A panel of experts discuss the new HBO documentary film, Manhunt, which details the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
RICHARD PLEPLER (Chief Executive, HBO): Welcome, everybody. I'm Richard Plepler. And on behalf of my colleagues Sheila Nevans, Nancy Abraham, we want to welcome you to this special screening of "Manhunt," particularly timely in light of all the activity occurring around us.
Now, it's fair to say, I think, that no issue has occupied as much journalistic bandwidth as the hunt for Osama bin Laden. And I think it is fair to ask, given that, over the last 12 years, has everything been said about this story? Newspaper articles, magazine exposes, books, films, everything.
But if you ask that question, you would not know my colleague Sheila Nevans because she had the prescience and the wisdom and the judgement to believe that there more to unpack and to excavate about this subject. And she and the team behind this documentary have done so brilliantly, as you will see in a moment. So I would like Sheila Nevans, president of HBO Documentary Films, stand up, take a bow. (Applause.)
And I would like my other close colleague, Nancy Abraham, instrumental in this project, as in many others, to also stand up and take a bow, Nancy Abraham. (Applause.)
Now, even Sheila will tell you that none of these projects come together alone. They require the alchemy of a terrific team. And we had one here. First, the eminent writer and journalist from whose book this documentary is formed, Mr. Peter Bergen. (Applause.) A superb production team, which did a truly magnificent film for us a couple of years ago on the great Sergio de Mayo (ph) also made this film, and I want to have the producers John Battsek and Julie Goldman stand up both and take a bow. (Applause.) And the pretty naturally talented director, Greg Barker, who did this for us so masterfully, even with so much journalism out, has managed to put together something that will surprise you and, I think, make you reimagine much of your preconceptions about this story. Greg, please stand up and take a bow. (Applause.)
Following the screening, Fareed Zakaria of CNN will lead a conversation will Phil Mudd, who was the deputy director of counterterrorism at the CIA and Nada Bakos, the former targeting officer at the CIA, who you will see in the film.
We thank you all for coming. I think you're in for a very interesting and engaging evening. Enjoy.
(Screening of "Manhunt.")
FAREED ZAKARIA: Ladies and gentlemen, pleasure to have you all here. We are running a little late, so what I'm going to do is try to get -- because the council's rules require that we end punctually because we are supposed to be a very organized place and also because people think that our members like to go to bed. And so I'm going to get right into it as quickly as we can.
I'm going to quickly introduce the panel: Greg Barker, who is the director of this extraordinary movie you just saw; Nada Bakos, who is the -- one of the stars and certainly one of the stars of the hunt for bin Laden; Philip Mudd, her former boss, the deputy director of counterterrorism at the CIA; and, of course, Peter Bergen, who has been on his own hunt for bin Laden for a decade.
There are so many questions and so many places we could begin, but I'm going to start with what I think most people are going to wonder about, Nada, which is "Zero Dark Thirty."
NADA BAKOS: Yes.
ZAKARIA: How -- when you watched that movie, and we watched this -- what is the greatest discrepancy between the -- you know, the fictionalized version and what actually happened? What's the thing that struck you as, wait a minute, what are they doing here?
BAKOS: So first of all, I'm not Maya (sp). (Scattered laughter.) Say that upfront.
I think the biggest discrepancy for me was that it felt a little bit more like a detective story, like a law enforcement story, versus intelligence, because as you could see, there's a huge gray area when dealing with intelligence, and there's a lot of nuance, and that just didn't come out to me for -- in the movie. But I thought it was great.
ZAKARIA: The attack on Khost was the most dramatic part of the movie, and was that fairly accurate?
BAKOS: I mean, that was hard for me to watch. I was -- I was surprised by it, I guess.
ZAKARIA: Hard for you to watch what?
BAKOS: In "Zero Dark Thirty," the attack itself. It just sort of -- it felt like it came out of nowhere. But --
MR. : What did you think of the characterization of Jennifer?
BAKOS: The portrayal of Jennifer I didn't think was accurate, as I knew Jennifer.
ZAKARIA: In what sense?
BAKOS: She wasn't -- she wasn't that shallow. (Chuckles.) She -- it seemed to be sort of a superficial character that didn't have the intensity that Jennifer had. She was much more dedicated and intelligent than that character.
ZAKARIA: Phil, how did all this strike you? You're looking at this as a slightly higher-up.
PHILIP MUDD: I hate to say, I don't watch terrorism movies, and I've never seen the film, and I won't see the film.
MUDD: Because I think it gives a sense to the American people, who pay for our taxes and who represent values, that those of us who represented you willfully decided to kick somebody around a room. This is not accurate. We were dealing with human beings, and we tried to the best with a bad hand. We're playing poke with double deuces. And so it perpetuates a myth that those who people think of as CIA officers are not actually Americans who represent your values. And we try to. Maybe we failed, but we tried. I don't like that.
ZAKARIA: Greg, when you look at the movie out, that has come out, do you feel -- is there a message you're trying to send in making the movie the way you've made it?
GREG BARKER: Look, I mean, my purpose, and kind of most of my life, my adult life living overseas, and what I try to do is to make films that help an audience, a general audience, understand how our national security apparatus actually works. I really don't make films that point fingers or express my own point of view. I'm not -- I'm more interested in what people actually, from the inside, feel and the choices they make and the moral choices that they grapple with.
So really what I want people to get a sense from this is how things actually looked and felt from the inside, because I think then we get a better understanding of why things went down the way they did, everything from why it took so long to get bin Laden to why torture or coercive interrogation, whatever you want to call it, was employed. And I wanted to convey that from the inside looking out rather than from the outside looking in.
So it was for me, I've made the -- I sort of had the idea for the film really the night of the Abbottabad raid. I just knew that this was a dark period in our country's history and a lot of the choices that led us there were dark, morally ambiguous choices that led us to Abbottabad. So I wanted to sort of take people into that world.
ZAKARIA: So Phil, let's deal with one of those morally ambiguous choices, which is the issue of torture. First of all, do you -- you know the whole -- the controversy around "Zero Dark Thirty." Do you believe -- forget the movie. Do you believe that the use of enhanced interrogation procedures was an integral part of getting bin Laden?
MUDD: I think it was an integral part of the war on terror. Your question, I think, sort of takes us away from the key problem we faced, which was not the problem of bin Laden. This is a misperception among the American people. The problem we faced was an adversary -- if you think about it like fabric -- that had financiers, trainers, et cetera, and at the top you had a couple people who were responsible for ideology -- bin Laden, Zawahiri -- below that you had a whole range of individuals who were slowly identified by technical intelligence -- email and phone, for example -- human intelligence sources and, over time, detainees.
So bin Laden aside, the architecture of the group that was going to attack Europe and the United States was profound and deep. And to understand that, I came to believe, and do, that detainee information acquired after interrogation techniques was not only helpful, it was critical.
ZAKARIA: And do you think that information would not have been obtained without the use of enhanced interrogation?
MUDD: I'm not certain. And people who say they are certain aren't speaking accurately. If we had six months -- and we're going to lose, among historians, the perspective of time. If we had six months or a year or 24 months, you might have said, I can build -- and I'm not saying this facetiously. I think this is accurate. I worked at the bureau as well for 4 1/2 years. I can build rapport with these guys. They are human beings. And by the way, after interrogations, we talked to them. They would talk to us. They'd sit at a board and explain to us what al-Qaida was all about.
But my question instead was not just whether we could have obtained it otherwise. It was whether we had the time to try.
ZAKARIA: Nada, how did this strike you? When you were getting information, did it strike you that the torture was a -- seemed to be part of what was getting you information that was vital?
BAKOS: Well, look, I was dealing with a lot with the military -- detainees that the military was holding in Iraq, so I wasn't -- a lot of the information that I was having to look at wasn't vetting what the EIT program was, you know, producing. So, I mean, I really don't know. I can't honestly say, you know --
ZAKARIA: Expand on that. Was not vetting with what the enhanced interrogation technique program was producing, meaning?
BAKOS: So the intel I was actually looking at from the detainees that we were picking up in Iraq were held by the U.S. military, so they weren't part of CIA's custody.
ZAKARIA: I see.
Peter, you've reported on this for a long time. What is your sense? You know, the al-Qaida people were famously supposed to be the kind who would never talk. I mean, one of the great mysteries of this whole operation remains the prize money, or whatever you want to call it, the reward, that, as far as I can tell, has still gone unclaimed, which was the $25 million. Right? And the idea was that he was -- so loyal were his band of followers that nobody was giving up information.
Did they talk? I mean, would they talk to you more than -- you know, could you have charmed them, do you think, if you had time?
BERGEN: I mean, the crown jewels was bin Laden's location. People were not giving that away. We're all disadvantaged in this discussion because so much of what really happened remains classified. And I think if there was a sort of silver lining in the "Zero Dark Thirty" movie, it raised this issue up in a way that produces public pressure that people in this room can apply to get the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has spent four years investigating this question, to release at least part of the 6,000-page report that they have done on this.
And while the report may have its critics, so it's hard to, you know, pre-emptively criticize, people in the CIA are not necessarily that happy about it, I think it's going to be the best that we can do. And it will answer some of these questions definitively, because we're all disadvantaged by the fact that so much of this is classified.
That said, I wanted to amplify and agree with what Phil just said. I think coercive interrogation is part of the war on terror. That's just a fact. And that's why Greg correctly focused on this issue. And I use the word "coercive interrogations" for a reason, because it's a much less loaded term than "torture." Torture means a lot of different things to different people. There was no doubt that people were coercively interrogated. The question is did it lead to bin Laden, which is the burden of "Zero Dark Thirty." And I think the answer is no. Was it useful in the larger sense, in sort of dismantling al-Qaida, getting a sense of what al-Qaida is? The answer is yes. Could it have been done differently? Well, since we can't live history backwards, the -- we just don't know the answer to that question. And so that's a very messy and not very satisfying answer.
ZAKARIA: But you're confident on the first claim, that it did not lead to bin Laden?
BERGEN: I think Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Carl Levin are very unlikely people to go out repeatedly on the record and say that we have examined all this, and we are confident it didn't lead to bin Laden. And I can tell you from examining what I know on the public record, which the WikiLeaks turned to be incredibly helpful in this matter -- the -- it is pretty -- it is not at all clear. And I think what Nada said in the film actually advanced the story quite a lot further than we'd know, and certainly when I was writing the book, which is the critical kind of piece of information -- there were several critical pieces, and Greg focused on this one, which was Hassan Ghul saying the Kuwaiti is the courier -- the courier. And that information, according to Nada in the film, came in the course of an interrogation with the Kurdish government. Well, the Kurdish government is not the CIA.
BARKER: He was not a CIA detainee when that -- when that information was obtained. So that --
ZAKARIA: Do we -- do we assume -- do we assume that the Kurdish government gave him a nice cup of tea and interrogated him, or -- (laughter) -- Nada, what do you think? Do you sort of --
BAKOS: I was in D.C. (Laughter.) No, I --
ZAKARIA: And in the film, it seems as though you're -- you do a double-take there.
BAKOS: I do, yeah. (Chuckles.)
ZAKARIA: What was that about?
BAKOS: That -- you know, it was a 12-hour day. And Greg is tough. (Chuckles.) But honestly, Hassan Ghul -- you know, what I knew at the time when he was being debriefed by the Kurdish government, he literally was sitting there having tea. He was in a safe house. He wasn't locked up in a cell. He wasn't handcuffed to anything. He was -- he was having a free-flowing conversation. And there's -- you know, there's articles in the Kurdish papers about sort of their interpretation of the story and how forthcoming he was.
MUDD: If I could dispel a myth for a moment, our mission -- I know this sounds absurd -- was not to eliminate bin Laden. Our mission was to stop more people from dying in New York or Chicago or Peoria. And the people most responsible for that, if you had to allocate resources, were people in operational roles: Hamza Rabia, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, people who are not known in this audience. So I'm not suggesting that we didn't always had a -- have a dedicated campaign to look for leadership. I'm saying if you had to define my priorities, I would have said if we hunt bin Laden and miss the operational leaders, we're going to miss our fundamental responsibility. If one person dies because the media, the Congress or whoever is telling us to go after bin Laden first and not focus on people the American people can't even identify, I'd say that's a mistake.
ZAKARIA: Now, that is slightly different from the narrative we've been -- we've been given, which is that when the president came to office, he told the director of CIA, I want you to redouble your efforts on finding bin Laden. That message gets transmitted down, presumably to you.
MUDD: Oh, really? Oh -- I mean, really? I've spent 20 years of my life chasing these guys, and I need somebody to say bin Laden's important? I respect what the president has done. He has been brilliant in exercising his authority to put a boot on the neck of an adversary that is dying or dead. But I think it's a misperception to say we needed to be told that the head of a terrorist organization that murdered 2,500 people in New York City has to be a priority for us. Not so much. (Laughter.) I'm serious. Twenty years of life, and I have to be told this guy's a priority?
ZAKARIA: I have your next movie for you. (Laughter.)
Nada, one of the things that, you know, all of us were sort of -- when we heard about the stories, noticed was, you know, women involved in this at very high levels, in fairly crucial positions. Do you think there's something about being a woman that made this easier for you? I'm thinking about the -- you know, in general, if one were to make stereotypes, you'd say men kind of jump to conclusions quickly, shoot first, ask questions later, and that women painstakingly put together incremental bits of data and weave a larger picture. Is there anything to that broad characterization?
BAKOS: I would hate to make it a gender-specific issue. (Chuckles.) But I think a lot of women were attracted to the targeting position initially because it was another way to be at the pointy end of the spear without being a case officer. I mean, not all of us wanted to, you know, strap on a gun and go recruit somebody to spy. So this is just another way for us to be able to be in the fight and not have to take the one typical road to get there.
And I -- you know, women at the time -- and I was not part of -- (inaudible) -- but women at the time were certainly attracted to that piece of it. And it helped pave the way for me to be able to do that as well. But you know, there's men and women in both of those positions, and to this day it's -- you know, I'd hate to say women are so much better at being analysts. But I do feel like we do have the sort of patience that sometimes men don't. (Laughter.) I'll say that.
ZAKARIA: You realize she's sitting next to her former boss.
MUDD (?): That's why I quit. (Laughter.)
BARKER: I should just add that one of the other women from the film, Cindy Storer, one of the original al-Qaida analysts, is in the audience. Cindy, could you stand up, in the back? (Applause.)
ZAKARIA: Can I ask you, how would you respond to that question?
QUESTIONER: For me?
QUESTIONER: Oh, to the -- to the woman question?
ZAKARIA: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTIONER: I'm with Nate on this. It's really hard to -- boy, I hate to overgeneralize because I work with so many good men too, but I'll tell you, I traveled the world, I worked with a lot of people everywhere and the vast majority of my analytical counterparts were women -- every country, all time periods -- on this topic, not on every topic, but on this topic. So --
ZAKARIA: Why do you think that is?
QUESTIONER: I think there -- oh, boy, this is a hard one. OK, there's the patience thing, the tenacity maybe.
I think another issue, though, is this is a place where women could make a mark in an era -- in an area that's traditionally male-dominated, and maybe that had something to do with it?
ZAKARIA: Peter, what do you think were the kinds of things that helped -- that helped in the search for bin Laden. When you -- when you -- when you look at it from the outside, what are the things that struck you?
BERGEN: You know, there's a lot we don't know, and in fact, 20 years from now we can have another conversation filling in some of the gaps. I mean, there's a huge gap that is kind of addressed in the film but is not a gap that we really know the answer to, which is how do we really find the real name of this guy? I mean, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, I mean, he's the father of Ahmed from Kuwait. There are millions of Kuwaitis, and lots of them have kids called Ahmed. So how do you get to Ibrahim Said (sp), who's a Pakistani, not a Kuwaiti? And that is not clear. And Phil may know the answer. So, Phil? (Laughter.) But, so there are gaps.
And you know, I was told in the course of reporting my book that a foreign intelligence service gave us the information. That's a little bit different from what Jose Rodriguez said, although it's not necessarily contradictory because it's probably a mole that is our asset inside a foreign intelligence organization.
MR. : He said a human source.
BERGEN: A human source.
ZAKARIA: We can resolve this right now.
BERGEN: It's probably the ISI, right? Because they would have the information about a guy in Pakistan.
MUDD: I think -- I'm not dodging, although sort of, but I think there's a broader question here about a revolution in intelligence that was accelerated by both the digital revolution but also by the terrorism problem that we faced, and that is, if you think of the digital trail that you would have left 15 years ago, it would have been very modest. Fifteen years ago, ATMs, maybe not a cellphone -- the kinds of trail you leave now, from the moment you wake up -- whether it's Facebook or email to everything else you do, including your newspaper subscription, your payments of bills, you're leaving an exhaust behind you, which we exploit when you make a mistake.
You add into that foreign service reporting, detainees and then you build expert analysts like Cindy who -- who develop an expertise over the past, let's say, 15 years to say, we can take analytic thinking and use some of this data and human source reporting to not only give you a strategic picture of something like the Soviet missile threat, but to say, I've never seen this guy Hassan Ghul, but I know who he is, I will hunt him and we will take him down. The advent of targeting analysis, which is a term not known by Americans, is revolutionary in intelligence, and this is an example of targeting analysis -- not putting lead on an individual, but putting a mind over an individual so that we can build all that data down from an ocean to a drop of water.
ZAKARIA: Mike Hayden said to me that the -- if you want the single-sentence explanation of why they lost the trail for bin Laden and why they picked it up again was that sometime around 2002, he essentially went off the grid and just stopped using any kind of electronics and that sometime about a few years before he was caught, he started doing little things that put him back on the grid -- mainly through (a career ?). And that explained it more than anything else.
But I want to ask --
MUDD: Well, just one point. I hesitate to raise Boston here, but I know someone will. One of the things to watch, for those of you who haven't done this for a living, is whether whoever did this was on the grid or not, because people will say, can you find them? And the finding is not whether it's a terrorist, not whether it's an Islamic terrorist, it's whether someone is on the grid. And by on the grid I mean not only -- not only electronically -- which is critical -- but I also mean talking to people. As soon as you are on the grid, you expose yourself to risk. And so if you are someone who wants to build a fairly rudimentary device with three friends and you want to ask the FBI or CIA to find you, that's a problem. If, however, you go onto the grid, our opportunities expand exponentially.
ZAKARIA: Explain what that means. You mean made a phone -- you know, would something like a few phone calls before --
MUDD: If it's to the wrong person, maybe you start buying the wrong stuff, maybe you travel to the wrong place, maybe you talk to the wrong friend. There's a lot of opportunities as soon as you touch this expanding 21st-century revolution in data, knowledge, big data. If you don't touch it, though -- I'm afraid too many Americans think we're magicians.
My father today -- he's 81 years old. I couldn't believe it -- and I'm not joking -- I'm walking out of the house to go do a media event, and he says, I'm surprised there wasn't an informant in Boston. And I'm thinking, if there's two -- there's 330 million people in the "land of the free and the home of the brave," and we can't control automatic weapons, if we think we can control three kids or two kids or one kid off the grid who's buying stuff over the counter for a recipe he gets on the Internet, forget about it. It ain't going to happen.
ZAKARIA: There's something that Stan McChrystal said in his interview in Foreign Affairs that I want to end our part of the discussion with and just ask each of you to react to it. He said -- and I think of Boston when I think of this, of course -- he said, look, if we're going to go around using drones and using this incredible asymmetrical weapon we have to attack people and kill them, don't be surprised if they use the asymmetrical weapon they have, which is strapping bombs on themselves and walking into American cities and blowing people up.
Is this a kind of asymmetrical warfare? Because what strikes me about a place like Boston, even though the marathon was obviously a big event, with security, you could have killed as many people and injured as many people on a routine day in Grand Central Station, in places where it would be inconceivable that you could have preparations in place that would allow -- in any free society that is also rich and complex.
So is this -- you know, is that something to keep in mind; that if we do things that we regard as asymmetrical warfare, they're going to do the same?
I'll start with you, Peter.
BERGEN: I mean, I think the short answer is yes, and you know, there's no other form of warfare open to them. You know, the question is how effective will it be, and I mean, if you look at the number of people who have been killed by jihadi terrorists -- let's leave Boston aside for a second -- since 9/11, it's 17 in -- since 9/11.
ZAKARIA: In the United States.
BERGEN: In the United States.
About 300 Americans die every year in their bathtubs accidentally. We don't have an irrational fear of bathtub drownings, and so we shouldn't have an irrational fear of terrorism.
And this form of asymmetric warfare has not been very successful, because of the actions of many people in this room. And I think Boston actually kind of underlines that because the death toll is going to rise, but it's still going to be relatively small. And one of the reasons for that is that it's very hard to buy conventional explosives of any kind now. It's very hard to buy -- you know, Bill said, and I think it's a very important point, you know, the kinds of things that they -- the kind of materials they used in this bomb -- it's likely something like hydrogen peroxide. It's just -- it's not a very effective bomb-making device.
And so yes, that is an asymmetrical form of warfare. It's just not very effective.
MUDD: I think strategically, General McChrystal, who's an American treasure -- and losing him through that disaster a few years ago was -- is a real tragedy. He's a great man. I think strategically we have to think about that. Americans want to ensure that bad things don't happen to them tactically. They don't want to be hurt tomorrow, but they struggle to allow federal decision-makers to make long-term decisions. Don't intervene in Mali because you might alienate someone over the long term, but if a Malian ever comes to New York and attacks the subway, you're going to testify for two years, and your career is over.
And so it's a struggle to have that balance when you're sitting in the chair, and I would close by saying sometimes the public debates I see are off the mark. They say you -- if you attack, you'll alienate people. If -- they don't understand the implications of not attacking.
When I was there in the chair, the decision, I thought, was much more tactical. Yes, we might alienate people long term. I'm not stupid. I understand that. But if I see someone who's involved in a plot, what do you want me to do if I can't capture him? Would you say, don't pull the trigger? Is that what you want me to do? That's the -- that's not a decision I would have been prepared to make I didn't like what we did, but I thought it had to be done.
BAKOS: I mean, I largely agree with Peter and Phil. I don't see the drones as a strategy. I think it's tactic that we're using. But at the same time, you know, until we have a real conversation around how we actually want to counter terrorism -- because it's not going away.
And it comes back around to the -- to the argument that's quite often made in public about the agency needs to go back to doing intelligence the way that it did pre-9/11. Why? Why would we do that? I mean, we were caught on our heels because we did that, and I think this is a completely different world at this point.
So you know, while I don't think drones are our best option, I don't think that we should just stop and not do any type of counterterrorism strategy at all.
ZAKARIA: Greg, any final thought?
BARKER: Well, I would just say that -- on that point, I mean, both Hayden and McChrystal said -- will say that we can't kill our way out of this. So all of this may be true, but this -- there's also at a certain point, you know --
ZAKARIA: Right. One of the points McChrystal makes, actually, which is, it's not just the issue of whether to do it or not, but what you do; that, for example, policymakers are much less comfortable with special forces operations that go out, because you're risking troops' lives.
MR. : That's correct.
BAKOS: Mmm hmm. (Agreement.)
ZAKARIA: Now in many cases it might be much more -- a much smarter strategy in terms of not alienating locals, not -- being more targeted, but you're risking American soldiers' lives when you do that.
The one thing you know about a drone is you don't lose any American life and that people are willing to pay for a lot of costs on the other side of the leisure -- the ledger to get that one benefit.
Let's open it up. Please identify yourself before you ask the question.
QUESTIONER: Laurie Garrett. I deal with global health here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And one of the things that is incorrectly depicted in "Zero Dark Thirty" but has had huge outcome is that a polio worker was sent to the home in Abottabad. And at last count, I had 50 assassinations carried out against polio workers, primarily in Pakistan, but actually in seven different Islamic countries now. And the entire effort to eradicate polio is about to be destroyed because of this.
So was there a bona fide vaccine operation related to hepatitis that was attempted? Was the man who is now in prison in Pakistan actually the doctor recruited to execute it? Was the intent to extract DNA from the bin Laden children via a syringe and bring it back to confirm their identity? And you know, who pays the price for all the people being assassinated related to polio vaccination?
BERGEN: I think the answer to that is yes, yes, yes and in the sense that yes, there was this hepatitis B program; yes, the doctor was recruited. He didn't know he was looking for bin Laden. And yes, it's had a -- you know, a very bad effect in Pakistan, where it's sort of this story confirms every kind of conspiracy theory about what the CIA does in Pakistan. And so yeah, it's definitely -- it's had unintended consequences.
And it didn't succeed in the -- in the issue of getting DNA from the compound because they weren't let in to pick up the DNA.
QUESTIONER: Lyndsay Howard, International Bank of Azerbaijan. A great thank you to the director and the author for bringing to light histories that had been buried for 20 years. In 1994 Cindy Storer brought to the State Department an Afghan veteran's network briefing, in which all the bureaus participated. Most people didn't take it very seriously then. Lessons learned and looking forward -- at the end of the film, you talk about what happens next and that there are ideologies, networks out there. Are the analysts and these new techniques of targeting being applied in the national security apparatus the way they need to be? Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Phil, you want to take one?
MUDD: I -- you know, my sense is that the answer is no, because -- not because of willful neglect but because we don't understand the revolution we're in the midst of. That is, if you look at most organizations that are threats to this country, drug trafficking organizations, organized crime, human trafficking, they have common characteristics. They move. They have money. They have leadership. They communicate. To run an organization, whether it's IBM or a drug trafficking organization, you have to have these characteristics. You recruit people. You own a piece of geography. I look at what was so successful against foreign fighters, for example, in Iraq, or in this targeting program that sort of escalated over time -- how do you build an understanding of an individual that's so tactical that you can put a warhead on their forehead, as people say in the business?
And I start to believe that we're in chapter one of understanding both what targeting and understanding a human being is all about, globally, and second, how we can array big data, ATM transactions, global financial transactions, phone calls, emails, to look at targets like Mexican cartels, gang activity in Los Angeles or New York. I don't think we've understood how fungible, if you will, this technique and capability it.
You know, to take it one step further, to close, one of the successes Stan McChrystal had was in Balad in Iraq was putting together all this data and all these agencies to conduct rolling raids against Iraqi foreign fighter networks. Now, what if you put the Department of Justice on the back end of that and did that in South Central L.A. against gangs? I know that's revolutionary, but I think that's a different way to understand how to attack rapidly a network problem. And network problems aren't limited to terrorism.
ZAKARIA: What about the issue of motivation, which you alluded to, Phil? Peter, do we have a better understanding of what makes it possible to go to an 18-year-old or, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as you know, a 12-year-old or a 14-year-old, and say to them, you know, we'd like you to die for this cause, and your mission will succeed if you have died?
BERGEN: Yeah, I've interviewed some failed suicide bombers, and that's about as big a form of failure as possible. And I think the motivations vary, I mean, just in -- as in all sort of criminal activity.
I think one thing that we tend to underestimate for PC reasons is the role of Islam. And that is not a criticism of Islam, but I don't think you can understand bin Laden in anything other than the framework of somebody who is an Islamic zealot. It would be like trying to explain the crusades without an understanding of Christianity. So there is that element.
But you know, for the kind of cowherder who was recruited, as I interviewed, to be a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, one of the -- he told me that the reason that he was trying to commit suicide is he didn't have enough money to marry a wife, and therefore he was going to commit suicide and was attacked so that he could be married to the virgins in the -- in the afterlife. So that is not a kind of conventional motivation.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi, my name is Seth Nye (ph). I work in the private sector in -- on threat intelligence issues, but I'm a former military intel officer and also worked as a law enforcement as an intel analyst here in the U.S.
My question is for Mr. Mudd, actually. I know you got very -- regards to the application of collection assets and what, you know, if U.S. had asset disposal and you got very offended about The Hague, you know, being told about redoubling efforts on --
MUDD: I wouldn't say offended. I think the president's done great. I'd just say I'm not sure -- you know, seriously, if you're in a management position -- but I didn't state that properly. I think the president and President Bush were great for us in giving us the authority and the -- and the sort of latitude to execute a war.
QUESTIONER: Well, I, yeah, you know, I appreciate you saying that, but I think, you know, this sort of goes to a wider point. And your -- I mean, what we just watched and what you've just been discussing here was talking about Iraq and the application of assets there and Special Forces and collections assets. And I -- in my experience in Afghanistan in 2004, 2005, I got to watch a nice collection assets map shift dramatically to the application of forces to Iraq and see a -- you know, and, you know -- no offense --
ZAKARIA: So, the question is --
QUESTIONER: My question is, you know, you got -- you were unhappy with that reference, but don't you think there was a dramatic shift in collection assets, Special Forces assets that dramatically changed the mission and what was taking place in regards to what we just watched?
MUDD: I think you're right, but I wouldn't phrase the question that way. I mean, I don't know how you claim, how anyone would -- and you're not, and I wouldn't -- would say that the application of those assets in Iraq wasn't a draw in Afghanistan. I mean, mathematically you can't draw that conclusion.
QUESTIONER: I watched it on a map -- (off mic).
MUDD: Yeah, exactly, but there are some subtleties behind that, that make, I think, the problem a little more challenging. The first is, you know, whether or not those capabilities and those, sort of, resources were applied in Afghanistan, I'm not sure that would have accelerated the takedown of bin Laden. You know, it wasn't a million people or a billion dollars that took him down. It was some very good targeting work with very limited and specific information over a period of time.
That said, if you're looking at the broader issue of things like how do you project power into provinces owned by the Taliban or how do you accelerate the campaign to train the Afghans or how do you rebuild a village -- how do you say that the shift of resources from an area that we thought we were doing well in early on to Iraq didn't have an impact? I mean, I don't -- I don't think historians will dispute that.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- focused on Afghan and Pakistan -- (off mic).
BAKOS (?): Me too. (Scattered laughter.)
MUDD: Yeah, let me -- let me make one more point. We have to remember -- and I face this every day -- that we are not elected by the American people. I know you're not saying -- but a lot of us were frustrated after 5 o'clock, so to speak. But from 9:00 to 5:00, there are people that are elected by those of us in this room, and when they say go, we go. I don't care what I think.
QUESTIONER: Felice Gaer. I'm the U.S. expert on the U.N. Committee Against Torture. I heard Peter Bergen say that people in this room could get the Senate intelligence report released. The question is whether you, Mr. Mudd; you, Nada; Cynthia (sp) in the back; or any of you would support that position and if you think others in the intelligence community would as well.
BAKOS: Of the report being released?
QUESTIONER: Yeah, the report.
BAKOS: Yeah, I think -- I think we're better off having the information out there.
MUDD: I wouldn't support it but I wouldn't oppose it. I think the American people need to know what the -- what the officers for whom they pay do. These issues aren't peripheral to American values and the American ethos. And, therefore, those of us who pay for people like me ought to know.
I don't think it's a good place for someone like me personally to be in -- I was there. But I think openness is good. And I rarely get asked this question: If I had only one regret -- and I have very few -- it's not that I don't think about this. I didn't realize, by the way, psychologically back then how much I would live with this stuff every single day.
But my regrets aren't what you think they would be. My regrets are we brief very few people in Congress. By the way, we did brief them. But I wonder often, they are the elected representatives of you, whether we brief too few. Not just because we needed to cover ourselves but because they represent the will of the people and we didn't. We briefed some; what we call the "gang of four," the top leadership of our intelligence communities. And I briefed them personally on some of this stuff. But maybe -- I wouldn't do it again that way one more time. But, again, I wouldn't oppose this because I think there's a valid debate to be had. I just don't think it would be appropriate for someone like me to be involved in that.
ZAKARIA: And by extension, it raises the interesting question of drone-targeting. Should the president of the United States essentially on his or her own authority determine who is going to be assassinated with no congressional oversight?
MUDD: Yeah, I think -- I think -- I disagree with the public debate on that. I think the American people know what happens. It's not that complicated.
ZAKARIA: No, but should Congress be in some way involved before the president of the United States determines that he is going to essentially order the assassination of -- (inaudible).
MUDD: I don't think so. I'm not sure about though -- I want to make sure I distinguish between an intelligence officer and a policy officer. As a -- as a policy professional, I'd say I doubt it, but I'm not certain.
QUESTIONER: I want to --
ZAKARIA: Yup, yup --
QUESTIONER: I just want to broaden this out a little bit. In the intelligence studies community these days, there's quite a discussion going on about whether intelligence officers can actually sway a president one way or another. And there's certainly been a lot of historical examples. I mean, there are people even saying that, you know, we'd never manage to sway an administration in their early years, that it takes time, after they've been in office for awhile, tried stuff and failed.
And that is a pretty consistent pattern in our history. And so I am on the side of more openness, more briefing of Congress, more distilling things for the American people early and often as a way of balancing, honestly, executive power.
ZAKARIA: I think we can take a couple more. Seth (ph). Let's try and just make them brief, and I --
QUESTIONER: My name is Frederick Iseman from CI capital. I'd ask -- I'd like to ask a forward-looking question, which is the following: This film and discussion so far has been about things in the past. Looking forward, based upon the jobs that you've occupied to date, do you think that the coming threats are the same, or do you think that they are different, such as uranium coming out of Korea or Hezbollah or related other things? I'd just like to get your threat assessment, if you will, of what the institutions should be looking at.
ZAKARIA (?): Sure, sure. Nada, you want to start?
BAKOS: I was thinking Peter would be perfect for that. (Laughter.)
BERGEN: I think we're living in an unusual era in American history where there are -- the threats that we face are almost -- are very minimal. Compared to the Civil War, compared to the fight against the Nazis, compared to the Cold War, this is a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And if the worst that can happen -- and obviously, it was very bad -- was 9/11, in the longest arc of American history, this is not really that significant an event.
And I say that trying to sort of zoom out a little bit. Al-Qaida got lucky on 9/11; history is made by the lucky and visited on the unlucky. But they basically -- it looked at -- it looked like the beginning of something; it was actually the end of something. Al-Qaida -- it was the climax of their activities. It wasn't the beginning. And there's a lot of discussion about, you know, terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. I think it's very overwrought. The actual al-Qaida experimentation with chemical weapons was extremely amateur, and, in fact, there hasn't been a single case in this country of Jihadi terrorists experimenting with bombs, with chemical weapons, biological, radiological since 9/11. It's just a fact.
So, you know, I think it's easy for us to sort of say, the sky is falling, because when the sky doesn't fall, no one is held to account. And the sky doesn't fall. People don't remember the sort of prognostations (ph) of doom. And one final point. Graham Allison, which -- known to many here, wrote a book in 2004 predicting that within a decade, terrorists armed with nuclear weapons would attack the United States. Well, we're almost there, and there's no evidence of that.
ZAKARIA: I think just one coda to what Peter is describing; the great danger of al-Qaida was always that it represented the spearhead of 1.57 billion Muslims, that there was great support within the Islamic world for these ideas, these tactics and that, you know, how on Earth were you going to be able to deal with it?
And over the last 10 years, one of the things we've noticed -- first of all, al-Qaida ended up killing lots of Muslims, partly because of the really excellent counterterrorism work. They can no longer do what they want to do; they do what they can. And if Boston turns out to be one more example of that -- remember, they started out with high-value military, diplomatic targets of the U.S. government embassies, destroyers -- then they started moving to high-value symbolic targets -- World Trade Center.
Then they moved to cafes in Bali and Istanbul, nightclubs, you know. And what the problem is -- as you go down that chain, you're killing civilians, you're killing innocents, you're killing locals, you're killing Muslims. You're alienating more and more of that core support. And then you had the Arab Spring, where you see what most Muslims want. And they don't want to return to the 8th century Caliphate, they want a kind of opened, messy democracy.
And as a -- now, they may not succeed in getting there, for all kinds of different reasons, but the -- you know, the -- right after 9/11, you see bin Laden's photograph on t-shirts, little cafes in Egypt and Pakistan. Even in Pakistan -- I don't know about you Peter -- I don't see them. I mean, it's very thread -- that kind of romantic interest in al-Qaida is gone.
BERGEN: Can I just make one point? When bin Laden was killed, the number of demonstrators that turned out in Pakistan cities was almost zero. I mean, it was -- it was important to kill or capture him for all sorts of obvious reasons, but he had become irrelevant. And, you know, we're about to come to the second anniversary; go back to the prognostations (ph) that people -- oh, his martyrdom would be a big deal and there'd be all these kind of revenge attacks. It just hasn't happened.
ZAKARIA: Let's take a last question. Sir.
QUESTIONER: Daniel Arbess with Perella Weinberg Partners. I don't want to ask a question; I just want to thank you all very, very much for your service to our country. (Applause.)
MUDD: We only did what you would have done. (Laughter.) That's not a joke.
ZAKARIA: Well, on that note, we have to end the formal part of this, but feel free to come up. As I said, Council rules are, we have to close on time, sort of.
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