CIA Bin Laden Chief: Next Attack ‘Bigger Than 9/11'

Dave Eberhart
Wednesday July 25, 2007

If al-Qaida does launch an attack inside the U.S., as the U.S. government suggests, "it will be much bigger than 9/11."

This prediction of a nightmarish terror attack comes from Michael Scheuer, the retired CIA veteran who headed the agency's secret unit dedicated to capturing Osama bin Laden.

In an exclusive NewsMax interview, the 22-year CIA veteran and bestselling author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," argues that while our government in Washington has talked a "good talk" about security, America remains seriously vulnerable.

Despite the clear and present danger, Scheuer cites the federal government's failure to secure the borders, especially the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We haven't done the basic things that were needed on 9/11 to protect Americans to the greatest extent possible – and that is domestic border control," he says.

As a result, almost six years since the Sept. 11 attacks, America's law enforcement still does not know "who is in the country without a pool of illegals that increases by the hour."

Today, terrorists could strike with ease if they so choose. Scheuer points to the port of Houston, which could be easily targeted because of its refining operations.

On the global front of the war on terror, Scheuer offers a similar pessimistic view because the U.S. has never exercised the full clout of the "military option" to put down the insurgency in Iraq and deal with terrorists elsewhere.

Simply put, Scheuer says the U.S. is too worried about what Europe thinks of our policies and has not risen to the challenge we face from Muslim extremists.

His solution: We need "to kill off more of the enemy." He adds the comment may seem "callous," but it is the best way to deal with an enemy that plays by no rules.

On the heels of the recent release of the disturbing National Intelligence Estimate, the man who provided the U.S. government with as many as 10 opportunities to take out bin Laden before Sept. 11 evaluates homeland security chief Michael Chertoff, lambastes lawmakers, addresses intractable American policy on Israel, reveals the enemy's strategy to bankrupt America, and uncovers the real motivation of terrorists.

NewsMax: At the CIA, you couldn't get top people to take assertive action against bin Laden. Now that you are a private citizen, what's the frustration that you are feeling?

Scheuer: I don't get the impression that the natural goal of American politicians in either party is to protect America.

They are more concerned with what international opinion thinks of us. They are more concerned with making sure that they can win the next election.

If our government doesn't exist to protect my grandchildren, what does it exist to do?

This whole refrain we hear now from the Democrats and the Republicans, we have tried the military option and it doesn't work -- it is such nonsense.

They don't want to use our military forces because they don't want to be condemned by the Europeans for killing too many people.

They would rather have Americans killed in the long run than to face a lot of criticism from a continent that is fading from the scene.

That's my frustration.

I'm very much a nationalist. I'm really very much a hawk when it comes to protecting Americans.

But I'm also a non-interventionist. I think that there are places that we don't have to be.

But that is my frustration.

NewsMax: When it suits al-Qaida to finally launch another domestic attack on the United States, what do you think is the most likely scenario?

Scheuer: I think it will be bigger than 9/11.

I don't think we're going to see a car bomb or two car bombs or three car bombs.

I would really worry about a place like Houston because so much of our oil is refined into gasoline there. It only has a single ship channel. It is the capital of our chemical industry and it is the hub for natural gas distribution.

Al-Qaida has always thought oil is a very important target. But it is hard for them to attack because if they attack it in the Muslim world it hurts Muslims.

If they attack it in the United States it hurts the United States and it benefits the Muslims because the price goes through the roof.

NewsMax: The president has invested heavily in the surge. Will it prove effective?

Scheuer: The Marine Corps are not nation builders. You point them at our enemy and they kill our enemy and then they come home.

That's why I don't think that there is any difference between President Bush and Senator John McCain [on one hand] and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton [on the other].

One wants to lose sooner; one is resigned to losing later. If you try to hold and defeat a country that's bigger than California with 160,000 troops with rules of engagement that make our soldiers targets, not killers, you are going to lose. History never changes.

I do a lot of work with young Marine Corp and Special Forces intelligence officers, lieutenants and captains, and they are such bright, smart, brave people. They realize they are getting led down the path on this.

You know, some of the stories they come back with from both places (Afghanistan and Iraq) about the rules of engagement that really make them targets is heartbreaking.

It is very depressing.

If we knew history a little bit better, we would know that things are not as complicated as our leaders make them out to be. If you don't kill your enemy, he is going to kill you.

If you don't operate from that assumption as your starting point you are done.

NewsMax: The latest National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] concludes, among other things, that al-Qaida is using its growing strength in Pakistan and Iraq to plot attacks on U.S. soil.

Scheuer: [The NIE] says the [al-Qaida] affiliate in Iraq has been the one to express a desire to attack in the United States. It doesn't say anything about its capability.

As an old intelligence officer, that sentence to me looked like they were making as much as they could out of precious little evidence.

I'm a little bit less concerned about any planning to attack the domestic United States coming out of Iraq. I think that the plans will be made where they have always been made and that is Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I certainly agree with the overall conclusion of the estimate that we now have two tiers of threat. We have al-Qaida – the group that answers to Osama bin Laden – and then we have the people that are being instigated by bin Laden.

NewsMax: The NIE says that "because of terrorists' undiminished intent to attack the U.S." our nation will face a persistently evolving terrorist threat over the next three years.

Scheuer: Yes, that's exactly right. I think that this is a situation where we're going to be in a heightened state of alert for a long time.

Emphasis, I think, needs to be on attacking the enemy - more than trying to make ourselves safer - because I really think it's almost impossible to make America safe because we're not going to fix borders, we're not going to do immigration.

As a result, we have to really do something to kill more of the enemy. It sounds callous, but I think that that is the trade-off.

NewsMax: Isn't it curious to you that it is more politically correct to invade a foreign sovereign country than it is to put up a border wall around your own country?

Scheuer: Yes, it is extraordinary. A country of laws is afraid to enforce the laws that are on the books. It really is.

One of the constraints, if you will, on the intelligence community is simply you can't talk about things that make us vulnerable.

We talk about the capabilities of the enemy and what they can do and what they can't do, but we can't say by not closing the borders you have really helped the enemy; by not securing the Soviet nuclear arsenal you have really helped the enemy; by invading Iraq you have really helped the enemy.

NewsMax: So there is a reason the NIE is mum about such obvious issues?

Scheuer: Yes, because [as an intelligence officer] you can't talk about U.S. policy.

NewsMax: Doesn't that limitation diminish the NIE report?

Scheuer: As an intelligence officer, if I was looking at this intelligence estimate again, I would say it was very good. It gave a very good idea of what the threat was, that the threat was growing, broadening and deepening, and I think that that is exactly right.

The failure of it is the report says nothing about the motivation of the enemy. I think if that piece was included, people would understand why the threat is as it is described there.

But we are still in the position -- 10 years after bin Laden declared war on us -- of having all of our politicians, the 18 who are running for the next term, Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton before him, insisting that we're at war because they hate our freedoms and liberties and our elections and women in the workplace and all of that stuff.

NewsMax: Our pornography?

Scheuer: Our pornography, or because I have a draft beer after work on Friday. People have a hard time believing that people are going to blow themselves up for that, but Americans accept it from their president and from their leaders.

I think that if you matched the real motivation - which I believe is the impact of our foreign policy in the Muslim world - with the assessment that the threat is growing, I think that people can better understand that…

When Mr. [Ron] Paul tried to raise that in the [GOP] debate in South Carolina, [Rudy] Giuliani suggested that any contention that we were responsible for any of this motivation of the enemy was unpatriotic.

I think that's where we are. Quite frankly, if these guys were attacking us because they hated our elections they would barely be a lethal nuisance. No one is going to blow themselves up because we have early primaries in Iowa.

NewsMax: It seems to have come as a surprise to the establishment when we had the advent of suicide bombing in Iraq.

Scheuer: And in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is extraordinary. I worked in Afghanistan for 10 years and for most of the time, the Soviets were there and I don't recall a single suicide bombing - and now we have not only Arabs blowing themselves up but Pakistanis and Afghans. That is an extraordinary development.

NewsMax: What is your take on Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's recent unleashing of his "gut feeling" that we are in for a long dangerous summer?

Scheuer: Chertoff knew this NIE was coming. The NIE clearly has information that wasn't released that is more detailed about why they think that the threat is growing ... I think Chertoff is a good enough bureaucrat that he wouldn't have been giving us his gut feeling if there wasn't something behind it.

He doesn't strike me as a kind of off-the-cuff guy. I think he kind of thinks about things before he says them ... and I think he's one of the least - this is my view at least - suspect members of this administration.

NewsMax: That's damning the man with faint praise.

Scheuer: It's a terrible business for me because I have been a lifelong Republican and I feel heretical every time I open my mouth, but I don't know what else to do.

NewsMax: Do you think that the terror outlook is as dangerous as Chertoff and the NIE suggest?

Scheuer: I think it is but not because we're a weak country and because the enemy is particularly overpowering.

It is because we're still behaving as if these guys are on lunatic fringe of the Muslim world; that there is a high enough number of them that we can bring to justice in a matter of time; and, more especially, I think the issue of motivation is crucial. Until we have a discussion about that, we are not in a position to attack the enemy and kill them.

I really think that what we fail to understand is that America is not the main enemy of these people. Their main enemy is what they call the "apostate government" – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and the Israelis – and their goal is not to defeat American or as Steve Emerson says to obliterate our society.

Their goal is to get us out of the way so they can go after their main enemy.

In defense of America, I think you not only have to figure out how to kill them when you can but also to look at policies that have been in place for 30 or 35 years that were designed for the Cold War era and see if we can sort of deflect the animosities of these guys back to where they belong into the region.

NewsMax: President Bush's White House Counter Terrorism advisor said recently that terrorists are determined to figure out a way to launch a mass casualty spectacular event in the United States, "so we work everyday to make sure that doesn't happen." What about the average working stiff American citizen who scratches his head and rejoins, "If you are working so damned hard, why are the borders still wide open?"

Scheuer: There's almost a generational failure in our governing elite. They talk a good talk about believing that the threat is genuine but sometimes I really wonder if they do.

We haven't done the basic things that were needed on 9/11 to protect Americans to the greatest extent possible. That's domestic border control, not for any racist reason or anti-immigrant reasons but to give law enforcement a chance to find out who is in the country without a pool of illegals that increases by the hour.

The president and Mrs. Clinton, they all say we have spent tens of billions of dollars on fancy gadgetry for our border crossing points, so we are safer.

Well, that assumes that al-Qaida is stupid and [will] walk in with an al-Qaida T-shirt carrying a nuclear suitcase and having a bandoleer of bullets around their chest and say here I am at Miami International.

They are not going to come in that way. They are going to come across the border and they are going to come in through a port.

It's better if you look for a little bit of genius in the enemy than for abject ignorance.

Bin Laden could not have picked a better issue to, if you will, run on than the policies that he has picked. They are all intertwined with domestic politics.

Whether it's domestic security, "Well, we're not going to do that because it's immigration and that's a political issue"; oil – "We're not going to do that and because we're not going to do oil we're going to remain supportive of Arab police states, which furthers his cause."

We can't talk about Israel … We're the world's greatest power, but we're stuck because we can't talk about the problems that are really, really threatening us.

NewsMax: Is there an answer to the dilemma?

Scheuer: Ron Paul is the only one that really has said, "Wait a minute, people don't like other people sticking their nose in their business, and we have been doing this for 50 years."

Whether it is right or wrong that we do it we ought to at least recognize that there is a reaction to it on the other side.

NewsMax: There are those who would suggest that bin Laden and company haven't attacked the United States domestically because they don't want to rally Americans back to the cause of 9/11. Your take?

Scheuer: I think that there's probably an ongoing discussion within their council – why break a good thing here.

Americans losing two wars overseas which we are participating in. Their alliances are falling apart. The cohesion of their domestic political society has never been weaker than probably since the Vietnam period, and they are spending money like a drunken sailor.

Al-Qaida's goal, they would say, is encapsulated simply into two phrases: One, lead them into bankruptcy and two, spread out their forces. Clearly they have accomplished both of those things.

As long as things are going to go their way, an attack would be superfluous, and it would also rally people to the government. That's one of the reasons why we haven't seen things like what has gone on in London.

NewsMax: Is London serving as a handy a surrogate for us – they can make their point in London without upsetting the big applecart?

Scheuer: That's right. Also, I think we forget sometimes that in many ways Britain is as hated as we are because of the colonial period in the Middle East, but they're just not the big boys on the block anymore.

If they wanted to do the car bombings, the mall shoot-ups, Pizza Hut bombings, that kind of thing could be done in our country very easily. They have made a conscious decision not to do those kinds of small attacks.

Bin laden gave a speech or a statement in November of 2001 and he said basically: We don't have to do anything else to the Americans regarding their domestic society. They are going to strangle their own society. They will eat away at their civil liberties. They'll become divisive within.

The point is very well taken. History is a big thing in understanding where we are and where we are going. He is very conscious of our history. It's a very dangerous situation because we're really flying blind…

The National Intelligence Estimate doesn't offer Mr. Bush and the administration very much. In fact, it's got to give them a lot of heartburn.

NewsMax: If you were sitting in the Oval Office, what is the very first thing you would do to help protect America?

Scheuer: I would do two things. I would immediately inaugurate some kind of an energy program. If we weren't so dependent on oil, we wouldn't have to support police states...

The second thing I would do, if you really wanted to protect America, is to square with the American people about what the enemy is motivated by and inaugurate debate in this country about whether we want to continue to pursue these policies - because we are the agent of bin Laden's strength and of his unity. Our policies are the one indispensable ally he needs…

If you say our unqualified support for Israel stirs people in the Muslim world to join bin Laden, somehow that gets twisted around from a statement of fact to an anti-Semitic tirade. As long as we are in that kind of position, things are not going to get talked about.

NewsMax: The Muslim success against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan has been cited as a rallying cry in their battle with the U.S. today.

Scheuer: The most important thing about Afghanistan is that the Arabs and Afghans and the Islamics believe that they defeated not only the Red Army but the Soviet Union. So they have it in their mind that if they beat one, they can beat the second one.

The Muslims have always said that the Americans will be easier than the Soviets because they are soft. They have no patience. And they won't use the power that the American people have bought for the military. So far they have been dead on about that.

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