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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with NBC "Meet the Press" with host Tim Russert

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 30, 2001

Sunday, September 30, 2001

(Interview with NBC "Meet the Press" with host Tim Russert)

Mr. Russert: But first, the man President Bush has put in charge of the Pentagon, the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Mr. Russert: Nineteen days ago, America was attacked. How hard has it been to resist an immediate and overwhelming massive retaliation?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, of course, you know, everyone's instinct is the same. When there's an attack like that, you want to respond in kind, and the reality is that a -- the measured approach, which the president has adopted, is the right one. We need to do it right and to do that, we've got to get it right. And I think that the approach of recognizing that there are not big, high-value targets, there aren't armies to attack, there aren't navies to attack, there are not lands to occupy and hold -- we seek no one's land -- and in many cases, the people of the countries that harbor terrorists are repressed people, as well. I mean, we see the starving of the Afghanistan people today, in many cases fleeing their country, frightened of starving and the drought.

So what we have to do is to go after the problem where it exists, and that's the terrorists, the terrorist networks, and the countries that harbor those terrorists.

Mr. Russert: I went back and read your testimony before the Senate when you were confirmed as secretary of Defense, and a couple of speeches you gave in February of this year, way before the terrorist attack, and you were warning about the asymmetrical methods used by terrorists, how it is not normal war as we know it.

What are asymmetrical methods? Talk to the American people about that.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, a conventional way of approaching another country would be to go after an army or a navy or an air force. The terrorists, who are spreading terrorism across the globe, don't have armies, navies, or air forces, so they can't contest our armies. Instead, they look for seams, if you will. They look for ways that we are vulnerable, and, of course, as a free people, we are vulnerable. We're vulnerable to attack on our homeland, because we don't live in a fortress. We don't spend all of our time in fear of these things, and the examples of an asymmetrical attack would be a ballistic missile, and that's why so many nations are trying to get them -- the cruise missile, terrorist attack -- increasingly cyber attacks, because we're so technology dependent.

And basically they can use our way of life and our own technologies to attack us, and that means we have to have a heightened sense of awareness and address those types of attacks.

Mr. Russert: It's no longer perfect symmetry -- army versus army. It's terrorists coming at us, civilians. It doesn't matter anymore.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Exactly.

Mr. Russert: Must you, will you reshape the U.S. military in order to deal with that new kind of warfare?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question but that the United States military has to be transformed, and that process is under way, and we certainly need to accelerate it and we need to address the problems of defense of our own country, which has never really been a problem. We've had this wonderful geography, with friends to the north, friends to the south, and oceans on either side.

Today, because we are free people, these attacks can come from within, and it's -- there's always been terrorism, but there's never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.

One has to recognize the possibility, the probability that at some point these terrorist sponsoring nations will provide these kinds of capabilities to terrorist networks.

Mr. Russert: Probability? You believe there's a strong possibility, probability, that there could be a chemical or biological attack on the United States?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I guess the way I'd phrase it is that we know of certain knowledge that the nations on our terrorist list have weaponized chemical and biological weapons, and we know that a number of them are seeking nuclear capabilities. And we know that they have close linkages with terrorist networks, and that in many cases, they have sponsored terrorism. Therefore, it doesn't take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.

Mr. Russert: Are we prepared to deal with that with gas masks, vaccines? Could the American people withstand that kind of attack?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I think that the president was right when he said we have to have a heightened awareness and we have to be aware that this is a possibility and that we have to do a variety of things, just as we are, for example, to provide greater security on aircraft today. We need to be attentive to our ports and we need to do a better job of thinking through the kinds of people - terrorists -- and the linkages they have and step up our law enforcement. We need to see that we start drying up the bank accounts of the people that are connected to these terrorists.

It is a broad, multifaceted approach, bringing into play all the capabilities of our government and the capabilities of other governments that are assisting us.

And most important of all, we have to get better intelligence. We have to have the help of people around the world who don't believe in terrorist attacks on innocent women and children, who find it just as offensive as all of us do, and there are many millions of those people, and they need to help provide that kind of intelligence and information.

Mr. Russert: Many of the ranking military people who work under you have written a letter asking you to appoint a commander-in-chief, a CINC, of homeland defense. Will you do that?

Secretary Rumsfeld: We, well before that letter was received, have been addressing that in the quadrennial review work with the senior military and a senior civilian, and we are in the process of adjusting the command structures of our unified and specified commanders, and there's no question but that we will be making some adjustments in that regard.

Mr. Russert: Involving homeland defense?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm (acknowledgement).

Mr. Russert: Let me turn to the situation at hand. The Taliban -- President Bush 10 days ago gave a speech to the nation and laid out five demands of the Taliban ruling government in Afghanistan. One, deliver to the United States authorities all leaders of the al Qaida who hide in Afghanistan; release all foreign nationals, including American citizens unjustly imprisoned; protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers in Afghanistan; close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure to appropriate authorities, and, five, give the United States full access to terrorist training camps.

Has the Taliban met any of those demands yet?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Not one.

Mr. Russert: What does that mean for them?

Secretary Rumsfeld: If you look at Afghanistan, undoubtedly most of the people do not support the Taliban. There are factions within Taliban and there are factions within Taliban that don't support the al Qaida terrorist network.

What it means is that, unquestionably, the world that's concerned about the al Qaida network and about people who harbor terrorists -- and certainly the Taliban are world-class harborers and facilitators and assisters of terrorist networks -- are going to have to do all the things that will be necessary to disintegrate the al Qaida business plan or terrorist plan or war plan, and it is not just in Afghanistan. It is in 50 or 60 countries, and it simply has to be liquidated. It has to end. It has to go out of business.

Mr. Russert: The Northern Alliance is a faction of Afghan fighters who've been challenging al Qaida and the Taliban. Would we support the Northern Alliance, bring them into our coalition?

Secretary Rumsfeld: There's no question but that there are any number of people in Afghanistan, tribes in the south, the Northern Alliance in the north, that oppose Taliban, and clearly we need to recognize the value they bring to this anti-terrorist, anti-Taliban effort, and, where appropriate, find ways to assist them.

Mr. Russert: The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan announced that the Taliban have Osama bin Laden in their control, in their security forces' control, but that they gave him the demand from the Afghan clerics to leave, and he offered no response. Do we have any evidence that, in fact, the Taliban are telling the truth, that they have control over Osama bin Laden?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, of course, it was just a few days ago that they said they didn't know where he was, so I have no reason to believe anything a Taliban representative would say.

Mr. Russert: Will we be endlessly patient with the Taliban as they try to decide whether to meet our demands?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh, I wouldn't think so. I think that already we're not being patient. We're being measured, we're organizing various elements around the world to try to find ways to freeze their bank accounts, to gather more actionable intelligence so that it would be possible to do the kinds of things that would help to starve and end the terrorist networks.

One thing that's happened already is that two countries, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have severed their relationships with the Taliban. There are any number of additional things. There are a number of bank accounts that have been frozen. There are a number of people helping to gather actionable intelligence, so that, in fact, things can be done.

And, in addition, we're doing some things on the other side. We're taking very careful steps to remind the world that the United States of America and a number of our coalition partners have supported Muslim states. We helped save Kuwait from its aggressive neighbor Iraq. We've helped in Bosnia and Kosovo and we helped with humanitarian assistance in Somalia, and there are any number of things that we've done. We're now the largest food donor, $170 million this year, in Afghanistan, for the Afghan people, who are suffering, in many respects, not from us but from the Taliban.

And we intend to continue humanitarian steps to help the people of the region understand that we do care about human beings and that we are determined to stamp out terrorist networks.

Mr. Russert: But if the Taliban do not give up Osama bin Laden, they will eventually pay a price?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I would think that that's -- ought to be self-evident at this point, that if you look at the support from across the globe, the world does not believe that violence against women and children in free countries is something that ought to be tolerated, and we know, all of us know, that it's not possible to defend against terrorism in every place at every time against every conceivable technique. Therefore we have no choice but to take this battle to the terrorists and to find them and to dry up their sources of money and to deal with the people who are harboring them, and that is what we intend to do.

Mr. Russert: The president said that Osama bin Laden is wanted dead or alive. Do we have a preference?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, you know, I don't think about this so much as retaliation or retribution or even justice. I think about it as -- you think back to real wars. The goal is victory. The goal is to be able to have dealt with the problems that exist -- in this case, the terrorist networks and the countries that harbor them -- in a way that we have won, that, in fact, they no longer are free to go out and terrorize the world.

How that happens -- I think the president's phrase has been either bring him to justice or bring justice to him, but I think victory is probably a word that is important, because we need to live the way we live. If we're so intimidated and so frightened that we have to alter our way of life and we're not capable of going out of the house and going where we want and thinking what we want, saying what we want, knowing our children will come home from school, they've won. And we can't let that happen.

Mr. Russert: How concerned are we that a large military attack on Afghanistan and the Taliban would destabilize Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons or destabilize Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia in the Middle East? A military attack, in fact, could foment Islamic revolution almost worldwide.

Secretary Rumsfeld: This is not an Islamic problem. This is not a problem of Arabs. It is a problem of terrorists, and we need to keep that in the front of our minds.

We also, as you suggested in your comment, have to be careful about secondary effects, and there's no question but that the United States is very interested in seeing that what we do and how we do it and where we do it is done in a way that does not create an instability in a country like Pakistan and, of course, Jordan is a country that's enormously important to us as a friend, and we need to recognize the sensitivity to the problems in that region, and I think that the president has very attentive to those concerns.

Mr. Russert: A Russian who fought in Afghanistan who's now in their Duma, the parliament, said the other day, "A ground operation in Afghanistan is hopeless, particularly with the winter coming upon us." Wesley Clark, who was in charge of our troops in Kosovo, said, "Americans seem to have become allergic to close combat."

How difficult an operation would this be on the ground?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I think the idea of thinking that a conventional ground effort in that country, when what you're looking for are needles in a haystack, I think that that's -- those kinds of comments need to be given careful attention.

I think that, however, unconventional approaches, obviously, are much more likely and more appropriate than the typical conventional approach of armies and navies and air forces.

Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that if the problem is to root out those terrorist networks, and if you're dealing with a country that doesn't have high-value targets, that doesn't have armies, navies, and air forces, it doesn't have -- its capital has been pummeled by the Soviet Union to the point that it's rubble and by internal fighting among everybody there -- there's not much that they hold dear. They live in caves, they live in tents, they move constantly, and what we have to do is to deal with that kind of an enemy in a way that's appropriate.

Mr. Russert: Thus far you've called up about 40,000 reservists. Will there be a need for more?

Secretary Rumsfeld: There could be. It's not clear now. We have calls out for roughly the number that we can see for the period immediately ahead.

Mr. Russert: In this new kind of warfare, which is so man or woman intensive, do you believe there will be a need to re-establish the draft?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I cannot at the moment foresee that, and I've not made any recommendation to the president with respect to it. I was one of the original supporters and promoters of the all-volunteer Army, along with a couple of strange bedfellows -- Milton Freedman and Norman Thomas -- back in the 1960s. I think it was the right decision. We've got a great set of volunteers who get up every morning and voluntarily put their lives at risk, God bless 'em, and they are -- we are able thus far to attract and retain the kinds of people we need, and they're first rate.

Mr. Russert: After we are done with al Qaida and Osama bin Laden, hopefully successfully, will we then turn our attention to other states that have harbored terrorists, like Iraq?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I think that we're already turning our attention to other states. Our focus -- if al Qaida is one of the terrorist networks that exist in the world, and the president has said that this is a broad-based effort, not simply al Qaida, and if al Qaida is in 50 or 60 countries, which we know, then clearly this is not a single country problem, nor are we thinking that it's not a single country.

Mr. Russert: Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote a letter to Colin Powell saying why do we not include Hamas and Hezbollah, two terrorist groups, on the list of organizations that we are going to go after in terms of their financial networks? What's the answer?

Secretary Rumsfeld: My understanding is they were already on a different list for the same purposes.

Mr. Russert: They're not being exempt?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh, no.

Mr. Russert: I want to take you into, I think, the minds of these people who performed this dastardly act on our country. This was the instruction manual that was found in some of the briefcases of the hijackers.

"The time of judgment has arrived. You have to be convinced that those few hours that are left you in your life are very few. From there, you will begin to live a happy life. Everybody hates death, fears death, and only those believers who know the life after death and the reward after death will be the ones who will be seeking death. Keep a very open mind. Keep a very open heart of what you are to face. You'll be entering Paradise. You'll be entering the happiest life -- everlasting life."

Nineteen men, middle-aged, educated, some with families, willing to take a commercial plan into a building, killing themselves, killing thousands of others -- how do we transform that mindset? How do we defend ourselves against people who are willing to die, commit suicide, because they think it will guarantee them an everlasting happy life?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, there've always been people throughout the history of mankind who are willing to die for a cause. There have always been people who have been at the very extreme end of a way of thinking. That mindset, that approach, does not represent any religion. It does not represent any nation or any group of people. It represents a small fringe group that is determined, dead-ending, to have their way.

We can live in that world. It is not going to be easy, but the United States of America and free people are going to find a way to live in that world, and we will do it, is that we will continue over a sustained period of time -- the Cold War was not won in a year or two. It was 50-plus years that we were engaged in that, and it shows that the people in the world, free people, have steadiness of purpose and are willing to be determined and sustain an effort over a broad front over a long period of time.

And what will happen is people, more people than not, will decide that they want to choose sides, and that when they see something that is wrong and something that is dangerous and something that is suspicious in a country across the globe, they'll tell somebody. And we'll find that information, and they'll give it to us, and we ultimately, over time, will be able to track down and make life so difficult, so uncomfortable, that people won't want to be in that business, and, second, people won't want to harbor people who are in that business, because it will be so uncomfortable for them to do it.

And we can't do that alone, and we can't do it with only one tool. We'll need a full toolbox.

Mr. Russert: The whole notion of competing destinies -- during the Cold War, we went to the world and said, "We have a better way, the American way, a life of freedom and liberty and capitalism and democracy," and overwhelmingly, people said, "You know what? You're right," and they've rejected tyranny and Communism.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm (acknowledgment).

Mr. Russert: "USA Today" went into one of the schools in Pakistan, in madrassas, where they indoctrinate young kids, and I want to read that to you and our audience, give you a chance to think about it and talk about it.

"At the Haqquania madrassa, a student who says he has just attended one of bin Laden's training camps, pulls out a training manual called the encyclopedia, which U.S. officials say is used in the camps in Afghanistan." Quote, "'Now listen, American, and listen well,'says Hussein Zaeef, 21. He reads from page 12 of the manual. 'Bomb their embassies and vital economic centers. That's what I will do to you and your country. I'll get your children. I will get their playgrounds. I will get their schools, too. I will get all of you.' Tempers then flare. Several students begin yelling at once, pointing their fingers and gesturing wildly. One yells out the name of Mohammed Atta, an alleged bin Laden associate believed to have hijacked one of the two jets that crashed into the World Trade Center. Another says he will kill more than Atta. A third student then unfolds a picture of the Sears tower in Chicago. 'This one is mine,' he says."

Two-thirds of the people in large parts of the world are under the age of 18. How do we change their mindset? How do we get inside the heads and hearts of those children and tell them not to hate America, there's a different way?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, the idea they hate America I think is wrong. I think that, first of all, there isn't a big "they." This is a very small population of terrorists and people who are of that mindset. It doesn't represent the majority of any country, it doesn't represent the majority of any religion. It's a small fraction.

And hate -- there've always been haters on this globe. We've known that. Do they hate America? I suppose they do hate freedom. They hate our culture, they hate Western culture. It isn't just the United States, it's a way of life.

But mostly what they hate, I suppose, is any infringement on their extreme beliefs, whether it comes from us or another country, whether it comes from a free system or a different dictatorial system than theirs.

So I think to personalize it is probably wrong, and how do we do that? How do we deal with that problem?

Well, we engage in the competition of ideas and competition of ways of life. I mean, our way of life obviously provides the best for the most people, and we see that. Anyone looking down from Mars sees that the countries that are providing the greatest opportunity for people are the freer countries.

Mr. Russert: Let me take you back to September 11. You were in your office in the Pentagon. You were aware that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, and suddenly you felt -- heard -- an explosion at the Pentagon. What did you think?

Secretary Rumsfeld: That a bomb had gone off. The whole building shook, and I was receiving my morning intelligence brief, and it just felt like it was a bomb. So I looked out the window, could not see anything, and I went down the hall until the smoke was getting too bad and then went outside and could see. And an eyewitness walked up to me, a lieutenant colonel, I believe, in the Air Force or Army, and he said he saw an American Airlines plane crash into the first and second floor of the Pentagon, just around the corner from my office.

Mr. Russert: I have been told that you were -- it was suggested strongly that you evacuate the building, and you said no.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Yes.

Mr. Russert: Why?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I had -- I had good communications there. I was disturbed about the idea of being away from communications for a short period, so I sent my deputy out to an alternative site, and I knew that we were separated. Therefore, the control of the defense establishment would be assured if one of us stayed there.

The only point where -- the smoke got so bad at some point, and there had to be other people who stayed with me, and it became difficult for them, at one point, and we were close to having to evacuate the building, and they were able to get some air moving machines and keep an isolated portion of the building near my office and a command center free enough of smoke that we could stay through it.

Mr. Russert: Did you ever imagine that, as the secretary of Defense, that your building, the Pentagon, would be attacked by a terrorist using an American commercial airline?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness no. Never would have crossed anyone's mind that a commercial airline -- usually a hijacker who takes an airplane, of course, wants to get someplace or wants to make a statement or wants to go on television or wants to hold hostages, but this is a distinctly different behavior pattern than we've seen previously, and now, obviously, it's something we have to be attentive to.

Mr. Russert: As the man in charge of the Pentagon, are you concerned about the reopening of National Airport, which is right next door?

Secretary Rumsfeld: As the man in charge of the Pentagon, I've got to be concerned about a lot of things, and that's one of them, but clearly there is so little time anyone would have -- airplanes flying in and out of National go right by my office. They go right by the Pentagon, they go very close to the White House, they go within not too great a distance from the Capitol, and it is a relatively minor, minor course correction to end up crashing into one of those buildings.

That means that the problem is almost impossible to deal with from the air. What one would have to do is to deal with it from the ground, and I personally am hopeful that Washington National will be open. I think that it would be a shame if we had to alter our behavior. When we do that to any great extent, the terrorists win.

And I think the way to deal with that is by proper training of people on the ground, the protection of aircraft, air marshals, and dealing with it the way the United States government is in the process of doing, and I don't know what the president will decide with respect to Washington National, but I think that if we're able to deal with the problem on the ground, we have the best chance of seeing that that type of thing does not happen again, and that's a lot easier to fix than trying to deal with it from the air.

Mr. Russert: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, we thank you very much for your insight and time this morning.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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