Dienstag, Dezember 12, 2006

Interview with former CIA agent Michael Scheuer about Bin Laden

Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer on the prospects of finding bin Laden, the outlook for al Qaeda and the risk of new terror attacks in the United States.
From 1996 to 1999, Michael Scheuer (53) headed the U.S. counterterrorism unit charged with finding bin Laden. In November 2004, after 22 years of service, he resigned his CIA post.

SPIEGEL ONLINE - December 5, 2006, 04:49 PM
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,452684,00.html
"Bin Laden Will Be Back"

SPIEGEL: Mr. Scheuer, five years have passed since the attacks of 9/11. Bin Laden is still free, al Qaeda alive and kicking. Venture a view of the future for us: How will things look five years down the road?
Scheuer: Far worse than today. America is clearly losing the two wars it is fighting, and our political leadership has neither the will nor the popular support it needs to send more forces. So I would anticipate us having withdrawn from both Iraq and Afghanistan in five years' time, with the two countries largely run by people we aren't happy with: Islamists.

SPIEGEL: And how will al Qaeda be faring?
Scheuer: Much as it is today. There's a lot of whistling past the graveyard about bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri not being in control, about the organization being broken. We have confused tactical victory with strategic process. We have done a very good job of killing and arresting some leading figures, but all we can really point to is a body count. We have no means of judging our progress, and al Qaeda is very strongly oriented toward preparing for succession in its leadership. So we haven't really made much headway against al Qaeda.

SPIEGEL: But still, it's hard to imagine the United States having no idea where bin Laden is.
Scheuer: I think it's hard for the administration to believe, too. But to the best of my knowledge, we don't know where he is, and that doesn't surprise me. We have a mindset problem: We think bin Laden and al Qaeda are gangsters, that nobody could possibly like them because they flew aircraft into our buildings. But the truth of the matter is that people hate us much more than bin Laden. So how do you locate somebody in a country where the population hates you, but likes the individual you're looking for and even sees him as defending its faith?

SPIEGEL: Will the CIA get bin Laden one day?
Scheuer: I hope so, but realistically the drain of manpower, resources and overhead imagery from Afghanistan to Iraq has left severely depleted resources available. And the American-led coalition is having to spend more and more defending Hamid Karzai's government, leaving less and less for finding bin Laden.

SPIEGEL: You used to be the director of Alec Station, which was charged with capturing bin Laden. The CIA closed the unit at the end of last year. A mistake?
Scheuer: A disaster. I'd assume that the president wasn't aware of the decision. You can't nominate public enemy number one and then scrap the resources that were chasing him.

SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan really a loyal ally in the quest for bin Laden?
Scheuer: Every country has its national interests. I would have bet everything I own that Pervez Musharraf would not have done what he's done to date. He's given us overflight rights; he helped us arrest very, very important al Qaeda fighters. But it's not in Pakistan's national interest to find, arrest, and turn bin Laden over to the Americans. It simply isn't going to happen, and we're fools if we expect it to, because the country would probably implode. And Musharraf is not suicidal.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe the rumors that bin Laden is hiding - cut off from all communications - inside some cave?
Scheuer: There are a lot of fairy tales about Osama bin Laden's life. Politicians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair like to suggest that he's scurrying from one mountain to the next, one step ahead of the cops. That's not true. In that case, we would have caught him: all insurgents know they are at their most vulnerable when they're on the move. We see al Qaeda producing sophisticated videos: Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden seem to be comfortable.

SPIEGEL: So they are satisfied with what they've achieved?
Scheuer: We tend to forget that bin Laden's main aim has never been military victory, but to inspire other Muslims. They can see that the global trend is in their favor. We are losing in Iraq. We are losing in Afghanistan. So I suspect they are quite happy. If, over the course of a decade, someone keeps announcing things, and then follows that up with action 80 or 90 percent of the time, then we should be believing him. If you ask me, al Qaeda is planning another attack in the United States.

SPIEGEL: Any idea where?
Scheuer: Can I pinpoint a city? No. But they are obviously waiting until they can do something even more spectacular than 9/11. In America, it would be simple to launch intifada-style attacks or the kind of bus and subway bombings we saw in London. Since 1996, bin Laden has maintained that every attack will be incrementally greater in the pain it causes.

SPIEGEL: Aren't you being overly pessimistic? After all, there's no actual evidence of an impending attack.
Scheuer: We Americans misunderstand the nature of terrorism. In our eyes, if someone doesn't attack us when we are expecting it, we assume that he lacks the means to do so, that we have won. But the patience of this foe is extraordinary. And don't fall into the trap of judging this war by the number of bombs or explosions. Forces aligned with al Qaeda have killed 2,500 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a gigantic budget deficit. In my view, the president is wrong to equate an absence of attacks with a successful war on terrorism.

SPIEGEL: Was London going to be another al Qaeda attack?
Scheuer: I doubt whether al Qaeda's leadership had planned and coordinated the operation. However, al Qaeda may have trained and funded one or two of those involved.

SPIEGEL: According to bin Laden, the war in Iraq represents a golden opportunity for al Qaeda. Has it aided the terrorists?
Scheuer: Yes. From a Muslim perspective, the invasion of Iraq is the ultimate justification for jihad. An infidel enemy attacking and occupying a Muslim country unprovoked. In my view, Iraq will remain a thorn in America's side for the foreseeable future.

SPIEGEL: Was killing Zarqawi important?
Scheuer: Zarqawi was clearly off of al Qaeda's reservation. But anyone can work under the umbrella of al Qaeda as long as they keep attacking Americans and their allies, and avoid fomenting a war with the Shia. Bin Laden hates the Shia, but he has different priorities: he wants to dislodge America from the Middle East first, then go after Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and finally deal with the Shia. Zarqawi was pushing too hard for an outright civil war in Iraq. So from al Qaeda's perspective, Zarqawi is now probably in a perfect state. A noble martyr, but dead.

SPIEGEL: Polls suggest that bin Laden's standing has fallen in the Muslim world, that many no longer hero-worship him.
Scheuer: Yes, and every time his popularity declines, the Americans stand up and say: "Thanks be to God! It's all over! Bin Laden's finished!" But the same polls ask a more pertinent question: "What do you think of American foreign policy?" And for more than 12 years now, 80 to 90 percent of respondents have agreed completely with bin Laden's view. They may not always approve of his methods, but they share his animosity and raw hatred. In the United States, we need to acknowledge that we have bitten off more than we can chew. We will have to kill the generation of people that have grown up around bin Laden. But it's also vital that we reduce al Qaeda's popular appeal.

Interview was conducted by Hans Hoyng and Georg Mascolo

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