This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", May 26, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Al Qaeda (search) plans to attack the United States, according to multiply corroborated information -- intelligence information that we have from credible sources. And we believe that to be a real threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Al Qaeda is very much back in the news, and with it the question of Usama bin Laden and his leadership of that organization. Is he still running the terror network? Does that matter? Or can al Qaeda run on its own? And what about some of the things we thought we knew about him?
For answers on these questions, we turn to investigative reporter and author Richard Miniter, author of the book "Loosing Bin Laden."
Welcome to you sir.
RICHARD MINITER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Thank you for having me back on.
HUME: Talk a little bit if you can to me about bin Laden and whether, in fact, he's still running things in your estimation.
MINITER: Well, not just my estimation but the estimation of some of the sources that I talk to, is that he's very much still running things for a couple of reasons. One is -- this doesn't mean to say that he has day- to-day control, since he's not able to communicate. He doesn't have access to a satellite phone. That kind of thing would identify himself too closely. But apparently he's still passing messages, still distributing audiotapes to his followers.
Remember, al Qaeda...
HUME: Audiotapes that we only hear or see part...
MINITER: We hear mentioned in phone intercepts...
HUME: These are not things we hear.
MINITER: These are not things we hear, or at least that I've been told that we hear. Hopefully the U.S. intelligence is better than the efforts of us reporters.
But what's interesting about al Qaeda is it's driven by ideological, and more importantly, ethnic factions. There's a Saudi wing, there's an Egyptian wing, there's a Yemeni wing, and so on. These factions don't get along and they have differences. Some of the detainees have been very detailed about their grievances against other factions within al Qaeda. Only bin Laden with his personality, his charisma, his aura of success, can hold together these different factions and make this thing operational.
HUME: So, your view is his leadership matter. That if he were to be rendered of communication at all and had to go and hide completely, that that would make a difference.
MINITER: Kill or capturing Usama bin Laden would be a very effective blow against global terrorism. Now, it wouldn't end terrorism, as we know it. I mean terrorism springs out of bad politics and poisoned human nature.
And it wouldn't necessarily end Islamic terrorism in the form we have. If he was captured -- bin Laden was killed or captured, al Qaeda would probably break into four or five regional groups, which would still be a threat to an Americans, Europeans and other, you know, people regarded as infidels by him.
HUME: What is your best information on where he may now be?
MINITER: Well, there is one source I have, and I've not been able to corroborate this. But I know this source has also briefed MI-6 and elements of the U.S. Defense Department. This is an Iranian defector, defected this December, who said he had an eyewitness account, he personally had seen bin Laden inside Iran in a place called...
HUME: In Iran.
MINITER: Inside Iran in a place called Najmabad, in October of last year.
HUME: That's -- you know, Mansoor Ijaz, who's one of our contributors who has good sources in the region, has said that bin Laden may be in Iran. Do you think he still may be there?
MINITER: Mansoor introduced me to a second source, who had -- was only speaks Farsi, who tended to corroborate the first source.
HUME: All right. Now, let's talk a little about Usama bin Laden himself. We've been given to believe over the years, that for one thing, he was a very rich man. Is that true?
MINITER: He once was. He was never as rich as some people think. There's been estimates that his fortune was as high as $300 million. That's hard to believe. He got the equivalent of about $40 million or 42 million depending on exchange rates at the time. And that was more than 10 years ago. The rest of that money has dissipated.
Remember, he was in Sudan from April of 1991 to May of 1996. According to the Sudanese intelligence who penetrated al Qaeda, and that they were soliciting bribes, and payments, and other things from him. So they tried to estimate how much money he had, in order to take the most money out of his pocket. They had pretty much squeezed him dry by 1996, and forced him to take money from other governments, and also through drug sales and other sources.
HUME: Some people say that one reason he had money was that the CIA had him on the payroll back during the 1980s. What about that?
MINITER: That's a myth that just won't die, Brit. I just don't understand the basis of that. I investigated that fairly thoroughly. I'm very confident the CIA never gave a penny to bin Laden. I'm confident for several reasons...
HUME: Did they give money that ended up, I mean to groups that he was associated with that might have ended up in his pocket? I mean did they support, in effect, his cause in Afghanistan?
MINITER: It depends on how broadly you mean by his cause. But very quickly let me explain. There were two wings fighting the Soviets. Wing 1 was the native Afghans. These are people driven from their farms and homes; they were funded by the CIA via Pakistani intelligence. The second wing were non-Afghans. These were Arabs who wanted to go fight Jihad against the Soviets; they were supported by the Saudis. These were two separate wings, two separate sources of funding. Bin Laden was in the Saudi wing. He had no need for our money.
HUME: You mentioned that it would still be important -- last question, to catch him. What is your understand of the status of the search for bin Laden?
MINITER: I think it's -- I'm very optimistic, at least from the people that I talk to. They think they're getting closer. They're using the same techniques they used to pursue Saddam, looking at family trees, going after each clue, patiently assembling evidence. But you know, one of the things that's failing us is not enough pressure on the Pakistanis for help. The Pakistanis could be helping us far more than they are.
HUME: Richard Miniter, always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for coming in.
MINITER: Thanks for having me on.
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