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Interview with Condoleezza Rice; Interview With Akbar Ahmed; '90-Second Pop'

Aired March 22, 2004 - 07:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, 7:30 here in New York. It looks nice, but let me tell you, it's chilly outside.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty-six degrees?

HEMMER: Yes. And, what, last week we had three days of straight snow. This week, we have, like, three days of really gusting winds, about 30 miles an hour.

O'BRIEN: Wednesday looks good. Thursday looks better. Friday looks great.

HEMMER: Wait. Listen, in a few moments here, National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice is our guest live from the White House, responding to these charges by a former administration official involved with fighting terrorism. What really happened behind the scenes as the White House put together its strategy? Was the president ignoring the problem before 9/11? There's a charge out that says just that. We'll talk to Dr. Rice in a moment about all of that.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, this is just coming into us: tunnels found in Pakistan. So, the question is: Who exactly is cornered by Pakistan's military in the eastern part of the country? How long is it going to take to catch that person? This morning, we talk to a former official from the region who knows the area inside and out, and he can tell us exactly what's going on. It's going into the fifth day of fighting.

HEMMER: Yes, indeed it is.

Top stories now, bottom of the hour.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is saying Israel will press ahead with this war on terror after an Israeli strike left the spiritual leader of Hamas dead. Thousands took to the streets for today's funeral procession for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israeli helicopters striking down Yassin earlier today, wounding two of his sons. The U.S. urging Israelis and Palestinians to stay calm. We will watch that quite closely throughout the morning and day here on CNN.

Also from overseas, Taiwan's opposition party is demanding a special task force to look into the shooting of the president, Chen Shui-bian. Thousands of demonstrators camping out in front of the presidential office this weekend are demanding a recount of Saturday's election results. The opposition says the shooting gave the president and edge in the elections and has not been properly examined.

The suspect in the Ohio highway shootings is expected to make his first court appearance today in Ohio. Charles McCoy, Jr., arrested in Las Vegas last week, returned to Columbus over the weekend. He's suspected in two dozen highway shootings along Interstate-270 since May of last year.

The results from the latest high-speed crash test of mid-size cars are in. And all but one made the top grade. The Acura TL and TSX, the Nissan Maxima, Chevy Malibu and Mitsubishi Galant all received good ratings, but the newest model of the Suzuki Verona scored an unacceptable rating. Officials say the air bag did not inflate when first tested.

You're up-to-date at 7:32 now in New York.


O'BRIEN: Well, now to the war of words between the Bush administration and its former counterterrorism coordinator. In his new book, Richard Clarke says President Bush ignored warnings about al Qaeda before 9/11 and pressed him to find a link to Saddam Hussein after the attacks. The White House calls the charges categorically false and politically motivated.

Joining us this morning from the White House with a response is National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

Nice to see you, Dr. Rice. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

Richard Clarke is claiming that prior to September 11, the administration essentially ignored warnings from al Qaeda. Let's listen first to a little bit of what he had to say last night on "60 Minutes."


RICHARD CLARKE, AUTHOR, "AGAINST ALL ENEMIES": Well, there's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th of 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack, and that urgent memo wasn't acted on.


O'BRIEN: In addition to that urgent memo, he talks about requesting cabinet-level meetings over eight months, denied each and every time until a week before 9/11. Are those charges true?

RICE: Dick Clarke in that memo responded to my request for initiatives that we ought to be undertaking. And what he did was after we had all been briefed on the al Qaeda threat and understood what the Clinton administration had been doing, he wanted another meeting. I didn't think another meeting was necessary. The principals knew what the threat was. What we needed was a strategy.

And what Dick Clarke gave me in that memorandum was a series of ideas, a series of steps, most of which, by the way, we did within a matter of months -- steps like trying to accelerate the arming of the Predator, steps like increasing counterterrorism funding, increasing counterterrorism support to Uzbekistan. These were steps that he said would bring -- would roll back al Qaeda over a three to five-year period. This was not going to address the -- quote -- "urgent threat" of September 11.

We did ask Dick Clarke for a more comprehensive strategy, one that would not just seek to roll back al Qaeda, but would seek to eliminate al Qaeda that would have real military options, not just options of pinprick strikes against training camps that had already been abandoned. We asked for a strategy that could be effectively funded. We increased intelligence activities by a factor of three in the strategy that was developed.

So, that's what Dick Clarke was supposed to be doing. At the same time, he was to continue the Clinton administration strategy until we got a new strategy in place.

But what's very interesting is that, of course, Dick Clarke was the counterterrorism czar in 1998 when the embassies were bombed. He was the counterterrorism czar in 2000 when the Cole was bombed. He was the counterterrorism czar for a period of the '90s when al Qaeda was strengthening and when the plots that ended up in September 11 were being hatched.

The fact is, we needed a new strategy, and that's what we asked Dick Clarke to give us.

O'BRIEN: He...

RICE: Dick Clarke, by the way, Soledad, did ask to brief the president once, to my recollection, and that was...

O'BRIEN: And he...

RICE: That was in June of 2001. It was during a high spike period of threats. And he asked to brief the president on cyber security.

O'BRIEN: Much of his indictment against the administration seems to be that he felt or feels that President Bush was wrongly focused on Iraq. He says that he had a conversation with President Bush, told him there is no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. The president, he describes him as being very single-minded in his purpose, and told him, go find out if there is a connection. Did that conversation ever happen?

RICE: Well, I didn't -- I can't recollect such a conversation, but it's not surprising that the president wanted to know if we were going to retaliate, against whom are we going to retaliate? And, of course, Iraq, given our history, given the fact that they tried to kill a former president, was a likely suspect.

But let me tell you what the president was really worried about in those few days after September 11, the first few days. He was concerned about a follow-on attack. And so, we were doing everything that we could to try and harden the country to deal with borders. He was concerned to reassure the American people. He was talking to his economic advisers about how to get Wall Street back up and running so that the terrorists couldn't collapse the economy. He was concerned about how to get aviation flying again safely and, in particular, how to deal with Reagan National Airport. He was concerned about against whom we would retaliate.

But the meeting that Dick Clarke, of course, missed -- or was not invited to -- was at Camp David, when I can tell you that we rolled out a map, not of Iraq, but a map of Afghanistan. And we looked at what we might do to incent (ph) Pakistan to change its strategic direction and support us in Afghanistan. We looked at what this meant for Iran. We looked at ways to avoid what the Soviet Union had experienced in putting 100,000-plus ground forces on the ground in Afghanistan. We looked at what we were going to do to get real military options that would not still turn the Afghan population against us.

Iraq was discussed, because the question was raised in a global war on terrorism: Should you also take care of the threat from Iraq? But not a single National Security Council principal at that meeting recommended to the president going after Iraq. The president thought about it. The next day he told me Iraq is to the side. We're going after Afghanistan, and we're going to eliminate the Taliban and the al Qaeda base in Afghanistan.

O'BRIEN: What Richard Clarke has had to say many people are, of course, reading into the president's re-election bid. I want to play you another small chunk of what he said last night.


CLARKE: I find it outrageous what the president is running for re-election on, the grounds that he has done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.


O'BRIEN: Richard Clarke says he was a registered Republican back in 2000. We heard from Dan Bartlett at the White House that this is politically-motivated. But, again, this is a man who worked for the first President Bush, who worked for President Reagan as well. What do you think Richard Clarke's motivations are?

RICE: I really don't know what Richard Clarke's motivations are, but I'll tell you this: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to. In fact, when he came to me and asked if I would support him with Tom Ridge to become the deputy secretary of Homeland Security -- the department which he now says should never have been created -- when he asked me to support him in that job, he said he supported the president. So, frankly, I'm flabbergasted.

I will say this: Dick Clarke was the counterterrorism czar when attacks took place in '98 from al Qaeda and in 2000 from al Qaeda, when plots were hatched against the United States by al Qaeda. He has a different view of how to fight the war on terrorism. It is a narrow view that it has to do with killing bin Laden and dealing with Afghanistan. The president has a broader view, which is that you have to take the fight to the terrorists. We have eliminated their base in Afghanistan. We have freed 25 million Afghans.

In addition, the president believes that you have to go to the center of the Middle East and deal with the threats there. And you have to have a different kind of Middle East that won't spawn the ideologies of hatred. And that's why Iraq, a terrible regime that was the most dangerous regime in the region, has now been eliminated, and why we are helping the Iraqi people to build a democracy as a model to those in the Middle East who want a different kind of Middle East. I understand that Dick Clarke thinks this is a narrow war. We think it's a broader war.

O'BRIEN: If I understand correctly, you were actually the one who encouraged him to stay on after the Clinton administration. He says that he warned you in early 2001, in January 2001, about al Qaeda. And he writes and says in interviews that you seemed skeptical about it. And also, he says you gave him the impression that you had never even heard of al Qaeda. I wonder if you view any of that as a personal attack.

RICE: No, I just think it's ridiculous. And the fact is, you know, I wasn't born yesterday when Dick Clarke briefed me. I knew that in 1998 we suspected that al Qaeda had done the bombings of the embassy. I knew about Osama bin Laden. We all knew that in 2000 they were suspected of doing the Cole. No, this wasn't an issue of who knew about al Qaeda. This was an issue of what we were going to do about al Qaeda.

And it was Dick Clarke's job to develop for this president a broad, comprehensive strategy for dealing with the al Qaeda threat, and he eventually did that, and I think did a very good job. But this retrospective rewriting of the history of the first several months of the administration is not helpful. And what's particularly not helpful, Soledad, is to somehow suggest that the attack on 9/11 could have been prevented by a series of meetings.

I have to tell you that during that period of time, we were at battle stations. The president in June and July when the threat spikes were so high was hearing from George Tenet every day about what we were doing about the threats in the Persian Gulf, what we were doing about the potential attack against the G-8 leaders in Genoa. The president knew that I was on the phone with Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld every day at 7:15 a.m., where they were providing force protection for American forces abroad, where Colin was buttoning down embassies abroad. Because the fact is, the intelligence pointed to abroad.

Now, because just on the basis of analysis, not any threat reporting, I myself and the president were worried about whether there might be some problem at home. There was no threat reporting at home. I called -- with Andy Card, I called Dick Clarke into my office on July 5, and I said, 'Dick, have you had your meeting of the counterterrorism strategy group?' He said, yes, that he'd had the so- called core agencies together. Those are mostly foreign policy agencies. I said, 'Dick, I want you to get the domestic agencies together, because who knows?' He did then get them together, and an FAA -- more FAA alerts were issued. FBI alerts were issued. We were trying to pay attention to all of these threats.

But the fact of the matter is not only was the administration focused on this before 9/11, but the president launched an aggressive response after 9/11 that has put us well on the road to winning the war on terrorism. We haven't won it yet. It's going to take time, but we are well on the road to winning the war on terrorism.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, joining us this morning. Thank you very much. Nice to see you, as always.

RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: We also want to remind you that Richard Clarke is going to be our guest tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING -- Bill.

HEMMER: A break here. In a moment on AMERICAN MORNING, a mile- long tunnel found in Pakistan. What does it mean now for the hunt for al Qaeda? Did they escape after all? Much more on that still developing story this morning.

And, there is no sophomore jinx for Norah Jones and her new CD. "90-Second Pop" joins us in a moment on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Pakistani troops discovering a series of tunnels in the area of fighting in the eastern part of that country, one of them more than a mile long. It is not clear if anyone escaped from the tunnels now, but they're investigating that as we speak. Thousands of Pakistanis troops -- more than 7,000, in fact -- have several hundred fighters surrounded. Pakistan is no longer asserting that al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is with them.

The intense fighting that broke out last Tuesday led Pakistani leaders to speculate publicly that they had cornered what they termed a high-value target.

Now, on a Monday, where are we here? The Afghan border area, is familiar territory. To our next guest. Akbar Ahmed served as a Pakistani administrator of the Waziristan region. He's now a professor of international relations at American University. It is our pleasure to welcome you here.

Good morning to you down there in D.C.


HEMMER: This tunnel, more than a mile long. Does that sound like an escape route to you?

AHMED: Yes, and the pattern is familiar from across the border in Tora Bora. These tunnels are new. They would be strategic tunnels. But we must also remember that people up in the hills do live in caves. So, it would be a natural development if they've got guests like the al Qaeda to also develop them into tunnels as an escape strategy.

HEMMER: So, if you're sending 7,000 Pakistani soldiers in there, isn't this the area where you go first to make sure no escape routes are possible?

AHMED: Absolutely, if they can do it. Remember that the troops, they are there for the first time in this large number. And that, of course, is a very clear demonstration of Pakistan's commitment to the war on terror, particularly in the context of Spain wanting pull out troops, Poland sounding very shaky about its troops. So, Pakistan is showing America that we are with you, we are solidly with you, and here are our troops on the ground.

HEMMER: It's my understanding there are some negotiations going on right now between the government and the tribal leaders. I'll show our viewers some of these -- three to be more specific. No. 1, the fighters freed 12 solders, and two government officials now being held. Two, they hand over tribesmen involved in the fighting. And No. 3, they kick out any foreigners or show the military where to track them down. These goals, can they be successful at this point?

AHMED: They can, because the way to work out solutions in that part of the world is through the tribal council, and this is what's being employed. It is unfortunately being employed after the action. And remember that in the rest of Pakistan there has been a reaction. Ben Aziz Puto (ph) has criticized the action. Religious leaders have criticized it. And the lawyers of Pakistan are also protesting. And in the context of what's just happened in the Middle East, the murder of Sheikh Yassin, you will see an escalation of the tension in the tribal areas, because people there are very religious and very religiously-minded.

HEMMER: Give us an understanding as to why Pervez Musharraf last week would talk about a high-level target.

AHMED: I think that he was fairly sure that one of the two or three major figures of al Qaeda would have been in the region, and that's quite plausible. But then with all of the media (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think there was some misunderstanding between the media and the administration. These figures may well have slipped across either to the north into Waziristan or across the border into Afghanistan, and therefore slipped out of the net. And it's very, very difficult and very uncertain to predict who was actually going to be caught, if their net brings in the supposed militants in that part of Waziristan.

HEMMER: Quickly in a word or two. Is al Qaeda hiding there, the top leaders?

AHMED: I think that they would have been. This is the most inaccessible part of the tribal areas in Pakistan. So, this would have been the best possible place for them to hide out. And if they are there, I think they would have moved several days ago.

HEMMER: Akbar Ahmed, thank you for talking with us today. Appreciate it. Nice to see you.

AHMED: Thank you, Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Jack's got the question of the day. Good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How're you doing?

The question is: How much damage will Richard Clarke's claims do to the president's re-election campaign?

Letters from you, beginning with Paul in Hellertown, Pennsylvania: "The Bush administration is continuing to look more and more like the "I'm not a crook" Nixon administration. When his own trusted insiders start spilling the beans about the Iraqi war, more eye-opening revelations will surely emerge."

Mark in Atlanta, Georgia, writes: "While Clarke's comments should signal the beginning end of the Bush tenure as the strong national security president, I'm afraid politics is like religion. What one believes is usually more important than facts in determining where people stand."

And Tim writes this: "The Kerry lovers will believe them. The Bush lovers will despise them. The media will play them over and over until they become urban legend, whether they are true or not."

O'BRIEN: Interesting.


O'BRIEN: And that's probably really true. All right, Jack. Thank you very much.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, supermodel Tyra Banks has a hot new reality show. And the weekend box office, too. That's all ahead with our "90-Second Pop" panel. Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HEMMER: All right, on a Monday to loosen things up now. "90- Second Pop" time.

Humorist Andy Borowitz is back here with us. Nice to see you, Drew. Happy Monday.


HEMMER: You're like here every day, aren't you?

BOROWITZ: I never leave.

HEMMER: My gosh.

"New York" magazine contributing editor Sarah Bernard. Great to have you back, Sarah. Good morning.


HEMMER: And Toure, contributing editor for "Rolling Stone," still wearing the coolest colors in shirts..


TOURE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": But you're more metro-sexual than I am, Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, do you think so?

TOURE: Come on. Get real.

HEMMER: I'm taking lessons off you, man.

TOURE: Let's keep it real.


HEMMER: You write the list and I'll (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BOROWITZ: It's very close. Gentlemen, it's very close.

BERNARD: You in all black get to be the arbiter.

HEMMER: Good point.


HEMMER: Sarah, Tyra Banks has a show called "America's Next Top Model."

BERNARD: That's right, and it's...

HEMMER: Is it any good?

BERNARD: It's great, and it finishes this week. It's really, really fun. It's down to three. I predict Shandy (ph) is going to win.


BERNARD: That's not going to mean much to you, but she's the underdog.

HEMMER: Hang on a second. What's the premise? I've never seen it.

BERNARD: All of these people want to be America's next top model. It's very, very simple.

TOURE: It's like the apprentice, but instead of Donald: Tyra.

BOROWITZ: But, you know, it's...

BERNARD: That's right, and all these other models, and they're going to get a contract.

BOROWITZ: I think this show is actually a derivative of "The Apprentice," because whoever becomes America's top model also wins a position with Trump eventually.

BERNARD: Right, so it all goes back to him.

BOROWITZ: It's the same show.

BERNARD: But the real winner is really Tyra Banks, I think. She said this week that she wants to be the next Oprah Winfrey, not in the sense of having her own talk show, but of having a big empire. She's got her pop single coming out, and I think she can actually do it. There's life beyond Victoria's Secrets.

HEMMER: She'll have huge ratings, right?

BERNARD: It's huge.

TOURE: It's such a cult show.


BERNARD: Absolutely.

TOURE: If you like the show, you love it. You're into it. I've been arguing with people in the street, Shandy (ph) is going to win. No, April is going to win.

BERNARD: See, you agree.

TOURE: No, no, no, no. But she's...

BOROWITZ: Actually, I'm thrilled to see models finally getting the recognition they deserve in our culture.

HEMMER: Isn't that the truth, Andy.

BERNARD: They are such underdogs.

BOROWITZ: They have been unrecognized for their accomplishments.

HEMMER: At the box office, "Dawn of the Dead" beat out "The Passion." There's a joke in here somewhere.


BOROWITZ: You know, well, I'll tell you, this is not a joke. I wanted to see how Hollywood would report this thing. So, I went right to "Variety." And "Daily Variety" had this headline. It said with 27 mil, resurrected zombies topple Christ. So, you've heard it from Hollywood.


BOROWITZ: That's from Hollywood.

TOURE: Is it sacrilegious to root against "The Passion?" I don't think so.

HEMMER: "The Passion" has won $300 million already.


HEMMER: It's taken in, and it's probably going to go much higher than that.

BERNARD: It'll come back.

TOURE: I know. But Mel Gibson is like a high-tech Jehovah's Witness, like, coming to our house pushing his religion on us. It's like, gee!

HEMMER: Listen, Jim Carrey's film is out. Do you like it?

TOURE: It's so beautiful. It's so much fun.

BOROWITZ: It's the "Eternal Sunshine."

TOURE: It's one of these simultaneous multiple consciousness movies. It's like this melancholy song that makes you sad. You want to keep listening to it. It was just so great. And Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter, is such a genius. Like, I'm sitting there the whole time going, gee, I wish I wrote this. I wish I wrote this, which is like saying...

BERNARD: But don't you think this was better than his other ones and less...


BERNARD: ... convoluted than "Being John Malkovich?"



HEMMER: Wait a minute. The title is "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."


HEMMER: Someone has stolen the sunshine here in New York City. The weather has been just downright awful.

Who wants to tackle Norah Jones? It's her sophomore album, her second release, more than two million copies sold. It's surprising a lot of people.

TOURE: Five weeks in a row at No. 1. Unbelievable for a "Blue Note" album, a jazzy album. I mean, it's an album that's like fun. You can eat lunch to it and you can have sex to it.

BOROWITZ: No, no, no. You know what?

TOURE: It's better than sex!

BERNARD: I don't understand it. It is so boring.

BOROWITZ: Now, Norah Jones...

BERNARD: I really just don't get it.


BOROWITZ: Norah Jones -- Norah Jones is yuppie make-out music. You put it on, close your eyes and pretend that you're in restoration hardware. That's what it is.

BERNARD: I think that is on the restoration hardware soundtrack, actually.


HEMMER: Listen, in the iPod era, I think it's stunned a lot of people. Five months of straight growth in the record industry, and a lot of people did not think that.

Hey, good to see you, man.

BOROWITZ: Good to see you.

HEMMER: Andy. Sarah, I'd reach for you, but it's too far away.

BERNARD: Good to see you.

HEMMER: You're still taking notes off your metro-sexual (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

TOURE: No way, baby. Look at your nails, man.

HEMMER: See you later. Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: His nails? what? What? I'm going to check that out.

Still to come this morning, secret tunnels may have cost Pakistani forces a chance to bag a high-level al Qaeda member. We're going to get a live report from Pakistan just ahead. Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


Ahmed; '90-Second Pop'>

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