|The White House
President George W. Bush
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Eisenhower Executive Office Building
October 12, 2001
The Vice President appears on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, welcome.
DICK CHENEY: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Have there been any developments today concerning the FBI's warning - terrorist warning of yesterday?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We've got continued reporting that really led us to believe that the threat level had gone up - that is to say it's fairly precise in terms of time, although not location or anything like that. And all of that's obviously of concern. We've had this ongoing disclosure now of anthrax problems, extending to NBC in New York, and nobody's made a direct link yet but at this stage you have to be concerned about that sort of thing, the possibility. Are they related? We don't know. We don't have enough evidence to be able to pin down that kind of connection. But, on the other hand, these kinds of activities that we saw in Florida, now perhaps in New York, we have to be suspicious.
JIM LEHRER: Do the anthrax things fit the warning that came out yesterday?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's not that precise. What we do know - we know a number of things. We know that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida Organization clearly have already launched an attack that killed thousands of Americans. We know that for years he's been the source of terrorist attacks against the United States overseas, our embassies in East Africa in '98 -- the USS Cole last year, probably, in Yemen We know that he has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons. We know that he's trained people in his camps in Afghanistan, for example; we
have copies of the manuals that they've actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances. So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it's coincidence, but I must say I'm a skeptic.
JIM LEHRER: A skeptic.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked. And obviously that means you've got to spend time as well, as we've known now for some time, focusing on other types of attacks besides the one that we experienced on September 11.
JIM LEHRER: These warnings that - the information - the intelligence information that you all got that resulted in this warning - did it -- was it of a magnitude that would be comparable to September 11? Is it that kind of thing that you think that we may be facing and other things similar to that in magnitude? I don't mean airplanes flying into buildings or anything --
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Sometimes it actually will take that form; it will reference what happened on September 11 to talk about another event. It may not be any more precise than that. But the point is that we've tried to make to everybody - the events of September 11 marked a watershed in American history. It's a time when the U.S. homeland now is open to attack in ways that we've only speculated about before. And we know that there are threats out there. We know that there's is an organization with a lot of well-trained people in it, a lot of financing of cells all over the world. And there's no reason for us to operate on the assumption that that was a one-off event -- that's never going to happen again. In fact, we have to assume it will happen again, and that's the only safe way for us to proceed.
JIM LEHRER: Do we know for a fact that there are al-Qaida agents still at large here in the United States?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We're doing everything we can to wrap them up as quickly as possible, but I think the only safe assumption is that there may well be others here. There's been speculation, for example, that one of the individuals - one of the crews that they put on the airplanes only had four men on instead of five. We think we may have that individual in custody, but we don't know for sure. It's one of the individuals who were arrested up in Minnesota earlier this year in August. And so it's reasonable to expect - we had some of those hijackers who were involved in the U.S. and been here over a two or three year period of time, traveled back and forth freely. Again, the only safe assumption for us is to proceed on the basis that there are probably other cells here in the U.S. who have planned or trained to carry out various kinds of operations, and we need to do everything we can to wrap them up That's exactly what we are doing, especially with the FBI and all of the efforts that are underway there now.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any way - I realize that these threats are not specific - but is there any way for you to share with us the range of the possibilities? We know what they've already done. We know now that at least there's a possibility of anthrax. What else is there in-between those two?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: You know, it varies in terms of locale. Sometimes the threats involve U.S. forces deployed overseas or Americans overseas, or friends and allies of the United States. There had been a pattern of terrorist attacks over the years. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 - I mean, there's a long history here to look at. An awful lot of the reporting turns out to be false. Lots of times we disrupt their organizations enough so that we're able to preempt or head off or destroy their ability to move forward on these operations, so a lot of operations have in fact been forestalled. But the scope of it is greater than it's been before, and we know for a fact - especially given the attacks of September 11 - that they have the capacity to inflict great damage on the United States. And so we are in fact at war.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, several of the questions last night for the president at the news conference had to do, okay, we've heard the warning. We've heard about the threats. Now what should the average American do about them now? For instance, in the context of today's news - the new development, the fourth case of confirmed anthrax - there's all kinds of people who say, oh, don't open your mail; be careful when you open your mail. If you see powder somewhere -- what would you advise the American people to do specifically about the anthrax threat?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: If I received a letter that I didn't know where it came from, didn't recognize the sender, it wasn't sort of part of my regular mail flow -- bills and those kinds of things - I'd be suspicious of it. I'd want to have it checked.
JIM LEHRER: Everybody should do that?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think anybody who has a reason to be suspicious of a package or a letter that they're receiving ought to contact their local law enforcement officials and it's the responsible thing to do.
JIM LEHRER: What else?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I think it's partly a question of - several things that need to happen. We need to improve our - some of our law enforcement procedures, and we've got legislation pending before the Congress, for example; it's important we get that through. Every day that goes by when we don't have all the tools we think we need to find out who these people are and to run them to ground is one more day when we could conceivably suffer the consequences of undue delay. Call your congressman and senator, tell them that's important legislation, you'd like to see it passed. We need to be more alert just as a society, not take for granted that everything's okay, but when you see something out of the ordinary, you see something unusual, to go ahead and report it to the authorities; let them check it out. We just need to be more sensitive that there are in fact people in our midst who wish us ill and when we see something that doesn't quite fit and doesn't make sense, a candidate at a flight school who only wants to learn how to steer the aircraft, not land it, that's probably something that we ought to be suspicious of.
JIM LEHRER: That's one part of the warning -- the alertness, which is to be looking for suspicious activity.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: And that's of course the warnings especially go to local law enforcement officers and their field officers of the FBI, so that they're on an extra state of alert.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. But much of the questioning last night had to do with what the American should do to protect him or herself from the possibility of a terrorist attack, which the government of the United States now says is likely in the next several days.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We put out as much information as we can. Obviously, if we knew exactly what it was going to be and where it was going to occur and when was going to occur, we'd go forestall that. A lot of what needs to be done needs to be done collectively as a society. As individuals it's difficult for us to guard against, for example, something like happened in the World Trade Center. So we need to be cognizant of the fact that we do have to change our way of doing things. We're probably going to have to be stiffer on immigration and do a better job for example managing the INS. We've got to be more aggressive in terms of how we prepare ourselves to deal with these kinds of contingencies. We've got to be willing to tolerate a procedure that puts a 40-block area around the Capitol Building that we're not going to allow trucks into for the time being. We've got to be able to accommodate Pennsylvania Avenue being closed right here in front of the White House. There's good reason why it's closed. It was closed because of the car bomb threat, and it ought to stay closed. And now we had a big debate in this town about who's going to open up Pennsylvania Avenue. Well, Pennsylvania Avenue ought to stay closed because, as a fact, if somebody were to detonate a truck bomb in front of the White House, it would probably level the White House, and that is unacceptable.
JIM LEHRER: What about the mixed messages problem? We had a couple of days ago the Centers for Disease Control said to the average American don't worry about anthrax and don't stockpile antibiotics, don't go get a gas mask or whatever. Within an hour the State Department issued an order to every embassy, every U.S. embassy in the world, to stockpile antibiotics, and then we find out every member of Congress has a gas mask
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I'm not sure I know where the gas mask --
JIM LEHRER: No, no, no. This is not related - not related - but they've been given gas masks in the past. Would you have some sympathy for -
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Sure.
JIM LEHRER: -- in - you know, in Wyoming, who's saying what's going on here?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: That's right. It's bound to be a confusing time for people. We try to do everything we can to have one coherent message out there. We have different departments and agencies with different responsibilities. The State Department clearly has to worry about embassies overseas. The threat traditionally has been greater for our embassies overseas than it has been here at home. Now that may have changed as of September 11, but an awful lot of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past have been aimed at embassies because they're more vulnerable out there. They're a symbol of America in East Africa, for example, and a relatively easy target. So they've got obligations and responsibilities to do that. By the same token, I think what the CDC has tried to do and needs to do is we need to keep all of this in perspective in terms of the kind of problem we're having to deal with here. And the terrorist wins if they shut down the society, just as much as they would win if they launched another major attack. So we're looking for balance and reasonableness. And I know it's difficult -- I've talked to my own family - what should they be worried about, how should they operate? We find ourselves under a much higher level of security now than ever before. It's necessary, and we have to adapt to that but the - again, all I can ask for people is to use their good judgment - their good sense -- work together and - but be alert.
JIM LEHRER: There was a mixed message question last night, in fact, to the president about you The question goes like this: Hey, you tell us to go about our business and yet the Vice President of the United States is in a secure location and out of public sight for four days. Does that bother you?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: No, I think it's a reasonable precaution. It's something that we have dealt with in the past by, for example, when there was a State of the Union speech - the president, the vice president, the speaker, the president pro-tem of the Senate all in the Capitol -- we always had one cabinet member who was in the line of succession absent. But now we've reached the point where, especially with Washington targeted as it was on September 11, with the possibility that the White House or the Capitol or other facilities here could be targeted in a terrorist attack - that generally it's not a good practice for the president and I to spend a lot of time together. We had already adopted before September 11 a practice that we never flew together; after the campaign we stopped that. I've never been on Air Force One since he was sworn in as president. Now we also now generally avoid large public gatherings here in Washington, the two of us together; that becomes an enticing target, if you will, for the terrorists, and that it's important from the standpoint of our responsibility to maintain the continuity of government to always see to it that nobody - no adversary or enemy would have the capacity of, in effect, decapitating the federal government by taking out the president and the vice president and other senior management, senior leadership. So frequently we will separate. Now, I'm here this afternoon. The president is headed for Camp David. He'll be up there this weekend; I'll be in Washington. That's a fairly easy one to work out. Next week he'll be traveling to the Far East and I'll be in Washington. It doesn't mean that we never get together.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: And when I'm gone, I'm very much in touch, as he is. Tomorrow we'll have a National Security Council meeting. I'll be in the Sit. Room with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense. The president will be out at Camp David. We'll be all tied together with video conferencing. We have that capacity; there's no reason not to use it, but it's just prudence, if you will, at this stage for us, and minimize the extent to which we're out traveling around, attending events, or always in the same building.
JIM LEHRER: Any sympathy for somebody who would say, hey, wait a minute, the government cannot protect the President of the United States and the Vice President of the United States at the same time, and the vice president has to go someplace, to a hiding place somewhere?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, we have secure facilities that have been developed over the years for good, sufficient reasons; they come in handy now at a time like this. But the reality is, Jim, that we lost more people in the Pentagon on September 11 than we had killed in action in the Gulf War, and it happened right here in Washington D.C., in the Pentagon, and the home, the central command post of our Department of Defense. We are vulnerable as a society to people who want to commit suicide during the course of trying to launch that kind of terrorist attack, and the prudent thing for us to do is to take note of that and conduct ourselves accordingly, so that means that the president and I don't spend as much time together as we did in the past. We're in touch all the time; we talk all the time. We did have an NSC meeting together this morning where we were together, so it's not an absolute prohibition; it's just - we'll be pretty fluid and flexible and from time to time we find it necessary to separate. And I think that's still a wise thing to do
JIM LEHRER: Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. I was struck and others were too that within hours after the attacks on September 11 there were people in the government, officials of the government coming on television programs like ours and saying, oh, yeah, that's Osama bin Laden; he has a network - a terrorist network called al-Qaida - he's got thousands of people all over the world in fifty or sixty countries; they all hate the United States, and are dedicated to our destruction. The question is still hanging out there: Why in the world didn't we do something about it before September 11?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I think the Clinton administration tried; they weren't successful obviously. But there had been some efforts previously. To that we saw the cruise missile attack after the bombing of the - the embassies in East Africa a few years ago, but clearly they never were successful in prosecuting this to the point where they eliminated Osama bin Laden and his organization. We're going to change that.
JIM LEHRER: Thus far, has the military action in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden's network and the Taliban, has it had a measurable effect, do you think, in terms of their ability to function both as a terrorist network and a supporting of a terrorist network?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think it has. I think the reports we're getting back show that we're clearly having a significant impact on the Taliban. There are reports now of defections, of areas of Afghanistan that are pulling away from the central Taliban government. We've clearly done significant damage to Taliban military capabilities - what aircraft they had -- and the airfields have all been shut down, that sort of thing. We have done a lot of damage to training camps that Osama bin Laden operated They probably were empty or didn't have very many people in them at the time that we hit them, but he won't be able to use them again for the purposes of training terrorists from around the world. We'll continue aggressively, for example, on the financial front. I think we've had a significant impact there. We've got over $40 million now that we've been able to freeze in terms of assets. I think in the intelligence area our work as well with the - the tribes, the Taliban opposition, if you will, the Northern Alliance and some of the other groups inside Afghanistan all possess great potential, both in terms of the damage they can do to the Taliban but also the damage they can do to Osama bin Laden, because he, in effect, has found a sanctuary with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and has a number of fighters that he's contributed to the Taliban. In another sense - and a phrase that I thought the other day was very descriptive, what we had in Afghanistan isn't state-supported terrorism - we had a terrorist-supported state, a terrorist who came in - Osama bin Laden - with lots of money, maybe $100 million to the Taliban directly, training, with weapons, with troops to supplement their own forces with, in effect took over, if you will, a big part of Afghanistan. So everything we do to take down that organization, to reduce their capability to provide him sanctuary, weakens him, makes him more vulnerable, and I think ultimately will lead to his demise.
JIM LEHRER: Help me on the decision-making process that's going on now within the government. The president made the decision on Friday to launch the air strikes. Was that a decision that went like, all right, Secretary Rumsfeld and the military, you go do air strikes, and then come back and tell us what's happening every day, or whatever, or is a new decision made every day by the president - okay, let's continue another day. How is that working?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We had the events of September 11, and we began almost immediately to respond. Diplomatically, you can see the efforts almost immediately - people began to line up and working through states, they worked through diplomatic strategy - the president spent a lot of time on it himself, calling people, meeting with foreign leaders and so forth, so that piece was up and running. He had the intelligence piece of it up and running fairly quickly. Afghanistan is a country we know a fair amount about from an intelligence perspective; we've got a lot of people who spent time there back in the '80's. So there is a residue of capability there as well, too. So that was up and running fairly early on, although we don't talk about a lot of the details. The financial efforts were cranked up through the Treasury Department, again, the president directing each of these. The military takes longer because you have got to deploy forces and we didn't have that many forces immediately on the scene, but we knew military action was likely to be required, so early on the president directed the secretary to begin deploying forces to the region. We had General Franks up, who's the commander in chief who runs that part of the work force, who in and met with the president and myself and a few others and began to develop plans, what kinds of activities -- to look at Afghanistan as a target, figure out what you'd want to do and how you'd want to do it. We began to coordinate between the intel people and the military people in terms of deflecting targets and that sort of thing. The actual onset of military actions, the time set by the president - he makes those decisions -- he'd signed off on the campaign plan; they'd reviewed their targeting strategy with him and what they were going to go after and when they were going to go after it. All that's personally signed up to by the president and then they'll take that campaign and go execute it. But staying in very close. He receives reports at least twice of a day on the status of those activities, and the thing to emphasize is the campaign is all of this. It is not just military. A lot of people said the war didn't start till you started bombing Afghanistan. No, it started back here on about September 12.
JIM LEHRER: How involved have you been in all of this?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I've been very involved; I've been in virtually all of those meetings, a regular participant in not only NSC meetings but what we call principals meeting - principals is everybody but the president. It's all your senior NSC decision-makers. Lots of times we'll have a pre-meeting, if you will, and tee up issues, work issues before we're ready to take something to him for a decision. Those meetings, we always have an NSC meeting just about every morning and a principals meeting just about every evening at the end of the day to wrap things up, lots of meetings in-between. Participation on my part with the president when he meets with a lot of foreign leaders that come in - other cases I have my own private separate meetings with him. I hosted lunch in this room the other day, for example, with the emir of Qatar, when he was in town. He's an old friend and involved in this area and we've got forces based in Qatar.
JIM LEHRER: One of the questions that came up when you were in your secure location was "where's Cheney? Is Cheney involved in this?" When you were in your secure location, how did you involve yourself in this process?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: A day there was just about a day here in the sense that I'd begin every day with my intelligence briefs, my CIA briefer, sometimes a team would come to that location and give me the same brief I got every day at the residence here before I come in and that he gets every morning in the Oval Office. And then I'd tee up a session with my chief of staff, who was with me at this location, and he'd been working with the deputies' committees - he's a member of that - and then we'd go to the videoconference on the NSC sessions.
JIM LEHRER: What's that like?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: You've got a TV set -- a big screen that's divided up into at least four segments so you've got State, Justice, CIA, Defense tied in over at the Situation Room at the White House and from my secure location, and it's all real-time video - good, high quality video - where you have a conversation; the only difference is the participants aren't necessarily all around the same table; that's the way we oftentimes do the evening meeting at 6 o'clock is through these - the secure video conference hookup, and so then a series of meetings like that during the day. The other day George Robertson was in town; the NATO Secretary-General, old friend; I had a session with him; he was in the Sit Room and I was at the secure location; we were hooked up by videoconference. That was right after he sat in the Oval Office and talked to the president. So the communication is working out.
JIM LEHRER: The reason, of course, this is relevant -as you know, Mr. Vice President, during the presidential campaign even then-Governor Bush's own supporters said, well, the governor does not have that much experience in defense, national security area, but don't worry about it, Cheney is going to be there right by his side the whole time and a lot of people - looked around and you weren't there - should we not be concerned?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I was there, but via telephone and video conferencing. But the president doesn't need me. He has got a great team of advisers there; he has old pros like Rumsfeld and Powell; Condi Rice has been around a good deal on the NSC staff and on the Joint staff. I mean it's a skilled crew and lots of times - you know Don may be off in the Gulf or Uzbekistan and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz sits in. If Colin is off traveling to Pakistan and India next week; he'll be represented at the table by Rich Armitage, his deputy. So it's a good team all the way around. Steve Hadley, for example, the deputy NSC adviser, is a skilled a hand as you're going to find anyplace, and most of these people know more than I do about this stuff anyway, so my role is to function as an adviser, somebody who's been through some of these things before. But I'm just one more voice at the table and whether I am there or not there, he's still very, very ably served by the people around him. But I am there through the wonders of modern telecommunications.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, to return to the alert, is it going to be - is there going to come a time when it will be over, in other words like the air raid warnings in World War II - an all clear will be sounded and this particular alert that's in effect now as you and I are speaking?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's possible for individual short-term pieces, but I'm reluctant to say to the country or to the American people that a week from now or a month from now you're going to be able to totally relax, no more problems, because I think it's going to take a long time. I think we're going to have to get a lot tougher in terms of how we deal with some of these problems in terms of guaranteeing that we are protected here at home; we're going to have to achieve success overseas, both against the terrorists themselves as well as the states that support terrorists, and I simply can't say to everybody, you know, this is a war like the Gulf War, it'll be over as soon as we run Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and then they boys come home we'll have a great parade and everything will be hunky dory again. No, this is going to last for a long time. We are vulnerable as a society to these people who wish us ill and are willing to die in the effort, and so we're all going to have to make some changes and possibly accept some limitations we'd rather not accept, but it's necessary unfortunately in the time we live in.
JIM LEHRER: But on this specific alert, it's very unlikely that on, say, Monday morning, Tuesday morning, a week from Thursday, the FBI will say, the threat, this immediate threat has lessened, or anything - there will be no further communication --
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's possible; it's possible that we'll take that extra step. It's possible for example that we may be able to -- because there are ongoing efforts here at home as well - lots of times to wrap up the people we think are in fact planning these kinds of activities that happened before. We headed off the bombing of LA Airport here a couple of years ago, the so-called millennial attacks. So there are a number of success stories out there, and if we're successful in dealing with what we believe was the threat, then I think that will become public at the right time.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Thank you.