July 28, 2003

Transcript: Frank Sesno talks with Max Cleland

(7/27/03) Well, PrettyBlandStuff (PBS), in all of the "US
mainstream news media" at least had one credible,
principled news team on the depth of the 9/11
story...And no, it was not "Noose Hour," I feel sad
for Gwen and Ray. They look increasingly jittery and
they are both very good -- good enough NOT to be
reading the questions that ask from the papers in
front of them...It is of course Bill Moyers' NOW
broadcast at 10 p.m. on Friday night, presumably so
few will watch and have their denial disrupted...Yes,
of course Moyers already has his name scrawled on the
John O'Neil wall of heroes, as does the subject of the
interview, Max Cleland (D-GA). Frank Senso does the
Q&A. Must be good to work for someone with principles
and courage...Cleland put out a serious and explosive
charge against the _resident. Cleland's charge is at
least as important as the Niger uranium lie. Yet,
almost everyone is turning away from it. Except for
Moyers'NOW team...Moyers is also the only one with any
gravitas on the FCC story, which is unfolding into a
stunning rebuke and political defeat of the _resident
and Calm 'Em Powell's bratty son, Michael. A stunning
political defeat handed to him not by the media not by
the opposition, but by the American public. An
profound precedent for what must and I believe will
happen over the next year and a half..Read this
interview, share it with others and remember that


Transcript: Frank Sesno talks with Max Cleland

More on the 9-11 Commission

SESNayO: The report of the 9/11 Commission is due in
May. With me today is one of the members of the 9/11
Commission, former Georgia Senator, Max Cleland. His
background gives him a unique perspective. As a young
man, he enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam,
where he was seriously injured by a hand grenade.

Recovering from those wounds, Cleland committed
himself to politics and public service. He started as
a Democratic member of the Georgia State Senate. At
the age of 34, President Jimmy Carter turned to
Cleland to run the Veterans Administration. Cleland
was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, establishing
his expertise not only in veterans and health issues,
but in bio-terrorism and homeland security.

He lost a bitter battle for reelection last year, and
now teaches at Washington's American University in
addition to serving on the 9/11 Commission. Welcome to

CLELAND: Thank you.

SESNO: Good to see you. The joint report that you're
going to build upon is very important nonetheless, and
it documents a series of mixed signals between the
various agencies and departments, the FBI, the CIA,
the National Security Agency. As you read that report,
thinking of the independent commission that you're a
part of, what raised your eyebrows?

CLELAND: Well, several things. First of all, it's
terrifying. It's terrifying to me that three or four
disparate elements of our government in the so-called
intelligence community couldn't even share that
intelligence and couldn't even communicate that to one
another when each one had a bite of the elephant, but
they couldn't put the picture of the elephant

What you find is the intelligence community… there's
so many disparate agencies — over a dozen in six
cabinet level departments combined.

You have a community, but they're not communicating.
And therein lies the problem. What people have missed
about the joint inquiry report is the number one
recommendation. Let's get a National Director of
Intelligence. One person to report to the President,
and the Congress, and connect the dots. That's the
real missing element that we've had for about 30 or 40

SESNO: Coming back to this report for just a minute, I
spoke with someone at CIA who said after reviewing
this report that there's a lot of stuff in there. But
really, nothing new. Did you see anything new in it?

CLELAND: Absolutely.

SESNO: What?

CLELAND: Absolutely. I did not know that there was an
FBI informant in San Diego that was living with two of
the hijackers, and that the FBI headquarters in
Washington didn't even tell him that they should have
been basically being looked at because the CIA didn't
tell the FBI.

And the NSA didn't pass it on to the CIA or the FBI.
They were picking up intelligence as early as 1994
about a potential attack in this country using
aircraft. What we have here is a devastating
indictment of the intelligence community.

SESNO: So, your commission builds on the joint



CLELAND: Now, let's talk about that.

SESNO: So, where do you go that they didn't?

CLELAND: Let's talk about that here. This commission
was formed about mid-December, the 9/11 Commission. We
were supposed to use the joint inquiry report as a
launching pad to get into this issue of not only
fixing the intelligence community, but moving beyond,
and getting into what is the al Qaeda all about? What
is this terrorist global network that we're fighting?
A new kind of war and all that.

Well, the independent, bi-partisan commission, hello,
didn't even get the stuff 'til a few weeks ago.

I'm saying that's deliberate. I am saying that the
delay in relating this information to the American
public out of a hearing… series of hearings, that
several members of Congress knew eight or ten months
ago, including Bob Graham and others, that was
deliberately slow walked… the 9/11 Commission was
deliberately slow walked, because the Administration's
policy was, and its priority was, we're gonna take
Saddam Hussein out.

SESNO: Senator, do you have any documentation or any
proof to back up this very serious charge of yours
that this was deliberate besides your own…

CLELAND: Well, first of all…

SESNO: …hunch or gut?

CLELAND: …it's obvious.

SESNO: No, no, no, no…

CLELAND: But… but…

SESNO: …but beyond… but beyond being obvious, let me

CLELAND: First of all the war in Iraq…

SESNO: …you on this…

CLELAND: Yeah, okay.

SESNO: …because this is a very serious charge you're
making. If you're saying that this was deliberate what
I'm asking is has anybody said anything to you, from
inside the Administration to support that? Have you
seen any document, any memorandum that substantiates
your charge?

CLELAND: Well, just look at it. Okay? This executive
summary of the intelligence inquiry… the joint
intelligence inquiry, the executive summary, was
available December 10th. Why did it take nine months
to go over what ought to be held out of that?

Now, I'm saying that that was slow walked. I am also
saying why did it take eight months to get this 9/11
Commission really cranked up and going, and the first
step was to use the Intelligence Committee report as a
jumping off point? Why did all of this take so long?
Because the real priority of the White House was not
the 9/11 Commission — they fought it. And it was just,
and it really was their interest was to delay the
revelation of this report. One of the reasons they
didn't want it is they didn't want all this stuff out

SESNO: The White House says, and I've spoken to them,
that they didn't slow walk it, that there was a lot of
very sensitive information involved, both in
disseminating the information to begin with, and then
determining how much should be released.

At the news conference where the report was discussed,
Congressman Porter Goss, who's head of the House
Intelligence Committee, had the following to say on
the subject of the sensitivity of this information.
Take a look.

PORTER GOSS: You also have to understand that there
are people who are watching this press conference who
are going to read this book, who are going to analyze
what information we have put out, and what we haven't
put out. And the last thing we want to do in any way
is create an opportunity for a terrorist to take
advantage of us because of something we put in.

SESNO: Does he not have a point? That not just friends
of the American public, but America's enemies are
reading these reports and watching all of this?

CLELAND: America's enemies have been… have declared
war on this country. But who declared war on the
country? It was Osama bin Laden, and his terrorist
cadre. And Islamic fanatics. That's what 9/11 was all
about. It was not about Saddam Hussein. Who has the
worst or, the greatest… who is the greatest threat in
the world today to us, in terms of weapons of mass
destruction? It's not Saddam Hussein. It's North
Korea. So, why are we making this big deal? We
should've found Osama bin Laden. We should've
destroyed his network around the world. That was gonna
take time.

It wasn't gonna make headlines. You can't do that war
in three weeks, and say "Major combat's over."

What you're really up against here is Islamic
fundamental terrorism that is infiltrating now not
only back into Afghanistan, but into Iraq as well.

And that's what we're really up against. That's what
the 9/11 Commission was designed to explore. And we're
just getting into that.

SESNO: So what, specifically, are the key questions in
your view that the 9/11 Commission has to ask and
answer by next May?

CLELAND: Step number one, where in the world is Osama
bin Laden?

SESNO: Well, how are you gonna answer…

CLELAND: Step num…

SESNO: …ask that?

CLELAND: Step number two, what is the al Qaeda? Why
did they do this? Why did they shift their target from
the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, and the leadership in
Egypt, why did they shift their target to America?
They shifted their target, we know that.

And years ago, Osama bin Laden declared open war on
the United States, why? Because we support the
monarchy in Saudi Arabia, we support the leadership in
Egypt. And that tees off a whole lot of folks out

SESNO: Step number three. FINANCIAL TIMES today
reporting on the Congressional report. Report raises
new questions on Saudi role in 9/11 attacks.

CLELAND: Absolutely.

SESNO: How far into that will your commission, A, be
able to go, and B, actually be able to share with the

CLELAND: All right. We're… first thing, if it walks
like a duck, looks like a duck, talks like a duck,
it's a duck.

You can read between the lines and see that there were
foreign governments that were much more involved in
the 9/11 attack than just supporting Islamic
fundamentalist teachings and schools. Now, that has
been redacted. A whole 28 page section.

SESNO: And will you have access to all the
documentation, including the redacted portion…

CLELAND: We darn well better.

SESNO:…of those committee reports?

CLELAND: Because… but look at what's happening. The
Administration, the White House, has put several
blocks in the road. One, they run all the information
to the 9/11 Commission through a political coordinator
in Ashcroft's Justice Department. Duh. Why that?

Secondly, they want to put minders — that's people who
sit in the room when we have an interview with people
in NSA, FBI, CIA, Department of… in DIA — in the
Pentagon, and Immigration and Naturalization Services.
They want to put minders in there. That to shut down
information. That's not to reveal information.

SESNO: On the connection, if there is one, between the
Saudi government and any funding or support for the
9/11 terrorists. Will you have access to the
information that was redacted? Have you already had
access to that?

CLELAND: We got it now.

SESNO: And how much…

CLELAND: It's… but we've got it late…

SESNO: And how much of what you…

CLELAND: We got it eight months late.

SESNO: But how of what you find and pursue in addition
to that will your commission make public, and be able
to make public?

CLELAND: I hope all of it.

SESNO: But you have no assurance of that.

CLELAND: America… well, we better.

SESNO: You are clearly passionate and exercised about
this, and you have compared Iraq to Vietnam.

CLELAND: Absolutely.

SESNO: You have used the q-word, "quagmire."

CLELAND: It is a quagmire.

SESNO: Why? Why?

CLELAND: Because. There's so many similarities here.
You have an assessment, which even Wolfowicz now
realizes we underestimated the enemy. That was Dean
Rusk's view a few years into Vietnam.

You get the big land force in there. You know. You
don't cure the problem. And you're exposed. And then
the guerrilla warfare comes after you. That's Vietnam.
That's the quagmire we're in in Iraq. There is no exit
strategy. Why? Because we want to do a pre-emptive
war. We want to do it all alone.

SESNO: The administration would say the exit strategy
is to build a fledgling democracy in Iraq…

CLELAND: Lots of luck.

SESNO: That then…

CLELAND: They're fighting 5000 years.

SESNO:…provides… that provides a beacon for the

CLELAND: Lots of luck. I mean, more power to `em. You
can't force or impose democracy with 150,000 troops.
We tried to do it in South Vietnam. There was an
election there, and all this kind of stuff. But it
never worked.

SESNO: I want to ask you about one final thing here,
and that is the Commission itself, which is supposed
to be independent. And your take on Iraq. You had a
bruising, bitter political contest. Is this sour
grapes for you?

CLELAND: No. No. I tell you what makes me mad. Is when
I see the names of those youngsters that are being
killed out there every day. I say, "God help us." I've
been there. I've seen this movie before.

It was 35 years ago. I was one of those young
21-year-old, 22, 23-year-old guys. Young Lieutenant,
hard charger, volunteer. First Air Cavalry Division.
Airborne, all this kind of stuff. Hoo-wah, hoo-wah,

And we got great young soldiers. And I've been at
Bethesda and Walter Reade, and I've seen their legs
blown off. And I've seen their eyes gone. And that's
what bothers me.

SESNO: Very briefly, then, what do you think should be
done now?

CLELAND: First of all, you got to go back and get the
UN in there. we've got to go back to the very people
we dissed. And we got to say to Russia and Germany and
France and the UN and the Security Council, "We're in
deep trouble. Help us out."

We got to make a UN protectorate, and that's gonna
take a long time.

SESNO: Max Cleland. Thanks.

CLELAND: Thank you.

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Posted by richard at July 28, 2003 02:07 PM