Text: Vice President Cheney on NBC's 'Meet the Press'
Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001
Following is the transcript of an interview with Vice President Cheney conducted by Tim Russert, host of NBC's 'Meet the Press.'
RUSSERT: And we are at Green Top in the shadows of the presidential retreat at Camp David.
Mr. Vice President, good morning and welcome.
CHENEY: Good morning, Tim.
RUSSERT: This is the first television program to originate from here, which underscores the seriousness of our discussion this morning.
The president, the vice president, the national security team have been meeting for the last 36 hours. What can you share with the American people this morning?
CHENEY: Well, Tim, this is the first chance we've had really since the events this week to sit down and really focus on various plans and propositions, things we ought to be doing going forward. Up until now it's been focused very much on trying to manage the crisis and to deal with the problems of the immediate situation.
But yesterday, we've been able to come up and get everybody together. A lot of work done, staff work done in preparation for it and sit down and really spend some time looking at what our strategy ought to be and how we ought to proceed.
RUSSERT: When the president went to the World Trade Center on Friday, he said, ``The people who did this will hear from all of us soon.'' There's an expectation in the country that we're about to pay back big time quickly. What should the American people think or feel about that?
CHENEY: I think the important thing here, Tim, is for people to understand that the things have changed since last Tuesday. The world's shifted in some respects.
Clearly, what we're faced with here is a situation where terrorism is struck home in the United States. We've been subject targets of terrorist attacks before, especially overseas with our forces and American personnel overseas. But this time because of what happened in New York and what happened in Washington, it's a qualitatively different set of circumstances.
It's also important for people to understand that this is a long-term proposition. It's not like, well, even Desert Storm where we had to buildup for a few months, four days of combat, and it was over with. This is going to be the kind of work that will probably take years, because the focus has to be not just on any one individual, the problem here is terrorism.
And even in this particular instance, it looks as though the responsible organization was a group called Al Qaeda. It's Arabic for ``the base.''
RUSSERT: That's Osama bin Laden.
CHENEY: He headed it up and organized it, but it's a very broad, loose coalition of groupings that includes not only his forces but it also includes, for example, Islamic Jihad from Egypt. It includes a movement from Uzbekistan. The groups that are terrorist organizations, people that often times move around, sometimes share a common ideologies that operate on a worldwide basis. And what we have to do is take down those networks of terrorist organizations.
And as I say, I think this is going to be a struggle that the United States is going to be involved in for the foreseeable future. There's not going to be an end date when we're going to say, ``There, it's all over with.'' It's going to require constant vigilance on our part to avoid problems in the future, but it's also going to require a major effort and obviously quite possibly the use of military force.
RUSSERT: Do you believe that anyone who participated in the events on Tuesday or, in fact, even in a support role, or on a plane that wasn't successfully hijacked, are they still at large in the United States?
CHENEY: We don't know. The possibility clearly exists there could be additional terrorists out there that were part of this operation that maybe got cold feet and didn't get on the airplane or, for one reason or another, were thwarted in their efforts. We have to assume that possibility exists.
We had these 19 individuals in the United States, some of them for several years, training, preparing, getting ready for this operation. And we can by no means assume now that's all there is. There may well be other operations that have been planned and are, in fact, in the works.
RUSSERT: When the president said, ``Everyone in uniform, get ready,'' does that suggest a massive call-up of reserves?
CHENEY: We've had some reserves called up. We called up, of course, 35,000 reservists. We felt that was important to do.
I think the way to think about it, Tim, is to think about the target and what our objectives are here. Obviously we're interested in individuals who were directly involved in planning, coordinating, ordering the attack. But those tend to be individuals or small groupings of individuals, cells perhaps, at various places around the world that we need to go find them and root them out.
But we also, what's different here, what's changed in terms of U.S. policy is the president's determination to also go after those nations and organizations and people that lend support to these terrorist operators.
If you've got a nation out there now that has provided a base, training facilities, a sanctuary--as has been true for example in this case probably with Afghanistan--then they have to understand and others like them around the world have to understand that if you provide sanctuary to terrorists, you face the full wrath of the United States of America. And that we will, in fact, aggressively go after these nations to make certain that they cease and desist from providing support for these kinds of organizations.
RUSSERT: Full wrath, that's a very strong statement to the Afghans this morning.
CHENEY: It is indeed.
RUSSERT: The president said that Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect. Why?
CHENEY: There's just a lot of evidence to link his organization, the Al Qaeda organization--and he's the head of Al Qaeda--to this operation. There's some ties, for example, to some of the people involved here back to the USS Cole bombing in Yemen.
We're able to tell going back now, looking at relationships and the way they've operated in the past. We're quite confident that, in fact, as the president said, he is the prime suspect.
That doesn't mean we know all there is to know yet. That doesn't mean there weren't others involved. As I mentioned, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad has a very close working relationship with this organization. So, there may well be others. We want to continue to investigate aggressively to make sure we've wrapped up and understand fully all who were involved.
But clearly, the evidence at this point takes us very much in that direction.
RUSSERT: You have no doubt that Osama bin Laden played some role in this?
CHENEY: I have no doubt that he and his organization played a significant role in this.
RUSSERT: Were you surprised by the precision and sophistication of the operation?
CHENEY: Certainly we were surprised, in the sense that there had been information coming in that a big operation was planned. But that's sort of a trend that you see all the time, these kinds of reports. But we...
RUSSERT: No specific threat?
CHENEY: No specific threat involving, really, domestic operations or involving what happened, obviously--the cities, airliner and so forth. We did go on alert with our overseas forces a number of times during the course of the summer when we thought the threat level had risen significantly. So clearly we were surprised by what happened here.
On the other hand, in terms of the sophistication of it, it's interesting to look at. Because clearly what happened as you got some people committed to die in the course of the operation; you got them visas; you got them entered into the United States. They came here, some of them enrolled in our commercial aviation schools and learned to fly courtesy of our own capabilities here in the United States.
Then what they needed in order to execute was some degree of coordination, obviously, in terms of timing. But they needed knives, cardboard cutters, razor blades, whatever it was, and an airline ticket. That's it. They then were able to take over the aircraft and use our own, you know, heavily-loaded-with-fuel large aircraft to...
RUSSERT: Intentionally choosing planes that had lots of fuel and a few passengers.
CHENEY: Certainly looks that way.
And so, on the one hand, it's very simple. It doesn't involve a lot of hardware or complex devices that they have to bring into the United States. They, in effect, turned some of our own system against us. But its simplicity does, in fact, also speak volumes in terms of planning, creativity, ingenuity in terms of how they go about these kinds of operations.
RUSSERT: We clearly will have to revisit our visa procedures.
CHENEY: We got to look at all aspects of the operation here in terms of what happened. Clearly there are going to be a lot of lessons to be learned from it.
But it's important for us, too, not to get trapped into thinking, if we just guard against another situation where terrorists can hijack airplanes and use them to hit vital targets in the U.S., that we've dealt with the problem. I'm sure they're out there right now thinking about new creative ways to come after us that don't involve any of those, those techniques at all but something totally new.
RUSSERT: Osama bin Laden released a training video, 100 minutes long, which was obtained by the Western media this summer, and I want to show a portion of that to you and give you a chance to respond to it. And we'll play it right now.
These are followers of his chanting: ``We have to fight every day even to the shedding in blood in God's righteous path.'' There he is himself with his own rifle. They go on to say, ``We thank God for granting us victory the day we destroyed the Cole in the sea.'' That's the USS destroyer that was hit last year. Those are his supporters marching.
There you are, as secretary of defense, visiting Saudi Arabia, used in this video to rally support for Osama bin Laden.
And bin Laden himself: ``We have to practice the way of the suicidal commandos of faith and the heroism of the resistance fighter. And we refuse their culture, and we will take advantage of their misfortunes and the blood of their wounded.''
He goes on to say, Mr. Secretary, that with small capabilities, we can defeat the U.S.; America is much weaker than it appears.
What's your message this morning to Osama bin Laden?
CHENEY: Well, I think he seriously misreads the American people. I think the--I mean, you have to ask yourself why somebody would do what he does, why is someone so motivated. Obviously, he is filled with hate for the United States and for everything we stand for.
CHENEY: Freedom and democracy.
RUSSERT: Why does he hate us so much?
CHENEY: It must have something to do with his background, his own upbringing. He's the son of a prominent Saudi family, successful business group with significant wealth. He went and served in Afghanistan with the Mujahedeen during the war against the Russians. And he has, for whatever reason, developed this intense hatred of everything that relates to the United States.
And his objective, obviously, is to try to influence our behavior, to force us to withdraw from that part of the world, and clearly he's not going to be successful.
RUSSERT: He has stated unequivocally that he wants the United States out of the Middle East, he no longer wants the United States to be the ally of Israel. Will our relationship with Israel change in any way, shape or form because of this event?
CHENEY: No, the fact of the matter is that we'll not allow him to achieve his aims. We're not about to change our policies or change our basic fundamental beliefs.
What we are going to do is aggressively go after Mr. bin Laden, obviously, and all of his associates, and even if it takes a long time, I'm convinced eventually we'll prevail.
RUSSERT: There is an FBI wanted poster, and there he is himself, wanted for the murder of U.S. nationals outside the United States. He's under indictment for his involvement in blowing up embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Could we say to the Afghanistan government, ``You are harboring a fugitive from justice. Give him over in 48 hours, or we're coming in and taking him''?
CHENEY: We could say such a thing.
CHENEY: Well, legally, certainly.
I'll simply restate again, Tim, I don't want to get into the business of predicting what specific steps we will take. But, without question, the president has been very, very clear, that to harbor terrorists is to in effect accept a certain degree of guilt for the acts that they commit.
And the government of Afghanistan has to understand that we believe they have, indeed, been harboring a man who committed and whose organization committed this most recent egregious act.
RUSSERT: You're convinced he's still in Afghanistan?
CHENEY: We don't know.
RUSSERT: Is there any international law or United States law which would prohibit us from killing him if we found him?
CHENEY: Not in my estimation, Tim. But I'd have to check with the lawyers on that, obviously. You've got to--lawyers always have a role to play.
But one of the intriguing things here is the way in which people have rallied around--other governments have rallied around this notion that in fact this is in fact a war.
We've seen our NATO allies for the first time in history invoke Article V, an attack against one is an attack against all. It's never before done, and they unanimously agreed to that proposition earlier this week in Brussels.
I think the world increasingly will understand that what we have here are a group of barbarians, that they threaten all of us, that the U.S. is the target at the moment. But one of the things to remember is that, if you look at the roster of countries who lost people in the bombing in New York, over 40 countries have had someone killed or have significant numbers missing. The British, for example, have an estimated 100 dead and 500 to 700 still missing. So it's an attack not just upon the United States, but upon, you know, civilized society.
RUSSERT: A very important country in all this is Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan. Pakistan, there are reports on the wires today, has sent a delegation to the Taliban government in Afghanistan saying it's time to turn Osama bin Laden over.
The Pakistan government is also saying to its people this morning, we will get more aid from the United States, the United States will lift economic sanctions against us, and we've been given assurances that the Indian government and the Israeli government will not be part of any military operation based in Pakistan.
Can you confirm that?
CHENEY: I've seen some communication back and forth at this point.
Let me simply say, we have had discussions with the Paks. President Bush called President Musharraf just yesterday afternoon at Camp David. They've had a good conversation. We have made certain requests of the Pakistanis. They have agreed to work with us in this endeavor, and some of that's covered in the statement they've made there.
RUSSERT: They will get more assistance from us?
CHENEY: Well, we'd like to be able to work with them. You've got to remember, Pakistan's been a close friend and ally of the United States in the past. The relationship's been somewhat strained in recent years, primarily because congressionally imposed sanctions have had an adverse effect, clearly, on the relationship. And the sanctions were imposed as the Pakistanis developed nuclear weapons.
But we're clearly in a situation here where that relationship is important. It's important to us, it's important to Pakistan. Pakistan borders Afghanistan. They are one of only three countries that have diplomatic relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They can be very helpful in this case, and we expect they will be.
RUSSERT: And there's nothing wrong with providing economic rewards for helpful behavior?
CHENEY: No, I think you want both the carrot and the stick approach.
RUSSERT: Pakistan also has a nuclear capability. How dangerous is it for that government to come out against Osama bin Laden, or be helpful to the United States? Are we concerned about destabilizing Pakistan with nuclear capability, a capability that could fall into the hands of the Taliban or Osama bin Laden?
CHENEY: Well, we're clearly very sensitive to those kinds of problems. Any time you're dealing in that part of the world, in the Middle East, the potential for instability always exists. You could have a change in government on relatively short notice, and we're well aware of all that.
But also it's one of the reasons, frankly, you'll see the Al Qaeda organization, Osama bin Laden, choosing to locate in that part of the world, because it is an area of instability, because there are places that nobody really controls. And those are the areas we're going to have to operate in if we're going to be successful.
And again, the key here to keep in mind is that what we're asking nations to do, and which the Paks have clearly made a decision to do, is we're asking nations to step up and be counted. They're going to have to decide, whether they're going to stand with the United States and believe in freedom and democracy and civilization, or are they going to stand with the terrorists and the barbarians, if you will. And it's a fairly clear-cut choice, and I'm delighted to see that Pakistan has in fact stepped up to the task.
RUSSERT: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, three critical countries in the Middle East who have been somewhat supportive of the United States, they also have segments of their population that look at Osama bin Laden as a hero. If we demand that they support us, do we risk destabilizing those governments?
CHENEY: No, I think you've got to recognize, from the standpoint of the Saudis, for example, they're a prime target for this organization of terrorists, Osama bin Laden. He adamantly opposes the Saudi royal family. Probably second only to the United States would be his hatred for the current government in Saudi Arabia.
With respect to Egypt, for example, and the Egyptiam Islamic Jihad, these are groups and organizations that have threatened the government of Egypt in the past. President Mubarak's been a target of several assassination attempts during the course of his career, some of them promulgated by these kinds of groups and organizations.
So I think governments, friends of the United States, the governments you mention, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, et cetera, they understand very clearly that it's as much in their interests as it is in ours that we end these kinds of activities and that we put a stop to this kind of international terrorism. And I think they'll be prepared to help us.
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, how difficult and delicate is it to send this message that we're going to uproot terrorism and Osama bin Laden and some other cells, but that this is not a war against Islam, and not a war against all Arab people?
CHENEY: We have to continually remind folks of that. The president has been very clear, and it would be a huge mistake for we, as Americans, to assume that this represents some kind of--or should lead us to some kind of condemnation of Islam. That's clearly not the case. This is a perversion, if you will, of some of these religious beliefs by an extremist group. We have extremists associated with, you know, every imaginable religion in the world.
But this is by no means a war against Islam. We've got a great number of Arab-Americans, for example, who are first-class, loyal American citizens. We need to make certain that we don't make the mistake of assuming that everybody who comes from a certain ethnic group or certain religious background is somehow to be blamed for this. Clearly that's not the case. They are as appalled by it as we are.
RUSSERT: When the Osama bin Laden took responsibility for blowing up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S. embassy, several hundred died. The United States launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into his training site in Afghanistan. It only emboldened him, it only inspired him, and seemed even to increase his recruitment.
Is it safe to say that that kind of response is not something we're considering in that kind of minute magnitude?
CHENEY: I'm going to be careful here, Tim, because clearly it would be inappropriate for me to talk about operation matters, specific options or the kinds of activities we might undertake going forward.
We do, indeed, though have obviously the world's finest military. They've got a broad range of capabilities, and they may well be given missions in connection with this overall task and strategy.
We also have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. We're going to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussions, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in.
And so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
RUSSERT: There have been restrictions placed on the United States intelligence gathering, a reluctance to use unsavory characters, those who violate human rights, to assist in intelligence gathering. Will we lift some of those restrictions?
CHENEY: Well, I think so. I think one of the byproducts, if you will, of this tragic set of circumstances is that we'll see a very thorough sort of reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with. If you want to deal only with sort of officially approved, certified good guys, you're not going to find out what the bad guys are doing. You need to be able to penetrate these organizations. You need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters, if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities.
It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I'm convinced we can do it. We can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.
RUSSERT: These terrorists play by a whole set of different rules. It's going to force us, in your words, to get mean, dirty and nasty in order to take them on. And they should realize there will be more than simply a pinprick bombing.
CHENEY: I think the thing that I sense, and of course it's only been a few days, but I have never seen such determination on the part of my colleagues in government, on the part of the American people, on the part of our friends and allies overseas, and even on the part of some who are not ordinarily deemed friends to the United States, determined in this particular instance to shift and not be tolerant any longer of these kinds of actions or activities.
RUSSERT: Even if we take out Osama bin Laden, that will not stop terrorism.
CHENEY: No. No. He's a target at the moment, but I don't want to convey the impression that somehow if we had his head on a platter today, that that would solve the problem. It won't.
You've got this organization, as I say, called Al Qaeda. Somebody described it the other day, it's like an internet chat room. People come and participate in it for one reason or another, engage in terrorism, have sometimes different motives and idealogies, but that the tactics they use, the way they operate, their targets.
That'll continue until we go out, basically, and make the world unsafe for terrorists. And that's a key part of the strategy in terms of working agressively with those nations that have previously provided support and sustenance and sanctuary to see to it that they no longer do that.
RUSSERT: You wouldn't mind having his head on a platter?
CHENEY: I would take it today.
RUSSERT: Saddam Hussein, your old friend, his government had this to say: ``The American cowboy is rearing the fruits of crime against humanity.''
If we determine that Saddam Hussein is also harboring terrorists, and there's a track record there, would we have any reluctance of going after Saddam Hussein?
RUSSERT: Do we have evicence that he's harboring terrorists?
CHENEY: In the past there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But, at this stage, the focus is over here on Al Qaeda and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein's bottled up at this point. But, clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.
RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
RUSSERT: Let me turn to the events of Tuesday. Where were you when you first learned a plane had struck the World Trade Center?
CHENEY: I was in my office Tuesday morning. Monday, I had been in Kentucky and the president had been in the White House. Tuesday, our roles were sort of reversed. He was in Florida and I was in the White House Tuesday morning.
And a little before 9:00, my speechwriter came in. We were going to go over some speeches coming up. And my secretary called in just as we were starting to meet just before 9:00 and said an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. That was the first one that went in.
So we turned on the television and watched for a few minutes and then actually saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. And as soon as that second plane showed up, that's what triggered the thought, terrorism.
RUSSERT: You sensed it immediately, this is deliberate?
CHENEY: Yes. Then I convened in my office. Condi Rice came down. Her office is right near mine there in the West Wing.
RUSSERT: The national security adviser.
CHENEY: The national security adviser, my chief of staff, Scooter Libby, Mary Matalin, who works for me, convened in my office. And we started talking about getting the counter-terrorism task force up and operating.
I talked with the president. I'd given word to Andy Card's staff, which is right next door, to get hold of Andy and/or the president and that I wanted to talk to him as soon as they could hook it up.
The call came in, and the president knew at this point about that. We discussed a statement that he might make, and the first statement he made describing this as an act of apparent terrorism flowed out of those conversations.
While I was there over the next several minutes watching developments on the television, and as we started to get organized to figure out what to do, my secret service agents came in. And under these circumstances, they just move. They don't say ``sir'' or ask politely. They came in and said, ``Sir, we have to leave immediately,'' and grabbed me and...
RUSSERT: They literally grabbed you and moved you?
CHENEY: Yes, and your feet touch the floor periodically. They're bigger than I am, and they hoisted me up and moved me very rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs, through some doors and down some more stairs into an underground facility under the White House. And it's a, matter of fact, a corridor, locked at both ends. And they did that because they had received a report that an airplane was headed for the White House.
RUSSERT: This is flight 77 which had left Dulles.
CHENEY: Flight 77, left Dulles, flown west towards Ohio, been captured by the terrorists. They turned off the transponder, which led to a later report that a plane had gone down in Ohio. But it really hadn't, of course. Then they turned back and headed back towards Washington. As best we can tell, they came initially at the White house.
RUSSERT: The plane actually circled the White House?
CHENEY: Didn't circle it, but was headed on a track into it. The secret service has an arrangement with the FAA, they had open lines after the World Trade Center...
RUSSERT: Tracking it by radar.
CHENEY: And when it entered the danger zone, it looked like it was headed for the White House, was when they grabbed me and evacuated me to the basement.
The plane obviously didn't hit the White House, turned away and we think flew a circle and came back in and hit the Pentagon. And that's what the radar track looks like.
The result of that, once I got down into the shelter, the first thing I did--there is a secure phone there. First thing I did was pick up the telephone and call the president again, who was still down in Florida at that point, and strongly urged him to delay his return.
RUSSERT: You told him to stay away from Washington?
CHENEY: I said, ``Delay your return. We don't know what's going on here, but it looks like, you know, we've been targeted.''
RUSSERT: Why did you make that judgment?
CHENEY: Well, it goes to sort of my basic role as vice president is to worry about presidential succession. And my job, above all other things, is be prepared to take over if something happens to the president.
But over the years from my time with President Ford, as Secretary of Defense, Intel committee and so forth, I've been involved in a number of programs that were aimed at ensuring presidential succession. We did a lot of planning during the Cold War, Tim, with respect to the possibility of a nuclear incident.
And one of the key requirements always is to protect the presidency. It's not about George Bush or Dick Cheney, it's about the occupant of the office. And one of the things we did later on that day were tied directly to guaranteeing presidential succession, and that our enemies, whoever they might be, could not decapitate the federal government and leave us leaderless in a moment of crisis.
That's why, for example, when we have a state of the union speech and we've got the entire government assembled--president, vice president, congressional leaders, Cabinet and so forth--we always leave a Cabinet member out who's always taken to a secure location and set up there in case something should happen in the House chamber so we still have a president.
RUSSERT: Did you have any role in Speaker of the House Hastert being taken away?
CHENEY: Yes, we evacuated Speaker Hastert to a secure facility, and later the rest of the congressional leadership. I also ordered the evacuation of Cabinet members. So we sent Tommy Thompson, Ann Veneman, Gail Norton also up to the secure facility.
And in the days since, we've always maintained--I've spent a good deal of my time up at Camp David since the president returned to the White House just so we weren't both together in the same place so we could ensure the survival of the government.
The president was on Air Force One. We received a threat to Air Force One.
RUSSERT: A credible threat to Air Force One, you're convinced of that?
CHENEY: I'm convinced of that. Now, it may have been phoned in by a crank, but in the midst of what was going on, there was no way to know that. I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me.
Once I left that immediate shelter, after I talked to the president and urged him to stay away for now, I went down into what's called PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. And there I had Norm Mineta, secretary of transportation, access to the FAA. I had Condi Rice with me and several of my key staff people.
We had access to secure communications with Air Force One, with the secretary of defense over in the Pentagon. We had also the secure video conference that ties together the White House, CIA, State, Justice, Defense--a very useful and valuable facility. We have the Counter-terrorism Task Force up on that net. And so I was in a position to be able to see all the stuff coming in, receive reports, and make decisions in terms of acting on it.
But when I arrived there, within short order we had word the Pentagon's been hit; we had word that the State Department had been bombed--that a car-bomb had gone off at the State Department. It turned out not to be true, but we didn't know that at the time.
We had reports that Norm had provided that there were six airplanes that might have been hijacked, and that's what we started working off of was that list of six. Now, we could account for two of them in New York. The third one, we didn't know what had happened to it. It turned out it had hit the Pentagon, but the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter and then later a private jet. And it was only after we got hold of some eyewitnesses that we knew it was an American Airlines flight.
So then we had three planes accounted for, but we still had three outstanding. We had reports of planes down in Ohio; it turned out not to be true. Down in Pennsylvania; it turned out that was true.
And all of that, added with the report of a prospective attack on Air Force One. So we would have been absolute fools not to go into button-down mode; make sure we had successors evacuated; make sure the president was safe and secure. Offutt was a good location for that purpose, and also...
RUSSERT: In Nebraska.
CHENEY: In Nebraska.
RUSSERT: Are you convinced there were only four hijackings, that there were not other hijackings attempted that we don't know about?
CHENEY: I don't know. We know there were four, of course. I don't think until we've completed our investigation, looked at all the ties and relationships we'll be able to say that there were no other plans for additional planes.
RUSSERT: When you made the recommendation to the president--stay where you are, go to a secure facility in Nebraska--were you ever concerned, did it ever enter your thought process that there would be criticism of the president for not coming back to Washington during a crisis?
CHENEY: I didn't really think about it. It was a such a clear-cut case in my estimation that the most important here is to preserve the presidency. We don't know what's happening. We know Washington's under attack. We don't know by who. We don't know how many additional planes are coming. We don't know what all is planned for us at that point.
Within about 35 or 40 minutes, we'd seen the unfolding of this monstrous terrorist attack, and it was absolutely the right decision. I have no qualms about it at all.
The president wanted to come back. We talked repeatedly during the course of the day. He made it clear he wanted to be back as soon as we thought it made sense. The Secret Service did not want him back.
They even talked to me to try to get me to evacuate a couple of times. But I didn't want to leave the node that we'd established there in terms of having all of this capability tied together by communications where we could in fact make decisions and act.
And if I'd left--gotten on a helicopter and launched out of the White House, all of that would have been broken down. And we had the presidential succession pretty well guaranteed, so I thought it was appropriate for me to stay in the White House.
RUSSERT: Symbolisms are so important to terrorists. The fact that George Bush stayed at the White House and you came to Camp David--are you concerned that that sends a mixed message to terrorists that they can disrupt our government? Or do you err on the side of caution and safety and keep the two key leaders separated?
CHENEY: Well, we erred on the side of, I'd say, responsibility. When something like this happens, you've got certain obligations and responsibilities you've got to carry out. And those took priority--they did for the president; they did for me.
Also with modern communications, and the president was in touch with me throughout the day. We talked repeatedly. He made some key decisions that were very important to the operation. Once he got to Offutt, he convened a meeting of a National Security Council, again using a secure videoconference hook-up.
RUSSERT: What's the most important decision you think he made during the course of the day?
CHENEY: Well, I suppose the toughest decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft.
RUSSERT: And you decided?
CHENEY: We decided to do it. We in effect put a flying combat air patrol up over the city--F-16s--with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time. It doesn't do any good to put a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act if in fact they feel it's appropriate.
RUSSERT: So if the United States government became aware that a hijacked commercial airliner was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would take the plane down?
CHENEY: Yes, the president made the decision on my recommendation as well. I wholeheartedly concurred in the decision he made, that if the plane would not divert; if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort our pilots were authorized to take them out.
Now, people say that's a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens--civilians--captured by terrorists. Are you going to in fact shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board? And you have to ask yourself, if we had had combat air patrol up over New York and we'd had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing it? And I think absolutely we would have.
Now, it turned out we did not have to execute on that authorization. But there were a few moments when we thought we might; when planes were incoming and we didn't know whether or not they were a problem aircraft until they diverted and had gone elsewhere.
RUSSERT: And that will be the policy of the United States in the future?
CHENEY: Well, the president will, I'm sure, make a decision if those circumstances arise again. It's a presidential-level decision, and the president made, I think, exactly the right call in this case. As I say, I wish we'd had combat air patrol up over New York.
RUSSERT: More and more, Mr. Vice President, we're finding out it appears that the fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania crashed because of some real heroism by Americans. Jeremy Glick had called his wife to say he'd been hijacked. She informed him that two planes had struck the World Trade Center, and he said, ``I think we have to do something.''
CHENEY: That's true. I think the Washington part of the attack was significantly interfered with. I'm speculating. Some of this is informed speculation; some of it is based on some evidence.
But clearly, we know the plane that crashed outside Pittsburgh was headed for Washington. We know it was part of the scheme. Mr. Glick and others, Mr. Burnett, were very courageous when they made that decision, knowing that they were doomed.
RUSSERT: And you've told his wife that, haven't you?
CHENEY: I called Mrs. Glick yesterday, as a matter of fact. I haven't been able to reach Mrs. Burnett yet, but I'm going to call her, too.
And I'm sure there were probably others on the aircraft who helped. But what they did was to foil, I think, the attack on Washington. My guess is--speculation--that target probably would have been the Capitol Building. It's big. It's easy to hit.
I think one of the reasons that the White House did not get hit, I think it turned out to be tougher to see than they had anticipated. When you come in from the west, as American 77 did, unless you get up to altitude a ways you can't see the White House because the Executive Office Building is there.
RUSSERT: And Treasury on the other side.
CHENEY: And Treasury on the other side. And I'm speculating that the lack of ability to be able to acquire it visually may have, in fact, led them to go back.
RUSSERT: Gave it up as a target and went to the Pentagon, which is clearly visible.
CHENEY: Yes, that's speculation on my part. We'll never know for sure.
But without question, the attack would've been much worse if it hadn't been for the courageous acts of those individuals on United 93.
RUSSERT: Two important symbols. Should the World Trade Center be rebuilt?
CHENEY: I think we clearly want to redevelop that area. Exactly what it ought to look like and what will go in there, those are decisions that are going to have to made by New York officials. But the president's very interested in supporting those efforts, and I'm absolutely convinced that that's the right thing to do. We don't let terrorists prevail in this day and age.
RUSSERT: Should Ronald Reagan National Airport be reopened?
CHENEY: We've got to find ways to deal with that problem. It's been controversial from time to time over the years, but of course we've always kept Reagan open because of its location. It's very convenient for people living in Washington.
The problem we have is, of course, that on the approach or takeoff from Reagan, you fly right up the Potomac and you're within seconds or a minute or two of being able to hit the White House or the Congress, important facilities in Washington. And finding the way to deal with those circumstances is going to have precede, I think, reopening the airport.
RUSSERT: So it may be closed for some time?
CHENEY: We don't know yet. Norm Mineta is working aggressively on this. But we did, especially this week, we wanted to be super cautious. As long as there was the possibility there might be other teams out there that in fact plan the same kind of operation that the terrorists under took on Tuesday, we thought it was prudent to keep it closed for now.
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, we have to take a quick break.
Be right back with more of our discussion with Vice President Dick Cheney. We're at Green Top in the shadows of Camp David. Be right back.
RUSSERT: And we are back talking to Vice President Dick Cheney. He's been here at Camp David speaking with the president and the national security team for the last 36 hours at least.
Mr. Vice President, a lot of discussion as to our preparedness. The first hijacking was confirmed at 8:20, the Pentagon was struck at 9:40, and yet it seems we were not able to scramble fighter jets in time to protect the Pentagon and perhaps even more than that.
They're been at least five serious reports on domestic terrorism, how to cope with it, one given to you in May: Cheney to lead anti-terrorism plan. Were we ready for this?
CHENEY: Were we ready for it? I think the agencies responded very well once it happened. I think the courage and the bravery of the men and women of New York, fox example, the first responders, if you will, fire and rescue teams, many of whom gave their lives when the towers collapsed, was superb. I don't think you're taking anything away from them.
But the problem you have here--I mean, if you think about it from the standpoint of aircraft, do we train our pilots to shoot down commercial airliners filled with American civilians? No. That's not a mission they've ever been given before. Now we've got to think about that.
With respect to the intelligence area, there will be, I'm sure, a lot of sort of Monday-morning-quarterbacking, second-guessing if you will, about whether or not there was an intelligence failure. Clearly we did not learn of this operation or we would have stopped it if we had.
But I think it's important to remember that our men and women in the intelligence business out there all over the world, 365 days a year, defending and protecting us, oftentimes very successfully, oftentimes in ways we can never talk about.
But we clearly need to do everything we can to to forestall those kinds of activities by improving our intelligence capabilities, and this offers a lot of lessons learned.
At the same time, the key, though, is to go eliminate the terrorist. We may never have 100 percent perfection in terms of our intelligence capabilities to be able to penetrate and know about all of these kinds of operations. Timothy McVeigh, for example, in Oklahoma City.
But if we go after the terrorists, if we deny them sanctuary, if we take out their bases and their locations where they operate, that's probably the most effective way to deal with this threat.
But we have to recognize, no matter how good we are, no matter how aggressively we pursue this, we're likely to be subject to that partly by the very nature of our society. We're an open society. We love it that way. It's very important to preserve that and not to let the terrorists win by turning ourselves into some kind of police state.
RUSSERT: The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said this is a failure of great dimension, in terms of intelligence. Will George Tenet remain as director of the CIA?
CHENEY: I think George clearly should remain as director of the CIA. I have great confidence in him. I've watched him operate now, and worked closely with him, the last seven or eight months. I think he and his people do superb work for us. And I think it would be a tragedy if some how we were to go back now in the search for scapegoats and say that George Tenet or any other official ought to be eliminated at this point. I don't think you could say that.
RUSSERT: When Air Force One returned to Washington we saw it accompanied by fighter jets. General Norman Schwartzkopf, a man you know well, has suggested that perhaps, in the short term at least, Air Force One should be accompanied by fighter jets while flying over the United States, just as a precaution.
CHENEY: Perhaps. I don't know whether we've made that judgment yet, that decision yet. What happened on Tuesday, of course, once we got all the aircraft grounded, that gave us a fairly high degree of confidence that we were in control. The problem was there were some 2,000 aircraft up when this operation started, and it took several hours to get them all down. And as long as there were aircraft up and there was a report of a threat against Air Force One and there were aircraft we couldn't account for that might in fact have been taken by the terrorist, flying cover for Air Force One, was very important.
RUSSERT: Would we consider using fighter jets to protect Air Force One for the short...
CHENEY: I think if we believe it's necessary, we absolutely will.
RUSSERT: In Europe the government provides security at the airports--highly trained, well-paid specialists. Here in the United States, it's a low-paying job hired by the airlines. Would we consider having the government take over airline security, airport security?
CHENEY: We're clearly going to have to look at this whole question and find ways to improve and enhance our security without doubt. And it's going to be a prime focus for Norm Mineta and the folks over at the FAA.
Exactly what the answer ought to be, Tim, I don't have enough information now to be able to judge that. But without question, this was a significant failure there in the sense that they were able to take four aircraft. But again, they didn't do it with guns or explosives; they did it with knives.
RUSSERT: The airline industry is losing $300 million a day, several teetering on bankruptcy or at least Chapter 11. Would you support a federal bail out of both loans and grants and assistance to the airline industry?
CHENEY: The president hasn't really taken a position on any particular piece of legislation. I think we're very interested in finding ways to make certain that in this particular instance there's no sort of permanent damage, if you will, to our civil aviation capacity. It's very important.
We've got people--Norm Mineta is working on it, Larry Lindsey, who heads the economic council, is heavily engaged in it. We're working with the airlines, and I'm sure we'll come up something.
RUSSERT: So you're open to the concept?
RUSSERT: About a week ago, we were all discussing the so-called Social Security trust fund...
CHENEY: And the lockbox.
RUSSERT: And the lockbox, right. And who spent the surplus. Is that debate now moot?
CHENEY: I think so. I certainly hope so. I think, you know, we've all been concerned to make certain we protect Social Security, but we clearly have a situation here.
And that debate was a little bit falacious anyway, because in fact there was never any question of what the United States government was going to pay its obligations to our seniors. We've never defaulted on a debt since Alexander Hamilton was Treasury secretary, so that's never really been an issue.
But clearly, at this stage, we do have a surplus that's generated primarily by the payroll tax. And as has been true oftentimes in the past, when that comes in we were using it to retire debt. Clearly some of it now is going to be used to meet this emergency--the urgent supplemental that the Congress passed this weekend of some $40 billion.
We'll take those steps we need to take, both to recover from this attack as well as to do everything we can to prevent future ones.
RUSSERT: The president said he would use the Social Security surplus in case of war and/or recession. Do we now have both war and recession?
CHENEY: Quite possibly. We clearly have a war against terrorism. We don't know yet what the third quarter is going to be like, but if the economists come in and revise the second quarter down into negative territory, in terms of gross domestic product growth, in the fourth quarter--third quarter of the calendar year, fourth quarter of the fiscal year.
RUSSERT: And the economic shock from this?
CHENEY: If that comes in negative, then we'll have the definition of two negative quarters. That would qualify as a recession.
RUSSERT: What about the debate over missile defense? Many Democrats are saying this now proves that our focus should be on terrorism and counter-terrorism and preparedness, and that the primary threat is not something that missile defense could take care of.
CHENEY: Well, I just fundamentally disagree. There's no question but what there's a threat on the terrorist front, and we've got to deal with that. We've been working it. We'll continue to work it. But there are also--and this does not in any way diminish the threat with respect to ballistic missiles down the road.
A ballistic missile equipped with a weapon of mass destruction, a nuke, for example, a nuclear weapon, would be far more devastating than what we just went through. If one of those was to hit one of our cities or to hit a major base overseas where U.S. forces are deployed, the casualty list would be higher. The consequences would be even greater than the terrible tragedy we've just been through.
RUSSERT: So we can afford this war on terrorism and a missile defense system?
CHENEY: I don't see, Tim, how anybody can argue that we cannot afford to defend America. And we're going to have to defend it against conventional threats; we're going to have to defend it against ballistic missile threats; we're going to have to defend it against the threat of terrorism.
And I think for public officials to argue, because we got hit with a terrorist assault, we should ignore the ballistic missile threat out there, strikes me as irresponsible.
RUSSERT: The stock market has been closed since Tuesday. It re-opens tomorrow. Are you concerned?
CHENEY: I think that our economy is strong. I do believe the market is going to open tomorrow. That's clearly the current plan and expectation. I would hope--I'm not an investor anymore because I had to get out of the market since I'm now a public official--but I would hope the American people would, in effect, stick their thumb in the eye of the terrorists and say that they've got great confidence in the country, great confidence in our economy, and not let what's happened here in any way throw off their normal level of economic activity.
We look forward to recovery later this year from the slowdown period that we've been through. And I have every confidence that that will, in fact, happen.
RUSSERT: Would you ever consider undoing or holding off or triggering part of the tax cut in the future if the resources were necessary?
CHENEY: No, I think the tax cut is crucial, and that is exactly what we needed in terms of the slowdown. Having the tax cut out there now means we're going to have a more robust year than would have been the case without the tax cut. It's a key piece of stimulus. And I think the president did exactly the right thing.
RUSSERT: There is such fervor, such emotion, such anger in the country right now. And as we conduct this war against terrorism, as you said, it's going to take, days, months, years. What do we ask of the American people? Will they have to sacrifice in order to help win this war?
CHENEY: I guess I would ask vigilance. Be aware of what's going on around you. Don't operate on the assumption that somehow, because we live behind two oceans, we're immune to attack. We now know we're not.
I would ask, obviously, that they be understanding, if you will, of the importance of the effort that we're going to have to undertake here. We may end up with more stringent security measures at airports and things like that.
But I think there is a unity and a spirit out there that I have not seen for a long time in this country. I see it on Capitol Hill between Republicans and Democrats. I see it in the workers who were cleaning up the mess in New York where the president visited yesterday. I see it in the people I've talked with.
And I think we have to recognize we are the strongest, most powerful nation on Earth, that we've got a tremendous set of accomplishments and an enormously bright future ahead of us. There are those in the world who hate us and will do everything they can to impose pain, and we can't let them win.
RUSSERT: Then we'll find them.
CHENEY: We'll find them.
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, we thank you for inviting us up to the mountains here with you. And we'll be watching you very carefully.
CHENEY: Thanks, Tim.