BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Peter L. Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden," you say on page 31, `Further clouding our understanding of bin Laden is the fact that a vast amount has been written about him, a good deal of it rubbish.'
Mr. PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, "HOLY WAR, INC.: INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF OSAMA BIN LADEN": Well, I think you know when rub--when rubbish is rubbish, how you call a spade a spade a spade. And, you know, I mean, there have been a lot of reports that bin Laden was womanizing and sort of drinking when he was a teen-ager in Beirut. It's very hard to disprove--to--you know, it's--it's--it's very hard to disprove something that didn't happen, but, you know, as far as I can tell, he was a sort of very religious teen-ager.
There were reports that somehow, bin Laden was funded or trained by the CIA. These--these are--fail all sorts of commonsense tests, apart from anything else. You know, if you--if you were the CIA case officer who ran bin Laden, most of those people would be of retirement age now--you've got a $20 million book contract right there. I mean, you--you know, whe--when conspiracies happen and with, you know, Iran-Contra, these kinds of conspiracies, people talk about them. So the notion that somehow the CIA was involved in training or funding bin Laden, who has--A, had a lot of his own money; B, was pathologically anti-American from an early age, it sort of defies common sense.
LAMB: I--I found it interesting, you--you actually named the publications and went specifically to the point they were making. Jane's Intelligence Review, which reported that bin Laden may have obtained an engineering degree in the United States and was financed by the CIA--you even call it respectable. Why would they publish something like that?
Mr. BERGEN: I think that, you know, it's because bin Laden is libel-proof, incommunicado. His family isn't speaking, largely incommunicado and--and, you know, he's public enemy number one, you can write anything that kind of occurs to you. And, I mean, I think the--the--the bar about--you know, if--if--if, let's say, Jane's Intelligence Review is writing about, let's say, Jim Woolsey or--or--or some well-known intel--you know, they--they would be able to check these things. I mean, they would find out where did Mr. Woolsey go to school. And, you know, Jane's just repeated something that was sort of hearsay and, you know, it's a very good publication, but I--I--I think—I wasn't trying to single them out. I'm just saying that there's been a lot of stuff written about bin Laden, not all of it very accurate.
LAMB: You mention Yossef Bodansky...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...who had a best-seller for a while. It was on the--it may still be on there as far as I know.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: You say, `One of the examples of--of misinformation about bin Laden can be found in the tome by Yossef Bodansky, who enjoys the title of director of congressional task force on terrorism.' Do you know what that is?
Mr. BERGEN: It's a Republican task force on terrorism.
LAMB: It says, `In "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," Bodansky described the teen-aged bin Laden visiting Beirut to drink, womanize and get involved in brawls.' Never did that?
Mr. BERGEN: Not according to people who know him.
LAMB: `Those who--who know bin Laden, however, describe a deeply religious teen-ager who married at the age of 17. Bodansky makes another fantastic assertion that the 1996 crash of TWA 800, which killed 230, was a joint operation between Iran and bin Laden.'
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: No proof at all that e--that ever happened?
Mr. BERGEN: I mean, you know, TWA 800 went down for reasons that the NTSB or the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI concluded was an accident. It's not really exactly clear why the accident, but, I mean, trying to pin bin Laden, you know, for the TWA 800 or Iran i--is just--it's--I don't think it's very responsible for somebody who works, you know, for Congress.
LAMB: How did you then go about making sure that--and you've got so many connecting points in this book--that it was accurate?
Mr. BERGEN: I tried to--you know, like any book, I mean, there are probably fa--you know, there are probably errors of--you know, in there, but, you know, I try to be somewhat responsible about what I put in or--you know, basically, the--the threshold had to be, let's say, sufficiently high. You know, having worked at CNN, you know, for, say--say, working at CNN--I mean, what--what--what--that's the sort of tradition I come out of. So I try to sort out some of the myths and some of the rumors and try to really actually report and actually go and meet the people who met and knew bin Laden or, you know, were involved in his group in some way or the people who were tracking him and--rather than relying on secondary sources.
Obviously, I do rely on secondary sources, but I try and rely on secondary sources that are either, you know, reputable publications or books or, you know, trial transcripts. I mean, I think court testimony is a very useful—in the UN--in the embassy bombing attacks, the subsequent Manhattan trial, there was about, I don't know, must be every page generated 150--every day generated 150 pages of testimony. And there were about 70 days. So there--there was a hu--wealth of information in those--in those court transcripts. I used those and--and trying to talk to as many people on the different sides of the story as possible, whether they were American government officials, people who were reportedly sympathetic with bin Laden, Arab journalists who met with him or know about him, Pakistanis. You know, I mean, the way to get a complete picture is to talk to as many people as possible, obviously.
LAMB: You went to his father's village.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: When did that happen? Where is it? What did you find?
Mr. BERGEN: It's a--it's a beautiful place in Hadhramaut, which is a very remote area of Yemen, in eastern Yemen. And it--it--it--it looks perhaps a little bit like Arizona. It's sort of--it's sort of the mesas almost as cliffs and there's honey--honey-colored cliffs, and in one of these--at the end of one of these valleys, you can find the town of Al-Ribat, which is bin Laden's ancestral village. And it's, you know, about 5,000 people. It doesn't--you know, if you go there as a Westerner, it's--you know, you're--you're kind of--kind of a big deal. I mean, the ki--all the kids in the village just, you know, start running after you. And, you know, it's not something--it's not a place that's regularly visited.
Bin Laden left--bin laden's father left the village when he was a young man to go and seek his fortune in Saudi Arabia, but the family retains some links to the village. They sp--gave--gave some money for ir--irrigation projects, and there is a house there which is the bin La--on bin Laden Street, which is this rambling old, decrepit place which now houses kind of an extended family, some of the more distant relatives of--of Osama bin Laden, and it's so big that part of it is the village school. But I went there with John Burns of The New York Times, who--who is a wonderful reporter, and we went to go and talk to some of the remaining cousins who were--who were there.
LAMB: What does it mean if you're from Yemen? What's--what's that--in—in that part of the world over there, where is it located? What--what borders Yemen?
Mr. BERGEN: OK. Well, to the south, it's the Arabian Sea, and then to the north, it's Saudi Arabia. So a lot of Yemenis went to Saudi Arabia because--basically, to--to get--I mean, Yemen is a very, very poor country. I think it's the poorest country in the--in the Mid--Middle East, probably. And so you get a lot of immigration, and one of the people who immigrated was Mohammed bin Laden, the father of Osama. But he was part of a--a pretty big movement. And one thing that's interesting about bin Laden's organizations, you'll--you'll find that some of the key people are--are Saudis, but they actually have Yemeni backgrounds like--like bin Laden himself. For instance, the person who's regarded as being the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen last year is somebody who--whose family originates in--in Yemen, but grew up in Saudi Arabia, fought in Afghanistan, like bin Laden, against the Soviets.
LAMB: Is Ye--how close is Yemen to Afghanistan?
Mr. BERGEN: Yemen is, I mean, quite some distance. I mean, you'd have to go--you'd--I mean, it's--it would be--you'd have to fly, you know--I don't know, it's about 1,500--I mean, I'm guessing--1,500 miles, about 1,000 miles, perhaps. Quite some way.
LAMB: What's the population of Yemen?
Mr. BERGEN: The population of Yemen is 17 million, 18 million. One interesting thing is that they--and I--I might be getting confused. I think the--I think the number of guns in Yemen may be that number, and then the population may be there--I--I'm a little con...
LAMB: I think you--I--I remember the statistic: 65 million guns and 18 million people.
Mr. BERGEN: Right. That's exactly right. That's right, 65 million guns, 18 million people. So like Afghan--I--I mean, Yemen is a lot--very similar to Afghanistan in--in its subst--I mean, physically, it's very beautiful. There's mountains, there's deserts. You know, it's tribal. There is quite a--there's been quite a tourist industry in Yemen, except that has been impacted, obviously, by terrorist events and kidnapping of tourists. But, you know, it's one of the--one of the Seven Wonders of the World is the--is the bazaar in Sanaa, Yemen, literally one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I think UN--UNESCO called it so. And it's really like stepping back into the Middle Ages. You see camels wearing blinkers, and they're trying to--they're making sesame oil in these giant mortars and pestles. And you see--it's like a scene out of some medi--medieval painting. But it's real. I mean, it's--it's happening now. And it's--it's a--it's a--it's a wonderful--it's a wonderful place.
Unfortunately, you know, bin Laden's group managed to function just, you know, pretty well there. I mean, they were able to bomb the USS Cole. There were plans earlier this year in June for some of bin Laden's followers to bomb the US Embassy there. So it remains a place where pockets of al-Qaida exist, although the Yemeni government has been apparently quite cooperative with the Uni--United States government in terms of trying to close al-Qaida down there.
LAMB: You--you point out in the book that there was an--an--an attempt at—at bombing The Sullivans...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...ship. The Sullivans. When did that happen, and how much of that do we know now? How much of it's public?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I think, quite--quite a lot. The USS The Sullivans, which was a dress rehearsal for the Cole, and that occurred on January 3rd, 2000, which was towards the end of Ramadan in--oh--oh--in that particular year. And basically, what happened is that the bombers overloaded their boats with explosives and it--and it sunk. But they learned from their mistakes and they came back and they did the USS Cole. But the--but the interesting thing about The Sullivans' attack was that--or the planned attack on The Sullivans was that it was going to be part of a terrorist spectacular involving the bombing of Los Angeles International Airport, LAX, and also bombing tourist sites in Jordan. And all of these things were going to be related for the millennium, for the new millennium, and none of them actually worked out, either because of the incompetence of the plotters or good police work.
But it--it--it shows, A, that, you know, al-Qaida has had its share of failures, as it were, luckily. But, B, it shows the--you know, these rather grand-scale plans. I mean, this was a--this was a plan to kind of not simultaneously but within the same time period, you know, blow up an airport in America, blow up a US warship in Yemen and also blow up places associated with American tourists in--in Jordan. And it would have been pretty devastating.
LAMB: Where do you think the US intelligence has been in all this?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, the--I mean, you know, it's--it's very easy to Monday morning quarterback because, obviously, September 11th was the biggest failure of intelligence gathering in American history. And it--you know--you know, no one can argue with that fact. On the other hand, it has to be said that US law enforcement and the intelligence community were--knew that bin Laden was a pretty serious character quite early on. As early as 1995, the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, which has basically handled a lot--lot of the terrorism cases, worked for the initial Tra--Trade Center bombing in '93, for instance, they were asking people in some--you know, in--in--in terrorism trials, `Do you know Osama bin Laden?' That was in '95. And, you know, lawyers who--who were in the case at that time said they were kind of mystified why--who was this Osama bin Laden? Even though they knew a lot about the case, why was it the prosecutors were asking about him? So his name was beginning to surface in '95 for American law enforcement and prosecutors because his--his name was came--kept cropping up too often, I think, is what happened, you know.
And by '96, the US State Department was calling him the most significant financier of Islamic extremism in the world and actually had a very detailed white paper about who this guy is; he has training camps in Afghanistan, Sudan. And also, I think, around about the same time, the CIA founded its own separate unit devoted to bin Laden, which is sort of an interesting--you know, they--there was a Counterterrorist Center within the CIA. And, you know, to have set up this own--this specialized unit, which is allowed to function, apparently, in--in--given quite a--quite a lot of latitude to function without having to deal with the Washington bureaucracy so much. You know, so, I mean, the United States government was well aware that bin Laden was a very dangerous man.
On September the 10th, you know, he--he was already on the Ten Most Wanted list and he had a $5 million reward on his head, so--unprecedented. So it's easy to sort of say, `Well, that was a huge failure and a'--on the other hand, I mean, both statements are true. It was--it was an intelligence failure, but also the US government had--you know, had--had put a lot of effort into going after him. I mean, the fact is that he--his group were sort of sui generis, I mean, very unusual, in the sense that it was very disciplined and very organized. And, you know, if you think about the terrorism that happened against American targets in the '80s, it was--they were--there was the Marine barracks bombing that killed more than 200 Americans in 1983. Well, that was--but it was nothing--never on the scale, you know--the--you know, I mean, the thing about this group is they kept making their--their plans more and more complex and more and more deadly as time went on. One can only hope that--you know, that the Trade Center represents the apex.
LAMB: Before I go on, let me ask you some questions about you.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: Where were you born?
Mr. BERGEN: I was born in Minneapolis.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. BERGEN: 1962.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
Mr. BERGEN: My parents--we--we--my parents and the family moved to Paris when I was three. And then we moved to London when I was five--or five or six, I think.
LAMB: How long did you stay there?
Mr. BERGEN: Lived in London my--basically my entire life, went to high school in Yorkshire, in the north of England, and went to university at Oxford, and then came--returned to the United States after I left university.
LAMB: And why did you go to Oxford? And what did you study?
Mr. BERGEN: I studied history.
LAMB: What kind of history?
Mr. BERGEN: "Modern history," which at Oxford begins with the Anglo-Saxons. So--and why--I mean, why did I go there? I mean, it's an incredibly beautiful place. It was a wonderful time to go. And...
LAMB: You--Magdalen College?
Mr. BERGEN: New College.
LAMB: New College?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. And--which is across the street. And New College is, I think, founded in 1369 or whatever, so--not--but it--you know, I had a great time there. I didn't really--you know, there weren't that many requirements to work really, so--and everybody--you know, it was funny because at that time, you know, the English government actually paid for you to go to university. They gave you--you know, I mean, now you have to pay or something yourself, but at that time, not only was the education free, but they actually gave you money to like--kind of a spending money. So it's a--kind of a very different philosophy than the kind of--of--but, of course, now the British government is--is--is asking people to pay, but it's still, relatively speaking, very inexpensive.
LAMB: British citizen or American citizen?
Mr. BERGEN: I'm American.
LAMB: Did your parents move back here with you?
Mr. BERGEN: My mother stayed in England for another, I guess, 10 years, and then she's moved to Washington relatively recently. And my father now lives in the United States as well.
LAMB: So when you came here from Oxford, where'd you go?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. I moved to New York.
LAMB: What did you do?
Mr. BERGEN: I became a messenger, or I had a job called "desk assistant," which basically meant dogsbody at ABC News. And--and that was my first job. But it was a--it was a, A, very good way to sort of get to know Manhattan because you sort of, you know, take your packages here and also kind of a good way to get to know the business because you kind of, just by process of osmosis, you kind of began to learn a little bit about business. There's no reason to employ somebody--it doesn't matter where they've been to school, if they don't know--you know, so it was kind of like that's the opening job you get. And then, you know, you kind of get promoted as you go along.
LAMB: What'd you do--how long'd you stay at ABC?
Mr. BERGEN: Five years.
LAMB: And what did you end up being at ABC?
Mr. BERGEN: I worked--my last job was at "20/20," where I was, you know, like a production assistant, associate producer, whatever, on different projects. You know, I--I--I had--"20/20" was a very nice place to work. They were very nice people. And I was able to get--we--I met Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan after they--after Ronnie Reagan had retired, which is pretty amazing, you know, as a kid to spend a day with him. He was exactly how I--you know, he was exactly how everybody said he would be. He was very charming and very pleasant. And Nancy seemed to completely run the show.
LAMB: And--and when did you decide to leave ABC, and where'd you go?
Mr. BERGEN: I got a--a job offer at CNN, which was early in 1990. And—from a wonderful--my boss, Pam Hill, at the time. And she was setting up a unit at CNN to do, like, you know, documentaries, you know, investigative pieces, etc. And I decided to go there. And it turned out to be quite good timing because it--the Gulf War then happened, and it was a great time to be at CNN. And--and, you know, I--I feel very lucky that I was at CNN, in a way, be--be--because, you know, I mean, if you're interested in news, where—where else better to be? I mean, that's--that's what they do.
LAMB: So in 1990, you would have been how old?
Mr. BERGEN: I think I was 27--27? Yeah.
LAMB: So you've been there ever since?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Well, except I resigned to write the book two years ago.
LAMB: Go back to the first time you ever thought about Osama bin Laden.
Mr. BERGEN: I think the first time I really thought about it seriously was an--was an article by Judith Miller and--and Jeff Gerth s--in The New York Times, round about the time the State Department released this kind of rather detailed fact sheet about him. And I thought, `Well, that's kind of interesting,' because it always seemed to me that the bombing of the World Trade Center was the wo--you know, when you're a--when you're a prosecutor, there's a rather narrow set of things you're looking for. I mean, who bombed the Trade Center? And that--and that question was solved by the trials. But who was behind the bombing wasn't ever really asked very seriously, it didn't seem to me, per--perhaps because it just didn't seem that necessary or whatever, but it--there was something kind of odd about the people. They came from Peshawar, Pakistan; you know, Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind. They seemed to have money from somewhere. They must have had training to build these explosives. I mean, who is doing all that? They didn't just suddenly show up in Brooklyn and know how to build a huge bomb. And, you know, it turns out, you know, the more that you look at that case, the more it's clear that it was sort of a proto al-Qaida operation. I mean, that...
LAMB: What year was all this that you read that article?
Mr. BERGEN: Oh, wh--when I read the--well, that--the reason that I--when I read the article, it was '96. It just--the--the--the Judith Miller-Jeff Gerth piece just sort of said--it--it--it--it looked at these Middle Eastern businessman, and including bin Laden, saying, you know, kind of, `Who are they?' So I went to my bosses at CNN, Pam Hill and John Lane at the time, and--and I said, `I'd be very--you know, I think we should really look at this guy.' And they had--they had previously encouraged a documentary that I was involved in which looked at the Trade Center bombing and the collection--connections to Afghanistan. So they--they encouraged me to go and do the--to try and find out if we could s--meet with bin Laden.
Mr. BERGEN: And--well, I mean, I'll--that was quite a performance. It was a--we--we went to--well, the--the--initially, I had--I called this contact in London, somebody by the name of Khaled al-Fauwaz. And I said we were interested. He said, `Fine.' I said, `I have certain things I don't want to chat about on the phone.' So I went to London, and I spent about a week with him and basically kind of laid out that we would give bin Laden a fair hearing.
LAMB: Again, what year are you doing this?
Mr. BERGEN: This is--this is--this is early '97.
Mr. BERGEN: And about a month--I also met with somebody that was going to take us to bin Laden if we--if we met. But anyway, there was sort of like--there was a certain sort of screening process that was going on. They wanted to make sure that we weren't agents of the American government in some way or they also wanted to make sure that we would kind of give him a fair hearing; you know, explained that we--we would give everybody a fair hearing. And a--oh, about a month later, I went back to Washington. We got--I got the call saying, `You're on,' and I--myself and the correspondent, Peter Arnett, went to London. We met up with our cameramen and two other people who knew--kind of related to bin laden, and they took us to Pakistan, where we--you know, we--we--kind of kept going through a series of different hoops about each--each stage of the way. And finally--finally, we get to Afghanistan, which is the final hoop. And we are--we're in Jalalabad, not too far from where Tor--you know, from Tora Bora, of course, where al-Qaida is presently holed up.
LAMB: Now were--had you been to Afghanistan before that?
Mr. BERGEN: Yes.
Mr. BERGEN: I went in '93 for quite--for quite some time during the—there was a war--you know, the war in Afghanistan between the forces of--I mean, it was a civil war in Afghanistan, even after the Communists--the Afghan Communists were defeated, which is ripping--you know, the ironic thing is Kabul, the capital, had basically survived the whole Communists without being destroyed. It was the Afghans themselves who destroyed it, princ--principally, the--Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was the prime minister at the time, who--who was probably the only prime minister in history to be shelling his own capital on a daily basis. So I was there in '93 during that--during that period. We interviewed Hekmatyar. We also interviewed Ahmed Shah Massoud, who, of course, is now dead, unfortunately. And we—and that--that was in the context of trying to find out how the Trade Center bombers--oh, in '93, how--you know, what their connection was to the Afghan resis--war against the Soviet Union had been. So in '97, that was the—that was the--I--I--I'd been once before and '97 was the second time I went.
LAMB: Did you sense at that time, and based on your study at Oxford and the history and all that, that this was a bigger thing than most people were paying attention to?
Mr. BERGEN: No, I don't think so. I mean, I--I--I did all the things that I've--that I've done because I was interested in them, rather than sort of thinking that this was going to turn into a big story. Because, I mean, who--and I--I got interested in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1983 when I was a student at university. We--a couple of friends and myself made a documentary about the Afghan refugees in Pakistan who...
LAMB: Who were you doing this for?
Mr. BERGEN: We kind of did it in our own steam and then we showed it on Channel 4 in England after we kind of got it together. And, I mean, the two people I was with--we kind of knew more than--we didn't know anything, really, between ourselves, but--but we kind of--we kind of the--the innocence engendered by, you know, being very young and optimism and--we sort of thought we could do this. So we shot it on film, and then it was shown on English television. But anyway, the--the re--that got me interested in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I went back at it with ABC News through--we did a story in Pakistan about the legal status of Pakistani women, which was obviously pretty bad, even under Benazir Bhuto, who was then prime minister at the ime--at the time, who, you know, wasn't really able to get the religious parties to get off, as it were, and liberalize the situation. But so I--I--I--my general—my interest really started with just being interested in the country, the place--the places, rather than sort of an interest in terrorism.
LAMB: So go back to you--your--your--'97, you're on your way, you're in Af--Pakistan, you're on your way to--to--you're in Af--Afghanistan.
Mr. BERGEN: Right.
LAMB: How long did all that take, by the way, from the time you leave here to the time they finally got you in country?
Mr. BERGEN: I don't know. It must have been--because each of--each of these phases, by the time we actually--I mean, it could--must have taken at least two weeks from Washington to meeting bin Laden. At lea--I'd say at least two weeks.
LAMB: And it's just you and Peter Arnett and a camera person?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Peter Jouvenal, the camera person, who--who actually is a former British army officer. He's spent more time in Afghanistan as a journalist than anybody else. He's the sort of person who really--he—you know, Peter's line is, you know, `Any--any fool can get into a difficult situation. It's--it's, like, getting out of it that is the complicated part.' You know, so--me--and I'd been--Peter Arnett and Peter Jouvenal, the cameraman, and I had been to Afghanistan before. And they were the—exactly the right people in case something--you know, Ar--Arnett obviously has, you know, been in many war situations. And they were the right people to have around if anything did go wrong.
And--with one--one of the things that went wrong almost immediately was that the week before we went to see bin Laden, the Taliban banned the photography of any kind of person. So--so we were sort of in a quandary about whether to--whether to go to the country illegally and be thrown out because we didn't have visas or, you know, if you apply for a visa, they're going to ask you, `What are you doing?' And, you know, so in the end, we decided not to apply for a visa and to just go in and "take our chances." And--and like a lot of things that are never very clear in Afghanistan, it was never clear to me that the Taliban knew that we were there to interview bin Laden and then—and sanctioned it or that they just couldn't--couldn't care less. I mean, they--they didn't really--weren't that interested in who we were. I mean, we were--you stick out like a--you know, it's pretty--you're pretty obvious if you're living in Jalalabad in--in a hotel for several days, not really doing anything. It's, like, `Who are these people?' But they never really asked us. It was just kind of odd.
LAMB: So how did you get to the man himself?
Mr. BERGEN: That was--that was--after--we had a meeting with his media adviser, who basically said--he looked at our camera equipment and said, `You can't take any of this,' because we're concerned about bin Laden's security and--and any kind of electronic device that might give away his location. They were very paranoid, basically. And so he--he--he said, `Well, you can do your interview, but it'll have to be with our equipment.' And there was no point in arguing the matter. I mean, it was either that or no interview. So, you know, we had a sort of series of different trucks--we went--and we--we had a van and then a sort of Jeep, and we were blindfolded and it was the middle of the night. And, you know, we were--we went through various concentric rings of security around bin Laden. We were searched in a professional manner. They basically made it clear at a certain point if we had a tracking device that if we told them now, it wouldn't be a problem, but if we told them later, it would be definitely a problem.
LAMB: Were you at all a--afraid for your own life in this situation?
Mr. BERGEN: No. I--for several--first of all, they'd invited us. You know, they weren't going to screw around with us. And secondly, you know, I mean, I--rather than being frightened, I was actually quite thrilled--I mean, not--thrill--thrilled is the wrong word. I was happy that this was coming off. I mean, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to organize this, and we were there. We were going to--we didn't really know how the whole thing was going to end, but it was--you know, something that we'd--we'd all spent a lot of time and effort trying to get to that point. So the fact that we were now going up the mountain, we were in--we--we didn't know exactly where we were, but I'm pretty sure we were in the White Mountains where that al-Qaida base is--is--is located, near--somewhere near there.
LAMB: And how long were you--I mean, at what time of day did you travel and how long would you travel at any given time?
Mr. BERGEN: I--they arrived at dusk, and so it must have been around 5 PM. And I--we--we weren't allowed to even take watches, so we weren't--we had no idea of what time it was exactly. But I ca--I--I--I estimated it was sometime before midnight when bin Laden finally showed up. And he wasn't going to hang around. He just wanted to do the interview and go. I mean, he was—I think--he was with his entourage. He...
LAMB: How many in his entourage?
Mr. BERGEN: I think--I coun--I--I counted a total of maybe 30 people that I saw over the course of the night, maybe, a--around him. In the direct entourage, there were maybe, I don't know, 10.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Everybody--everybody was armed and, you know, he--some of them spoke pretty good English.
LAMB: And what was your sense of the kind of people you were around? Were they smart people?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I think they divided into two groups. There was—there were some kind of people who seemed not that smart who were, like, kind of the protection people, more--they just seemed like foot soldiers. And they seemed--there were a group of some--some group--Middle Eastern faces and some African faces. And that--then there were some people who were kind of in charge. They spoke very good English. They wa--seemed to be Saudi. There was a translator who spoke impeccable English, and that--who appeared maybe to be a cleric. And, yeah, so I think they divided up into kind of the people who were just, you know, kind of the muscle and then this--the people who were running the show.
LAMB: The interview itself taped for how long?
Mr. BERGEN: About an hour. We--Peter Arnett and I had worked up a lot of questions for bin Laden, and he didn't want to answer anything about his personal life, his family, his finances. He just wanted to talk about, you know, why he was declaring war against the United States, which after all was the reason that we were there. We were not--it wasn't about his family history; we were trying to find out who this guy is. Why has he declared war against the United States?
And, in a nutshell, you know, he--the main thing that--his main gripe is the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, which he regards as "infidels" trespassing--trespassing on the Holy Land.
LAMB: What did you see up close, in--in person, that you can't see on video?
Mr. BERGEN: I think he has a sort of almost like feline aspect. I mean, he's a--he's not a kind of very macho kind of guy at all. He's more--he was pretty low key, and he didn't strike me as being particularly charismatic. I don't speak Arabic, so maybe there's more charisma when you can understand him in the native tongue. But, you know, he didn't have a--he doesn't have this, like, you know, lightbulblike personality, or--or he doesn't swagger. He's very--he's very--he was very--he was almost--you know, you could barely hear him speaking 'cause he was so low key. I mean, I think he was--he--I think he had a cold at the time, but he--he just came off as being mild-mannered.
LAMB: And what did CNN do with the interview once you were finished?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, we went--we went back and we--we edited--we didn't--we—we put the--the text of the entire interview on the Internet, but we--I mean, we--we edited it down into a 20-minute, really, profile of: Who is this guy, and what is he doing, or what has he done? What is he being accused of doing? And we used the best stuff from the interview. I mean, the interview was—you know, I mean, you--you've seen bin Laden. He's sort of--he can ramble on a lot about stuff that isn't that sort germane in a way, but—so we--we--that--that--that interview--this--this profile aired in May of 1997.
LAMB: Th--this is really off the subject, but every time you--when I see these stories about folks like you going up into the mountains and hours and hours on the road, one question that's never answered is: Where do you get your gas?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, they were driving us.
LAMB: But where do they get it?
Mr. BERGEN: Oh, you--I see.
LAMB: I mean, are there gas stations along the way?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, you know...
LAMB: You ever run out of gas over there?
Mr. BERGEN: I guess--I guess they must--they must keep gas in the car. I mean, there aren't--I have few--I mean, there aren't many gas stations in Afghanistan. That's a good question. I--I don't know where, but they--they--they certainly were driving around a lot at night. I mean, they must keep jerricans in their jeeps or whatever. But I--I--hadn't really occurred to me. But...
LAMB: Go back to Mohammed...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...bin Laden, the father.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: Back to Yemen. What year did he go to Saudi Arabia?
Mr. BERGEN: 1930, and he founded the family company in '31, and then the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, although, you know, the—the Sauds--the Saudi family had been sort of gathering pieces of the puzzle to make the kingdom. But--and he became very close to King Fahd and was able to--to, you know, build palaces, and the family renovated Mecca and Medinah.
LAMB: What year did he die?
Mr. BERGEN: He died in '67...
Mr. BERGEN: ...when bin Laden was 10.
LAMB: And how many wives did he have?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, he--only four at any given moment, but I think—my understanding is perhaps up to 10 or 11.
LAMB: And how many children total did he have?
Mr. BERGEN: Around 50.
LAMB: And where did Osama bin Laden fit into that?
Mr. BERGEN: He's supposedly the 17th son. He's the only--he's the only son of one of the mothers, so there--he--there was a Syrian mother, and bin Laden has two full sisters, but the family's pretty a large one, I mean, you know, 50--50 siblings of one stripe or another. And now, of course, there's another generation, so those--tha--tha--those kids have all had kids. So, you know, it--somebody was saying to me that there--there are like 200-plus first cousins who now make up the bin Laden family.
LAMB: And Osama bin Laden himself, you talk about in the book, had--I think got a fourth wife after you saw him or was that...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. He got a fourth wife in the--early 2000.
LAMB: Are they--wh--what do--how do they--when--when you have four wives, how do you deal with them?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, the Koran says sort of--you know, is--if--you—you don't--you're only supposed to take as many wives as you can actually support, and four is the maximum. So, you know, if you--I mean, obviously, bin Laden's got the resources to support four wives. But, you know, who those peop—who those wives are exactly--one i--the most recent one is--is a Yemeni, but there's not a hell of a lot of information about bin Laden's family. There is a son called Abdullah who lives in Saudi Arabia, who's the oldest, who's sort of rejected his father, and a--there's also a very young daughter, I believe, in Saudi Arabia, who may be four.
LAMB: What do you know about his mother? You said he--she was Syrian?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. She apparently divorced Osama's father at some point and since remarried. She's in pretty close touch with her son. She--she has visited him in Sudan, when he lived there between '91 and '96, and she was also at her grandson's wedding, which happened early this year in Afghanistan. So she keeps in touch with her son.
LAMB: Any idea what she's like?
Mr. BERGEN: No.
LAMB: Ever seen a picture of her?
Mr. BERGEN: No. I mean, one thing you've got to understand is that, you know, that--the notion of a sort of--I mean, a no--does say the notion of a picture of Osama's wife or--where you just, you know--or--or--or an interview with Osama's wife or--or something like that is just--you know, it's not going to happen. I mean...
LAMB: What--what countries in the world did Osama bin Laden live in?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia.
LAMB: Where'd he get his education?
Mr. BERGEN: Saudi Arabia at the--he studied p--economics and public administration.
LAMB: And when did he get his money?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, the dad dies--his father died in '67. All the kids are pretty young, but even Osama's oldest brother at that time would have only been only 20. And so the family company was sort of put in trust, and the estate was only divided in the '80s, and bin Laden apparently got about $35 million. And I know that because I talked to somebody who's somewhat privy to the division of the estate. It's less than--you know, there are estimates that he had a lot more money than that, but, still, $35 million is $35 million.
And then, you know, at one--at a certain point, he became--he becomes probably the biggest businessman in Sudan between '91 and '96. It's really a very intense period of bus--one of the--you know, I say in the book, it was almost holy war, inc. It really was holy war, inc., in the sense that he had this huge array of businesses, from tanneries to bakeries to banks to construction businesses to trucking companies to, you know, import-export, basically in--cornering the market in certain of Sudanese agricultural products, but at the same time running these paramilitary camps.
And so, you know, it--it--it--when I called--when I called the book "Holy War, Inc.," that was one of the reasons. I mean, with--partly also a play on the "Murder, Inc." notion. But--but also, you know, bin Laden comes out of a business background. You know, he studied economics. His family's a--suc--his business is very successful. He established himself as a very big businessman in Sudan. The--the--the al-Qaida, the business of terrorism, almost was set up in a pretty rational manner. You know, there were political arms and religious arms and business arms and media arm and--I mean, all that's gone now, of course, because al-Qaida is about to go out of--it's about to go out of business for the long term.
LAMB: What's `Osama' mean in English?
Mr. BERGEN: Lion.
LAMB: What does al-Qaida mean?
Mr. BERGEN: `The base.'
LAMB: And when did he start it?
Mr. BERGEN: 1989. One--you know, the--the basis of the base, as it were, is that after the Soviets withdrew in February of '89 from Afghanistan--you know, bin Laden recruited people--all these people from around the world for holy wars, and they all got some sort of military experience and rubbed shoulders and got to know each other. And this--sort of his--this international cast of sort of holy warriors, as it were--and all of them wanted to do other, you know--change their governments in their native countries, like Egypt, or, you know, foment re--you know, rebellion in various other places or--or—or eventually, in bin Laden's case, attack the United States. So al-Qaida became the basis for--the al-Qaida sort of sprang out of this--all those people who traveled to Afghanistan. Well...
LAMB: Go--go to the--back to the reason that he hates the United States.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: When--when can you f--when did you figure that it all actually started?
Mr. BERGEN: Th--it starts on a date: August the 7, 1990. I mean, not that it happened overnight. Bin Laden had been anti-American for a long time. But...
LAMB: Where was he living then?
Mr. BERGEN: He was living in Saudi Arabia, and it was the--that was the day that President Bush announced Operation Desert Shield, which meant—which effectively meant the introduction of several hundred thousand Americans into Saudi Arabia. Bin laden--you know, there were women--you know, that was his worst--women soldiers trespassing on the Holy Land is--of Saudi Arabia, that was terrible, as far as bin Laden was concerned.
And the reason that it's--you know, one thing that makes it very clear to me why--several things--is, you know, eight years later to the--to the day, bin Laden's men blow up two US embassies in Africa within nine minutes of each other, and that was sending a very clear signal. I mean, this August the 7th moment was very critical because eight years later that--that ha--that—that causes bin Laden's biggest sort of terrorist outrage to date. So he was sending a message. And, you know, he's been very consistent about, you know, these people are s--along the lines of the prophet Mohammed and they need to be expelled. And it's been very--it's very--he's been very explicit about that, whether it was in the videotape, that--that indicates that he's—his guilt in the Trade Center where he mentions the--this--this, you know, the f--this kind of thing or--all of his public statements usually mention this.
LAMB: Go back to the--the beginning again.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: You said he--he gi--had been given $35 million, and then we've seen all kinds of figures along the way. How--how much do you think he's been worth over the years after the construction company and all?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. It's hard to tell. I mean, he's always had access to some money, but at the end of the day the money's sort of a bit of a red herring in the sense that, you know, you can't--it's not about money. It's about belief. And the people that he recruits to him aren't paid. You know, they're--they're volunteers, they're not mercenaries. And the people who die in these operations, clearly you can't--there's no amount of money you can give to somebody like Mohamed Atta who came from a prosperous Egyptian family himself anyway, to persuade him to fly a--a--a 747 into the World Trade Center.
So I think the money has been important but it's not been vital to bin Laden's project. What's been vital is his ability to transfer a lot of rage against the United States, perhaps, you know, taking the sort of localized rage of people against--you know, there are all sorts of Middle Eastern governments which are authoritarian and corrupt, etc., etc. But somebody else saying--some are saying--making the analysis, it's all the United States' fault for all these problems, and getting people to go along with that idea and being able to organize them and recruit them and--and giving them the training to become quite deadly, these are all--that's bin Laden's genius. It's not his money.
LAMB: Did--have you met al-Zawalri?
Mr. BERGEN: No. He kept a low profile.
LAMB: The number two. Is he number two?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. And he's g...
LAMB: Do you think he's alive?
Mr. BERGEN: He shows up in the videotape, of course, the Trade Center, where--where bin Laden takes responsibility for the Trade Center. It's hard to tell. I mean, there were reports that he was dead and they seem to be not that accurate. But...
LAMB: But his family's dead? Or part of it.
Mr. BERGEN: Yes. The--the family is dead. Apparently they took out a death notice in some Egyptian newspaper. So...
LAMB: You say in the book you met Atef.
Mr. BERGEN: Yes.
LAMB: Who was he?
Mr. BERGEN: Yes. No, no, no. Well, actually, I didn't, actually, meet with him. I--I corresponded with him.
LAMB: Who was he?
Mr. BERGEN: He's now--the now deceased military commander. He--but, I mean, I didn't--when I was dealing with him, I never really--I wasn't quite sure if he was the military commander or not. I thought that there was--that he was simply one of the media advisers. But apparently he's one in the same person. And we--we corresponded after the attacks on the US embassies in Africa, and the subsequent cruise missile strikes against bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan. And I was trying to get another interview. But we t--we corresponded by fax from the Kabul post office to my o--hotel room in Pakistan. And in the end, the--the--the message came that it wasn't--they just didn't think it was a good idea.
LAMB: What about this book? When did you get the idea to do this book? And I know it was finished in August.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: And then, of course, now it--you've comple--you've changed it a lot by the time I got my hands on it.
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I got the idea to write the book--I mean, I always wanted to write a book, and it just seemed like a good--I mean, to me, the main thing was I was interested in the subject, and that kind of subject is--you know, bin Laden's an interesting--obviously, it was an interesting--he's an interesting personality and phenomenon. Of course, you know, I didn't--when I was starting it, I had no idea that, you know, we'd be talking about September 11th or events like this. But I just thought that if I was interested in a subject and that--that somehow other people would be, too. And, you know—I mean, I--I think it's a general proposition. I think that's a good way to operate. I mean, if I'm--if--if you're not interested--if--if the writer isn't interested, particularly, then who else is going to care? I mean, you have to be--you have to think it's an interesting subject. You have to be engaged in it.
LAMB: Let me ask you some minor book questions.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: When you originally wrote the book and finished in August of this last--of this year, how many copies of this were they going to publish?
Mr. BERGEN: I'm not sure, but they told me they--they read the manuscript, they said, `We're going to double projections.' Now doubling it from a probably very low number, you know. It would have been--I don't know. But the...
LAMB: It's Free Press. What?--10,000, 15,000?
Mr. BERGEN: I think they were going to--I think they were going to double it from 10,000 to 20,000, maybe, let's say, hypothetically. And then it—they never told me the figures. They said they were going to double it to something beyond what they previously thought.
LAMB: The book was done and you had it at the publisher on--in August?
Mr. BERGEN: It wasn't done. It was--I handed in my manuscript and it needed work on August 30th.
LAMB: So what happened on September the 11th?
Mr. BERGEN: I think at a certain point I spoke to my editor, Rachel Klayman, and--and said to her--I mean, I don't know if it was on the 11th or not. But it was all--that whole day was so mad. But we--we talked about, you know, `What are we going to do? ' And, you know, it--the obvious thing to do is—you know, of all the times to get the book out it was now. I mean, people wanted--for a lot of people, bin Laden, you know, could have been schmin Laden. I mean, they'd never heard of the guy.
They didn't hona--it was--the events of September 11th came like a bolt out of the blue. I mean, it was the most--it was a very beautiful day and it—just suddenly this thing happened. It was like `How did that happen?' It was almost inexplicable. But the fact is it was explicable to some degree. I mean, as soon as the second plane hit, to me, it was--I mean, it was--who else had--who--who else would have had the motivation and--and the kind of organization to pull this off? So we--we talked--I mean, Rachel, my editor, was--was--was--I can't remember very much of the conversations because there were so many things going on, but we basically, you know, agreed, we'll just have to get this done. And then Rachel, my editor, very kindly came down to Washington for about four or five days, and we just basically worked. I mean, at a certain point, it's like you can't have these conversations over the phone. You just have to be with your editor. And we just worked around the clock to get it out.
LAMB: And you've gone s--s--as far as to add this note at the bottom of the flap--both author and publisher will donate a portion of their proceeds from this book to United Way's...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...September 11th Fund. What's the percentage you're going to give it? Do you know?
Mr. BERGEN: I think it's some routine percentage, and--of which is--I mean, industry standard.
LAMB: But what happened about the--the printing of this book? How many copies then did you--you originally print? And it--it has been on the best-seller list.
Mr. BERGEN: I think it's--they--they--they announced a print run of 250,000. That doesn't mean anything. I mean, it doesn't--I mean, that doesn't mean you're going to sell 250,000. I mean, there might be, you know, a lot sent back. I mean, I--I--I know more about publishing than I used to now, which is if you--the point is you're going to print more than you're gonna--because the worst thing is not to be able to have it in the shops when you need it. But, you know, I think that--I mean, I--I I'm--hope I'm doing something of a service in the sense that it--the book may--may help people understand the--you know, September 11th did not emerge out of a vacuum. This guy has been planning these kinds of attacks against American targets since the early '90s. And his organization has been involved in attacks against Americans since the early '90s. And, unfortunately, what happened, is that these attacks just got--got more complex and more and more deadly and they've sort of--you know, they sort of--it was a--kind of accelerating curve upwards of--of--of attacks.
And, you know, it--hopefully, the book will make that clear. I think that if you--if you read the book, at the end of the d--when you put it down, I hope you find--you say to yourself, `Now I kind of understand how that wasn't entirely a bolt out of the blue.' I think that bin Laden, by the way—you know, I think September 11th--he--he wanted to provoke some sort of trash of civilization. So it was a total failure. The striking thing to me--but you can't justify the September 11th attacks Islamically--you know, in Islam. Because there is no language to justify it. And bin Laden doesn't even try and justify it. I mean, when he says--when--when people ask why the--why the assault on American citizens, he says, `Well, they're American--they pay taxes and, therefore, they're complicit.' That's hardly a sort of justification--religious justification. And, you know, the--his message has had zero resonance, or very little in the--in the Muslim world. You have not seen millions of people getting on the streets saying, `Osama, Osama, Osama.' On the contrary, you know, the demonstrations have been tiny, and you've seen every Middle Eastern government lining up to help against bin Laden because they understand he's a threat to them.
And I think the videotape--you know, if--if--if there was any doubt that he was involved, surely that would expunge it. And it makes it clear that he's a--you know, a rather--I don't know. He's a--I--I--it's hard to find the words. But it--certainly a--a ki--a not--a--a very a--it's--it's a real--his--his joviality on the videotape was--was really pretty unpleasant. And he is--he--I tell you what, Brian, what I think about him, we've seen a lot of his type in this--in the past century, which is I--I know how to create the perfect omelet, and it doesn't matter how many breggs--eggs are—are necessary to break to make that am--omelet--omelet. And we've seen that again and again and again. I'm not talking about, you know, whether that was Pol Pot or Stalin or Mao. These are all very different people.
I mean--and I'm--can't compare bin Laden to all these people in the sense that his victims are--I mean, his victims are his victims. And--but they all share one--one absolutely common thing, which is I know how to create paradise on Earth, and I'm absolutely certain about it, and if other people don't understand that, you know, sort of--they're wrong. And not only that, they--we should be able to kill them. And you see that again and again. The worst person in my view is the person who thinks that they can--that they have the perfect answer, because they're almost without--they think they're going to create paradise here on Earth if their solutions are implemented. As it happens, they tend to create hells on Earth for people. Anybody with that level of certainty is almost certainly wrong, and will probably do a lot of damage.
LAMB: So what is in the book that would help somebody understand a post-bin Laden period, a post-Zawalri, a--you know, Atef, all these people that you write about in here? Sheik Rahman s--how many of his sons were killed?
Mr. BERGEN: A couple of sons, yeah.
LAMB: Oh, really.
Mr. BERGEN: One of them's dead. One of them's been killed apparently.
LAMB: He's in jail here?
Mr. BERGEN: He's in Minnesota.
LAMB: Prison, I mean?
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Sheik Rahman.
LAMB: Yeah. And he--he...
Mr. BERGEN: After--I think after the--after bin Laden and--I think it—they were such an unusual phenomenon. I don't see--I think when bin Laden and his top leadership are eliminated or captured or whatever and the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan are closed permanently, which they are in the process of being, you know, you're going to revert to a situation that ex--that existed before, which is terrorism was a--a major irritant, but it wasn't like the major security threat facing the United States, which it became on September 11th.
LAMB: What did you think of the decision then on--on the part of this government to go after the network?
Mr. BERGEN: They did it--I think they've--they've done a brilliant job. I mean, it's very hard to fault them on anything. I mean, it--it--it--it--it--you know, the--it is clear from bin Laden's statements that--that he possibly possesses some sort of radioactive weapon, not an atomic weapon, in a conventional sense--I mean, with this group, all bets are off. So, you know, the--in a very aggressive effort to kind of get them—I mean, it's quite clear, bin Laden has no qualms about killing civilians, including Muslim civilians, because he's killed a lot of them, whether it was in the World Trade Center attacks or in the US embassy bombing attacks.
You know, the US embassy bombing attacks killed 200 Africans, and Kenya and Tanzania are about 30 percent Muslim. So up till the--you know, he certainly killed a lot more Muslims than Americans up till September 11th. You know? And so this--he doesn't have--you know, there are no--there are no checks for bin Laden. There's no--I think, if--if--you know, he--he--he and his followers are ready to do as much damage as they can. And so at that point it's a pure matter of self-preservation. I mean, I'm--I'm not a sort of militaristic sort of person, but, you know, if there's ever a reason to go to war, the--the catastrophic death of, you know, thousands of civilians and—and on doing it in a very aggressive way, I mean, how could you fault that?
LAMB: Well, go back to when we started talking about your life at ABC as a...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: What--what was your--what was that--what did you call that first job?
Mr. BERGEN: Desk assistant.
LAMB: Oh, just a desk assistant. You--you were a--you were a--basically a gofer?
Mr. BERGEN: Go--gofer, yeah.
LAMB: And how many short years? What--what was the date of that again?
Mr. BERGEN: I was in--I started '85.
LAMB: '85 to--to 2001. What's--what's this impact on your life...
Mr. BERGEN: This book?
LAMB: ...today? This book, your knowledge about that part of the world, this story? And what--are you f--are you back with CNN full-time?
Mr. BERGEN: No. No, no, no. I mean, I--I'd liked to continue working with CNN as--sort of in a part-time capacity. I--I mean, I've worked for 15 years now for other organizations--for--and--and to the extent that it would be possible to be independent, I'd like to do that, and write other books, and perhaps other articles, and--but the impact of this book on my life? Well, I mean, I hope that I can write another book, basically. I mean, you know...
LAMB: But how about the impact of this whole story on your life?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I mean, it was--it's been very--I don't know. This--I--it's been very hard sometimes because, you know, the events--I was here in Washington on September 11th, and the whole thing was--I don't know. It was very, very dreadful, really. The whole--I find it--and--and--and...
LAMB: Where were you when it happened?
Mr. BERGEN: I was at home. My father was watching television. He told me the--that a plane had hit the Trade Center, and--and sometimes he's fond of sort of not very funny jokes and I thought he was joking, but when I--I came down, saw it, and then the second plane hit, and as soon as that happened, I was--I called up Keith McAllister, the national editor of CNN, and he s—and his office had just said, you know, `Come here immediately.' And it was pretty obvious to anybody who followed these things it was bin Laden. And I took a cab in, and--and I was--it was very--if you remember the day, it was very unclear about what was happening, who--what were the targets? I mean, I remember there was a report that the State Department was perhaps on fire or had been bombed, and then the Pentagon was on fire. And, you know, all these reports. And then suddenly this other report came in--it was much stronger, a more urgent report, you know, the entire tower of the Trade Center had collapsed.
And my Ethiopian cabdriver, I'll--I'll never forget it, he just burst into tears. And it--it was very--it was--I mean, I burst into tears, as well, actually, because it was just--you know, you knew how many people had--I mean I thought I knew how many people had died in that attack. And it was--it was very hard to go on. But, you know, I--I, you know, I went to CNN, and was talking to one of the correspondents there, and I was saying, `Yeah, maybe CNN isn't such a smart place to be either. I mean, you know, who knows?' You know, because it wasn't clear--it wasn't clear what the objective was. I mean, so--it was a very difficult day, and then--anyway, the main thing about it is that it--it--it sort of gives me no joy that the book is going to be more widely read.
I mean, certainly the--it--you know, it would be far better to w--rewind the clock back. If it--you know, one of the things that strikes me about bin Laden is that he's this--he's a--he's a sort of James Bond villain in a way. But if this was a real--if this was a real James Bond movie, you know, the trade--you know, James Bond would have come in and got rid of bin Laden, the Trade Centers would be standing. And, unfortunately, life is not a movie. I mean, the--the Trade Centers fell and bin Laden is, you know, able to get away with it, it seems.
LAMB: Go back to that meeting you had with him in 1997.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: What are the other little things that you remember from that meeting, circumstances?
Mr. BERGEN: Circumstances? He--at the end of the meeting, he--he—he was--he didn't want to hang around for very long but he served us some cups of--a cup of tea, I remember, himself. And he lingered just basically to have some pictures taken and we got some other--you know, like sort of--other shots of him. And he--the--the--Peter Arnett had interviewed Saddam Hussein and--during the Gulf War, and so Peter Arnett talked to him about Saddam Hussein. And he said a very interesting thing. He said Saddam Hussein was a bad Muslim, and he s--he--he sees Kuwait for his own self-aggrandizement. Both of which are factually correct statements. But it--it kind of--it was an early indicator to me that bin Laden--you know, bin Laden regards someone like Saddam Hussein as basically a heretic. So the nose...
LAMB: Did you shake hands with him?
Mr. BERGEN: I don't think so. I don't--I don't think so. I don't think it was ever--it--it just--the situation never came up whether it was a shake of a hand or not. He just--he just sat down. I don't think we shook hands at all, no, come to think of it. I never really thought about it until now.
LAMB: What about the people around him? We talked a little bit about that earlier. Did they know who you were? Did they have a grasp of what you were going to do with this?
Mr. BERGEN: Oh, yeah, I think so. I mean, there were--the--the--certainly, the translator spoke excellent English, then they--they--there was--a number of the people that knew that--you know, they understood it was CNN. They understood it was an interview. I th...
LAMB: Do they watch CNN?
Mr. BERGEN: Not in Afghanistan. Because, you know, some--most places don't have electricity.
LAMB: You reported in the book that he bought a $7,500 satellite telephone in New York--for $7,500--for $7,500.
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. From a New York company. Yeah.
LAMB: Yeah, but then abandoned the use of the satellite telephone.
Mr. BERGEN: Right. Probably--he banned it maybe personally. I mean, his--his--his aides may have used that same satellite phone. I mean, he--he--he's not stupid and he understood that the--you know, voice print, his voice print is distinctive and, you know, the satellite sweep looking for this voice and--in '97, his colleague in London said that bin Laden was not chatting away on his satellite phone. Because he's very--they're very--he's--he's been the subject of a number of rather serious assassination attempts by his native Saudi government, so he's very, very, very security conscious.
LAMB: Looking back in the couple minutes we have left...
Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...what--what job do you think--what--what kind--what would you grade the media during this period of time, and as all that you knew about this, have you often looked at the set or read an article and say, `Bunch of misinformation'?
Mr. BERGEN: I think overall the media is--and particularly after September 11th, the media has done an amazing job. And I think CNN has done a very good job. I think The New York Times should be awarded, you know, 20 Pulitzers tomorrow. I think The Washington Post has done a very good job. I mean, the fact is, if you--one think that's strikes me, Brian, that's very interesting, if you do polls on--on the relative standing of the media, betwe--and on September 10th, the media was regarded with lawyers, when we were talking about Gary Condit and stuff, down at 20 percent. And now we're doing the job the public needs us to do and we're up at, you know, whatever, 70 percent or 80 percent. I mean, so public, you know, I think it sort of un--it unleashed a lot of people to actually do the jobs they wanted. I mean, no one really wants to cover Gary Condit or that kind of stuff at the end of the day.
LAMB: What would you like to do next, specifically? What topic? What area?
Mr. BERGEN: I would like to go back to Afghanistan and find out what happened. I think when the smoke clears a bit, you know, and--I mean, there are a lot--there are a lot of other things that are going on right now, but I think the--the opportunity to go back to Afghanistan and talk to some of the players, find out how this all happened, and sort of, basically, the part two of this book, as it were.
LAMB: Where will you go first?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I'd go to--probably go to Kabul just because you need to get the various permissions and talk to the people there ….
LAMB: Well, who are you going to look for to talk to?
Mr. BERGEN: Well, I think--you know, the two people who are going to know a lot about the situation are Dr. Abdullah, the foreign minister, they've--he--you know, Abdullah's been tracking the bin Laden group for years because they were fighting the bin Laden group on the front lines with the Taliban. And also, you know, the Karzais in Kandahar, they're going to be people who have information about what was the final disposition of where Mullah Omar was and what was the final--where was bin Laden? I mean, all these--these--these are the people who are going to really know what happened on the ground.
LAMB: And you--what's your suspicion as to how the United States got the tape?
Mr. BERGEN: That is a very good question. I just have no idea. I mean, they aren't saying, so it's--it sounds like somebody left the house in a hurry and just left a tape and maybe it was mislabeled. I mean, you work in the—you know how often tapes get mislabeled. Whatever. I don't know. It was just--it was a mistake. Somebody left it there.
LAMB: Is there a moral to all this story?
Mr. BERGEN: People who have got on--people who believe that God is really on their side, you know, it's very unlikely that God has decided to get on your side. I mean, I don't think God works like that. And bin Laden really believes that God got on his side. And that's--I don't know. It's not a very useful way of looking at the world. I mean--and also if you believe that God is on your side, you believe everything you can do is--is divinely sanctioned and therefore anything you do is right. And it's a very dangerous thing.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It's called "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden." Our guest has been Peter L. Bergen. Thank you very much.
Mr. BERGEN: Thank you, sir.
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