This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile. And you wonder where are the people? What happened to them?
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JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO: As world leaders coordinate efforts to bring relief to South Asia, a radical Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda (search) has set up its own relief operations. And that's got international aid workers worried they could become targets of terror attacks.
Steve Pomerantz is vice president for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is also a former chief of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division and he joins me now.
So, Steve, it's hard to believe, is Al Qaeda actually setting up a means by which they can provide assistance to the victims of the tsunami?
STEVE POMERANTZ, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, Judge, it's hard to draw that conclusion. Certainly what we may be seeing is an effort on the part of these people to ingratiate themselves among a population which is a significant thing to them to become part of this solution to this problem and to curry favor with the people. That would not be out of the ordinary for groups like this to do.
NAPOLITANO: Are these Al Qaeda members — or Al Qaeda sympathizers, since we don't know yet exactly who they are — local to the area where the tsunami hit, or have they come from the Middle East, where they're fighting us?
POMERANTZ: Well, I think every indication is that these are local people. You have a large movement there in Indonesia, very fluid Muslim extremist, fundamentalist movement there, some of whom are aligned to Al Qaeda. But maybe more significantly, is they all share that same philosophy, that same ideology that drives Al Qaeda is shared by these people. Whether there are formal relationships between the organizations is a little harder to tell.
NAPOLITANO: All right. So what do we do? Do we work along with them? Do let they them provide aid? Do we look over our shoulder? Do we coordinate providing aid along with these people? Or do we stop them because they're so dangerous?
POMERANTZ: I think that's going to be very hard to stop them; it's going to be very hard to get in the way of people who are there to ostensibly to help. Certainly you have to be very careful.
Look, nothing good can come of the proximity between U.S. aid workers and U.S. military people and these folks. Nothing good can come of it. What you hope to do is avoid the potentially really bad outcome and the way you do that is by watching your back, knowing who they are, where they are and what they're doing and being able to take steps to mitigate if things go bad.
But I think to some extent, given the nature of what we're trying to do, the humanitarian mission, you have to adapt to the situation as it develops on the ground.
NAPOLITANO: Are you telling me, Steve, that we actually sort of, put faith in them, that they're going to do the right thing? That they're not there to harm Americans? That they truly are there, as evil as we know them to be and as warped as we know their ideology is, they're actually there to help the victims of the tsunami?
POMERANTZ: Well, I think we may have to do a little bit of that. Certainly, again, I would object to the term we're putting faith in them. I think we have to take every measure to protect ourselves. We certainly have to be very watchful of them and careful of our dealings with them. But we may have to allow them that limited amount of freedom if they're indeed providing material assistance to these people.
That's another thing we have to evaluate. Are they, in fact, doing that? Or are they about doing something else, in which case you stop them.
NAPOLITANO: All right. Does this mean more U.S. troops on the ground, more special ops, more Americans trained to protect Americans who are not in uniform and who can infiltrate what these organizations are doing so that we know if they're going to harm us?
POMERANTZ: I think the key is in your last phrase, knowing whether they're going to harm us. The key, as in dealing with all matters that relate to terrorism, is intelligence; is having enough people on the ground who can provide the kind of intelligence that you need to figure out all of the other things you have to do. And you respond and react to this in terms of the intelligence that you have.
So, yes, it may involve additional people to carry out those actions, in addition to those that are providing this humanitarian aid. So, yes, it could mean more resources.
NAPOLITANO: So, is this really a public relations war between the United States, the European Union, and now, of all people, Al Qaeda, for the harts and minds of the Muslim victims of the tsunami, and Muslims watching from all around the world?
POMERANTZ: Judge, I think that's clearly — if you look at this from 50,000 feet — that's part of the process. And certainly those people that we touch directly, those people that receive a package of aid, a pack of food from U.S. humanitarian workers, their view certainly, of the United States is going to changed. As you move up the concentric circles, certainly the views of the terrorists in these terrorist organizations are not going to be changed by what we do in this humanitarian relief effort.
That's just not going to happen. But on the ground I think person by person, surely there will be some positive effect from what we are doing here.
NAPOLITANO: You've spent almost your entire professional career fighting terrorism on behalf of the United States. Would you advise the President or the head of the CIA or the FBI, or anybody in the military to be doing anything differently about the manner in which we are delivering aid and dealing with these people in the areas where the tsunami has hit the hardest?
POMERANTZ: No, I wouldn't. It seems from what I see, we are doing exactly the right thing. Look, a big part of our motivation is because we are decent people who always extend a helping hand to those in need. And I think that goodness in us certainly is evident in what we're doing here.
The fact that it's occurring in a part of the world where there is terrorism, is only incidental to what we have to do. I think, as far as dealing with these specific groups, yes, we have to be very, very careful and watchful while we're carrying out the humanitarian aid mission.
But no, I wouldn't advocate doing this any differently than we're doing. I will say in the long run, in the long fight against terrorism, this may be very much a side show and not in any way affect the real outcome of the battle against terrorism.
NAPOLITANO: Former FBI Counterterrorism Chief Steve Pomerantz. Steve. a pleasure. Thanks for joining us.
POMERANTZ: Thank you, Judge.
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