Staying a Step Ahead of the Terrorists

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 3, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Big Story With John Gibson" weeknights at 5 p.m. ET!

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: One thing we know for sure: we know this enemy is patient. Al Qaeda (search) began surveillance of U.S. financial targets up to four years ago, well before 9/11. But some of the information found on a computer seized in Pakistan is a lot more recent.

Dale Watson (search) is the FBI's former Chief of Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence. He joins me today. And that's today's big question, Mr. Watson: Should we really be worried about information that is more than four years old?

DALE WATSON, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: Oh, absolutely. And as we've seen in East Africa, they were planning those simultaneous bombings at least four or five years in advance. When the embassies blew up, the USS Cole was already long well into the planning stages. So, absolutely take that information, see what was planned. And one of the interesting aspects is once a target has been approved, it stays approved.

NAPOLITANO: As I understand it, the fellow in Pakistan was captured just about two weeks ago and they were able to get into the hard drive on his laptop and there was the four-year-old information, but it was on the laptop as recently and it was up-to-dated in the past four years. What do you think they were planning on doing with it?

WATSON: Certainly they were planning to attack different targets, around, even inside, the United States. So, that's not uncommon that they would go ahead and start planning that.

We've seen that from the Cole and from the East Africa bombings that they take this information — it's not an organization that wakes up one morning and decides to go do something evil — it's an organization that plans and continues to plan and very good operational security.

NAPOLITANO: How do you decide whether to tell people specifically what buildings have been targeted, as we learned over the weekend, with the Prudential building (search) in Newark and the World Bank in Washington D.C. and the Citicorp building in New York, or do you really want to tell the terrorists that you know exactly what they're planning to do? How do you decide over that dilemma?

WATSON: Well, I think things have changed considerably since 9/11. Obviously it's a very difficult decision: you either have specific information and if you have a date, time and a group or individuals, you would not want to put that out. But on the other hand, if you're in the political hot seat — and in this town where 20/20 hindsight is crystal clear — you don't want to run the risk of one in 100,000 chance that one of these buildings would blow up and then you would be in the situation of where the government had this and didn't warn anybody.

It's very difficult and I don't disagree with what they did Sunday.

NAPOLITANO: Is it likely that there are moles somewhere in the U.S. that were able to get detailed plans of buildings in Newark, New Jersey and the nation's Capitol and New York City into a Pakistani engineer's laptop 10,000 miles away?

WATSON: I believe that's correct. All you had to do was go back and look at 9/11. We had a number of investigations going on, but none of them that have surrounded the 19th. So, it's not necessarily moles or sleeper cells, it's individuals here that you don't know about and have no intelligence to be able to detect them.

NAPOLITANO: Is it likely to assume that now, that we have revealed to the country — so that we could all take the appropriate precautions — what buildings were targeted in this fellow's laptop? Is it now safe to assume that those buildings are safe and are no longer targets, since the whole world knows that Al Qaeda was once looking at them?

WATSON: Well, certainly those targets remain on their list. Does it force the terrorists to re-evaluate and delay those targets and shift to some other targets? That's a real possibility. Again, by going public with the information, you, in fact, alert everybody that this was a planning cycle.

You certainly need to watch those buildings and make sure precautions. It's almost like a criminal case when you put someone under surveillance, how long do you do that? How long do you maintain that level of heightened security on those buildings? Is it something that they might want to come back to two years from now? The answer is: most people don't know, and so, you do run that risk. But certainly those buildings had been targeted and will remain a target list for a long time.

NAPOLITANO: Dale Watson, former FBI Chief of Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence. Thank you very much.

WATSON: You're welcome. Thank you.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.