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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with WISN-ABC, Milwaukee

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 27, 2002 2:20 PM EDT

(Interview with Tammy Elliott, WISN-ABC, Milwaukee)

Q: Thanks for joining us this afternoon, Secretary Rumsfeld. I want to begin by asking you a question I know you get asked frequently by many people, by your wife as a matter of fact, and the nation wants to know where is Osama bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: (Laughter) So do I. So does everybody.

What we do know about him, we may not know where he is and we may not know whether he's dead or alive, but we do know that he is having trouble functioning and operating. That he's on the run, that it's hard for him to raise money, that it's harder for him to recruit, that his training bases in Afghanistan are gone, that the host government, the Taliban, has been thrown out of the country, and that he's hiding in caves or tunnels, having difficulty communication with his associates. That's on the plus side.

On the minus side we also know that over the years the al Qaeda has trained thousands of terrorists. They've trained them very well. They're very professional and they're very dangerous, and they're all across the world in 40 or 50 countries so it's still a very dangerous problem for us.

Q: What about the fact that you're trying to get DNA samples from Osama's family? How is that moving forward, and is that giving us an indication that he could possibly be dead?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that that's the case. I know there's been a report to that effect and it may be true, but I just -- It wouldn't be the kind of thing that we would have been involved in the Pentagon.

Q: Speaking of the dangerous people you were talking about, the security, State Department today announced they offered a $5 million reward for Daniel Pearl's killers. Obviously this is a strong statement.

Rumsfeld: It is a strong statement, and the people involved in that, the government of Pakistan was able to track down some of the people they believe had a connection to it. There's no question but that it is a very well organized, dangerous group of people and it would be important to track them down and get them off the street.

Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, today you announced that you closed the new Office of Strategic Influence, an office that was supposed to counter terrorist messages and deliver a pro-American message. Now you've said it came under much criticism, false criticism that is, according to you. How does the Pentagon bounce back from something like this?

Rumsfeld: Well I don't know that we need to bounce back. Life's filled with things like this, and what happened was this office was established in the Department of Defense not for the purposes that the press was bantering about, that it was supposed to do terrible things, illegal things. Quite the contrary, it was established because there's a very important information function that the Pentagon needs to play.

If the Taliban were accusing the United States of attacking Muslims and attacking the Afghan people we needed to counter that. If we needed to put out reward information so that we could get people to turn in senior Taliban and al Qaeda, we had to have a way to do that. We did it by radio, we did it by leaflet drop.

There are a host of perfectly legitimate information things that the Department of Defense needs to be engaged in. The problem was that through whatever circumstance, either someone in the department had some ideas that has never been approved by their superiors and made some statements that would never have been approved had they gone up the line, or else it was the imagination from other people. But the net result of it was the office got pounded around so much that it didn't seem to me like it made an awful lot of sense to try to resuscitate it. So we simply set it aside, stopped it, and to the extent we need to engage in those kinds of activities, which we do, perfectly legal, perfectly legitimate, nothing to do with misinforming people or the American people or the press, then we'll do it out of other offices and life goes on.

Q: I don't want to compromise national security here and I don't know if you can comment on this, but we have gotten a report that we're wondering if you can speak to the progress of this, of using a special kind of spray that would be put on subs or government buildings and this spray kind of protects the building or the surface from shattering. Can you comment on this at all?

Rumsfeld: I can't. I'm just not knowledgeable about it. I've heard of materials that reduce shattering on windows, for example, and I know that they've been used by a variety of different security organizations but it's not a field that I'm deeply involved in.

Q: Okay. Thanks for your comment on that.

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: I wanted to ask you just being here in the Midwest, in Southeastern Wisconsin, our positioning with the Great Lakes, has that always been a security issue or with the war on terrorism in the forefront of security?

Rumsfeld: Well Great Lakes -- are you thinking about the lakes themselves? Or the naval air station? The naval station?

Q: Well, the naval air station and actually Great Lakes also.

Rumsfeld: The Great Lakes Naval Station of course is the major training center for the men and women who join the United States Navy and it is doing a wonderful job. I was there some months back and had a terrific visit with these young people who come in from all walks of life and go through the training and develop a great deal of cohesion and pride in themselves, well deserved pride. They're terrific young people.

I don't see that as a security issue to speak of. We worry about force protection with respect to a whole host of things. Military bases to be sure, but also buildings, cities, water supplies, power plants. We have to recognize that as an open society we are vulnerable. We enjoy our freedom so we like to live as free people and don't like to feel like we have to constantly be protecting everything.

We do have to live with a sense of heightened awareness given the reality that there are some very, very well organized terrorists out there that are determined to kill thousands and thousands of innocent people.

Q: We certainly appreciate your time this afternoon. Thanks for joining us and answering some of the questions that we had. And we wish you certainly the best of luck. And enjoy your new shoes.

Rumsfeld: Okay, thank you.

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