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How Bin Laden's Death Has Affected Al-Qaida
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks is just a few weeks away.
Bin Laden is dead, but al-Qaeda lives on. Is al-Qaeda still capable of a major
attack? My guest Peter Bergen has been following al-Qaeda since the '90s. He's
CNN's national security analyst and a fellow at the New America Foundation.
He's the author of "Holy War Inc." and "The Osama bin Laden I Know."
His latest book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and
al-Qaeda," has just been published in paperback. Bergen just spent two-and-a-
half weeks in Pakistan, one of the many reporting trips he's made to the
Peter Bergen, welcome back to FRESH AIR. As we get closer to the 10th
anniversary of 9/11, I keep thinking of how much al-Qaeda loves anniversaries,
how much they love finishing a job, like they went back a second time to the
World Trade Center.
And I would assume they had some kind of, like, anniversary plan in the works,
you know, before bin Laden was killed. So I'm just wondering if you have any
inklings about what might be in the works, if anything, if bin Laden's death
makes a difference to any plans that were in the works.
Mr. PETER BERGEN (Author): You know, Terry, they planned to celebrate the fifth
anniversary of 9/11 with something that would have been spectacular and which
was the so-called planes plot of the summer of 2006, which was an attempt to
bring down seven American, Canadian and British airliners leaving Heathrow with
hydrogen peroxide bombs.
And the idea would be, of course, that they would blow up over the Atlantic.
The same kind of hydrogen peroxide bombs that were used to deadly effect in the
7/7, July 7, 2005 attacks in London, which killed - was the largest terrorist
attack in British history.
These guys are trained with al-Qaeda in Pakistan. They'd assembled a large
amount of hydrogen peroxide. And luckily, the plot was interrupted. So
certainly for the fifth anniversary, they were planning something pretty big.
Are they planning something for the 10th anniversary? Well, of course they'd
like to, and I think that some of the materials that have been recovered in the
bin Laden compound in Abbottabad indicate a desire to do something for the
But you know, a desire to do something is quite different from actual
implementation, and I think that this is a group that has, you know, not only
suffered the loss of its founder and leader, was already in very bad shape
before that happened - you know, they've been losing the war of ideas. Al-Qaeda
has been losing the war of ideas in the Muslim world for a very long time, long
before the events of the Arab spring, in which they played no meaningful role,
and long before the death of their founder and leader.
And that does have an effect on their ability to recruit people. Now, that
said, you know, small groups of people can create havoc. Even al-Qaeda itself,
before 9/11, was a relatively small group. But you know, now their bench has
been, you know, thinned out very dramatically by drone strikes and captures of
their leaders and of course bin Laden's death.
You know, they will try and show the flag somewhere around the world, to try
and attack an American target around the anniversary. I think that's a
reasonable expectation. My intuition is that it won't be very successful. It'll
be a small-scale attack.
And their ability to do something in the United States I think is very
GROSS: You produced bin Laden's first American TV interviews for CNN.
Mr. BERGEN: Actually, it was the first TV interview he'd ever done.
GROSS: Oh, okay. And this is the interview in which he declared war against the
U.S. And as a terrorism expert, you'd followed him and al-Qaeda ever since.
You've written books about al-Qaeda, including your latest, "The Longest War."
What was your reaction when you found out that he was killed by Navy SEALS?
Mr. BERGEN: You know, like a lot of people, I was pretty surprised. You know,
I'd begun to think that it wasn't going to happen. In fact, I - part of the
reason that I'd begun to think it wasn't going to happen is that I was - you
know, I knew some people who were involved in trying to find him, and I mean I
had talked to them over the years and they consistently said we just don't
really have very much, or we don't have anything, really, other than informed
hypotheses about where he might be.
And obviously that changed in the summer of 2010, when they started developing
the kind of intelligence that eventually led to him. But the history of
manhunts is sort of an interesting one. It took the Israelis 15 years to find
Eichmann in Latin America, not for a lack of trying. They never found Mengele.
It took â if you look, it took, you know, the FBI something like more than 15
years to find Whitey Bulger, who disappeared in Boston in 1999, and was
eventually found in California. So finding people who aren't making obvious
mistakes like talking on cell phones, you know, who have people very loyal to
them, who are unlikely to drop a dime on them, is hard. So you know, I was â I
was pretty surprised.
GROSS: So now his successors, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had been the number two in
al-Qaeda, and you describe him as a black hole of charisma.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Does that matter? Does it matter that he's not charismatic?
Mr. BERGEN: That's being generous. I think it does. But, you know, bin Laden is
sort of a - I mean, whatever else bin Laden is, he wasn't personally a coward
in the war against the Soviet Union. He fought on the front lines for weeks,
months, years against the Soviets in a very, very dangerous war.
There's no record of Ayman al-Zawahiri having fought in that. Ayman al-Zawahiri
has been in prison for a while, which gives him a certain amount of, you know,
street cred. But you know, he doesn't - I've interviewed multiple people who
know bin Laden - even people who have turned against him who were once his
friends tend to have a pretty universal picture of what he's like, which is,
you know, modest, retiring, unassuming, kind of thoughtful, lots of things that
don't fit with a mass murderer, which of course he is as well.
But you know, and I've also interviewed people who know Ayman al-Zawahiri
pretty well and they say he's a prickly, you know, irritable, irritating, not a
happy camper. You know, when his videotapes or audiotapes get released, you
know, that they get released to a general, you know, collective yawn around the
So you know, that wasn't true of bin Laden. It was bin Laden who founded al-
Qaeda. It was bin Laden whose ideas it was to attack the United States. And one
of the things I try and address in the book is the conventional view that Ayman
al-Zawahiri was sort of the Karl Rove of the operation, the real brains to bin
Laden's George W. Bush. And in fact that's not true at all.
And it may not even be true for Karl Rove and George W. Bush either. I mean, it
turns out that bin Laden was the guy who essentially said we should attack the
United States. Ayman al-Zawahiri was certainly somebody who's an intelligent
man, a surgeon by trade, but somebody who was brought along for the ride and
who really became - you know, had once been one of bin Laden's mentors.
But over time bin Laden sort of marginalized him and turned him into a
follower, albeit an important one.
GROSS: What surprised me a lot in reading your book is that you say bin Laden
kept al-Zawahiri in the dark about the 9/11 plans until the summer of 2001. Why
wouldn't he have told al-Zawahiri?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, I mean, it's an interesting question, Terry, because it
really - you know, Zawahiri wasn't the - you know, we kind of portray him as
the number two in al-Qaeda, which he certainly has been in the past, but before
9/11 he was the number three and not a very important one.
There was a guy called Mohammed Atef, who was the military commander of the
group, who was killed in a Predator drone strike in November of 2001, and he
was really bin Laden's sort of alter-ego. He was the guy who was clued into
what was happening on 9/11.
And bin Laden is a very paranoid and disciplined and secretive guy. And until
Zawahiri formally, you know, became part of al-Qaeda in June of 2001, he just
wasn't given a heads-up.
And we have, by the way, Terry, the founding minutes of al-Qaeda's first
meetings, and Zawahiri is notably absent from those meetings. You know, when I
wrote my first book on this, "Holy War Inc.," in 2001, you know, I subscribed
to the view that Zawahiri was really the brains of the operation.
But as the reporting has gone on over time, it's become clearer and clearer
that that was not the case.
GROSS: You actually in your book make him sound like he's a real bore.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Like he's very pedantic and long-winded, and people don't really like
listening to him.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, he's a bore, and he's writing, you know, memos to people in
Yemen saying why did you spend $450 on a fax machine, and you've got to get
better accounting for your money. I mean, he's - you know, bin Laden was a
bigger picture guy, and Zawahiri is not a - he's not popular even within the
Egyptians that make up his own jihadi group.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national
security analyst and director of the National Security Studies Program at the
New America Foundation. His book "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict
Between America and al-Qaeda" has just been published in paperback. Let's take
a short break here. The we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Peter Bergen. He's CNN's national security analyst, and he's
the author of the book "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America
and al-Qaeda." It's just been published in paperback.
We've been talking about the new head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-
Zawahiri is Egyptian and, you know, he, as you point out in your book, he's
always been obsessed with overthrowing the Egyptian government, perhaps more
interested in that than attacking the U.S. And now the Egyptian government has
been overthrown but not by al-Zawahiri's people, by people who wanted a more
But last week, tens of thousands of Egyptian Islamist extremists poured into
Tahrir Square, and they want an Islamic state. And it was a really big turnout.
So what does it say to you that there were more extremist Islamists than the
Muslim Brotherhood who turned out for this rally in Tahrir Square?
Mr. BERGEN: I mean, what it says to me is Egypt is a pretty large country. I
mean, I think the population is 60 million. So I mean if you can generate tens
of thousands of Islamist sort of extremists in a demonstration, that's not
entirely surprising, and you know, after all, Cairo is a city of, what 12, 13,
14 million people.
And you know, this is a strain of thought that has existed in Egypt since - you
know, arguably since the 1920s. You may recall, Terry, the Luxor massacre,
where a group of Egyptian Islamist terrorists killed 56 tourists in 1997. They
stabbed them to death, hunted them down in the pharaonic ruins of Luxor.
That effectively ended the extremist movement in Egypt because the popular
revulsion in a country where tourism is such an important part of the economy
was just off the charts. And a lot of the more extremist elements actually
negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the government, which has held to this
And so it's sobering to hear about this meeting, about this demonstration in
Tahrir Square, but you know, I spend a fair amount of time in Egypt, and I'm
pretty confident that most Egyptians aren't begging for a Taliban-style
theocracy, and we're going to have an election, and the Muslim Brotherhood will
probably do reasonably well.
But at the end of the day, if they get more than a third of the vote, I think
they'd be very surprised. And so, you know, there are a lot of other forces in
Egyptian society, and I think Egypt has suffered a great deal from the
extremists. Something like 1,200 Egyptians, civilians, police and military
officers died in the violence that took place from, you know, in the early and
And Egyptians remember that, and I don't think they have any great nostalgia
for that. So I'm - you know, the revolution happened, and the whole thing about
revolutions is that no one really knows how it will turn out. So not going to
predict how it will turn out because no one knows, including the people
But I'm skeptical of the notion that somehow, you know, we're going to get a
large demand for a Taliban-style Egyptian state.
GROSS: Do you think that al-Zawahiri is involved at all with the Islamist
extremists in Egypt who are trying to show their force now?
Mr. BERGEN: Only rhetorically. I mean, he's released, I think, six video -
audiotapes and - a mixture of audiotapes and videotapes since the Egyptian
revolution that specifically addressed the Egyptian revolution. And he's called
for an Islamic state, which is his way of saying a Taliban-style theocracy.
So certainly rhetorically he's trying to insert himself, but I don't think
there's any evidence of him having any direct contacts with anybody in Egypt
for, you know, for years and years and years and years.
He has family members who are still there, some brothers, some of whom have
been in prison. But I would be very surprised if he had any direct dealings
with anybody in Egypt right now.
GROSS: So there's a quote I really like from the end of your book, "The Longest
War," and this is very relevant to what we're talking about in terms of, you
know, Islamic extremists in Egypt. And this is a quote from Anwar al-Awlaki,
who is a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
And this quote is about you. He says for a so-called terrorism expert such as
Peter Bergen, it is interesting to see how even he doesn't get it right this
time. For him to think that because a Taliban-style regime is not going to take
over following the revolutions is a too-short-term way of viewing the unfolding
And he goes on to say that he thinks it was wrong that al-Qaeda viewed the
revolutions in the Middle East with, quote, "despair." Instead, he says, quote,
"The mujahedeen, the holy warriors around the world, are going through a moment
of elation. And I wonder whether the West is aware of the upsurge in mujahedeen
activity in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Arabia, Algeria and Morocco."
Do you agree with him at all that the chaos, or you know, the overthrowing of
the pre-existing governments in some of these Arab countries as a result of the
Arab spring in the long run is going to benefit the Islamist extremists?
Mr. BERGEN: Mostly I don't agree with him. I mean, that's why I wrote - I wrote
a piece for CNN which he was responding to, making that point, that al-Qaeda
and its ideas and its foot soldiers were notably absent in all these
revolutions. And he was sort of pushing back on that idea.
The one exception is where he is, in Yemen. Clearly al-Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula is benefiting right now from - I mean, Yemen was chaotic before the
revolution there, and it's becoming more so. And it's only in southern Yemen
we're seeing al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-like groups taking advantage and moving into
some smaller cities in southern Yemen.
So in the case of Yemen, yeah, there is some element of truth. But I mean, will
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula be able to play a significant role in the
Yemeni future? I doubt it. I mean, we're talking about a group of 300, 400
So you know, they may benefit from it in the short term, and that's not good
for the United States and not good for Yemen, but you know, in the Middle East
writ large I don't see al-Qaeda being able to take much advantage of any of
GROSS: So you just spent two-and-a-half weeks in Pakistan. You got back last
week. Were you finding that there were any conspiracy theories about bin
Laden's association that didn't bear any correlation to reality?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I was in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed. And you
know, pretty much everybody that I spoke to didn't believe that he actually
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, including quite educated people. So you know, Pakistan is a
country that I'm very fond of and spent a lot of time. But it is a country
where conspiracy theories have, you know, kind of have a life of their own.
And unfortunately, you know, some of our own activities, some of the United
States' own activities in Pakistan have fed those conspiracy theories. So when
you have a CIA contractor kill two people in broad daylight in a major
Pakistani city, as happened earlier this year, that feeds into every conspiracy
theory Pakistanis have about their country being sort of awash in CIA agents
going around doing stuff.
When we have a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad that was designed to try
and get DNA from bin Laden's family, that feeds into conspiracy theories that
Pakistani clerics have said that vaccination programs are, in fact, you know,
some kind of Western plot to undermine Pakistan.
So you know, we have â you know, some of the â yeah, there are a lot of
conspiracy theories in Pakistan, but we've done some things that, you know,
tend to sort of feed them or fan the flames.
GROSS: Well, you know, that vaccination program, I was wondering about that
too, because like here in the United States, there used to be some medical
experiments that had kind of nefarious underpinnings.
But you know, to read about this vaccination program that was set up with the
secret purpose of getting DNA from bin Laden family members, it makes you
wonder whether medical workers in foreign countries are going to be more
suspected now of being affiliated with the CIA, and you know, whether they'll
be distressed(ph). And there are so many medical workers who risk their lives
in the hopes of doing good.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, I mean it's enormously unfortunate. And as you know, Terry, I
mean in 1970s forward the CIA stopped using journalists as cover, I mean
stopped - you know, so I mean the CIA has had its own internal standards about
these kind of things that I think that this - I haven't looked into it in great
detail, but I mean I think that this is, you know, seems ethically quite
dubious and wasn't successful anyway.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BERGEN: You know, they never got anything from it. And the whole notion
that somehow you're going to knock on the - you know, bin Laden's compound door
and that all these kids from the bin Laden family would sort of automatically
be produced I think was wishful thinking and it didn't happen.
GROSS: So you spoke to people in Abbottabad who did not believe that bin Laden
really lived there during the final years of his life. Did you say anything?
Did you offer evidence?
Mr. BERGEN: You know, this is like people who believe in UFOs.
GROSS: Uh-huh. So what did they think the attack on that compound was then?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, a lot of people say it was a Hollywood production, whatever
GROSS: Hmm. Okay.
Mr. BERGEN: You know, it's sort of dumbfounding, but...
GROSS: So that would mean they don't think he's dead either.
Mr. BERGEN: I mean, you're trying to engage rationally with this right now. And
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BERGEN: You know, if people hold these kinds of views, it's like believing
that - you know, Mullah Omar firmly believed, and he told the Voice of
GROSS: He's the head of the Taliban, yeah.
Mr. BERGEN: The head of the Taliban, that, you know, the Jews were behind the
Trade Center attacks on 9/11 because of the 4,000 Jews who didn't show up for
work that day, supposedly. It's a pretty common kind of conspiracy view in the
Now, the United States is not immune to conspiracy theories. Seventy percent of
Americans were persuaded, partly by the Bush administration, that Saddam
Hussein had had a personal role in 9/11 itself. And the investigation into 9/11
was the largest - was the most comprehensive criminal investigation in history;
167,000 people were interviewed. You know, tens of - you know, an extraordinary
amount of man hours and money and effort was put into trying to determine who
had done it.
And you know, the investigations and investigators repeatedly found there was
no evidence for Saddam Hussein being involved. So you know, there are
conspiracy theories everywhere. And that's not an excuse for them, but it, you
know, it seems to be part of, you know, human nature.
GROSS: Peter Bergen will be back in the second half of the show. He's CNN's
national security analyst and a fellow at the New America Foundation. His
latest book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-
Qaeda," has just been published in paperback. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross back with Peter Bergen. He's been
reporting on al-Qaida since the '90s. His latest book, "The Longest War: The
Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda," has just been published in
Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and is a fellow at the New America
Foundation. He co-wrote an article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs
about the effects of the U.S. drone program in Pakistan. He just got back from
two and a half weeks in Pakistan.
When we left off, we were talking about his visit to Abbottabad, where bin
Laden was living when he was killed by Navy Seals.
So some people who live in Abbottabad don't really believe that bin Laden lived
there. Now, right near where bin Laden lived is a Pakistani military academy,
and a lot of Americans don't believe that the people in that Pakistani military
Academy didn't know that bin Laden was living so nearby. Did you learn anything
about that during your trip to Abbottabad?
Mr. BERGEN: There's no evidence that Pakistani officials or military officials
or government officials knew that bin Laden was there. There's just no
evidence. You know, let's look at it from bin Laden's point of view for a
second because we tend to look at it from everybody else's point of view. Why
would he let anybody know where he was except the people that he trusted, you
know, completely with his life? And, you know, bin Laden after all has been
calling for attacks on the Pakistani government for years. And, in fact,
President Musharraf, the former leader of Pakistan, was the subject of two very
serious assassination attempts to by al-Qaida or groups that, you know, in al-
Qaida's orbit. So, you know, it doesn't, it fails the common sense test that he
was, you know, had some, there was some sort of official collusion in bin
Laden's presence there.
GROSS: There's a quite a level of distrust now between Pakistan and the U.S.
Pakistan, it's my understanding that the government and the military really
resent that the U.S. went and raided bin Laden's home and took him out without
letting the Pakistani authorities know that this was going to happen. One can
easily understand the U.S. reticence to do that, since the Pakistani - there
might've been people in the Pakistani intelligence and military who could have
leaked that. But how much do you think the bin Laden assassination has hurt
relations between Pakistan and the U.S.?
Mr. BERGEN: The high point of the relationship was in 2009. General Kayani, the
head of the chief of army staff who was effectively the most important person
in the country, came over to Washington. There were some big discussions about
the strategic partnership between the United States and Pakistan. Everybody was
really gung ho about it. But the Raymond Davis affair, where the CIA contractor
killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in a big Pakistani city in January, the
amplification of the U.S. drone campaign against targets inside Pakistan and
then, of course, the bin Laden raid, which was done without their, you know,
giving the Pakistanis a heads up about it. All that has come together to create
a kind of perfect storm of, you know, national humiliation.
A lot of this is about national sovereignty, whether it's a CIA contractor
going around shooting people, whether it's the drone program which we, you
know, we do have some of Pakistani cooperation but, you know, they want the
drones to be ratcheted back and fewer of them. And then, you know, I think that
we've reached a point with the drone program where we, you know, it's a tactic
that's been pretty useful. But if, you know, if the cost is we got 180 million
people who just hate us more than any other country in the world and that's
where the Taliban and al-Qaida or many other groups are based, I think that's a
pretty high cost to pay. And I think that we should, you know, try and do
something with more cooperation with the Pakistanis. You know, and the quid pro
quo from their side would be they would have to take more public ownership for
Right now they're in a sort of strange position of benefiting from it to some
degree because it does take off members of the Pakistani-Taliban who are
attacking a Pakistani state and at the same time decrying it. But anyway, yeah,
the relationship is bad and it's, you know, some of the people I saw in
Pakistan said it's never been worse. But I think at least on both sides of both
countries understand that we need this relationship to work for all sorts of
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I would say there are two or three reasons. First of all,
Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons. It's going to be the fifth largest
country in the world in 2015 in terms of population. I mean we just, we can't
just, you know, not have a relationship with this very important country.
Secondly, al-Qaida and the Taliban and many other groups are headquartered in
Pakistan and we need their cooperation and help going after Mullah Omar, the
leader of the Taliban, going after Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida.
And we've also had a partnership with Pakistan that goes back a very long time.
And I think that we kind of owe it to ourselves and they owe it to us to kind
of make sure that that is a healthy partnership.
GROSS: You have a front page article in Foreign Affairs about the drones, the
U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan that have been aimed at the al-Qaida leadership.
As you've pointed out, these drone attacks are very unpopular in Pakistan. You
put together a database, an open-source database to figure out how many of
these drone attacks have been effective, how many al-Qaida leaders have been
killed in them, how many family members, how many unaffiliated people. What
have you been trying to learn through all of this?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, there's been a great deal of heat around this discussion and
not very much light and, of course, it's highly secretive on the U.S. side. So
we just did something very simple. My colleague Katherine Tiedemann of the New
America Foundation, you know, we looked at all the open-source about this
strikes. Now the strikes are very public events. You know, they're not, the
program may be secret but the event is, you know, when somebody blows up and
something falls out of the sky and kills people it's a public event. It is
covered by the local media. It is covered by - and, you know, there are a lot
of very serious reporting organizations in Pakistan, NPR obviously, CNN, New
York Times and some good Pakistani newspapers. And they report on these drone
strikes in a fairly accurate and responsible way.
And so we just sort of surveyed every strike and averaged out the number of,
you know, militants or civilians killed in each of the strikes. And we found
that over time, you know, the civilian death tolls dropped pretty
precipitously. It's widely viewed in Pakistan that most of these people who are
killed are civilians. That's not the case at all. I think the civilian death
rate this year is down at five percent by our calculations. U.S. government
officials anonymously, of course, claim it's closer to zero.
And the other the flipside of this is that we found that relatively few leaders
have been killed, maybe two percent of the total are actually people who could
be construed as leaders of these militant organizations. So most of the victims
are lower-level foot soldiers. You know, we don't - we're trying to - we're not
necessarily taking a position for or against in our data. We're just sort of
saying what is the actual story here? Because other people can make conclusions
based on, you know, is this acceptable? Unacceptable? Is this proportional? Is
this not proportional? And, you know, part of that is, you know, the law of
war. We're not legal experts on the law of war, but we're just trying to put
some data out there that people can actually begin to make some conclusions
Obviously, if the civilian death toll was 95 percent that's very different than
if it's five percent. On the other hand, you know, last year there were 118
drone strikes and, you know, most of those drone strikes are not killing
militant leaders. And so I think a discussion of this is useful, particularly
Terry, because we're not the only nation in the world that's going to have an
armed drone program. It was only after all like 10 years ago that we were able
to start owning our own drones. And so other countries will start using these
and we need to be - think through pretty carefully about what kind of
precedence we've set.
Yeah, some of the victims of the strikes in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, the
leader of Pakistan's Taliban, had killed thousands, literally thousands of
Pakistani civilians. And so that has to be sort of one of the discussions here
as well. But anyway, the main point is that some of, you know, some of the
victims of the strikes are people who've killed a lot of Pakistani civilians,
so that has to be part of the calculus here. But you can imagine a day where,
you know, Russians start deploying this in Chechnya or the Chinese start
deploying this in let's say Tibet. I mean the day is not far off.
GROSS: So if most of the drone strikes have killed like lower-level members of
al-Qaida and affiliated groups, but some of the main leaders have been killed
by them as well, what impact do you think that these drone strikes are actually
having on al-Qaida, the Taliban and affiliated groups?
Mr. BERGEN: I think it's putting a fair amount of pressure on them. I mean I
think it's decimating the leadership of al-Qaida. On the Taliban, the Taliban
is a much larger group of people. You know, David Rohde who was kidnapped by
the Haqqani Network, a Taliban group in Waziristan, The New York Times
Mr. BERGEN: ...says that when he was with these bodyguards from the Haqqani
Network they were very concerned about drone strikes. I mean it certainly had
some affect. The counter argument is you'd expect the violence in Pakistan and
Afghanistan to be going down if it was having a really major effect because the
area where the drones are aimed at is an area where many of the Taliban, al-
Qaida-like groups that are doing the violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan are
based. But the violence in both countries have actually it's been going up
pretty much as the same time as the drone program has been going up. So I think
it has interfered with the ability for Westerners to get training in the tribal
regions of Pakistan from al-Qaida or like-minded groups. But it hasn't stopped,
there continue to be Germans and Americans and others who continue to try and
get training in the tribal regions.
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Peter Bergen. And he CNN's
national security analyst. He's director of the National Security Studies
Program at the New America Foundation, and he's the author of "The Longest War:
The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda." It's just come out in
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. He's CNN's national security analyst. His
latest book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-
Qaeda," has just been published in paperback. He co-wrote a story in the
current edition of Foreign Affairs titled "Washington's Phantom War. The
Effects of the U.S. Drone Program in Pakistan."
The drone program is run by the CIA, not the U.S. military. And you suggest
that the U.S. should consider transferring the programs from the CIA to the
military. But isn't the military not allowed to operate in Pakistan?
Mr. BERGEN: It isn't. I mean, you know, I mean the suggestion will probably
almost certainly never happen. But it was an idea, you know, basically, how do
you make it more transparent and less secretive? And U.S. military is much more
open about the drone programs that it is involved in than the CIA. And...
GROSS: Why would that be a good thing? You know, don't you want to keep this
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I don't think, they're not - I mean this is the least we're
talking about it on NPR. It's...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BERGEN: This is as about as un-secret as it gets. I mean it's one of these
programs that has a lot of secrecy surrounding it, but in fact it's happening
very publicly. And so the era of plausible deniability is, you know, long - we
can't, you know, no one's pretending that these mysterious metal objects that
come out of the sky and then blow up are anything other than U.S. CIA drones.
And so what's the point of - secrecy is in service of policy not the other way
around. And I think that since this is not really secret why not make it more
if any - if the United States officials are correct that it's killing very few
civilians, make it more transparent. Let human rights organizations look at the
videotapes and try and get an independent assessment. Is it's killing fewer
civilians than it's generally understood in Pakistan for instance.
And, you know, by the way, the U.S. military is doing, joining with the CIA
drone programs in places like Yemen, which we're not at war with Yemen. I mean
another argument against involving the military is that it would kind of amp up
the sort of - it would make it more of a state of war potentially between the
United States and Pakistan if the U.S. military was in control. But anyway, we
wanted to throw an idea out there to kind of get the public debate going a
little bit about this. Because right now it, you know, it's a highly, it's sort
of paradoxical. It's the legal underpinnings of this is very secretive and
people won't talk about it. Yet, it's a very public event and it's really
damaging kind of the U.S. image in Pakistan.
GROSS: More on the subject of the CIA and the military. What does this say to
you that the former CIA director Leon Panetta is now the Defense secretary and
former military leader General Petraeus is now head of the CIA?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, one thing is obviously you've got two of the most effective
public servants the United States has going into these positions. You know, the
CIA has become more paramilitarized, to coin a verb, that that's just a fact
over time. Gen. Petraeus, of course, is not the first, you know, general to
take over the CIA. Weâve seen General Hayden of the Air Force before so it's
not unprecedented. And then you've got, you know, Leon Panetta who was in
charge of this operation against bin Laden heading the Defense Department. And
I do think that it's indicative of the kind of greater lash up between JOC,
which the Joint Operations Command and the CIA, which was highly integrated in
this bin Laden raid. And the fact that these two gentlemen are taking over
these respective agencies suggests that this trend will likely continue and the
wars that the United States is engaged in and very - they're not, you know,
hugely formal declared wars, but clearly in places like Yemen you're seeing the
agency and the special operations community cooperating pretty closely, trying
to go after al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
GROSS: So you write about national security. You focus on terrorism, you've
investigated al-Qaida for years. Are you worried about anti-Islam extremists in
the U.S. and in Europe now? I mean it was an anti-Muslim extremist, a Christian
anti-Muslim extremist, who killed I don't remember how many tens of people in
Norway. And there is a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States.
There are states that are trying to pass laws outlawing Sharia law, you know,
with the assumption that the passage of Sharia law is a real threat in the
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah...
GROSS: So I just wonder if you're tracking that and what you make of it.
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I mean I'm tracking it and I think it's incredibly
unfortunate. And I think unfortunately I think some people will be cynically
using this issue in the 2012 election as sort of a wedge issue. We've already
seen it. As you mentioned, certain states that are, you know - I mean Sharia
law is not coming to the United States and is not a problem for the United
States. And it's just - it's sort of a nonsensical. And the guy you mentioned
in Norway, of course, is reading some of these U.S. hysterical anti-Islam folks
like Robert Spencer and others and he was clearly influenced by them.
I'm not saying, of course, there's a direct correlation, but there are people
who are writing on this issue who just, they've lost all sense of perspective
and it's - I think it is dangerous. And you know, as we come to the 10th
anniversary of 9/11, you know, I think that there are some factual things that
we've just got to understand going into it. One is that there have been 17
Americans who have been killed domestically in the United States by jihadi
terrorist attacks since 9/11, which more Americans die in their bathtubs every
year. You know, this is, you know, we need a little bit of perspective here.
Secondarily, you know, we at the New America Foundation are developing a
database first of all in jihadi terrorism in which we've released. And then
also on other forms of political violence. And it turns out that, you know,
people motivated by right wing ideas of - are much more likely to have tried
to, you know, produce a radiological bomb in the United States, a so-called
dirty bomb since 9/11. And we'll be releasing the results after, you know,
around the time of the anniversary.
But the fact is, is that something like 75 people have died in hate crimes
since 9/11, according to the FBI, versus the 17 Americans who've died in jihadi
terrorist attacks. So we just have to understand that political violence is not
something - and I'm sure most people listening to this program will understand
that political violence can come from a lot of different directions. And
Islamic extremists don't have any special monopoly on it.
GROSS: Okay. Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. BERGEN: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and a fellow at the New
America Foundation. His latest book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict
Between America and al-Qaeda," has just been published in paperback.
You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
New Releases Showcase Lieberson's Vocal Talent
TERRY GROSS, host:
Mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died a little over five years ago at the
height of her career at the age of 52. She was universally admired for her
great voice and expressive power. Just when it seemed we weren't going to hear
her sing anything new, we now have a number of never before released live
Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. LORRAINE HUNT LIEBERSON (Mezzo-soprano): (Singing in foreign language)
LLOYD SCHWARTZ: In the liner notes to a new CD of two live concerts by Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson, the director Stephen Wadsworth, who worked with her, says what
a lot of people who loved her and cherished her singing must also feel. Her
work has such immediacy, he writes, is so alive, that I even dread hearing her
sometimes, because it makes me miss her and feel the just plain awfulness of
I was very lucky to live in Boston around the time a young violist named
Lorraine Hunt moved there. She also sang. One of the people who noticed her was
Craig Smith, the late conductor of Boston's Emmanuel Music. She played in the
Emmanuel Orchestra, then Smith started casting her in opera, and so she also
caught the attention of the brilliant stage director Peter Sellars, Smith's
working partner in some of the 20th century's most exciting opera productions.
In 1985, she had a major breakthrough - as Sesto, the son of the assassinated
Pompey, in the Smith/Sellars production of Handel's "Julius Caesar." Her
performance was ferocious, tormented and terrifying. Decca finally issued the
DVD of that production after her death, and it remains a landmark.
Fortunately, much of her later concert work has been preserved. Conductor
Nicholas McGegan's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra label, PBP, has released two
live concert recordings. One, from 1991, has Lieberson singing a selection of
Handel arias, including two from Julius Caesar. But there's also a new addition
to the Lieberson recorded repertory: her sublime singing, from a 1995 concert
of the Berlioz song cycle "Nuit d'ete" - "Summer Nights" - one of the most
gorgeous pieces of vocal music ever written.
Lieberson was a thrilling Berlioz singer - ask anyone who heard her at the Met
as the tragic Carthaginian Queen Dido in Berlioz's epic "The Trojans." The
songs of love and regret in "Nuit d'ete" are on a smaller scale, but Berlioz
seems to have composed his long, spun-out melodies just for Lieberson's
seamless legato and creamy tone. Here's the opening song, the happiest,
"Villanelle,â with its lovers gathering lilies of the valley in the spring.
(Soundbite of song, "Villanelle")
Ms. LIEBERSON: (Singing in foreign language)
SCHWARTZ: Harmonia Mundi Records has also released a couple of new Lieberson
albums: a CD of excerpts from her Handel recordings and another live concert,
this one exquisitely accompanied by pianist Peter Serkin at the Ravinia
Festival in 2004. It's a very sophisticated and personal program, including
songs by Brahms and Mozart, cantatas by Mozart - Masonic and noble - and
Handel, and Debussy's erotic, sensual "Chansons de Bilitis." Here is a bit of
Brahms, a more grown-up lullaby than the one we usually get to hear.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. LIEBERSON: (Singing in foreign language)
SCHWARTZ: A special treat on this CD are the encores. This one is a duet from
Handel's "Julius Caesar," with her friend countertenor Drew Minter, who sings
the role of Cornelia, the mother of Lieberson's Sesto. The two are weeping over
what may be their permanent separation.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. LIEBERSON and Ms. DREW MINTER (Countertenor): (Singing in foreign language)
SCHWARTZ: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang a lot as a soprano before she lowered
her range to mezzo-soprano. Her husband, composer Peter Lieberson, who died
earlier this year, apparently didn't want to release any of her performances as
a soprano. I hope the Lieberson estate might reconsider. We need the full
picture of this extraordinary, incandescent artist.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and
teaches in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Massachusetts,
Boston. He reviewed new CDs of live concert performances by the late mezzo-
soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.
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.