(Interview with Tim Russert, Meet the Press, NBC-TV)
Q: Our issues this Sunday: An American citizen, journalist Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, kidnapped, then killed in Pakistan. Ten U.S. soldiers die in a helicopter crash in the Philippines. And day 141 of the military operation in Afghanistan, and still no sign of Osama bin Laden.
With us, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Then, Congress returns to confront complicated and controversial issues: human cloning, judicial appointments, vouchers for private schools, and campaign finance reform.
With us, for the Republicans, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, for the Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Brownback and Feinstein square off.
But first, with us now, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Welcome back to Meet the Press.
Rumsfeld: Thank you. It's good to be here.
Q: Tragic helicopter crash off the coast of the Philippines. All 10 U.S. servicemen are presumed dead?
Rumsfeld: They are. There's an investigation going on to try to determine what caused the plane to explode. But they had a good search, and they recovered several bodies, but all are presumed dead.
Q: Mechanical, no sign of enemy fire?
Rumsfeld: No sign of enemy fire.
Q: Let me turn to the kidnapping and death of Daniel Pearl. U.S. citizen, journalist for the Wall Street Journal, forced to utter, "My father was a Jew, my mother was a Jew, I am a Jew," and then the terrorists literally cut his head off. What's your reaction?
Rumsfeld: I suppose my reaction is the same as people all over the world, that it's just a terrible tragedy.
Apparently he was, from everything I know, a fine young man, out doing his job and doing it well. And people who have determined that they can promote themselves and their views by killing innocent people captured him and destroyed him.
I mean, just as my heart goes out to the families and friends of the 10 servicemen who died in the helicopter crash in the Philippines, so, too, my heart goes out to his family and friends.
Q: The Pakistani police say they believe this is part of a wider plot, including an attack on the American consulate in Karachi. Do you know anything about that?
Rumsfeld: I do not. I see snippets of information about possible threats to various U.S. and coalition interests around the world, but they, in many cases, don't prove to be the case.
Q: The police over in Pakistan also said, quote, "They believe this is the result of work of a well-trained intelligence organization or a terrorist group."
Is there any evidence that al Qaeda was involved in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl?
Rumsfeld: I think it's premature to try to judge what actually took place with respect to the Pearl kidnapping and murder.
I was impressed that the Pakistani government made an immediate effort to try to figure out what had taken place, was successful in tracking down some leads and discovering the names and locations of some of the people they believed to have been involved.
It is still, however, somewhat early in the investigation, and I simply don't have any basis on which to make a judgment yet.
Q: One person who was arrested, Sheikh Omar Saeed, has admitted his role. He has very close ties to the OSI (sic), the Pakistani intelligence-gathering force. Is there any sense that you may have that, in fact, disgruntled members of the Pakistani intelligence OSI (sic) may have been involved?
Rumsfeld: I don't know the OSI, but the ISID [Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate}
Rumsfeld: -- ISID I think is the --
Q: ISI, yes.
Rumsfeld: -- is an organization that has disgruntled people in it.
I don't want to make an accusation about it, but President Musharraf has been in the process of trying -- first of all, he changed the leadership, with respect to that organization.
And second, he has been taking some steps to see that it functions in a manner that's consistent with his government's policies. And that is not an easy thing to do, to change the culture, to change the people, and to get it working in lockstep with the direction you want to go.
He has let some people go. And there's no question, when you let people go, there's some disgruntled people who are capable of doing things that are not what the government of Pakistan would like.
In saying that, I don't want to suggest that I am validating the charge that's being made, because I simply don't have that knowledge.
Q: Sheikh Omar Saeed acknowledged that he was part of the kidnapping; also admitting meeting with Osama bin Laden after September 11. He also is involved in previous kidnappings of Americans back in '94. In fact, Newsweek reports he was secretly indicted earlier last year.
What can you tell me about that?
Rumsfeld: I'm really not in the law-enforcement side of these things. And to a large measure, those questions are ones that the law-enforcement people are checking into. There also were reports that he had been captured previously and let go by some government.
Until the dust settles on this, I don't think we'll really know the answers to all those. But there's no question but that the Pakistani government has done a good job in running down early leads.
Q: If Sheikh Omar Saeed has admitted being part of the kidnapping, will we try to extradite him? Isn't he a perfect candidate for a military tribunal?
Rumsfeld: He certainly would be someone that has committed a crime against an American and would be someone, I assume, that our law-enforcement people, the Department of Justice would try to extradite.
It's the president's call, as to who would be appropriate for a commission, a military commission under his military order. And the only thing that would bar a person, really, is that they'd be American. And this individual, to my knowledge, has no claim on American citizenship. So he certainly would be eligible.
Q: If General Musharraf said, you know, if I extradite the sheik, the ISI will be upset with me, I could really destabilize my government, I better not do this. Is that enough reason?
Rumsfeld: He won't say that.
Q: He'll cooperate?
Rumsfeld: He has been wonderfully cooperative with us. And what he may say is he would prefer to prosecute him for committing a crime in Pakistan and proceed against him legally within his own judicial system.
Q: Would that be acceptable to us?
Rumsfeld: I'm not in the law-enforcement business. Those are really questions that the Department of Justice and the government would have to address.
Q: The Wall Street Journal provided the Defense Department a hard-drive computer disc at the end of last year, which had valuable information. Do you think there's any connection between the paper providing that computer disk and the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl?
Rumsfeld: I don't. I think you're quite right, the Wall Street Journal was enormously helpful by purchasing and then discovering on this used laptop that it had a great deal of information that would be helpful from an intelligence standpoint. They did provide it to us. We are appreciative of that.
But my impression is that what took place with respect to Mr. Pearl was really more opportunistic, that these people were looking for people they could grab. And they found him and tricked him into moving into a location that they were able to seize him.
Q: It seems to have been a sophisticated, intricate operation, carried out by people who knew what they were doing.
Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet. These people, the terrorist networks, are very well trained. They are very well organized. They are well financed. They are all over the globe. They are not just in Pakistan or Afghanistan. They're in many, many countries of the world. And they know their business. And we simply have to keep going after them and finding them.
Q: There have been reports that the U.S. government's policy towards kidnapping overseas has now been changed or altered. This is how the newspapers reported it: "U.S. plans to act more rigorously in hostage cases. After protracted debate between the State and Pentagon, the Bush administration has adopted a new policy. It requires the federal government to review every kidnapping of an American overseas for possible action. Administration officials say under the policy, a committee of officials from several agencies, led by the National Security Council, the hostage subgroup, will examine every case in which an American is taken hostage in another country to assess whether intervention is warranted. In the past, the government sometimes declined to review cases that did not involve American officials or members of the armed forces."
Is that accurate?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. I'm not aware of any debate taking place within the government about it. Our policy --
Q: Is there a new policy?
Rumsfeld: I don't know if I'd characterize it as new. But our policy, as a government, is an appropriate one, and it's designed to try to not reward hostage-takers -- people who take hostages and then try to benefit from that for any reason at all. That is to say, benefit by getting money or benefit by getting publicity or to benefit by having other prisoners released or benefit by a change in policy.
To do that creates an incentive for people out there in the world to go ahead and seize more American hostages. And the last thing we want to do is provide an incentive for that.
But whether that's a change in policy, I can't say.
Q: But we won't be shy in intervening with U.S. armed forces, if we see a need or an opportunity to free somebody?
Rumsfeld: The policy of the United States government is not such that in every instance where someone is taken hostage, we would intervene with armed forces, for a number of reasons. First of all, it's not possible. You can't be all over the world.
There's lots of hostages taken all the time. We have two who have been in captivity in the Philippines by a terrorist organization for, goodness, over a year. And that organization has killed a number of the hostages that were in that cluster of people that they seized.
In Colombia, there are hostages taken every week or month, you know, 8, 10, 12 in a year. This is a problem that exists in the world.
In some cases, it's a criminal act, as opposed to an act of war, if you will, or a terrorist act. In some cases it's related to drugs. In some cases, it's a way of making money. Simply, they get into the business of taking hostages and selling them back.
Companies have insurance for that type of thing. People who take those risks and go into areas where hostage-taking is common, as it is in several countries of the world, assume that risk. And it's not possible to put U.S. forces in every country in the world every time a hostage is taken.
So there are times when it's appropriate. And as the article suggested, they would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, I believe.
Q: Is Osama bin Laden still alive?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's a good question, and it's not something that can be known at the present time. We see snippets that he is, snippets that he isn't. And the short answer is, we've not seen any hard evidence that he's alive in recent weeks.
Q: If he is alive, where do you think he is?
Rumsfeld: Oh, you know, if you don't know where he is, you don't know where he is. He may be in Afghanistan. I think that's the likeliest possibility. He could be across the border in a neighboring country.
Q: Up in Kashmir?
Rumsfeld: That's a possibility, I suppose. I have not seen any evidence that would suggest that.
Q: Why is it so hard to get him?
Rumsfeld: Well, it is -- why is it hard to find any single human being? Think of the number of people who disappear every year. Think of the people on the 10 most wanted list of the FBI. It takes decades and decades to find those people.
It's not like you're going out and dealing with an army or a navy or an air force and you have a battle and you can find them. The Department of Defense certainly isn't organized and arranged to go out and find single individuals. That's basically a law-enforcement task. It is a difficult task, and we all know that. Everyone knew that, when we started.
The real test is -- is he able to manage effectively the al Qaeda network and engage in additional terrorist acts? Is he leading that? Is he raising additional money? Is he the power and force in recruiting more people? And the short answer is, no, he is very busy. If he's alive, he's very busy hiding somewhere, and he is having a dickens of a time communicating with his people. And, undoubtedly, if additional terrorist acts occur, they very likely will have been initiated by people who had been trained previously, placed previously, financed previously and probably directed by some of his lieutenants who are still loose.
Q: On February 4, a CIA drone fired two missiles in Zhawar Kili. Villagers say that they hit scrap metal collectors. The DNA of those who had been killed has now been brought back to the United States. What can you tell me? Who do you think was killed on that attack?
Rumsfeld: Well, I've watched the video from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, and the suggestion that those people were scrap collectors is ludicrous. I watched them over a period of many, many minutes, moving around, doing what they were doing, and it had nothing to do with scrap collecting. That is utter nonsense.
Q: Who were they?
Rumsfeld: We don't know who they were. They were watched over a long period of time, apparently. I didn't see that portion; I saw it after the fact. But they were watched over a long period of time with a larger group and they were clearly having meetings, conducting business and moving from place to place and trying to conceal themselves in a behavior pattern that suggested they may either knew a Predator was in the vicinity or that they knew that a Predator might be in the vicinity.
Q: Could it have been Osama?
Rumsfeld: If you don't know, you don't know, Tim, and I just don't know.
Q: When will we know?
Rumsfeld: Apparently, what happened was they went up there and they cleared away snow in a large circle around where it appeared that the Hellfire missile went in. They picked up all kinds of things, and they have brought some of those pieces back to the United States for examination. And we'll know what we'll know when those examinations are completed, and they have not yet been completed.
Q: Afghanistan, it seems to continue to be very unstable. Will the United States maintain peacekeeping forces, not only in Kabul but throughout the entire country, in order to make sure there is security and peace in Afghanistan for a long time to come?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that anyone can assure that there will be peace and stability and security in Afghanistan for a long time to come except the Afghan people. And we have to help them do that and help them figure out a way to do that.
The interim government headed by Mr. Karzai has a desire to create a national military force that will provide for that security. The alternative way of doing it on an interim basis is to expand the International Security Assistance Force, which is led by the British, and have them not just be in Kabul, where they currently are, but being also in the six or eight other centers like Mazar and Kandahar and Herat and various other places.
The discussion taking place in the government and in Afghanistan and the government here up at the U.N. and among the various interested coalition parties is what's the best way to do it? Should we spend the time and money and effort in training now to expand the International Security Force, which ultimately will leave and create an unstable situation when they leave unless there is something to take their place? Or should the time and money and effort and training be spent now to create that national army? And that's the discussion that's taking place.
And my guess is, we'll be having our country's views, which will be discussed with the Karzai government's views and with Kofi Annan [Secretary-General of the United Nations] and others who are interested in this in the weeks and days ahead.
The Pentagon currently has an assessment team in there to come back and make a report to me as to how long they think it would take for the Karzai government to develop a national force, and what it would cost and who might be helpful, who could assist with the training and those types of things.
But you're quite right, we, as a country, have a big interest in saying that country -- that we're able to give them a good start towards having a secure and stable situation.
Q: One of the things the Taliban did do was prohibit the growth of poppy. And now the Taliban have left and driven out; Afghan farmers are again growing poppy, which is used to make heroin.
Will the United States stop the Afghan farmers from growing poppy and contributing to drugs, which support terrorists throughout the world?
Rumsfeld: Your statement that the Taliban government stopped the growing of poppy and having it turned into heroin is somewhat of an overstatement. They had an uneven record with respect to that. There was a good deal of poppy still being grown and a good deal of heroin still being exported. Although you're quite right, there was a decline for a period.
There is no question but that the interim government of Karzai is committed to trying to eliminate that trade. It is a powerful, powerful drive from a financial standpoint. The money they make selling heroin around the world, because of the demand for it in the world, is enormous.
Have we been successful in our country in stopping the bringing in of drugs? No. The American people are spending enormous sums of own to bring drugs into our country from a demand side.
Will the government of Afghanistan do their best? Will the United States government do its best? Will the international security assistance force do its best to stop poppy growing? You bet.
Q: Will we destroy the poppy crops and provide resources to grow an alternative crop?
Rumsfeld: The United States will work with the international community. We co-hosted a donors' conference in Japan. And it will be many nations plus the Afghan government, and the people of Afghanistan who will have to deal with this problem. Will we help? Certainly. We've been helpful already.
Q: What's the Office of Strategic Influence at the Pentagon?
Rumsfeld: First of all, it doesn't have a charter, and it was in its early formative stage when all of this broke in the press about suggesting that it was designed to do things that are against the law and that the Pentagon has no business doing and that we haven't done, are not doing today and will not do in the future.
Rumsfeld: I've not seen the charter because it was still being discussed.
What happened was, we have certain needs for information operations, if you will. And there was an office in the joint staff that was interacting with the inter-agency groups and the National Security Council, and our people in the policy shop felt that it should have some civilian involvement rather than be purely military. And so, this office was started up, and it's been its early stages.
It's not clear to me now -- I think the person who's in charge is debating whether it should even exist in its current form, given all the misinformation and adverse publicity that it's received.
Q: So you may, in fact, eliminate it?
Rumsfeld: It wouldn't be me. It would be the people who are worrying this through. I've never even seen the charter for the office.
Q: But you are the secretary of defense.
Rumsfeld: I am. I am, but I will certainly meet with them and talk to them about it. And I know they are considering what to do about it.
But let me just make the case. The Taliban were saying that the food packets we were dropping were poison. That was a lie. We needed to find a way to tell the Afghan people that that food packages were not poison. So we dropped leaflets down and told people that those were good food, they were culturally appropriate for them and they could eat them.
Second, we dropped leaflets and told people where they could get assistance, humanitarian assistance. We dropped reward leaflets explaining to people that if they went out and found Omar or UBL, Osama bin Laden, Laden, that they'd get a reward for that.
Now, we had a radio program broadcasting trying to counter the lies that this was a war against the Afghan people or a war against Muslims, which it wasn't.
And the Pentagon needs to do that type of thing and that is all that the Pentagon does. The Pentagon does not lie to the American people. It does not lie to foreign audiences. It does not engage in those types of things.
Q: All those things you mentioned, no one complained about. The press certainly didn't object.
Q: It was people at the Pentagon talking about a dramatic expansion.
This is how the New York Times editorial categorized it. "Managing The News: Plans being developed by the Pentagon's Orwellian new Office of Strategic Influence, calling for planting false stories in the foreign press, running other covert activities, manipulate public opinion. Secretive new office headed by Air Force General Simon Warden (ph) envisions using a mix of truthful news releases, phony e-mails from disguised addresses to encourage the kind of news coverage abroad the Pentagon considers advantageous, while using clandestine activities including computer network attacks to disrupt coverage it opposes. Donald Rumsfeld should call a halt to this misguided experiment in news manipulation."
This came from articles in the Times, and I'll just show you, Mr. Secretary. "Pentagon readies efforts to sway sentiment abroad." It quotes senior administration officials talking about black campaigns that used disinformation.
And goes on, the next graphic we'll show you. The Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a Washington-based international consulting firm, being paid $100,000 a month, that's $1.2 million a year. They've done work for the CIA and the Kuwaiti government, the Iraqi National Congress.
It sounds like this was pretty far advanced and you didn't know a lot about it.
Rumsfeld: It's not clear to me that what you just read is true. You read it as though it were fact. To my knowledge, no people are quoted by name as to whether or not those things are true. I don't believe they're true. I know that if they are true, they won't happen, so -- because I'm not going to allow it to happen.
Q: Categorically? Categorically, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will not allow the Pentagon to put out any false press releases, any disinformation here or abroad?
Rumsfeld: This department and these people are not involved, and I am not involved, in putting out information to the American people or to foreigners that is untruthful.
Let me give you one example, however, of something that is done by the military and thank goodness it is. Let's say we have special forces on the ground, and let's say they're going to go into a compound, and let's say they're going to go in from the south. That's the most advantageous way to do it.
Q: -- the enemy.
Rumsfeld: They may very well create, not -- they won't have a press conference and lie and say we're going to go in from the north when they're going to go in from the south and try to fool the press. What they will do is behave in a way that will complicate the problem for the enemy so that they won't know which way they're coming in.
Q: You'll do maneuvers.
Rumsfeld: And that is --
Q: We will report them.
Q: And the enemy can make their own judgment.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. But that is tactical surprise and certainly appropriate. And I'd be ashamed if we put people's lives at risk and did not do things like that.
Q: No one's questioning that. It's the disinformation that concerns people.
Rumsfeld: And I have not seen a single name quoted who says that we have done anything like that.
Q: Are we prepared today --
Rumsfeld: And I don't believe we have, but I just don't know everything. You can't know everything in the world. But to my knowledge, that was not where this office was going, and it certainly is not where it will go now that I'm aware that may be someone was thinking that it might go that direction.
Q: And maybe somebody leaked it to try to get you to stop it.
Rumsfeld: Entirely possible.
Q: Are we prepared today, if we wanted to, to maintain a robust military operation against Saddam Hussein? Reports in the press saying that it would take at least a year for us to be up and running because of a lack of parts and munitions.
Rumsfeld: I don't want to describe when it is that we would be capable of doing something like that. Those aren't decisions the Pentagon makes. Those are decisions the president and the country make.
Let me just put it this way. We engaged in an intensive activity in Afghanistan. We used weapons; we used supplies. You need to replenish those; that's true. And that process is under way and, indeed, the infrastructure is being expanded so that we are able to replenish, not just to the old requirement level, but if we found, as we did, that we used a higher number of weapons, certain types of weapons in a period, then the requirement changes to that new level. So we have to not only replenish to this old level, but to the new level.
You can be sure that the United States is not going to engage in something we're not capable of engaging in. I mean, that's -- I read that article.
Q: So it may take some time to get ready?
Rumsfeld: I didn't say that.
Q: I'm drawing an inference.
Rumsfeld: Yes, you would be -- it would be a mistake for you to draw inferences from what I just said other than what I said, which is that we are rapidly replenishing the things we need. And we have no intention of trying to do things we're not capable of doing.
Q: Secretary of Air Force James Roche said that Operation Noble Eagle, which is the continuous flying of planes around New York and Washington since September 11 --
Rumsfeld: And plenty of other places.
Q: Other places in our country, making sure we're safe -- it involves about 265 airplanes, 12,000 airmen. He's suggesting that the nonstop flight be stopped and we probably go to a strip alert where planes are on the ground ready to react if necessary, because of the high cost of maintaining that operation.
Will you support him?
Rumsfeld: Well, it isn't a matter of my supporting him. It's a matter of my making a judgment as to what's appropriate for our country. And what it requires is an analysis of what the threat is and an analysis of what the cost and the stress on the force is.
And there is no question but that, to the extent the United States continues to fly combat air patrols all across the country and, in addition, maintains a large number of fighter aircraft on strip alert across the country, that the stress and the cost is substantial. And one has to balance the use of those assets for that purpose against the threat that one sees and makes some judgments about it.
My personal view has been that what we need to do is what we have always done historically, and that's to have different threat levels. And as we see changes in the threat condition, adjust up or down.
We have been at a relatively high threat level for some period of time, which has been appropriate given the threat information that I read every day.
We are currently in interagency discussions with the appropriate people in the government to make a judgment as to how we want to be arranged going into the future. And my hope, obviously, is that the threat condition will be such that we will not need to maintain that level of combat air patrols and AWACS and strip alerts, and we will be able to reduce the stress that's been put on the force and reduce the cost to the American taxpayer.
Q: When will that take place?
Rumsfeld: As soon as I make that judgment.
Q: And when will that be?
Rumsfeld: It is something that is reviewed continuously.
Q: But there is a good possibility that the continuous flights that began after September 11 will be decreased or eliminated and will go to a strip alert system?
Rumsfeld: It's probably going to be a mix of some combat air patrols over certain locations and strip alerts and at a lower level. But you shouldn't go away with the conclusion that there is a good possibility of it because there could be -- I could go back to my office today, read a threat report that would say to me that would be not a good decision.
So what we need to do is get gradations of threat conditions and be able to move them up and down, depending on our best judgment and hope we're right.
Q: Before you go, Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally, the Air Force's highest-ranking woman fighter pilot, says that she is forced to wear Muslim garb in Saudi Arabia, can't drive a car, must be escorted by a man; this is humiliating and demeaning. And she is suing the Pentagon to stop it.
Rumsfeld: That's true that she is suing the Pentagon.
Q: Is it humiliating and demeaning for her to have to do those things?
Rumsfeld: Those are things that a person feels.
Rumsfeld: And there's no question but that she is a sincere, talented officer and a good officer. And I can't for a minute suggest that she doesn't feel that way.
It's my understanding, however, that it is not correct that she is required to wear a veil. That, conversely, my understanding is, I think the current policy that was put out by the commander has a policy that strongly recommends but does not require that.
If you think about it, what you're dealing with here is you're dealing with a commander, combatant commander for a big region. We are guests in certain countries. At our request, they allow us the use of bases or fields or things, and they have their own laws, they have their own rules.
And we have to make a balance: Is it more in our country's interest to be in that country and recognize that we have to live with some of their laws and rules and customs? Or would we rather not be in that country and allow every single person who would be in that country the right to do whatever they want or live according to our laws?
So the commander has three things to balance: local laws and local customs, the individual interests and rights and preferences of an individual service person, and, third, force protection. To the extent a person behaves in a way that's inconsistent with local laws or customs, there's a force protection issue, which we have to address.
Q: We're not changing our policy?
Rumsfeld: I believe the policy was changed by Commander Tom Franks some weeks ago, where he switched it from mandatory to recommended but not required.
Q: We're going to have to leave it there. Mr. Secretary, we always thank you for joining us with your views.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE INC., WASHINGTON, D.C. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400.