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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Wolf Blitzer as Aired on CNN

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 23, 2002

(Interview with Wolf Blitzer as aired on CNN)

Kate Snow: What did terrorists have in store for America? How deadly is the threat? Today, Wolf Blitzer sat down one-on-one with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, as usual, pulls no punches.

Blitzer: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining.

You caused some alarm bells on Tuesday when you spoke out about the notion that the terrorists were going to get chemical, biological, perhaps even nuclear weapons. It was inevitable, you said. Was that based on a hunch or some hard new intelligence information that you have?

Rumsfeld: Wolf, I didn't set off any alarm bells. The press did. I was asked in a Senate hearing to respond to a question by Senator Inouye. I did. And I said exactly what I have been saying for six, eight, ten, twelve months. Nothing new, nothing notable, other than the truth, which is extremely important. And that is that there are a series of terrorist states that everyone knows which ones they are that have weapons of mass destruction. They have chemical weapons. They have biological weapons, for the most part. Some have or shortly will have nuclear weapons. And they have close relationships with terrorist states. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that because of those relationships and that nexus, that connection, that we have to expect that global terrorist networks that we know are trying to get these weapons will, in fact, be successful at some point in the future. That's all I said.

Blitzer: Is there some new information, though, that's come to you --

Rumsfeld: There's new information every day. We see all kinds of intelligence information, and there's no question but that exactly what I said is correct, that we do have evidence that they have been trying to get these kinds of capabilities, particularly chemical and biological, and that the countries that they have relationship with do have these capabilities.

Blitzer: And let's review those countries, Iran being one of them.

Rumsfeld: Certainly Iran. Certainly Iraq.

Blitzer: Which groups are the Iranians supporting?

Rumsfeld: Certainly North Korea. Syria has chemical and biological weapons. Libya has been on the terrorist list as another country, another example. Cuba's been on the terrorist list.

Blitzer: What are you going to do about it?

Rumsfeld: Well, let me ask you a question --

Blitzer: I thought I was supposed to ask the questions.

Rumsfeld: Did what I just -- did what I just say send off alarm bells?

Blitzer: It does to me. I've heard it before. But --

Rumsfeld: Well, you have.

Blitzer: But it's still alarming to hear the Secretary of Defense say that it's only a matter of time before people who hate the United States, terrorists who've shown no reluctance in the past to kill as many Americans as possible, that they might get their hands on chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons.

Rumsfeld: But it should come as no more newsworthy today than it did three, six, eight, nine months ago.

Blitzer: Coming on the heels of what the Vice President said on Sunday when he said that the suicide bombings that have occurred, the types of suicide bombings that have occurred in Israel could spill over here to the United States and repeated --

Rumsfeld: What the Vice President said was exactly correct --

Blitzer: -- And the FBI Director --

Rumsfeld: -- And I was asked about it.

Blitzer: The FBI Director, Mueller, made a similar comment on Monday in Alexandria, Virginia, then you on Tuesday. It sounded, at least to some of your critics, as if you were trying to change the subject from the questions about --

Rumsfeld: That's the conspiratorial view of the world. I get asked a question. I answer it honestly. And then The Washington Post has an editorial saying "My goodness, there's something going on here." Baloney. That's nonsense.

I was asked a question; I gave a proper answer, the same answer I've given repeatedly.

Blitzer: Let me ask you this. The kind of suicide bombings, the soft targets, the restaurants, the coffee shops, the malls, what we've seen in Israel: are you concerned that could happen here?

Rumsfeld: I think that when you have terrorists that are working for ways to attack a country like the United States, they're not likely to go against our armies, navies or air forces. They're likely to go after asymmetrical advantages that they can achieve. And that includes ballistic missiles. It includes cruise missiles It includes cyber attacks. It includes the kinds of things we saw on September 11th. It includes suicide bombings. All of those things are the kinds of things that they can do because we are a free people, because the terrorists can attack any place at any time using any technique. And you can't defend everywhere every time. Which is why President Bush's approach is so sound and so solid and so important. We simply have to go after the global terrorists where they are and root them out and deal with countries that are harboring those terrorists.

Blitzer: And, remember, the President said the United States will not differentiate between terrorists and those states that harbor terrorists. But you're suggesting that states like Iran and Syria are harboring and supporting terrorists, Iraq, to a certain degree, of course, as well. What are you doing about that?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's a full spectrum of things one can do, ranging from diplomatic and economic. If you want me to take Iraq, what we're doing -- the Congress has passed a law suggesting that they believe that a regime change is the proper thing for Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime -- it's so clear, the way they repress their people. It's so clear that they're developing weapons of mass destruction.

Now, how do you do that? Well, there's lots of things one does. There're diplomatic steps. There's economic steps. We're using these northern and southern no-fly zones now to keep them constrained and try to reduce their ability to be successful in their quest for nuclear weapons.

Blitzer: There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of support among the allies in Europe or the moderate Arab states for another U.S. military strike at Iraq with the aim of regime change or getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Can you go it alone?

Rumsfeld: I'm not going to get into that. You can be sure that the United States isn't going to do anything that it's not capable of doing. And if we do something, we'll be capable of doing it. But it's not for me to make those judgments.

Blitzer: You saw the story in today's USA Today on the front page suggesting that your military chiefs are not enthusiastic about going after Iraq right now, that the military might be stretched too thin already in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld: I glanced at it; I didn't read it. I meet with those folks all the time. I have no reason to give credence to that.

Blitzer: Obviously there's no specific authorization from the President yet to take military action against the Iraqis. But you probably noticed in the last few days alone -- what? -- there were several incidents that the U.S. was shot at by Iraqi ground fire in the no-fly zones, and the U.S. shot right back.

Is that situation heating up right now?

Rumsfeld: No. Our aircraft and the coalition aircraft -- the British fly those missions as well, and we get shot at from time to time, and in almost every instance find an opportunity to go back and attempt to destroy the surface-to-air missiles or the anti-aircraft or the radars that were coordinating the ground fire. It happens, you know, once or twice a week.

There has not been any noticeable change in the recent period with respect to the frequency.

Blitzer: The dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians: how much of a setback has that been in your planning for the possible resumption of military strikes against Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, that question is premised on a set of assumptions about Iraq that seems to me are, you know, not on the table. I would say that it is unfortunate that Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in a process which is killing lots of people, and another suicide bombing in Israel recently, which is a terrorist act. But it isn't affecting anything other than causing great harm to the people in the region.

Blitzer: Let's talk about the war in Afghanistan. Some critics now -- and you know there's always going to be some critics -- they're coming out and suggesting the U.S. is getting bogged down. Operation Anaconda becomes Operation Mountain Lion, becomes Operation Condor, and that you're not really engaged in significant military action against al Qaeda and Taliban forces recently.

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, the press is impatient. They're constantly wanting high drama and bombs dropping, flares going up and lights and sound. The fact of the matter is we're doing what we said we were going to do on September 10th and 11th -- September 11th and 12th and 13th. We're using all elements of national power to put pressure on terrorists. Some of it is visible; some of it is not visible. We're drying up bank accounts. We're making it more difficult to transfer money. We're making it more difficult for them to recruit. We've changed the government in Afghanistan from the Taliban terrorists harboring a collection of thugs to an interim government headed by Mr. Karzai that is attempting to move it towards a transitional government. Every time, in every place, we see concentrations of al Qaeda or Taliban or global terrorists, we will go and attack them. They know that. And every place there were concentrations, we went and attacked them, and we killed a lot of them, and we captured a lot of them. They don't get into concentrations any more. Now they're hiding in caves and they're hiding in tunnels and they're in small groups, and they're much more difficult to find. They're less of a military task now than a law enforcement and an intelligence gathering task.

Blitzer: And you're still working on the assumption that Osama bin Laden is alive.

Rumsfeld: I don't have to have an assumption. I don't know if he is or isn't. We've not heard a sound from him since last December.

Blitzer: Are these recent videotapes that have surfaced old stuff?

Rumsfeld: That's what everyone seems to conclude. I haven't bothered to look at them. But it doesn't make a lot of difference in this sense. If he's alive, he's clearly having a tough time running his organization. There's so much pressure on him. If he's not alive, there are four, five, six, eight people who can step right in and run the organization. They know where the bank accounts are, they know where the weapons are hidden, they know the training manuals, they can set up a training camp somewhere else. There're lots of places in the world that are not being governed, if you will, where they could set up training camps. And if they do, we'll find them and we'll go after them.

Snow: Join us tomorrow when the Defense Secretary talks to Wolf about something many of us consider unthinkable. At the heart of it, growing tension between two nuclear armed neighbors over the border they share.

Rumsfeld: Millions of people would die in the event that there was a nuclear exchange between those two countries. Water supplies would be damaged. Agriculture would be damaged. Their economies would both go into the tank. Neighboring countries would be adversely affected.