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Filmmaker Sofia Coppola

She wrote and directed the film Lost in Translation. It's up for four Academy awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. The film stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen as two Americans visiting Tokyo. Sofia Coppola is the daughter of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

11:48

Other segments from the episode on February 23, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 23, 2004: Interview with Steve Coll; Interview with Sofia Coppola.

Transcript

DATE February 23, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Steve Coll discusses the CIA's attempts to capture bin
Laden in Afghanistan prior to September 11th
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The CIA's attempts to stop Osama bin Laden before September 11th and its
failure to succeed is one of the main issues Steve Coll investigates in his
new book, "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin
Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10th, 2001." Coll is a Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist who was The Washington Post's South Asia bureau chief
between 1989 and '92. He's now The Post's managing editor.

In "Ghost Wars," Coll writes about the CIA's central place in this story, and
he says the place is unusual compared to its role in other cataclysmic
episodes in American history. The attacks of September 11th were conceived by
a terrorist network that had developed in Afghanistan at the end of the Cold
War when the Afghan Islamists, the mujaheddin, fought the Soviet invasion.
The CIA backed the mujaheddin, as did the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence
agencies. I asked Coll if after the Cold War, the Saudi and Pakistani
intelligence agencies were backing the Islamic extremists who'd become our
enemy. He told me the nature of our alliance with the Saudi and Pakistani
intelligence agencies changed over time.

Mr. STEVE COLL (Author, "Ghost Wars"): It was most intimate during the
1980s, where we did forge a very close and richly funded alliance among
ourselves, carried out through the CIA, Pakistan, prosecuted mainly through
their military intelligence agency, ISI, and Saudi Arabia, which has an
intelligence department which isn't as large as either ours or Pakistan's but
is, in the manner of things in Saudi Arabia, very richly funded. And the
three of us collaborated in a series of secret programs designed successfully,
ultimately, to expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan and to aid the mujaheddin.

After the Soviet troops withdrew, our alliances with Saudi and Pakistani
intelligence continued, but they became much more complicated and increasingly
poisoned, as our interests in the region waned and actually their interests
increased, and they began to fund, continued to fund and to expand the reach
of Islamist groups based in Afghanistan that increasingly had an anti-American
agenda as well as a regional agenda.

GROSS: Now you have gotten information that bin Laden worked for a while as a
Saudi intelligence operative. What have you learned about that?

Mr. COLL: While I was researching this book, I traveled to Saudi Arabia and
I met two interesting characters, Ahmed Badeeb and Sayeed Badib(ph). Ahmed
Badeeb was the chief of staff to Saudi intelligence from the early 1980s until
1997. He was the primary operator for Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the
longtime chief of Saudi intelligence, and Ahmed Badeeb was a teacher of Osama
bin Laden in southwestern Saudi Arabia at the time that bin Laden was coming
of age at Saudi universities. And when bin Laden went to Afghanistan to wage
jihad against the Soviet occupying forces, Badeeb maintained a professional
relationship with him of some sort, and Badeeb describes a relationship with
bin Laden that was really quite operational in the sense that bin Laden seems
to have carried out contracts let by the Saudi intelligence agency to support
Saudi factions in the Afghan war.

I don't have any reason to believe that bin Laden was a paid agent in the
sense that we all remember from spy stories, being paid a retainer, because
bin Laden was so wealthy that he wouldn't have required such a stipend, but he
clearly had an official, or a semi-official, relationship with Saudi
intelligence during those years.

GROSS: So he was working with Saudi intelligence during the years that the
Soviets were occupying Afghanistan and the Afghans were fighting against the
Soviets.

Mr. COLL: That's right. Saudi intelligence collaborated with the CIA during
those years in a financial agreement in which the Saudis agreed to match
whatever funds Congress appropriated secretly to support the Afghan
mujaheddin, and those funds swelled as the '80s progressed. They began on the
order of magnitude of $50 or $100 million annually. By the late 1980s,
Congress was allocating northwards of $500 million annually to support the
mujaheddin, and every time Congress passed one of these secret appropriations,
the CIA met with Prince Turki and Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi intelligence
agency wrote a check for the same amount.

Now in addition to that part of the program, the Saudi intelligence service
ran its own what are called unilateral operations secretly on its own, outside
of CIA eyesight, on the Afghan frontier, and it was here that bin Laden, I
think, played a significant role. He was the son of Saudi Arabia's most
important construction scion, a man who had literally built modern Mecca and
Medina, the two most important cities in the Islamic world, and he had grown
up riding bulldozers in his father's firms. He knew how to make roads, he
knew how to make buildings and storage facilities, and so as he collaborated
with Saudi intelligence in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan,
he was seemingly, by Badeeb's account, commissioned to build roads and depots
and storage and medical facilities for mujaheddin groups that were
particularly favored by Saudi intelligence.

GROSS: After the Cold War, did the Saudis still support bin Laden? I mean,
it was in the early '90s that bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia and splits with
Saudi Arabia because the Saudis are in alliance with the United States during
the first Gulf War in '91, so even though bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia, is
angry at the Saudi family, are they still working with him?

Mr. COLL: Well, it's a very important question, and the record is
fragmentary in some respects, but I think it's possible to address the issues
in at least a confident outline form. We know that the relationship between
bin Laden and the royal family changed significantly between about 1989 and
roughly 1993, 1994. Now how this happened over the course of five years is a
complicated story, but in summary, bin Laden, having expelled or participated
in the expulsion of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, began to think with other
self-described Islamist theologians, about who was the new enemy. And
increasingly, he focused on the Saudi royal family and its acceptance of
American troops in the kingdom as part of defense agreements born in the
first Gulf War.

And as bin Laden became angrier and angrier at the royal family, the royal
family initially sought, as it often does with domestic opponents, to appease
him and to sort of buy him off through cooperative meetings and dialogue.
And there was not a lot of appetite in the royal family to confront him
initially.

They finally broke over domestic issues in Saudi Arabia when bin Laden began
to speak openly in the kingdom against the royal family and to denounce the
royal family as illegitimate in religious terms. And after a series of
confrontational meetings with members of the royal family, bin Laden was
finally expelled from the kingdom in the summer of 1992. And as he was
expelled, he sort of shook his fist, metaphorically speaking, in anger at the
kingdom and vowed to wage jihad against the royal family for the rest of his
years. And that's something that he is still doing.

GROSS: When did American intelligence first become aware of the threat of
bin Laden and al-Qaeda?

Mr. COLL: They first became aware of bin Laden at all in the late 1980s. At
that time, he was just another name on the frontier in the war against Soviet
occupying forces. He wasn't seen as a threat in those years at all, but he
was noted. And many of the Afghans--moderate Afghans, royalist Afghans--who
were part of the resistance did describe him as a threat, as someone who was
too radical for Afghan national traditions and ought to be watched warily.

About 1989, 1990, the CIA began to pick up its first reports from its own paid
agents about bin Laden's political activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
And here they began to learn that bin Laden was collaborating with and perhaps
funding a radical regional agenda. Now during these years the CIA did not
rate bin Laden as a threat to the United States, but they began to take note
of his radical, even transnational agenda. It's really not until 1997, 1998
that the CIA fully recognizes bin Laden as a direct threat to the United
States. In the intervening years, while bin Laden was in exile in Sudan, the
CIA did track him quite closely and began to describe him as a rising threat.

In the Middle East they saw bin Laden funding radical groups in Egypt and
Tunisia and Libya and other places. They saw him running guns. In 1996, a
close aide to bin Laden walked out and defected. The CIA and the FBI
debriefed him, and they really learned quite a lot about how extensive bin
Laden's ambitions really were. That alarmed them. And so gradually they
became much more aware of him as a potential threat to the United States. And
by 1997, '98, I think he's fully recognized as a direct threat to the United
States.

GROSS: And he's fully recognized as a direct threat after the embassy
bombings.

Mr. COLL: Even before. He began to declare in his published writings, his
self-styled fatwas and in media interviews that it was time to turn his
attention, al-Qaeda's attention, toward the United States directly. There
were a whole series of arcane but, in retrospect, important theological
debates under way within the broader movement that bin Laden claimed to lead
about essentially who is the enemy. And there were many opinions about that.
Saudi Arabia was seen by some, including bin Laden, as an important enemy.
Others wanted to concentrate on the Egyptian government, which was seen as
apostate and secular and a lackey of the United States. And still others
eventually decided that, `Well, only the United States itself was the right
enemy at this hour; that it was necessary to reach all the way to the United
States and to shake its role in the world.'

And so I think--you referred to the African embassy bombings in the summer of
'98. That's certainly an important turning point because then he emerges into
plain sight as someone who has both the intent and now the demonstrative means
to kill American officials and civilians.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Steve Coll, and he's managing
editor of The Washington Post and author of the new book "Ghost Wars: The
Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion
to September 10th, 2001." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk
some more about your book. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Steve Coll, author of the new book "Ghost Wars: The
Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion
to September 10th, 2001." When we left off we were talking about the African
embassy bombings of 1998, which bin Laden was behind.

Was it only after the embassy bombings that the United States started planning
ways to capture or assassinate him?

Mr. COLL: No. In fact, they began to plan ways to capture or kill him prior
to the embassy bombings. Though the plans were developed by working-level CIA
officers, they were never approved for full implementation. It's fascinating,
in retrospect, because just six to eight months before the embassy bombings,
as best I can reconstruct the time line, the CIA--working from its
counterterrorist center, which is located at headquarters in Langley,
Virginia, but also from its station in Islamabad, Pakistan, which was the
nearest station that operated to Afghanistan during these years, the CIA
developed a plan working through a group of paid agents, Afghan agents, who
intended to attack bin Laden's farm, where he lived outside the Afghan city of
Kandahar. And they intended to sort of sneak into the farm at night, in the
middle of the night, and pull bin Laden out of his bed and kidnap him and take
him to a cave, which they had already identified in southeastern Afghanistan,
in which with--it's entertaining to thank American taxpayer dollars--they had
provisioned the cave with water and food so that they could keep bin Laden
there for about 30 days in the hope that things would calm down and that they
could find a government, perhaps the United States, that would be willing to
take him for trial.

So this plan was very fully developed in a sort of bureaucratic sense. There
was lots of cables, there were lots of meetings. There were satellite
photography taken. There were maps made. And this plan was briefed to the
Clinton White House in the spring of 1998, again, just a few months before the
Africa embassy bombings. But as it was reviewed in its final form, both the
senior chain of command at the CIA, from Director George Tenet down through
the directorate of operations immediately below him, and the chain of command
at the White House decided that the plan was unsound, that it wouldn't work.
And so they told the officers who had developed it that it had to be shelved.

GROSS: Why was that plan shelved? Was it considered to be an unworkable
plan, too expensive a plan, a plan that would be embarrassing if it was
released?

Mr. COLL: Different people will tell you different things about that. Not
too expensive. Unworkable is a word you hear from some of the people who were
involved in reviewing it. There was a fear that, as a tactical plan, it had
too many risks and not enough chances for success. The attacking party, which
was about 30 Afghan paid agents--these were veterans of the Afghan war, people
with some military experience, but they were a pretty rough group. And they
were meant to approach this walled compound across a flat, open plain in the
middle of the night and to infiltrate it under a wall and to correctly
identify the house that bin Laden was sleeping in because one of his wives
lived there and to be able to find bin Laden in that house and attack or kill
his bodyguards while they got bin Laden into a jeep and drove away.

And there were a couple of concerns about it. One was this is just not going
to work. These guys are going to get slaughtered on their way to the wall, or
they're going to get killed in a firefight inside. And then bin Laden's going
to reap a huge global publicity coup. Another concern was even if it works,
he's going to leave a lot of women and children dead. And the next day
al-Qaeda's going to invite in the international media and denounce the United
States and everybody else for this wanton slaughter and so forth.

And, you know, I'm not a paramilitary professional; I'm in no position to
review which kind of plan is most likely to work or not work. But I think
it's fair to say that one factor in the decision to turn it down was that
there wasn't much of a sense of urgency about bin Laden at that time. He had
not, to anyone's knowledge at that time, killed any Americans. And so to take
a huge set of risks to capture him in an uncertain legal environment just
didn't seem like the right decision to those involved.

GROSS: Well, you've described one missed opportunity to capture bin Laden.
Was there another missed opportunity that you discovered that is something you
could describe for us?

Mr. COLL: Yeah. The next most important missed opportunity took place about
six months after the African embassy bombings. And now bin Laden is clearly
established as a direct threat to the United States. President Clinton has
already launched one attempted cruise missile strike against him in a vain
effort to kill him and has secretly ordered the CIA to try to follow bin Laden
around Afghanistan in the hopes that they can try it again. And the CIA sent
on the road in southern Afghanistan a group of paid agents to track bin
Laden's movements in the hope that they could spot him in a place confidently
enough to warrant another cruise missile strike.

And they followed bin Laden to a hunting camp in southern Afghanistan, where
bin Laden had joined a group of Arab notables in some falcon hunting. And the
agents reported to Washington confidently that bin Laden was there; that he
was living in a tent, going out each day and hunting. The CIA sent satellites
over the camp, took photography. They confirmed the camp's existence, the
presence of apparent Arab hunters and a C-130 airplane that belonged to the
United Arab Emirates, according to its tail numbers. And the White House then
had to decide whether or not to order a cruise missile strike in the hope of
killing bin Laden. And there was an intense debate about whether the evidence
was strong enough.

GROSS: So what decision was made?

Mr. COLL: In the end, this occurred, as I understand it, right in the midst
of the impeachment burlesque. And, in fact, the Senate trial was either under
way or approaching. I'm not exactly certain about the time, but I know it
within a few weeks. And the president decided, in part, on the basis of
recommendations from the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, that
the evidence just wasn't strong enough. Tenet called the evidence
`single-threaded' meaning that the paid agents on the ground watching bin
Laden from nearby were 110 percent certain that they had bin Laden. But they
didn't have what we in journalism call a second source, an independent source.
The satellite photography wasn't good enough to confirm that it was bin Laden.
And there was no other independent way to corroborate that he was there. So
the president decided that he didn't have enough. He was advised that he
didn't have enough to warrant the risks of a cruise missile strike.

GROSS: Yeah. What were the risks? What were they consequences if they did
this attack but they didn't get bin Laden?

Mr. COLL: Well, they could have been severe because they had identified this
connection to the United Arab Emirates. The presence of the C-130 indicated
that this hunting camp had at least sponsorship from the royal family of a
very important oil-producing ally of the United States, if not perhaps even
members of the royal family on the ground. So if they sent in cruise missiles
and killed a bunch of princes from the United Arab Emirates and did not get
bin Laden, they would have generated quite a severe regional crisis. If they
did get bin Laden and they killed members of the UAE royal family as well,
they still would have had a problem. They might have chosen to endure it.
But they just, in the end, didn't feel that the evidence was strong enough to
warrant those risks.

GROSS: Steve Coll is the managing editor of The Washington Post. His new
book is called "Ghost Wars." He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Sofia Coppola. She wrote and directed "Lost in
Translation," which is nominated for four Academy Awards, including best
picture and best director. And we continue our conversation with Steve Coll
about the CIA's failed attempts to get bin Laden before September 11th.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Steve Coll, managing
editor of The Washington Post and author of the new book "Ghost Wars: The
Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion
to September 10, 2001." When we left off, we were talking about why the CIA
shelved a plan to launch a cruise missile attack against bin Laden at a
hunting party.

Now you mentioned that this plan, which was not followed through on, happened
during the impeachment era. How do you think the impeachment proceedings
affected the Clinton administration's decision making, if at all, on the bin
Laden case?

Mr. COLL: Well, Clinton and his senior national security advisers insist to
this day that it had no impact on the decision making, that the president was
able to compartmentalize his role as commander in chief from the crisis that
he faced in his private life and in his domestic and in the impeachment
sphere.

I don't think any reasonable reader of this history could accept that
conclusion. At the very least, you'd have to observe that the Clinton
presidency was extraordinarily weakened during this period. The president was
under assault from a hostile Congress. He was continually on the defensive
politically. His entire presidency was at stake, and he was really not in a
position, barring extraordinary acts of willpower, to take political risks
during this time. And as much as he may have personally sought to
compartmentalize these decisions and to isolate them and to do the right thing
on foreign policy, I don't think that you can ignore the political context in
which he was operating.

GROSS: Now you write that when the Bush administration took over from the
Clinton administration, it didn't take seriously enough the threat of bin
Laden and al-Qaeda. You say the Bush administration had other interests, such
as Iraq. In what ways did they fail to take the al-Qaeda threat seriously?

Mr. COLL: Well, they were very slow to organize and to focus on it. This
was despite a series of briefings that were delivered by the outgoing Clinton
national security team that were deliberately constructed to emphasize the
importance of the al-Qaeda issue. Sandy Berger, who was Clinton's national
security adviser in the second term, told his counterpart in the Bush
administration, Condoleezza Rice, that she was going to spend more time on bin
Laden than anything else; she didn't know that, but she ought to focus on it
from the first day. And there were a series of briefings provided about the
details, where things stood. Yet the Bush administration didn't have a
meeting about bin Laden for several months. Once they started organizing a
policy debate, it unfolded really quite slowly during the spring and summer of
2001. And so by September, when the attacks occurred, that policy process was
only reaching its first stages of decision making.

GROSS: Were there major intelligence failures during the Bush administration?

Mr. COLL: Well, I think `major intelligence failure' is a phrase that's
always going to be located in the eye of the beholder. There was quite a lot
of specific reporting about the bin Laden threat during the nine months prior
to September 11th. The public record established by the investigations
carried out by the two intelligence oversight committees in Congress
establishes that the president was given quite a lot of explicit warnings
about al-Qaeda plans for terrorist attacks, and a number of warnings
indicating that these attacks could occur inside the United States. The
administration was, in fact, alert. They were concerned that these attacks
were coming, but they didn't have the kind of intelligence that would allow
them to predict exactly where the attacks were going to occur. In the sort of
parlance of intelligence, I suppose you would say that they had strategic
warning in the sense that the knew bin Laden was out to get them and that he
was actively planning to strike. But they didn't have tactical warning. They
didn't know where and when. And, in fact, they sort of thought that it was
going to occur overseas, not in the United States.

GROSS: Do you think that things like opinion polls and elections affected any
of the pre-September 11th decision making about what to do about al-Qaeda?

Mr. COLL: I think that clearly there was no political context for a ground
war in Afghanistan to disrupt or eliminate al-Qaeda's headquarters and
sanctuary there. The Republican Congress would never have sanctioned such a
war if Clinton had proposed it. Clinton would have met almost uniform
skepticism from his own party if he had proposed it. The media were banging
no drums on this subject. And so there was a political context in the United
States that shaped the tactics prior to September 11th and narrowed and
narrowed and narrowed the tactical options to the point where those involved
who were trying to stop bin Laden prior to September 11th were really trying
to thread a needle. After September 11th and the war against the Taliban, you
saw that it was a house of cards and, in the end, didn't prove that formidable
to destroy the camps and the Taliban regime. But prior to September 11th, it
looked terribly daunting.

GROSS: George Tenet's leadership of the CIA has been questioned because of
September 11th and because of the lack of weapons of mass destruction so far
in Iraq. He said a few years ago, `We must now enter a new phase in our
efforts against bin Laden. We are at war. I want no resources or people
spared in this effort.' This was well before September 11th. You write that
never happened. How would you grade George Tenet as the head of the CIA in
his decision making about how to proceed against bin Laden?

Mr. COLL: I think he has a--I think the record is mixed. On the plus side
among the Clinton administration Cabinet, he was unusually aware of, focused
on and alert about the bin Laden threat. He did advocate more attention, more
resources, more focus on bin Laden. He had a sense of what was coming.
Despite the urgings that he provided orally, he wasn't able to deliver
programmatically. And he wasn't able to rally either the president or
president's Cabinet to support the kind of risk-taking, covert-action programs
that many of his own officers felt they could successfully carry out if only
they had the political support. So I think that he was strong on the warning
side but less effective on the operational side.

GROSS: My guest is Steve Coll, author of the new book "Ghost Wars." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Steve Coll. He's managing
editor of The Washington Post and author of the new book "Ghost Wars: The
Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion
to September 10, 2001."

After having done all this research for this book, where do you think Iraq
fits into the war on terrorism? Is it helping in the war on terrorism, or is
it a distraction?

Mr. COLL: Well, if you define the war on terrorism as a war against al-Qaeda,
which is the organization that carried out the September 11th attacks, I think
Iraq is--whether you think the war was just or not, it's obviously a massive
distraction of resources, attention and talent. The entire sort of Near East
bureaucracy of the United States government, which are the divisions of the
CIA and the Pentagon and the State Department and the National Security
Council that concentrate on the Arab world and South Asia, all of those
resources, all of the best and brightest people in the government are all
about Iraq and have been now for the last 18 months or more. And so there are
just comparatively fewer resources, comparatively fewer talented people
working on the bin Laden issue, the al-Qaeda issue, whether it's in Pakistan
or Afghanistan or the Caucasus or elsewhere.

GROSS: There's just a little anecdote that you tell in the book that I found
really interesting, and maybe it's not really important in the scheme of
things, but maybe it does really say something, so I'm going to ask you about
this. And this is a story you tell about William Casey who, at the time, was,
you know, the head of the CIA. He goes to Saudi Arabia. He's a devout
Christian. And he's looking for a church to go to Mass in, you know, to go
for Mass. And would you tell this story?

Mr. COLL: It was Easter Sunday, I believe, and he was just visiting as he
did periodically. And he asked his hosts in the Saudi intelligence department
to find him a chapel where he could observe Mass. And they told him what's
still true in Saudi Arabia, that Christian churches are banned entirely. They
are illegal. And if he attempted to construct one on the fly, he might
attract the unwanted attention of the Saudi religious police. But he refused
to accept this and insisted and insisted, and eventually, they arranged
something makeshift for him.

GROSS: What is that story about to you?

Mr. COLL: Well, it's about a Saudi society that remains about as far from
pluralism as Americans understand it as it's possible for a society to be.

GROSS: Well, I guess what I also found interesting about this story is, you
know, Casey was a devout Christian. So is President Bush, and so are many of
the people in his administration who have been close allies with the Saudis.
And this is a country that doesn't tolerate their own religion. How do you
make that add up?

Mr. COLL: You know, that's a useful observation. In the Cold War era, the
Saudi elite, Saudi royal family and American decision makers like Casey, who
was quite a devout Catholic, saw themselves as an alliance of believers
confronting an atheistic system, Communism, Soviet Communism. And they took
succor from their shared faith even where they recognized that the practice of
their faiths were apparently incompatible, as in the case of Casey's desire to
observe Mass on Easter in Saudi Arabia. After the Cold War, after the shared
threat of atheistic Bolshevism, that sense of alliance and comfort between the
two elites began to unravel.

GROSS: One last question. It must be very difficult to write a book on the
secret history of our attempts, you know, to get bin Laden and the secret
history of the war on terrorism, because it's a secret history. You're
dealing with intelligence agencies who aren't going to give it up very easily,
intelligence agencies here and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. It
must be a really difficult book to do.

Mr. COLL: Well, you're right. And part of what I'm aware of even now, having
completed it, is that as a result of the fact that the archives are simply not
available, not likely to be available to anybody, scholars or journalists or
anybody else for decades if ever, then you end up being, to some extent, a
prisoner of journalism, its strengths and weaknesses, and that means you rely
a lot on interviews and people's recollections. I worked very hard to connect
people's recollections to documents where I could find them, to time lines, to
calendars, to other reliable original sources. But it's hard, and I'm aware,
as any honest journalist is, that really the history that I have is rather
rooted in human recollection, which is inevitably flawed in some respects.

GROSS: And you would like someday to see the real documents?

Mr. COLL: I would give anything.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. COLL: Almost anything.

GROSS: Steve Coll, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. COLL: I enjoyed it. Thanks.

GROSS: Steve Coll is the managing editor of The Washington Post. His new
book is called "Ghost Wars."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Sofia Coppola discusses her film "Lost in Translation"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The movie "Lost in Translation" is nominated for four Academy Awards: best
picture, best director, best original screenplay and best actor. My guest,
Sofia Coppola, wrote and directed the film. Her father, Francis Ford Coppola,
is an executive producer of the film. This is her second movie. Her first
was an adaptation of the novel "The Virgin Suicides." "Lost in Translation"
is about two people who might not have had much in common if they'd met at a
dinner in America. But they meet in Japan where they're feeling lost, lonely
and alienated, which creates a strong bond between them. Bill Murray plays a
washed-up American actor who's filming a liquor commercial in Tokyo. Scarlett
Johansson is in Tokyo with her husband, a photographer on assignment. She's
in her 20s and is having an identity crisis. Bill Murray is having a mid-life
crisis. In this scene, they're in his hotel room, lying on the bed, talking.

(Soundbite of "Lost in Translation")

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Charlotte) I'm stuck. Does it get easier?

Mr. BILL MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) No. Yes. It gets easier.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Charlotte) Oh, yeah? Look at you.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Thanks. The more you know who you are and what
you want, the less you let things upset you.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Charlotte) Yeah. I just don't know what I'm supposed to
be, you know? I tried being a writer, but I hate what I write. And I tried
taking pictures. They're so mediocre, you know? Every girl goes through a
photography phase. You know, like horses. You know, take dumb pictures of
your feet.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) And you'll figure that out and not worry about
it. Keep writing.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Charlotte) But I'm so mean.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Mean's OK.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (As Charlotte) What about marriage? Does that get easier?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) That's hard.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola studied painting and art history. I asked her about the
film's opening image.

"Lost in Translation" starts with a shot of Scarlett Johansson lying on the
bed in her hotel room. And we see her behind and her back. It's a back shot
of her torso. She's in her underwear and a long-sleeve T-shirt. And the pose
itself is a kind of classic pose of feminine beauty that you might find--it's
a pose you've seen in a lot of paintings. But although Scarlett Johansson is
really quite beautiful, this pose seems to be, in your movie, more about being
alone and only half-dressed in bed with no place to go than it is about
evoking any, like, real strong sexuality. It's a very unselfconscious pose.
And I'm just wondering what your intention was in starting with this shot.

Ms. SOFIA COPPOLA (Writer/Director, "Lost in Translation"): Yeah. I mean, I
just wanted it to be a glimpse of femininity, you know, that it's, you know,
this girl's butt in pink underwear, and that it, you know, has innocence, but
also, because the story starts with the character of Bill Murray, I just
wanted a hint of this girl kind of hanging around a hotel room before, and
she's always going about in a T-shirt and her underwear as you are in hotel
rooms.

But I always liked the--Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita" is one of my favorite
movies, and the opening of that is just a close-up of her feet and just this
sort of, you know, icon of femininity that's not really a scene from the
movie, that's its own thing. That was what I was thinking about. And then my
brother had a book of John Kocera(ph), the painter who, I think, spent his
whole career painting girls' butts in underwear, and that was sort of the
reference for that.

GROSS: I want to play another short scene from "Lost in Translation." And in
this scene, a prostitute has been sent up to Bill Murray's room, I think, if I
remember correctly, by somebody who's shooting the commercial with him. And
so this is a big surprise to Bill Murray. She comes up. She's Japanese. Her
English isn't very good. And he doesn't even know what she's saying to him.
So let me play that scene.

(Soundbite of "Lost in Translation")

Ms. NAO ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Mr. Harris?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Yes?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Mr. Kazu(ph) sent me.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Oh?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) May I enter? Thank you. Do you like
massage?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) I don't think I like massage anymore.

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Mr. Kazu sends premium fantasy. My
stockings, lip them. Lip my stockings. Yes, please. Lip them.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) What?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Lip them. Hey, lip my stockings!

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Hey!

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Hey!

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Lip them? Lip them?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Yes.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) What?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Lip them, like this. Lip them.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Rip them?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Lip, yes.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) You want me to rip your stockings?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Yes, lip my stockings, please.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Rip your stockings?

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Yes, please.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) You want me to rip your stockings.

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Please.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) Oh.

Ms. ASUKA: (As Premium Fantasy Woman) Please.

GROSS: A short scene from "Lost in Translation" with Bill Murray. My guest
is the film's writer and director, Sofia Coppola.

Sofia Coppola, where did that scene come from? Was that based on an actual
experience somebody you know had?

Ms. COPPOLA: A friend of mine told me a story that happened to him that was
similar to that. It wasn't really a prostitute, but it was a misunderstanding
like that, which I thought was funny, and I remember talking to our AD, who is
Japanese, about the R and L switch, because that scene, you know, hinges on
that, and I said, you know, `Is this offensive at all?' and he said, `No, they
really do that,' and he was laughing, you know, so it's just one of, you know,
those things with the language and translation that happened.

GROSS: It's interesting. You said you asked the assistant director if he
thought that that was offensive, because, you know, a few reviewers have said
that they thought, you know, that the flaw they found with your movie is they
thought it was a little condescending toward the Japanese because of scenes
like that. What would you say to that?

Ms. COPPOLA: You know, I just put--you know, I wanted to have the experience
of what it's like being a foreigner there, and I don't think it was
condescending at all. I mean, I have great love and respect for the country
and the culture, and you know, but we're having a sense of humor about the
differences, but, you know, we make fun of the American sell-out movie star
who's there making a buck.

GROSS: "Lost in Tran...

Ms. COPPOLA: And all that stuff is real, I mean, you know, working with the
Japanese crew and everything. You know, it's all based on real differences.

GROSS: My guest is Sofia Coppola. She wrote and directed the film "Lost in
Translation," which is nominated for four Academy Awards. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Sofia Coppola. She wrote and directed the film "Lost in
Translation," which is nominated for four Academy Awards.

When you're writing a screenplay, particularly a screenplay like "Lost in
Translation" where there's so much happening that's purely visual, do you see
the scenes as you're writing them? I mean, are you composing the images even
as you're writing the words?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, definitely. When I'm writing the script, it's really
just reminders and notes of what I'm picturing, so I'm definitely, you know,
thinking about the imagery and then trying to write that down as best I can to
remember how I want to shoot it.

GROSS: What about the scenes between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson?
Were any of those scenes improvised?

Ms. COPPOLA: Those scenes were more scripted. Them meeting and the scene
where they talk all night, that was really more--that was scripted.

GROSS: There's a scene at a karaoke bar in which Scarlett Johansson sings a
song; Bill Murray sings two songs. He sings "What's So Funny About Peace,
Love and Understanding," and he also sings Roxy Music's "More Than This." Who
chose the songs for him to sing?

Ms. COPPOLA: "More Than This," the Roxy Music song, came about just at the
last minute when we were on the set. Bill and I had been talking before about
how we both love that album, "Avalon," and we were shooting in a real karaoke
place, and I just looked up on their menu and they had that song, "More Than
This," and I said, `Oh,' you know, `will you sing this for me?' And we were
just in another little booth, just the two of us, and he sang it, and he was
so sincere and heartfelt, and I thought, `Oh, we have to put this in the
movie.' So luckily we got permission afterwards to use the song. But just
the lyrics and everything--I love watching that moment because you always feel
like that's the moment where she really--you know, the way she looks at him,
and you know, it's really that kind of crush moment, and the lyrics are kind
of fitting.

GROSS: Well, Sofia Coppola, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. COPPOLA: Oh, thanks for having me.

(Soundbite from "Lost in Translation")

Mr. MURRAY: (As Bob Harris, singing) I could feel at the time there was no
way of knowing. Fallen leaves in the night, who can say where they're
blowing, as free as the wind and hopefully learning why the sea on the tide
has no way of turning. More than this, you know there's nothing more than
this. Tell me one thing more than this, there is nothing.

GROSS: Bill Murray from the soundtrack of "Lost in Translation." Sofia
Coppola wrote and directed the film. It's nominate for four Academy
Awards--best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best actor.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with Frank Sinatra singing "Fly Me to the Moon." It was written
by Bart Howard. Howard died Saturday at the age of 88.

(Soundbite of "Fly Me to the Moon")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the
stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. In other words,
hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me. Fill my heart with song and let
me sing forever more. You are all I long for, all I worship and adore. In
other words, please be true. In other words, I love you. Fill my heart with
song, let me sing forever more. You are all I long for, all I worship and
adore. In other words, please be true...
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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