This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," November 15, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Our next guest says we must respect bin Laden (search), or we are going to die in numbers. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer tracked Usama bin Laden from 1996 to '99. And Scheuer first spoke with a disguise, but without a disguise last night on CBS "60 Minutes" after quitting the CIA on Friday.
Michael Scheuer joins us from Washington. He's the author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror." It's a book he wrote anonymously with permission from the CIA, but now you're on camera.
MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CIA AGENT: Yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. I saw you for the first time on "60 Minutes" on camera last night. First, why do you say we have to respect Usama bin Laden? I mean, that word sort of has stuck in my craw since I saw that.
SCHEUER: Yes. We spend a lot of time denigrating bin Laden as a thug and a gangster and a criminal. And I think by doing that, we minimize the danger he poses to us. He is a great man in terms of world history. Without a connotation of positive or negative, he has clearly changed the course of history, tried to get into the airport here, tried to get into a museum. Look at the defenses around the White House.
VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, you don't mean respect him in the sense of admiration, but rather respect in the sense that we have to be ready for him and know what he can do.
SCHEUER: Right. In the 19th century, during the Civil War, they called Robert E. Lee a worthy enemy because he was capable of defeating us. You still had to kill him, you still had to destroy him, but you've got to respect him in the sense he has a capacity much greater than someone you would shrug off as a gangster or a criminal.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in 1996, you created the desk that was tracking bin Laden, right?
VAN SUSTEREN: Why was it in '96? This was before the embassies in Africa.
VAN SUSTEREN: What was that it brought bin Laden to the attention of CIA?
SCHEUER: It was really Anthony Lake (search), who was the national security adviser at that time, was interested in the financing of terrorism. And he chose for us, for the agency, to chase Usama bin Laden to find out if he was a typical Saudi spendthrift or if he actually was a hands-on terrorist. And so we set up a small unit that quickly established the fact that he was a terrorist unlike any we had ever seen before.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you at that time think, Oh, my God, this guy could do serious damage, much like he did at the World Trade Center and the embassy and everything else he's done?
SCHEUER: It quickly became apparent. We had some singular good fortune in the assets we were able to both recruit and a couple of people that walked into us in other countries to tell us their stories. But by the end of the 1996, we knew he had a very sophisticated effort going on to acquire components for nuclear weapons, for example. They took great care in not being scammed by purveyors of false components. They had experts on nuclear technology and weaponry who inspected the materials they were going to buy. So, as early as 1996, we were quite sure that, in terms of acquiring those components, it was a very sophisticated effort.
VAN SUSTEREN: At that time, CIA director Tenet was still the director. Did he take it seriously?
GINSBERG: I think Mr. Deutch at the end of '96 still the director, but Mr. Tenet, frankly, took it seriously from the first. He was very outspoken in informing people of the really dire threat posed by Usama bin Laden. In terms of putting resources against the target, though, I think he fell a little bit short.
VAN SUSTEREN: So why didn't we get him then? Because, I mean, apparently, there were opportunities then.
SCHEUER: Oh, Greta, it's been a wonder to me as I read the 9/11 Commission (search) report that there hasn't been more outrage in the United States. The clandestine service has been very much scapegoated for not catching Usama bin Laden or somehow stopping him. If you read the 9/11 Commission report, there's 10 instances in which the clandestine service between 1998 and the middle of 1999 provided an opportunity to either capture Usama bin Laden or to provide information to the military to let them kill him.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a situation sometimes, I mean, you don't realize the danger, sometimes you're careless, sometimes you're ignorant, sometimes you're stupid, sometimes you don't have the resources? I mean, what was it?
SCHEUER: For me, it always came down to the policy makers' decisions and the decisions of the senior leaders of the intelligence community, that something was always more important than protecting American lives. In one case, we had isolated bin Laden in the desert in Kandahar. And he was visiting a hunting camp set up by some princes from the United Arab Emirates. It was acting like a magnet for him. We were going to get an opportunity to shoot at him with the military, and for some reason, it was decided in the government to call the Emiratis and warn them that we knew they were in the desert.
The camp disappeared, and we lost our chance to hit bin Laden at that particular time. And I think it can only be explained as, in the weighing of options, the government thought it was more important to protect that Arab prince than to kill bin Laden.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you say the government, do you mean the CIA or do you mean higher up the chain of command?
SCHEUER: Higher up the chain of command, I think in the White House. As I recall, in the 9/11 Commission report, it was Mr. Clarke that called the Emiratis to tell them we saw them in the desert, bin Laden was nearby and it wasn't a good idea to be there.
VAN SUSTEREN: One quick question before we go. Do you believe bin Laden will strike again and has the wherewithal?
SCHEUER: I think it's pretty close to inevitable that he will strike again inside the United States. He clearly has the wherewithal. Most of all, he has the patience. Too often, we conclude because he hasn't attacked, he can't, and I think that's exactly wrong.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Michael, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
SCHEUER: A pleasure, ma'am. Thank you.
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