OTR Interviews

Rumsfeld: I Don't Think Pakistan's Musharraf Was Tricking Us in Bin Laden Search

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 2, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: He was right here on 9/11. He felt that plane shake this huge Pentagon and he could smell the fuel and smoke. Former secretary of defense and author of "Known and Unknown" Donald Rumsfeld "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Big news, big day for America.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A good day for America, a wonderful day. This has been a long time in coming, and we're fortunate that we had such wonderful people in the special forces and intelligence community that they were finally successful.

VAN SUSTEREN: How much credit does the president get?

RUMSFELD: Oh, he has -- after campaigning against most of the things that President Bush put in place to protect the American people, he then in office decided to support those things. And they're still there, and the work that we did to increase our special forces, the numbers, the equipment, the capabilities, the authorities, played a big part in this. I think that President Bush deserves a good deal of credit and so does President Obama and his administration for reversing field and continuing to protect the American people.

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the things the president did campaign on '08 is he said if he -- if Pakistan wouldn't go along with him and he thought that Usama bin Laden was in there, or terrorism, that he would use military action independent of Pakistan. So that's not a huge departure necessarily.

RUMSFELD: No, you're quite right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I guess you're talking about the enhanced interrogation? Is that -- is what ...

RUMSFELD: Sure, and Guantanamo and the military commissions and the Patriot Act and general approach of rejecting the law enforcement approach and treating terrorists like bank robbers or murderers and indicting them in absentia, which is what happened in the previous administrations before President George W. Bush, and instead continuing to put pressure on them around the world. That was the key.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it would be -- I guess -- lucky's not exactly the right word to use, but had he been captured alive, we would have been -- would have started down the road an incredible drama and anguish over what to do.

RUMSFELD: Oh, absolutely. I think exactly the right thing was done. Fortunate that they killed him instead of capturing him, and disposing of him at sea saved a lot of problems, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did you hear about it?

RUMSFELD: I received a phone call from my staff, and they had heard about it and called me and woke us up and told us about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So no official channels?


VAN SUSTEREN: Wouldn't you expect that or not?



RUMSFELD: Well, these people are busy. They have tough jobs, and they don't have to worry about people who've served previously. They worry about the kinds of tasks they have to face every day. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

VAN SUSTEREN: Usama bin Laden -- what -- why was it so hard to find him?

RUMSFELD: Well, if you think about it, the Department of Defense is organized, trained and equipped to fight armies, navies and air forces, not to do manhunts. Think about the FBI's Most Wanted list and the number of years people stay on that list. If a person has money and is determined to not be found, they generally can prolong that process for a great many years.

What -- what -- the job of finding people, I guess, is more the FBI and the CIA type thing, and it's hard work. It takes gathering scraps of information and piecing them together, things that don't connect at all until, eventually, another piece of the puzzle fits in.

And I think that we have to give great credit to the special forces and the Navy SEALs, but also to the intelligence community for their perseverance and for the interrogation process which was so important in gathering that kind of information.

I remember people making fun and speaking disparagingly of the fact that at Guantanamo, some of the people there were just simply drivers for al Qaeda or they were bodyguards for al Qaeda and they were low-level, that kind of, Why were they there if they were so low level? Well, the fact of the matter is, that's the best way to find out where the senior people are, what they're doing, what their habits and patterns are. And it turns out in this instance, that's exactly what happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: The courier. They found the courier or paid attention to him. They investigated him. Tora Bora -- how close were we to bin Laden in Tora Bora in fall of 2001?

RUMSFELD: Well, we may never know. There were people there who did not believe he was there. We bombed that place until the rubble was bouncing. It went on and on and on, bombing and trying to make sure that if anyone was there, they were properly attacked.

There was someone on the ground I think in the agency, down low level, who suggested that he believed they were there -- and he may have been there -- and has written about it. I just don't know if he was there. I know that he had plenty of time to escape. It didn't take a genius to move through there. He used that area as a refuge back when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. And I just don't know the answer and I don't know that anyone does with certainty.

I can remember watching a video feed from a Predator of a tall man in a white robe with people around him who were obviously protecting him and subservient to him. And we watched that feed. We were positive it was Usama bin Laden. Turned out something spooked them, and this fellow took off running like a gazelle. And it wasn't Usama. And we later verified it wasn't Usama. And we were certain it was Usama.

So the people who were certain he was there I think shouldn't be. And the people who were certain he wasn't there I think probably shouldn't be. And we may never know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do we know where he was on 9/11?

RUMSFELD: I don't.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the first -- so we never had any spotting of him or any confirmation between 9/11 and recently?

RUMSFELD: There were periodic scraps of information that suggested he had been some place, but I don't recall any one -- clearly, we would have gone after him and gotten him had we known where he was at any given moment. We had people cocked and ready to do that. But it just simply took time, and thank goodness those folks persevered and the joint effort among our among our military out and intelligence community is to be commended.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's sort of hard to imagine -- it's always very different to actually have to do a job, but a guy who's that tall, who's that wanted, with everybody looking for that he just doesn't get spotted, that he was so effective at evading for so long. People were obviously protecting him.


VAN SUSTEREN: And with a health problem, too. I mean, was it confirmed that he had a health problem? We always heard that he needed a kidney transplant or they were -- I mean, were we ever able to confirm that?

RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge. There was speculation about a kidney problem, and yet here he is, years later, was alive and functioning.

VAN SUSTEREN: And he had to get from -- if he -- if he were -- if he had been in Tora Bora, he had to get from there to near Islamabad at some point. And I take it we were watching all the time, trying to figure out...

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, yes. The CIA had an element that paid attention to it on a continuing basis. The Department of Defense had an element that paid attention. Our special operations people were always sensitive to the fact that they should be prepared to go after whatever high-value target might be developed.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I don't believe -- I don't know, but I really don't believe that the Pakistan military or intelligence didn't know he was there.

RUMSFELD: Did or did not?


RUMSFELD: Did not know?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. I mean, it's, like, if you -- if you put a new house up in my neighborhood, the first thing we all say -- Who's building that house? Who lives there? And if it's -- you know, if it's this big, eight times the size of any other house in the area, that would certainly be a curiosity.

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know. You don't believe, I don't know. And I know I don't know. I think it's awfully easy to assume that somebody must have known, but hindsight is 20/20. There might have been a superb cover story for that house. That's not to say that possibly someone in the intelligence service, even possibly someone in the military, but more likely someone in the intelligence service might have known.

On the other hand, if you've got the amount of money and the amount of support that Usama had, you know of certain knowledge that if one other person knows where you are, then two people know where you are. And so you're very careful about paying attention to who -- how many people actually know. And I would guess there were cover stories that worked pretty well to take care and disabuse people of the assumptions you would make about a logical question, Well, why is that house protected?

VAN SUSTEREN: You think he's a total prisoner in this compound...

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't use the word "prisoner." He was evading. His life was not -- not very high quality. He had to spend every minute of the day or night not being caught. He couldn't talk on a phone. He couldn't move around. And I would guess he didn't go outside and that people didn't see him.

And it seems to me that if people inside of the intelligence services or the military did, in fact, know he was there and weren't subject to the same kind of misinformation and cover stories that a person in that position would logically use, then I think he might have been caught earlier because people just can't keep a secret.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were you confident at the time you were secretary that you were getting the straight story from the Pakistani intelligence, the Pakistani military and General Musharraf as head of the government?

RUMSFELD: I had confidence in General Musharraf, in what he told me. I had every reason to believe that the -- that there were undoubtedly people in the ISI that had very close relationships with the Taliban. We know that. We also know that Musharraf -- they tried to kill Musharraf two or three times, and he's lucky to be alive today. So it wasn't like he was sitting there with multiple sources of information and relationships and tricking the United States. I don't believe he was. I think he was dealing with us straight.

And I also have every reason to believe that there were people in the ISI with long relationships with Hekmatyar and with various people in the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan which they really used as a foil to counter the Indian influence in the Northern Alliance. And it was no surprise. That was well known to us.

Now, does that mean that the entire institution of the Pakistani intelligence service was disloyal to the government and disloyal to the United States in terms of our understandings with the government? No, I don't think the entire ISI was. Were there people in there that were? I'm certain there were.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think...

RUMSFELD: But think of this. The Pakistani military did a pretty darn good job for us inside of Pakistan except in the federally administered tribal areas. They went in there one time and tried to be helpful, and they lost 200 dead from their military trying to be of assistance in the Fatah.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what I hear is that, like, for instance, the Haqqani network -- you know, every time we want to send a drone in in recent time into a particular area, we'd have to speak to the Pakistani authorities, and they would take their time answering us or tip off al Qaeda to get out of there. You know, so that looks -- you know, that looks rather dirty to me.

Then you've got A.Q. Khan, who is essentially the Wal-Mart of nuclear weapons, who was selling technology all over the world. He's -- you know, he's not the scourge of Pakistan, he's the hero of Pakistan.

RUMSFELD: Of the Pakistani people. No question.

VAN SUSTEREN: Then we give $7 billion in aid to Pakistan, and they get all mad and hot and bothered because we want to know how they're going to spend it because India's mad we're giving it to them, and we just want to make sure they're not spending it on terrorism, and they get all hot and bothered! And then I find that while we're trying to bail them out of their humanitarian crisis, that the people who are in the government have managed to manipulate the law so they don't pay any taxes and so they don't even support themselves. It's us. That to me...

RUMSFELD: Greta...

VAN SUSTEREN: It's not a pretty picture!

RUMSFELD: No, Greta, you can cast it that way, the suggestion being that there's not corruption in other governments of the world. And the reality is, there's corruption in most of the governments of the world. We have congressmen who go to jail. So the idea that there's corruption in a country I think ought not to be a surprise.

Second, the relationship with them has been very beneficial to us. They have nuclear weapons. It's a Muslim country. They did not need to participate and assist us with respect to the war on terror. They have shared a lot of intelligence with us. They let us use their bases to resupply our forces in Afghanistan. They've given overflight rights.

And we have had understandings with their various governments that in the event we found high-value targets, we would deal with them in their country. A little embarrassing when one of our drones go in there and gets shot down and it says "Made in the USA" on it and we he haven't talked to them about it, but -- is it a mixed picture? Yes. Is it a perfect picture? No. But is the world a perfect place? No, it's not. And I think on the other side of the scale, you can put some pluses in terms of the relationship to match some of the minuses that you not incorrectly cited.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now look a little bit in the future. Al Zawahiri was number two. We've got Mullah Omar out there, Taliban. What happens to those guys? I mean, are they -- do they rise in power or...

RUMSFELD: Very likely. We had a region in northern Iraq, as I recall, where they had an al Qaeda leader, and we killed him. Our forces killed him. He was replaced. And we captured the individual. He was replaced. And we killed the next one. We went through three or four in a period of two or three or four years.

My guess is that's what's going to happen here. When you decapitate a terrorist network, it doesn't stay decapitated. And in fact, I expect we'll see someone replace Usama bin Laden, and that -- if that individual is taken out, there will be someone who replaces him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any conversation with President Bush 43 since the news broke?

RUMSFELD: I haven't. Haven't had a chance. I've been busy today. But he has to feel good about his administration and the decisions he made and the outcome that's the successful outcome of this operation.