Usama Bin Laden Not Forgotten in War on Terror

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 29, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

GREGG JARRETT, GUEST HOST: There is a homeland security warning that Al Qaeda might be planning more 9/11-type attacks.

A new advisory obtained by FOX News says that terrorists could try more suicide hijackings in the next few months. While the Homeland Security Department (search) works to stop Al Qaeda (search) attacks, the Pentagon and CIA working overseas to hunt down Usama bin Laden.

Jane Mayer writes about the manhunt in this week's New Yorker. She joins me now from Washington and that's today's big question. How hot is the trail for Usama bin Laden? Jane? How hot, or cold?

JANE MAYER, NEW YORKER: Well, I interviewed a lot of people on the subject and I guess if you talk to experts like Rohan Gunaratna (search), who is a terrorism expert, they'll say it was very hot. They were very close, he felt, until the war picked up in Iraq. And at that point, he says the trail went cold because so much of the CIA's effort has been deployed in Iraq at this point.

JARRETT: Yes, in fact, let me quote him. I'll put it up on the screen. "If the U.S. had not gone to Iraq, they would have found Usama bin Laden (search) by now. The best people were moved away from this operation, the best minds were moved to Iraq. It's the biggest military failure in the war on terrorism so far." How does he know that? I mean, that's a pretty huge assumption, isn't it?

MAYER: It is a big assumption, though I guess he has been working with our government and he's been translating a lot of the documents from Al Qaeda. So, he's very closely in touch with a lot of the people working on the hunt. You know, I talked to a lot of the CIA people, anyone who would talk to me and also a lot of former CIA people and many of them have the same concern. I guess we think of the CIA as being infinitely powerful. But it is finite. There are not that many people who speak Arabic and who really have the expertise in that part of the world.

JARRETT: You know, you can't tag this entirely on the United States' war in Iraq. And you're fair about that, Jane, I must say, because you explore a lot of various options and reasons.

MAYER: Thanks.

JARRETT: One of them is that you say that part of the problem is not logistical or tactical in finding bin Laden, but rather political. And you point to Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf (search). You say, if I understand you correctly, correct me if I'm wrong, you say that Musharraf kind of likes the fact that bin Laden may be in his territory, kind of wants him to stay there because that way he garners favorable treatment from the U.S.?

MAYER: Well, this is what some skeptics say about what's going on in Pakistan. They wonder. It has been almost two years now. Why can't we find bin Laden? And the answer seems to be they have a pretty good sense where he is. He's supposed to be along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, why can't Pakistan go in and snatch him? Well, part of the problem has been that the government of Musharraf hasn't been maybe completely willing to go in and do that. For many reasons. And one is that Pakistan's gotten a tremendous amount of aid from the U.S. since all of this started. They were on the brink of bankruptcy until the war on terrorism came up.

JARRETT: And another problem, Jane, is that bin Laden is apparently being protected by tribal leaders, and Musharraf just doesn't want to stir up trouble there. You quote the Pakistani and embassy spokesperson who says, as follows, "If you take an armored personnel carrier or a helicopter gunship, you kill innocent people. Then you've lost the village for 100 years. These places run on revenge." But there's one other thing they run on and that's money. Can't the Pashtun be bought off with cold, hard American dollars?

MAYER: Well, one of the things that I thought was really interesting in this was that Musharraf himself came to the U.S. government right after 9/11 and said, “I think I can get in there, into that area where Al Qaeda's hiding, but you have to give me $40 million. And I'm going to use it as bribes and I'm going to basically bribe the Pashtun (search) tribesmen with schools, and roads, and hospitals and who knows, maybe just cash.” And our ambassador said, “Fine.” But Congress stopped the money.

JARRETT: Quick question, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, claims they're working very hard to find Usama bin Laden. Are they?

MAYER: Well, there are a lot of people who think that they've got some divided loyalties within the ISI. It's an organization that's very close to the Taliban (search) and the Taliban, of course, is very close to Al Qaeda.

JARRETT: All right. Jane Mayer, this is a must-read story in the New Yorker. It is a great one. It's in the issue just out. Thank you for sharing part of it with us. We appreciate it.

MAYER: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

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