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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 14, 2002

(Interview with Rebecca Carr, Cox Newspapers / Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

Carr: It's very nice that you made time for me. I really, really appreciate it, especially give your hefty schedule.

I'm doing a profile of Larry Thompson, the deputy attorney general. He has really sort of flown under the radar screen since 9/11 yet from all that I can gather, he has really been a workhorse behind the scenes. He's from Atlanta, so we thought it would be a really good profile for our paper.

I just was wondering if you would mind talking a little bit about your experience working with the deputy attorney general as the deputy secretary of defense. I just thought you might have some interesting perspective on his workings behind the scenes.

When he was first appointed deputy attorney general his good friend Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said his main worry about his good friend Larry Thompson was that he would work himself into the grave. I was just wondering if that was your impression of the way Thompson works.

Wolfowitz: Well he certainly works incredibly hard.

We've had quite a bit of interaction and I would say that a couple of things have impressed me very strongly about Larry. First of all, it's been a real pleasure to work with him. He has a combination of qualities which are not that often found together. He's got a lot of self confidence and he's willing to take difficult decisions, and at the same time he doesn't bring a lot of ego to the problem.

Very often people who have the first set of qualities are also a little bit difficult to deal with. Larry's just such a pleasure to deal with. It's been very, very useful.

Secondly, in this whole counterterrorism effort there's a constant tension between the goal of bringing people to justice and the goal of preventing future acts of terrorism. It's not that they're completely different tasks, but sometimes you need to focus more on getting information about future operations or finding out those things that you don't know about, whereas a prosecutor focuses on how to convict the particular people that they have in hand.

I've found Larry extremely valuable in that regard, because he is a former prosecutor, he understands how prosecutors think and can think like a prosecutor, but he also understands the need to take that other perspective which to me is extremely valuable. So I've found him terrific in that regard.

If I had to sort of make a general comment, it's that one of the things that September 11th revealed very, very strongly, although I think it was something that people who dealt with the issue knew before, is that there's a real challenge here in terms of what, in jargon they talk about the fusion of information which is just a fancy word for saying that the FBI has one set of information and the CIA has another and increasingly now with what we're doing in Afghanistan the Defense Department has information we collect. And too often bureaucracies become jealous about the information that they hold, and partly because there are legitimate concerns that it's very sensitive stuff and if they share it too widely it will leak, and leaking has -- it's not that they're being stupid or simply being bureaucratic, but very often the result is that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Larry's been very, very helpful in overcoming a lot of those barriers.

Carr: How has he been able to do that? How has he been able to defuse the notorious turf battles that occur?

Wolfowitz: I guess by not worrying about turf very much himself. I never had the feeling when I call him up to ask for something that I was going to get a defensive, this is my turf what are you asking for kind of reaction. It also makes it much easier, when you know you're going to get a cooperative attitude from somebody you're much more inclined to call them up and get the problem solved. So I've just been very pleased to have him as a colleague.

Carr: Going back to what you were saying before in this whole counterterrorism effort that there's this constant tension between bringing people to justice and the goal of preventing future terrorist attacks, do you think that he thinks more like a prosecutor, and do you think that that hinders like an intelligence effort to just watch a potential terrorist to see who his friends are and --

Wolfowitz: No, and I suppose I'm indicating my own bias. I don't mean these are simply at odds with one another. I think they're both important goals. But I do think at the end of the day the most important thing is prevention, and part of the reason for punishment is in fact to deter future things. I just think Larry has that larger perspective. And I don't mean to say that there's -- if someone were to say prosecuting doesn't matter, it's all about prevention, then they obviously don't understand how you prevent.

Carr: Right.

Wolfowitz: He has the bigger picture in mind and he's able therefore I think to bring the broader perspective to the problem.

Carr: How closely did you work with him in the Protection Coordination Working Group?

Wolfowitz: I'm not a sort of regular attendee in that working group, so I'm sort of -- our people deal with him there and I've frequently dealt with him personally directly.

Carr: I understand that the group met almost daily prior to Tom Ridge's appointment as homeland security director.

Wolfowitz: Right.

Carr: I'm wondering how concerned people are at your level and at Larry Thompson's level that another terrorist attack might occur and what you all are doing behind the scenes to work together and what's Larry's role behind the scenes to prevent another terrorist attack?

Wolfowitz: We're very concerned. I think it's the kind of thing where it's very hard to get into details, but it really is a daily concern. We're trying very hard to make sure that the sort of information that we're collecting from Afghanistan gets into the hands of Larry and his colleagues in a timely way so that if there's something there to be made use of they have it.

And I would say at least, well let's put it this way: I think we have already succeeded in disrupting some things that were planned to happen and we wouldn't want to say therefore we've been 100 percent successful. It is true that so far there hasn't been any major follow-up, although there was nearly that --

Carr: Bombing of the Paris Embassy?

Wolfowitz: Well, but also Richard Reid. He came very close to --

Carr: Right.

Wolfowitz: So the record isn't perfect. But I think we have disrupted a lot and I think we've rolled up quite a few people. And probably we've stopped some things we don't even know about by some of the people that we've detained and arrested.

But the president keeps emphasizing this is going to be a long campaign. It's not over just because the Taliban have collapsed in Afghanistan or just because we've taken a lot of prisoners. I think that's something all of us who work on are very, very much aware of and it's very misleading to get too focused on bin Laden or Mullah Omar. There's a whole network out there and it's going to take a lot of work to dismantle it.

Carr: Here on the domestic front too, right?

Wolfowitz: Yeah. And the estimate I saw was 60 countries with significant al Qaeda presence. Probably that number itself is a bit of a guess, but --

Carr: And apparently, according to Justice Department there's 150 investigations here, like the al Qaeda --

Wolfowitz: Ongoing ones.

Carr: Yeah.

Wolfowitz: It's sort of like a cancer that's spread throughout the body. I don't know the right analogy, but you don't just clean it up in one place.

Carr: I imagine you guys will have to work very closely to head that off.

Wolfowitz: Absolutely, and I think over a sustained basis -- I hope Larry's not working himself to death because we're going to need him for quite awhile.

(Laughter)

Wolfowitz: I'm sorry, I've got to run.

Carr: Thank you very much for your time.

Wolfowitz: You're very welcome.

Carr: I really appreciate it. Bye bye.

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