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Transcript

Losing the War on Terror

Former Anonymous Author

Michael Scheurer
Former CIA Senior Analyst and Author,
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; 11:00 AM

Michael Scheurer, former CIA senior analyst and formerly anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," was online Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his book, his resignation and other recent resignations from the agency.

Scheuer, former chief of the Counterterrorist Center's bin Laden unit, resigned from the CIA in November 2004 after 22 years with the agency working in national security issues related to South Asia and Islamic extremism.

Because of the CIA's pre-publication requirements, as "Anonymous," he wrote the New York Times and Washington Post bestseller "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror" and "Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America."

He has been featured on many national and international news programs and interviews for broadcast media and documentaries, as well as in print media worldwide.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Michael Scheurer: My name is Mike Scheurer. I'm the author of two books published under the name of Anonymous. I worked for the CIA for 22 years. I resigned about 10 days ago and spent about 18 years working on Islamic militancy and I spent about three and half years running operations against Osama bin Laden from our headquarters in Washington.

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Lyme, Conn.: What are your thoughts on the recent forced resignations within the CIA? Is this sending the wrong message: that analysts who do not send reports that agree with administration policies might be in trouble? Or, does this not affect the manner in which intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and presented to the president and his advisors?

Michael Scheurer: The major resignations to date have been senior operations officers and both officers, Mr. Kappes and Mr. Sulick, were distinguished officers and the agency is poorer for not having them. They were probably the best leaders we had in the directorate of operations in a decade. That said, there are certainly other officers at senior levels across the intelligence community who need to be removed because they are very risk averse and more bureaucrats than leaders.

Nothing that Mr. Goss has done to date will necessarily skew the intelligence product but surely the situation requires watching.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is it true that bin Laden's not the real problem but what is is the next generation?

Michael Scheurer: I think bin Laden is a genuine problem. He represents a generation in the Islamic world that is dedicated to fighting the U.S., but you are correct. Bin Laden has served as an inspiration for the coming generation of Islamic militants and has been aided greatly in this role by the war in Iraq.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Great discussion! What, in your opinion, are the chances that U.S. interests will be targeted in the future and do you really think that the probability of this has increased because of U.S. policies in the Middle East?

Michael Scheurer: First, I think it's essential that our leaders begin to square with the American people. We are under attack by Islamic militants for what we do in the world -- not for who we are or what we believe in.

Quite simply, American policies in the Islamic world are Osama bin Laden's only indispensable ally. In terms of a future attack on the U.S. or U.S. interests, I believe it's a near certainty. Part of bin Laden's genius is to have maintained an almost exclusive focus on the U.S. in his attacks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think as Qaeda's leadership would oppose a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian issue (in that it would remove a key rallying cry) or do you think that would help appease them and/or their sympathizers?

Michael Scheurer: I'm certainly not an advocate of appeasement. That said, the Palestine-Israeli issue is a gut issue for Muslims around the world. I don't believe that an Arab Palestine settlement would cause bin Laden to stop fighting but it would surely slow the growth of support for him and his movement in the Islamic world.

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Leawood, Kansas U.S.A.: Due to the critical issues facing the CIA and the U.S., do you think the president should have appointed someone from within the CIA instead of a member of Congress? I believe Mr. Goss is an outstanding choice, but the employees of the CIA don't seem to think so.
I appreciate your comments on the Sunday Talk Shows -- you are a true patriot!
Ken Seck, J.D.

Michael Scheurer: My own belief is that the President of the U.S. should have a man he's comfortable with as head of the CIA. I don't think it's important to choose someone from inside the agency. Competence and an independence of mind are the most important attributes for a DCI. I think we all need to give Mr. Goss a chance to run his own agency. I would also add that much of the dissatisfaction at the CIA has to do with the fact that the agency has been scapegoated for the 9/11 attack. I would refer you to the 9/11 Commission report of Gov. Kean. In that report, the 9/11 commissioners detail eight to ten chances that the CIA provided to policy makers to either capture or use the U.S. military to kill Osama bin Laden by the middle of 1999. None of those opportunities were taken. I think there's a widespread feeling among agency employees that it's inaccurate at least to attribute an intelligence failure to the agency when the men and women who risk their lives to collect information provided policy makers with information that could have led to the elimination of bin Laden more than two years before 9/11.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr Scheurer, thank you for taking our questions today.

How do you respond to the criticism that your actions, and those of some CIA employees who (apparently) have leaked sensitive documents recently, are politically motivated?

Michael Scheurer: All of the information that I have published in my books and all of the information I have discussed in interviews has been reviewed by and approved for publication by the CIA. The next point I would make is that my family is in a continuous state of hilarity at the accusations that I am a liberal and an appeaser, in that I have never voted for anyone but a Republican and that I'm a very conservative man by nature.

The one point I would make is that when my book, Imperial Hubris, was published late last summer, the agency gave me cart blanche to do interviews about the book as long as the media misunderstood the as an attack on the president. The book itself is an indictment of the senior bureaucracy of the intelligence community and its failure to adequately support our elected officials, Republican or Democrat.

When, in the course of my interviews, I was able to explain that the book was not attacking politicians but rather bureaucrats, the agency withdrew my permission to talk to the press.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why is the Pentagon so reluctant to support the Intelligence Reform bill that looks to be dead on arrival? I can hardly fathom how it will negatively affect combat operations to have a central intelligence organization manning satellite platforms. Why does the Pentagon insist that a "direct chain of command" is necessary on satellite platforms? Pentagon critics say its just a smoke screen -- that the Pentagon is just trying to protect various of its commands and the officers who've bet their careers on them. I don't quite buy that either. What's really going on?

Michael Scheurer: The reform of the intelligence community is a very contentious issue and it brings to fore the bureaucratic struggles within the community. I wrote a letter to the two intelligence committees shortly before Mr. Goss was confirmed. That letter has since been published in the December issue of The Atlantic. In that letter I pointed out 10 instances where bureaucratic turf protection stymied the protection of American citizens. I think we're seeing that again now.

It is also interesting that as recently as last week Sen. McCain identified the CIA as a rogue organization. As I understand it, last weekend the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Myers sent a letter to the Congress which had the effect of scuttling the president's plan for reforming the intelligence community. I find it surprising that while attacks on the CIA continue that no one has pointed out the impropriety of a soldier defying the president. If there's anything in our Constitution more sacred than the separation of church and state, it's surely that our political leaders should not be challenged or defied by soldiers.

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Brunswick, Maine: Mr. Scheurer,

Was your resignation related to the management changes at the CIA that have taken place this month? In your opinion will these management changes enhance the agency's ability to track and prevent future al Qaeda attacks on U.S. citizens? Thank you.

Michael Scheurer: First, I would say that if Mr. Goss removes a number of senior leaders from the intelligence community -- and not only the CIA, and replaces them with officers with greater moral courage, the community will be better off and better able to protect America.

On the second point, I resigned on very cordial terms with the CIA. The CIA is probably the best place on earth to work and I regret having to leave it. But I got to the point that I thought Americans were not well-informed about the failures of their leaders, especially in the bureaucracy to put the protection of American citizens as their top priority. In a way, it was a very selfish decision as I have four children and three grandchildren and I have to come to believe that the senior bureaucracy in the U.S. government cared less about protecting my children and all American children than they did about offending European or international opinion.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your revealing book and interesting insight. I was wondering what your view was on U.S. support for more moderate Muslim regimes, like Pakistan? Is the U.S. taking the right approach by offering them large amounts of assistance, or should they be taking a stricter line? Thanks.

Michael Scheurer: Unfortunately I think America is in the position of having to support governments that are otherwise unsavory. I the case of Pakistan, however, I think no American should underestimate the contribution President Musharraf has made to the war on terrorism. He has taken more risks than anyone really had a right to expect him to take. That said, Pakistani society is gradually becoming more stridently Islamic and in the long run, Musharraf will not be able to maintain the current level of support for the U.S.

In a larger sense, one of the points that bin Laden makes that has the most resonance in the Islamic world is American support for Muslim tyrannies in places like Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and most recently Libya. As long as our support for those states continue, bin Laden's support will grow in the Islamic world.

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Washington, D.C.: If our support for the "corrupt" regimes in states like Saudia Arabia and Egypt both enrages radical Islamists and alienates the less radical Arab "street," where is our real hope for finding partners in those governments that we can work with effectively? Isn't it most likely that the fall of those regimes will simply lead to the rise of Iran-like theocracies?

Michael Scheurer: I think in the near term that you probably correct. In a sense, the Islamic religion has never gone through a process of reformation as did Christianity in Europe in the sixteenth century. In many ways, the development of a more moderate Islam is up to Muslims themselves. But that process is unlikely to get underway as long as the Muslim tyrannies now in place remain.

I'd also add that one way of protecting America from that sort of violence would be to take a hard look at our national energy policy. Our interests and exposure in the countries of the Persian Gulf could be cut back in direct proportion to our willingness to develop energy resources in the western hemisphere and to accelerate the development of alternative energy sources.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Did you or others in the CIA take the position that United States military bases in the Muslim Holy lands was a major mistake? I do remember OBL telling us to get out or suffer the consequences.

Michael Scheurer: I think clearly that was a line of analysis during the first gulf war. You are absolutely right that our military presence on the Arabian peninsula and in other Muslim countries is a source from which bin Laden draws great support among Muslims. More recently however, the U.S. intelligence community has become more politically correct and it is much more difficult for analysts to discuss the role of religion or to compare one culture against another than it was a decade ago.

Indeed, I think it would be most interesting to ask the former DCI, Mr. Tenet, whether he told the president before the recent war in Iraq that it would be a very bad idea for the U.S. to occupy Iraq which is the second holiest place in Islam in that it was already perceived as occupying the Arabian Peninsula, the first holiest place in Islam and the Israelis occupied Jerusalem, the third holiest place in Islam. It's a point that should have been made to the president that whatever the threat posed by Saddam and Iraq, the occupation of Iraq along with the other two sanctities (Arabian Peninsula and Jerusalem) would offend the bulk of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims whether or not they supported Osama bin Laden.

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North Salem, NY: Who is the bigger threat to the U.S. -- Osama bin Laden or his associate, Amin Al Zawahiri?

Michael Scheurer: Without question, Osama bin Laden is the greater threat. Zawahiri joined al Qaeda because the joint work of the CIA and the Egyptian government had broken the back of Zawahiri's own organization. Zawahiri is an important player in al Qaeda and perhaps its main theologian but Osama bin Laden is by far the more dangerous of the two.

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North Salem, N.Y.: How important is it for the U.S. to lessen its dependence on oil. Put another way, how much does the politics of oil embroil us in the domestic politics of islamic countries? Thanks for your courage and patriotism. MK

Michael Scheurer: Clearly, any measure taken that would lesson our dependence on oil from the gulf and increase American use of alternative energy sources would clearly remove America from harm's way, at least in the Persian Gulf. It's hard to imagine a strategic interest of the U.S. in the Arabian Peninsula if it were not for oil.

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Houston, TX: Let's cut to the chase - What should we do? What are the top 5 steps / actions the US should be taking right now to address this threat?

Michael Scheurer: There really is only one action that needs to be taken and that's a greater exercise of democracy in the U.S. Our leaders have to square with the American people and tell them that we're being attacked for what we're doing in the world and not for who we are or what we think. The American people also must decide if they will continue to allow senior bureaucrats to place international or European opinion as a higher priority than protecting American lives. Quite simply, before we can defeat the enemy that we face in the Islamic world, the American people need to tell their political masters that the protection of Americans comes first and that American policies toward the Islamic world which have been on auto pilot for thirty years must be debated and, if necessary, revised.

Finally, American leaders must frankly tell Americans that there is no choice at this moment between war and peace. The choice we face is between war and endless war, and that a policy must be crafted that suits the best interests of the U.S. rather than the continuation of policies that are aimed at pleasing international opinion.

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