Skip to comments.'Terrorist Expert' Larry Johnson's Frontline Interview About Bin Ladin (2000)
Posted on 07/27/2005 8:03:00 AM PDT by Sam Hill
|So, what are we to make of the embassy attack in Nairobi or the World Trade Center?
What we are to make is that terrorism remains a potential threat in the world. I don't think we're ever going to eliminate terrorism, and from that standpoint, we should not dismantle capabilities to combat international terrorism. ... We have good capabilities in the United States for combating international groups and domestic groups but the rhetoric is heated up to the level that you would think we are besieged at every turn, that every Muslim poses a threat to American citizens. ...
Most of the international terrorist attacks last year, as an example, took place in Colombia. When you go back and look over the last 10 years, the two regions of the world that have had most terrorist attacks have been Europe and Latin America, not the Middle East. Now, I think I understand why the Middle East gets tarred with this brush of being sort of the cradle of terrorism.
| That's because Hamas, as an example, in 1997, was responsible for less than 1% of the terrorist attacks, but accounted for about 52% of the casualties that year. And because casualties play well on television, television leaves the impression that these groups are more active and more powerful than they really are. And so, when you see body counts being generated by radical Islamic groups, that ends up fueling this perception that radical Islamic groups are really behind most terrorism. That's not the case. ...
[When did Osama bin Laden emerge to the intelligence community as a major threat?]
... When Ramzi Yousef was captured [as a suspect in the World Trade Center bombing] in Pakistan in 1995, end of January, first of February, the more information started to come out about Osama bin Laden ... . There were lots of theories, not very good intelligence, and so the intelligence community actually started generating a picture that Osama bin Laden was this, if you will, sort of the Carlos the Jackal of the '90s. He was the new face of terrorism. But the complete picture of what he was up to didn't start coming out until really the last couple of years. Now, when the bombings happened in August, CNN called me, I went on camera and I said that morning the most likely suspect was Osama bin Laden. I wasn't engaging in Arab or Muslim bashing, I was more going from the approach that if someone goes out and threatens to kill another person and makes those threats twice in a six month period, you would naturally go talk to that person if the fellow threatened turns up dead. In this case, Osama bin Laden had issued two very public ... fatwahs against American citizens and against American installations. You have to take the man at his word. He's not just doing that to generate publicity. In the course of that, there was also [an] intelligence operation behind the scenes, where key personnel in his organization either turned themselves in or were captured, and in the course of that debriefing, a picture starts coming together and there's that "aha" moment that, "Oh, we do have a problem. We've actually got someone who doesn't like us and is wanting to kill us."
The danger I think that has happened is we've tended to make Osama bin Laden sort of a superman in Muslim garb. I mean, he's 10 feet tall, he is everywhere, he knows everything, he's got lots of money and he can't be challenged. Actually, Osama bin Laden, in my view, represents more of a symptom of a problem, and the problem is this: the Saudi Arabian government, not just Osama bin Laden but many people in Saudi Arabia, have been sending money to radical Islamic groups for years. ...
Oh, absolutely. They've made it into an art form and that's exactly what they've done. So, in this case, Osama bin Laden is not unusual in that regard. I think what's made him unusual is he's gotten fed up with the US presence in Saudi Arabia and I attribute it to the passion of an idealist and someone who's relatively young and when you're young and full of passion and you really believe what you say you believe, you're going to do some things which, to the rest of the world, may not appear terribly rational.
... Although the core of Islam is one of courtesy and politeness to others, the fact of the matter is that the United States culture and US society is viewed as the ... exact opposite of everything that Islam stands for, [particularly in] the version [of Islam] practiced by Osama bin Laden. And so, as a result, he wants to purge his society, to cleanse [it] of this influence of the infidels, and he sees the existing Saudi ruling family as allowing what would be considered the most sacred shrines of the Islamic world to basically be contaminated because the US is there with its western ways, with its use of alcohol, with its women who are running around not properly dressed and hidden and so, it ends up being a real culture clash and he's appealing to a fundamentalist view of taking society back to what it was.
When you look at who's killed Americans in the last 10 years, the individuals he's supported and backed--I'm basing that upon the initial information that's been released in the indictments and conversations with others in the intelligence communities--Osama bin Laden has been the one killing Americans. No other terrorist group in the world has been out killing Americans except for Osama bin Laden. Where Americans have been killed, they've been collateral damage. They haven't been the target, they've been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not like in the mid-80s when you had a variety of groups targeting Americans, attacking Americans at the Rome and Vienna airports and at a cafe outside the Italian embassy and blowing up Pan Am 103 and putting a bomb on a TWA--it was incident after incident after incident where Americans were clearly in the cross hairs of several different terrorist groups. Fortunately, we're in a situation now where those groups are largely inactive, they've stopped targeting Americans, and Osama bin Laden remains out there as the one really targeting us.
So, we recognize that he's the threat. He's serious about wanting to kill Americans, but as long as he's in Afghanistan, as long as he doesn't have access to a cell phone, as long as he can't just hop on a plane and travel wherever he wants without fear of being arrested, his ability to plan and conduct terrorist operations is extremely limited. We have to recognize [that] he would like to do a lot of damage. He would like to kill Americans, but wanting to is different from being able to, having the full capabilities in place.
To an extent. ... It was about '94-'95 period that the United States really started putting pressure on Sudan to get him out of there because he was then seen [as] a factor in things such as the World Trade Center bombing. Even then, with all of his hatred and the amount of money he has--I've heard everything from $30 million to $800 million, so pick your number--but even with all of that money, we do have clear evidence right now from two different cases, from the case of Ramzi Yousef and from the case of the individuals who blew up the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya [that his operatives did not have unlimited resources.] In both cases, those operatives, if you will, for Osama bin Laden, they were not lighting cigars with $100 bills. They weren't staying at the best hotels. They weren't eating at the best restaurants, they weren't driving around in Mercedes and they weren't passing out dollars like packets of candy to cops and buying their influence. They had limited resources. So, limited resources limits your ability to conduct operations. ...
... I find it very interesting that even though Osama bin Laden, who represents a very narrow majority of the Islamic world--I mean, his views are at the radical fringe--he's ... issued this fatwah, "kill Americans." He's sort of like almost a 21st century version of Lenin. Instead of calling for, "Workers of the world unite," it's "Muslims of the world unite." And they're not uniting. They're ignoring him. I would have more confidence in his ability to really represent the vision of Islam if in the aftermath of his public calls and his attack on US targets, you saw Muslim groups moving out and attacking US citizens ... attacking US targets ... American bodies piling up. That's not happening. You're not even having a good protest at a US embassy anywhere except maybe in Syria after we bomb Iraq. ...
So ... we need to put it back in perspective. Yes, he does not like Americans, he does not like the United States. If he had the wherewithal to kill Americans and attack US targets, he would do so, but he doesn't. He is not in the position, he's not an army. He doesn't have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, he doesn't have an arsenal of chemical/biological weapons. He doesn't have military forces in place ready to launch, because then he'd also need transportation to move them from point A to point B and once they get to point B, then he's gotta figure out how to get them back to point A. He doesn't like us. He would like to conduct operations. He'd like to make our life miserable, but thank God, he's been limited by his ability to do that, in part because his people are in jail, in part because he's holed up in Afghanistan and no other country out there is willing to open its arms to him and say, "Come sit down and work with us." ...
They're grossly exaggerating the problem. They are hyping it. They shouldn't be talking about rising terrorism. Instead of saying "terrorism's rising," it's not. "Terrorism is spreading," it's not. "More people are dying from terrorism," not the case. But what they should be saying is, "There's one individual out there that really doesn't like us, and he's made it his mission in life to kill Americans, and we've gotta deal with him." But we need to have a voice of reason in that process instead of putting ourselves out crying wolf, because this is essentially what's taking place right now. They call it the administration that cries wolf.
I'm sure he's sort of becoming the Che Guevara of the Muslim world, an icon, a symbol of where you get to rebel against your parents and make a statement, but it hasn't translated yet into people actually being willing to take up arms and put their lives at risk to go out and kill others and incur the possible threat of retaliation. ... We like to portray the radical Muslims as suicide bombers. Well, Hamas has not been out there doing suicide bombings every day, every week. And it's not just a matter of not being able to find recruits. That's one of the problems that you face with suicide bombers. You only get to use them once. But once you use them, they sit back and look and [ask], "Is this an effective approach? Are we accomplishing what we want to accomplish?"
If all you're interested in doing is killing people without regards for the consequence, then that, in my view, would be the ultimate dangerous terrorist. We see even with Osama bin Laden, that's not how he's operating. He's not just wanting to kill for killing's sake. He wants to put pressure on the United States to get out of Saudi Arabia and to leave the Muslim world alone. And to the extent that the United States takes policy actions that either increase the perception that we're tarnishing Islam or decrease the perception that we're tarnishing Islam, that will have a heavy influence, in my view, on whether we see increased terrorist attacks or diminished terrorist attacks. ...
He sounds like he's very naïve and hasn't had a lot of experience in either politics or in organization. The fact of the matter is leadership makes a difference. That's one of the reasons that when you look at the lack of domestic terrorism in the United States from skinheads and neo-Nazis, they haven't had an effective leader. You've got lots of knuckleheads out there who hate other people for racist reasons and they spew invective and they talk tough and they want to do violence and if they get the chance they may do something but they've never really coalesced or brought together because they lack that kind of twisted visionary. That's fortunate. ...
There's not another Ali or Mustafa out there at this point and Osama bin Laden in my view has not been a very effective organizer or leader. He talks a great game and puts out terrific threats as far as stirring the passions in the United States and maybe firing up the imaginations of some young Muslims throughout the world. But when push comes to shove, can he get a group of people who are together who will say: we are going to plan an operation, we're going to put our lives on the line, we're going to go out and try and kill people and we don't care what the consequence is? It hasn't happened. ...
I can understand how it certainly appeared that way because you hadn't heard anything about this guy before unless you were reading the New York Times and Jeff Gerth's piece from a couple of years ago. But there was also an influx of intelligence of some defectors and the arrests of key people came in, provided additional intelligence, the picture started becoming clearer of what this guy was up to. When you look at all of the groups that conducted attacks in the last ten years, Osama is the one far and away that is appearing to attack American citizens and US targets. Most of the other things that could be classified as attacks against the United States tend to be collateral attacks.
I would say money and guidance. Osama himself is not out leading the charge. He's not building the devices. He's the leadership core. I come back to the issue of leadership. These groups can be dangerous if they have someone who is a bit of a visionary and a bit of a leader. Osama does fit that category. In my view he's not a very effective leader, he's not a very effective organizer. He certainly has the passion, but he hasn't had the ability to rally and mobilize and really create a political movement that becomes, if you will, a trans-Islamic political movement.
I think he's probably a good politician in trying to find justification for what they did before and a way to shift the blame. The fact of the matter is, Sudan's got its own problem in harboring lots of bad groups that if they didn't harbor those groups, their ability to conduct attacks - even though they've been limited - would be even less. Sudan has to make a choice whether it wants to be part of the civilized world or the part of the world supporting terrorism. I think in this case the United States made a real error in bombing a plant without the right evidence because that ends up figuratively blowing up in our face when we blew up the plant.
No, absolutely not. I think that's ridiculous because the fact of the matter is that if he was absolutely up to charitable works and constructive public projects, he wouldn't have been an issue. ... If the Sudan was so convinced that he was not engaging in anything harmful, I think he would have put up more of a struggle. ...
Well, see, the real flaw with what the US government has done goes back to Admiral Inman. This was the negative side of the Inman report [released in] the aftermath of bombings of US embassies in Beirut [which] recommended a substantial upgrading of the physical plans to make them hardened targets so terrorists couldn't attack it. That was a great suggestion. It needed to be done; wasn't done completely. ...
The problem is we don't have Kreskin the Mind Reader in the US government to predict what terrorists are going to do. In my experience you rarely had advance notification that some group of individuals are going to carry out an attack against some target. ... The threat warnings, when you get them, are so vague and difficult to act upon that it lulls people into complacency. ...
But what we do know is that if you will simply follow the recommendations that Admiral Inman made about hardening facilities, building walls up, set back from the street, that there's a physical limit to how many explosives someone can pack into a van or a truck. Laws of physics take over; unless they've got a nuclear weapon in there, set-back is going to increase your chance of surviving, decrease their chance of dying. The US government--particularly State Department--from 1988 on did not make embassy security a priority. In fact, when I was there in 1992, the State Department started on a major effort to get rid of diplomatic security officers and to downgrade embassy security overseas. ...
Counter-measures put in place end up being an effective deterrent because the three things you need to do terrorism: You've got to have a motive, you've got to have the capability -- the know-how how to build the bomb -- but you've got to have the opportunity, the access to the target. We've seen in the world of aviation when you put in measures that prevent people from getting onboard planes with guns and knives, guess what? Hijackings go down. When you put in place measures that make it more difficult to put bombs onboard planes, bombs don't blow up on airplanes. When you put in place security measures which make it more difficult for people to put a vehicle next to a building and leave it unattended, car bombs don't happen. ..
Here he was sharing his wisdom on PBS. One has to wonder why he was so adamant about this? Was he on someone's payroll?
It's hard to believe anyone could be so wrong--for free.
"So, we recognize that he's the threat. He's serious about wanting to kill Americans, but as long as he's in Afghanistan, as long as he doesn't have access to a cell phone, as long as he can't just hop on a plane and travel wherever he wants without fear of being arrested, his ability to plan and conduct terrorist operations is extremely limited. We have to recognize [that] he would like to do a lot of damage. He would like to kill Americans, but wanting to is different from being able to, having the full capabilities in place."
Larry "Nostradamus" Johnson.
M, Turley's wife had a baby yesterday. He wisely has turned off his cellphone for a few days. I'll have some stuff to say about the controversy in the next hour, though. I talked with the White House about it yesterday. As for the ex-CIA nuts, I'm going after the Larry Johnson Brigades tomorrow.
Those interested should come on over to the tony snow thread. You can link to his radio show from there.
Hm. Larry Johnson had his eye on one tree and never seemed to see the growing forest. Well, that's casework for ya...
bump for a laff in the morning.
I liked this part especially:
"So ... we need to put it back in perspective. Yes, he does not like Americans, he does not like the United States. If he had the wherewithal to kill Americans and attack US targets, he would do so, but he doesn't. He is not in the position, he's not an army. He doesn't have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, he doesn't have an arsenal of chemical/biological weapons. He doesn't have military forces in place ready to launch, because then he'd also need transportation to move them from point A to point B and once they get to point B, then he's gotta figure out how to get them back to point A. He doesn't like us. He would like to conduct operations. He'd like to make our life miserable, but thank God, he's been limited by his ability to do that, in part because his people are in jail, in part because he's holed up in Afghanistan and no other country out there is willing to open its arms to him and say, "Come sit down and work with us."
Bump! Stay on this guy, Sam.
You're tearing him up!
Known to his friends as Larry "Can't Find My Own" Johnson
"He explains why he believes the U.S. has often exaggerated the terrorist threat and analyzes the danger posed by Osama bin Laden."
And I believe he is an idiot. (Actually, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't worse than that. Nobody can be this stupid.)
I hope when he is investigated for his treasonist activities (with VIPS and Ellsberg), they go over his financial records with a fine tooth comb.
Yup, the mans a negative barometer.
"When you go back and look over the last 10 years, the two regions of the world that have had most terrorist attacks have been Europe and Latin America, not the Middle East."
Insane? Hopelessly stupid? An anti-Semite? On somebody's payroll?
You be the judge.
So, the President that he is talking about in this PBS interview is Clinton, right?
I think Larry Johnson should be made to read these remarks he made if front of any hearing he is a witness to from now on!!!
"So, the President that he is talking about in this PBS interview is Clinton, right?"
"I think Larry Johnson should be made to read these remarks he made if front of any hearing he is a witness to from now on!!!"
Great idea. At the very least he should have his pensees thrown back in his treasonist face.
He's written enough wrong-headed material to supply a filibuster.
Isn't this the same clown the Democrats had do their radio address last week?
"Isn't this the same clown the Democrats had do their radio address last week?"
Funny you should ask.
Larry Johnson's Radio Address For The DNC--With Interpolations
Yes, Larry Johnson did the Democrats' radio response. He gets around.
I think the old term "useful idiot" may apply to Johnson. Useful, in this case, to the terrorists by his very hatred of the U.S.
He reminds me of Scott Ridder.
And people wonder why we've had a failure in intelligence? Aside from their obvious political biases, many of these motivations simply look to be CYA efforts to distract from were the real failures lie. Should we really be surprised to see current or former agents speaking out against Bush, when the truth exists within this cabal that has failed America, miserably.
Whether it was the India/Pakistan/N. Korea nuke programs, targeting of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Al-Shifra in Sudan...or WMDs and UBL, I hope Porter Goss (and the FBI) is reviewing all these people's past work...and finally exposes them for the failures they were. Just the fact that Johnson was claiming a reduction of terrorism within the last few years prior to 9/11, when more high-profile attacks were occuring against "American" targets, indicates some disconnect with reality. And that doesn't even include those attacks that were thwarted.