of State Colin Powell
Interview on NBC's Today Show
September 12, 2001
MS. COURIC: The President is expected to meet with his national security staff
this morning. Secretary of State Colin Powell is just across the Potomac River
at the State Department this morning.
Secretary Powell, good morning to you, sir.
SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Katie.
MS. COURIC: On a human level, I just want to get your reaction to the events
SECRETARY POWELL: Total shock. I was in a meeting in Lima, Peru with President
Toledo and his associates when a note was handed to me, and I just shouted
out across the breakfast table, "Oh my God." And then the situation
got worse over the next 20 minutes as more reports came in, and I immediately
made plans to return to Washington.
Before returning, though, I did attend briefly a meeting of the Organization
of American States, where 34 other total states -- the United States was 33
-- were assembled to bring into effect a new charter on democracy, and we
did that by just a simple vote of acclamation. And then all of the delegates
stood and applauded this statement in support of democracy, and to show solidarity
with the American people in this time of crisis.
Since my return, I've been in touch with leaders around the world, with Lord
Robertson and NATO, with Javier Solana and the European Union and Kofi Annan,
to make sure everybody understands that we need a worldwide response to this
assault on America, because it's an assault on civilization, it's an assault
on democracy, it's an assault on the world and the world must respond as the
United States plans to respond.
MS. COURIC: Secretary Powell, last night the President said, "Those
who harbor these criminals will be held responsible." If we believe the
man behind this is in fact Usama bin Laden and that the Taliban, the ruling
government in Afghanistan, is harboring him, what can the United States do
to actually back up the President's words?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are many options available to us: military
options, diplomatic options, further isolation of any country that might be
harboring who is responsible. We are not yet prepared to state this morning
who is responsible, but the evidence is mounting, and I think it will point
us in the right direction in the not-too-distant future, and then we will
have to not only take action on our own part, but also mobilize the world
against whatever regimes may be supporting the terrorists who conducted this
MS. COURIC: So you're saying, General Powell, that as of this morning, you
cannot say that US officials believe Usama bin Laden was responsible for this?
SECRETARY POWELL: Let me just say that there is evidence being developed
now, and good evidence. We will be able to make a definitive statement in
due course. But I think it is best not to speculate until we do have the evidence
all assembled, and we make an informed judgment and announcement at that time.
MS. COURIC: Secretary Powell, a diplomatic response may seem meager to many
Americans, who in a poll this morning said 94 percent say they would support
military action in retaliation if the US can identify the groups or nation
responsible; 92 percent said they would support it even if it meant entering
What is your response to that?
SECRETARY POWELL: I fully understand the views of the American people this
morning. We're mad. We were assaulted. But our spirit wasn't assaulted, and
our fighting spirit was not assaulted. So we want to respond. You don't attack
America like this and get away with it.
And so I can assure the American people that the President, if he is able
to get the information pinpointing who it is and where they are and get targetable
information, I am quite confident that he will look at every option he has
available to him to respond militarily.
MS. COURIC: Along those lines, is the US Government prepared to enter a war
against these terrorists, and wouldn't that entail committing ground troops
to find them, weed them out? After all, the US has launched air strikes against
terrorist targets in the past, and the terrorists continue to survive, even
SECRETARY POWELL: Let's not think that one single counter-attack will rid
the world of terrorism of the kind we saw yesterday. This is going to take
a multi-faceted attack along many dimensions: diplomatic, military, intelligence,
law enforcement. All sorts of things will have to be done to bring this scourge
under control. And it is not just one organization; it's a network of organizations.
We have to make the whole world understand that this is something we all have
to be involved in, and not just see it as a discreet response to a single
incident. We'll do that, but we have to realize that terrorism has been around
for a very long time, and it's going to take a very long time to root it out.
But what the President specifically was focusing on last night is that there
are nations, there are states, there are organizations who provide havens,
and these states and organizations cannot be given a free ride any longer.
And a major part of our diplomatic effort will be to mobilize the international
community against the actions of such states and organizations once we have
a clear understanding of who is responsible for this and who might have been
giving them haven.
MS. COURIC: Do you think this was an individual cell of terrorists, or do
you believe this could be state-sponsored? In other words, could Iraq or a
country like that have been involved in this?
SECRETARY POWELL: I just don't know at this point, and I'd rather not speculate.
I'm sure as the evidence mounts, we will have a better idea of, one, who is
directly responsible, and two, what kind of support they may have been receiving
from outside that cell, outside that network, from either state organizations
or other types of terrorist organizations.
But I'd think it best we not speculate too wildly at this point.
MS. COURIC: The US spends billions of dollars on intelligence. Was this,
in your view, a massive intelligence failure, as it has been called?
SECRETARY POWELL: I wouldn't characterize it that way. We spend many, many
billions of dollars on intelligence, and then intelligence allows us to thwart
many attacks. There are many terrorist attacks that never took place because
of the fine work of our intelligence and law enforcement experts. But in this
case, we did not get the cuing we needed, we did not get the intelligence
information needed to predict that this was about to happen or be aware of
this kind of event coming our way.
So I think it's premature to call it an intelligence failure. Let's see what
we might have picked up as we go back and do the postmortem on how this all
MS. COURIC: Would you agree with your former colleague, General Schwartzkopf,
that we need to emphasize human intelligence as much as technical intelligence,
and we've got all the technological toys that can be used for those purposes,
but what we need are real thinking, seeing people on the ground to infiltrate
SECRETARY POWELL: Absolutely, but it's easier said than done. And we do have
to emphasize human intelligence, because you can defeat electronic intelligence
just by not emitting. So human intelligence is very, very important, and I
know that our intelligence community is very aware of that. But these are
also difficult activities to penetrate, and to be able to stay within such
a network for a long period of time.
But certainly this will be looked at as we review everything we're doing
in the field of intelligence.
MS. COURIC: If we do engage in another country, or take military action,
what are the ramifications? In other words, if an Islamic fundamentalist group
was responsible, what kind of retaliation might we expect, and what kind of
access do they have, these groups, to weapons of mass destruction?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let me not speculate as to what we might do. I think
a full range of options will be available, and I know that the Secretary of
Defense and his colleagues are looking at that. It all depends on where we
run this to ground, as to what counter-attack we might receive from those
who are responsible.
But at this time it's premature to start speculating, or to identify them
as Islamic fundamentalists. Let's just identify them as a terrorist group
that can have no religious underpinning, no legitimate underpinning for this
kind of action. This is murder, which is against the tenets of every religion,
every responsible religion that is in the world, and it is receiving condemnation
from around the world, from people of all faiths and religious backgrounds.
So let's just view them as what they are: terrorist organizations. And I cannot
speculate whether they might have access to the kinds of weapons you discussed,
because we don't know exactly who it is yet. But we will be on guard for that.
MS. COURIC: Secretary of State Colin Powell. Secretary Powell, I'm sorry
to see you under such terrible circumstances, but we certainly appreciate
your time this morning. Thank you so much.