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Peter Bergen, Assessing The Threat In Afghanistan.

President Obama has said he wouldn't send more troops to Afghanistan if he didn't think the security of the American people was at stake. Peter Bergen gives us an update on the threat: what's left of the Taliban and its connection to al-Qaida.

44:37

Other segments from the episode on December 3, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 3, 2009: Interview with Peter Bergen; Review of the film "My Brilliant Career."

Transcript

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Peter Bergen, Assessing The Threat In Afghanistan

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. President Obama said Tuesday night that
he's making the decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan because he's
convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He
described the area as the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-
Qaida and a place where new attacks against us are being plotted.

But what exactly is al-Qaida now, eight years after the 9/11 attacks? What is
its connection to the Taliban, and what is the nature of the threat these
groups pose to the U.S. today? That's what we're going to talk about with
journalist Peter Bergen. He's CNN's security analyst, co-directs the
Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, and is a
research fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. He's written two books
about bin Laden. The first was published in 2001, before the 9/11 attacks. In
1997 he produced bin Laden's first TV interview in which bin Laden declared war
against the U.S.

Peter Bergen, welcome to FRESH AIR. President Obama said Tuesday: If I did not
think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American
people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of
our troops home tomorrow.

You've written that we can't defeat al-Qaida without securing Afghanistan. Why
do you say that?

Mr. PETER BERGEN (Security Analyst): Well, history indicates what happens if
there is a vacuum in Afghanistan. We've seen this videotape, by the way, twice,
once in 1989, when we closed our embassy there, zeroed out aid to one of the
poorest countries in the world, and basically the United States and the
international community turned its back on Afghanistan. Into the vacuum in '96
rose the Taliban, and then they invited or acquiesced and then hosted al-Qaida.

And then again, after we overthrew the Taliban, because of the Bush
administration's aversion to nation-building from an ideological point of view,
it was the least-resourced post-World War II reconstruction effort the United
States has engaged in for at least the first several years.

So you get what you pay for, and we've sort of – we've already – you know, the
critics of Obama's plan have to answer a very simple question, which is: What
is the alternative? And one alternative would be to pull out completely. Well,
we've already done that. Another alternative would be to do something kind of
light and just sort of a counterterrorism mission. Well, we've already done
that too, and we've seen the results. That was basically the Bush
administration approach from I would say 2001 to about 2006, 2007, when – and
they – you know, to the Bush administration's credit.

So I - that’s why I support what the president is doing. I think that there is
– he's got a fighting chance of success, and part of that also is - you know,
this is just not my opinion - Afghan population is just overwhelmingly still in
favor of the international presence. The numbers have gone down, but the
polling data is very, very strong. We've had nationwide polls by any number of
organizations, including the BBC, ABC News, Asia Society, the International
Republican Institute, a lot of different organizations, and they generally find
the same thing, which is that at least half the population or more has a
favorable view of the United States.

GROSS: So you've warned that we've pulled out of Afghanistan before and it's
been disastrous, especially because we left Afghanistan in a messy, chaotic
state when we pulled out. But if President Obama is committing to starting
withdrawal of troops in 2011, and he's adding 30,000 more troops now, what are
the odds that Afghanistan is going to be in such great shape that an expert
like you would be comfortable pulling out then and feeling like, okay, now
we've really secured the country, it's no longer liable to become a haven for
al-Qaida?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, you know, the 2011 pullout is – was, I think, largely for
domestic political consumption, particularly to mollify those particularly on
the liberal side of the Democratic Party who were opposed to it and those
Americans who were opposed to it, and also it does also give more leverage over
the Afghans. You know, this is not just a blank check, and you have to get your
act together too. But if you look at what he actually said, he talked about
conditions on the ground being part of the calculus for the drawdown in 2011.

Right now, of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan, only one province, the province
of Kabul, is capable of administering itself from a military and police point
of view. The other provinces are not at that point.

So you know, in July of 2011, maybe there'll be two provinces, or maybe
there'll be 10 provinces that you can turn over to Afghan control. But there's
a massive caveat in what he said, and I think that the headline was we're
pulling out in 2011. But if you actually look at what he said, he didn't say
that at all.

GROSS: Yemen and Somalia are already in some ways safe havens for jihadists. So
if we secured Afghanistan, one argument is that al-Qaida and maybe even the
Taliban, at least the leadership, could get safe haven in Yemen or Somalia. So
why is that a scenario that's any better or any worse than safe haven in
Afghanistan?

Mr. BERGEN: You know, I'm by nature somebody who's interested in history, and
if you look at every major jihadist terrorist attack over the last decade and a
half, whether it was the first Trade Center attack of '93, 9/11, the Cole
attack in 2000, the U.S. embassies attacks in '98, the Bali attack in 2002, the
7/7 attack in London, which was the largest, deadliest terrorist attack in
British history, all these things have one thing in common. They were conceived
of and trained for in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and since 9/11 specifically on
the Afghan-Pak border.

They weren't conceived of or trained for in Somalia or Yemen. I mean, I'm not
happy that there is an al-Qaida presence in Yemen. I don't think the Yemeni
government is happy. But it – you know, there's been no evidence from the
Somali case or the Yemeni case that these groups are capable of operations
anywhere other than their - in the countries they operate in, or to some degree
neighboring countries.

So you know, the argument that al-Qaida could go anywhere else - of course, you
know, pigs can fly and, you know, all sorts of things can happen. But the fact
is, is that al-Qaida, for the last two decades – it was founded in 1988 in
Western Pakistan – that's where it's been based. You know, this is where these
guys live. They don't – they've never moved anywhere else.

GROSS: Well, bin Laden moved to – was it Yemen or Somalia? I'm trying to
remember. Somalia, right?

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, he moved to Sudan from Saudi Arabia.

GROSS: Sudan, that's right, yeah.

Mr. BERGEN: But let me put it this way. You know, bin Laden and Ayman al-
Zawahiri, his number two, arrived in Pakistan in the mid-'80s. So both of them
at that time were relatively young men. Bin Laden was in his mid-'20s. Ayman
al-Zawahiri's in his – probably around 30. These guys have spent more of their
adult lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan than their home countries by, you know,
significant factors. Ayman al-Zawahiri's married into a local tribe. I wouldn't
be surprised at all if Osama bin Laden is similarly married into local tribes.
You know, this is where they are. They're not – and you know, they've had eight
years to go to Yemen or Somalia and they haven't done that. Similarly, all the
other leaders of al-Qaida have remained in that area.

GROSS: President Obama talks about the threat from al-Qaida and, you know, that
it was al-Qaida who attacked us on 9/11. We have to prevent them from doing
more harm. So you know, that's a good deal of his justification for increasing
the number of troops in Afghanistan. You've been trying to assess what the
actual threat from al-Qaida is now. So let me start with this. What is al-Qaida
now? It's changed a lot since 9/11. What's left of it? What shape does it take?

Mr. BERGEN: The problem with describing al-Qaida is that it, depending on your
vantage point, it can look different things at different times. So one thing
that we forget in this discussion, Terry, I think sometimes, is we focus very
much on al-Qaida as being the problem, and al-Qaida certainly is a group that
attacked us. But don't forget that before 9/11, every Muslim insurgency group
in the world was headquartered in Afghanistan. That's where they trained.

So it wasn't just al-Qaida that was using this as a training ground. It was a
lot of other groups. Al-Qaida itself has certainly, you know, changed. What
kind of threat do they pose to the United States? I – you know, it's not the
organization that attacked on 9/11, which means the threat to the United States
is lower than it was, but you know, bin Laden functions – I mean, there are
interesting cases in the United States where - in the last year or so there
have been a whole set of cases that are absolutely fascinating to me in the
United States, going from the gamut of American citizens, like a called
Najibullah Zazi, who in Denver - traveling to an al-Qaida training camp and
getting training from al-Qaida - to, you know, groups like a group in North
Carolina who are alleged to have cased Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, who
seem to be acting in an al-Qaida-like manner, even though they've got no
connections to the al-Qaida core group at all. Or Major Hasan, who, you know,
his motivations still are a little unclear, but clearly he had some sort of
jihadist intent.

And you know, so al-Qaida is able to operate as an organization and is able to
operate as an inspiration. It has a network of like-minded groups that have
plugged into it. For instance, Lashkar-e-Taiba, you know, is really only a
Kashmiri militant group until relatively recently, but by attacking in Mumbai
and specifically targeting Westerners and Jews, it indicates that it's taken on
a more al-Qaida-like manner.

So you know, it – you know, al-Qaida is a sort of shorthand for a kind of
largest phenomenon.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national
security analyst. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation and a research
fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called "The
Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaida's Leader."

Now, although al-Qaida still thinks of itself as at war with the United States,
you've been trying to assess the threat that al-Qaida poses, and you think al-
Qaida poses a second-order threat. What do you mean by a second-order threat?

Mr. BERGEN: When 9/11 happened, the United States re-orientated its national
security policy completely. I don't think there's – al-Qaida can do that again
for the foreseeable future. I'm not saying that they don't have an intent to do
it, but their capability is weakened now.

But you know, they could pull off something like killing hundreds of Americans
overseas if they manage to bring down a commercial aircraft, as they've tried
to on a number of occasions - Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, if you recall, in
December of 2001; the planes plot in London in the summer of 2006. And you
know, that's a possibility.

But I think, you know, a large-scale mass-casualty attack on the United States,
I don’t think that's possible. I think what might be possible is something –
the outer reach would be something like Oklahoma City, 168 people dead, or the
lower reach would be the World Trade Center attack of '93, which was six people
dead. Obviously that would be a tragic event, but it wouldn't – I don't think
we would completely change our national security policy because we've had a
terrorist attack that killed scores of people.

I mean, that's – you know, that's inevitably going to happen at some point. You
know, whether it's a year from now or 10 years from now, I don't know, but you
know…

GROSS: What do you think they are targeting?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, I mean, Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American, if the
allegations against him are true, he trained at an al-Qaida training camp, he
was scoping out targets in Manhattan. Bruce Hoffman(ph), one of the leading
terrorism experts in the world, described that to me as a Mumbai-on-Hudson-type
plan if he'd succeeded.

Certainly it seemed that he was going to, you know, plant one or more bombs,
and…

GROSS: This is the guy who was trying to make bombs by buying peroxide hair dye
at cosmetic stores.

Mr. BERGEN: Right, and in fact hydrogen peroxide bombs is a signature of al-
Qaida right now, and the reason that I think I can say with some certainty that
if he'd succeeded, if the allegations are true, he would have killed scores of
people - because that's exactly the same ingredient that was used in the 7/7
attack in London, July 7, 2005, which killed 52 commuters.

The process of, you know, making a hydrogen peroxide bomb is pretty complex.
It's not something you can learn on the Internet. It's a very unstable bomb
material, but the reason that terrorists like to use is that if you're going to
– if you buy nitroglycerin or ammonium nitrate or these kind of traditional
explosives, you're going to draw a lot of attention to yourself. If you're just
buying hydrogen peroxide, you're going to draw less attention to yourself.

So Najibullah Zazi was building one of these bombs. And we've seen this also,
by the way – Ramstein Air Force Base was a target of two Germans and a Turk in
2007. They also had learned how to make hydrogen peroxide bombs. And if the
planes plot of the summer of 2006 had been carried off, again, those guys were
experimenting with hydrogen peroxide bombs. So this is sort of a signature of
al-Qaida right now.

GROSS: So you think al-Qaida is targeting the United States with hydrogen
peroxide bombs that would be aimed at what kind of targets?

Mr. BERGEN: I think any target they can. You know, at this point they need to
show the flag, but they will continue to be interested in cities like
Manhattan, symbolic targets. Los Angeles International Airport has been a
target of an al-Qaida affiliate in the past.

So you know, it's – they're not interested in attacking Des Moines because the
people that they're trying to influence don't know where Des Moines is. I mean,
they're trying to show to their followers that they're still capable of
attacking the United States. So they want to do that in places like Washington
and New York. They have no interest in doing it in sort of small cities that
don't have any kind of valence for their followers.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national
security analyst. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation and a research
fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called "The
Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaida's Leader." Let's take a
short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Peter Bergen. We're talking about what is the threat from
al-Qaida and what is the relationship to the Taliban. Peter Bergen is CNN's
national security analyst. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation, a
research fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called
"The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaida's Leader."

Now, you've written that al-Qaida has made common cause with the Taliban and
that at the leadership level, al-Qaida and the Taliban function more or less as
a single entity. Would you explain what you think the connection now is between
al-Qaida and the Taliban?

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. When the Taliban were in power before 9/11, this was a very
provincial group of people. I actually spent time under the Taliban-controlled
Afghanistan, which is one of the many reasons I, you know, I'm somewhat
optimistic about what's happening in Afghanistan, because, you know, the
country was so poor at the time that, well, banks stopped measuring its GDP.
There was no business. It was – you know, the Taliban were a provincial group
of people, not very competent, and as time went on, they got more and more
affected by the al-Qaida world view.

I'm sure you remember the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamyan, which had
been standing in the Bamyan Valley since, respectively, the third and fifth
centuries, and those Buddhas of Bamyan, blowing that up was sort of an al-Qaida
idea. Essentially the Taliban became more and more militant as time went on.

They forced, for instance, Hindus to wear yellow, distinctive yellow clothing
in the run-up to 9/11, and they were becoming more and more militant, and al-
Qaida was influencing them, and that process, I think, has actually accelerated
since 9/11.

GROSS: Now, one distinction I often hear between al-Qaida and the Taliban is
that al-Qaida is into world jihad, global jihad, whereas the Taliban are
interested in gaining power in their region, not that interested in the West,
the United States. Do you think that distinction still applies?

Mr. BERGEN: I think that's generally true, but I think it's sort of a
distinction that doesn't really mean a great deal, because if the implication
of that is, well, if the Taliban came back to power we wouldn't need to worry,
I think that's ridiculous, because if the Taliban came back to power, they
would bring al-Qaida back with them.

I mean, we've – they've shown that that's their modus operandi, both before
9/11 and since 9/11. They've been sheltering the Taliban – they've been
sheltering al-Qaida since 9/11 and they were sheltering al-Qaida before 9/11,
and they haven't – Mullah Omar has had multiple opportunities to say, you know,
I think Osama bin Laden's a bad idea, al-Qaida are a bad group. You know, he
hasn't done any of that. And so I mean if the Taliban, you know, took power
even in parts of Afghanistan, it would help al-Qaida. The Taliban project has
been partly about protecting al-Qaida. It's also about trying to gain power in
Afghanistan, but these two things are related.

GROSS: You know, one issue – one of the many issues that's been raised about
the Taliban is can we negotiate with them? Can we negotiate with the leadership
of the Taliban? If not, can we negotiate and offer opportunities to more lower-
level people in the Taliban, offer them jobs, pay them, just give them an
incentive to leave the Taliban and join, you know, our side or the government's
side, if there were a government that wasn't corrupt.

But anyways, I wonder, like, do you think that either on the high level or low
level of the Taliban that there can be people that can be negotiated with or
changed?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, there can always be people who can be bribed or coerced into
doing things, and – but on the upper levels of the Taliban, I'm pretty
suspicious for several reasons about the idea that we're going to be able to do
a deal with them, we being the Afghan government, really, with our support.

One is we've already seen what the Pakistani Taliban did when they did peace
deals with the Pakistani government, which is essentially they used them as
interim arrangements to extend their reach into other parts of Pakistan. So
they didn't observe these peace deals.

Secondly, Mullah Omar has taken every opportunity to say he's not interested in
any negotiations unless international forces pull out. Well, if international
forces pull out, the Taliban would roll into Kabul tomorrow. So that's a non-
starter.

Thirdly, I think the Taliban and al-Qaida are close together ideologically and
tactically. That makes it harder to negotiate with them on a leadership level.

And fourthly, the Taliban right now don't think they're losing and maybe think
they're even winning, and so why would they negotiate for a piece of pie now
that they can get a larger piece of pie later? So that's one of the reasons
that President Obama is accelerating this 30,000 troop deployment, to blunt
their momentum so that they don't feel that they're in some way winning. So I'm
pretty skeptical.

On the lower levels of, you know, the Taliban negotiations, I think that's, you
know, it's very doable, and in fact something that's not well-understood is
that thousands of Taliban foot soldiers have already taken advantage of an
amnesty program that's been in place for several years now, and it's been
pretty successful. The recidivism rate has been very low.

So you know, I think it's possible. In any insurgency, you can always get
people who are foot soldiers to defect for one reason or another, and
obviously, as you pointed out, Terry, I mean, I think a very powerful incentive
is just jobs. And in fact, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, has put a pretty big chunk of change in a defense
appropriations bill precisely for that purpose, which is for American
commanders, basically, to put people on the Taliban payroll on our payroll,
which of course is one of the reasons that the Iraq War turned around.

The real – the biggest surge in Iraq was not – obviously, the American surge of
30,000 was important, but a really big surge was having the 100,000-man Sons of
Iraq. These were 100,000 people who used to be shooting at Americans who were
suddenly put on our payroll and then started shooting at our enemies. So that's
a 200,000-man surge if you think about it, because it's 100,000 enemies who are
suddenly becoming on your side and actually working for you.

GROSS: Peter Bergen will be back in the second half of the show. He's CNN's
national security analyst. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

Now that President Obama has decided on his Afghanistan strategy, we're talking
with journalist Peter Bergen about the Taliban and al-Qaida, how they're
connected and what kind of threat they actually pose to the U.S. today.

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, co-director of the
Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, and the
author of two books about bin Laden.

One of the geniuses of the Taliban seems to be that if they feel they're going
to be defeated in any one area, they retreat. They go someplace else...

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and they set up shop some place else. So you can declare victory in
the area where the Taliban have fled but it's not really a victory if they're
just moving to someplace else and setting up shop there.

Mr. BERGEN: There's a book, there's a book, Terry in – from - which actually I
haven't read, but has a great title. It was written in 1961 by - I think a guy
called David Taber - and it's called "The War of the Flea," and it was about
counterinsurgencies for the, you know, for any, you know, that's what – that's
what insurgents do.

I mean they're the flea. They move. They, you know, it's very hard to trap them
in a place and defeat them. It's - and that's why it's so important to get the
population on your side to basically help you with trying to defeat the
insurgency, because there's no way you can do it conventionally.

GROSS: And the Taliban are also very patient.

So you know, one argument against the Obama strategy is that if you, you know,
pledge to strengthen things for a while, knowing that you’re going to start
pulling out as soon as you can, preferably in 2011, President Obama says, then
why can't the Taliban flee where they're under fire, wait patiently until we
leave, and then, you know, take over the country and - meaning that we...

Mr. BERGEN: Sure. I mean...

GROSS: ...wouldn't avoid the worse case scenario that we're trying to avoid.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, the one factor that's missing from that is building up the
Afghan army and police. Now, right now they don’t - the Afghan army, by the way
is the most popular institution in the country and it's seen as being a sort of
mostly fair player. The police are very corrupt and are not well regarded. But
that was also true, by the way, in Iraq and that changed.

Now, you know, absolutely. If it’s just that, you know, the Taliban, we'll just
wait and, you know, until we leave, then, you know, raises the question of why
are we there? But if the strategy - our exit strategy - the United States exit
strategy from Afghanistan honors clearly building up a somewhat functional
Afghan army. It doesn’t have to be a particularly great army. It just needs to
be good enough to deal with the Taliban.

And you know, right now there's a certain paradox, which is that the Afghans
are some of the world's greatest fighters and right now they have one of the
world's worst armies, and I think that's perhaps because we're sort of forcing
them into a kind of a Western model of what an army should look like rather
than just letting them kind of fight in the more, you know, sort of special
forces, small unit kind of formations that they naturally...

GROSS: Militias.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGEN: Militias. Yeah. Well, exactly. I mean that's how they defeated the
Soviets. I mean so I think there is a way of, you know, that is the only exit
strategy possible. We're not, you know, otherwise if you, you know, I mean
you’ve raised a very good point. I mean if it’s all about the Taliban waiting
us out, then we have to be there forever and we're obviously not going to be
there forever. And I do think that, you know, building up the Afghan army is
not a complete pipe dream, but it’s certainly not something that's going to
happen by July of 2011.

GROSS: Now, you’ve written that the Saudis have been facilitating back door
negotiations between the Afghan government and more moderate elements of the
Taliban. What can you tell us about that?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, yeah. I mean this has been fairly widely reported, that in
Mecca, in the fall of last year, some fairly senior figures in the Afghan
government met with fairly - formerly senior Taliban officials who are more on
the moderate side, and these include the former foreign minister, the former
ambassador to the United Nations. These are guys, by the way, who were never
fans of Osama bin Laden, always regard him as being bad for business.

The problem with the negotiations is that the people who were really involved
in the insurgency didn’t really send anybody. The major figures in the
insurgency, the Mullah Omars, the Hakani Network, they're not part of this
process. But you know, at least it’s something. And the Saudis could play an
even bigger role, an even more useful role both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia was one of the three governments in the world that recognized the
Taliban. This is a group of, you know, people who really believe that they're
doing God's work. And of course the Saudis come with a great deal of
credibility because they're keepers of the two holy places.

And so, you know, I mean this is, I hope this process continues. But right now
it's not really yielding anything. But, you know, these insurgencies go on for
a long time and baby steps, it's - just because they're baby steps it doesn’t
mean that it may not yield something down the road.

I think everybody knows that the Taliban's going to have to be part of the
future of Afghanistan in some shape or form. Taliban is sort of a loaded word,
but you know, Pashtun, rural Pashtuns need to feel kind of that they're part of
Afghanistan's future and that their interests are represented.

And part of the problem here is that there aren't really Pashtun political
parties of any great size, so you’re sort of - if you’re a Pashtun you’ve got
Hamid Karzai on one side, who's a Pashtun, and you’ve got the Taliban with
little bits in between, and hopefully in the next five years, under a Karzai
government, there will be more Pashtun political participation and parties.
That would begin to help this process move along.

GROSS: What do you think would be the most effective way of stopping al-Qaida?
I mean one is to get bin Laden and his number two. Short of that?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, Yeah. Something we have very little control over and should
try and exercise no control over anyway, which is Muslim public opinion, you
know, has changed, has moved very dramatically against al-Qaida. You know, bin
Laden and the Taliban had this sort of Robin Hood flavor in Pakistan for a long
time. But now the Pakistani public, in a recent poll 90 percent of them said
that religious extremism was a very serious problem in their country.

Support for bin Laden is waning. The Taliban is waning. Supporting for suicide
bombing in Pakistan, where these groups are, you know, largely headquartered,
has dropped from 33 percent to five percent in the last several years, and
that's a story that we’ve seen in Jordan where - do you remember - Abu Musab al
Zarqawi launched an attack on three hotels in Amman, Jordan, which killed
mostly Jordanians attending a wedding, which if you were to design an operation
more suited to destroying your credibility, it’s hard to think of one.

You know, the same process happened in Iraq. It's happened in Indonesia. It's
happened in Saudi Arabia. These groups, embedded in their DNA is the - kind of
is - are the seeds of their own destruction because they’ve decided that they
are the world's only true Muslims and that if they kill other Muslims that it’s
not a problem. And in Muslim country after Muslim country it is a problem for
the 99 percent of the population that is opposed to, you know, that is on the
receiving end of this.

And so they're losing the war of ideas, first of all, in the general
population. And then very importantly, they're also losing the war of ideas
even amongst militants and Jihadists. People who fought with them in
Afghanistan have turned against them. Militant clerics like - there's a guy
called Salman al-Awdah in Saudi Arabia, who I've met, who by bin Laden's own
account was the reason that he started attacking the United States.

Salman al-Awdah was a Saudi cleric who issued the first fatwas against the
American military presence as a result of Operation Desert Shield and Desert
Storm. He was imprisoned by the Saudis for seven years. He (unintelligible) and
bin Laden has said that he's a sort of an inspiration to him. Now, this guy has
gone out on Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, one of the biggest TV
networks in the Middle East and in other venues, and has publicly criticized
not just 9/11, not just terrorism, but bin Laden by name.

Because we’ve had a lot of Muslim clerics who've said that, you know, 9/11 was
wrong or terrorism is bad, but very few have actually had the courage to say
that actually bin Laden is immoral, and this is what this guy did five or six
years after 9/11. So that kind of support is evaporating.

Now, the counter-argument, if Bruce Hoffman was here, the leading scholar of
terrorism in the United States, he would point out that in the '70s the Brigate
Rossi in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, you know, practically
brought these societies to their knees and they had zero public support. So
yeah, terrorist groups can survive with very little public support, but it
certainly doesn’t help them if their public support is really evaporating.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national
security analyst. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation and a research
fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called "The
Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Qaeda's Leader."

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national
security analyst. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation and a research
fellow at NYU's Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called "The
Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Qaeda's Leader."

You’ve written that you think the threat from al-Qaida and its Jihadist
affiliates is greater in Europe than it is in the United States, and it's
especially great in the UK. How come?

Mr. BERGEN: I think part of that is an accident of geography and history.
Seventy percent of the British Muslim population comes from Pakistan. Pakistan
is where al-Qaida and the Taliban are headquartered. If you have Jihadist
ideas, you can get training pretty easily in Pakistan. Four hundred thousand
British citizens goes to Pakistan every year, 99.9 percent of them for
completely legitimate vacations, but a tiny minority end up with a Kashmiri
militant groups, which is often a way station to meet up with al-Qaida, and
they get training.

And we’ve seen, you know, the deadliest terrorist attack in British history was
directed by al-Qaida. Two of the leaders trained with al-Qaida in the tribal
regions in Pakistan, the 7/7 attacks, and there are a number of other British
terrorist plots, all of which lead back to the tribal regions of Pakistan.

GROSS: So it’s not so much that al-Qaida is more interested attacking the UK
than in the United States. It's that it's easier to do it because of people who
are already living in England who might go back to their home country and get
training.

Mr. BERGEN: Right. And in fact, you know, when we’ve - al-Qaida is kind of
conscious of this. For instance, when they try to blow up an American Airlines
flight between Miami and Paris, it was a British citizen who had the shoe bomb
in his sneakers.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BERGEN: And so, you know, you can kind of attack the United States
offshore, is I think the way al-Qaida sees it. And another example is the
planes plot of the summer of 2006, where an al-Qaida-directed cell using
hydrogen peroxide bombs planned to bring down seven American and Canadian
airliners leaving Heathrow. By the way, this was right around the fifth
anniversary of 9/11. This was al-Qaida's way of celebrating in a ghoulish way
the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

But, you know, what’s interesting about the plot is two things: first of all,
they target a commercial aviation, which is the hardest target imaginable right
now. So they remain obsessed by this. The second thing is that they did it in
the United Kingdom, because they don’t have, you know, 12 people or 20 people,
as this plot needed, that they can recruit here in the United States.

They might be able to recruit one or two people, but they can't recruit, you
know, a couple of dozen, which would - you know, for a major terrorist plot
where you’re going to have multiple targets and multiple suicide bombers, you
need more than obviously just one person.

GROSS: At the same time, you’ve written about the growing threat from homegrown
terrorists in the United States, people who have been trained by al-Qaida. And
examples of that that you give are Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American man who
bought hydrogen peroxide from beauty shops in order to make bombs. But he was
arrested before he progressed too far with that plan.

Would you consider Major Hasan, the Palestinian-American officer who massacred
people at Fort Hood recently, would you consider him an example of that, of a
homegrown terrorist?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, I mean it was certainly an act of terror and think it was
motivated by Jihadist ideas. I mean I, you know, and I say that having thought
about it pretty carefully, because I didn’t, you know, no one wants to leap to
conclusions. But if you look at his actions in the days leading up to his death
- let me just go through them because I think it's important.

First of all, he gave away all his possessions to his neighbors. Secondly, he
said that he was going to go and do God's work. When he talked to one of his
neighbors, he gave him his Qurans, you know, a very important possession for a
devout Muslim. The day of the operation, he dressed in white. You may remember
there was a convenience store videotape of him. White, by the way, is
traditionally associated with martyrdom in Islam.

He was exploring suicide bombing, a question of killing of innocents. His
communications with a radical cleric in Yemen had accelerated during this
period. He seemed like he was going out to do a sort of Jihadist death by cop.
I mean I think he intended to die and is surprised that he's ended up in a, you
know, paralyzed in a San Antonio, Texas hospital.

GROSS: How well do you think the FBI is doing in stopping homegrown terrorists
from carrying out their attacks?

Mr. BERGEN: I think generally speaking very well. I mean a huge amount of
resources has gone into the FBI and other arms of the American government since
9/11. I think there are something like 2,000 FBI agents who are involved in
counterterrorism cases. Before 9/11 it would've been, you know, orders of
magnitude smaller. And you have joint terrorism task forces around the country.

I mean, yeah, I think that, you know, some of these may - is more in the area
of overkill rather than under kill. But, of course, you know, somebody is
always going to get through. And Major Hasan was - the FBI was aware of some of
his Internet postings and they kind of dismissed it as not being a problem.

The FBI was also cognizant of the guy called Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad(ph),
who is an African-American convert to Islam, who traveled to Yemen early this
year and then came back and then shot up a military recruiting station at
Little Rock, Arkansas, over the summer, and killed an American soldier.

So, the FBI seems to have really dropped the ball in his case. But as a general
proposition, I think, the criticism is more about people, you know, FBI or
other arms of government sort of entrapping people into - you know, the classic
example of this is the Liberty City case where six, mostly Haitian immigrants,
believed they were swearing an oath of allegiance to an al-Qaida - to al-Qaida,
but, in fact, it was government informant and they were planning to blow up the
Sears Tower in Chicago, although they never traveled to Chicago, they never had
guns, they never had weapons.

And that case went to trial three times. It took a jury – it took - only on the
third time, were the convictions in that case. So, you know, I think the FBI
and other agencies have done a pretty good job. And if there is criticism,
sometimes, is more about overkill rather than under kill.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He is CNN’s
national security analyst. He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a
research fellow at NYU’s Center on Law and Security. His latest book is called
“The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaida’s Leader.”

I’m interested in hearing what you think of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee report that was recently released, criticizing the American military
and basically criticizing General Tommy Franks, who was running the war in
Afghanistan; and then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, for not sending
reinforcements to Tora Bora when the military was telling them bin Laden is
here and we could get him but we need reinforcements.

Mr. BERGEN: I mean, I think it’s entirely accurate. And, in fact, they
interviewed me for the report and I’ve been to Tora Bora and I’ve spoken to a
lot of people on all sides of the battle and the evidence of bin Laden being
there is simply overwhelming. And that was known to people in the U.S.
government at pretty high levels if you go back and look at what they said at
that time.

And, you know, they dropped the ball. There’s just no, you know… By my
calculation, there were more American journalists at Tora Bora then there were
American soldiers - certainly more Western journalists. And if CNN can get his
crew to Tora Bora, why can’t the 82nd Airborne get there?

GROSS: So, what are the consequences that are being played out as a result?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, you know, I think if you’d captured or killed - it wasn’t
just bin Laden at Tora Bora, it was, you know, the entire top leadership, and
they - more or less all of them - escaped. You know, I think the group would
have – you would have really put a damper on the group. You know, they wouldn’t
come back. I mean, if you think about what they’ve done since 9/11, they
conducted the deadliest terrorist attack in British history, they helped plunge
Iraq into a civil war because of this al-Qaida who was doing the vast majority
of all the suicide attacks.

They have inflect - influenced the Taliban ideologically and tactically with
all the results that we know in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I mean, they’ve done,
you know, by not putting the amount of business there, I think, it’s been a big
problem. And, of course, it’s not a coincidence with the Tora Bora senate
report was released a day before Obama’s speech, I don’t think.

GROSS: To help justify him sending…

Mr. BERGEN: Well, it kind of sets up, you know, that… It sets up the narrative
about what happened, which is still in Afghanistan eight years later because we
didn’t really finish the job.

GROSS: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who’s considered the principal architect of
9/11, is going to be brought to trial in New York at a federal court house.

Mr. BERGEN: Long overdue.

GROSS: What you’re going to be looking for?

Mr. BERGEN: I mean, you know, this is a cliché, but I’m looking for justice. I
mean, we’ve already done this before many times. When the embassies got blew up
in ’98, you know, 200 people killed – plus - mostly Africans, many of them
Muslim, by the way. When the four guys involved in that were put on trial in
Manhattan, no classified information came out. Any classified information was,
you know, held in camera. These guys – the victims, many of the families of the
victims got a chance to go to court and see these guys in court. We found out,
for the first time, that al-Qaida had a weapons of mass destruction program.

And there’s are the lot of public goods in trials, and we’ve had, you know, we
have - the United States is perfectly capable of putting (unintelligible)
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial and we should have done this five years ago.
One other point, those guys in the embassy attacks got life without parole. You
know, they are going to molder away in the supermax prison in Florence,
Colorado, which is about a million times worse than being in Guantanamo.

GROSS: And you think the same will happen with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, he will either be executed, which, I guess, is kind of what
he wants, because he’s got a sort of James Bond of Jihad complex; or he will
be, yeah, it will be life without parole, which I think Florence, Colorado –
it’s as close to hell on Earth as you probably can get.

GROSS: Peter Bergen, thank you so much.

Mr. BERGEN: Thank you.

GROSS: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst and co-director of the
counterterrorism strategy initiative at the New America Foundation. His latest
book is called “The Osama bin Laden I Know.”

This is FRESH AIR.
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..DATE:
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Judy Davis, Inspiring ‘Brilliant Career’s 30 Years Later

TERRY GROSS, host:

Australian actors and film makers are now so much a part of the American movie
scene that it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the
world even noticed that they made serious movies in Australia. One of the first
films to grab international attention was Gillian Armstrong’s “My Brilliant
Career,” which made stars of its lead actors - Judy David and Sam Neill. The
movie is just out on a Blu-ray disc from Blue Underground, which has also
released the film on DVD.

Our critic-at-large John Powers says that we can still feel its influence
today.

JOHN POWERS: A few months ago, I was watching a very entertaining documentary
called “Not Quite Hollywood,” a rollicking look at the Australian exploitation
movies of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Although it was bursting with affection for
gleefully bawdy and violent pictures, it got me thinking about the first non-
exploitation Aussie movie I remember seeing - Gillian Armstrong’s “My Brilliant
Career.”

Turns out, this is the 30th anniversary of that film’s release. And after
watching the gorgeous new version on Blu-ray, I can constantly say that this
tale of a young woman’s self-creation seems even better now than it did in
1979, not least because our current movies have virtually no interest in women.
“My Brilliant Career,” is based on a 1901, novel by a teenage girl who wrote
under the name of Miles Franklin. The time is the late 19th Century, the place
rural New South Wales, and the heroine Sybylla Melvyn - a willfully,
conflictedly headstrong young woman, thrillingly played by Judy Davis.

A born romantic, Sybylla dreams of being a writer. But everything is against it
- her family’s poverty, her need to work as a servant, provincial society’s
hostility to her seemingly unwomanly ways. Then she meets a wealthy landowner
named Harry Beecham. That’s a young Sam Neill, who’s never been so wolfishly
charming. The two fall in love but nothing is ever simple with Sybylla. And
even as she leads Harry on, she also fends him off, actually slapping him with
a riding crop the night he proposes marriage.

Here, Sybylla and Harry are talking the next day and she tries to explain
herself.

(Soundbite of movie, “My Brilliant Career”)

Ms. JUDY DAVIS (Actor): (As Sybylla Melvyn) Could you - can you give me a bit
of time, maybe two years.

You see, I’m just not ready yet, not like…

I don’t know, I think I was trying to hurt you. I think you let go,
(unintelligible).

Give me a chance to find out what’s wrong with the world and with me, who I am,
everything. And I’ll marry you if you need me and I can help.

You do understand, aren’t you?

Mr. SAM NEILL (Actor): (As Harry Beecham) Of course, I do.

(Soundbite of river)

Ms. DAVIS: (As Sybylla Melvyn) (Unintelligible).

POWERS: When “My Brilliant Career,” first came out in the U.S., it deservedly
became a hit. Still, many critics wrote it off as merely another of the
feminist fantasies common in the 1970s. It is that, but it’s also something
more. You see, most of the women’s empowerment films of that era centered on
women who were dumping a creep of a husband, sometimes swapping that creep for
a sensitive artist. Here, it’s Sybylla who wants to be the artist, and what
makes it tricky is that she loves a good guy who loves her precisely for her
imagination and independence.

The question is, can she have this love and achieve the brilliant writing
career that she sees as her true destiny? As it happens, “My Brilliant Career,”
was itself destined to become a cultural watershed, one whose affects we can
feel when we go to the movies or turn on our TVs. In fact, 30 years on, we’re
currently living in an era that will be remembered for being dominated by great
Australian actresses. There are the ubiquitous stars like Cate Blanchett,
Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts, who gave this decade’s most brilliant
performance in “Mulholland Drive.”

There are the superb character actors like Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths.
And then there are the terrific up-and-comers like Mia Wasikowska, who stole
the first season of “In Treatment,” and Abbie Cornish from the recent “Bright
Star.” Now, I know that there are strong American actresses, too. I’m well
aware that Meryl Streep is a prodigy and that Sandra Bullock and Kate Hudson
keep churning out hits. Still, it’s modern Hollywood’s shameful failing that it
trains homegrown actresses to be likable, you know, not bitchy.

Of course, that usually means being bland, girlish, uncomplicated, and totally
unthreatening. That’s why, when American filmmakers have a nice, complex role,
they tend to cast an Aussie actress. And who can blame them? Australian
actresses are less pre-packaged. They’re smart, tough, moody, and not cookie-
cutter beautiful. Their good looks are born of intelligence and style. Better
still, even their biggest stars are utterly fearless. They let themselves look
plain, they don’t demand star vehicles and they’re willing to play characters
the audience actively dislikes. No doubt, there are profound cultural reasons
for all this, but there’s also one straightforward explanation. Whenever I ask
Aussie actresses who’s inspired them, they always say the same thing - Judy
Davis.

It was Davis whose bravery, incandescence, and occasional cussedness set the
template for what it means to be an Australian screen actress. She’s the
lodestar, the yardstick, and to this day, one of the world’s great talents.

In fact, if you want to know why this is the Golden Age of Australian
actresses, you should start by watching Judy Davis play Sybylla Melvyn. She’s
the Godmother of all those brilliant careers.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and writes the Absolute Powers
column for vogue.com.

I’m Terry Gross.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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