Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Roundtable with Radio MediaTuesday, January 15, 2002
Q: Mr. Secretary, it's my burden to ask you one of your least favorite questions. (Laughter)
One of the big television networks last night reported that the CIA now believes that bin Laden has left not just Afghanistan but also Pakistan and is out of the region all together. Is there anything new to say about -- what's your reaction to that?
Rumsfeld: I see intelligence materials every day, and I see a lot of it. There have been those kinds of reports for months and there have been conflicting reports arguing that they're in Province A, B or C, also every day for months. I wouldn't give any particular credence to that any more than I do to the rest of it.
The fact is that we're looking. We have been looking. And we intend to keep on looking not just for those two individuals but for their senior associates. I expect we'll find all or most of them.
Q: A more serious angle on that question, what does the fact that we have not located them signify as far as our intelligence-gathering effort? Are there any lessons or significance to be drawn from it? For example, on the HUMINT capability versus other forms of intelligence gathering? Would it have been different if we'd had 10,000 Marines on the ground as opposed to the local forces? What's the significance of the fact that we've not been able to get them yet?
Rumsfeld: Let's take a couple of those points. I've thought a good deal, in fact many of us have thought a good deal about the question as to how might we have affected the task of finding certain individuals with more or less people physically on the ground in Afghanistan? I've concluded that when you balance the pros and cons of that, that it would not have been helpful. That is to say you can have hundreds of thousands of people on the ground and they end up occupying a specific area. They don't occupy the whole country. Then they move across the country and they end up forcing people out and away. And my impression is that to the extent people, if Afghanistan's landlocked and it has five or six countries around it all of which have porous borders, that the larger number of Americans on the ground might very well have hastened one's departure as opposed to delayed it. So I think that's a non-starter as an argument. It just is not persuasive analytically.
Second, if you have a lot of people on the ground in a country that is historically anti-foreigner, you might very well find yourself with an awful lot of opposition to you and hostility and fear that you're going to come in and try to occupy their land or take their land, which we are not interested in doing. But being reasonable and rational, explaining that to people may not be persuasive. There's an awful lot of people in Afghanistan, the Taliban, who were lying throughout the entire exercise, who had we had a lot of people on the ground would have been saying that they obviously are coming in to take your country, in which case you would have gotten everyone in Afghanistan against you as opposed to just the Taliban and the al Qaeda.
So I think that you look at the pros and cons of those two approaches and it seems to me it's unambiguous, that we had the right approach.
The third thing I would say is that there have been, in violation of federal criminal law, there have been a lot of leaks of classified information about intelligence gathering, and to the extent that happens the people we're trying to find obviously develop knowledge about how we try to find them. And to the extent they develop knowledge about how we try to find them, they develop ways they can, alternative methods they can use to communicate with each other or to connect with the people they need to connect with, and they use deception and denial techniques. These are not stupid people. These are not people who are unaware of high technology activities. Therefore, they get more sophisticated and more sophisticated and it makes it that much more difficult.
So to the extent people run around and break federal criminal law and leak and provide classified information publicly, it is very harmful to what we're trying to do and that has happened.
We know that as these things occur our sources of information tend to dry up. And that is notably unhelpful as well as being illegal.