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How—And How Not—To Fight Terrorism
March 1, 2005
Michael Scheuer


David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, and I’m the President of the Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you this rainy evening to our program this evening.

As many of you who have been here before know, the Independent Institute regularly sponsors the Independent Policy Forum, which is a series of lectures, debates, and seminars on critical public issues. Our program tonight is entitled, “How—and How Not—to Fight Terrorism,” with Michael Scheuer, author of the best-selling book, Imperial Hubris. This book really is something of a sensation. And for those of you who have not read it or don’t have a copy, I certainly hope you can get a copy before you leave tonight.

For those of you who are new to the Independent Institute, hopefully you received a packet when you registered. You’ll find information about our program, our books, upcoming events, and so forth. You’ll also find information about becoming a member, if you so choose, and there are all sorts of great benefits for doing that.

The Institute is a scholarly public-policy research organization. We sponsor studies by leading scholars on major social and economic issues. We publish the results as books and many other studies, and we organize various conference and media projects based on that, as we are hoping tonight in featuring Mr. Scheuer. One of our publications is the quarterly journal, The Independent Review. There are also copies upstairs if you’re interested in seeing that, and of course I would highly recommend that to each of you as well.

I also want to point on your packets there’s a flyer on tonight’s program, and at the bottom of the first page, it also mentions one of our upcoming events, which will be on May 3rd, featuring one of our senior fellows. His name is Alvaro Vargas Llosa. He’ll be speaking on his new book, called Liberty For Latin America, which has just been released from Farrar Strauss & Giroux. Those of you interested in issues pertaining to economic development, human rights, and certainly Latin America, I think will find this to be quite an intriguing and enjoyable program.

I also wanted to point out, for those of you who were not able to join with us at a recent event, another book that I’d recommend on the issue of U.S. foreign policy, which is one by another one of our senior fellows, whose name is Ivan Eland. It’s called The Empire Has No Clothes. And it’s a look at the history of U.S. foreign policy and a thematic critique of the consequences. Michael’s book and Ivan’s book, in my opinion, dovetail extremely well. They’re both different books, though. I’d recommend them.

Despite the absence of a terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, the threat that al Qaeda poses to the American homeland is very real, according to former CIA senior counterintelligence analyst, Michael Scheuer, the so-called anonymous author of this book, Imperial Hubris, that I’ve mentioned. In his book, Michael argues that U.S. policies and actions helped Osama bin Laden win greater sympathy from within the broader Muslim community, putting all Americans at greater peril. While at the CIA, his work focused exclusively on terrorism, militant Islam, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, until he resigned last fall to speak out publicly on the failures of U.S. foreign policy.

So what exactly is the U.S. government doing wrong to fight against terrorism? What policies should it pursue? And how should the intelligence community be reformed?

Let’s also be clear here, the CIA itself, of course, has not exactly been an innocent bystander to world events. Indeed, CIA operations have been a major cause of what the CIA calls “blowback;” blowback violence against the U.S. and others for decades. Whether it was the death squads of Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, the assassinations and coups in the Mideast and South America, including the installation of the Baathist Party itself and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Iran-Contra scandal, the death squads in other parts of the world, the organization and arming of the mujahideen in the 1980s to fight U.S. proxy wars in Central Asia there and since, or the more recent torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, there is considerable question and all the more reason for the importance of Michael’s book.

In fact, the CIA has been at the forefront of Wilsonian legacy of U.S. policy, at the direction of various presidents, both Republicans and Democrats. But if we’re only to look at the CIA’s information gathering operations, we also have questions to ask about failures about their assessments of the former Soviet Union or 9/11 itself.

A 22-year veteran of the CIA, Michael Scheuer was Senior Counterintelligence Analyst, resigning last year, as I mentioned, to speak out on these issues. From 1996 to 1999, he directed the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk.

In addition to being the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris, he’s the author of Through Our Enemies Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. Mr. Scheuer’s articles have appeared widely in newspapers and elsewhere. Some of you may have seen his op-ed in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, for example. He’s also appeared on many different major TV programs, such as 60 Minutes, Meet the Press, Frontline, and so forth. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Michael Scheuer.



Michael Scheuer
Author, Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror

Thank you.

David Theroux

One thing also I want to mention is for those people who are in the spillover rooms, you’ll find question cards, and during Michael’s talk, if you’ll fill those out with questions, they’ll be passed to me and we’ll see what we can do.

Michael Scheuer

Thank you. Good evening, everyone. Thank you for coming out tonight. Thank you, Mr. Theroux, for hosting me and giving me this opportunity to speak. I spoke at the World Affairs Council last night, and I used a story then, which I think is appropriate to repeat.

I have not spoken publicly in my life very often. For the last quarter century, I’ve been rather inconspicuous. And so when I started to be able to express myself more openly, I think I got a little cocky, and went home one night and said—well, you know, I have a sixth grader and a seventh grader. And I went home and said, well, your dad’s going to talk to 200 people tomorrow night. And they kind of looked at me and walked away. And my little girl turned around and came back, and she said, well, don’t worry, Dad, the teacher sometimes makes us listen to people we don’t want to listen to either. And so I hope at the end of tonight’s session, you won’t feel as though the teacher kept you in the room.

A War of Survival

Today, America is engaged in a war of survival against an enemy unlike any other our country has fought. We have been so engaged for the best part of a decade, and yet we have not begun to understand our opponents. Led and personified by Osama bin Laden, our enemy is at once more complicated and simpler than has been recognized. Religion is the key to understanding our enemy, and so far we have fought shy of making that judgment.

Bin Laden and those he leads have presented us with a struggle we cannot avoid, a conflict in which the choices are not between war and peace, but between war and endless war. We cannot talk our way out of this war, and we cannot and must not try to appease our way out of this war. At the same time, we cannot win and survive if we use the only two tools now available to us—intelligence operations and military actions, although harsher and more prolonged applications of each will be required.

This is the context in which I will present this talk, a talk which will also have a decidedly nationalistic edge. It will focus on how America got to its present position, and how America will fail to defeat the enemy if we do not recognize that our enemy’s most important motivation is what we do, not who we are or what we believe, and if we do not review and perhaps alter the status quo of our policies toward the Islamic world—this in an effort to permit America to employ a range of war-fighting tools that is not limited to simply military and intelligence operations.

The stage was set for our present dilemma more than 15 years ago. As you will recall, the buzzword “change” dominated discourse on world affairs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gorbachev held power in a Soviet Union that was failing economically at home, militarily in Afghanistan, and as an imperial power in Eastern Europe. The buzzword became a mantra, and through most of the 1990s, the United States and the West sidelined reality in favor of cant about the end of history and the approaching triumphal globalization, the supposedly inevitable spread of democratic political systems, capitalist economies, and secularism.

On the eve of history’s end, in 1988, an expatriate Saudi named Osama bin Laden, and a few confederates, formed an organization they called al Qaeda—in English, “the base.” It is fair to say that the Western media took no notice of this new entity, the men who formed it, or the goals they established. Western intelligence services did no better than the media, and that’s a pity.

Bin Laden and his associates, Islamic zealots all, formed al Qaeda to ensure that there would be no dissipation of the momentum emerging from what was clearly the Soviet Union’s coming defeat in Afghanistan. These men acted to institutionalize the organizational networks that had provided manpower, money, and expertise to the Afghan mujahideen and their non-Afghan Muslim allies. They sought to make al Qaeda a central source from which Islamic resistance groups and insurgencies around the world would draw military training, funding, combat veterans, travel and identity documents, religious guidance, and the other sinews of war. Bin Laden and his lieutenants also meant al Qaeda to be the point around which Islamist groups would rally and find strong inspiration, leadership, and over time, an enduring and historic symbol of resistance, perseverance, and piety.

This vision for al Qaeda, I think, can be compared to a light-inspiring symbol that arose serendipitously during our own Civil War. That symbol was born when several South Carolina regiments rallied on the Stonewall Brigade, commanded by the Virginia-born Presbyterian zealot, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, at the Battle of First Manassas.

Al Qaeda’s leaders built their group to be the same sort of rallying point, one from which other Islamists would draw inspiration, and as General Lee might have said, to decide themselves to assume the aggressive against the United States. Today, al Qaeda stands as an unqualified success in the role it sought as an inspirer and facilitator of Islamist insurgencies.

As we meet, al Qaeda veterans are assisting Islamic insurgencies around the world as combat soldiers, military trainers, financial experts, religious teachers, medics, and logisticians. The scope of al Qaeda’s activities can be seen by a simple recitation of the places where al Qaeda members are supporting Islamic insurgencies: Southern Thailand, Afghanistan, Western China, Kashmir, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Eritrea, Chechnya, Algeria, Mindanao.

Al Qaeda also has succeeded in serving as a rallying point and a source of inspiration for Islamist militants around the world. Last week, the Abu Sayyef, for example, set off multiple bombs in the Philippines, killing 20, and wounding more than 100. Last month, Islamic violence continued to increase in Southern Thailand and in Bangladesh. And in the former, for the first time, suicide car bombs were used. Last December, al Qaeda’s own forces attacked the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

These events are in addition to the day-to-day internationally televised violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Israel-Palestine theater. Only the Jeddah attack was conducted by al Qaeda; each of the others drew inspiration from bin Laden’s leadership, and each definitely advanced al Qaeda’s goal of instigating a worldwide Islamic insurgency against America and its allies.

Beyond its facilitating and inspiring roles, al Qaeda’s founders wanted their organization to be the engine that would, after the Red Army’s defeat in Afghanistan, refocus the Muslim world on the United States as the main and most lethal threat to Islam’s survival. By depicting the United States in this manner, al Qaeda hoped to prompt an ever larger number of Muslims to oppose America with violent means wherever and whenever possible. By any measure, al Qaeda’s success in this endeavor must be judged still far from complete, and yet the endeavor must also be judged as a work in progress that holds tremendous promise for success.

At this point then, it is worth asking what factors have and are driving al Qaeda’s success in turning increasing numbers of Muslims against the United States.

Bin Laden’s Personality and Character

The first factor is Osama bin Laden himself. He is, by any standard, a great man—great not in any positive sense, as far as Americans are concerned, but in the sense of changing the course of history.

How many individuals can be said to have truly changed history in the last 50 years? Ronald Reagan—and with Reagan’s help, Gorbachev? Certainly. Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II? Of course. Bill Gates? You bet.

What about Osama bin Laden? For Americans, this man’s course-altering impact on history is painfully apparent. Try boarding an aircraft, entering a federal building, or taking your child’s grammar school class to a museum. Note the concentric rings of defense around the White House and the city’s under-siege feel. Franklin Roosevelt did not have a quarter of that security when he led America to victory over two fascist empires. And note the so-called sterile zone that was in place in the nation’s capital for the inauguration, a system so invasive and militarized that one might imagine it more suitable for the Archduke Ferdinand’s 1914 visit to Sarajevo rather than for the celebration by Americans of their President’s inauguration.

Track the spiraling federal deficit, much of which can be attributed directly or indirectly to bin Laden and al Qaeda. Analyze the polls that show Americans strongly worried for the first time about devastating domestic terrorist attacks and the slow erosion of civil liberties. Inescapably, Osama bin Laden must be judged a remarkable and a remarkably dangerous man.

He’s a veteran soldier thrice wounded, a construction engineer, a modern and talented chief executive officer, a devout Muslim, family man, and a man renowned for personal generosity. He is a soft-spoken but eloquent orator, and an implacable enemy of the United States.

He is what Americans and Britons in the 19th Century would have called the worthy enemy, an enemy so dangerous and talented that he had to be respected, and whose measure had to be precisely taken before he could be utterly defeated. In the 20th Century, he might well have been called a freedom fighter, dining at the White House if he was on our side.

Adding also to bin Laden’s stature as a history-changer is the fact that for many Muslims he is a combination of Robin Hood and St. Francis of Assisi, risking his life to defend his people, while assisting those in need. Perhaps most notably, bin Laden is one of the only world leaders, Muslim or Western, who consistently matches his words to his deeds.

Lack of Credible Muslim Leaders

A second factor in al Qaeda’s success is that the threat posed by bin Laden the man is sharpened by the fact that the Muslim world is an utter wasteland in terms of political leadership and heroic figures. No better validation of this reality can be had than by recognizing that Saddam Hussein, until he was scooped from his underground home, was bin Laden’s only rival as a hero and leader in the Islamic world. In Saddam, we had a gangster, an apostate, and a mass murderer, who on those counts was despised overwhelmingly by Muslims. Yet he was respected and cheered on as the one Arab leader who defied the United States.

Beyond Saddam, moreover, lay a Muslim world led by corrupt, tyrannical, and often effete kings, princes, dictators, and coup-installed generals. These men pay lip service to Islam, but rule their police states as wholly-owned family businesses, complete with an opulence in palaces and mansions that would make France’s Sun King look like a backwoodsmen on a tight budget. “Potemkin” Muslims at home, these rulers are really more at home in Zurich, Monte Carlo, the south of France, Kentucky’s horse country, and the upscale flesh markets of Southeast Asia.

In the midst of this Muslim leadership desert, Osama bin Laden took center stage in 1996 by declaring war on the United States. He quickly turned out to be much more than an angry and unusually tall Saudi. He is, from his first words, a speaker of eloquence in, as Professor Bernard Lewis has noted, “almost poetic Arabic,” an invaluable gift in a culture that prizes oral communication skills.

Bin Laden, moreover, is a son of the wealthiest non-royal family in Saudi Arabia, and a son who chose to abandon his family and its secure and luxurious lifestyle for a life of danger and uncertainties as a holy warrior in Afghanistan and Sudan. Parenthetically, it is hard not to have some respect for a man who not only volunteers to fight, but also lives a life that requires him to drink Afghan and Sudanese water for a quarter century.

Lacking rivals and blessed with eloquence and, literally and figuratively, intestinal fortitude, bin Laden also is a man whose character traits are the stuff from which heroes of Islamic history are made. He is a quiet, pious man, speaks without bravado, dresses without show, and despite his noble birth, has fought and bled in the trenches of the mujahideen. He has a common touch with the common man, and shows deference to elders and Islamic scholars and jurists.

Like Saladin, bin Laden, in the eyes of Muslim, defended Islam against Christendom’s attack, when no other Muslim leader dared to act. Bin Laden’s words and actions strike chords of historical memory among the extraordinarily history-aware Muslim masses, and their sustained reverberations contribute to his growing influence across the Islamic world.

Hatred for U.S. Foreign Policies

The third factor powering al Qaeda’s growing influence lies quite simply in the opaqueness of America’s political elites and leaders. Today, bin Laden and al Qaeda have only one indispensable ally, and that ally is U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world.

The U.S. policies specified by bin Laden are perceived as attacks on Islam by most Muslims, if the polling of recent years is accurate. And as always, perception is reality. These policies were not made by mad or evil men. No policymaker wanted, I believe, a war with Islam. But war we have, and these policies are driving our enemies.

Still stung by the rhetorical lashing America received at the hands of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, our elites are not listening to bin Laden’s words. They assume that he is ranting à la the late Ayatollah’s scathing litany, about the great Satanist of American society, its debauchery, lack of morals, manmade laws, pornographic movies, and gender equality.

Because they are not hearing or heeding bin Laden’s words, our leaders assert that he and al Qaeda are driven by an apocalyptic vision that demands the complete destruction of America’s democracy, freedom, and liberties. With respect for my betters, Republican and Democrat, there could not be a more inaccurate assessment of bin Laden’s arguments or goals, nor one that is more certain to lead to America’s eventual defeat.

Bin Laden’s gripe, if you will, has little to do with the vague, but incendiary rhetorical attacks made against U.S. culture and society by Khomeini. While bin Laden shares the grouchy old Iranian’s distaste for our culture, bin Laden has taken the far more effective tack of focusing on specific U.S. policies toward the Islamic world in his effort to focus Muslim hatred on America.

On bin Laden’s indictment sheet, there are just six items: U.S. military and civilian presence on the Arabian peninsula; the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and its military presence in other Muslim countries; the ability of the United States to press Muslim oil producers to keep prices at levels acceptable to Western consumers; unqualified U.S. political, economic, and military support for Israel; U.S. support for regimes that are suppressing Muslims, including Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, China in Western China; and a decades-old U.S. support for apostate and tyrannical governments across the Islamic world, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, and others.

Bin Laden’s decision to focus on U.S. foreign policy shows more than just a touch of genius. By doing so, he tapped a well of anti-American sentiment that spans the Islamic world’s ideological spectrum, from whiskey-drinking Pakistani generals to Sulfist missionaries preaching among the Moros in Mindanao.

While it is absolutely true that not all or even most Muslims support bin Laden’s military attacks on the United States, it is just as true that most Muslims deeply resent and even hate, according to half a dozen years of polling by reputable Western firms, the U.S. policies that bin Laden has identified as attacks on Islam.

In addition, in an Islamic world which is divided by sectarian differences as well as by theological differences within sects, bin Laden’s focus on U.S. foreign policy has acted as something akin to a glue of unity, allowing many Muslims to temporarily downplay sectarian, cultural, and ethnic arguments, and focus on the United States.

It is clear that opposition to each of these policies has or is becoming a gut religious issue for Muslims. Far more Muslims, for example, are willing to sacrifice their lives to defeat U.S. policies than were ever willing to attack the so-called U.S. cultural threat identified, demonized, and railed against by the Ayatollah.

It is time, I think, for Americans to debate these policies, not to blame, denigrate or find fault with America, but rather to review these Cold War–era policies to ensure that they still serve and protect American interests.

Bin Laden’s personality and character, the lack of credible Muslim leaders, and hatred for U.S. foreign policies have combined to yield a growing threat to America, one that is underestimated because our leaders blindly assert that al Qaeda’s target is our way of life.

The al Qaeda Threat Is Serious

Frankly, time is not on America’s side. We and our allies are in a truly momentous race, one that at the moment we are clearly losing. We are at a point in history where al Qaeda and bin Laden are changing into al Qaeda-ism and bin Laden-ism, a philosophy and a movement rather than a man and an organization.

The movement is a geographically diverse assortment of Islamic groups that have backburner plans to destroy national governments, be they in Egypt, Algeria, or Saudi Arabia, and are gradually adopting bin Laden’s three-part strategy of attacking American citizens, our interests, and our economy, thereby creating costs that will drive America from as much of the Islamic world as possible, thereby depriving Israel and Muslim tyrannies of the U.S. support that ensures their survival.

Again, time is of the essence. For nearly a decade, the U.S. has faced a formidable foe in al Qaeda and bin Laden, a foe which is far from defeated.

And now we are about to face, and indeed may already be facing, a much larger and more formidable foe in the worldwide movement that has been engendered by bin Laden’s leadership and eloquence, al Qaeda’s attacks, and Muslim hatred for quarter century-old U.S. policies.

And more parochially, we are about to face this foe with the U.S. intelligence community in disarray, and in some ways, weaker than it was on 11 September.

After the Goss-Graham and the Kean-Hamilton Commissions, we remain unable to identify a single person who is responsible for any single thing involved in the failures that led to 9/11. By failing to find any personal culpability among the senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, we have protected and prolonged the careers of failed men and women, and have locked into place the risk-averse mindset that led America to the disaster of 9/11.

One only needs to refer to the reports that the FBI has failed again to install a modern and reliable computer system, wasting another $170 million in the process. Thus, a decade after we began fighting al Qaeda, the FBI cannot communicate reliably and securely within its own organization, let alone with other intelligence community components.

In this regard, it is inexplicable that none of the distinguished members of either of the 9/11 commissions asked Judge Freeh why he could not find a way to purchase a reliable computer system for his workforce.

It is likewise inexplicable that neither commission allowed the American people to publicly hear from any single intelligence officer who actually worked against al Qaeda on a day-to-day basis before 9/11. The investigatory commissions also have shown the working men and women of the intelligence community that only junior officers are ever held to account for personal negligence or dereliction.

The only answer that has been identified as a fix to pre-9/11 intelligence community problems has been to blithely expand the community’s bureaucratic structure and size, recklessly hoping that more bureaucracy will be the cure for bad bureaucracy. They have also diluted, and perhaps lethally, in terms of American lives, the small pool of experienced intelligence officers who were working against al Qaeda in September, 2001.

Let me again refer, in closing, to our own Civil War. As I said, an increasing number of Muslims are rallying to bin Laden’s forthright stand against America just as those South Carolinians rallied on Jackson’s brigade at First Manassas. And just as that battle transformed the virtually unknown Thomas Jackson into the inspiring, invincible hero and legend, Stonewall Jackson, so too have bin Laden’s words and actions to date, with a strong and essential assist from U.S. foreign policy and two-plus decades of a democracy-crusading hypocrisy, transformed the once obscure Saudi into an inspirational Islamic leader, hero, and even legend.

And today, as U.S. military and intelligence forces try to achieve the worthy goal of killing bin Laden, it is essential that we keep one other fact about Jackson’s career squarely in mind. The most vicious and bloodiest fighting of our Civil War occurred after Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville. Thereafter, the army of Northern Virginia was led by the substantive military brilliance and personal example of Robert E. Lee. But just as surely, it was fueled by the inspirational legend and heroic memory of an implacably anti–United States Presbyterian zealot named Stonewall Jackson.

And so it will be even if bin Laden is killed. America has turned a corner in its struggle with Islamist militancy, but the road it is now on leads to greater bleeding in terms of both lives and treasure. And along that road, as long as American policies remain constant, America will continue to encounter a foe inspired by the legend and heroic memory of an implacably anti–United States Islamic zealot named Osama bin Laden. Thank you very much.



David Theroux

Thank you, Michael. And we have time for questions. And Michael, you want to just deal with them here?

Michael Scheuer

All right. Go ahead. Right—there’s a gentleman right next to you, sir.

Audience Member

You made several references to Thomas Jackson and the Civil War, and I wonder if you would make parallels between that and American policy towards Osama bin Laden. Do you think that Abraham Lincoln should have examined the policies of the United States government towards the Confederacy the way you say we should do it towards bin Laden?

Michael Scheuer

I’m a Union man, sir. [Laughter] Though I’ve read, at Mr. Theroux’s suggestion, a very good book by Jeffrey Hummel on the Civil War, and certainly his opinion is that Lincoln was not entirely correct in his activities, I don’t know the answer to that. I’m glad the Union remained one. [Laughter] This gentleman was next. I’m sorry.

Audience Member

When I walk out of this building tonight, if someone walks up to me and puts a gun to my head, the first question out of my mouth, I hope, will be: What do you want? And I’m appalled and terrified that our government does not seem to be able to ask that question.

Do you think that’s appropriate, and what circumstances can you foresee for a détente in this World War IV that seems to be developing? What would be the answer to the question—if the United States were able to ask it—what do you want, so that maybe you won’t nuke our cities?

Michael Scheuer

I’m not sure there’s a possibility of détente. I’m rather pessimistic on this issue. I think what we can do over time is to use our military forces and our intelligence services to kill the people that are irreconcilable.

But our best bet—in fact, as far as I can tell, the only bet at the moment—is to find a way to somehow, over time, slow the growth of support for bin Laden or bin Ladenism in the Islamic world. And that cannot be done without some sort of a change in policy amongst those policies that bin Laden has raised.

And certainly, to the first part of your question, there is no appetite, either in this government or in the preceding administration, for any consideration that our policy is having a negative impact in the Islamic world. They’re much more satisfied with saying they hate us because we have primary elections in Iowa every four years, because we let women go to school, because we drink Budweiser. There’s no, absolutely no appetite in the government for asking the question, and certainly none for hearing the answer if it’s proposed by people within the system.

So I think it’s a tragedy in the making. In some ways, the war against bin Laden is a terrific opportunity for the United States because our future is in our own hands. He’s very clearly outlined the cause of this war, and I think for the most part, he has outlined it exactly right. And we really have the whip hand, if we decide to change some policies. If we don’t, then we’re going to fight a terribly long and bloody war that will go on far beyond my lifetime. Behind you, sir.

Audience Member

I have a two-part question. To start with, Porter Goss’s recent comment that Iraq is actually becoming a breeding ground for terrorism where none existed before– do you think he has a clue on possibly coming up with real intelligence instead of manufactured intelligence that the Administration is looking for? And secondly, can you comment on Donald Rumsfeld developing an entirely new intelligence function within the DOD that includes death squads?

Michael Scheuer

On Mr. Goss, Mr. Goss is simply repeating the analysis that was provided to Mr. Tenet before the war in Iraq. There was no doubt within the counterterrorism units of the CIA, both in the operations side and the analysis side, that the war in Iraq was going to undo almost all of the progress we had scored against bin Laden since 1996, and Sunni militancy generally.

So it made me a little less lonely to hear a public figure saying what—not what I said, but what my colleagues said repeatedly throughout 2001 and 2002, and into the war itself. Mr. Rumsfeld’s decision, I think, reflects his desire to have intelligence agree with what he thinks.

For better or worse, the Central Intelligence Agency is 50 years old. There’s no better collector of human intelligence in the world. You cannot snap your fingers and put another system into place. What you will do is to create difficulties for other people who operate overseas, and because the promotion of the individuals is dependent on pleasing the generals, you will get information that pleases the generals.

So I think it’s a detriment to the United States to install yet another human intelligence service. It’s like sending the FBI overseas to collect human intelligence when they don’t have a computer that works. It’s very hard to see reason in any of that, for me. Sir.

Audience Member

Mr. Scheuer, thank you for your service—

Michael Scheuer

Well, thank you, sir.

Audience Member

—and thank you for your courage in speaking up. And I would also comment that—



Michael Scheuer

I—thank you, but courage is—my dad went ashore at Iwo Jima. That’s courage. What I did was just I tried to do the right thing. I’m not sure—but I do thank you.

Audience Member

Well, what also comes through in all your media appearances is you’re incredibly polite and quite modest, so we’ll just put all that in one package. If I could ask a two-part question –

Michael Scheuer

Can you write to my wife a little note?



Audience Member

First, in invading Iraq while saying that it was part of the so-called war on terrorism, has not President Bush fulfilled the wildest dream of Osama bin Laden, even wilder than bringing down the World Trade Centers? We know that he didn’t expect them to tumble the way they did.

And secondly, looking back to early 2002, and from that point forward, did not and does not Pakistan, as the world’s most free proliferator of nuclear weapons, represent a much more significant threat to our security than Iraq ever did?

Michael Scheuer

I think you’ve probably all seen the movie, The Christmas Story, or your children have seen it. What I wrote in the book was that if Osama bin Laden was a Christian, Iraq was the Red Ryder BB gun that he never expected his parents to get him because he’d shoot somebody’s eye out. And that’s exactly right.

The invasion of Iraq is a disaster in terms of the Islamic world for a couple of reasons. The first is that we now, in the view of Muslims, occupy their three holiest places. They view us as occupying the Arabian peninsula, which is first. They view us, illegitimately now, as occupying Iraq, which is the second. And they view us, or the Israelis as occupying Jerusalem, and increasingly Americans and Israelis are viewed as interchangeable.

So, just from that perspective, we offended 1.3 billion Muslims, whether or not they liked or had any use for Osama bin Laden. So it was a disastrous move from that perspective.

The second point is that the invasion of Iraq validated so many of the things that bin Laden has said over the past decade. That we were eager to control Arab oil resources, that we would destroy any Arab government that defied the United States, that we would destroy any Arab entity that was a threat to Israel. So on both of those counts, it’s the Red Ryder BB gun polished and presented Christmas morning to Osama.

Pakistan is a troubling problem. I think that in the terms of proliferation, it’s a tremendous threat—the proliferation of knowledge about the nuclear program. As far as I know, their nuclear capability depends on delivery via aircraft or missile. They cannot be packaged in a smaller dimension. Much the greater threat is from the former Soviet Union’s arsenal.

I think in 20 years, when we look back at American history, the dereliction of successive administrations, starting with the first President Bush, at not taking immediate steps to make sure the Soviet arsenal was secure, is going to be a death knell for millions of Americans. And the idea that—frankly, it took me by surprise during the Presidential election campaign that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush were arguing whether it should be controlled by 2007 or 2010. I kind of assumed, dummy that I am, that that would have been one of the first things we did.

So is Pakistan a danger? Yes, in terms of disseminating knowledge about how to build weapons. In terms of actually providing a weapon, I think it’s somewhat less a danger. Clearly more a danger than Iraq, which had no weapons.

I also think that of all the countries in the Middle East, Pakistan is the most pro-American. It is markedly less so than it was 20 years ago, but if anybody had said that Musharraf would have helped us after 9/11 to the extent he has, I would have bet my pension and said no way, and I would have lost. He’s helped us tremendously in the cities, capturing people. And it’s extraordinary that he sent his military into the border areas this summer, an area that is largely autonomous and has remained in Pakistan only because Islamabad left it alone for the past 50 years.

Audience Member

But, if I may, what about Dr. Khan?

Michael Scheuer

I think what the Bush Administration is doing is balancing how far they can push Musharraf without having him fall, because the follow-on is going to not be good. And I don’t think it’s possible for Americans to recognize what a hero A. Q. Khan is in Pakistan, because he provided them with the wherewithal to exist in the face of the Indian bomb. And so he is a tremendously important heroic figure.

But the other point I would make is that A. Q. Khan’s proliferation activities have not been a secret, in the sense that the intelligence community has watched him go to Saudi Arabia, to China, over to Libya, to Iran, and all these places. Over the years, no action has been taken, and now it all came home to roost in the last two years.

But A. Q. Khan has been a peripatetic proliferator for a long time. We just haven’t taken action against him.

Audience Member

Why not?

Michael Scheuer

I think for any number of reasons. We needed a Pakistan at times. We needed them for the war in Afghanistan. We didn’t want to tip the balance between Pakistan and India by trying to take out part of Pakistan’s capability to produce a weapon.

But basically because we are terrific watchers of intelligence and lousy actors on intelligence. We don’t have the courage of our convictions to move and act on information when we have it.

David Theroux

I have a few questions from the other room.

Michael Scheuer

Sure. I’ll just read it out. “I have read a large part of Islamic insurgency is against moderate and secular Islam. To what extent is this correct?”

I think there is certainly a distaste for Muslims who don’t agree with people like bin Laden, but on the whole, bin Laden has made an extraordinarily successful effort to play down differences among Muslims. One of the reasons for a long time he wouldn’t associate with Zarqawi was because Zarqawi was delighted to kind of merrily murder Shias just because they were Shias. And he’s holding Zarqawi back from that.

Bin Laden clearly hates Shia, and Sufis, and other kinds of Muslims, but his position on these things is first things first. He wants to defeat the Americans. And after that, they’ll settle scores within Islam.

So I think it’s a dislike for moderate and secular Muslims, but I don’t think he’s out to overthrow them, in the near term anyway.

Audience Member

But he certainly disliked Saddam.

Michael Scheuer

Certainly disliked Saddam. Yes. Absolutely. There was no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Another one is, “What thought has been given to organizing and supporting debates on Islam and violence in the Islamic world?”

That’s a good question. I think one of the things that America could do—let me step back for a moment. You hear a tremendous amount of criticism of why aren’t liberal Muslims and moderate Muslims speaking out against Osama bin Laden and saying that this is not Islam, this is not the actions of a good Muslim.

I think part of that is explained by the fact that bin Laden has focused on U.S. policies, and for a Muslim to stand up and say it’s not right to kill the Americans, it’s against Islam, that Muslim is implicitly saying it’s OK for the Americans to give unqualified support to Israel, it’s OK for the Americans to support Putin in Chechnya, it’s OK for America to support tyrannies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

So a change in our policy, I think, would be one step toward creating, in the public square in the Islamic world, a place for a Muslim to say to bin Laden, this is not Islam, this is not the way things should be done. And it would be OK to give us the benefit of the doubt.

Until that happens, we’re going to see very few Muslims stand up and say that bin Laden is wrong. Even the state-sponsored media, the state-owned media in the Islamic world, they’re very active in condemning terrorism, but you almost never see the word terrorism and the name Osama bin Laden in the same article. Bin Laden is too popular in the Islamic world for even tyrannies like Mubarak’s and the Saudis’ to take out after him personally.

“George Freedman believes that al Qaeda’s desire was to create an uprising which would topple Islamic regimes from within. Looked at in this light, al Qaeda has been a dismal failure.”

Yes, but Mr. Freedman is wrong. One of the great struggles that bin Laden has been engaged with, and one in which, after more than a decade, he’s probably no more than 60 percent successful, is shifting Islamic resistance groups and Islamic insurgencies away from Muslim governments toward the United States.

He argues, and I think cogently, that governments like Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia, they’re police states, they have vicious security services, they are immune to international opinion and human rights concerns. These people can’t be beat.

How do you beat them? You get rid of the Americans who provide diplomatic support, military support, and economic support.

So I think Mr. Freedman is wrong. If bin Laden wanted, for example, in Saudi Arabia, some kind of insurrection at the moment, I think he could probably have it. In Saudi Arabia, I think his big concern is to avoid causing the al-Sauds to topple before he defeats the Americans. If the al-Sauds go first, it means the Americans move in and take over the oil fields, and then he is in worse shape than he is now.

So with respect, I disagree with Mr. Freedman. Is Mr. Freedman at

Audience Member

Yes, he is.

David Theroux

That’s right. Go ahead.

Audience Member

In terms of your analogy of bin Laden and Stonewall Jackson, a different figure in terms of American history came to my mind, and that is Pontiac. And it seems to me that as Pontiac went about trying to induce the various Native American tribes to resist American encroachment into their territories, when he was killed, all of those things more or less disappeared. And I wonder if that analogy might be reasonable from the standpoint of bin Laden, or is he more firmly entrenched.

And the second part is this. I’m afraid that the United States is so invested in the direction that we’re going, whether the administration is Democratic or Republican, that we’re not going to change. And I give as an example; I don’t see us withdrawing support for Israel. And I not only fear the Pakistani atomic weapons, and also those in Russia, but I fear Israel’s even more, because I suspect that if there were any indication that Israel would be faced with the possibility or probability of military defeat, that those atomic weapons would stay in their silos or on their place.

I want you to comment on both the Pontiac analogy and also the concern that I have about atomic weapons of Israel as well.

Michael Scheuer

I’m afraid I haven’t read about Pontiac since I read Francis Parkman as an undergraduate, sir, so I’m not completely remembering the instances you’re talking about. I think had we killed bin Laden a half a dozen years ago, it would have made a big difference. I don’t think it makes a difference anymore.

I think he needs to be killed, because he’s such a remarkable leader, planner, and inspiration. But I think even before the war in Iraq we were seeing the transformation of al Qaeda to a movement from an organization. I think Iraq has greatly accelerated that. And we’re almost at the stage where the Islamic insurgency that bin Laden tried to start is self-sustaining without him.

So I think it’s worth seeing if that would work. I think bin Laden deserves clearly to be dead. It would be good news for America. But I’m not sure it’s going to have an impact similar to the one you’re speaking of.

I certainly can’t argue with you about the failure to even consider that policy needs to be changed. I am of the opinion, however, that the one factor that will increasingly force us to look at policy is the number of dead Americans coming home from overseas.

And if the Israelis were smart, and if we were smart, we would begin talking about restructuring our relationship, not to abandon the Israelis—we have a very bad record of abandoning allies—but to create a situation where we are the great power and they are the minor power. That alone in the Islamic world would give some people the tendency to give America the benefit of the doubt.

Is that going to happen? Not now it’s not. But I think—I truly do think that the number of people coming home dead or coming home hobbled as amputees is going to change the American view of the world.

And I’m almost of the opinion that if things are going to change, they’re going to have to change from the bottom up. And clearly, if bin Laden attacks in the United States again, and kills more people, and causes more damage than 9/11, the American people are going to say, what are you guys up to? You’ve got this wrong.

But unfortunately, the solvent of change may have to be blood and—of our own. And it’s not a very happy outlook, but I think that’s what I think at the moment, at least. This gentleman here.

Audience Member

It seems to me that a lot of policy people look at Islam and say we need to kowtow to their beliefs about Mecca and whatever their holy places are, as though other people don’t have a right to be there, that we have to sort of lower ourselves.

Michael Scheuer

I guess I don’t catch the drift of your question, sir. I don’t think that’s kowtowing. My question is always, what possible interest could we have on the Arabian Peninsula if it wasn’t for oil?

Audience Member

From what, 1932, we’ve had an agreement with the Saudis to protect the country?

Michael Scheuer

I don’t know if we’ve had an agreement that long.

The agreement has been in place, and it has never been paid for in American lives. And we’re coming to the point in oil policy where, if you want to have an energy policy that is the status quo, as what we’ve had, we’re going to be measuring thousands of barrels of oil against the number of Americans killed. It’s a new situation.

I don’t think we should have an energy policy that’s different simply for environmental reasons or for any other reasons. It’s a national security issue. What possible interest would we have on the peninsula if it wasn’t for oil? If every one of those Arabs wanted to kill every other Arab, who cares?

Audience Member

Well, personally, I do, but probably most Americans don’t. I don’t think it’s cool to run out killing people.

Michael Scheuer

Well, it may not be cool, but it’s certainly not worth the life of an American to stop it, except for oil.

Audience Member

I beg to differ.

Michael Scheuer

All right, sir. That’s fine. I meant –

Audience Member

I don’t think it’s cool for what happened in Rwanda either, so –

Michael Scheuer

Or anywhere else. But the question is, does it threaten American interests?

David Theroux

I mean, it’s sort of like if there were Saudi bases around Washington or around the Vatican, people would be similarly concerned about that. And so I think that Islamic people view it in the same way.

Michael Scheuer

Although, if it was around the Vatican, I think the Washington Post would applaud it. That’s just my guess.

Audience Member

Hi. I wanted to first of all thank you for your presentation. I think you were accurate on all counts. If, in fact, there are people within government like yourself that have been saying these things for years, what do you think is stopping people at the highest level in the administration from listening, or what is the momentum that you have to overcome for people to start to listen to and implement the recommendations you’re making?

Michael Scheuer

I can only talk in a limited extent to what I experienced. And what I experienced under the last two directors, Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Tenet, was the agency being led in a direction where it was almost exclusively designed to support the President. They called him the First Customer, and they set up special units to package the material that went to the President. And of course, any intelligence service serves the executive branch and especially the President. The CIA is peculiarly the instrument of the President of the United States.

But by shaping the agency, not to serve DOD, not to serve State, or not to serve the Department of Agriculture, you basically put all your eggs in one basket. And if the President wasn’t happy, then he wasn’t happy with the whole organization.

And so what Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Tenet did, I think, was a mistake. The second mistake they made was appointing themselves “Briefer in Chief.” They suddenly became the individual that was briefing the President on a daily basis on substantive issues.

Now, each of those gentlemen had a $40 billion intelligence community to run. He was not the expert on anything, whether it was Osama bin Laden, Iraq, European Community policy. It just wasn’t the case.

So over the last decade, what the President is getting is a briefer—or a senior manager has gotten briefed by the expert, the senior manager then briefs the DCI, and then the President gets whatever he can from the DCI passed on third-hand. For example, on WMD, there is no intelligence officer that would have said to the President this is a slam-dunk. And –

Audience Member

Except George Tenet.

Michael Scheuer

Well, and it’s perfectly in character with Mr. Tenet. He’s a very flip talkative street-sassy guy.

But the problem with not sending a professional intelligence officer to brief the President lies in two things. You take two stories when you go to brief the President, or the Secretary of State, or any senior official. You take the story itself—what’s happening, is A hitting B or B hitting A, and what does it all mean? But the second story you take is a mind-numbing description of the quality of the intelligence. And the intelligence on Iraq, for example, came primarily from opposition forces to Saddam, people who could not do for themselves what they wanted us to do for them.

The question at the end of the day comes down to, did Mr. Tenet tell the President that this information came not from signals intelligence collected by NSA, agents we had suborned who were working directly for Saddam, but from people who were living in Kurdistan or London for the past 10 years or 20 years?

And I don’t know what the answer to that is. I was fortunate to come into the agency—and depending on how you feel, for good or bad—under Mr. Casey. And when Casey was asked by the President or by the Secretary of Defense for a briefing, he would go. But the substantive expert would also go. Whether that was a GS9 who was making $30,000 a year, or an SIS4 who was making $140,000, the expert would go.

And that’s where we have to go in the intelligence community. The President has to have access to someone who will tell him what he knows, but also what it was based on.

And I’m afraid that, at the end of the day, we may not have gotten that message to the President about the quality of the information. There’s always the chance it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway, but that doesn’t relieve the intelligence officer of the responsibility of presenting both sides of that story.

This gentleman here.

Audience Member

Seymour Hersh, a top investigative reporter, recently wrote in the New Yorker, an article titled, “The Coming Wars.” The U.S. has been making noises against Iran and Syria recently. Based on your sources and contacts in the intelligence community, what do you think the chances are the U.S. or Israel will take overt or covert military action against Syria or Iran, or another country in the Bush Administration?

Michael Scheuer

First, I should say that I don’t have any sources or friends in the intelligence community—

Audience Member


Michael Scheuer

No, there are people in this government who are not particularly happy with what I have to say, and it wouldn’t behoove me to be seen with some of my friends who are still working in the intelligence community.

One of the big problems, frankly, is we’re stuck in the Cold War mindset. We can’t appreciate strongly enough that a nation-state is not the only kind of threat to the United States of America.

On Syria, if Syria could, in any stretch of the imagination, be considered a threat to the United States, then we wasted how many hundreds of billions of dollars on the U.S. military? Syria ought to be about a 15-minute exercise for one division if we needed to do it.

The Iranians? I frankly am not an expert on Iran. It’s probably not a good idea for them to have an atomic bomb. How close they are to one is something I don’t know. Do they have a delivery system? It doesn’t do them a lot of good if they can’t hit North America with it.

But on the bright side, if we were to attack the Iranians, we would accomplish something that hasn’t been done in the past 1000 years, and that’s unite the Shias and the Sunnis against us.



Michael Scheuer

So you can always find a silver lining, I guess. That’s not serious enough.

The idea that we’re looking for Syria or Iran’s nuclear sites, facilities and bunkers, I think that’s only a wise contingency plan. That’s what the intelligence service is for, to be able to locate enemy facilities in case we do need to attack them. I think attacking them at this time would be disastrous, but that’s just one guy’s view.

The next question is, “Do you agree with Scott Ritter’s claim that Bush has signed off on plans to bomb Iran in June, ’05, and that the U.S. manipulated the Iraqi elections?”

On the first one, I have no idea about whether they plan to bomb Iran, the Iranians. I think in an odd way, this is one area where the Israeli–United States relationship should be especially examined, because I think the government is in a position, and it would be Democrats or Republicans, where they don’t know what the Israelis will do. If the Israelis go after the Iranians, it’s probably even worse than if we go after the Iranians, because we’ll be blamed for giving the Israelis the green light.

One of the problems we have is that we don’t know about the Israeli nuclear program—how far along it’s advanced. It’s a secret from us and we’re probably the people that bought it.

Manipulated the Iraqi elections? I don’t know. The Sunnis didn’t want to vote, the Kurds voted for Kurds, and the Shias voted for Shias. I think that makes sense to me. I don’t know if we manipulated it or not. I’m not sure the election matters a great deal in any event.

Audience Member

So we have this new collector of intelligence who’s supposed to get the intelligence from all the agencies and funnel it to the President. And as an interested outsider who’s never really been close to government service, I always thought that the Central Intelligence Agency centralizes intelligence. And I’m not against there being a military intelligence or the Treasury listening to some phone calls or something, but it just seemed like basic common sense that one of the large existing bureaucracies would centralize the intelligence.

So who do you think really should be collecting and making sense of everything the government knows, and are we doing the right thing?

Michael Scheuer

Let me step back a little bit first. I think that one of the great mistakes after 9/11 was not to assess personal culpability for what happened.



Michael Scheuer

I think it’s inexcusable. I know for a fact that both of the commissions, the Goss-Graham Commission and the Kean-Hamilton Commission, there were literally dozens of officers who testified before them, both under oath and not under oath, and described situations that had been brought to the attention of Mr. Tenet, Judge Freeh, General Hayden.That’s not saying they would have stopped the 9/11 attack, but they would have allowed this intelligence community to say to the American people, “We did everything we could to prevent this.”

And neither commission did anything about it. They took the testimony and ignored it, and instead found this inanimate object — the intelligence community structure — the culprit. So I think it’s a tragic situation.

And I resigned, frankly, not for anything to do with the agency, but because I put these issues on paper, sent it to the two intelligence committees, and never got an acknowledgement that they received it, let alone that they were going to consider it. So I think it’s an abject failure. I don’t think we’ve investigated 9/11 yet.

The new organization, I can only say—and I mentioned it briefly in my speech—the cure for your bad bureaucracy is never more bureaucracy. And what they did in this case, the Director of Central Intelligence, when he was also the head of the CIA, every day managed one component, at least, of the intelligence community, and had a window into one. He also had a window into how that—the CIA—worked or didn’t work with other components of the agency.

What they’ve done now is put the new director, Mr. Negraponte, if he’s confirmed, above all 15 agencies, and now he’s going to be briefed by a representative of each of the 15 components.

And bureaucrats being bureaucrats, what he’s going to get is more good news than bad news. And he’s going to be briefed—that old chain now. The expert will brief the senior manager, the senior manager will brief the head of the agency, the head of the agency will brief his representative to the new Negraponte position, and Negraponte will go and brief the President.

So it’s like having me brief a nuclear schematic of some kind. It’d be nice. I could talk to you about it, if I memorized it, but I wouldn’t know anything about what I was talking about.

So I think the structure we’re creating is just—within several years, we’ll say, ah, back to the drawing board, because this doesn’t work. This gentleman.

Audience Member

This may sound a little like conspiracy theory, but you mentioned that the administrations don’t want to look at the root cause, they don’t want to look at the policy. Do you think that’s intentional, that they want to keep a crisis or a conflict for some ulterior motive and not really address the issue?

Michael Scheuer

I guess it’s possible. I think I would prefer to think I was wrong and not worth listening to than somebody was actually doing that. But I have too much respect for my colleagues, who are much smarter than I am. And all I am doing really tonight, or in my books, is reflecting what’s common knowledge within the intelligence community among the men and women who work there.

What’s the reason? Do they want to keep a crisis going? I don’t know. I’m becoming, over time, more cynical. It’s clearly, on the issue of why we’re being attacked, it’s easier to rally Americans if they believe their lifestyle is under threat, or their freedoms, than if you’re going to say, for example, we want to risk the lives of your sons and daughters in the military to make sure the al-Sauds can keep stealing oil profits from the sale of petroleum.

I don’t have any good answer for your question. I’d like to think that it’s not possible, but I don’t know. This gentleman?

Audience Member

Earlier on in your talk, you called the war on terror a war for survival. You later said it was not between war and peace, but between war and endless war. In light of the fact that on September 11th we were attacked by 19 men with box cutters, that the U.S.S. Cole was bombed by a boat with an outboard motor, that the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by a minority group of zealots or extremist zealots —

is this in fact an epic apocalyptic struggle, as our President has termed it himself, or is this just something that some simple policy restructuring can contain?

Michael Scheuer

I don’t think that policy restructuring by itself could be enough, because I think some of the groups of people that are fighting us are just irreconcilable. They’ll have to be killed.

I think terrorism is a very bad word for what’s going on. I really think it’s more an insurgent-like organization, many insurgent-like organizations, which are not susceptible to the type of process that the President and President Clinton called for, arresting these people one man at a time and eventually destroying the organization.

When I speak of this as a war of survival, I think what I mean—and perhaps I should be more clear—is that the survival of American society and the way we live as we know it, without a further erosion of civil liberties, without a bleeding of economic power. I think sometimes we think that a war can only be waged with explosives. And I know the President is always saying that we haven’t been attacked in three-and-a-half years. Well, if that’s the case—and that is the case. There hasn’t been a major explosion in the United States since 2001.

But if you look at the deficit, if you look at being mired in two wars overseas, and the threat of others, if you look at—again, whatever you think of the Patriot Act, it’s not a move in the right direction—I think this is a war for survival. If we intend to live the way we have lived for the past 30 years, we need to do something. And as I said, the military intelligence answer will hold the ring, but it’s not enough to win.

[Laughter][Laughter]Audience Member

Just a simple question. With all that we’ve heard, do you have any good news? Seriously.

Michael Scheuer

The one thing that I have been encouraged about, and the one thing that I have done the most of and the most enjoyable part, has been not television, but radio call-in shows, not only in San Francisco and the big cities this morning, but I’ve done a lot of call-in shows from Southeast Texas and Northern Oregon and Eastern Maine.

And every once in a while, you get a guy that says, “well, you just hate Bush” or “you’re an anti-Semite” or something like that. But for the most part, the Americans I’ve talked to have been very tough questioners but have given me the impression that they think there’s more to it than “they simply hate our society.” And it’s been a very rewarding experience and one that gives me hope.

And one of the reasons I raised the issue that, perhaps if there’s going to be change, it’s going to come from the bottom up, is because I’ve talked to a scientific sample of probably 400 people over the past four months. But I think that’s a very positive thing.

And I also think the positive thing is that the American people are so much smarter and tougher than their leaders, that when the time comes to tell the truth about what this war is about, Americans will saddle up and say, “OK, let’s get on with it.” So I’m very concerned and I’m kind of pessimistic, but I don’t think I’m entirely a Cassandra.

Audience Member

Could you tell me, are we treating the prisoners in Abu Ghraib any better than we did last year, and is there any way for us to know?

Michael Scheuer

I don’t know the first thing about Abu Ghraib except what I read in the paper. I can say, though, that I was one of the people who designed the rendition program for the CIA, and whatever they find out, if there’s something bad with that program, I will be at some point probably responsible for that.

The rendition program is where we were tasked by Mr. Clinton’s Administration to dismantle terrorist cells overseas, detain people and try to get them into a prison somewhere. The agency being the agency, said, can do, where you want us to put them? Mr. Clark and Mr. Berger at the NSC said, over to you. And we said, no, you don’t get it. What do you want us to do with them? We can’t hold them forever. We can’t kill them. What do you want us to do? And they said, over to you.

And so the program we designed was limited to any person who was involved in al Qaeda, who was also wanted by a Middle Eastern country for a crime, for terrorism. There was either a warrant for him or he had been tried in absentia.

The program worked in the following manner. We would locate someone who was a member of al Qaeda, who we could prove, to the satisfaction of the Department of Justice and the CIA’s own legal authorities, was indeed a terrorist, and he had to be in a country where a liaison service would help us, because we had no arresting power. And if we could find that particular circumstance, he would be arrested.

The country who arrested him would then say, OK, you’ve got to get him out of here, because if people find out we hold him, they’re going to attack us. So the third part was to find a country who would take him, who had a legal process pending. That, in most cases, was Jordan, Egypt, or another country. They had, in turn, to pledge that they would treat that individual according to their legal system. That pledge had to go up again through the Department of Justice, the CIA’s lawyers, and eventually through the NSC to get approval.

So that is what I know about the detainee system. Can I say that no one was ever tortured or treated roughly by the Egyptians, the Jordanians, or whoever else we dealt with? I can’t. But I can say that anybody we delivered was indeed a terrorist and it’s better off for him to be off the street. But at the end of the day, it was the policymaker who refused to bite the bullet and create a system that was consonant with American values and American laws, which would have allowed him to come to this country and be treated the way you or I would want them to be treated.

And the very simple answer, of course, is to declare these people prisoners of war. The Geneva Convention has a well laid out policy of how you handle these people. You put them in camps. They get their minimum needs in terms of clothing and food and exercise and medical attention, and they get released at the end of the war. But we didn’t choose to do that.

And so that’s what I know. I was never involved with Abu Ghraib. I don’t know if the agency was involved with it either. That was mostly a military activity.

David Theroux

One thing I might add to that is there’s a new book that just came out last month from Cambridge University Press. I believe it’s called The Torture Papers. And it’s an edited collection of documents, many of which came through the Freedom of Information Act, which are memos and all sorts of documents that are really smoking-gun connections between the hierarchy of government officials in approving, organizing, apologizing, and so forth, for not just Abu Ghraib, but a whole system of prison facilities.

Michael Scheuer

One of the great failures of the American government in the post–Cold war period is the absolute refusal among policymakers to let us do our own dirty work. We are always looking for surrogates. Let someone else do it. Take care of bin Laden? OK, but let the Afghans do it for you. Don’t do it yourself. There’s a terrorist cell in Albania and the Albanians will arrest them? OK, but we don’t want to bring them to our country. Send them somewhere else.

We got very used, during the Cold War, to dealing with surrogates to do our dirty work, whether it was the mujahideen in Afghanistan or Jonah Savimbi in Angola. It’s not going to work anymore. Surrogates aren’t going to do our bidding, and we’re going to have to do it ourselves. And policymakers don’t want any part of getting their hands dirty. And so we’re going to run into these situations for the foreseeable future until that mindset changes, I think.

Audience Member

Have you been contacted by anybody in the Administration wanting to get more information from you, or Congress people or other representatives?

Michael Scheuer

I’ve been by the phone, and I didn’t have a gray hair when I started, sir.



Michael Scheuer


Audience Member

Somehow I figured it.

Michael Scheuer

There’s been nothing but deathly silence. And frankly, I’m unhappy—or I’m disappointed, because I really thought that at least one Congressman among 535 might be willing to take a look at what I wrote.

And I have to say that the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Paul, has been very complimentary about my work. I don’t know how much influence he has, and I don’t know if he’s spoken publicly about it, but I got a nice note from him.

David Theroux

You met Ron Paul?

Michael Scheuer

Ron Paul.

David Theroux

From Texas.

Michael Scheuer

Oh, from Texas? I’m sorry, did I say Maryland?

David Theroux


Michael Scheuer

I’m sorry. From Texas.

Audience Member

How long have you been out on the circuit?

Michael Scheuer

Four months.

Audience Member

So, long enough for people to hear?

Michael Scheuer

Yeah, and they heard it when I was in the government, which made me grayer.


[Laughter] [Applause]

Michael Scheuer

Thank you. Thank you very much.

David Theroux

I want to especially thank Michael Scheuer for his presentation, and his superb and, as been mentioned, courageous work. He really has taken a leap to stand out from the crowd and to speak what he knows about. And we’re particularly grateful to all of you for joining with us in making this evening so successful.

Copies of his book, Imperial Hubris, are upstairs. I certainly hope everyone can get a copy and read it. This is a very important book. That’s why it’s getting so much attention, and justly so. Michael would be delighted to autograph copies for those of you who are interested.

Please also visit our Website at You’ll find many studies and articles about our work and upcoming events. Thank you for coming, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time. Goodnight.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless