What's the Link Between Al Qaeda and Iraq?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, October 9, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy, the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The president making the case against the deadly duo of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists. But is there a real link between the Iraqi dictator and bin Laden's henchmen? Daniel Benjamin served as director for counter-terrorism on the National Security Council under President Clinton. He also co-authored the book The Age of Sacred Terror and joins me here in Washington.

Welcome, Dan.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Dan, let's talk about Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Likely friends, allies, bedfellows?

BENJAMIN: Not natural allies, that's for sure. To Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein is the kind of secular nationalist leader who is exactly why, as far as they're concerned, the whole realm of Islam has been plunged into crisis for decades. He's exactly the kind of thing they hate, just like Nasser and Sadat and Mubarak and even the Saudi royal family

VAN SUSTEREN: But Dan, isn't a secular Saddam Hussein better than the American government? Isn't that the way Al Qaeda looks at it? Wouldn't they naturally be more aligned with Saddam and likely cut a deal with the devil, rather than deal with us?

BENJAMIN: Well, it's sort of a toss-up. They're certainly not going to deal with us.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't mean "deal with us," but I mean they'd rather align with Saddam to go after us, is probably a better way to say it.

BENJAMIN: Well, I think Saddam would be the person who'd have the tough decision because if he gives them very dangerous weapons, he has to know, first of all, they may use them against him, which has been a reason that Saddam has never done that before with religious fundamentalists. And the other thing is that he has to know that authorship of any terrorist attack won't be discovered. These state sponsors have a pretty good record of knowing that the return address is going to be found.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. In your work and in your studies and in your book, have you determined from looking at the evidence, the information available, that that Al Qaeda and Saddam are not working in concert? Or is it simply your hypothesis, based on your study of the religion and the region?

BENJAMIN: When I was at the NSC, the intelligence community told us, you know, they're not working together. And my boss, Richard Clarke, who was then the czar for counter-terrorism, said, "Well," you know, "we need to question the received wisdom." And so we checked all of the available intelligence to see if there was something there, and we didn't find anything. That was 1998. By 1999, the end of 1999, when I left, there had been no substantial relationship uncovered, and I have not heard of anything else.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let's talk about the former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, testified on Capitol Hill yesterday. Your thoughts on Louis Freeh. It seemed that he was blaming any sort of problems that the FBI had in detecting any possibility of terrorism -- he's blaming that on Congress hadn't given him the money.

BENJAMIN: I think it's a pretty unpersuasive claim. During his tenure as director, Louis Freeh had Congress wrapped around his finger. The congressmen were falling over themselves to give the FBI more and more money. It was a particular favorite on Capitol Hill. In addition, the administration was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into counter-terrorism at the time. And it's only after 9/11 we found that instead of increasing the number of counter-terrorism agents, they'd gone to computer security.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so is he just complaining, trying to cast the blame on somebody else, you know, dodging the bullet?

BENJAMIN: I'm not going to speculate about his motives. He's in a very tough position. I think there's a lot of criticism aimed at him.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you mean, he's in a tough position? He's out of the FBI, and he's now, you know, got eight years of history in the FBI, I mean, either, you know, to defend or to advocate for.

BENJAMIN: I think the FBI's role in not preventing 9/11 is a really problematic issue for anyone associated with the bureau. He ran it, and I think that he really feels in a tough spot about that.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the relationship between Louis Freeh and the Clinton administration when he was the director? What kind of relationship?

BENJAMIN: Well, it was pretty terrible. It was poisonous. And I think that this is one of the real problems that dogged America in this period. The director didn't trust the president and, as a result, was withholding information on important terrorist investigations, and was just not taking direction either from the attorney general or from the White House. And as a result, the FBI was insular and was really a branch of government unto itself.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the 15, 20 seconds we have left -- obviously, you're out of the government now. Has that relationship changed, the FBI and the administration, do you think?

BENJAMIN: Well, it's certainly changed dramatically since 9/11. The old days of an independent FBI I think are largely gone. We know that Attorney General Ashcroft is a very hands-on boss. Whether that will remain the case or not, whether the institution can change, remains to be seen.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Dan, thank you very much. Great book. I appreciate you coming and joining us.

BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the October 9 edition of On the Record.

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