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Interview With Bob Graham

Aired February 23, 2002 - 17:30   ET


AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida.


NOVAK (voice-over): On his visit to Japan, President Bush reiterated his axis of evil policy, but softened his rhetoric.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to resolve all issues peacefully, whether it be Iraq, Iran or North Korea, for that matter.

NOVAK (voice-over): In South Korea, the president renewed his concern about North Korea as a country trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, but affirmed his peaceful intent.

BUSH: We're peaceful people. We have no intention of invading North Korea. South Korea has no intention of attacking North Korea, nor does America.

NOVAK (voice-over): Bob Graham became chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee last June when Democrats took control of the Senate. He began his long political career when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966, at age 30.

After eight years as governor of Florida, he was elected to the Senate in 1986 and went on the Intelligence Committee nine years ago.


NOVAK: Senator Graham joins us from Tallahassee, Florida.

Mr. Chairman, based on what you've heard we just rebroadcast from the president speaking in Japan, in China, is he no longer threatening military action against this axis of evil, these countries that have developed weapons of mass destruction, but wants to negotiate with them? Can you explain what the policy is right now?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Bob, I have never heard any credible information that we were planning military action against any of the three countries that the president identified as the axis of evil.

My impression was that he identified those in his State of the Union speech as a means of sending a signal that we were not only concerned about terrorism, but we were also concerned about the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; and these were three countries which were in a position to develop weapons of mass destruction, the means of delivering those and possibly place them in the hands of terrorists.

NOVAK: There was some surprise, Senator, that Iran was listed among those three nations, and the report had been that it was because of the alleged participation of the government in the arms shipment to terrorists in Israel.

Now, there are other sources on Capitol Hill who say there is no credible intelligence information that the Iranian government was involved in that arms shipment. Can you enlighten us on that?

GRAHAM: I believe there was evidence that Iran was involved in the shipment of those weapons, but I don't think that was by any means the totality of the concern.

The fact is that Iran has a sophisticated military-industrial complex and, more than Iraq, has the capability of developing a weapon of mass destruction. So there are legitimate concerns about Iran, particularly when it is then found to be providing weapons to entities that we consider to be terrorists.

NOVAK: There are some of your colleagues, particularly Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, Senator, who feel that the United States should be, instead of threatening Iran, negotiating with the elected government, as contrasted to the mullahs who really run the country. Other people think it is an illusion that there's any distance between the elected government and the mullahs.

What's your information on that?

GRAHAM: Bob, first, there was some breakup and I didn't hear all of your question.

I think there is some division within Iran between the government and nongovernmental entities. For instance, there is speculation that some of our current concern about Iranian involvement in western Afghanistan is not the government so much that's involved, but groups which have had a long history of border activities for various illicit activities, including smuggling people, smuggling guns, smuggling drugs between Afghanistan and Iran.

HUNT: Mr. Chairman, let me turn to Iraq for a moment. You have said that unless Saddam Hussein agrees to really meaningful weapons inspections, that eventually -- not now, but that eventually -- we're going to have to, quote, "take him on," end quote.

Given his history, I know few experts who think he ever will agree to meaningful inspections, never has in the past. So if we do have to, in your words, take him on, this week, Ken Adelman, a former Reagan official and very close to Don Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, said that Iraq has been so weakened militarily that when we do take them on, it will be easy. In his words, it will be a, quote, "cakewalk," end quote. Do you agree?

GRAHAM: That's not the definition of what engagement with Iraq would mean from the standpoint of most of our military. Fighting a war inside a city like Baghdad is not going to be a cakewalk and would probably entail significant exposure to casualties.

HUNT: Well, how many American forces do you think would be necessary for an operation against Iraq...


GRAHAM: Well, the answer is, I don't know. But we do know that we had about a half million people in that region in 1991, and the decision was made not to go to Baghdad. And part of that was the fact that the U.N. resolution had talked about evicting Iraq from Kuwait, but also there was a military concern about what would be entailed in carrying the war into that urban area.

My concern is not that if Saddam Hussein continues to develop a capacity for weapons of mass destruction that we would not be called upon to take him out; rather it is the sequencing and the priority of that effort.

In my judgment, we now are operating from the moral high ground with a tremendous coalition across the world in the war against terrorism. Unless we have evidence that Saddam Hussein is close to having a weapon of mass destruction, I think we should avoid the temptation of diverting ourselves away from the war on terrorism toward a war on Saddam Hussein.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, the president, on his trip to China, stressed the importance of the relationship between the two governments and took the positive rather than the negative.

Do you, from your intelligence information, feel, on the other hand, that China poses a military threat, a strategic threat to the United States now or in the foreseeable future?

GRAHAM: It does not pose a strategic threat to the United States today. It has the capacity, both economically and demographically, to be a very significant military force.

Our concern today is largely focused on how mainland China will use its military capability to either threaten or go beyond a threat relative to its desire to integrate Taiwan back into the People's Republic of China.

HUNT: Mr. Chairman, let me turn to a sad story. Our colleague, Danny Pearl, was brutally murdered by his Pakistani captors. From your briefings, who do you think was behind this atrocity, and did it include elements of the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency? GRAHAM: First, Al, I'd like to extend, through you to your colleagues at the Wall Street Journal and to the family, our deepest sympathy and regrets at this brutal murder and the bravery of a journalist who was attempting to provide important information to the public of the world, sacrificed his life in that noble effort.

I have not had a briefing on this case since I left Washington a week ago, so my information is not the freshest. In fact, when I left Washington, the assumption was that he was still alive.

Every indication is that we have had excellent cooperation from the Pakistani Intelligence Service and that they worked in a highly collaborative way with United States intelligence and law enforcement to try to avoid this tragic conclusion.

HUNT: Do you think there were ISI members involved, though, sir?

GRAHAM: No. I have no evidence that ISI officers were involved, other than involved on the side of justice, trying to reclaim Mr. Pearl before he came to this tragic death.

HUNT: Sir, we're going to take a break.

But we'll be back in just a minute to ask Chairman Bob Graham: Where is Osama bin Laden?


NOVAK: Senator Bob Graham, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, you are involved in a prospective major investigation of possible intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Sources at CIA say they are so overburdened fighting this war on terrorism, that this will really have a tremendously negative effect on their capabilities, the demands of a full-scale investigation. Have you considered that?

GRAHAM: We've been very sensitive to that, Bob. One of the reasons that we're not starting this investigation until now is because we felt that it was important to let a considerable amount of time elapse so that those persons who would potentially be called as witnesses in our hearing can do their immediate responsibilities of assisting in the planning for the war effort and avoiding future acts of terrorism.

I think the American people deserve and should demand at some point that there be a comprehensive review of what happened before, on, and after September 11, and I think that time is now.

We're also going to be doing this on a bicameral basis. The Senate and the House Intelligence Committees will be doing this together so that we won't be unduly burdening people, calling them down to appear before multiple committees.

NOVAK: There's been several calls, sir, for making this a replica of the Pearl Harbor investigation, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was not only bicameral but intergovernmental. But yet a lot of historians feel that that investigation made a scapegoat out of Admiral Kimmel and General Short.

Is the Pearl Harbor investigation really your model for how this should be conducted?

GRAHAM: No, and frankly we don't have a very close role model. There's not very many examples of where a standing committee in the House and a similar committee in the Senate have collaborated, including having a single staff that was specifically selected to carry out this investigation, meeting together, interviewing witnesses together, has been conducted.

With my colleague, Congressman Porter Goss, I am very optimistic that this will be an effective way to carry out this approach. And maybe, if successful, it will be replicated in similar reviews in the future.

HUNT: Chairman Graham, Osama bin Laden -- do you think that he is most likely still alive, and if so, most likely where is he?

GRAHAM: The best intelligence is that he's still alive. The best intelligence is that, of all the places he might be, he's most likely to still be in Afghanistan. But frankly, we do not know where he is at this time.

HUNT: It's five months since September the 11th, more than five months. Do you think it's a failure of American policy that Osama bin Laden, for that long, has eluded our net?

GRAHAM: We have been working that case with great intensity, with all of the resources that are available -- intelligence, military, law enforcement, collaboration with our allies, both outside and inside of Afghanistan.

He's an elusive person operating in an environment in which he has had a lot of support and sanctuary and, thus far, has been able to elude detection.

But I am at a high level of confidence that he will eventually be found dead or alive, and that part of this case will be brought to closure.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, it's generally agreed that the war in Afghanistan is a CIA show, run by the CIA with the military providing assets.

As the chairman of the Oversight Committee, what kind of job do you think they've done, considering the criticism now that there's been some mistakes on collateral damage, bombing and so on?

GRAHAM: I think it's been a superb, cooperative effort. I wouldn't put one CIA ahead of the other, of the United States military. They have worked together in an unusually collaborative manner. I had a briefing earlier this week at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and there could not have been more positive comments made about the way in which the military and the intelligence agency have formed a unified team to accomplish our objectives.

Now, yes, there have been some targets that have been hit which have not been what we thought they were. Unfortunately, that is the nature of both war and the nature of the particular phase of this war.

For the first 60 or 90 days, we were fighting an enemy across clearly defined lines. The enemy wearing a uniform to identify them, and we knew who to focus our aerial bombardments again.

Now we have pockets of maybe 10 to 15 Taliban and Al Qaeda who have insinuated themselves into urban areas, not so easily identifiable. And unfortunately, we've had the couple of instances in which we hit what we thought was a Taliban or Al Qaeda grouping but turned out to also have some innocent civilians.

HUNT: Mr. Chairman, you have said that another attack on the United States, unfortunately, is probable. Would the source of that, do you think, most likely be the sleepers of Al Qaeda, or do you think it's another source?

GRAHAM: The estimate is that there are 100 or more Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some who have been here for a considerable period of time, all of whom went through a training process to prepare them to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so. That probably is the most immediate threat of a terrorist attack against the United States.

But there are also maybe a dozen or more other international terrorist organizations, some of which also have agents inside the United States.

HUNT: Senator, we're going to take a break now.

But when we come back, we'll have the Big Question for Bob Graham.


HUNT: And now, the Big Question for Chairman Graham.

Mr. Chairman, ABC News reported this week that weeks before September 11, the CIA learned that Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was being treated medically in Yemen, but the administration decided not to go get him.

Was that a major mistake?

GRAHAM: Al, I am not familiar with that specific case. Those are exactly the kind of issues that we're going to spend the rest of the year reviewing as part of our joint House-Senate investigation into what happened before and on September the 11th.

HUNT: So no one told you that there were reliable reports that Dr. Al-Zawahiri was in Yemen in the weeks before September 11?

GRAHAM: No, we have not had a briefing on that specific individual.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, in view of the murder, the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, do you think it's time for the United States government to review its opposition to negotiating with kidnappers and perhaps even considering the payment of ransom?

GRAHAM: Difficult question. I would say no, because once the kidnappers feel that they have some opportunity of achieving their goals, which in many cases are economic, then they will be incentivized to engage in even more kidnapping.

So while this tragic situation, one in which we wish there had been some way to have saved Mr. Pearl, we would be putting more journalists and more Americans of all types of backgrounds at risk if it were known that we would negotiate and pay for the release of kidnapped persons.

NOVAK: Senator Bob Graham, thank you very much.

Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.


HUNT: Bob, Chairman Graham offered a very measured and long-term battle against the axis of evil. And I'll tell you, he does not think any action against Iraq will be a cakewalk, quite the contrary.

NOVAK: But he also gave the impression that he doesn't think there's going to be any action against any of the three countries. He said this was a warning.

And I think that that is really how this whole warning, this whole rhetoric by the president has progressed. It's really been subdued, and I think that the chairman was reflecting that.

HUNT: You know, a number of Senate Democrats are worried that this joint investigation of what happened September 11 will turn into a "blame Bill Clinton first" escapade. I think it's going to be a genuinely bipartisan effort, I really do.

NOVAK: I was very interested that he did not use the Pearl Harbor investigation as a model, which some of his colleagues have been doing.

I think he is a very calm, steady person, and I think he doesn't want to look for scapegoats or giving somebody a clean bill of health who doesn't deserve it either. I have some confidence in him on that score.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt. NOVAK: Coming up at 7:00 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG," examining President Bush's trip to Asia, and the death of a journalist.

HUNT: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.


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