ADICHIE: And this man to whom I gave the money, my money from my bag, he looks --
AMANPOUR: Your hard work.
ADICHIE: Yes. He looks across me and says to my friend, the man, "Thank you, sir." But here's the thing --
AMANPOUR: I mean, that stuck.
ADICHIE: It did stick. But it was a wonderful moment for my friend because until then he had often said to me, "I don't really understand what
you mean when you say that there's a problem, I don't really understand." And he says to me, "Women are equal, there is no problem, women should stop
complaining." And in that moment, he said to me, "Why did the man thank me? You gave him the money."
[AMANPOUR: Do you have hope that this is actually on a tipping point? Are we on a curve that can only go in the right direction?
ADICHIE: I think it could go either direction.
ADICHIE: I hope it will go in the right direction. And one of the reasons that I find MeToo hopeful is I think it's remarkable because it's the first
time that women's stories are finally being believed. It's the first time that kind of the impulse, the sort of cultural impulse is to believe women.
It has never happened. And so, that's why I am hopeful.
But I also know that the history of women's movement, the history really of any justice movement, is one in which there's always the possibility of --
AMANPOUR: Of rolling back. Yes, exactly. And we see that with civil rights in the United States. You know, we're all wondering whether this
amazing NeverAgain movement, the anti-gun movement by the young people in America will keep moving forward or will get marginalized.
And then, the same about race, obviously, particularly in the United States. Black lives Matter and the seeming -- it just seems that that
struggle never gets to the top of the mountain.
AMANPOUR: And I know that you're always asked about it and you've often said that you're tired sometimes of catering to white sensitivities and
sensibilities about this issue. And sometimes you get yourself in trouble in various audiences because of that, but you're obviously saying something
So, where do you see the struggle over racism in your own environment, whether it's in the United States, even in Africa, if I could say so?
ADICHIE: It's hard for me to talk about racism in Africa because it's really -- the context is so different. I don't think of myself as Black
when I'm home in Nigeria because we have many problems, but race is not one of them. I think we have ethnicity and religion, which are really the
things that divide us, I think.
But in the US, which is a country that racism is at the sort of genetic center of America. And because of that, I think it's going to take a long
time. It took -- I don't know -- 250 years of racism to create America. And since the civil rights movement, which hasn't quite achieved what it's
supposed to achieve, because you look at the U.S. and you look, for example, at cities, and I remember when I first came to the U.S. and I
thought, "Why are the really terrible parts of the cities so full of Black people?"
And, ostensibly, it's because they don't work hard or they don't want to live, but that's not true. And you start to read the history and you
realize that there are government policies that excluded African-Americans.
And I think what's happening now, I do think that Black Lives Matter has done remarkable work. I think that if we can measure progress in terms of
what we can now see, I think Black Lives Matter has contributed a lot. There are many conversations that black people had in private, but they're
now having publicly in the --
AMANPOUR: So, that's cause for hope.
ADICHIE: That is progressing.
AMANPOUR: Particularly 50 years after Martin Luther King's assassination. And as you mentioned, these reports -- I mean, we just reported on one that
had been done by Stanford and a bunch of other scholarly areas where it's sadly said that Black boys, even if they're born into a wealthy family and
they get all the educational opportunities that their White neighbors may have, right after school, they drop right off that precipice back into the
pit of racism.
I said you used your platform, your fame as an author to move these agendas along, where are you right now in your writerly life? You've done --
obviously, "Americanah" was the last book. But what have you -- what's happening next? Where do you feel that this writing and activism is going
ADICHIE: Do you know, I do -- I think they're two very different things. The person who writes fiction is very different from the person who sort of
pontificates about things and thinks she knows a lot of other things.
And I'm a writer. That's really -- I really do think I was born to tell stories. I think of it as a gift from God, a gift from my ancestors. But
talking about things that matter to me happened because I had this platform that came with my fiction writing.
And many times, I really just want to stay at home in my study and read poetry and write. That's what gives me the greatest joy, but then
something happened, and I can't help it because I get so angry about injustice that I feel like I need to say something.
And so, right now, I'm trying to read more poetry. I'm also trying not to have the social issues that I care about, be the things that propel my
fiction writing. I want to tell the stories that speak to me. I want to write about love and -- but, again, even love is political.
AMANPOUR: It is indeed. And it just leads me on because Nigeria has this issue, Kenya has this issue of criminalizing homosexuality. There are
Kenyan things about this issue, which is that then this is not an important issue for the people. Is it? The idea of gay rights, of protection?
ADICHIE: I think it's very important. And the reason is that to criminalize something that isn't criminal is immoral. And so, we have gay
Nigerians who live in fear. We have gay Nigerians who are threatened, who have violence committed against them.
I know one in particular, for example, who says that he's sometimes blackmailed by his driver, his gateman because the driver and the gateman,
they say to him, "Oh, I'm going to go report and tell them that man comes to your house, that you're gay."
It matters. It matters because the dignity of human beings -- we need to oppose that. They're not doing anything criminal. I think people should
be allowed to be who they are.
AMANPOUR: Well, keep reminding and keep agitating. Thank you so much for being with us today.
ADICHIE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
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AMANPOUR: That's it for this special edition of our program. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at Amanpour.com and
you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.