BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dana Priest, what is "The Mission"?
DANA PRIEST, AUTHOR, "THE MISSION": WAGING WAR AND KEEPING PEACE WITH AMERICA`S MILITARY: "The mission" is what the military is called upon to do today all around the world, which is a lot bigger than just fighting wars. They`re asked to relieve humanitarian suffering. They`re asked to rebuild nations. They`re asked to train militaries who are unprofessional and often brutal, militaries that we normally wouldn`t have much contact with. But especially in the war against terrorism, the special force, in particular, have been asked to go out and try to professionalize some of these militaries.
They actually do a whole other range of things, a lot of things that diplomats really should be doing, especially at the higher levels, at the four-star level. And so a lot of people in the military, when they saw that they were being asked to do a lot of these things in the last decade, they called it "mission creep." One could call it "mission leap," it`s so big. And I just call it "the mission" because that has become what the military really does these days, a whole range of things.
LAMB: What`s the background of this book?
PRIEST: Well, the background is I was a Pentagon reporter for "The Washington Post" for eight years, and a couple years into the job, I one day happened to be in a military briefing for some Army generals on an entirely different subject. And I noticed the deployments around the world of Army forces and the little deployments of special forces, things I`d never heard about before. So I started in inquire, What are they doing? And after I peeled the onion back on that one, I found that the special forces at that time were in 125 countries, something we didn`t know much about at all, including countries where the U.S. Congress had said we need to cut off relations -- Pakistan, Colombia and Indonesia, in particular. And the special forces had found their way around that in a sort of loophole of legislation that they and their bosses at the office of the secretary of defense had created. So they were out there in the world, doing all these things. I wrote a big story about that.
And then I just kept going. I kept saying, Well, what else is the military doing out there? And in Europe, I found that they were sending hundreds of officers to help the former Soviet bloc states reform their militaries. And then I just kept going and going. And of course, we had peacekeeping and that sort of thing coming along, where you went -- where I could go to Bosnia and look at what the troops were doing.
And it really became a story that I thought was not in Washington, so a lot of us who cover the Pentagon, you wouldn`t be able to see it from Washington. But when you added the thousands of pieces of the puzzle together, you got actually a very big transformation of the U.S. military and what its role is. At the same time, you had the secretary of defense and the president, who had given the military an official new role, which was to shape -- they called it -- to shape the environment. And being good soldiers, that`s what they did.
And at the highest levels, that`s what they did. The commanders-in-chiefs, the regional commanders-in-chiefs, called the CINCs -- they took that mission and they said, you know, Let`s -- let`s take this seriously and find out in our region where we can engage people. And they did that with hundreds of exercises, lots of humanitarian relief. They sent dozens and dozens and dozens of mid-level officers to do bilateral relations.
At the same time, you had our diplomatic corps, which was suffering quite a bit. Not only did it suffer budget cuts but terrible morale problems, a lot of accountability problems. Who are the -- how good are they? You had a Congress that really wasn`t interested in funding them. So you had this imbalance of resources that began to grow. And the military took on many of the jobs that the State Department had, and they still have that today.
LAMB: You go to chapter 16, and it`s way into your book, and it`s kind of a jolt. It`s called "Dishonoring Merita." Who was she? And why did -- who dishonored her?
PRIEST: Merita was a 12-year-old Albanian girl in Kosovo. And to set up her story -- this is the story of what you get when you send infantry troops to a place to do nation-building. Now, people in the administration don`t like the word nation-building because they say, We don`t send the military to do that. We send the military to create safe and secure environments. They...
LAMB: This is her right here, by the way.
PRIEST: They make sure that people aren`t shooting at each other anymore, cut down on crime, that sort of thing. So they had sent the 82nd Airborne to Kosovo right after the war...
LAMB: What year?
PRIEST: In 1999. And they had been there for quite a while. And I look at one particular town in Kosovo to really get to the bottom of what is it like? What do these troops do? What do they think about it? How do they perform? How do they figure out actually which is -- how do they figure out how to do deal with a whole plethora of problems that they weren`t expecting.
So in this case, this was one particular unit that had given its men a special task, to go and try to find the bad guys. In order to make this safe and secure environment, they wanted to go -- they figured it out. They figured out that the bad guys were actually organized crime, Albanians who used to be in the KLA, the Kosovo Liberation Army, who we were allied with during the Kosovo war. And those same people had become the underground political apparatus that really controlled Kosovo.
So these troops, they figured that out, and they said, We got to go stop that. And so they -- they tried to do that by becoming policemen, in a way. In that same unit -- so we see that in Kosovo, they`re acting not as soldiers, they`re acting as cops, gumshoes, detectives. And then part of the story that leads up to Merita, we see that they abuse that power. They start pushing people around for no reason. I mean, these are very young 19-year-olds, in some cases. Lieutenants start interrogating people in very inappropriate ways because they`re so frustrated. They see this violence all around them, and they see these people being killed. They want to stop it. They figured, This is my mission, and I want to succeed.
LAMB: Before you get to Merita, just a couple of things. Kosovo is located where?
PRIEST: Well, in the former Yugoslavia, down near the bottom, south of -- well, to the east of Bosnia. And it`s a province of Yugoslavia, and the -- and Slobodan Milosevic had -- which is in the Balkans, east of Italy. Slobodan Milosevic had wanted to clear out all the Albanians who live there and basically make it a Serb-held and run province. And the Albanians wanted actually independence. They were tired of suffering, and really suffering under Milosevic. They couldn`t go to schools, even. They had to have underground schools.
So this -- this led to the air war of 1999, when we -- when we did go in and stop the ethnic cleansing that had been going on there for quite some time and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Albanians.
LAMB: How many people live there?
PRIEST: Right now, I think it`s about a million. It`s not that big. It`s the size of Los Angeles County. So it`s not a large -- what we did when we went in as the United States -- actually, it was NATO went in, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It divided it into sectors. The British, the French, the Germans and the Americans each have a sector. The Americans wanted the most peaceful sector because they really didn`t -- they did the war, they figured. They didn`t want to have to do the peace, which is the hardest part. And we can get back to that later because it applies to today. So they took what they thought was the quietest sector, but it had these big hiccups in it, like Vitina, the town where Merita lives.
And to get back to that -- they sent in 82nd Airborne, people who are trained to jump out of airplanes, seize airfields and keep them for larger forces who move in during war. So these young soldiers, however, are told to go make it safe and secure. They figure out the problem. They start to figure out who are the instigators. They start to go after the instigators. They make some really clumsy mistakes, bad interrogations, roughing up people.
They also are convinced that the Albanian population is really the problem, and the -- and by that time, there are very few Serbs there, and the Albanians, who are trying, actually, to kill them or to intimidate them in really horrible ways. So they take and get an affinity for the minority. I mean, if you remember during the war, the Serbs were the enemy. And when the troops get to Kosovo, they think the Serbs are the enemy. And then their world turns all the way upside down.
Not only are they given all these missions -- be the mayor, be the principal, be the water carrier, but -- you know, make sure the electricity works -- but your enemy is no longer your enemy. Actually, it`s the reverse. And so for them, it`s quite disorienting. But they do become protective of the small Serb population that is still there.
LAMB: How many times have you been there?
PRIEST: I`ve been there four times.
LAMB: To Vitina?
PRIEST: To Vitina I`ve been three, yes, over a course of years.
LAMB: How long does it take to get there from here? And how do you get there?
PRIEST: Well, let`s see. I have been there -- you go to Macedonia, fly to Macedonia. And in one case, you -- I drove there. In most cases, I drove there. And you go up the Kacanik Defile, which is a narrow road with very tall, steep hills on it. It`s basically one lane, although it`s really two lanes. And it`s the main supply route in, so you`re there with a huge number of trucks.
LAMB: Do you go by yourself?
PRIEST: No. By the time you get -- I arranged a lot of the trips that I took -- because I wanted to be with the military -- you can`t just walk up to a base in Kosovo and say, I`m here to do some work on my book. You have to prearrange everything ahead of time. They have to take it up the chain of command. They want to know what you`re doing. And then if they approve it, then they`ll -- they`re very helpful in trying to get you into places easily.
So the times that I went to Kosovo, I went -- I got myself to Macedonia. Then I would take -- then the military would meet me at their base in Macedonia, and then we would go in their vehicle, which had a sticker, so they got some special access. They could move ahead of some of the trucks. We would go into Kosovo. In one case, I flew in on a Black Hawk helicopter. The military was very proactive when it comes to moving press into places where they think they`re not getting much coverage and they`d really like to. And so you can often hitch rides on airplanes or helicopters that are going somewhere, if you make -- you know, in advance. So that`s -- that`s...
LAMB: So when you got there -- now, when was the last time you were there?
PRIEST: It was in 2000.
LAMB: How many 82nd Airborne troops were on the ground there in Vitina, in that immediate area?
PRIEST: There was just one company, I think, several hundred -- actually, less than that. There was several hundred troops. There were several hundred troops in Vitina itself. They had spread out. They all had different geographic areas to cover. So at any one time during the day, if you were up in a helicopter, you know, you could see many dozens of patrols, either stationary patrols at checkpoints or people moving around in vehicles, checking out things or meeting with the U.N., who is supposed to administer Kosovo now under a U.N. resolution.
LAMB: you mention the U.N. because a lot of your book also talks about the differences between the British and the French and all...
LAMB: ... but also in this area, the U.N. police.
PRIEST: Right. Well, you know, the U.N. are supposed to administer Kosovo. Kosovo doesn`t have a political status that`s defined yet. It`s neither independent from Serbia nor really an integrated part. And the -- and NATO pretty much punted on that question, it figured it would be so divisive. So what it did is put the U.N. in charge. The U.N. has their own administrators there. And many people think that the U.N. has a peacekeeping force. In fact, the U.N. -- it`s like pick-up basketball. You know, whenever there`s a big crisis, the U.N. asks its countries to donate peacekeepers, and they cobble them together and put them together as a peacekeeping force. And then they have to try to work well together.
So in this case, they have not only -- they have U.N. police, and the U.N. police are often from countries where the police practices, I would say, are not so professional and where some of these people came here because they were the brother of someone important and they knew they`d get a good-paying job if they became police officers in Kosovo. So they have no police training. And they barely speak a common language, which is English, but many of them don`t really speak English well. They don`t want to be -- they don`t want to get in trouble there. They don`t want to put themselves at risk because it`s Kosovo. It doesn`t really mean much to them, other than a job. So you have the people who are supposed to be making sure that things are running right, who are supposed to be doing this detective work to find the bad guys, not wanting to do that at all because it`s not safe, for one thing, and secondly, they`re not organized in any way. They`ve never worked together. They speak five different languages. They can barely understand each other at some points.
LAMB: You say there were 50 different countries that had U.N. policemen there?
LAMB: And the people assigned, and that they made as much as $75,000 a year to do that.
PRIEST: The Americans did, yes. It`s different in every country. But it`s a very well-paying job for people from any country. In fact, some countries, like Pakistan -- one of the reasons you`ll find a big contingent of Pakistan police is because it`s a great-paying job for them.
LAMB: Go back to Merita.
PRIEST: Right. So...
LAMB: Eleven years old.
PRIEST: Right. So what happens with Merita is, in this one campaign of 82nd Airborne, who are trying to do this detective work and this sort of thing, you have a staff sergeant who is out of control. And no one above him recognizes it, as they should have.
LAMB: His name?
PRIEST: His name is Frank Ronghi. And he has become the de facto leader of his platoon mainly because of the -- some quirks of his -- the senior NCO in the -- in the platoon was not around, and he was replaced by a younger guy, and the lieutenant who was in charge was very new. He`d never commanded before -- straight out of West Point. So this guy, this big, burly weight-lifter, charismatic, singer -- he`s not only charming everyone in his platoon, but he`s also intimidating them. And he becomes the de facto leader.
And he goes off on his own, it turns out, which is not allowed, and has relations with women, slips away to drink, all sorts of things. He starts to talk in very strange ways, calling himself "Nympho Man," saying that the girls of Kosovo are really getting to him.
And then one day, when he goes into these big yellow apartment buildings at the corner of Kosovo, which are an ethnic flashpoint because both Albanians and Serbs live there, he goes there and he meets Merita in the staircase as she`s going up. And he drags her into the basement, and he rapes her and kills her. And then he takes her body and puts it in some U.N. flour sacks, gets a buddy, who isn`t sure what`s going on, to drive him to a secluded location in the woods and buries her there.
That is such a tragedy in and of itself, it causes -- you know, people feel so guilty that that has happened. They feel so remorseful. But it also becomes the reason -- it also becomes a part of the blackmail that the Albanian criminal network uses against the U.S. peacekeepers, who are known as KFOR, Kosovo Force. And the leaders of the Albanian community -- thugs, really, most of them, hard-line political activists who want an independent Kosovo -- they used this to blackmail or try to blackmail KFOR. And they say, you know, We won`t make a big deal about this if you release one of our leaders, who they happened to have arrested the day before on a tip from an informant, who said that this -- this person was a big troublemaker in town.
LAMB: What`s his name?
PRIEST: His name is Javit Hassani (ph). And he turns out to be, actually, a very big deal. He`s a Macedonian Albanian who funded a lot of the resistance -- liberation movement in Macedonia and Kosovo. So he`s -- he`s actually, you know, probably the equivalent of a three-star general, but they don`t know that. So they`ve arrested him, and that -- that, in and of itself, has caused a big uproar within Vitina, and later elsewhere, both in Macedonia and all throughout Kosovo. But they have no clue who he is, really. And they -- but they did arrest him.
So her murder, then -- they try to use this as a blackmail against the troops. Just release him, and we won`t say anything bad about that. But of course, they don`t release him because they`re not going to be blackmailed like that. So these troops have created, you know, an international incident by arresting him, first of all, then this terrible case of the murder creates another reason for these Albanians to go after KFOR. And it evolves into an international incident.
LAMB: When was Merita killed?
PRIEST: She was killed in the spring of -- sorry, in the winter of 1999.
LAMB: And how much of this was public, at the time?
PRIEST: It came out as a crime story -- it`s such an aberration to have a soldier kill someone like this, and people were wondering, would this spark some kind of big reaction or not. And it did spark a localized reaction, but not a large one. So we all reported on it at the time. But we didn`t actually do much in-depth look back and what -- about -- on this unit, which is the unit that I -- happened to be the one company that I had visited many months before, to do a story about peacekeeping, to see for myself what is this.
And that`s where I learned, Oh, my goodness! This is not anything I had thought of before. In fact, when I did it -- and I tried very much -- my way of doing this is try to be sort of the fly on the wall, hang out with people for a long time, so that they kind of forget you`re there, and just don`t have them point things out to you, just have them be themselves and record that, as I -- best I can.
LAMB: Where is Ronghi today?
PRIEST: He`s in Leavenworth, lives in a little cell, just uniform cell, doesn`t see daylight, doesn`t go outside much. He`s -- it`s life in prison without the possibility of parole.
LAMB: And you refer in your book to the Army document -- what is it, 15-6?
LAMB: And it`s 600-some pages? Do I remember that correctly?
LAMB: Who did that investigation? When was that available to you?
PRIEST: Well, after the murder, the Army leadership and the leadership of the Defense Department, said, How could this have happened? So they asked the Army to look into that, and they did their standard 15-6 criminal investigation. And they had, you know, many people involved in it. They took dozens of statements from people who were there. And they weren`t just looking at -- actually, they weren`t at all looking at the murder. That was a criminal case. They were looking at the command climate, the unit climate, this sort of thing, to find out, you know, again, how could this have happened.
And so they produced this giant document. It`s very rough. IT`s not even numbered. I went and numbered all those pages in order to use them in my research and came up with the number you just cited. So they -- they -- as a result -- the testimony was all under oath, and lots of detail in there. And that allowed me to really get further down into the -- to this unit and figure out what had gone on. And then I went back and interviewed a lot of the people who were interviewed, and some of the main commanders of the unit themselves, to figure out, you know -- give -- to flush out the details of what they were trying to do and what happened.
LAMB: What`s this picture?
PRIEST: That is Lieutenant Colonel Michael Ellerbee (ph). And he was the commander of the 3rd battalion of the 504th Infantry regiment, which is the unit that I followed. So he has -- he is the commander of the company that I looked at, Alpha Company. And there he is, talking to two elderly Serb women. Actually, one`s a man and a -- and a woman.
Ellerbee (ph) is this very dynamic battalion commander. He wears his Baretta tucked into his flak jacket right up in front, not behind or in -- down here in a holster. He`s -- I say there that he is not -- the identity crisis that was afflicting the Army at the time passed over Michael Ellerbee (ph). He knew what it -- he figured out quickly what it would take in Kosovo to do the mission that they were asked to do, to really create a safe and secure environment.
He knew it meant taking risks, which the Army, the big Army, was not necessarily behind him on that. He knew it meant delegating responsibility to his lieutenants, who he trusted, and he did delegated it actually to his captains, who delegated it to his lieutenants. And so he did that, and he -- he gave them the go-ahead to do some of the things -- to do the investigations themselves. And he was -- he was the commander who was supposed to be monitoring the whole situation, as well.
LAMB: Who is Captain Kevin Lambert (ph), there on the left, in the front?
PRIEST: Captain Lambert (ph) is the commander of Alpha Company, A Company, which is the company that had Vitina as its space. And so he was in charge of -- also of all these investigations that were going on in Vitina by his lieutenants and their men. And in that picture, Kevin Lambert (ph) is meeting also with Serbs. They regularly held town meetings to figure out what the problems were, who was stealing wood from whom, who was extorting taxes from whom, you know, why market day was so chaotic and why Serbs were not allowed into market day and how you could make them safe and how you could get Serb children to school, whether it was a good idea to integrate Serb children into the Albanian -- majority-Albanian schools, and then also to make sure that everybody stayed safe. And there were -- while they were there, there were many incidents of bombs and killings of single Serbs, and that sort of thing, which they were determined to stop.
LAMB: You point out that -- I think both Kevin Lambert (ph) and Lieutenant Colonel Ellerbee (ph)...
LAMB: ... were reprimanded later on?
PRIEST: Right. Both of them received letters of reprimand, and their files contain some of the particulars about the case, so that each time they go for promotion, the promotion board has available to it the record. The question that the 15-6 addressed was, Whose responsibility should this be for the murder? I mean, not in a criminal sense, but how could this happen? And they found that Lieutenant Colonel Ellerbee`s (ph) command climate was partially responsible.
But to tell you the truth, they did it in a way that was slightly disingenuous because he had created for his men a task list of things that they needed to do. One of them was neutralize the KLA, render them combat-ineffective -- very, you know, military language for a police action. And he gave them the authority to do that. And the 15-6 investigator said that this was out of the larger commanders` intent, that no one knew about this, that this was beyond what he was supposed to be doing.
Well, I found out later -- well, and during my interviews -- that, in fact, generals much -- one-stars and two-stars and three-stars who had come to visit were all briefed on this task by Ellerbee (ph). So they can`t claim that they did not know. In fact, people started coming -- VIPs started coming to Vitina because they thought this was an example of a unit that was really proactive, had made friends with the Serbs, had made, you know, at least a peace with the Albanians. And Ellerbee (ph) was such a dynamic commander, and Captain Lambert (ph) was also, and these were models.
So they wanted to have it both ways. On the one hand, he said the higher-ups didn`t know. On the other hand, later another investigation which the Army conducted to see if their promotions were appropriate, found that, in fact, the higher-up commanders actually did know about this.
LAMB: How long did the Americans stay there, the 82nd Airborne, in Vitina?
PRIEST: The rotation is six months.
LAMB: They still there?
PRIEST: No. They rotated out. They came back again because they only rotate a certain number of divisions. The 101st came back -- came after them, and I went back a year later to see if anything had changed. The murder had happened. The Army had responded. They had said they`d do peacekeeping differently, they`d train their troops differently. And they do do training now that they didn`t do before. But the surprising thing to me when I came back was none of the troops had known much about the murder. Most of them hadn`t even heard about it. So they weren`t -- if they were supposed to learn lessons from that unit, they weren`t because they didn`t really know much about it.
But the same problems haunted that unit, which was -- I`ll give you my favorite example, and the scene of all the scenes in the book and in my reporting, that still stick in my head so much is -- the troops were put de facto in charge of evicting Albanians from Serb homes. The Albanians would find vacant Serb homes. They`d come in and they`d move in, as a way of moving out the Serbs. The U.N. was supposed to be in charge, and they were supposed to go and kick the squatters out. But of course, the U.N. didn`t want to do that because people don`t like to get kicked out of their homes.
So they either wouldn`t do it, and the -- and the Serb population would be up in arms all the time, or they would push KFOR into the situation where they had to do it.
PRIEST: Americans, the American troops. So this was what happened in front of me. This one Serb elderly man whose home had been taken over by Albanians had made a friendship with the Americans and...
LAMB: What was his name?
PRIEST: His name was -- I`m going to blank on it -- Male (ph).
LAMB: Male (ph), yes.
PRIEST: He was actually a town drunk. And the troops, though, really liked him because he was a Serb, and he would wander the streets and he didn`t care. He was brave, you know, and they gave him a certain respect because of that. Here`s this guy that could be killed. In fact, his friend, another farmer, had been shot and killed several weeks before I got there, in his field.
So anyway, Malay wants his house back and he`s making a lot of noise about it and he`s been to the U.N. many times and they`ve taken reports from him and he`s given them proof and all this but they don`t want to do anything so he`s made this friendship with the new captain from the 101st Darrell Driver (ph).
And, when I was there, he had come to a meeting and he was about to complain again and Captain Driver (ph) said look we`ll take care of this. I promise you and they make like a pact. So, that night the troops go there and they find that there indeed are these squatters here and they give them an hour to leave and the squatters happen to be a husband and wife, three little kids and a cousin, and we go up to the house.
LAMB: You`re with them?
PRIEST: Yes, I`m with them and we have our translator and big guys, you know, at the door. The kids come to the door first. They`re like five and seven and they look up at this GI and there was like, you know, Christmas. I got my GI Joe right here and they had smiles on their face and wow, you know, they`re really happy.
The GI who knows that he`s there to evict them he`s ramrod straight. He says to me, he whispers kind of out of the side of his mouth, he says I hate this part of the job. The kids they really get to you because he knows he`s going to turn into kind of an ogre in front of them.
To make a long story short they tell them they have to leave. The wife says we`re not leaving. It`s cold. It is. It`s freezing cold. I had a down jacket on, you know. I`m shivering and this goes on for about an hour and then they finally say look no more. We`re going to come in and we`re going to take you away if you don`t find a house immediately.
And they actually handcuff the wife who`s resisting in front of the kids and it`s a - you know it`s a little tussle. The kids are screaming. The soldiers are, you know, doing their thing. They throw her down on the ground, put their knees on top of her, double cuff her with the flex cuff plastic.
The kids are screaming, you know. Some of the soldiers are trying to help the kids with their shoes and now the kids they`ve all transformed. The American soldiers were their friends and now, you know, they`re completely disoriented because they`ve got their mother down on the round roughing her up a little bit and it`s all because, you know, they in a sense, they`re not trained to deal with this sort of thing, evicting people from their house.
You know that`s a police action for sure and a very delicate one as you can imagine and they`ve done it in the best way they can. They`d like the U.N. to do it. They promise over and over to the people of the town. They try to convince them that the U.N. is in charge and they won`t even listen to them.
In fact, in the meetings they`ll say you tell us the U.N. is in charge but they don`t do anything. You guys have the weapons and the organization and the money so they are going to no matter what anybody says be dependent on the military to carry out - to carry out some of these things.
LAMB: So what do you as a reporter - first of all does the army like the fact that when this is going on you`re standing there?
PRIEST: That is a case where the fly on the wall worked. You know I had been walking around with the same platoon for a number of days. Yes, they forget you`re there, not antagonistic, and it just evolves. I had taken a little camera with me that was - that I tried to be as low profile as I could and I took a couple, and I was taking pictures just for myself so that I would remember. When you write a 300 and something page book and you`ve got a lot to remember and I wanted to remember the scene so I took pictures and that really helped me later. I could recall kids` faces and that sort of thing.
But to answer your question they pretty much forgot about it. They were so wrapped up in the scene that was evolving in front of them. One of the funny things that happened after that incident is the mother is the one that`s resisting. You know she`s got the kids here.
She`s saying no way are you taking my kids at night and the father meanwhile is behind the house with the captain cutting the deal because no one really likes to have this happen, to throw the kids out at by now it`s like ten o`clock at night, very cold.
So, even though they`ve handcuffed the mother, they`ve done this in front of the kids. There`s lots of screaming and commotion. Pretty soon the father and the captain walk back in. They said OK we have a deal. They`ve agreed to come out of the house at ten o`clock tomorrow, ten tomorrow morning.
So, they un-handcuff the woman and, you know, they end up staying there for the night and then another equally bizarre scene happens the next day when they finally convince the U.N. to come to the house to evict them and the U.N. people come there.
There`s a man from Pakistan. There`s a man from Ghana and they barely understand each other`s English and they are clueless why they`re even there to tell you the truth. They just, they don`t understand who`s complaining about it. They don`t understand who these Albanians are.
So, they take them and move them all down to the police station at one point and then they take the Serb whose house it was, bring him down to the police station and they`re interrogating everybody even though the Albanians had agreed to leave and the soldiers just are throwing up their hands saying, you know, how can they - how can they act like this and not know what`s going on?
LAMB: How much did we spend on this Kosovo war? How much did we - how much of our activities made the difference over there, the bombing and all that compared to the other countries?
PRIEST: Well, 99.9 percent of the war, it was an American air war.
LAMB: Done through NATO though.
PRIEST: Done through NATO, sure, and there were some nations that participated in the air war flying but the U.S. carried the vast majority of the burden.
LAMB: If you take this as a microcosm, you had NATO, U.N., now the American forces in there, what about this mission? You write, this is the title of your book "The Mission." How much of it - are there people here in this town, Washington, D.C., in the government that say we should never be involved in something like this?
PRIEST: Well they are but, you know, those people are usually the same people who don`t have a better alternative. I mean we shouldn`t have - usually you hear we shouldn`t have the military doing nation building and yet they`re the same people, I`m speaking now of Congress, who supported the air war, funded afterwards the peacekeeping mission because you can`t just walk away. Everybody realizes that.
The reason why they went to Kosovo in part, not only was there the humanitarian question but it was on NATO`s edge and they thought instability in the Balkans would bring instability throughout Europe and so they had agreed that they needed to make this a stable place and they couldn`t do it just with the status quo.
So, you have to make good on your promise. You can`t now if you`ve done the war, you`ve achieved that end. In order to achieve the lasting peace you have to do something and the something that the U.S. government has is the military. It doesn`t have any other alternative.
The alternatives that it has are very weak and that`s sort of the larger point in the book, which is why should it be the military or nobody? And, these many years after the Balkan peacekeeping first started, Bosnia was the first case where long term nation building, peacekeeping was going on since 1995. We still don`t have an alternative.
We`re still in the situation where people say this military shouldn`t be doing this. They should be fighting wars. At the same time there`s no one else to send and the U.N. and the U.N. organization is not funded or organized properly and the U.N. is a reflection of all of these countries.
So there is a widespread frustration not only in the U.S. government but in the world community that militaries shouldn`t do nation building but there`s no one else to do it and there has not been the political leadership to build another apparatus that could take that on and that`s the problem.
LAMB: Before we go on to some of the rest of the book, you dedicated to Bill, Nicky, and Haley (ph).
LAMB: For their curiosity, patience, and humor. Who are they?
PRIEST: Well, Bill is my husband and Haley (ph) and Nick are my two children and they - they were curious. Haley (ph) was six so she had lots of questions about writing a book and every day she would say are you done?
And she wrote many books while I was writing my book. She would come up in the study and start her own and she would always be proud that she was done. Why wasn`t I done? So, they were also curious about where I went and what I did.
LAMB: How old is Nick?
PRIEST: He`s 11 now. He was 9-10. I went away quite a bit to do the book because I traveled quite a lot and they were, you know, curious about where I was going, and because we were not a military family we were like many American families, the majority who don`t know much about the military culture.
So, it was a real challenge for me to explain to them that on most of these trips, you know, they weren`t dangerous. I was going with military who are doing peaceful things rather than war type things.
LAMB: And what does Bill do for a living?
PRIEST: He`s the executive director of a foreign policy research center in Washington.
LAMB: There`s a lot more in this book. We just kind of touched the surface on this and so folks tuning in listening to this give us an overview. I know you went to Nigeria and Indonesia and Afghanistan. Give us an overview of what else you tried to accomplish in the book.
PRIEST: OK. The general theme is that the military has gotten so much responsibility. We have ceded so much responsibility to the military for various reasons I talked about before, no one else, the State Department is not really there, that sort of thing.
But I tried to do it using examples that people could relate to and that there were various levels of command and that sort of thing. So, the first part of it talks about he regional commanders and chiefs, and in 2000 I traveled with the four who were - at that point we divided the world into four parts and each part had a four-star either admiral or general who was in charge of it and all military operations in that region.
LAMB: And those four men were?
PRIEST: Marine General Anthony Zinni who had the Central Command, the area that Tommy Franks now has in Iraq and the Middle East area; Army General Wesley Clark who had the European Command and part of Africa, but also dual-hatted as all European CINCs are as the SAC here, the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, the military head of NATO.
Then there was also Admiral Dennis Blair who was in charge of the Pacific Command. I went with him to Indonesia and East Timor; and then finally, Marine General Charles Wilhelm who had the Southern Command in Central and Latin America.
And, I traveled with each one of them. Zinni`s trip was the longest. It was two weeks long. We went to Central Asia. We went to Bahrain.
LAMB: You by - were there any other reporters with him?
PRIEST: No. In fact, this was the - this was quite fun. None of them had ever taken reporters with them. I mean part of the story is that no one really paid much attention to what the CINCs did here in Washington among the Press Corps.
But as I discovered on other stories and which led me to this, the CINCs had an enormous amount of power, an enormous amount of resources compared to anybody else.
So, I spent months trying to work myself into their trips and, in fact, finally was able to do that and was the only reporter on all the trips and I traveled with the staff. They have their own airplanes. They travel with about 35 people including, you know, communicators, refuelers, medics, staff aides, you name it in the group and I was just part of what they did every day.
LAMB: You make an interesting point in your book about the fact that these gentlemen that succeeded Anthony Zinni does not talk to the press very often.
LAMB: And Anthony Zinni did and does. It seems that`s a very important point in your book in this town. So, Anthony Zinni is all over this book but Tommy Franks is nowhere.
PRIEST: Well, that`s true and they did have different philosophies. Zinni, his philosophy was we`re part of the United States. The public should know what we`re doing. To the greatest extent we can, we should tell them what we`re doing.
A good example of that is when he commanded the pull out of troops from Somalia and there were many people from the press there. Militaries often conflicted about how to treat those press people in the middle of a military operation and Zinni`s attitude was I`m going to take them into my operation center.
I`m going to brief them beforehand on what we`re going to do tomorrow. If they promise not to use it, because if they break - you know obviously you can`t tell anybody beforehand what the military is going to do or you might spoil it and get people hurt.
And he said anybody that breaks that promise, you`re out of here and you`re in Somalia and you got to figure out how you get yourself home. So, he had a way of building trust with the press. Of course everybody went along with that. You know we try to do our jobs the best we can too and not endanger anybody.
But he also was very candid about the military and he once went up on Capitol Hill, told members of Congress that he didn`t actually think it was a good idea to have - to fund a small group of people to overthrow Saddam Hussein. That was not the administration`s line and the administration actually under Clinton muzzled him for that.
So, even though he was a proponent of speaking to the press, in the last two years he was, in his position he was not allowed to speak to the press. I caught him at the end of his tenure when he was about to retire and I think he really wanted to share what it was that his world had become. Here are these four-star generals trained in combat operations and here they`d become these four-star diplomats and not...
LAMB: Did he like that?
PRIEST: I think he did because he`s very gregarious and he respected and really learned to appreciate the people in his region but he also felt tremendously frustrated with the lack of support from Washington.
LAMB: By the way, one of the things - a couple of statistics you have in your book I wanted to ask you about because they`re relevant right now is that since 1973 you say that the Gulfies, meaning the Gulf, Persian Gulf countries, have purchased $125 billion worth of weaponry.
LAMB: From this country?
PRIEST: Right, from this country.
LAMB: And a further figure you have in there that there`s been $82 billion purchased by the Saudis just in the last 16 years.
LAMB: What do those figures say to you?
PRIEST: Well, it`s a way to tell you that our relationship with the Middle East is largely a military relationship, a one-dimensional relationship. Unlike everywhere else in the world where our stated goal is to promote democracy, in the Middle East that has not been our stated goal.
In fact, I`ve been in seminars, in briefing rooms where the goal - that goal, which appears on all of the briefing charts has been excised. So, we`ve never had the same sort of standards and the same goals in that region and we`ve had, like I said, a military relationship. The commander-in-chief being the main military person was responsible for carrying out that relationship in the area.
LAMB: You also say that there are 33, at least at the time you wrote you book, classified war plans.
LAMB: How many - I mean is that something everybody knows about or is that something you found?
PRIEST: I think it`s - people, you know, on the joint staff and other reporters that have been around a long time know about that, yes.
LAMB: What does that mean, 33 classified war plans, to do what? Where?
PRIEST: You know it`s for every sort of possibility, everything from the implosion of North Korea to destabilization in Somalia. It`s whatever - it`s what the U.S. would do if it had to go to war. Those war plans are really basic bare bones contingency plans that when you`re in a time of actually thinking about going to war with a country you take those out and change them quite a bit.
LAMB: Let me shift back to another person that you write about, Rick Turcott.
LAMB: Because you talked about his early in our discussion here about the Special Forces. Who was he or who is he?
PRIEST: Right. He is the senior NCO, non-commissioned officer, on an A team which is the unit, working unit, of Special Forces. It`s 12-man teams, the units that they work in.
LAMB: Why do you write about him?
PRIEST: Well, I was trying in the Special Forces chapters to describe the culture of the Special Forces and Turcott seemed to me to be a quintessential team leader because he`d been in the Special Forces for 20 some years, had been to 70 countries.
He had the kind of machoism and determination and rule over his A team that I had heard existed, I had read existed, and there he was in front of me trying to organize his men both, you know, what they would do every day but also that`s in Kosovo where they were and they had the mission, partly an intelligence mission, trying to figure out where the bad guys were and were they going to come after U.S. troops and that sort of thing.
LAMB: What are some of the subgroups on Special Forces, like the Navy SEALS?
PRIEST: Oh, OK. Yes, the Special Operations Forces is an umbrella or is an umbrella term that encompasses - you have the Navy SEALS. You have the Air Force Special Operations units which are a whole variety of fixed wing but also helicopters that are only flown under, you know, special circumstances.
And then you have the Army Special Forces, otherwise we know them as the Green Berets. You also have the 75th Ranger Regiment which are really the combat, larger combat force, and then you have the Civil Affairs and the Psychological Operations Unit.
LAMB: You say that we have 46,000 people under arms in the Special Operations.
LAMB: Four billion dollar a year budget in 2000 and it`s going up all the time. How many different countries in the world do we have A teams and Special Forces groups and Navy SEALS working, doing things?
PRIEST: Well, I think it`s still about 120. Actually, it`s probably more than that because after 9/11 there were more teams that went out. There were larger training missions in places where they were a little bit reticent to do things before, like Central Asia.
There`s always this tension in the policy arena about where you send Special Forces. Do you send them into places where the human rights record is not very good? And, there`s great debate about that and after 9/11 a lot of that debate fell by the wayside and we ended up sending troops to places like Uzbekistan where they would go once in a while but now they`re going to be there in a much more routine way and in Georgia to deal with the - potentially with the terrorist problem up in ….
LAMB: What do they do all over the world like this and how classified are they, their activities?
PRIEST: Well, part of what they do is training. That`s a large part. They interact with the Special Forces of that country or, in the case of Nigeria where I went, they were actually training peacekeepers.
However, you know, as we know from Afghanistan they also, one of their main missions is to liaison with foreign rebel forces, so there are Special Forces, the ones in Afghanistan, to meet up with the Northern Alliance warlords and troops and to help call in air strikes with their help against the Taliban. So, they also have that combat role.
There`s various degrees of secrecy. The A teams that I wrote about are the White. We call them the White Special Forces. They are not secret, although many of their missions are secret.
The other group below them that sometimes we talk about is the Delta Force and that is a clandestine unit who the Army, I don`t know recently what their attitude about this was, but for all the time I covered it the Army never would admit that they even had a Delta Force.
Delta Force would do missions that are secret and they had the original counterterrorism mission or either they would do hostage rescue under terrorist circumstances or they were supposed to also help the interruption or apprehension of weapons of mass destruction material and components that would go places, things like that.
LAMB: What are the kind of things as you write in your book - by the way how long did it take you to write it once you got into that part of it?
PRIEST: A year and a half.
LAMB: So, you took off from "The Washington Post" during that time?
PRIEST: Yes, I did.
LAMB: What did you keep saying to yourself you wanted others to learn?
PRIEST: You know I had this fundamental belief that Americans don`t know what their military does, a very simple thing, and when I would talk - and I would test it with my friends and their friends and I would test it everywhere I went because like most book authors, I think, I was obsessed with the book during the period of time I was writing it.
And, a lot of people had the notion that our military, this is pre 9/11, wasn`t doing much. Well, they were - to the contrary. The military is saying we`re overtaxed. We`re in all these countries. We`re doing all these things. We`re out in the Middle East, you know. We`re in Central America in the drug war. They want us to, you know, help out with insurgence in Asia.
So, they were all over the place and I just wanted to give Americans who fund, who support and whose history is here because of the American military a better sense of what they actually do.
LAMB: Can you give me an idea of something you tell friends about the military that they never know about?
PRIEST: Well, many of them when I said the military is training in Nigeria, the military trains in Indonesia, you know there`s not a war in Nigeria. There`s not a war in Indonesia. What? You know what are they doing there?
LAMB: Do they understand the commander-in-chiefs, the CINCs?
PRIEST: No, no, not at all. I mean, you know, even people in the military don`t really know much about what the CINCs do unless they`ve worked on the CINC staff. The military is so large and it`s so divided among its different components, not only the services but depending on the unit that you`re in, your life is that unit and what it does.
LAMB: How many CINCs are there?
PRIEST: Well, there`s five now because Donald Rumsfeld has created a fift CINC-dom I call them which is the Northern Command.
LAMB: And who do they answer to?
PRIEST: By law they answer to the defense secretary and a dual chain up to the president. In practice they have answered much more to the secretary of defense through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
LAMB: So, for instance, if you`re a marine general and you`re in charge of the Central Command, you don`t have to answer to the commandant of the Marine Corps?
PRIEST: Not at all. No. In fact...
LAMB: He has nothing to say about what you do?
PRIEST: Not at all. In fact, in operations the CINCs are - the CINCS are into and plan and organize and are responsible for carrying out the operations. The service chiefs, who are in fact better known to most Americans, are really managers of their services.
They are responsible for making sure they get enough people to join and stay, they`re properly trained, and that they have the right kind of weapons, not only now but in the future. So, they`ve become really managers. A lot of them don`t like it but that is really the case.
LAMB: What about the secretaries of the services?
PRIEST: Well, the secretaries of the services really do not have anything to do with operations. They too, they are the overseers of the managers of the services so people who have the most hand in the operations. When you`re deployed, of course, an army unit that goes to Kosovo, that`s a different matter.
LAMB: Before we - we`re running out of time. I need to know a couple of things from you. Where`s your hometown?
PRIEST: Los Angeles, California.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
PRIEST: UC Santa Cruz.
LAMB: What did you study?
PRIEST: Political science.
LAMB: What was your first job when you got out of school?
PRIEST: I was a copywriter for Atari.
LAMB: Which is, the game?
PRIEST: Oh gosh, Warner, yes Warner Communications, yes. That was just to earn money to go to graduate school.
LAMB: How many years have you been at "The Washington Post"?
PRIEST: Seventeen now.
LAMB: And, this book experience compared to daily journalism, what did you think of writing a book?
PRIEST: It`s the best thing I`ve ever done.
PRIEST: It really challenges you. You really realize how as a reporter what you do is very superficial. That`s the frustrating part.
LAMB: I can`t leave this without me asking you why your first name is pronounced Dana?
PRIEST: That`s a great question. I`ve asked my parents that many times and they say he liked it better than Dana.
LAMB: Did they want a boy?
PRIEST: No. They got - they have two boys.
LAMB: Here`s the cover of the book. It`s called "The Mission." Our guest is "Washington Post" reporter Dana Priest. Thank you very much.
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