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  Hardball & 911 Commission 9/13/04
The Missing Transcript

by Jen Shroder

Matthews began by introducing his four guests of the 911 Commission: Fred Fielding was counsel to both President Nixon and President Reagan; Jamie Gorelick was Deputy Attorney General to President Clinton; Richard Ben-Veniste was head of the Watergate Task Force; Senator Slade Gorton was elected three times as United States Senator for the state of Washington.

Matthews: How important is bin Laden to the terrorist network and could al-Qaida function effectively without him? I sat down for an exclusive interview with four of the 911 Commissioners. Fred Fielding was counsel to both President Nixon and President Reagan; Jamie Gorelick was Deputy Attorney General to President Clinton; Richard Ben-Veniste was head of the Watergate Task Force; Senator Slade Gorton was twice elected, in fact three times elected United States Senator in the state of Washington.

Matthews: The big question to Americans have on their nerves right now is bin Laden. Fred is he still essential to running the AL-QAIDA operation as far as you know?

Fielding: As far as we know he is not as essential as one would have assumed, but heís a symbol, so even if heís dead or if he would be killed, he will still be a symbol and a rallying point, and thatís consistent with everything that weíve been told and everything that has come in on our research.

Gorelick: Whatís really important to understand is that we have an agile and entrepreneurial enemy. The enemy that we had in 2001 is not the enemy that we have today. He is a leader but he is in no way essential to the threat that al-Qaida poses to us.

Matthews: How do you know that?

Gorelick: Because you can see itófirst of all, this is not just our conclusion I think it is the conclusion of the intelligence community at large. You can see the dispersion of capability, power, autonomy, in the actions that have taken place since 911.

Matthews: Heís the general contractor, does he still have to assign the contract if we get hit again? Will he have to be the person who says--

Gorton: No, no, not necessarily. Jamie is entirely correct. This is decentralized. The philosophy didnít start with him of this virulent anti-Westernism. It goes well beyond him. We havenít heard directly from him now almost for a couple of years but this is a struggle thatís going to last a long time long after bin Laden is dead whether he dies in a cave or dies naturally.

Matthews: What do you think about al-Zawahriís claim or threat that heís coming again, that theyíre coming back at us. "Bush, reinforce your security measures, the Islamic nation which sent you the New York and Washington brigades has taken the firm decision to send you successive brigades to sow death and aspire to paradise." It sounds like he keeps going here, heís promising us more hell.

Ben-Veniste: Well itís interesting that itís not bin Laden thatís making those statements. On the other hand, Chris, we have heard from recent reports that bin Laden is giving messages essentially combining the pony express with the internet. Individuals coming to see him, getting either instructions on disk or getting instructions and then communicating those instructions through their network. Heís not out of the loop. Thereís no suggestion that he is.

Gorelick: One of the reasons that we were so adamant in pointing to the danger that still lies in Afghanistan and in Pakistan is that, even though weíve toppled the Taliban, if Afghanistan is not brought further under control, it remains a place from which these kinds of actions can be taken against us. So, bin Laden is a symbol as Fred said, he is still trying to direct activity as Richard said, but as Slade and I have pointed out, this will go on without him.

Matthews: How much did 9/11 cost to carry out?


Ben-Veniste: That doesnít take into account the kind of training and everything that preceded the operation, Chris, so the $500,000 is really operational funding.

Matthews: When we studiedóyou know for years even through 1960 something, I remember seeing the play, The Best Man, where they denied there was a mafia. They did deny the [unclear] of families getting together. Is this like, whatís the paradigm here, what are we looking at when we say al-Qaida, when we say big time terrorism? Is it like a group of mafia families? How would you describe it to someone? Fred?

Fielding: You have to first not fall into a trap of talking about terrorism per se. Terrorism is a vehicle, itís a weapon. But what youíre dealing with, you have to rethink everything. Your normal inhibition, the normal way to stop an enemy is to make them afraid that youíre going to kill them. These people donít care. Thatís part of their payoff.

Matthews: So you canít have a regular war.

Fielding: So you have to have a whole rethink.

Matthews: But as a group of people, is it a political movement? Is it like the Republican parties? Is it like the Communist party used to be? Let me ask you is it like the Communist party was in the 40s?

Gorton: No, no, it is not. We Americans tend, I think, to over-politicize everything. This is a religion that is indistinguishable from politics. The politics and religion are the same thing but the promise is eternal life. You know to kill people, you get rewarded.

Matthews: But is terrorismóthe use of this method of war, killing civilians by the thousands, is that essential to their belief and to their movement? Richard? Is this what they do?

Ben-Veniste: Itís essential to the core of what theyíre after now. This is what they are about is killing and destroying those that they believe are firmly the other, that are dehumanized in their view. Now, how do you look at them, though, as a group? They are not a religion certainly, per se, they are a faction, an off-shoot of a great religion, but their beliefs are so contrary to the basic tenets of any of the great religions that its hard to call them that. They are a political movement and if you look at them, they are much more like an organized crime family carrying out their operations in that way. We are using lethal force to get them because they have used lethal force against us.

Gorelick: But it is very dispersed and I think thatís very important. If you look at even the plot of 911, the plot was not hatched in the first instance by bin Laden, it was hatched by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and brought to bin Laden for his blessing and his help. The cell that originally formed and that became so key to the plot was formed in Hamburg. Now were there lots of interconnections? Was this a bin Laden operation? YES. But as much evidence as we have about what happened in 911, that pattern has played out all over the world and that is why it is very important to not, as we say, blur the strategy. This is NOT a war on terrorism. It is a war against Islamist fundamentalist terrorists. These are Jihadists who want to achieve certain goals. They want to get us out of Afghanistan. They want to get us out of Saudi Arabia. They want to get us out of Iraq. They want to do our country harm by using the techniques of terrorists.

Matthews: Let me ask you this, itís a terrible example but Iíve been working on it. In your kitchen sink, if you see a lot of ants on the kitchen sink when you go to bed one night. You kill them all, right? And then you wake up the next morning and thereís a lot of them at the table because thereís a lot of them you canít see. Is that what itís like? That if you kill every one you see, like the Presidentís policy seems to kill all the terrorists as if thereís a finite number of them. Is there an infinite number of them, do they constantly get re-recruited by anger about Iraq for example? Do they continually grow organically in a way that you canít kill them individually, you canít say hereís my top 50 Iím gonna kill or my top 10,000 because after that 10,000 there will be more growing up.

Ben-Veniste: Well the one thing we did learn at one of our hearings from a CIA counter terrorism expert was that following the invasion of Iraq there was a marked increase in recruitment for al-Qaida, thatís what we know, and there have been comments that the recruitment effort is growing far faster than we are killing.


Matthews: ...was for many years our trusted ally in that region, whatever is going on now, heís been a strong ally of the first President Bush, he said by going to Iraq weíve created a hundred or a thousand bin Ladens. Is this the case?

Fielding: But to get to your overall question, putting aside that issue. Youíve got a problem here that you have people committed, right now. There probably is no redemption, to no way to change their [crosstalk] the ones in league right now, and the solution has got to be a long term solution. I mean, you know, it took 50 years to knock communism out of the box. Itís gonna take a long time.


Matthews: Do you know youíre in al-Qaida if youíre in it? I mean is it something you have to join and say you have to make your bones like the mob or something?

Gorton: Yes, you do, but that doesnít mean there are not a very significant number of people who arenít in al! and who share their beliefs and who will engage in the same activities. Just look at what happened in Russia last week. Those people had the same attitude toward human life and toward children.

Matthews cuts in: The Chechens

Gortons: Well if they were all Chechens, we donít get straight answers on who they were.

Matthews: But thatís where it gets tricky we canít fight the Chechens can we? Americans cantí take that responsibility can we?

Gorton: No we cannot, but there was muchó


Gorton: We can certainly do so, some of them have religious motivations as well as political motivations but the same mindset, the same mindset governed them even though they may have very well not have been members of al-Qaida.


Matthews: What is the motivating force behind people, maybe itís like it always seems to beówhen Poland was under Soviet rule everyone became very Catholic; when Ireland was under British rule everybody became very Catholic; itís always seemed religion is what you resort to when youíre repressed. Is it culture that drives them against us, is it religion that drives them against us or is it US policy that gets their people in different parts of the Mideast in the Islamic world. You suggest it was policy.

Gorelick: I think if you read our report its an amalgam and this is a subject that we debated quite a bit.

cross talk

Gorton: You are separating three things and saying is it this, is it that or is it the third? The three are not indistinguishable among these people.


Matthews: Suppose we didnít keep the troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia for all those ten years, we yanked them out after the first Iraq war, suppose we were seen as more even-handed in the middle east in negotiations in Israel and the Arab world, suppose we had never done anything politically against them, would they still have this rage against our culture, against women being equal, against the fact that thereís a different sexual moray in this country, all the things that are usually associated with our culture?

Gorton: Just ask bin Laden himself. What did he say? He said three things, "get out of the Middle East, convert to Islam and end all of the corruption of your society.

Gorelick: But I think its really important here, Slade is absolutely right, but itís really important here to distinguish between the hard core and the recruits and thatís why you have Don Rumsfeld asking the question, "Are we breeding more than we can kill."

continued on page 2

See also Hardball cover-up part 1