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Burden of Proof

Terrorist Threats Against U.S.: Forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Placed on Threat-Con Delta

Aired November 1, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: U.S. military forces and diplomatic personnel in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been placed on Threat-Con Delta, the highest state of alert for a terrorist attack. The Pentagon confirms the U.S. has received credible threats in the region.

Plus, the investigation into the blast of the USS Cole. Why are Yemeni investigators blocking out the FBI?


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were just great, the Yemenis were, in the beginning of this -- the first phase of this work. And I think, you know, there have been difficulties now, I think not because they don't want to find out who did it, but perhaps because they are worried about having America deploy more resources in Yemen.

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: The president and the secretary have made clear that these are important matters to us, that we do need further cooperation, and more cooperation, different kinds of cooperation in the new phase. In the new phase, we'll need access to suspects, to evidence, to further information that they may have.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Military officials refer to it as "Threat-Con Delta," the highest level of alert for terrorist threats. U.S. forces in five countries in the Persian Gulf have now been placed on this heightened status.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Now the latest country is Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; already on alert were Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar. All five countries were placed on alert following the October 12th blast of the USS Cole at a port in Yemen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from New York is former FBI investigator Neil Herman. And here in Washington, Lynne Battle (ph), former CIA director Jim Woolsey, and former federal prosecutor Eugene Propper.

COSSACK: And in the back, Darin Gardner (ph), Bradley Hayes (ph) and Conan Krueger (ph).

Let's go right to you, Jim. Threat-Con Delta, what does it mean, and how do you get there?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it is virtually a war footing. It means that you are on the alert all the time, in every way you can possibly be. I think the last time we were probably on that that I knew about was during the Gulf War, at some embassies where we were expecting terrorism by the Iraqis. I was an ambassador at the time and had to move out of my house, and into a guarded facility, and I imagine there are things like that going on in the Gulf now.

COSSACK: Jim, there are threats United States intelligence receives all the time. What is it about these threats that have caused the security people to move to this highest level of security.

WOOLSEY: Well, we can't know really on the outside, but my hypothesis would be that they are rather specific, and they are detailed, and they are specific with respect to country, and the region, and not just generally be on alert or something bad might happen.

Part of the problem, before the Cole, there were some threats and some intelligence, but not, most of it was not very specific. And if they've gone on this level of alert, it may be a combination of the Cole and some rather more specific information.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim, I am always struck by the term "credible threats." I was always under the impression that we were getting threats all of the time against the United States. Credible threats, at least I think, means that you know we are in deep trouble some place. How do they define credible, if we are getting these all the time?

WOOLSEY: Probably it has a lot to do with the source. There is a source -- let's say it is a spy, is it someone who has given you something in the past that's proven to be true, or could it conceivably be a communications intercept of some kind that you have confidence in. A lot of it has to do with evaluating the source and also evaluating whether what the source says, or discloses, might happen is something that is actually practical and feasibly. I think if those two things go together, then you are worried.

VAN SUSTEREN: How confident or secure are you that our sort of surveillance or our international checking on these matters is good, are we pretty thorough or are we blind-sided a lot?

WOOLSEY: We are pretty good on a lot of things. With respect to using spies, the CIA today operates under some constraints that I don't think are necessary or wise, particularly with respect to terrorist groups. And guidelines that came out in late 1995, and I hasten to add that I left the government early in 1995, make it more difficult, not impossible, but make it more difficult to recruit spies who may have a, you know, human rights violation in their background, or violence in their background.

And people may want to operate under those restrictions in dealing with governments, but if you are trying to spy on terrorist groups, there's nobody in there except human rights violators. It is like the FBI recruiting people inside the Mafia. If you say, we want to make it difficult for you to recruit crooks as informants, you are not going to recruit many people inside the Mafia.

COSSACK: Jim, and I hope we can get back to what you just said in a second, but I just want to follow up on one thing earlier. You said Threat-Con Delta is like almost being in a state of war. What does it actually mean that these troops will be doing under this state? How will they conduct themselves?

WOOLSEY: Well, it's been some years since I was undersecretary of the Navy, and was involved in these. But it is a situation where people are going to, I'm sure, have post round-the-clock watches; are going to be involved in extraordinary precautions by way of, you know, maybe body armament for some people in some circumstances; full-time surveillance. It is the kind of thing you would do if you were sailing into enemy waters in wartime.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to Neil Herman, former FBI.

Neil, what is the -- when you are investigating terrorism overseas, is it at all different from investigating terrorism here on our soil? Do you have many more hurdles?

NEIL HERMAN, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT, JOINT TERR. TASK FORCE: Well, it's much more of a different environment. First of all, you are invited in by the host country, in this case Yemen. And fortunately, in this particular investigation, we have a experienced team of investigators that have been sent from New York and Washington to include forensic experts. And working closely with the Yemeni forces is very, very essential, partnership is absolutely essential.

In addition, these investigation overseas can branch out, move from country to country, to continent to continent. And fortunately, in this case, as we saw in the East African bombings 2 1/2 years ago, we have a very experienced prosecutive office in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, which is presently preparing for a trial on the East African bombings in two months in January.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you raised the issue of the investigation, of course what you are talking about the USS Cole, in addition to the heightened alert that we have in other regions in the United States.

But let's go by phone to John Burns, of "The New York Times," who is in Hyrdamount (ph).

John, what is the status of the investigation, if you know right now, into the USS Cole bombing?

JOHN F. BURNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": As of last night, Yemen time, in Aden, the situation was not good at all. Understandably, the American officials in the United States and others are not keen to be candid about this because, obviously logical that if you want the Yemeni government to cooperate more enthusiastically than it has up until now, the last people that you want to talk about this to are people like "The New York Times."

Still, we do have people who do talk to us, and it seems like the situation is really quite bleak. I think it was a bit of a surprise to the American officials handling this, who assured us the fullest cooperation of the Yemeni government when they came, but have found that they have -- FBI agents from the beginning have been denied the right to accompany Yemeni security police when they question suspects and witnesses.

They are denied the right to talk to witnesses who are encountered at, if you will, the crime scenes. That is the safe houses that were discovered in Little Aden, and the hideout in Aden itself that was used by the two men who presumptively were also the bombers, over a period of four months to control entry into the harbor, to monitor the harbor, and monitor the comings and goings of American warships.

In addition to this, there's been a problem over the videotape that the Yemenis have of the bombing itself, or at least a videotape taken by a harbor surveillance camera, which is the only filmed record of what happened. Hull-head (ph) cameras we are told, and this we knew two weeks ago, but they are mostly cameras that are used for weapons guidance and were not switched on at the time.

The Yemenis did have a camera and handed over a videotape to the Americans, who when they saw it found, so we were told, that the tape began after the bombing itself, and then it was jerkily edited in aftermath so that they didn't have a full tape.

There are a number of possible reasons for this. It could simply be an inadvertent lapse by the Yemenis, who perhaps felt that a tape that ran, who knows, perhaps for 30 minutes or more, was more than the FBI wanted to see. But in any event, there has been this whole series of problems, which I believe remain unresolved.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. More on the investigation into the USS Cole, as well as what the FBI is doing and our federal agents, when we come back. Stay with us.


A Moscow court has suspended the trial of Edmond Pope for two days after Russian doctors confirmed that his health has deteriorated. Pope, charged with stealing secret designs for a Russian torpedo, suffers from bone cancer.



COSSACK: Despite an appeal by President Clinton for more cooperative investigative access, FBI agents are not on the front lines in the probe of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen. A group of federal investigators were sent to the Arabian Peninsula after the October 12 attack, but the U.S. agents aren't allowed to interview suspects or witnesses in this case.

I want to go back to John Burns in Yemen.

John, it seems to me -- initially, we heard reports that the Yemeni authorities were cooperating, and people seem to be slapping each other on the back saying, look how wonderful this investigation is going along. Now it seems just the opposite; in fact, President Clinton said yesterday -- called for more cooperation from Yemeni authorities. Was there a time when they were cooperating, and what happened?

BURNS: Well, I think the good news is that Yemen is much quicker than, I think, anybody expected -- picked up on the trail of these bombers and came to the Americans, to the FBI, with some quite startling breakthroughs. They did, very early on, tipped off by a 12- year-old boy living in the neighborhood, discover the point at which the fiberglass boat used in the attack was launched into the bay of Aden at a point about six miles from where the Cole lay at anchor, for its refueling.

The discovery of the launching point and this sport utility vehicle, a boat trailer, then led them to two safe-houses in the same area in Little Aden, and eventually to this hideout in the city. Now, the FBI was, as you may understand, very pleased with this. It gave them a lot of forensic evidence, it gave them fingerprints and it gave them quite a number of other pieces of material evidence. For example, they found the Muslim holy book in the hideout above the harbor -- a well-thumbed copy, we are told.

So there were pieces like that. That was good news. The bad news is that, to go beyond this trail of evidence and the false names that were left on the driving licenses and other documents used by the presumptive bombers who, as we know, are now dead; to go beyond this, to find out who really lay behind this, requires a different kind of cooperation altogether. At this point, questioning witnesses and suspects and requestioning them becomes extremely important because you can imagine that the New York field office, which conducted much of the investigation into the World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings in east Africa in 1998, has really become a kind of international pool of expertise on terrorism.

There probably is no investigative unit in the world that knows more about this particular problem than they do. So naturally, to speed this process along the Yemenis would have, naturally, have invited the FBI to be present. They didn't do that; they placed a whole range of other restraints. I believe that tempers have been quite frayed over all this behind the scenes; and the question of course, now, is, why?

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me go to Gene.

Gene, let's assume good news; let's assume that the investigation is successful; let's assume that the issue about an edited tape or a tape where we only get part of it is one that doesn't thwart an investigation. This is a crime against Americans. Before 1996 there wasn't much we could do about it from a criminal sense.

But what happened in '96?

EUGENE PROPPER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, a law was passed that allows the United States to now prosecute for murder against an American anywhere in the world in Washington, D.C. or certain other areas. So if the United States can figure this out, they can bring a case in the United States and get the people back here, and that's their goal.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you were, today, back to being a prosecutor, back to -- and you were assigned to this case, what would you be doing today to try to facilitate this investigation as the prosecutor -- or is there no role for the prosecutor right now?

PROPPER: No, there is a role for the prosecutor very early. I mean, it's very difficult to ascertain whether the country where the bombing occurred is really cooperating or just professing to cooperate. They're always going to tell you that we'll do whatever we can but, you know, we have certain restrictions; and obviously they're not going to allow the FBI to just walk the streets and talk to whoever they want. We wouldn't allow that of a foreign...

VAN SUSTEREN: But how about this tape? I mean, if I were in the FBI, I mean -- I don't think they'd admit me into the FBI -- but if I were in the FBI I would be concerned about getting the tape of the entire incident. And, now, I don't know that it exists, but it certainly seems suspicious to me that they had a tape running right after the incident occurred -- maybe they did -- and there's some time-code issues to suggest that the tape may be edited.

I mean, doesn't that create at least some potential hurdles?

PROPPER: It creates all sorts of problems. The FBI wants, and prosecutors want evidence before it's been tampered with. They want to talk to witnesses without having somebody else pre-interview them, without having somebody else be in the middle.

We can understand why the Yemenis might want to be present, but they ought to allow the FBI to have follow-up questions; they ought to allow the FBI to look at the evidence and do the tests on the evidence.

COSSACK: Well, but Jim, that's really -- that's probably not going to happen. I mean, there's other political reasons why the Yemenis do not want the FBI involved. I mean, one could argue, from what Jim said, is, look: We've done what we told you; we found out where they lived, we gave you all this great evidence; there's other parts that we just can't allow you to be involved with.

WOOLSEY: Well, it's wonderful when a country is as cooperative as Kenya and Tanzania were in the embassy bombings. That's what you hope for; and the more cooperation the bureau gets, the better. But you have to realize that a lot of countries are very proud; and this is a matter of sovereignty. I mean, it's, at least, interesting that World War I began over this issue, in a way. The Austrians wanted to investigate in Serbia -- Bosnia, the bombing that killed -- the shooting that killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand -- the Serbian terrorist Princip. And they Austrians levied a whole number of requirements on Serbia and Serbia complied with all of the demands except that; they won't let the Austrians run the investigation. That's really what led to war.

This is something countries, historically, have been very, very prickly about in a lot of circumstances.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we're going to take a break. When we come back I'm going to ask Neil Herman, our former FBI agent, how he would get over those problems of the pride of other countries to get to the bottom of this crime. We'll be right back.


Q: Yesterday in Denver, federal prosecutors asked a judge to deny a motion by Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, asking that his conviction and life sentence be dropped. On what grounds did Nichols file the motion?

A: He claims the conspiracy law under which he was convicted is invalid since it allows a judge, not a jury, to assess facts regard the sentence.



VAN SUSTEREN: Yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, one of the last sailors who died in the USS Cole blast was buried. Federal investigators and forensic experts continue their efforts in Yemen, but their access to witnesses and suspects and the cooperation of Yemeni authorities is extremely limited.

Neil, you heard the problems of sovereignty and pride that Jim was speaking about. You're the FBI agent on the ground, what are you going to do? How are you going to get around all these problems?

HERMAN: Well, I think the first thing is that the partnership that has to be built up between the American investigators, the FBI, State Department and the Yemenis' intelligence service is very important. Again, I think our government needs to continue to force the pressure on the Yemenis to ensure that all aspects of this investigation are brought to the attention of the American investigators.

VAN SUSTEREN: Neil, maybe I'm a hothead, but I'll tell you, if I were an FBI agent on the ground over there -- maybe it's a good reason why they aren't sending me -- is I would be pretty angry if I kept running into hurdles and getting sort of what I thought was half information, not access to witnesses when I was eager to get to the bottom. I guess that's why we have more temperate agents than someone like me.

HERMAN: Well, slow and steady wins this race. The reality is these investigations, whether they're the World Trade Center bombing or the bombings in East Africa, are long and arduous investigations. The World Trade Center case is now almost eight years old, two federal trials, and still a fugitive is out there. The East African bombing took two and a half years now to get to trial, which will begin in two months in Manhattan.

These investigations are partnerships that must be developed by the investigators with pressure from our government to ensure that both the investigators and the prosecutors can bring those responsible to trial and successfully combat this in the future.

COSSACK: Neil, is this normally the way it goes, I mean, when you run into a country like Yemen and they say, OK, you can have so much but you can't have any more than that? And in reality, is there really anything that can be done about it?

HERMAN: Well, I think it varies from country to country. Certainly Mr. Propper, in mentioning the Orlando Letelier assassination 24 years ago, we had the same problem then. But I think each case is different, each crime scene is different. And the pressure that's mounted against -- with the host country is absolutely imperative to ensure the integrity of an investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gene, if you were the prosecutor on the case would you want to be over there as the FBI is doing the investigation? Would that be a role for the prosecutor?

PROPPER: I think today it is. If you're going to have Yemeni officials conducting interviews and gathering evidence, you're going to have later chain of custody problems, you're going to have FBI agents who aren't the people doing the interviews, you're going to have to try to, on the scene, make decisions assuming you're going to build a case later. You may never actually get to a case. But if you are, by the time you get to it, those decisions may be long gone. You have to make them on the spot and figure out how you're going to gather that evidence and use it later, and you work with the FBI to do that.

COSSACK: All right, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on CNN's "TALKBACK LIVE," weigh in on election 2000: presidential campaign strategies and attack ads. Send your e-mail to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We will see you then.



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