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MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, November 21, 2004
GUESTS: Senator JOHN McCAIN (R-Ariz.):Member, Armed Services Committee
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Former CIA Senior Analyst, Anonymous Author, "Imperial Hubris"
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: bloody battles in Iraq, rising tensions with Iran, a soaring federal debt and a wide-open race for the White House in 2008. With us: former POW and one-time presidential candidate, the senior senator from Arizona, Republican John McCain.
Then in June, an author identified only as Anonymous published this book, "Imperial Hubris: Why The West Is Losing The War on Terror." On Friday, November 12, Mr. Anonymous resigned from the CIA, and this morning, you meet him. Our guest: former senior U.S. intelligence analyst Michael Scheuer.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, exactly 50 years ago this Sunday morning, the premier of France appeared on MEET THE PRESS and addressed a very unusual subject.
But first, joining us now is Senator John McCain.
Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Iran--the president said they are developing components which could be used for nuclear bombs. Secretary of State Powell said they are designing the missiles that could deliver those bombs. Are we close to potential military action against Iran?
SEN. McCAIN: I'm not--I don't believe we're "close," but we certainly should be very concerned, disturbed and even alarmed, but there's been information about this for a long period of time. The IAEA had given us a lot of that information. The next step obviously is to try to get the Security Council to act in some meaningful fashion. But, you know, Tim, this is a harsh comment, but at the end of the day, it's the United States of America that may have to act if we act, but I hope that we can dissuade them through other means. Well, of course, the first attempt would be to get the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions. So we'll see, but it's a very great challenge.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be disappointed if the Israelis did to Iran what they did to Iraq in 1981 and have a pre-emptive strike on the nuclear reactor?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, it isn't so easy because the Iranians have these facilities spread all over Tehran. You couldn't do it in one strike. So from a practical standpoint, it would be difficult. Second of all, I don't see how it would do anything but provoke probably a conflict between Israel and Iran, and we want to avoid that at all costs. And I think the Israelis recognize that. I don't think the Israelis are at a point where they would feel that they have to do that. It's one thing to attack a reactor in Iraq 20-some years ago. It's something entirely different to take on that challenge now.
MR. RUSSERT: What's our timetable? How much time do we have for Iran to stand down?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. I would think we're talking about a matter of months rather than years.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. Here are the headlines. "Baghdad suffers a day of attacks, assassinations. Residents fear an insurgent offensive." We went into Fallujah, a successful military operation, but the insurgency seems to pop up all across the country, like one of the games if you hit it...
SEN. McCAIN: Whack-a-mole.
MR. RUSSERT: ...at the arcade...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...it pops up someplace else.
SEN. McCAIN: Whack-a-mole. First of all, the operation in Fallujah was very successful. We killed over a thousand of these people and captured almost an equal number. It is a significant setback. We know that this was a base of operations, which we never should have allowed to form to start with. But to go in and do that was an absolute necessity. Now, we've got to follow it up to other places such as Ramadi and others because we've got to keep them on the run. And I don't know. It goes without--we all know but we have to always mention an incredible performances of these Marines and Army guys. It's just not believable, that they're so magnificent, and the loss of life is so tragic and we mourn for them. But having said that, they did a very efficient operation.
Does that mean everything's fine? No, you've got to follow them up. You've got to go to these other places. You cannot allow them to have sanctuary. The American people have got to know this is a very tough struggle, but I don't see how you could have had elections the end of this coming January if the enemy had a sanctuary particularly in a city the size of Fallujah. So this is a right step in the right direction, but it's very tough and we still need more troops. We still need more people there. I believe those reports of those young Marines that said, "Look, unless we keep a significant presence here, they're going to filter back in."
MR. RUSSERT: More American troops?
SEN. McCAIN: I've said that for--since a year ago last August.
MR. RUSSERT: How many more do you think we need, Senator, in all honesty?
SEN. McCAIN: I would say at least 40,000 or 50,000 more, but...
MR. RUSSERT: Where are you going to find them?
SEN. McCAIN: I think you can find them, but it's an enormous strain. We also have to plan on increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. Among others, General McCaffrey is a guy I admire. He says the--you need to increase the Army by about 80,000 and the Marines by 20,000 to 30,000. I don't dispute that. He and others tell me that that's about the right numbers.
MR. RUSSERT: Not only putting down the insurgency, but the number of Iraqi children who are starving has doubled since the war began. We need troops and those support systems for a whole lot of reasons.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah. Look, we made mistakes at the beginning of this conflict. We made mistakes at the beginning of World War II. Anybody who reads about the landings in North Africa. Every war, there are terrible mistakes made. The key is to fix them, and we can fix them, and I believe that we've done a lot of things better. We need to continue to do them better.
MR. RUSSERT: You saw combat. You've seen the video of the Marine going into the mosque. Let me show it to you, just a portion of it, and tell you the background of this. This young man visited this mosque the day before. He had been wounded in the face. He went in and saw someone on the ground moving. He shot him. At the exact same time, a soldier and five other American soldiers, one soldier killed, five others injured when the insurgents had booby-trapped a body. How should America, how should the world look at those footage--that footage of an American Marine shooting someone on the ground in that context?
SEN. McCAIN: People of the world should interpret that film as an American Marine under the most difficult and trying circumstances, having seen his friends killed in the worst way. I mean, the tactics that are used by these insurgents, waving a white flag and our people come up and they start shooting, booby-trapping the bodies, the beheading of captives--I mean, these are the worst scum of the Earth that we are facing. Having said that, of course we don't want anyone who is wounded to be shot and killed. But you cannot understand this situation without the context of the environment in which these Marines were fighting where every time they turn around, somebody who may be lying there faking being wounded is trying to kill him, and some Americans were killed that way.
So of course there should be an investigation. Of course we don't sanction the killing of any wounded individual. But I would argue everything I know about that situation, that nine out of 10 of us probably would have reacted the same way. Now, I'm not with the investigation. But this is the most difficult kind of warfare. And let me just add one other point. Here we have Al-Jazeera showing that shot over and over again without a mention of the shooting in the head of this brave woman who spent her life trying to help Iraqi people. Shame on Al-Jazeera. Shame on that organization. They know--we now know that they're just a propaganda organ--they can no longer call themselves news or any kind of purveyor of anything but propaganda. And if I'm angry about it, I think all Americans are angry about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to what's been going on Capitol Hill the last couple days. After the September 11 Commission put forward their report with their reforms of the intelligence agency, the president submitted legislation, it was negotiated all day yesterday. They thought they had reached an agreement with the Senate and House leadership and the White House. Two Republican leaders stood up in the Republican conference on the House side and pleaded with their colleagues to block it. Congressman Duncan Hunter had a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying this would affect real-time military intelligence on the ground. Is the Pentagon blocking the president's own reforms of the intelligence agency?
SEN. McCAIN: This is one of the more Byzantine kind of scenarios that I have observed in the years that I have been in Congress. It's hard for me to imagine the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sending that letter without at least consulting with the secretary of defense. It's well-known that the secretary of defense wasn't enthusiastic about this loss of budget authority. Remember, most of our fiercest debates in Washington comes down to who controls the money. The president of the United States felt very strongly that we needed this reform. I believe that it's a fairly good chance, since the majority of both houses of Congress and the president of the United States are in favor of this legislation, that it will probably succeed over time. And I'd like to say that Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, many others who worked on this legislation for untold hours, they did a very good job on it. And they deserve great credit.
MR. RUSSERT: So you think this legislation will pass this year?
SEN. McCAIN: I think so. But I never believed that we wouldn't pass it once we had the conference report signed and everybody signed up. But I do believe that we have to have reform. And one other aspect of this that's very dispiriting is that the Senate failed to act on any meaningful oversight by the Congress. Everyone recognizes that the failure of congressional oversight was one of the reasons why we have some of the problems in the intelligence community today. Bob Kerrey said that the Senate was more interested--the old bulls were more interested in turf than national security. That's a very harsh assessment, but we really don't have, still don't have, meaningful congressional oversight.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the president call up the secretary of defense and say, "Don, get on board"?
SEN. McCAIN: I would imagine he has done that already. I think this is going to work out, but--and I do believe that Duncan Hunter and others have very deep concerns about our ability to continue to fight and win successfully and the right intelligence. I don't question their motives.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the CIA. This is a Robert Novak column from Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times.
John "McCain told [Director of Central Intelligence Porter] Goss the CIA is `a dysfunctional organization. It has to be cleaned out.' ...Moreover, McCain told me last week, `with CIA leaks intended to harm the re-election campaign of the president of the United States, it is not only dysfunctional but a rogue organization.'"
SEN. McCAIN: What I meant by that--first of all, I think it's important to say that midlevel men and women that work in the CIA are amongst America's finest, and they do a dedicated job. The reality is that the Select Committee of Intelligence in the Senate said--and their chairman, Senator Roberts, told me yesterday--said they were dysfunctional. The report of the Select Committee on Intelligence in the House said the same thing. The 9-11 Commission said the same thing, that they are--they just--look, the president of the United States was told by the director of intelligence that the weapons of mass destruction information was a "slam dunk."
The secretary of state of the United States of America testified before the Security Council that weapons of mass destruction were there in Iraq. So it was great failures, and we all know that the CIA has to be reformed. So Porter Goss comes over there, who has great knowledge and experience, and a former CIA employee himself, and I didn't tell him what he had to do. He came to see me as a courtesy call. We're not good friends or anything else. And my advice was the obvious, that you've got to go over there and you're going to have to make significant changes. But I didn't order him or in any way, you know, say-- as much as I like Bob Novak, I was a--it was more of an agreement on our part that there has to be changes.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Goss has now written a memo which says, "These are the rules of the road."
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: "You have to support this administration." Is that either--is that salute and shut up?
SEN. McCAIN: No. I read Porter Goss' statement in its entirety. It's unfortunate that there was one phrase in there about "We support the administration." The thrust of and the words in that statement are "We are non-political." Our job is to collect, analyze and make recommendations to the president of the United States concerning intelligence, not to get in the political arena. Why did he say that? Because prior to the election, there were leaks which were clearly designed to affect the presidential election in favor of John Kerry. And I would be angry if they were leaks in any way. They just shouldn't be involved in a political campaign.
So they need to fix the system. I think they will. And, again, there are wonderful young men and women who are serving in the CIA. We thank them, but there has to be a real change there so that it never happens again. One of the problems with Iran right now--what happened right after Colin Powell said what he said? Whoa, is this correct information? We've got to restore the credibility.
MR. RUSSERT: In July, this book came out, "Imperial Hubris: Why The West Is Losing The War On Terror," by Anonymous.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: We now know Anonymous is Michael Scheuer, who was then a CIA employee, intelligence officer. Should CIA agents currently working at the agency be allowed to publish their opinions?
SEN. McCAIN: In my view, they should, as long as it's cleared and as long as it's not classified information. That's my view.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to John Kerry. He told people, reportedly at the Bill Clinton library dedication, that this video from Osama bin Laden, released on October 29, the weekend before the campaign, was the reason that he lost the election, that that influenced the voting behavior of the American public. Do you agree with that?
SEN. McCAIN: No. I believe that the Democrats at their convention failed to give a coherent message. I think at the Republican convention, we were able to frame the major issue of the campaign as being the war on terror. And I think there were a very large number of Americans who decided their vote on the presidential election on the basis of who is best equipped and who they could trust most to win the war on terror, you know, as the overriding issue of the campaign. And I think that was it. Some could argue that the film of Osama bin Laden reminded people that we hadn't caught him. And so I don't think it was that. I may be wrong, but I think that the--what was uppermost and should be uppermost in Americans' minds is the war on terror because we are still vulnerable to attack and we're in a long, hard, twilight struggle. And this president, certainly in my view, was best qualified to carry out that mission.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry returned to the Senate, went to the floor and talked about the debt, how that--the government has run up more debt from George Washington to Ronald Reagan over the last couple years, and that the extraordinary thing is that the last three presidents have the highest debt, as he says, in the 228-year history of the republic. Congress voted for a $388 billion spending bill. They passed it 65-to-30 in the Senate. You said it's a big, fat turkey.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, it's loaded with pork-barrel projects. Since 1990--in 1994, there were 4,000 earmarks. This year there were 14,000 earmarks. This is these special deal projects ranging from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to studying the DNA of bears in Montana. It's outrageous. The system is broken. We need to fix it. We've got to have some kind of way of challenging these earmarks. We've got to have the president perhaps have the line-item veto. We've got to exercise not only overall budgetary control, but stop these earmarks. We're harming agencies like NASA and their ability to carry out their mission because we're diverting so much of the funds to other projects that are unnecessary and wasteful.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, Republicans control the Senate.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans control the House.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans control the White House.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: It's a Republican problem.
SEN. McCAIN: It certainly is, and we're going to have to fix it. And I believe that part of our base, of the Republican base, is fiscal conservatives and they're very unhappy. I hear from them all the time.
MR. RUSSERT: In the House version of this spending bill, there was a provision which said that the Appropriations Committee should have access to taxpayers' tax returns. How did that happen?
SEN. McCAIN: What happens here is that they slap these omnibus bills together--as you mentioned, this one's nine bills that we should have passed separately--nobody sees them or reads them. It was a 1,630- page document yesterday that was presented to us sometime in the morning, and we voted on it in the evening. The system is broken, and everybody, of course, wanted to get out of town, understandably.
MR. RUSSERT: Why should Congress have access to citizens' tax returns?
SEN. McCAIN: According to--Senator Stevens' explanation on the floor last night was that two staffers put in this provision and no one knew about it until another Senator Conrad staffer discovered it.
MR. RUSSERT: What was their motive?
SEN. McCAIN: That should--you know, I don't know. I can't imagine. But the fact that our system is such that that would ever be inserted and passed by the House of Representatives--if there's ever a graphic example of the broken system that we now have, that certainly has to be it.
MR. RUSSERT: House...
SEN. McCAIN: How many other provisions didn't we find in that 1,600-page bill?
MR. RUSSERT: That provision won't become law ever.
SEN. McCAIN: No. No. No. We worked out a procedure where the House--it doesn't matter but it'll be fixed, but the fact that it got in there in the first place is chilling.
MR. RUSSERT: House Republicans voted last week to change their rules to say if their leader Tom DeLay is indicted he should be able to hold on to his position as majority leader of the House. Is that right?
SEN. McCAIN: No, I don't think so. I saw Newt Gingrich the other night on a program. He disagreed with that as well. There was a congressman, McDade, that was indicted some years ago. He stepped down. He was found innocent and he regained his position. I would think that would be the proper way to go. At the same time, I'm a little hesitant to tell the House how they should do their business. I'll let the American people judge that.
MR. RUSSERT: Evangelical Christians played a big role in President Bush's re-election.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: They are now claiming to have a seat at the table. Bob Jones III of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, a place you know well, wrote the president a letter. "Dear Mr. President: In your re-election, God has graciously granted America--though she doesn't deserve it--a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. ...Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. ... If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them."
Do you believe that America has a reprieve from paganism and do you believe that liberals despise Christ?
SEN. McCAIN: No, I don't. I've had a number of disagreements with Bob Jones University over the years. But I do think it's important to point out something, Tim. I think a lot of Americans are very uneasy. They're not in favor of censorship, but I think they're very uneasy with some of the things they see on television, some of the fare that their children are exposed to. They're not, as I say, the people that worry about raising their families and the environment in which they grow up in and the things that they're exposed to. I hear that all the time from people and I'm not sure I know what the answer is, but I do know that there's great discomfort out there amongst many people who want to raise their children in what they view as a healthy environment and they don't think that that's the case now with a lot of the stuff that's in the entertainment business.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet "Desperate Housewives" is a megahit...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...all across America, red states and blue states.
SEN. McCAIN: Exactly. It got all the publicity that anybody could ever want. And I'm not saying it doesn't appeal to the salacious side of all of us, but I am saying that there's a great discomfort out there and it's not so much expressed in the statement you just read but people say, "Hey, you know, what is this all about?" I have never, ever tried to make judgments of this kind, but I do sense this on these.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2000, you did take on some of the leaders of the evangelical Christian community. Let me bring you back to February 28, 2000, two separate appearances but a single message. Let's watch.
(Videotape, February 28, 2000):
SEN. McCAIN: I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative and advocate of a strong defense, and yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate.
We embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community, but that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders.
We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson.
We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.
MR. RUSSERT: Can someone be nominated in the Republican Party for president and still take on Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, I believe so. But I also believe that we have to, of course, recognize that there is a very strong influence in America and in our party, but I hope that we can return to the principles of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and be an inclusive party.
MR. RUSSERT: After a hard-fought presidential campaign this November, many people went to Florida and the Caribbean to recoup. John McCain went to New Hampshire. Let me show you. Here he is in New Hampshire--Manchester, New Hampshire, to be exact. This was the headline in the next day's Manchester Union Leader: "McCain leaves door open. Republican senator says he won't rule out run in 2008."
SEN. McCAIN: Well, my friend, John Sununu, somebody asked him, he said it wasn't two weeks before McCain was in New Hampshire, and he said, "He was a week late." Look, I'm not running for president. I do not foreclose the option. The best thing I can do is help the president with his agenda, including immigration reform, which in my view is a compelling number-one issue, getting this fiscal situation under control, helping to win the war on terror in Iraq. I have a full agenda, and I want to pursue that. There will be plenty of time to consider whether to run for president again, but certainly I don't think it's in any way appropriate for me to speculate on that at this time. I was asked by Joe McQuade, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, six months ago to come up there and give that speech. I was glad to do so. And I do love New Hampshire. Every politician says that, but I think that it's a wonderful place and I love the people there.
MR. RUSSERT: Yet the Gallup Poll is out. These are Republican voters: "Who would you prefer as your nominee?" McCain, 10, Giuliani, 10, Colin Powell, 7, Jeb Bush, 3, Condoleezza Rice, 2, Bill Frist, 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2. FOX News went as far as to put John McCain vs. Hillary Clinton in a general election, 53 to 37. When would you have to make up your mind if you wanted to run in 2008?
SEN. McCAIN: I would think at least not for a couple of years, and I--and to just--you know, the president hasn't even been inaugurated yet. Isn't it a little, you know, unseemly to--for any of us to start on that path again? But it would also reduce my effectiveness in the Senate if people believed that all of these efforts are designed to enhance a presidential candidacy. The best thing I can do is to work very hard for the next couple years on a lot of the issues and help this president succeed.
MR. RUSSERT: C-SPAN will show your speech tonight, and it's called "C-SPAN's Road to the White House 2008."
SEN. McCAIN: You know, the theme of my speech is that we are not as much red and blue as is portrayed here in Washington and is the case here in Washington. There really are not that many fundamental disagreements between Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: Would age be a factor in your decision? You would be 71, 72 years old in 2008.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, I don't--I think that would have to be a consideration. I have a wonderful mother who is 92. Maybe I could use her as an example.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, you're chairman of the Commerce Committee.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: You oversee sports. A fight between the Indianapolis Pacers and the Detroit Pistons-- will your committee look into that?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't think so. I think that the NBA would probably handle it as well as possible. I don't know really what you would gain. I do believe that this issue of steroids has to continue to be examined, particularly where major-league baseball is concerned, but I don't know what we would do besides lament it.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you opposed to legislation on steroids?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that unless major-league baseball and the players come to some agreement that is very stringent and is very enforceable and credible with the American people, we would have no choice. And that's the last thing I would want.
MR. RUSSERT: John McCain, as always, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Happy Thanksgiving.
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you very much, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris" is anonymous no more. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is our guest. He's next coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The hunt for Osama bin Laden and the war on terror with the no-longer-anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris." Michael Scheuer after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Mr. Anonymous, Michael Scheuer, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. MICHAEL SCHEUER: Good morning, Mr. Russert. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers from your book this quote: "U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious: We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency--not criminality or terrorism--and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces."
Do you believe we're losing the war on terror?
MR. SCHEUER: I think without question we're losing the war on terror, sir, not because they are stronger than us but because we resolutely refuse to recognize the motivation of the enemy is grounded so thoroughly in their religion and their perception that American policies are a threat to annihilate that religion. And that's not to say we should sympathize or empathize with their position, but certainly if you're going to destroy your enemy, you better understand what he's about.
MR. RUSSERT: The deputy commander of Central Command, General Lance Smith, said this yesterday. "Pakistan's military has been so effective in pressuring al-Qaida leaders hiding in the tribal region of western Pakistan that Osama bin Laden and his top deputies no longer are able to direct terrorist operations." "`They are living in the remotest areas of the world without any communications--other than courier--with the outside world or their people and unable to orchestrate or provide command and control over a terrorist network.'"
Do you believe that?
MR. SCHEUER: No, I don't, sir. You know, there's a movie opening in Washington this weekend about the author James Barrie of "Peter Pan" finding--it's called "Finding Neverland." And I think Americans have found Neverland through the statements of many of their leaders.
For example, on that one, the Pakistani military has done more than we had any right to expect them to do. They have been in this case very good allies. But we're talking about a border that's 1,500 kilometers long. It's intensely mountainized territory, and it's simply not rational to believe that we have put very much pressure at all on Osama bin Laden. I would say the Special Forces of the United States and the clandestine services of the United States have done exemplary work catching these people one man at a time. But it's such a large organization in such a big area that a statement like that is clearly misleading to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Osama is still fully in control of al-Qaeda?
MR. SCHEUER: I think it's wishful thinking to think that he isn't, sir. The one example is the tremendous sophistication and spontaneity of his media machine. There has to be some command and control there. And to imagine that it doesn't--that he's unable to do it is just absolutely incorrect. He's really a remarkable man, a great man in many ways, without the connotation positive or negative. He's changed the course of history. You just have to try to take your fourth-graders' class to the White House visitors' center...
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "great man," people cringe.
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir. Absolutely they cringe, but a great man is someone--a great individual is someone who changes the course of history. And certainly in the last five or six years, America has changed dramatically in the way we behave, in the way we travel. Certainly he's bleeding us to death in terms of money. Look at the budget deficit now. Much of that goes against Osama bin Laden.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you see him as a very formidable enemy?
MR. SCHEUER: Tremendously formidable enemy, sir, an admirable man. If he was on our side, he would be dining at the White House. He would be a freedom fighter, a resistance fighter. It's--and again, that's not to praise him, but it is to say that until we take the measure of the man and the power of his words, we're very much going to be on the short end of the stick.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to read something else from your book. "The military is now America's only tool and will remain so while current policies are in place. No public diplomacy, presidential praise for Islam, or politically correct debate masking the reality that many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims hate us for actions, not values, will get America out of this war."
"Actions, not values." What are the actions that created this hatred in the Muslim world?
MR. SCHEUER: Our foreign policy, sir, about six items that bin Laden has isolated. I think if has a genius, that's one of them. He has created an agenda that appeals to Muslims whether they are fundamentalists or liberals or moderates. Our unqualified support for Israel is one. Our ability to keep oil prices low, enough for Western consumers, is another. Our presence on the Arabian peninsula certainly is another. Our military presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in Yemen, in the Philippines, in other Muslim countries is a fourth. Our support for governments that are widely viewed as suppressing Muslims--Russia and Chechnya, for example, the Indians in Kashmir, the Chinese in Western China. But perhaps most of all, our policy of supporting what bin Laden and I think much of the Muslim world regards as tyrannical governments from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, whether it's the Al Sauds, the Kuwaitis, the Egyptian government, the Algerian government. He's focused Muslims on those policies and it is a very resonant agenda.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "unqualified support for Israel," I received an e-mail from a former colleague of yours at the CIA and it said that Scheuer's basic premise is blame the Jews, that the reason we're in this fix is because of our support for Israel.
MR. SCHEUER: No, that's hardly the case. Indeed, the Arab-Israeli problem for so long was just a minor annoyance in the terms of our perception in the Muslim world.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "politically correct debate," what are you talking about?
MR. SCHEUER: Yeah. What I'm talking about is an American landscape littered with politicians who have dared question our relationship with Israel. No one is advocating dumping Israel as an ally. We have, unfortunately for America, a long history of abandoning allies. But there is a perception in the Muslim world, and I think there's a perception on the part of many Americans, that the tail is leading the dog on this case. And perception, for better or worse, is often reality.
MR. RUSSERT: So what would you do?
MR. SCHEUER: I think we need to take a position with Israel that suits American interests.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
MR. SCHEUER: Such as perhaps being more insistent on some arrangement with the settlements. Certainly, no one is going to withdraw the protective umbrella of the United States, but at some point, Americans need to look after their own interests first.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe that being "tough on Israel" would in any way change Osama bin Laden's agenda or desire to destroy America?
MR. SCHEUER: His agenda is not to destroy America, Mr. Russert. He simply wants us out of his neighborhood. He wants us out of the Middle East. And I'm not--no, it would not change his agenda, but my point here is that America has a choice between war and endless war with the forces led by Osama bin Laden. And at some point, we need to take actions in our own interests that limit his ability to grow in power and popularity in the Muslim world.
MR. RUSSERT: But if America removes itself from the Middle East, isn't that appeasement to...
MR. SCHEUER: No, sir, I'm not suggesting that we remove ourselves from the Middle East. My book, if anything, is a hawkish statement that we have not nearly applied enough military power or intelligence power to our enemies. There is a great deal--and it's not very popular to say it--but there's a great deal of killing to be done. Some of the actions in the brilliant operation in Fallujah this week by the Marines is the kind of operation we're going to have to undertake, but the point is military and intelligence work by itself is never going to solve this issue. There has to be an economic component. There has to be at least a debate in the United States on the set of policies bin Laden has identified, and we need to make sure that those policies, which have been on autopilot for 30 years, still suit American interests.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that if we are able to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would neutralize some of the Muslim world?
MR. SCHEUER: I think it would. I definitely think it would limit the ability of bin Laden to continue to expand and influence.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me also show you something else you wrote in your book. "This war has the potential to last beyond our children's lifetimes and to be fought mostly on U.S. soil. ... I write this book, then, with a pressing certainty that al Qaeda will attack the continental United States again, that its next strike will be more damaging than that of September 11, 2001, and could include use of weapons of mass destruction. ... That heads did not roll after September 11 is perhaps our most grievous post- attack error."
Let me talk about heads rolling and September 11 in a bit, but the fact that you believe al-Qaeda will attack the United States with more ferocity than September 11, isn't that an indication that Osama wants to destroy us?
MR. SCHEUER: He wants us--he doesn't think we have the moxie, if you will to, as President Reagan used to say, stay the course in the Middle East. He has identified the United States as a power that is unwilling to suffer casualties at a very large rate, at a rate that's acceptable, for example, to the Islamic resistance. And he feels he can push us out of there, out of the Middle East, simply by inflicting pain in terms of lives and money. In predicting an attack, I really am not alone. I'm simply echoing Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, most American leaders.
MR. RUSSERT: You think it's coming?
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir, I do think it's coming. I think we fool ourselves if we think that we have crippled al-Qaeda to the point where they can't attack the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think he has a nuclear capability?
MR. SCHEUER: I believe certainly since 1996, we've known that he has an extraordinarily professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And during the last campaign, we were told that the former Soviet Union's weaponry and nuclear assets won't be fully under control for several more years. You put the two together, sir, and I think it's a just cause for worry.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to refer you an e-mail that you sent to the September 11 Commission. "I have finished"--reading--"my second cover-to-cover reading of your report. It is disappointing in the extreme. ...your report seems to deliberately ignore those who were clearly culpable of negligence or dereliction. ... By finding no one culpable, you allow the mind-set that got America to 9/11 to endure and thrive in whatever new community structure is established."
Who do you believe is culpable for dereliction of duty for the events of September 11?
MR. SCHEUER: I think that--my books were designed, first, to try to educate my fellow citizens, if you will, about the danger of Osama bin Laden, but a second point was to describe to them the fact that very seldom does the protection of Americans come first in the deliberations of their government in terms of the senior bureaucracy and the senior leadership of the intelligence community. Myself and literally dozens of officers testified before the Graham-Goss Committee in the Congress and the 9-11 Commission, describing numerous instances where problems within the community could have been rectified, problems that were brought to the attention of the senior-most officers in the community. Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt, the deputy director of operations at the CIA, certainly Mr. Clarke at the NSC, Judge Freeh at the FBI.
MR. RUSSERT: So they're culpable?
MR. SCHEUER: My view is that most of them got off scot-free without a question. For example, much of the animosity between the FBI and the CIA had to do simply with the fact that the FBI didn't have a computer system that allowed communications with its field offices, let alone other members of the intelligence community. And yet, before the 9-11 Commission, no one asked Judge Freeh how it was that under his tenure he couldn't find a way to buy a computer system.
MR. RUSSERT: But didn't he start a new era of cooperation with the CIA and Mr. Tenet?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, I think much of that--the truth of the matter is that Mr. Tenet carried--and the CIA carried the FBI on its back simply because it's not a modern organization and not an organization that's willing to share information. That's another point in the 9-11 Commission series. It's replete with errors. They put together a box with 10 missed opportunities to intercept two of the 9/11 hijackers. In six of those, they said the information was withheld or not shared by the FBI. Well, I can speak directly to that point as I was the chief of bin Laden operations for three and a half years. There was no piece of information that came into the CIA electronically or on hard copy that wasn't available to the FBI.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we had at least 10 opportunities to take out Mr. bin Laden?
MR. SCHEUER: Without question, sir. They weren't perfect opportunities, clearly. And Mr. Tenet, Mr. Clarke and others have gone out of their way to denigrate the quality of the intelligence. But I think what Americans should know is that the defense of American citizens very seldom was part of the decision not to attack, and the 9-11 Commission reports it--documents that very clearly. One time in December 1998, they were afraid to shoot at Osama bin Laden with a cruise missile because the shrapnel might have hit a mosque, which is an inanimate object. One time they were afraid to shoot because bin Laden was having lunch with an Arab prince.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't this a presidential decision?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, there are several books, Mr. Clarke's book included, that sometimes these things weren't even taken to the president. But what I'm saying, sir, is if you have cancer and the doctor says "We have to operate" and there is only a 20 percent chance of your surviving, I think most Americans would take the shot. The decision not to shoot or not to capture Osama bin Laden because of the fear of offending Muslim opinion, the fear of offending Europeans, the fear of killing an Arab prince--for goodness sake, there's lots of Arab princes. But all of those things lead directly to 9/11. It's a mind-set that is somehow not properly devoted to protecting American lives.
MR. RUSSERT: You've talked about Iraq being a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda, that you said the invasion of Iraq was not a pre-emption, it was an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat. But I want to bring you to an interview you had on Tuesday on "Hardball" where you said, "The only part of [the case for the war in Iraq] that I know about is that I happened to do the research on links between al Qaeda and Iraq." Question: "And what did you come up with?" Scheuer: "Nothing."
If you go back and read your first book, "Through Enemies' Eyes," you seem to lay out a pretty strong case of connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Let me show you page 190: "In pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, bin Laden has focused on the [Former Soviet Union] states and has sought and received help from Iraq."
This week's new Weekly Standard lays out this one: "There's information showing that in '93-94, bin Laden began" working "with Sudan and Iraq to acquire a [chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear] capability."
And this: "We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking [chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear] weapons ... and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden."
MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: So you saw a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?
MR. SCHEUER: I certainly saw a link when I was writing the books in terms of the open-source literature, unclassified literature, but I had nothing to do with Iraq during my professional career until the run-up to the war. What I was talking about on "Hardball" was I was assigned the duty of going back about nine or 10 years in the classified archives of the CIA. I went through roughly 19,000 documents, probably totaling 50,000 to 60,000 pages, and within that corpus of material, there was absolutely no connection in the terms of a--in terms of a relationship--in the terms of a relationship...
MR. RUSSERT: But your book did point out some contacts?
MR. SCHEUER: Certainly it was available in the open-source material, yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Porter Goss, the new head of the CIA, is now cleaning house, if you will, saying that people in the CIA should support the administration's policies. Do you agree with that?
MR. SCHEUER: I think Mr. Goss deserves a chance to run his agency as he sees fit. I truly believe that the agency has always, at the working level, supported whatever administration happened to be in power at the time. I think his memo to the work force was clearly a very poorly written piece of prose. I think it's--much of the problem is just the change in tenure from Mr. Tenet, who was our kind of first rock star DCI, and to Mr. Goss, who's a much more buttoned-up man. But I would say the biggest problem is the clandestine service feels very much scapegoated for 9/11. And if you read the 9/11 report with any kind of objective eye, the clandestine service clearly provided this government 10 opportunities to take care of bin Laden long before 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it appropriate for you to write a book which many viewed as critical to President Bush while you were still a CIA agent?
MR. SCHEUER: Well, that was clearly, sir, the decision of the agency. Any officer serving who writes anything has to put the book through the most--a very rigorous process.
MR. RUSSERT: But people over there stated you were ranting and throwing a tantrum, threatening lawsuits if they didn't approve your book.
MR. SCHEUER: No, sir. There is a whole question of how I was treated as an employee, which is one that I will not talk about, which you can ask the agency about if you would like to. I did not rant. I did not rave. And, indeed, once the book was published, it was misunderstood as an attack on President Bush. Mr. Tenet, who was in charge then, and his deputies let me speak about it as long as the book was misunderstood. When I turned the interviews around to show that it was a critique of people who have failed to serve the president well, whether it was Democratic or Republican, they shut me up.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you do now?
MR. SCHEUER: I'm going to look for a job for the first time in 25 years, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: And you have no regrets about this?
MR. SCHEUER: I--the greatest regret I have is not working at the CIA anymore, sir. It's the best place to work on Earth. It's a--the clandestine service is on the front lines of defending America, and any...
MR. RUSSERT: But you resigned?
MR. SCHEUER: I did, sir. I needed to say--I have four children and three grandchildren, and they are not being protected by the decisions that are documented in the 9/11 book, in the 9/11 report, and, you know, I'm just a midlevel manager, the kind that Mr. Clarke says doesn't appreciate the nuances of diplomacy. I appreciate the need to protect Americans, and I think Americans need to know that, at least in regard to Osama bin Laden, they were not well-protected by decisionmakers. They were well- protected by the clandestine service.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael Scheuer, we thank you very much for sharing your views.
MR. SCHEUER: Sir, it's my pleasure.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And we're back.
Lawrence C. Spivak, who's the man who started this program 57 years ago, was once asked to name the most exciting interview from the early years of MEET THE PRESS. His response? The interview with a head of state, a head of government. The guest was the Premier of France Pierre Mendes-France and the date was November 21, 1954, 50 years ago this very weekend. Let's watch.
(Videotape, November 21, 1954):
MR. LAWRENCE SPIVAK: You have been successful in getting the French taxi driver to stop using his horn. Can you tell us what magic you used...
PREMIER PIERRE MENDES-FRANCE (France): That's a...
MR. SPIVAK: What magic did you use that we may be able to use here on our taxi drivers?
PREMIER MENDES-FRANCE: There was no magic. We asked them very strongly and mostly that we explained why it was necessary. Here again I come to what I said a few minutes ago: No reform never will be accepted in a country, in a democratic country, if the people don't understand the necessity of it. Each time we are doing something, each time we are making a decision, we always feel necessary to have the people understand very well.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Premier Mendes-France was the first head of government to appear on MEET THE PRESS. He was by no means the last. Over the past 50 years, MEET THE PRESS has hosted 69 world leaders from 38 different countries; the most recent, just last week: British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
As for taxi drivers, they're still using their horns in Paris, New York, Washington and all around the world. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. Happy Thanksgiving.
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