Will UBL's Latest Message Lead to More Attacks?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He's a terrorist. That's what terrorists do. He is a criminal. He's a terrorist. He's a murderer. And we're going to continue to hunt for him until he is captured and brought to justice.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Colin Powell (search) talking about Usama bin Laden (search) who is at it again, spewing hatred. He's released another audiotape, this one praising terrorists for attacking the American consulate in Saudi Arabia and calling Saudi rulers corrupt puppets of the U.S. who must be taken down.

I'm joined now by former CIA officer, Michael Swetnam (search).

Michael, today's "Big Question": Will bin Laden's tirade lead to more attacks?

MICHAEL SWETNAM, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I don't think so, John. I think this message was all totally directed at the Saudi Arabian people who, over the last several days have, in fact, been turning against bin Laden and Al Qaeda a little bit.

What's happened in the last several days is that Ayman al-Zawahiri (search), bin Laden's deputy, came out several days ago encouraging more attacks against U.S. officials and places like our consulate. They did that Monday when they attacked the U.S. consulate, and all they managed to do was kill four Saudi citizens.

Since then, the Saudi media has been really condemning these attacks. And, in fact, the highest religious leader in Saudi Arabia… has come out and roundly criticized these attacks and Al Qaeda for sponsoring them.

This message by bin Laden was one trying to win back some support from the Saudi population that he seems to be losing.

GIBSON: OK. Now, can we have confidence in that? Are we going to have to worry one day, wake up and find out there's a new king in Saudi Arabia and it's Usama bin Laden?

SWETNAM: That would be one of the worst nightmares that you can imagine.

GIBSON: I know. That's why I asked you about it, Michael.

SWETNAM: It would be terrible. It would be terrible.

Actually, the Saudi rulers are — there are dissidents and there are factions that do not support them. But a surprising number of Saudi wealthy and middle-class do support the kingdom and do support the rulers. And so it's not necessarily within reason to say that this fiefdom will continue for quite sometime.

Bin Laden, of course, would like to a group to raise up in revolution and throw out the leadership in Saudi Arabia, but it doesn't look very likely today. And as long as Al Qaeda is involved in attacks in Saudi Arabia that, in fact, cause the population to turn their nose up at Al Qaeda, he's in fact hurting his cause, rather than helping it.

GIBSON: But are we going to have to worry about one day that we wake up and bin Laden or Al Qaeda-like characters are running Saudi Arabia and the president of the United States has to think about seizing the Saudi oil fields?

SWETNAM: Well, it's certainly true that the ruling family will not forever stay in power. A more hopeful scenario is one that, gradually over time, a democracy is let into the country and that the country becomes more and more a democratic type of kingdom, rather than a fiefdom.

And, in fact, the ruling family is going to hold local democratic elections this spring. And so there will be some more local-level leaders. Whether that will, over a reasonable period of time, lead to a real democracy is yet to be seen. But that's really the scenario that we would like to see unfold in Saudi Arabia.

GIBSON: Hey, Michael, I read these Web sites with translations from the Arabic, and there's Arabic columnists lamenting the fact that, in the entire Arab world, there are only two places where there are elections going on, the Palestinians and the Iraqis, both under the occupiers. Doesn't that embarrass the Saudis?

SWETNAM: Yes, it does. And, in fact, the more that democracy takes root in Iraq, and the more successful that democracy is, the more pressure there will be on the Saudi Arabian kingdom to do something about bringing in democracy.

In fact, there is a pseudo-democracy in the UAE right next to Saudi Arabia. There are pockets of it here and there. The more that democracy takes roots, the better for us, but we don't want it to happen overnight. In this part of the world, one of the surest ways to bring about a revolution is to have something happen too fast, when the society is not really ready for it.

GIBSON: Michael Swetnam. And Michael, as always, thank you. Appreciate it.

SWETNAM: Thank you, John.

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