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Rumsfeld Editorial Board with Chicago Sun Times

Rumsfeld Editorial Board with the Chicago Sun Times

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Friday, November 16, 2001

(Meeting with the editorial board of the Chicago Sun Times. Still photographs shown during this interview are on the web at and

Q: Thank you for coming to see us.

Rumsfeld: Glad to be here.

Q: What did you tell the President? (Laughter)

Rumsfeld: It was all on the record, so I was measured.

Q: Would you like to start out by saying something or would you like to just --

Rumsfeld: No, I'd be happy to just respond to questions.

I had a wonderful day. I just was up at Great Lakes. How many of those recruits were off and running today?

A2: All of them.

Rumsfeld: 614 or something, and nine and a half weeks ago they arrived at Great Lakes scruffy, earrings, hair down to their shoulders, and nine and half weeks later they walk out and they just look fantastic. They had a band. If no one's ever seen this they ought to go look at it. There were 2,000 parents and girlfriends and boyfriends from all over the country there. This is the national basic training for the United States Navy. And it was an enormous hall, and just a wonderful sight to see. God bless them. Apparently they were due just before September 11th, and all their planes were canceled. They ended up apparently hitchhiking or taking buses or whatever you do, but it was fun to be there.

Q: So just a week ago the talk was at a quagmire and now --

Rumsfeld: Rolling, rolling, rolling.

Q: Are you surprised about how fast the fortunes of war have turned in our favor?

Rumsfeld: I am so conservative and careful that my immediate thing that leapt into my forehead was they may not have -- if you think about these folks the Afghan people have shifted sides a number of times over the years, and there are certain things that make me very encouraged. Among them the fact that people are cheering and playing music and shaving off beards and taking off their veils, and that suggests that the Taliban was as bad as I know they were and that people know that and they're relieved that they're gone, which is a encouraging thing for the future of Afghanistan. But the risk always is that when something happens like that and they drift away that someone on the other side of the border may come back. Some drifted into the villages, and they can come back. Some defected, if you defect one way you can defect the other way.

So if our goals, as they are, are to deal with the leadership of al Qaeda and either destroy it or capture it, and to do the same with the Taliban and to get the Taliban government out and a decent government in, and third, to make sure that Afghanistan is no longer harboring terrorists, a terrorist network, you have to feel good at the reaction in the cities. They seem to feel for the most part that they're a heck of a lot better off today than they were with the Taliban. But they're going to have to get a pretty decent government in there to keep folks like that who are pretty determined -- not all of whom are dead, unfortunately. A lot of the Taliban and al Qaeda have been killed and there's still some fierce fighting going on up in Kunduz, but a lot of them got away and a lot of them disappeared. Some of those folks could come back and we've got to be vigilant.

Q: What about Omar, though. We heard the report that he told somebody he was going to abandon the town.

Rumsfeld: Kandahar? I've seen so many reports like that.

The other thing that makes me encouraged is that bin Laden was clearly clever and effective and has developed quite an organization worldwide and managed to become skilled, but the last time he went on television he appeared so out of it that he clearly hurt himself. He appears to be active (inaudible).

The second thing that happened recently is Omar starting to sound like him and that is also helpful. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that's what Omar did. If you were in a town, too many people would end up knowing where you were; in a favorite tunnel in a remote location in the mountains, fewer people would know where you were. So it wouldn't surprise me if he was in a tunnel.

Q: Could they wage a successful, substantial guerrilla campaign without some outside sponsor?

Rumsfeld: They have outside sponsors. They have people who give money and so forth. What we've got to do is to keep reducing their flexibility and make it more and more difficult. The amount of real estate they've got to play around in now has dropped substantially in the last weeks. That's not to say a person can't dress up and shove off. They can. The borders are porous, I'm sure there's a couple of helicopters floating around some place. Burros, donkeys, horses. They've got trucks and -- I've just got to show you these.

These are American Special Forces on horseback. The ones in the light colored camouflage are American Special Forces.

Q: The cavalry rides again.

Q: Are they our horses? Did we send the horses?

Rumsfeld: No, we sent saddles, bridles and horse food but did not drop horses from the air. We decided against it. Not that I'm that politically correct, but -- I love horses. We end up losing a lot of broken ankles just when people drop. That's how they've been moving their equipment.

Q: Can we make copies if these?

Rumsfeld: Get on the internet, you'll probably bet a better picture.

A2: On our web site: you can get it.

Q: Assuming the war is concluded quickly, what kind of force do you see? Do you see an American force? A kind of Islamic force that the Pakistan president wants? What do you see taking place now?

Rumsfeld: First of all, it's unlikely it will end quickly. I don't know what you mean by war, but the problem with terrorism is it's across the globe. The Afghanistan situation --

Those three goals as described are not easy to achieve. It's going to take time. We're going to have to keep the pressure on. We're going to have to keep reducing their flexibility. We're going to have to reduce their money. It is a process that's imperfect. And thus far we've relied heavily on other people and we're going to have to continue to reduce the flexibility they have in a way that we can use other people to the extent we can, and to the extent we need to, our people.

We've got something wonderful going for us in Afghanistan and that's that we don't covet their land, we don't plan to stay. They know that. They're not sure of most other people. And if you get too heavy a footprint in there you begin to raise the question about whether or not, and people will lie. Neighbors will lie. Oh, look what they're doing. They're getting a heavy footprint in there and maybe they do want to stay.

At that point then you've got a local problem. Certainly the Russians had that, the Soviets had that. (Inaudible) they were an expansionist nation, they wanted it.

Q: Musharraf has been helpful --

Rumsfeld: Very.

Q: -- especially in articulating that locally, hasn't he? He's said to people they're not here to stay.

How do you (inaudible)?

[Dialogue removed by mutual agreement]

Q: Going back on the record, Mr. Secretary, what are the risks that bin Laden will relocate to Iraq? And if he does will we go after him there?

Rumsfeld: You've got to go after him wherever he is.

Q: With the recent death of Omar, what do you make of that? (Inaudible) could happen very quickly. What do you make of that, or --

Rumsfeld: I see so much intelligence to that effect that I've gotten to the point where you say you do your best.

Q: -- continuing high alert?

Rumsfeld: Heightened awareness I think was the President's phrase. That was a good one. We've delegated the decision as to what alert levels. People want to manage for themselves because it's so stressful on our forces that we let the CINCs decide and they can go down one grade without getting my okay. You just can't stay at the top level of alert continuously and not stress the force.

But there are a lot of threat warnings around and you don't take them lightly, you go about your business, you run them down and you take appropriate cautions and protections.

Needless to say, I've never met either one of those folks, Omar or bin Laden. But Omar was starting to sound more like bin Laden, the extreme view of the world. He's not a person of the world like bin Laden. He's not a wealthy person, he's not a person that's traveled, not a person who's knowledgeable about the rest of the world. But they seem to be in lockstep in terms of their views of this thing. Their organizations are no longer in lockstep. When things are as tough as they are it stresses relationships. And it's stressed. You can extract this stuff including through the enforcement (inaudible) recruiting for any mission or not liking who the orders are coming from. Those kinds of problems.

Q: One of the threats inside from what you can understand is having the Saudis calling the shots or are they calling the shots? And Afghan, I'm talking about inside --

Rumsfeld: In the al Qaeda. But a lot of them Egyptians and they're from every country.

Q: But they're outsiders.

Rumsfeld: Outsiders, yeah. That is clearly an issue. Some of the Afghans don't like that. But I think really the problem is that when things are good everything's easy and everyone's pie gets better every year and everyone's happier. When things are not good everything's tougher. People get edgy.

Q: Speaking of getting tough, if they're headed towards the hills is the next phase of the war going to be going from cave to cave to cave looking for them?

Rumsfeld: Well, we've got to go look for them. One of the ways to do it, of course, is to use money. We've got big rewards out. There are local folks who decided they'd like to have that money and they're going to go looking. It's going to be beneficial to them if they do well.

Q: How long could this struggle, Mr. Secretary, go on? Could it be as long as the Cold War? The fight against international terrorism. Until you move to phase two and beyond?

Rumsfeld: There's no way to know. If you think about our world, our world is one where a lot of countries have a pattern of being relatively free. Mostly here, Western European, parts of (inaudible) and elsewhere. And that means we're terribly vulnerable. If you want to be able to get up and walk out your house and let your kids run off to school and not worry about things, if that's your style, which it is, that's what we are, then you can't live in terror. If you're unwilling to live in terror then you look at your world and you say to yourself well, that's interesting. There's weapons of mass destruction out there, they're proliferating across the globe, some of them are relatively easy to acquire, some of them are relatively easy to use, and there are people who are organized systemically and reasonably well financed to want to use those things against us.

That means that it's not like you're going to lose a few thousand, you're putting at risk tens of thousands or potentially hundreds of thousands.

You can't live with that. That would alter your behavior if you felt that, and therefore you have to go find those people. And there are always going to be people who are terrorizing their neighbors. It may be a bully in the neighborhood or it may be a tribe in Rwanda against another tribe in Rwanda. But when it crosses borders and it makes a practice of going after innocents, people who are not warriors or (inaudible) kids killing people, then that is a threat to the free world or the world where people prefer to live in freedom. Therefore, people have to do something about that. That is how the ground has shifted.

Now you say how long will that take? As long as people are people, and we're going to find among people people who aren't very nice people. To the extent they're not nice people at home, that's one thing. To the extent they're not nice people within their own borders, that's another thing. To the extent they're not nice people and have access to weapons of mass destruction, powerful weapons, and have for whatever reason decided they want to use them against countries that are free, then it won't be over.

So what we're going to have to do is arrange our intelligence capabilities so we know more about that. We're going to have to arrange certain aspects of our lives, not so that we live in fear, but so that we recognize those risks. But mostly we're going to have to recognize that we're going to have to do something that (inaudible) people not to like to have to do and that is to engage in self defense by preempting threats. You can't wait for that threat to get to you. When it's that powerful and that clear, you have to go get it. Because you can't defend against it. Some you can't, some you can.

If think of the Israelis going after the Iraqi nuclear power and everyone kind of gasped and said oh my lord, they're out of their lane, they shouldn't have done that. Then you go in there in Desert Storm and you figure out that the Iraqis were very close to having a nuclear weapon. I don't think anyone on the face of the earth (inaudible). They already used chemical weapons against their own people. It's not like he is politically correct.

Q: How are you affected by suggestions in some part of the media, like the New York Times, that suggests that Americans are running out of patience in the war --

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: It's going to be winter soon what are we going to do? Lots of hand-wringing...

Rumsfeld: I find it a challenge that -- first of all, I'm relieved that from the very beginning the president said it would be long and hard. And we haven't (inaudible) anybody. Very bold and honest about what it's about. It is going to take time. And it cannot be done quickly because there is no navy to go sink.

This is needles in haystacks. And so I think we said it right when we began. And we did a couple of other things I think that were helpful. One was we said there's not a single coalition. Had there been, that coalition, the first person that peeled off on something they wanted to do, we would have said it's crumbling, it's all over, we've lost the coalition.

So we from the get-go said look, there are floating coalition, and the mission's going to determine the coalition. The coalition is not going to determine the mission because it will dumb down everything to the lowest common denominator. So as people help in one way and not in another way we have been fortunate.

Q: (inaudible) a question of (inaudible)? Does that bug you?

Rumsfeld: I think I really do think of it as a challenge. How can I do a better job of trying to explain what the problem is and what the risk to our society is without being excessively alarming. And explain the nature of the problem in a way that the public as opposed to the press will get a good center of gravity on it and be able to manage those kinds of callings and that kind of swinging of the pendulum from one side to the other, either from great pessimism or over to great euphoria, either one of which is probably not very prudent given the complexity of what we're trying to do.

The reality is there isn't any road map for this. This has never been done before quite this way. It is a very tough thing to do. We have to have patience. The thing that is closest to it for me I used one day, and I don't know, maybe I'm so old I remember things more than other people do, but the signing ceremony on the Missouri brought finality -- my dad was on a carrier, he came home.

The Cold War with the pressure year after year after year, put the pressure on, don't let them get the upper hand. President after President, country after country, citizen after citizen, and it was not dramatic and it was expensive. I'd come flying back when I was Ambassador to NATO in the '70s and testify against the Mansfield Amendment where they wanted to bring the troops out of Europe and so forth and so on, all the time. And of course what did it was constant pressure. Pretty soon from within the dad-burned thing fell apart.

People say what happened to the Taliban? Well, that's what's happening to the Taliban. If you keep the pressure on, they make it unpleasant long enough and you're patient enough -- now there was no way -- I suppose we could have gone in and used nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union and ended it, stopped their expansionist appetite. But that's not going to be likely to happen, willy-nilly engage in a nuclear war. The only choice you had was patience and investment and determination and will and words. Powerful words that said what they were doing was bad for the world, and labeling it an evil empire. And those things were important. Then all of a sudden, my lord, it fell.

Now who knows in this thing? Maybe we'll just keep drying up their money, we'll keep arresting people, we'll keep interrogating people, we'll keep getting better at intelligence gathering, we'll keep making it less pleasant for people who harbor them, and maybe we'll have to keep doing that for a long time, and I don't know how long that is, but probably a long time.

Q: During that long time I want to go back to something you said earlier about basically paying people, paying people in Afghanistan to kind of hunt them down --

Rumsfeld: Not kind of.

Q: Hunt them down. Get them, find them, whatever. But is it correct to assume that our intelligence now is at a level when we can really, when we talk about the enemy, that we can really identify who that enemy is? I mean you have people flip-flopping, as you said earlier, from one side to the other. Is there a concern that because this is going to be a long battle that we end up in a position where you don't even know if you can (inaudible). The guys that you are paying to get the bad guys can somehow end up the bad guys themselves. Those are kind of the concerns that have been expressed by people, whether you're talking about the allied forces who went in and you know, now the women are saying they're as afraid of them as they were the Taliban. How do you balance all that?

Rumsfeld: That's baloney.

Q: That's what we're reading. It may be baloney, but that's what we're reading.

Rumsfeld: You need to stop reading that. (Laughter)

I guess I'd answer yes to everything. There is no question but that you can end up working with someone who can be not nice. There are a lot of not nice people around. And is it possible... I shouldn't say this on the record.

[Dialogue removed by mutual agreement]

Back on the record, you live with that. You don't look for perfection. If you end up offering a big reward there are going to be some people who are going to charge out there and if they find some of those folks they might very well ask them for a little more and they won't turn them in. Is that possible? Sure. Is it also possible that someone will turn them in or kill them? You bet. If you're tracking something from the air and you see a whole bunch of vehicles moving in a certain direction and going to a place that's known as an al Qaeda headquarters and you attack it and there's 30 people in there that wouldn't come out is it possible you got some of the good guys and some of the bad guys? Yeah. (Inaudible).

I think that we are systematically getting a lot of the al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. You may end up, some of it intentional and some of it by accident, where they happened to be with front line troops that were opposing some force that you're helping and you call in air strikes and you get them. That's happened we know. It may be that you see an assembly of people gathering and you know their command and control (inaudible) and you get it and you may get a senior person by accident. Not by accident potentially, but not knowing. But people can shift back and forth.

On the other hand, throughout the history of that country people have been killing each other and people have destroyed whole cities. I would guess, I don't know this, but I hope, I pray, that this change-over from Taliban to whatever is post-Taliban will be probably the most peaceful in modern memory in that country. Does that mean some nice people aren't going to get hurt? No. That's inevitable.

Q: -- that group that would be taking over the government?

Rumsfeld: It would be those people that the people in that country decide they want and are willing to listen and represent demographically something that creates a balance so that it's reasonably stable and that the overwhelming majority prefer not to have outsiders come in and commit terrorist acts in their state, then I couldn't care who they are.

Q: Would that mean a percentage presenting 10 percent of Pashtun in the government?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. It's going to be a mix of interests. It's going to be the people in the country demographically. It's going to be the people in the country with guns and some real estate that they own. Look at the odds, they're impressive. It's going to be the neighbors who have an interest, and these guys have been going back and forth into Iran, into Afghanistan, into Pakistan, into Afghanistan from Uzbeks in the north and different people for longer than we'll ever know. And those countries have an interest and they're going to be players. They're going to have some impact on what happens in that country and that's not wrong. That's life.

So out of that mix one would hope there will be something that would come out of it that would be sufficiently stable, sufficiently interested in our view and the world's view because they want humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction, the help, that they would calibrate those external interests with money in a way that would attract the money. And no one's going to want to put money in there if it's a bad place, if it's harmful to people, if it's steals everything, if it harbors terrorists. So there will be multiple interests.

I know I'm not smart enough to design the cookie mold I want to press down on that. I want whatever works and then I don't want to be there. (Laughter)

Q: You or the president have said repeatedly in the last while that we will hunt down al Qaeda wherever they are.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: Where else are they?

Rumsfeld: They're in 50 or 60 countries. A lot of people, a lot of money, a lot of bank accounts. We need more help from countries on the bank accounts. We're not drying up enough of their funds.

Q: In what countries?

Q: Has Saudi Arabia helped as much as they should?

Rumsfeld: I'm not into countries, I'm into broad generic pleas for assistance. This is important. We've simply got to get help from more countries in freezing of accounts of terrorist organizations so that they have trouble. And --

Q: What is their reluctance based on?

Rumsfeld: It varies from country to country. Some is not knowing how to do it well. Some is probably a case where they have a historical pattern of not, they may have laws or constitutional prohibitions against injecting themselves into private financial matters. What you have to do at some point, you have to balance the risk against the deterrent. And there are other people maybe that are terrorized, they're afraid to do it. They don't want to be a target themselves. We've seen countries behave that way. Western European countries have behaved that way. That they've decided that they will tolerate and look the other way to certain kinds of activities such as bank accounts and other things. Because they don't want to put a stick in the alligator's eye. There are lots of reasons people behave that way.

[Dialogue removed by mutual agreement]

Q: There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about whether or not it's better to catch bin Laden dead or alive. Some senators have suggested that it's better to kill him, others are saying it's better to capture him, put him on trial. I wonder if you would share, if you have a preference whether he's caught dead or alive. What's your preference? (Laughter)

Q: Fully answer the question. (Laughter)

Rumsfeld: The truth is, it's not for me to be publicly commenting on that. And second, the reality is we're not going to have a lot to say about it. I don't know who's going to catch him. He could be in a tunnel we bombed and we didn't even know it. He could be in a tunnel we bombed and we knew someone was in there, we didn't know it was him. He could be captured by some fellow looking for a reward. He could escape to another country. There's nothing we can do about it.

I can't have any effect over that, and with all the things I've got to worry about in the morning, I don't spend any time on that.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Oh, yeah.

Q: (inaudible), wanted dead or alive, we're going to get him, (inaudible).

Rumsfeld: I think so. Who knows? The American public is terrific. Don't ever underestimate them. The truth is, we could have his head in the middle of the table on a platter right now and the al Qaeda organization would go right on. He's got a whole bunch of lieutenants. It's a well-oiled, well-financed operation. It's got bank accounts, it's got businesses, it's got the ability to talk in codes, it's got all kinds of things that -- technologies that were developed in the West and techniques. But that operation would go on.

Q: Speaking of his lieutenants. There were reports today that one of them is dead. Can you comment on that?

Rumsfeld: I think that's correct. I do not know it. I'm kind of conservative and cautious until I see somebody, we've done it, checked it -- and I'm not looking for DNA, but an eyewitness.

Q: If it is true, how important is he to the organization? Some people have been calling him the number two man. I thought Dr. Al Tahira was more in that position.

Rumsfeld: I don't know who's number two, but he sure is way up in the top five, and you'd rather have him gone than there.

Q: Have we or our allies found any al Qaeda documents that might be helpful in --

Rumsfeld: We are finding documents, and we're not only finding them, we're looking for them. And other people are finding them and turning them in. It's got to help. We've got to get them translated and get them in a location where you can look them over. It's going to take some time, but they're out there scooping it up and looking at it and thinking it through.

Q: Do you believe bin Laden is still in Afghanistan? Or do you think the al Qaeda hierarchy is split up at this point?

Rumsfeld: I think that he is probably in Afghanistan. (Inaudible). But he's moved on a number of occasions, both close to the Pakistan border and the Iranian border. He's got friends. So while we're sitting here he could be (inaudible) slipping over the border.

Q: I wonder if he shaved? (Inaudible) Remember when he did that? I'm trying to think where it was. I'd be worried about that.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, he did one time when the Israelis were closing in on him. He could be anywhere. He's got friends in Chechnya, he's got friends in Kashmir, he's got friends in Pakistan, he's got friends in Somalia, he's got friends in (inaudible). He used to live there.

Q: Have you seen a quantum leap in intelligence?

Rumsfeld: His options have decreased significantly with the fall of those cities. The intelligence information that we're getting is increasing but we have not benefited from it yet because it has all happened so recently. It does take time to accumulate it, to get it in the right hands, to analyze it, translate it, analyze it, you know. Triangulate.

Q: Do you draw military lessons from this? Have you learned from every endeavor why (inaudible), or why things worked so well?

Rumsfeld: Well (inaudible) before World War II and you're wondering what did people learn from this that will be then used in other iterations. For this model, and the model is a threat, a serious, very serious threat that is posed not by armies, navies and air forces, nothing you can shoot down, but by potentially very powerful weapons and a high degree of organization and a global network, well financed, and patient, and what do we learn about dealing with those kind of asymmetrical threats that obviously are terrorism, cruise missiles potentially, ballistic missiles potentially, cyber attacks potentially. It doesn't take a genius to start (inaudible) country like ours that's heavily dependent on satellites and communications as we are. I think it's just a global position.

We have tended (inaudible). If you think of all of that and then say what are we learning, I guess we, as so often in life, we're relearning that warning time is short, if at all. Simply because it's a big world, a complicated world. Second, we're learning that the threat can come from anywhere. The idea that they'd end up using an American airliner filled with Americans with plastic knives as the implement to kill thousands of Americans, you can't think that you can readily predict exactly how you're going to be punished and damaged and terrorized, which forces you to preemption. I don't like to use the word, I'd rather say self-defense. Active self-defense. It means you've simply got to go where the problem is. (Inaudible) that are identified. And we've got to be [able] to do an awful lot better on intelligence.

In terms of things, it's the first conflict where we've used an unmanned aerial vehicle, armed, and it is not a deployable system, it is a test system. It does not have deicing, for instance. The ones we've lost (inaudible) icing problem. Because it's a demo. And we're out there shooting things off of it.

The value of unmanned vehicles is very high. The need for different types of warheads that enable you to do much more deep penetration. The inability to hang from the sky. Where we're flying from -- any time you look around the world, you'd think of the worst place as Afghanistan. From our standpoint, think of Desert Storm. We have big ports, we had big airfields in immediate proximity. Here we've got nothing. There are no ports, there are no big airfields in the immediate proximity. If you look at the sky hooks that you're going to hang on, and we're flying bombers from Whiteman in Missouri to Diego Garcia to Afghanistan to Diego Garcia and back. We're flying B-52s out of Diego Garcia. That's -- (Laughter)

Q: Will phase two, the post-Afghanistan phase of this war be predominantly a military campaign?

Rumsfeld: I would think it will be very much like this. It will be broadly based, it will be economic and political and diplomatic as well as overt and covert. You're not going to find armies, navies and air forces in terrorist networks anywhere in the world. If you get another country that happens to have armies, navies or air forces and who harbor terrorists, then you can have something more conventional.

Q: Do you believe the world is a safer place today given all that's going on than it was before September 11th, particularly the United States?

Rumsfeld: You all know the answer to that as well as I do. I don't know that I -- do I think it's beneficial for us to go kill people who are trying to terrorize the world? Yes. Do I think the fewer of them there are the better? Yes. Does that mean that there can't be a terrorist attack on the capital of the world tomorrow? No. But I don't think that that risk has gone up because of what we're doing, I think the risk has gone down. And I would say the same thing tomorrow if there were a terrorist attack in the United States tonight. Some of these things that were planned and they've got sleepers out there. (Inaudible)

I need my picture back. I'm going to have dinner with my grandchildren tonight and I've been teaching them how to ride horseback.


Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


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