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Greenfield at Large

Interview with Fareed Zakaria, Mansoor Ijaz

Aired November 20, 2001 - 23:00   ET


KEITH OLBERMANN: The new possible anthrax case, once again, no immediately apparent cause. And expert will hypothesize for us. The anti-American rage in the Muslim world, is it as bad as we think or is it worse? And the nuclear threat nobody seems to be worried about, yet. All that tonight on GREENFIELD AT LARGE.

Keith Olbermann in for Jeff tonight. And tonight, an elderly Connecticut woman has a suspected case of inhaled anthrax. She's 94 years old. And it's called suspected only because the CDC has not yet run its tests on her illness. All tests done in Connecticut have come back positive for anthrax.

Earlier this evening, I spoke "New York Times" investigations editor Stephen Engleberg, co-author of the book "Germs."


OLBERMANN: Mr. Engleberg, good evening.


OLBERMANN: It really isn't one. We have about one weekend of eureka with the discovery of the letter to Senator Leahy and the implications of understanding, perhaps, what was going on as members of the administration saying that we thought the anthrax threat was probably behind us. How is this going to affect that general sense of well being?

ENGLEBERG: Well, we don't know a lot right now. It's entirely possible that both the Leahy letter and the latest report from Connecticut of a woman with inhalation anthrax reflect the first wave. I mean after all, the Leahy letter was mailed in early October. It's at least possible this woman, if the case is confirmed, is one of these cross contamination cases which has taken a while to develop.

So it may yet be that this is part of the sort of initial wave. The real question is this person or persons out there who did this, do they have access to further anthrax? Can they unleash a second wave of letters or something more? And I don't think anybody knows the answer to that.

OLBERMANN: The other thing that I guess that you touched upon that struck me as most significant, and maybe I'm overrating it being a total layman on this subject, but is it possible that we've seen what cross contamination did to the postal system in Washington, cut a swath through it essentially. Is it possible that something, a letter that was presumably sent from New Jersey if we're going to attribute this to the same perpetrator, could cross a letter destined for Connecticut? And that cross-examination could have that kind of legs, if you will, to make a woman sick in Connecticut, in inhalation form of anthrax?

ENGLEBERG: Well, it seems to be theoretically possible. I mean, we have two mysteries now. We have a confirmed mystery in New York, which is Kathy Ngyuen, a hospital worker who got this through no conceivable transmission means that we understand. Then you've got this Connecticut case.

It looks like in some people a very small number of spores, when inhaled, can cause the disease. That seems to be what this is saying, but we don't really know that. I mean, we don't really have a firm sense of -- you know, you can't work backwards from somebody who has the disease and say, "OK, today their blood has you know, billions of organisms in them. How many did you start with?" We don't know that. It could be a few, it could be a lot.

OLBERMANN: The silver lining that has been offered in the Ngyuen case in New York was that if -- since there were no apparent obvious connected to the media, connected to Senator Daschle's office, connected to the American media in Florida, since it was nothing obvious that matched the other cases, that were it possible to figure out how she was contaminated, that there was a great silver lining to this, that might be the key to solving the case.

Presumably, again to reach out, if something could be found to explain how a 90-plus year old woman who never gets out of the house, who doesn't go to the post office, who doesn't work for NBC news and is 10 miles west of New Haven, Connecticut, how she got it. Could it be a key to figuring out who is doing this or at least how it is being done?

ENGLEBERG: Well, it's all guesswork, but my guess is that she's going to turn out to be much less of a valuable clue than the letter to Leahy. That's a great opportunity because it was never opened. And obviously, the person who sent it intended for it to be opened.

So here you've got a chance to you know, sit down and scientifically control circumstances and really kind of peel this thing back. Nobody else has touched it. That's the real opportunity.

And in fact, the government met over the weekend. They brought in every expert they could find to the FBI, to sit down and say look, let's think hard about what are the clever techniques we might use to really take advantage of this clue, which they're doing now.

OLBERMANN: Is it possible that as we could not have dreamt that on September 11 two skyscrapers would be knocked down by hijacked airplanes and then two months later, a passenger jetliner would crash in New York and there'd be apparently no connection between these things, is it possible, given that there is anthrax in the environment, a friend of mine whose wife is an microbiologist says you could be take any square mile in this country and find some anthrax in it, perhaps trace amounts, is it possible that there are naturally- caused cases of this disease that we have not known about in the last few years, that this woman might have gotten it that way? And would have previously never been tested for anthrax because nobody believed anybody got anthrax?

ENGLEBERG: It's clearly a possibility. However, this is an answerable question. We will be able to take the strain of anthrax that's in her body and compare it genetically to the strain of anthrax in these letters. And you will know if it's an exact match, then of course, you've got your answer.

If it's very different, it still leaves open the possibility that somebody else sent other strains. Clearly, you know, we didn't know a lot about this disease over the last 30 years. Nobody thought about it. Are there cases of people who died from a diagnosis of pneumonia, where in fact, it was anthrax? It's possible, although I haven't seen it proven yet. So it's still a very open question.

OLBERMANN: The government seems to have gotten around to the idea finally that this is more likely domestic than foreign. You had that opinion for a while. What was the tip on that? What tipped the scales on that?

ENGLEBERG: Well, I think we still don't know. I mean, I think basically what you have is a government analysis, which is, you know, to my mind quite credible, which is that this does not fit with the pattern of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda doesn't send warning letters.

If you look at how a germ attack is supposed to work, the notion of it is that you disperse this stuff without any warning. People get sick. They don't even know they've been infected. They die before they can be treated.

This fellow, whoever he was, sends a letter which says this is anthrax. Take penicillin now. It gives away the whole game. Al Qaeda's not very fond of that. Neither are your average foreign terrorists.

What foreign terrorist sends a letter to Pat Leahy? That seems a fairly -- you know, I know the Senator. He's a good man, but it's a fairly obscure target. All these things point in the direction of something domestic, some as they say, kind of loner, a Ted Kazinsky type, but it's still all analysis and guesswork. There's no evidence that backs this up. And you know, we'll see.

OLBERMANN: And therein lies the terror that was hoped for, because it is all at this point guesswork. Are you, relative to the guesswork, are you reserving opinion on a question like this, that after a case turns up in Connecticut under these circumstances, would you be more worried than you were before that news broke?

ENGLEBERG: A bit more, but I still, you know, as always in this story, I think you've got to see, you know, the real evidence. And unfortunately, as I said, this is an answerable question. We will know first of all whether it's anthrax. I mean, the CDC's tests are absolutely reliable on this. And number two, we'll know whether it's the Daschle anthrax. And at that point, having those two facts on hand, we've got a much better sense of what we've got going here.

OLBERMANN: Stephen Engleberg of "The New York Times," Thank you kindly, sir.

ENGLEBERG: My pleasure.


OLBERMANN: Still ahead, how much do they really hate America. And why we couldn't find a guest for our third segment. Stay with us.


OLBERMANN: Keith Olbermann for Jeff Greenfield.

One of the biggest long-term fears in the war against terror has centered on the reaction of the Muslim world, one billion plus strong. The specter of a billion Osama bin Laden's was raised by the repeated video of angry protester, but how accurate is that picture?

Here to debate and discuss that question, "Newsweek" international editor Fareed Zakaria and Mansoor Ijaz of the Council on Foreign Relations and Crescent Investment Management.

Fareed, I'll start with you. Since the war started, we've been hearing about how many of the men on the street in the Muslim nations or nations that have a large population, despise the United States. Is it an accurate description? Is it a relevant description?

FAREED ZAKARIA, EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK" INTERNATIONAL: I think, Keith, the important thing is to ask the right question. There clearly is a strong element of anti-Americanism in many of these countries, probably most of these countries, but the interesting question we have to ask ourselves is, was this going to translate into support for bin Laden, support for Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, support for terrorism?

And if you looked back over the last six weeks, the number of demonstrations that we've had pro-bin Laden or anti-American have been tiny. I mean, probably all told in 21 countries over six weeks, there had been maybe 20 small demonstrations of a couple thousand people, often a couple hundred people.

Now they look very large when you see them on television, but they're often quite small. Most of the governments have not had to do anything preventive of any kind. So I think there is some good news here, which is that while there is frustration, while there is anger at the United States, it hasn't translated into support for extremism, fanaticism or fundamentalism. It means we have a problem, but it means I would say that our strategy, our diplomacy of making very clear that this was not a war against Islam has also worked.

OLBERMANN: Is there another interpretation of the fact that certainly the amount of public protest has declined and pretty precipitously in these last few weeks?

MANSOOR IJAZ, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: I think part of that was obviously due to the fact that the bombing campaign was seen by these people, who consider themselves to be extremists as you know, we've got to go through this. There's nothing we can do about it. And that's what this is all about.

But I have a slightly different point of view from Fareed on this subject. And that is that you have to understand that what has happened in the Islamic world over the last four, five, seven years as this radicalism sort of grew and became a virus in the mind, is that these people have also gotten smarter. They understand how to now play the game against us.

We didn't even know they were here. And they're still here. And they're not done with us yet. And for us to make the assumption that just because we don't see them in the streets of Lahore or Karachi or in the streets of you know, Marrakesh, or Tripoli or Tunisia, doesn't mean that there isn't that seething, deep hatred and anger building up and saying you know what? There's a better way for us to wage our jihad, that there's an intellectual way to do this. And we're going to be smarter than the Americans this time. And we're going to do it a different way.

OLBERMANN: But did that come into play after the U.S. action in Afghanistan began? Because there was an outpouring at the beginning in many parts of the Middle East. And it has seemed to decline. If the current sort of silence doesn't really mean anything, we can't assign a value to it, didn't the early noise also not really mean anything?

IJAZ: You know, that's a very good way to put it. In fact, it didn't mean anything. And I would have argued with you that especially in Pakistan, because I know that situation better than others, there's no question about the fact that a lot of the street rioting or whatever you want to call it, was what we call stage management.

This was designed to essentially made sure that the American people understood what the risks were to General Musharraf, as he went out and stood on the limb and became our frontline ally in this whole game.

Putting religious clerics behind -- at house arrest, essentially if you look carefully, I can challenge anyone to go and ask how many of the people on those streets could even read the first sura (ph) of the Koran. They can't, because they're not religious fanatics. They're being essentially paid or cajoled or you know, modified into doing whatever it is that they were doing.

ZAKARIA: Look, Keith, I would just say this. There's a great advantage for us journalists to talk about the dangers, the problems, the difficulties of the road ahead, to criticize. I think all these problems exist. There's no question they do.

But the important point we have to ask ourselves is, how serious, how immediate, how deep is this problem? And all I'm saying is there's a lot of bad news coming out of the Middle East out of the Muslim world, much of which is true, but there's also some good news, which is that moderate regimes that have handled the situation well, have not faced the kind of political pressure we thought they would.

The Pakistani regime has not toppled. Far from it. The Egyptian regime has not toppled. Protests in countries like Indonesia, which are outside the Arab world, are almost non-existent. And I do think this has a lot to do with the fact that A, we've handled this very well. But b, at the end of the day, it turns out that once you take away his success and the symbol of being you know, an alternative to the wretched regimes they live under, Osama bin Laden turns out to be a spoiled Saudi millionaire with a Medieval worldview.

And that's actually not that appealing to large parts of the world. As we could see in Afghanistan, once the Taliban left. What do people want to do? They want to shave. They want to watch movies. They want to listen to music. You know, they're human beings.

IJAZ: That part is right, but the other side of it is that it doesn't necessarily mean that because you haven't seen the violence escalate beyond control, I mean, had we seen that, that was the equivalent of essentially admitting that instead of 1 percent radicalization, you had 10 percent radicalization or something like that.

What we have to do is understand that there is still a deep- seated anger and visceral hatred in parts of the Arab and Muslim world that will not go away just because America's bombing campaign is very efficient. It will not go away because we win the war in Afghanistan and then decide Iraq is next or this is next or something else is next.

We have to be very, careful about the way in which these people, who we can't see what is going on in their minds, those are the people that we have to worry about. And I don't think we're doing a -- I am not yet convinced that we have taken that task on as foreign policy planners in this country.

OLBERMANN: Well, before going onto that task, you suggest that the virus has not gone away. Is there any indication that it successfully spreads from one nation in the region to another? One looks historically at Iran and of course the overthrow there and the ascent to power of the Ayatollah, where the United States was the great Satan.

And 21 or 22 years later, it's almost a de facto alliance at this point. Is that never truly spread out of Iran. Why are we expecting it to spread out of what's left of the Afghanistan?

IJAZ: Well, here is a point where Fareed and I will agree on something. And that is that Afghanistan has a unique opportunity now to actually become a model of democracy and a model for the other parts of the Islamic world that can show what a really moderate Islamic democracy can do. And maybe that'll even take hold in Pakistan. If General Musharraf does what he says he's going to do, maybe that will even take place there.

But it is an opportunity that we can't pass up. And that is why we have to make sure that the Northern Alliance divests itself of power and makes sure that there is a broadbased representative government there.

If we do that, then this change that you're talking about could spread, but in a very positive way, rather than in the negative way that it was spreading before.

OLBERMANN: All right, well, do you agree at the prediction that you would?

ZALARIA: I think I do. You know, Keith, all politics at some level is local. Most of the protests that take place, most of the most virulent protests are about people hating the regimes they live in. We get implicated because often we support these regimes. Think of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, places like that.

So if you've got more legitimate regimes that had some popular support, people wouldn't be out dancing in the streets trying to overthrow them. If you think 10 years ago in Latin America or East Asia there were lot of violent, anti-American protests on the streets. Why? Because these countries were ruled often by military dictatorships that they liked. Once you had more legitimate governments in place. the anti-Americanism withered.

OLBERMANN: Let me take the last minute that have here and try to knock both of your theories down. What happens if the U.S. expands this conflict into Iraq? Are all bets off as to what happens in the rest of the region? Is it an entirely new thing to analyze?

ZAKARIA: I don't think it's an entirely new thing, but I think that the United States is building political capital. I think it actually is in a stronger position now in the Arab world than it was six weeks ago.

You know, victory does that in political life. How it uses this political capital will be very important. It chooses to use it in a way where it can achieve some success with broad-based legitimacy, that would be great.

If it takes on Iraq, it's taking on a very big problem. And it better be damned sure that it has a way of winning that conflict.

OLBERMANN: 20 seconds, Mansoor.

IJAZ: We have to have the forensic evidence to demonstrate that Iraq is complicit. Of we do, the support that we get through the Arab world will be unanimous. And getting rid of Saddam will be a thing that everybody wants.

OLBERMANN: Mansoor Ijaz, thank you. Fareed Zakaria, thank you again. Good to see you, sir. Thanks to both of you for coming out.

When we come back, we'll have more on this program. A quick reminder, CNN will carry General Tommy Franks' conference in Uzbekhestan live at 12:30 Eastern time. Here, the nuclear threat and the guest we couldn't get after this.


OLBERMANN: Were a probable new anthrax case and uncertainty about Middle Eastern public reaction to U.S. activity not upsetting enough, what about nuclear attack? Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted against additional funding to safeguard nuclear material in Russia. We tried to get someone to come on this program to explain why that happened. We could find no one willing to.

Why not? Well, you might have a guess if you had read a little notice to Department of Energy advisory panel report early this year on non-proliferation programs with Russia. The title might be boring. The contents were hardly thus.

"The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation-states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home."

The report is full of such tidbits. One member of the task force who issued that report is former assistant Defense Secretary Graham Allison, now of Harvard University, who joins us now from Boston.

Good evening, sir.


OLBERMANN: The energy department wanted $130 million to safeguard this nuclear material abroad. It seems like it would be money very well spent. What happened to the proposal?

ALLISON: Well it's bewildering. I think the fact that in the aftermath of September 11 assault, the U.S. has allocated not a single additional dollar to what the Baker Cutler task force, which included Senator Howard Baker, our ambassador to Japan now and Lloyd Cutler, and a number of former senators regard rightly as the largest unmet threat to American national security is puzzling.

OLBERMANN: We, as we mentioned, scoured this country more or less and could not get anyone to come on TV and defend that decision not to spend that $130 million. What argument have you heard that has any merit against having spent this money?

ALLISON: Well, I think to defend the indefensible is pretty difficult. Well, I think the kind of argument that people make is that well, everything possible is being done, but as the Baker Cutler task force points out, that's not true.

Only 40 percent of the material that could be used to make nuclear weapons in Russia today has been brought now to the minimum acceptable standard, which includes, for example, a perimeter monitoring scheme. So that like when you go through the metal detector at the airport, if somebody were bringing nuclear material out, it would be triggered.

So that means 60 percent of the material, according to DOE's information, is not yet reached that level. That's unacceptable. And we should be doing something about it today.

OLBERMANN: Another quote from the Baker Cutler task force.

"In December 1998, an employee at Russia's nuclear weapons laboratory in Saraf (ph) was arrested for espionage and charged with attempting to sell documents on nuclear weapons designs to agents of Iraq and Afghanistan for $3 million. How typical was something like this? How many near misses have they had?

ALLISON: Well, from the public record, we can find scores of near misses. That is, instances in which either someone successfully stole weapons usable nuclear material and we caught them, or they were in the process of trying to steal it and they were caught either in Russia or abroad.

But what we obviously have to worry most about is what we don't know. That is, the thieves that we may not have caught.

OLBERMANN: Well, those are the near misses. Do you believe, based on your participation in the Baker Cutler task force, that somebody could have sold nuclear material without having been caught? I guess that's the $64 million question.

ALLISON: Well, it is. And I think that if you look at the instances in which people have been successfully caught, you certainly see that many people have been interested in stealing material. And that in almost every instance in which they've been caught, they've either been caught by the Russians close by to the site at which they stole it. Or they've been caught by Americans or by European security as they brought the material west.

But we know that for sure, the southern borders of Russia have been more porous. And that there, parties like Iran, that might have an interest in this. So I think that if we were just judging it, you'd have to say it's more likely than not that there's some cases of success that we don't know about.

OLBERMANN: And you do not have to have all the equipment for a true nuclear weapon to wreak extraordinary damage. You can certainly operate with merely conventional weapons that could spread radioactivity. Is that not correct?

ALLISON: Well, there's several sort of horror stories to worry about. But the easiest to make is simply to take nuclear material, wrap it around a couple of sticks of dynamite and put it in a shoe box. And you can spew radiation.

That fortunately doesn't kill many quickly, but it would have a big psychological effect and would give people cancer and leukemia and other diseases over a longer period of time. The more troubling fact is that a bowling ball size lump of highly enriched uranium plus material otherwise available off the shelf at electronic stores, and the kind of design that has been available on the Internet for 25 years since it was the design that the U.S. used for a Hiroshima bomb at the beginning, would give a graduate of a nuclear engineering program, a quiet good chance of making a nuclear explosion. And that could have devastating consequences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were it not so serious, would you be laughing at the irony that an alliance springs up between President Bush and Putin. And they've agreed to reduce nuclear weapons. And in effect, increase the amount of Russian nuclear material that could wind up being sold or stolen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it's ironic. And I think the good news in this is that President Bush and Putin are genuinely transforming U.S.-Russia relations.

That they're getting beyond the Cold War. The surprising bad news for me out of the summit was that they didn't announce a vigorous, serious, urgent program of action to actually cause that to happen to a firm -- what they affirm the proposition, that the highest priority to not allowing weapons of mass destruction to fall into the hands of terrorists, but what we need is a program of action to make that happen.

OLBERMANN: Indeed, it sounds as if we need one by tomorrow morning. Former assistant Secretary of Defense, Graham Allison. We thank you for your time tonight, sir.

That's our program for this evening. If we've scared you, we apologize. It's reality now. I'm Keith Olbermann, sitting in for Jeff Greenfield.