IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The long war

Are we any closer to winning the war on terror? At the CIA and the other American intelligence agencies, after four years of turmoil, are they better or worse? NBC’s Tom Brokaw reports.
/ Source: NBC News

It’s nighttime in Afghanistan at a remote and heavily fortified base that is home to an elite unit of American special forces, and a land from which Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks against the United States. Almost four years after 9/11, how's the war on terror going? Osama bin laden is still at large -- why is that? Across the border in Pakistan, are they doing enough? In Saudi Arabia, the land of Osama bin Laden's birth, what are the new realities in their war against terror? At the CIA and the other American intelligence agencies, after four years of turmoil, are they better or worse? NBC’s Tom Brokaw travels to the highest echelons and deep inside the war on terror.

In Afghanistan, Marines are on the hunt for a man they suspect of killing two American servicemen. And now, in a show of force, the Marines are demanding answers, convinced that Afghan villagers are protecting the suspect. On this day, the Marines can't find their man and they retreat. It's a scene so much like the broader war on terror, the often frustrating search for a dangerous, but mostly invisible enemy.

Porter Goss: “It makes it all the more difficult to deal with because you're not quite sure where to look and obviously we don't want surprises. So we have to look everywhere all the time, and that is stressful.”

Porter Goss is the new director of the CIA, which was widely criticized for failing to anticipate the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans. In his first television interview, Goss told us what he believes it will now take to keep America safe.

Goss: “You have to get to the terrorists before they get to you. Defense alone will not win, so you have to take the offense. You have to go to the enemy in this.”

And the enemy is not in a central location. The CIA director calls it the "the belt of terror" extending from the Philippines in East Asia, across Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, through Iraq and the Middle East, and into West Africa and Western Europe. Who knows how many sleeper cells of terrorists are in this country, prepared to launch another 9/11 style attack on America, just as terrorists stunned Spain when they launched carefully orchestrated train bombings that killed almost 200 people in Madrid last year.

So four years after the 9/11 attacks, the war on terror is a global effort, a shooting war, a war of intelligence and a war of psy-ops, psychological operations, all of it costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

One of the earliest pitched battles in the war on terror was in the majestic Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan. In October of 2001, a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the CIA led a successful unconventional war against the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which had allowed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to use that country as a launching pad for its terrorists.

Today there are still some 18,000 American troops on the ground in Afghanistan in this forgotten war, and the fight against terrorists has intensified again this spring and summer.

In those first few months of the war, Bin Laden was thought to be cornered in the Tora Bora region. But American military officials on the ground decided local warlords should lead the effort to capture or kill him. They failed and Bin Laden escaped. Now, almost four years later, Bin Laden is still believed to be hiding somewhere in the wild country between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Tom Brokaw: Over a ridge line and over a couple of more ridge lines is Pakistan. But before you get to Pakistan, you have the tribal regions. Probably Osama bin Laden is somewhere in there. Do you ever think about him?

Army captain: “Honestly he's not my focus. My focus is this valley and the next valley and the villages we can influence. I think by starting with the populous and separating the insurgents from the populous, then we'll take away that power base that Osama and his associates have.

Although he's rarely mentioned these days by American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan or even by Bush administration officials back in Washington, Osama bin Laden remains public enemy number one.

Lt. Gen. David Barno was the overall commander of the American forces in Afghanistan for 18 months.

Brokaw: “Why is he so tough to find and bring down?”

Lt. Gen. David Barno: “Well he's one person in an area, a border area, that's about 1,500 miles, about the distance from Washington, D.C., to Denver, Colo, covered by the Rocky Mountains the whole way. So finding a single person in that structure here in a very tribal society, a very remote society in many ways is a pretty big challenge. But we're going to stay on it until we're successful.”

Just this week, Porter Goss told Time magazine that he "has an excellent idea" where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but said there are "weak links" in the chain that is necessary to bring Bin Laden to justice. One of the obstacles, he said, is that the United States can't move into "sanctuaries in sovereign nations." Most experts agree the sovereign nation he's talking about is Pakistan, run by President Pervez Musharaff, the general who presides over a large, volatile Islamic population. Musharaff reportedly has 75,000 troops hunting for Bin Laden in the tribal area of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Brokaw: “It's widely believed that Osama bin Laden and the other senior members of al-Qaida are in the so-called tribal regions. And that they're protected in part by the sympathetic attitudes of some of the Pakistani army units that are there.”

Goss: “I would suggest that that's pretty much sanctuary area for the terrorists. And I'm not sure it's an area that's fully under control of the Pakistani military.”

Brokaw: “Should the Pakistanis allow American units, including some of your own, to come in from Afghanistan and into those areas?”

Goss: “Now, that would be obviously a Pakistan sovereign issue, and that would be better put to President Musharraf.”

Musharraf is on a high wire, working closely with the Americans at the risk of triggering political explosions in his own country. He's already been the target of two close assassination attempts. For now, he forbids American troops from operating in Pakistan.

Brokaw: “There a danger for you personally and for your government that if Pakistani troops take down Osama bin Laden, in what would probably be a difficult struggle, it would cause an uprising in some of the cities in your country and in the refugee camps?”

President Pervez Musharraf: “Well, there will be effects, but we shouldn't be so naïve as to capture him and then go around telling everyone and going around with him everywhere. I mean there is a method of dealing with the situation.”

Brokaw: “But it would be delicate, wouldn't it.”

Musharraf: “It would be. Certainly delicate, not only here, but even in the Islamic world.”

If Musharaff is taken out, the consequences would be disastrous according to Roger Cressey, President Bush's former deputy director of counter-terrorism. He is now an NBC News analyst.

Cressey: “Our greatest fear when I was in government was that Musharraf's government would be overthrown, and you'd have a radical Islamist taking over, one who's sympathetic to al-Qaida and has the capability to access nuclear technology. That’s the great nightmare.”

And so, Pakistan has received more than $2 billion from the United States since 9/11, half of it to fight the terror war -- and there has been notable success.

Musharraf: “We have almost eliminated them from our cities. Then we seized all their bases which were in the valleys, their sanctuaries, which they were using as their command bases, their logistic bases, their propaganda bases. We got truckloads of discs and CDs and computers. So they are now on the run in small packs in the mountains, therefore, they cease to exist as a well-coordinated body.”

Is that because of bold moves by Musharraf, his army and special forces or does the United States have a much larger role than either side can or will acknowledge?

Pakistan's major cities such as Rawalpindi are crowded, chaotic affairs, and yet more major al-Qaida figures have been arrested in the cities than in the countryside, including the notorious Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Remember this picture the night that he was arrested in early 2003? Top American intelligence officials tell NBC News that the CIA had a mole in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's inner circle, and one night the informer saw where he would be spending the evening. So he let his American handlers know, and they, with some help from the Pakistanis, moved in and grabbed him in the middle of the night.

Just this spring, another top al-Qaida leader, Abu Faraj al Libbi, was captured in joint U.S.-Pakistani actions. In spite of the successful captures in Pakistan, no one believes the terrorist threat has gone away. And now more than ever, experts are convinced it won't disappear even if Bin Laden himself is brought to justice.

Ironically, one of the most dangerous places, a breeding ground for terrorism is also considered to be one of America's staunchest allies in the war on terror.

The shooting part of the global war on terror began when the United States went into Afghanistan, but for the terrorists, the ideological center of their rage was in Saudi Arabia. Of the 19 young men who hijacked the four American passenger planes on 9/11, 15 of them were from Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia remains a primary source of terrorists.

It's estimated that almost half of the suicide bombers operating in Iraqi insurgency are from Saudi Arabia. Between mid-2003 and the end of 2004, terrorists inside Saudi Arabia itself launched six separate attacks against Saudi targets, killing 102 people. In one attack, militant supporters of Osama bin Laden used explosives and blasted their way into the U.S. consulate in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Eight people died.

Until that began to happen to them, many Saudi officials were in denial about terror in their own country. Then, they decided to take action.

Brokaw: “Osama bin Laden has said that he is motivated in al-Qaida to strike back, even at his own country, and at the West, because of what he says is the presence of the 'infidels' in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, and the continuing relationship between your country and the West.”

Prince Saud Al Faisal: “If there is anybody who has done more damage to Islam, to be considered an 'infidel,' it is Osama bin Laden and nobody else.”

Prince Saud al Faisal, a member of the royal family, has been the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia for 30 years.

Brokaw: “Does he still have standing in SaudI Arabia? If I went to the rural areas and talked to the young men there, I've been told that many would still find him heroic.”

Prince Saud Al Faisal: “I think you would find a tremendous change in Saudi Arabia in that. And this you have to do yourself, I can't convince you of that. But what they have done in Saudi Arabia, killing the innocents, indiscriminately acting against everybody, has lost them any kind of support that they had in the past.”

A building right in the heart of the Saudi Capital in Riyadh was the target of an enormous truck bomb explosion in December 2003. Five people were killed. Saudi officials have decided to keep it in this state, as a reminder to the citizens of this country of the very high price of terrorism. Since then, the Saudis have launched a national television campaign against terror and anti-terrorism billboards line the streets.

After each incident of terrorism, police collect DNA samples and take them to this state of the art crime lab.

Brokaw: “What do you hear when a terror suspect is presented with the evidence -- we have your DNA at this crime scene, this crime scene, this crime scene.”

Brigadier Mamdoh Al-Sharifi: “He will be shocked.”

Brokaw: “They know that they're cooked.”

Al-Sharifi: “Right. They know they're followed, they're in trouble, so they will—“

Brokaw: “Start to cooperate?”

Al-Sharifi: “Start cooperating and say everything.”

But, for all their tough talk and new laws, it is difficult to assess exactly how successful the Saudi war on terrorism has been. It remains a highly secret society. Our movements within Saudi Arabia were closely monitored. Saudi Special Forces accompanied us everywhere and every request for an interview was made through the Saudi government.

Nonetheless, Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, an Arab expert, is encouraged.

Brokaw: “Mr. Ambassador, it took the Saudis a while to acknowledge the depth of the problem they had, even at home with terrorism. What's your evaluation of how they're doing now?”

Amb. Sherard Cowper-Coles: “Well, the bad news is that this is a chronic and serious problem. It's going to take years to solve, and I think the Saudi authorities will be the first to recognize that. But the good news is, they've conducted a really pretty effective counterterrorist campaign. They've disrupted the al-Qaida network here. They've taken it down and the terrorists are on the back foot.”

Since beginning their crackdown on terrorism, the Saudis have rounded up most of the major suspects on their most wanted list. For a time, American authorities were worried about the Saudi tactics -- shoot everyone. Lately, the Saudis have been taking more prisoners, they've been getting more intelligence out of them, and they're also trying to persuade them to change their ways.

Saudi General Mansour al Turki, helps run the counterterrorism operations for Saudi Arabia. This is the first time Western media has been permitted inside.

Brokaw: “Experts outside of Saudi Arabia say sometimes you kill too many of them, you should take prisoners and learn more from them.”

Gen. Mansour Al Turki: “Well, we have enough prisoners of them we have killed all of them who refused to surrender, we gave them a chance, we always ask them to throw their guns, but these people are actually insisting most of the time to fight until the last minute, so nothing we can help it about that.”

The fight against terror goes beyond guns and police raids. Students at one school were involved in an art project demonstrating the horrors of terrorism, and everyone at the school involved seemed determined to show that terror is an outrage, alien to the true Saudi Islamic way of life. But the hard truth is, the attacks in Saudi Arabia were carried out by Saudis -- presumably some of them under the influence of Saudi clerics.

Just three months ago, NBC's Lisa Meyers spoke to Saudi clerics who were preaching that young people should cross the border into Iraq and join jihad against the United States. Richard Engel has spent two years covering the war in Iraq for NBC News.

Richard Engel: “There are people coming in from other countries that are joining up to this very domestic conflict in Iraq and disguising themselves among it. But it is an engine driving the antagonism towards the United States, and it’s also an active conflict that al-Qaida and other groups have been able to latch onto to continue their own war against America.

Brokaw: “In Afghanistan, American military officials think that they're doing much better. They're winning the war there, they think. In Saudi Arabia, they believe that they've had a successful crackdown. It’s not over yet, but they're doing better. But in terms of the wider picture, the Islamic extremist rage against the United States has not been extinguished, has it?”

Engel: “Absolutely not. People point to Iraq constantly, as saying 'look at what America did to this country. It was not a pleasant country before, under Saddam Hussein, but it is certainly not a model place to live right now.' And that’s clear for people to see around the Arab world. They see people who are living in misery, explosions, people who are angry all coming out of Iraq, and they think this has been by and large a catastrophe, not only for America but for the region.”

Brokaw: “You've been living in this part of the world for some time now. What’s the underlying source of all this rage against Western ideals and thing that we cherish?”

Engel: “It’s mostly Islamic. People believe as a baseline assumption that there is an American agenda against Islam, and then it gets more conspiratorial from there. But people generally assume that U.S. policy is linked to an Israeli vision to dominate Islam. That is the base assumption, the basis for a lot of the frustration and anger that you have across the region.”

If it ever happens, the capture of Osama bin Laden may prove nothing more than a symbolic victory. Just as the arrest of Saddam Hussein in Iraq 18 months ago did not end the insurgency there. Those in diplomatic and intelligence circles say getting Osama bin Laden won't end the threat from al-Qaida or other like-minded terror groups.

We got a rare look inside the CIA operations center kin Langley, Virginia, where terrorist activities are tracked 24/7. Phil Mudd, a career CIA analyst, is the agency's principal expert on terrorism.

Brokaw: “For an outsider looking in, it appears like al-Qaida's central command control has been greatly defused, does that make it harder for you to find out what’s really going on out there?”

Phil Mudd: “I think in some ways it does, when you look at one of the few advantages of against an organization as capable of al-Qaida. We had a hierarchy, a central node that we could go against. What we now have is a sense of localization of groups, a localization of the threat so in some ways, it does make it more difficult to chase the target, in other ways though, the advantage that gives us is, we're fighting groups that in some ways don’t have the strategic capabilities of al-Qaida, so advantages in some areas. I think disadvantages in others.”

Brokaw: “I know that we’ve been effective at taking down a lot of the top leadership of al-Qaida but there appears to be an unending stream of young fighters willing to join jihad against the United States. Is this a war without end?”

Mudd: “No I don’t quite see it that way. I think people sometimes misunderstand how much longer we have to go. In a way, if you look at what’s happened in the past, we've crippled the enemy that conducted the attacks of September 11. The way forward though, is not really with that enemy, it’s with enemies that are now coming up and emerging. I think we can make progress in that regard, destroying these networks but I do think it'll take years and in some cases decades.”

Last year's bombing in Madrid by a group loosely connected to al-Qaida was a deadly reminder that terror isn't confined to the Middle East or American targets. Next door to Spain, the French have an aggressive anti terror campaign under way.

In America, the public perception may be that France and the United States are at a political war over Iraq, but the fact is when it comes to fighting terror and sharing intelligence, these two countries have been working hand in hand at the top and they have been for some time.

Prosecuting Judge Jean-Louis Bruggiere is a leading French official in the war on terror.

Brokaw: “And the people who are joining the terror movement, are they coming from different areas now than just—“

Judge Jean-Louis Bruggiere: “Yes.”

Brokaw: “ --the Middle East?”

Judge Bruggiere:”Yes. Different areas.”

Brokaw: “But are they coming from Indonesia, and Southeast Asia, Africa?”

Judge Bruggiere: Yes. We have detected cells in all the parts of the world. In Australia, in Japan in South Korea, in Africa, in the United States, in the Caucasus area, in Russia. Everywhere.

Judge Bruggiere is in close contact with his American counter-parts; he says he communicates with them every day.

Goss: “I think the intelligence community historically and particularly now in the war on terrorism is working cooperatively. There is no sovereign nation that really wants to have terrorists running around in their country killing innocent people.”

That may be so, but some countries are cooperating more than others. When the United States began bombing Afghanistan in October of 2001, some al-Qaida leaders fled to Iran, according to former and current CIA officials. The United States has long accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism.

In Tehran, the capital of Iran, behind green gates, lies the old American embassy. It was taken over, of course, by student militants in 1979. Now a unit of the revolutionary guard is headquartered there, hidden from public view. Also hidden from public view in this country, several senior members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida. Again this spring, Iranian authorities said in the local press that they are holding them and that the investigation continues and they may be tried in Iranian courts. American authorities would like to know who they are holding and where.

Brokaw: “Who do you think they have?”

Townsend: “We believe that they have significant members of al-Qaida's management council, going back to pre-911.”

Frances Townsend is the president's advisor on homeland security. She's responsible for coordinating America's efforts to combat terrorism.

Townsend: “The Iranians are not telling us who they have and they were not talking about what, if anything, what progress if any has been made in terms of their investigation.”

While many people have been arrested and detained, getting terror suspects into court has been a slow process, not only in Iran but in the West, including the United States. The only person charged for the 9/11 attacks in the United States was Zacarious Moussaoui . He pleaded guilty to terrorist activity, but denied any involvement in the 9/11 hijackings.

There is a 9/11 attack trial underway in Hamburg, Germany, but the proceedings have been long and frustrating for Dominic Puopolo. His mother was on American Airlines flight 11 when it was crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Brokaw: “For some people, they just don’t want to go back to the horrors of that. But for you, it is the very horror of that that keeps you involved in it.”

Dominic Puopolo: “I promised my mother, shortly after she was killed on 9/11, that someday I would afford her justice.”

Puopolo recently visited the site of the former World Trade Center, Ground Zero, and for the first time found his mother's name on the list of victims there. He has spent the better part of a year helping German prosecutors make their case against Mounir el Mottasadeq who is standing trial for allegedly helping hijacker Mohammad Atta plot the 9/11 attacks. Mottasadeq admits he was friendly with the hijacker but denies any involvement in the 9/11 plot.

Puopolo: “It's quite hard to be sitting across the room from him. It requires enormous restraint.”

Puopolo, on crutches during the trial because of a broken foot, believes his presence in the courtroom will help persuade the tribunal of five German judges to convict Mottasadeq. An earlier conviction was overturned. So for the time being, Mottasadeq is a free man and Puopolo is now out of money.

He spent all the money he received from the victim's compensation fund and an inheritance from his mother, a total of $200,000 to pay German lawyers and translators and to cover the costs of moving to Germany for the trial.

Puopolo: “It has proven to be a much great challenge than I ever imagined. I'm there for a purpose and the purpose is to not let this man walk home away free.”

Brokaw: “But he may.”

Puopolo: “And that’s something I'm willing to accept. But I'm working very hard to make sure that does not happen. The Mottasadeq trial for me, has much more meaning than just his particular trial, and his particular involvement.”

Brokaw: “It’s a symbol.”

Puopolo: “It’s a symbol of a process. That’s bigger. It shows that we are a nation of, a civilized society. And we're going to follow and obey the rule of law. We don’t want to stoop to the level of the terrorists.”

Even so, some experts worry U.S. interrogation tactics and emphasis on the military part of the war on terror could be counter-productive, alienating the very people it needs to reach to win the war.

Cressey: “We have a messenger versus message problem. The message that the administration is articulating about greater political openness, the need for a number of governments to deal with the socioeconomic problems in the middle east and elsewhere is right on. The problem is that the messenger is not trusted.”

Four years after 9/11, the hard, dangerous work of the war on terror means going after the bad guys with guns and raids, the lethal approach. Yet winning the war on terror is not measured just in body counts or suspects in jail. In the final analysis, winning the confidence and trust of the Islamic world is equally important. At this stage, it may be even more important.

That dual mission is on display in a remote river valley of southeastern Afghanistan. It's been a routine of "fight one day," try to win friends among the locals the next day for these American special forces.

An Army Special Forces captain, who cannot be identified for security reasons, is a Mormon from Utah.  While at West Point he interrupted his Academy studies to do Mormon mission work in Brazil.

Brokaw: “Do you feel like you are doing something in a missionary sense here as well?”

Captain: “I think so, sir. That's an interesting way to put it. But I think democracy and freedom -- those types of ideas are definitely opening people's minds.”

The captain, his men and units of the new Afghan army are trying to win the minds of wary villagers, the male elders who have formed an impromptu jirga, a kind of town meeting.

Brokaw: “Should there be more Americans here or should they go away, go home?”

Translator: “They don't want any more to come. These people who are present, they are okay.”

Brokaw: “Afghanistan's going to be a different country because of your elections, and young women now will have a role in the government. Is that a good idea?”

Translator: “if that’s what is allowed by God and by Messenger and also by the government, we love that. We like that.”

Brokaw: “So it will be a change for Afghan women? This little girl can grow up maybe to be an elder in the village?”

Translator: “If God gave her that power, I don’t have any problem with that.”

Brokaw:  “Does anyone here talk about Osama bin Laden?”

Translator: “we don't have any knowledge about him. They use bad words for him.”

Brokaw: “You won't tell me what the bad words are though?”

Translator: “It’s, uh, like a**hole.”

Brokaw: “That's a bad word! Okay!” [Laughter]

These villagers are agreeable while we're there, but reserved, and after all they've been through, who can blame them? So the American Special Forces are trying to put an Afghan face on security in this area, training the new Afghan army, hiring local villagers for construction projects, building schools -- so far, for boys only; the villagers won't send their daughters.

But because of this rugged terrain and their small numbers, they've only been able to secure an area about three miles around. So even as U.S. troops struggle to win hearts and minds, they still have a daunting military mission in Afghanistan. Taliban attacks have actually increased sharply in the last month and last week the State Department confirmed there was an assassination attempt on the out-going American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.

And throughout the Muslim region, the American campaign to win favor with the people is made much more difficult by widespread poverty and illiteracy, by the absence of political reform, conditions which can breed terrorism. That's the case in Pakistan.

Pervez Hoodbhoy: “There's no social justice here. And there is no democracy.“

Pervez Hoodbhoy is a professor of physics at a Pakistan University in Islamabad. He's well-known for his outspoken views about the dangers of religious extremism in Pakistan.

Brokaw: “Are you saying that if things don't change in Pakistan internally and in its relationship with the United States, there's a danger that this country could become another Iran, within not so many years?”

Hoodbhoy: “Iran will appear minor. Iran was 35, 40 million at the time of the revolution. Pakistan right now is 150 million people, with 70 percent of the population being under the age of 16. In 25 years from now, it will be 250 million people. That's a quarter billion people. And of those quarter billion the kids will be the overwhelming majority. And those will be kids who have been brought up, nurtured on the ideas of jihad and martyrdom.”

To counter that, the United States has spent $60 million on a television network designed to promote democracy and freedom in the Arab world -- but it's al Jazeera and other Arab all-news cable outlets that people in the region watch. And the anti-American coverage adds to suspicions about American motives.

Cressey: “The American government does not have a trusted audience in the Middle East right now and this is part of the war of ideas for the administration. They need to figure out how to articulate that message so it's listened to.”

But images of American soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib have overwhelmed any message the United States has been trying to deliver to the Muslim world. So did reports, later confirmed by the Pentagon, that American guards at the U.S. naval base at Gunatanamo Bay desecrated the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

The United States is holding more than 500 terror suspects at Gunatanamo without charging them or trying them Amnesty International recently called the facility, "the gulag of our times," charges the president dismissed:

President Bush: “I am aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation.”

Brokaw: “Guantanamo -- is it worth the price? Do you have to change the debate given how its inflamed such a large part of the Islamic world?”

Townsend: “The answer is, the people who are at Guantanamo -- we've released or returned those that we can, those that are not enemy combatants. The people who are there are really bad people and if they are released, they will go back into theater and they will kill and try to harm U.S. and multinational forces. They cannot be released.”

Even if the United States can prove that Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo are well-treated, to America's critics, American motives can appear confusing and even hypocritical. They say the United States pushes democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, while supporting a quasi-military regime in Pakistan and a repressive monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

Cressey: “The lack of political openness inside Saudi Arabia creates this incubator that the radical Islamists tap into, its anger, its frustration. And until they come to grips with that, you're still going to have a growing radical Islamist presence inside the House Of Saud.”

Brokaw: “What're the biggest misconceptions about your part of the world that Americans still have when you encounter them?”

Saudi Prince Awaleed bin Talaal: “I think the understanding of Islam. Understanding of Arabs.”

Perhaps no one has a better idea of what the United States needs to do to bridge the gulf with the Muslim world than Saudi Prince Awaleed bin Talaal. He's the single largest individual investor in the United States, the fourth richest man in the world, and a devout Muslim. He's the only Saudi we spoke to whose interview was not set up by the government.

Brokaw: “A lot of young Muslims, not just in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the Islamic world, don’t have job opportunities, not enough opportunities for education like you had, and are frustrated by the absence of political reform. They don’t have a voice in their own countries. And that fuels the rage as well. What were the roots of anti-Americanism? Was it jealousy? Was it our sense of entitlement in the United States?”

Saudi Prince Awaleed bin Talaal: “I don't believe it's jealousy. There's this syndrome in the Islamic world, the sentiment of being anti-America, this imperialism that took place, this blatant pro-Israel stand. It just got-- people don't like it.”

In the end he and others believe that it will take more than force for the United States to win this long war on terrorism. The key might be a political solution and that might start with a peace accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Brokaw: “If there is some progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians, how will that alter some of that rage?”

Engel: “It would certainly go a long way to convincing people of American good intentions toward the region. People do not think that the U.S. has just or honorable intentions toward Muslims or the Arab world. It would do a lot to convince people that Americans do really have the interests of the people of the region in mind.”

Even though there have been no major terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11, counter-terrorist experts worry that al-Qaida sympathizers are plotting future attacks on U.S. soil. Just this month, a Pakistani father and son living near Sacramento, Calif., were charged with lying to the FBI about a trip the son reportedly took to an al-Qaida terrorist training camp. The family denies the charges.

Frances Townsend was appointed a year ago as the president's advisor on homeland security. She's responsible for coordinating America's efforts to combat terrorism.

Brokaw: “How much do we know about the people who may have come into this country determined to do great harm to it, and are out there waiting for the opportunity to strike?”

Frances Townsend: “The answer is, if someone is absolutely determined to infiltrate this country and to hide and take advantage frankly, of our freedoms and our liberties, they're going to do that. We fight against their ability to exploit that. It’s very difficult. But that’s where our relationship with state and locals, that’s where something like the tools of the Patriot Act come in to it.”

The much-debated Patriot Act, signed into law by the president after 9/11, allows greater freedom for law enforcement to conduct surveillance. It also allows suspects to be detained longer even before they have been formally charged.

Brokaw: “Whats your best judgment about the sleeper cell threat -- low, middle or high?”

Townsend: “I say middle because I think it’s a constant threat that we have to work against, and I don’t think that threat has diminished. I think our enemies have been very clear that they would like to hit us again inside the United States.”

To avoid that, the 9/11 commission report recommended a series of changes to improve national security, but many say America is still vulnerable.

Brokaw: “Let me tell you what I worry about when I go through an airport magnetometer, take off my shoes, take off my belt, take off my jacket, get put in the other area to get the extra inspection. The whole time I'm thinking, there are hundreds if not thousands of container ships coming into this country, every week at ports from the West coast to the East coast with no inspection.”

Townsend: “We have more to do, but I think its unfair to say that the ports and the containers that you referred to have gotten no inspection. We do have inspectors at foreign ports, so we're looking at targeting those containers before they come to the United States. We actually have a pretty comprehensive program. Is it flawless? Absolutely not. Is there more we can do? Absolutely.”

The 9/11 commissioners also noted how miscommunication among law enforcement agencies contributed to the 9/11 attacks and recommended the appointment of an intelligence czar to oversee all 15 intelligence agencies. John Negroponte was appointed as National Intelligence Director in April.

Brokaw: “And at the end of the day, who determines the efficiency of the various operations that we have underway around the world, because that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?”

Townsend: “That’s right. And I will tell you, it’s rarely a single -- what you want me to say is there's this one person behind this one desk—“

Brokaw: “No, I just think the country wants and really deserves to know how the system now works because we discovered that the old system didn’t work very well.”

Townsend: “Well, I would say to you - often times, operations that we take involve more than one agency. Thats why its not a simple answer. When you look at the Pak-Afghan border, there are military forces, there are CIA operatives, and they work as a single team, an integrated unit. And we found that that's where we get our strength, leveraging all instruments of national power, not using just one tool in the toolkit, but using them all.”

Still others wonder if the president himself complicated the war on terror when he decided to send U.S. troops to war in Iraq. The 9/11 commission reported that Saddam Hussein's regime had no formal connection to al-Qaida.

Brokaw: “Any number of people believe that the insurgency in Iraq, which has continued unabated for a long time now, has simply become basic training for jihad against the United States and against other Western nations for that matter.”

Townsend: “I think many of the tactics you see inside Iraq are tactics you've seen by terrorists around the world, in different countries. You look at vehicle borne explosive devices, you look at remote controlled detonation devices. Many of these, they're not the --- Iraq isn’t the only place you see them being used.”

Brokaw: “But they're going against the United States military, and that’s being broadcast by Al Jazeera, and other all Arab cable news outlets. That becomes a kind of catalyst around the world. That’s been pretty clearly demonstrated at this point in Islamic society, where young radicals then get motivated.”

Townsend: “Well the question of countering the ideological support for terrorism is a very serious one. And the fact is what we need to do is undermine this notion of ideological support to terror in the same way that we undermine the notion of slavery being acceptable or Nazism or fascism. The notion of terrorism as a legitimate technique must be undermined.”

Brokaw: “Will we see an end to this war in the next five years?”

Townsend: “You know, people ask me, I have two small, little boys. And people say, how can you work the hours you work and be away from your family? And I tell them, I fight today, in the hopes that my children won’t have to fight when they're in these positions.”

Ground Zero in New York is the great, open wound in Lower Manhattan that reminds us still of the terror attack that brought so much death, grief and anger. The war on terror had been under way before 9/11 as a result of  earlier attacks on American embassies, a military barracks and a warship, but it was a low key, part-time war. 9/11 changed that, and for almost four years it has been a full time war with a mixed record of great successes, measured against setbacks and miscalculations. America has been free of attacks since 9/11 and for some that is a sign the worst is over. No expert we talked to believes that. They believe it is a long war -- and it is a long way from being over.