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In the Arena
The Men who Killed Bin Laden in Danger; Tension Between Civilian and Military Leaders in Pakistan; Pakistan's Moment of Truth
Aired May 12, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program.
Tonight breaking news. Fears the security of the brave Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden, and this comes from the highest source. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.
In a speech at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina this afternoon, Gates said something astonishing. Details of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden were never supposed to be made public. The reason, the Navy SEALs who conducted the operation may now be targets for terrorists. Gates even expressed fears for the security of their families.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr broke the story and joins us now with more details.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Eliot.
This is extraordinary new information. Defense Secretary Robert Gates telling United States Marines he was speaking to that he is very concerned too much classified information has gotten out in public about all of this. And for the first time he is talking about the concerns of the commandos who conducted the raid and the concerns of their families.
You will be riveted by what you are about to hear, Eliot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: A week ago Sunday in the situation room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday. The next day.
The one thing I would tell you, though, is that I think there has been a consistent and effective effort to protect the identities of those who participated in the raid. And I think that has to continue.
We are very concerned about the security of our families -- of your families and our troops. And also these elite units that are engaged in things like that. And without getting into any details -- and I would tell you that when I met with the team last Thursday, they expressed a concern about that. (END OF VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Now, look, there is always concern about the security of U.S. troops and their families, but make no mistake, these commandos are covert operatives. Their identities are not disclosed. They operate around the clock already in Afghanistan and other places around the world.
They conducted this extremely dangerous mission, and now Secretary Gates telling us that these commandos and their families are concerned about potential retaliation. He said the Pentagon, the U.S. military, is trying to pump up security -- his words -- around the families -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Barbara, this is astonishing as you say on so many different levels. First, as the secretary said, and he has an overwhelming point here, if there was an agreement in the situation room no less on Sunday night to keep all of this under wraps, that fell apart the next morning when there was a veritable tidal wave of information being pushed out by the White House over the blow by blow account of what happened.
And then second, you now have Secretary Gates himself very publicly turning back against the White House becoming the voice for the armed forces, for the SEALs, basically saying, blame the press office in the White House.
How do you interpret this? This is -- this raises a raft of questions.
STARR: Well, let's be clear. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on his way out. He will be stepping down from office at the end of June. We are seeing him conduct his farewell tour, going around to these various bases.
And when you're about to leave office in Washington, retire and go back home, you tend to get a little more candid. I think that is a good deal of what we are seeing here. But make no mistake. He is a man who is deeply concerned about the security of the troops and the fact that these SEALs and the Air Force teams that he met with last week told him they are worried, I don't think this can be underestimated because these commandos basically leave their families behind.
Their families know basically that their men are going very much into harm's way. The families are left for considerable amount of period while the guys are deployed. A lot of concerns that we are now really carrying out in public well known inside the military, they're always worried about troop security.
But for these special operations forces it cannot be underestimated that this has now come out in public -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Barbara, I don't want to change topics, but it's a little bit reminiscent, though, of what Secretary Gates said in a speech a couple of weeks ago when he said any president who sent troops into Afghanistan or Iraq the way we did in the past two wars would have to have his head examined.
I may not have it exactly right. So this is the secretary of Defense who is now saying some things that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to come out of the mouth of somebody in the chain in command.
But to come back to this sequence of events, do you think he was overruled by the president and he is upset about it? Do you think the press office just decided this is clearly a turning point for the presidency, they need to get story out to sort of make the president look that much stronger and better?
How do you understand what happened here?
STARR: I don't know. I mean that's -- that is the honest answer. I don't know how to interpret this. I think that there were clearly -- because we talked to an awful lot of officials since this happened last Sunday night, a week ago, Sunday night.
There are a lot of sources in Washington talking, but there are a lot of sources who are talking very carefully. Yet, you know, we here at CNN are being extremely careful about what we report. Getting it from two sources, making sure it's right.
There's a lot of people out there just -- I got to tell you, just throwing things out there that may or may not be true. We want to be very careful here about what we report, make sure that we're being accurate, make sure it reflects the clear understanding of the administration.
But you are right, Eliot, we are seeing multiple podiums in town, as they say, the White House podium, other podiums from other buildings around town, come out and speak. And Bob Gates clearly is not happy about it.
SPITZER: And you know, it's fascinating how this happened. You notice, if the secretary were merely worried about the security of the Navy SEALs, he would have done very -- something very quietly within the administration to beef up security, but the fact that this information was not supposed to be made public would not itself have become the point of controversy.
He chose in front of what looked from the video a significant number, a couple -- maybe a thousand Marines to very publicly say hey, guys, I am the one who is upset. I'm protecting you. This shouldn't have happened. This was a very public shot at the White House press operation.
This is really kind of -- I don't want to say it's unsettling, but a very surprising turn of events from a secretary of defense who is very buttoned down in the way he handles things.
STARR: Well, let me also add, he is sending a very clear message to U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan, still serving in Iraq, and serving around the world that he is representing their interests, that he is concerned about their security. I think throughout the Armed Forces there is a lot of concern right now that bin Laden's operatives could stage some kind of retaliatory attack, concern about that at the CIA, at the Department of Homeland Security. A lot of folks worried about it.
And you are right, Eliot, it makes it puzzling at various points in the last several days to see the information that's coming out and try and understand why government officials are talking about it. A lot of it's because reporters ask questions and people answer our questions -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Barbara, it's very clear that if something untoward happens, if there is an attack on those Navy SEALs, the secretary of defense is saying don't blame the Defense Department, it was not us. We upheld our end of the agreement. As the old saying from World War II is loose lips sink ships. He's saying our lips haven't been loose. It's not our fault.
All right, Barbara Starr, great reporting. Thank you so much.
STARR: Thank you.
SPITZER: Michael Scheuer was the founder of the CIA's bin Laden unit in the 1990s. Any agent who might be in danger after w went public with the bin Laden story would have worked for Scheuer in that job.
He joins us now.
MICHAEL SCHEUER, HEADED CIA'S BIN LADEN UNIT: Thank you, sir.
SPITZER: Well, you just heard this conversation I had with Barbara Starr and the excerpt from Secretary Gates' speech. How do you understand this?
SCHEUER: I think this administration, at least in the White House, is out of control. The information about the stealth helicopters, the information about the CIA safehouse, the details about bin Laden's habit, his plannings, his contacts. All of that compromised further operations -- are going to make further operations harder, more difficult, probably more bloody.
And I think it's really adolescent to think that this information came from the White House press office. It would never have this classified level of information. If it came anywhere, it was from John Brennan's office, the czar for counterterrorism.
He made his career making his bosses look good at CIA. So there's no difference here. Those of us whoever worked with him can pinpoint where this information is coming.
SPITZER: Well, look, John Brennan gave the very lengthy press conference the day after, I think it was Monday, in which he detailed -- you know with some quite specificity what had happened in this -- in the events of the raid, and so you got to believe that he got permission to do that from somebody in the White House. He would not have done that on his own in front of the entire national press corps.
SCHEUER: Without a doubt. It's got to be authorized by the president. It happens under Republicans, it happens under Democrats.
Mr. Obama's administration is in kind of a political pickle. And this is going to bring them back. They believe that at the cost probably of the lives of SEALs or CIA officers or other people who risk their lives on the condition that their leaders will be adults and keep the secrets they provided to them.
SPITZER: Let's certainly hope that does not happen. Right now we're talking about possibilities, things that might eventuate, certainly not things that clearly will, or we have any reason to believe -- at least we don't -- actually will.
Let's turn the topic just a little bit. You have said recently that you think bin Laden died a success story. Most of us are saying, wait a minute, the guy is dead. He didn't succeed. He's overseeing or was overseeing an organization that was faltering.
Why do you disagree with that take on the matter?
SCHEUER: Well, his goal from the start was not a military goal. It was -- he always has said, I'm just one Muslim. I have a small organization. Our main goal is to inspire other Muslims to pick up guns or pick up a donation check and fight the United States and drive it out of the region.
If you look around the region today, you know, al Qaeda is much bigger than it was on 9/11. Its geographical dispersion is much wider. And they've been very effective in a program over the last five years. To stimulate adherence in English-speaking countries using U.S. citizen Muslims to do it.
So on a whole, he'll go down in Islamic history as sort of a Robinhood at least, perhaps --
SPITZER: Let me take the other side of this. I don't think there's any question if you were to say he forced us to spend an unbelievable amount of money arguably go in and fight two wars that were not central to our strategic world view in terms of being economically competitive and a whole range and raft of other issues, and he became somebody who symbolized Islamist fundamentalist views, I would agree with you.
But on the other hand, he has not succeeded in mounting any successful significant terrorist attacks. We seem to have infiltrated the pieces of al Qaeda, sufficiently to know what they're doing. And he seems to have been refuted and pushed back even by other members of his organization who seem to have been rejecting what he was counseling as strategic vision in terms of where to strike. SCHEUER: Well, I think that's -- there's discussions in every organization. Al Qaeda was a multiethnic, multi-linguistic organization with a lot of difficulties as any multinational corporation is. But you know I think we look at -- there's no terrorist attack in the United States but two U.S. field armies are being defeated abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least with the rhetorical support and probably with the support of cadre from al Qaeda.
So I think our vision is a little narrow here. When we leave Afghanistan in defeat, we're going to galvanize this generation of Muslims just like the defeat of the Soviet Union galvanized bin Laden's generation of Muslims. So this is serious business. This is not cops and robbers, sir.
SPITZER: But look, Michael, as I said, just a few moments ago I agree with you to the extent that we are now fighting two wars or have been fighting two wars that were not wars we intended, were not central to our strategic purposes we had defined 10, 15 years ago.
But let's go back to Afghanistan. You've said some I think interesting things to say the least about what our strategy there should be. You were counseling a ramping up of a rather dramatic and significant dimension in order to get to what you define as victory in Afghanistan. Tell us what that would be.
SCHEUER: Well, no, it's too late to do it. But we needed not Rumsfeld's light footprint but we needed 400, 500 troops who could close the border with Pakistan, and then just knock the heck out of al Qaeda and the Taliban and get out of their country instead of waging a cultural war against the Afghans and -- with the full knowledge we might have to go back to do it again.
SPITZER: Well, look, I don't disagree with your baseline assessment of where we are right now that what we have done has not succeeded. If the objective had been one of nation building, persuading the Afghan citizenry that somehow our vision of the world is one they should embrace.
I don't think we have done that. On the other hand, I don't think there are many people who subscribe to your notion that a ramping up of 400 to 500,000 troops and just -- you know, bombing them into smithereens -- just to paraphrase you a little bit -- would have succeeded either. I'm not sure what the historical metaphor for that would be.
SCHEUER: It would have succeeded. You can kill -- if you kill enough people, the people give up the game, the game's not worth the candle. It's too late to do it now but we believe somehow we've educated children to believe you can have a war without offending anybody.
Everybody raises this idiot argument about well, if we kill a lot of them, they're going to be mad at us. Well, no kidding. What else are you going to do? The Petraeus plan of winning hearts and minds is unraveling in Iraq. It's not taken hold in Afghanistan. The question finally comes down at the end of the day, how do you defend the United States? And right now we're like a big Israel. We have our intelligence service and we have our military, and that's all. And we can't win with that.
SPITZER: Look, I don't disagree with you -- as I said, that we're not winning hearts and minds. I don't think we can succeed in that battle in Afghanistan. I do however believe that we have sufficiently destroyed al Qaeda, chased it out of Afghanistan, so that they are now over in Pakistan in very limited numbers.
And I'm not sure that an enormous almost World War II sized effort invading Afghanistan would have succeeded. I think the historical metaphor is more like Vietnam where we have learned I think different lessons.
But, look, Michael, time runs short. I want to thank you for coming on the show. Interesting conversation. We're going to have to continue it some other evening.
SCHEUER: Thank you.
SPITZER: Michael Scheuer, thank you so much.
E.D. Hill joins us now.
What do you got later in the show?
E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the best ticket in town isn't Broadway, it is the beltway. And as everyone knows, we've got this serious deficit we have to close. Today it was political theatrics.
We will take a very close look and have a serious discussion about the oil subsidies. And that's coming up.
SPITZER: We're subsidizing the Exxon, just what we need to do.
All right, contentious hearings indeed. Look forward to it.
Coming up, could the bin Laden raid destabilize Pakistan or be the opening to usher in democracy? Fareed Zakaria breaks it down after this. Stay with us.
SPITZER: Recapping our breaking news tonight. In a speech earlier today Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that members of the Obama administration promised to keep secret details of the bin Laden raid only to have that plan break apart the very next day. And Gates fears for the safety of Navy SEALs and their families.
Amazing stuff. And we'll have updates on this throughout the show.
Now turning to Pakistan, which of these men actually runs Pakistan? Is it the president Asif Ali Zardari? Or is it the head of the army, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani? That question is becoming more and more critical.
Stan Grant is in Islamabad now. He'll do his best to fill us in on the clash between the civilian and military leaders in Pakistan.
STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Eliot, it is such a complicated picture here. That question you ask, who is really in charge, it goes to the heart of Pakistan.
There has always been this tension between the military and also the civilian government. It's been there from the beginning of Pakistan partitioned from India. Now when the two have clashed, it hasn't ended well for civilian governments in past. We've seen civilian leaders executed, assassinated, banished from the country. We've seen military coups.
And not that I would suggest that's going to happen here but it does of course bring this into focus. With all the questions that are being asked about Osama bin Laden -- what did the military know, what did the intelligence service know -- Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the military, is going to be appearing before a parliamentary session today to answer some of these questions.
It's going to be a closed session. But we understand he really is going to be grilled over this.
We've heard from Prime Minister Gilani saying that there has been no complicity from any agency within Pakistan when it comes to Osama bin Laden. They weren't working with him, they weren't shielding him. That then raises the question of negligence. Is the head of the military going to admit negligence or is he going to show contempt or lack of respect for the civilian government and actually stonewall altogether?
It's a chance here for the civilian government, a short window here to say look, we All right in authority. We do have control and we do have the right to ask hard questions. But at the same time it brings into sharp focus these relationships between the military and the civilian government, and who actually has the upper hand.
And to the United States when they talk to Pakistan, who they actually are talking to, the military or the civilian government -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Stan, as you pointed out just a moment ago, every time there's been a tension between the military and the civilian government in Pakistan, the end has been the same. The military takes over. And so you have to wonder here if muscles are going to be flexed what is going to happen and at some point will the military reassert itself.
The other thing historically is that when the military is put under pressure, they usually turn back against some external force such as the United States, and you wonder, in fact, are they now using the United States as a propaganda whipping post to push back against us as a way of exonerating their own behavior here? GRANT: Yes, it's a very good question. You know, there's always been a reflective anti-American feeling in Pakistan that has ebbed and flowed depending on the events. And depending on which forces within Pakistan want to exploit that.
We know in the past that Kayani, the head of the military here, has kicked back against the U.S. and the drone strikes and incursions into U.S. sovereignty. Will he raise that once again? Is there a receptive audience for that here? By aligning themselves with the U.S., does the civilian government run the risk of sidelining itself and weakening itself, even further in the eyes of a population that already sees it as a weak and incompetent government?
And you've really touched on an interesting thing here, too, and that is the relationship, Eliot, between the military, the intelligence and the militants. We know that throughout Pakistan's history they have worked together at times, they've clashed at other times. Now the head of the military Kayani can say look, we have lost thousands of men going after the militants in this country.
And that is true. But at the same time, the overriding role of the military here, the overriding concern is to defend itself against the age-old enemy India. And to that extent we know -- history tells us this -- that the military here, the army and the intelligence wing have cultivated elements of the militancy, have cultivated insurgency groups as another line of defense.
Now I've always used this analogy. When you're talking about Pakistan, you're walking into a maze of mirrors. Depending on which mirror you're looking at you get a different reflection at any given time -- Eliot.
SPITZER: Fascinating stuff, Stan. And at the end of the day the military still answering that impossible question, are you incompetent or are you corrupt?
All right, Stan Grant, thanks so much for that special reporting.
As powerful factions within Pakistan blame each other for the bin Laden debacle, the U.S. watches with a wary eye. So how can Washington capitalize on this internal division? I spoke just a few moments ago with CNN's Fareed Zakaria to get some answers.
SPITZER: Fareed, as always, thanks for coming on the show.
Look, everything these days is Pakistan. And the question of the moment is, who actually runs Pakistan?
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: The answer to that is pretty clear. It is not the democratically elected government, it is not the president. It is the military.
I give you one example. The prime minister of Pakistan gave a speech and a press conference the other day in which he accused the United States of causing all the problems, entering the country, denied any knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts.
I have it from Pakistani sources that his talking points, his speech were not written by him, were not written by the Foreign Ministry, but were written for him by the military. So you literally have a situation where the democratically elected government of Pakistan mouths the talking points that are provided to it by the military.
SPITZER: From our perspective, is that good or bad? Do we want civilian control, which is perhaps subject to the whims of an electorate that can be swung wildly back and forth given the rhetoric of the moment, or do we want the stability of the military that perhaps is aligned with our interests?
ZAKARIA: You know we've taken the latter view, we've taken the view that at least the military function is the only functioning institution in Pakistan and we have to do business with them. And that's fine as far as it goes.
Here's the problem. What we learned in Egypt, in Tunisia, is that by aligning ourselves with these repressive regimes, with this repressive military dictatorship, yes, you get a little bit of short- term stability. But in the long run, you're creating a poisonous anti-Americanism in the society. You're creating dysfunctions in the society.
So for our purposes, if we want a healthy Pakistan that is not jihadi, that is not home to jihadists, and one where we can have a normal relationship, we need to support the civilian government, not the military.
SPITZER: Now you wrote a very potent article in "The Washington Post" just today saying it is time for us, the United States, to force the Pakistanis to switch power back to the civilian side of the ledger.
How can we do that?
ZAKARIA: Well, look, don't forget, we are giving Pakistan billions of dollar of aid. We will give them close to $10 billion of aid over the next three or four years. And this is a poor country.
The -- the Kerry-Lugar bill, which is the bill that provides most of the civilian aid, actually says that we are meant to guarantee, the secretary of state has to tell Congress that there's civilian control over the military and the military is cooperating in the fight on -- against terrorism. Neither of those are true but we keep -- we keep pretending it is.
SPITZER: So are you basically saying it's time to actually enforce the terms of this bill?
ZAKARIA: I think it is. I think what we have to tell the Pakistanis is maybe they have a six-month window or something like that, but at that point the certification will become real which means the secretary of state would have to certify that civilians are not in control of the military, the military is not cooperating, and I think aid would have to be withheld.
SPITZER: Now the other side of the argument -- and there are folks in Congress who are saying let's cut the aid. The other side of the argument is if we withdraw the aid, and we tried this about 10, 15 years ago, we merely force Pakistan into the arms of China and other regimes who are waiting to accept them with an open embrace.
ZAKARIA: Look, you know, so what's -- what would happen if we were to cut them off? They would harbor al Qaeda terrorists in their territory? They already do that. They would, you know, cooperate with other countries? They're already telling the Chinese that they can -- they can take a look at the helicopter that went down.
So everything that we feared that they could do --
SPITZER: They're already going.
ZAKARIA: They're already doing.
SPITZER: So we're getting -- you know, look, I completely agree with you, we are getting the short end of the stick and giving them $20 billion.
SPITZER: Why not at least either save the money or get them to do what they're supposed to be doing as a true ally.
ZAKARIA: Precisely. Now there was one part, though, I think is important to point out. The point here is not to stiff Pakistan. The point is we want to have a healthy relationship with a healthy Pakistan. Pakistan is half the size of the entire Arab world. It is six times larger in population than Afghanistan.
And it is the center of jihadism in the world right now. So we need to get that society cleaned up and we need to have a better relationship. It's about not supporting a military junta in Pakistan which is going to create dysfunctions for Pakistan and dysfunctions for our relationship.
SPITZER: And long term, create a seabed of terrorists. But here is the toughest question perhaps. Is the military under any circumstances willing to cede the power to the civilian government in Pakistan?
ZAKARIA: If you look at places like Turkey, Indonesia and now perhaps Egypt, the military never starts out willing to do that, of course not. But a combination of internal pressure and external pressure does make a difference.
In the Turkish case, the most important thing that happened is Turkish democrats push from the inside, the Europeans push from the outside, the Turkish military gives up power.
I wonder if you could imagine a similar dynamic. But it requires that Pakistan's moderates and liberals also get some spine. It's not going to be enough of just the United States as --
SPITZER: Can we help both give those moderates additional support both rhetorically and in any other way? And do we have a relationship with the military, our Pentagon, to their military sufficient to say to them, look, guys, you don't want to actually be the government?
ZAKARIA: They don't seem to view us as being well-wishers, to be honest with you. I think we are --
SPITZER: They don't trust us.
ZAKARIA: Yes, they don't trust us. And they -- and I think part of that has to do with our relationship with India. So I think what we have to do in this circumstance is worry a little bit less about the sensitivities of the Pakistanis and the Pakistani military, and do the right thing. Do what's right strategically, do what's right politically, support the moderates, but you know, if they take umbrage at some of the things we're saying, tough.
SPITZER: Too bad. Look, but that's certainly my style of negotiating.
SPITZER: I'm going t (INAUDIBLE) here, you embracing it.
Look, I read something in the paper this week a couple of days ago that actually made me -- you know brought a smile to my face. It said the president of the United States calls you for wisdom and advice about issues around the world.
So first, when he calls you, what does he say? Hi, Barack calling for Fareed? What does he do?
ZAKARIA: Mostly it's been face-to-face meetings.
ZAKARIA: You know, usually organized by Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
ZAKARIA: What I'm struck by, though, honestly, Eliot, is how much time he's spending thinking about the issues of the Arab spring particularly the issues of Egypt, how -- how to make Egypt go right, what -- you know, what is the -- what are the mechanisms that the United States has to help the moderates and liberals.
It's been a very thoughtful conversation. You know we'll see where it goes.
SPITZER: I'm not going to ask you what you have said to the president but it makes my heart warm that the president is calling you for wisdom and advice. And thanks for coming on the show. ZAKARIA: My pleasure.
SPITZER: Always fascinating.
Up next, bin laden is dead but his message lives on. Gail Saltz says we'll never stop the terrorists until we think like they do. Stay with us.
SPITZER: After 9/11, America went after terrorism with guns blazing. But was that the right tactic? Not according to Dr. Gail Saltz, our resident expert in all matters psychological. She joins me now.
Welcome, Gail, as always.
DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: Thank you.
SPITZER: So what did we do wrong and what do you think we should have done?
SALTZ: I think what we're missing is getting inside the heads -- you know, get inside the heads -- you know, get inside the head of your enemy if you want to understand what to do correctly. And I what a mean -- it's not so much we shouldn't have gone out with guns blazing, but guns blazing and loud statements of we're going to come get you and we're going to humiliate you essentially only serve to form group dynamics to be tighter. And that's really what we're talking about.
When you talk about religious fundamentalists and terrorists, you're not talking about individual psychology. You're talking about a group dynamic. And anything that threatens the group very loudly makes the group more cohesive which makes them more inclined to take risks such as violent acts.
SPITZER: OK. Look, I want to make this clear. I don't think you're a pacifist. You're not saying that we shouldn't have used the full force of the military to actually strike against those who we knew were at a particular location.
SALTZ: I'm not making a political statement. I'm saying where I think we have fallen is to not understand what drives religious fundamentalists and terrorists.
SPITZER: Which is what? Explain because that seems to be the premise of your whole argument. So explain what you think unifies them, drives them, and then work back from there, about how you stop them.
SALTZ: They believe that morally what they're doing is right, that the taking of life is morally sort of doesn't matter in the face of holding on to God. I mean, their love of God is so intense that anybody who does not agree threatens that, threatens that relationship and therefore they feel a moral correctness. And we need to operate with that in mind.
SPITZER: But how do we get into that psychological -- what we think is obviously a fallacy in their logic, how do we confront that and how do we dissuade them from that if they are so wedded to it that no matter what we say they will simply reject that --
SALTZ: Well, interestingly, most people that join these groups do so for a variety of reasons. They are often disenfranchised people or people who are raised to believe this. They go in with a very romantic idea that they're going to have this romantic attachment to God and they're waiting for it to be a big romantic adventure of sorts. If we just continue to block them, which we have been doing well. And that is very boring. Essentially sitting in your safe house drinking tea and not having adventure is very boring. And that seems to be what makes terrorists disperse. To be honest, that is what makes them leave the group.
SPITZER: It's interesting. When I hear you describing what awaits those who become suicide bombers, for instance --
SPITZER: It is similar to what at least we've heard bin Laden would say to the kids, you know --
SPITZER: -- who would go out there with bombs strapped to their bodies.
SPITZER: Now, it sounds to me as though you're almost describing something akin to the way the Israeli government and the Mossad --
SPITZER: -- dealt with the onslaught of suicide bombers in Israel.
SALTZ: Correct. I absolutely agree with that. And I think it's because they do understand something about the mindset. I would also say that we have to turn this around and think about how fear, which -- I mean, they are afraid and that's causing them to do some irrational things but fear has also caused us to do some irrational things. So we were made very afraid about the terrorists but if you think about the number people who died in 9/11, it is much smaller, say, than the number of people all the time in car accidents, in heart disease, in cancer. But we have spent $5 trillion in the past decade because of our fear about 9/11. Now that's not a very rational thing to do.
SPITZER: Well, let me play devil's advocate on that one.
SPITZER: It is because the threat of terrorism is something approaching the existential threat to the way we live. In other words, we understand the risks of car accidents, plane accidents.
SPITZER: The daily risks that we attend to --
SPITZER: -- do not individually or collectively destroy the foundation of our society whereas terrorism might.
SALTZ: I think we were operating that terrorism is going to kill people. And that is the primary fear, much more the primary fear. And what is going to change our way of life is if we spend $5 trillion in the next decade. That will be our economic demise.
SPITZER: That may be as well. Look, and there is one school of thought that in fact bin Laden wanted us to incur this enormous expense --
SPITZER: -- just as he wanted the Soviet Union and Russia to go bankrupt in Afghanistan.
SPITZER: He saw we can do the same thing. Let me change this a little bit. Are there folks inside the CIA? I presume they have a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists on staff. Do they think this through? I mean, they must be trying to get inside the heads of not just Al Qaeda but all the other terrorist groups.
SPITZER: So they must have done the download of these folks?
SALTZ: Our information is fairly recent, but it is there. And it is coming in. So that just in last years have there been people who have left terrorist organizations and we have been able to interview them, to do research and take a look at the thinking pattern. And hopefully this will start to make an impact in our approach. But, you know, who's going to listen to this -- we listen to the psychologists and making an impact in that way, or will the politics prevail?
SPITZER: Or a four-star general, who may not necessarily embrace --
SPITZER: Won't deal on this.
SPITZER: They're going to use the weaponry rather than the psychological warfare. But is -- what you're describing, of course, is something approaching a cult. Al Qaeda, I don't know --
SALTZ: It is.
SPITZER: I don't know the definition of that term perhaps.
SALTZ: Group dynamics of cult thinking. We think as one and bin Laden as charismatic leader, of course, had tremendous power. So the question is will someone step in and be that charismatic leader or will there be some dissolving of the cult because that leader is gone?
SPITZER: Michael Scheuer we had on the show earlier this evening said that bin Laden died a success story. Didn't quite use the word martyr.
SPITZER: Is it in your view -- is it in your view quickly that his demise will dissuade people from joining or will it ennoble more people to join?
SALTZ: I think immediately it would make more people join because they are going to say he is a martyr and that is the goal. But I think in the long run if no other charismatic leader steps in to lead the group --
SALTZ: -- then the group may start to fall apart.
SPITZER: All right. Gail, thank you so much for that. I'll give you the phone number for Langley, Virginia, see if the CIA is listening.
All right. Always great to have you with us.
SALTZ: Thank you.
SPITZER: Up next, big oil went to Capitol Hill today to try and justify the billions they get in tax subsidies. Is it good business or corporate welfare? E.D. Hill goes drilling for the answers when we come back.
E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: $36 billion. That's how much the five largest oil companies made in profits in the first quarter of this year alone. And that's a lot of money, especially when the country is hurting. And by the way, these same five companies are getting $2 billion a year in tax subsidies.
With that in mind, oil executives were hauled in front of the Senate today as Democrats pushed to strip the subsidies to pay down the deficit. Some like Senator Hatch, suggested the whole thing is a dog and pony show complete with photograph. That didn't please others. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: You'd have an easier time convincing the American people that a unicorn just flew into this hearing room than that these big oil companies need taxpayer subsidies. That's the real fairy tale. And I would just say to everybody the average American family getting gouged at the gas pump across America and being asked to sacrifice because of the budget deficit certainly doesn't think this is a dog and pony show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: So we hear a lot about dogs and ponies and unicorns but we didn't get a lot of answers though. So to help us get the big picture, joining me is Texas Senator John Cornyn.
Thank you for being with us.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, E.D.
HILL: Well, you know, I think that there's a whole lot of political theatrics going on there. But there is a sense in America that the oil companies get help when they are in need, and then when times are good, they don't necessarily give back. What about the idea of giving some things back, like the oil depletion allowance? It goes back to 1926. Or expensing tangible drilling costs goes back to 1916. Is there wiggle room?
CORNYN: Well, I think if we're going to start looking at the tax code, we ought to look at all the tax code and how it applies to all companies rather than to just try to target a few.
Look, the reason why this is happening, E.D., is because people are experiencing a lot of pain at the pump because gas prices are going higher. And rather than do anything about it, what happens here in Congress is we have a class warfare and try to gang up on people who are actually being successful in their business.
You know, I think in all fairness, what we ought to be looking at is reforming the tax code across the board like the president's bipartisan fiscal permission recommended last December. But that's not what this is. This is all about political theater.
HILL: Yes. You know, you talk about class warfare and there are areas where I just don't think people logically think about this. There's one way to look at it. The oil companies are making a whole lot of money. But then I did some checking, I looked at CalPERS, the California Public Employees Pension fund there. I looked at the New York State Employees Pension Fund. I looked at Texas Teachers System. And guess what, they have billions of dollars invested in oil companies. So I looked at the dividends. It turns out the companies are giving dividends back. So it is in essence, big companies are making a lot of money but so are all the little people, the teachers, the police officers, the firefighters, the clerks at the court. And that gets overlooked.
CORNYN: Well, you're right. These companies are owned by stockholders which typically are retirement or pension funds for unions and, as you said, teachers and firemen and the like. But the other point you made earlier is currently these corporations pay among the highest percentage of their profits in income taxes already. And companies like General Electric pay less than 10 percent while these companies pay 40 percent. How about us getting all of this out on the table --
CORNYN: -- trying to figure out what would make sense, what would be fair and so everybody pays their fair share. But yet, we don't potentially end up raising the price of gasoline by raising taxes on the people who produce it.
HILL: You know, that was something else that just didn't make a whole lot of sense to me like a lot of things in Washington. I didn't understand why top Democrats like Senator Schumer said the oil industry doesn't need these subsidies but instead of taking subsidies away from all the oil industry just target the top five companies. And then I looked at GM. Huge profits, triple their profits in the first quarter of this year to $3.2 billion or I guess tripled from last year. Chrysler made 116 million in just the first quarter. You look at pharmaceutical companies, telecommunications, computer companies. Is it time for us, if we're going to be honest about it, to look across the industries, across the board and throw everything as ugly as it may be on the table?
CORNYN: Well, I think it should be. And frankly, our high corporate tax rate here in America, second highest in the world, makes us less than competitive with other countries and other places around the world where people can do business cheaper because of lower tax rates. I think we ought to be looking at what makes sense, but we also, I think, ought to turn our -- you know, turn our back on the kind of political theatrics that are doing nothing to bring the price down at the pump.
This is not really a partisan issue. We've got Senator Begich from Alaska, Senator Landrieu from Louisiana, who said the proposal to raise taxes on the people who produce oil and gas is laughable. If the goal is to bring the price down at the pump, none of this will do that for the consumer. That's what we ought to be focused on.
HILL: You know, you talk about the tax rate. And I've heard that, you know, the corporate tax rate is the highest in the world, or one of the highest. However, I think when folks look at it, you think, OK, they've got all of these ways that they can, you know, can get tax rebates. They take it off here, they take it off there, they expense this and that. And so it does bring the rate down. However, it seems so complicated. I read that there are 35 IRS workers that just work on one of the oil companies alone simply auditing that one company. It's got to be pretty complicated if you need that many people. CORNYN: Well, it is way too complicated. I don't think it's any surprise to most Americans that our tax code is riddled with all sorts of special interest carve-outs and exceptions. That's why we need to bring down the top tax rate, broaden the base and eliminate a lot of these tax provisions which are based on outmoded or non-necessary tax subsidies and credits.
HILL: But then that seems to make --
CORNYN: So that's why we shouldn't -- that's why we shouldn't be focusing on just five companies in an area that really isn't going to provide much relief.
HILL: You're right. That doesn't seem to make any sense at all. And it's punitive and selective. But what you're saying really sounds more like going back to more of a flat tax, take out all the credits, take out all the ways you can, you know, save taxes here and there by deducting all these things and just make it even across the board.
CORNYN: Well, I think there's a lot of merit to that. And we know that other countries are attracting jobs and investments to those countries because they have a flatter, fair, simpler tax system. And that's something we need to be competing for, those kinds of jobs and that kind of investment. And right now, we end up chasing a lot of job creation overseas because of our complex and arcane tax code.
HILL: All right. Senator Cornyn, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us tonight.
CORNYN: Thanks, E.D.
HILL: All right.
And it's something we're going to have to keep on watching and thinking about if we want to get our country on track.
Coming up, we're going to recap our top story. The Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden now fear for their lives. Eliot has that story when we return.
SPITZER: Now a recap of tonight's breaking news. A startling admission from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today speaking to Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Gates said that there are fears for the security of the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden. He then told the group that details of the operation were never supposed to be made public. The reason, the Navy SEALs responsible for the operation may now face retaliation from terrorists. Take a listen.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: A week ago Sunday in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day.
The one thing I would tell you, though, is that I think there has been a consistent and effective effort to protect the identities of those who participated in the raid, and I think that has to continue. We are very concerned about the security of our families, of your families and our troops. And also these elite units that are engaged in things like that. And without getting into any details -- and I would tell you that when I met with the team last Thursday, they expressed a concern about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: E.D. Hill joins me now.
E.D., kind of a remarkable breakdown in the discipline that we've seen in the White House over the course of this entire series of events. Now tension clearly between the secretary of defense and the White House over how much information has been released to the public.
HILL: It's tension in the American public. I'm flat out disgusted by it. I watched your interview with Barbara -- or Brenda (ph) Starr and I'm looking at this and thinking who for political brownie points with some reporter is going to give up the information that should be kept secret when they're asked specifically keep your mouth shut? They do it and they hurt us.
SPITZER: Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. E.D., I think you're going a little overboard.
HILL: What? That's exactly what Gates said.
SPITZER: No, this is John Brennan who is the national security adviser, I believe, to the president who was giving information pursuant to the White House's request that it be done.
SPITZER: I'm not going to say that this was done for political purpose at this point.
HILL: No, but it was more than that.
SPITZER: No, this is clearly discomfort on the side of the Pentagon about information that is released. Having been in government, there are always disagreements about how much information should be released, to whom and why and under what circumstances. We have the secretary of defense who is now on his way out, who doesn't like the degree of information that is out there. But I would take the other side. The rest of the world now knows what we can do, what we know, what we've recovered in bin Laden's lair, that we can go back and find every other member of Al Qaeda. People will not join Al Qaeda as a consequence. The people in that organization fear for their lives. That's what we want and that is what we succeeded doing by getting this information out.
HILL: The information that Brennan gave didn't make these people fear for their lives. He didn't stand out there and say here are their names and here are their street addresses. They are afraid because they think more information has been given out, not just what Brennan said.
SPITZER: No, there is a great tactical purpose as well to letting the world know what our capabilities are. Not about leaving the --
HILL: Then don't say keep it secret.
SPITZER: Well, but, you know, look, that we don't know.
HILL: It's easy.
SPITZER: We're going to have to figure that out. And obviously in due course, I think we will.
Secretary Gates has a powerful argument here. We don't know what went on in the Situation Room, obviously, But I think they're going to be some conversations in the White House about this.
HILL: I bet there will be.
SPITZER: Indeed there will be.
All right. We'll be right back.
SPITZER: Good night from New York. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.