President Dick Cheney
Interview with Tim Russert on NBC Meet the Press
September 16, 2001
9:00 A.M. EDT
MR. TIM RUSSERT: And we are Greentop in the shadows of the presidential retreat
at Camp David. Mr. Vice President, good morning and welcome.
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: This is the first television program to originate from here, which
underscores the seriousness of our discussion this morning. The president, the
vice president, the national security team have been meeting for the last 36
hours. What can you share with the American people this morning?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, Tim, this is the first chance weve had really
since the events this week to sit down and really focus on various plans and
propositions, things we ought to be doing going forward. Up till now its
been focused very much on trying to manage the crisis and to deal with the problems
of the immediate situation. But yesterday weve been able to come up and
get everybody together, a lot of work done, staff work done in preparation for
it and sit down and really spend some time looking at what our strategy ought
to be and how we ought to proceed.
MR. RUSSERT: When the president went to the World Trade Center on Friday he
said, The people who did this will hear from all of us soon. Theres
an expectation in the country that were about to pay back big time, quickly.
What should the American people think or feel about that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think the important thing here, Tim, is for people to understand
that, you know, things have changed since last Tuesday. The world shifted in
some respects. Clearly, what were faced with here is a situation where
terrorism is struck home in the United States. Weve been subject to targets
of terrorist attacks before, especially overseas with our forces and American
personnel overseas, but this time because of what happened in New York and what
happened in Washington, its a qualitatively different set of circumstances.
Its also important for people to understand that this is a long-term proposition.
Its not like, well, even Desert Storm where we had a buildup for a few
months, four days of combat, and it was over with. This is going to be the kind
of work that will probably take years because the focus has to be not just on
any one individual, the problem here is terrorism. And even in this particular
instance, it looks as though the responsible organization was a group called
al-Qaida. Its Arabic for The Base.
MR. RUSSERT: Thats Osama bin Laden.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: He headed it up and organized it, but its a very broad,
kind of loose coalition of groupings that includes not only his forces but it
also includes, for example, Islamic Jihad from Egypt. It includes a movement
from is Uzbekistan. The groups that are terrorist organizations, people that
oftentimes move around them, sometimes share common ideologies that operate
on a worldwide basis. And what we have to do is take down those networks of
terrorist organizations, and as say I think this is going to be a struggle that
the United States is going to be involved in for the foreseeable future. Theres
not going to be an end date that we say, There, its all over with.
Its going to require constant vigilance on our part to avoid problems
in the future, but its also going to require a major effort and, obviously,
quite possibly use of military force.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that anyone who participated in the events on Tuesday
or, in fact, even in a support role, or on a plane that wasnt successfully
hijacked, are they still at large in the United States?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We dont know. The possibility clearly exists that there
could be additional terrorists out there that were part of this operation that
maybe got cold feet and didnt get on the airplane, or for one reason or
another were thwarted in their efforts. We have to assume that possibility exists.
We had these 19 individuals in the United States, some of them for several years,
training, preparing, getting ready for this operation and we can by no means
assume now that thats all there is. There may well be other operations
that have been planned and are, in fact, in the works.
MR. RUSSERT: When the president said, Everyone in uniform get ready,
did that does that suggest a massive call-up of reserves?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Weve had some reserve call-up. We called up, of course,
35,000 reservists. We felt that was important to do here. I think the way to
think about it, Tim, is to think about the target and what our objectives are
here. Obviously, were interested in individuals who were directly involved
in planning, coordinating, ordering the attack. And-but those tend to be individuals
or small groupings of individuals, cells, perhaps, various places around the
world. We need to go find them and root them out. And but we also
thats different here, whats changed in terms of U.S. policy, is
the presidents determination to also go after those nations and organizations
and people that lend support to these terrorist operators.
If youve got a nation out there now that has provided a base, training
facilities, a sanctuary, as has been true, for example, in this case, probably
with Afghanistan, then they have to understand, and others like them around
the world have to understand, that if you provide sanctuary to terrorists, you
face the full wrath of the United States of America. And that we will, in fact,
aggressively go after these nations to make certain that they cease and desist
from providing support for these kinds of organizations.
MR. RUSSERT: Full wrath. Thats a very strong statement to the Afghans
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It is, indeed. It is, indeed.
MR. RUSSERT: The president said that Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: There is just a lot of evidence to link his organization,
the al-Qaida organization, and he is the head of al-Qaida, to this operation.
There are some ties, for example, to some of the people involved here back to
the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen. Were able to tell going back
now looking at relationships and the way theyve operated in the past,
were quite confident that, in fact, as the president said, he is the prime
suspect. That doesnt mean we know all there is to know yet. That doesnt
mean there werent others involved. As I mentioned, the Egyptian Islamic
Jihad has a very close working relationship with this organization. So there
may well be others. We want to continue to investigate aggressively to make
sure weve wrapped up and understand fully all who were involved. But clearly,
the evidence at this point takes us very much in that direction.
MR. RUSSERT: You have no doubt that Osama bin Laden played some role in this.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I have no doubt that he and his organization played a significant
role in this.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you surprised by the precision and sophistication of the operation?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, certainly, we were surprised in the sense that, you
know, there had been information coming in that a big operation was planned,
but thats sort of a trend that you see all the time in these kinds of
reports. But we didnt...
MR. RUSSERT: No specific threat?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No specific threat involving really a domestic operation
or involving what happened, obviously, the cities, airliner and so forth. We
did go on alert with our overseas forces a number of times during the course
of the summer when we thought the threat level had risen significantly. So clearly,
we were surprised by what happened here. On the other hand, in terms of the
sophistication of it, its interesting to look at, because clearly what
happened is you got some people committed to die in the course of the operation,
you got them visas, you got them entered into the United States. They came here.
Some of them enrolled in our commercial aviation schools and learned to fly,
courtesy of our own capabilities here in the United States. Then what they needed
in order to execute was some degree of coordination, obviously, in terms of
timing. But they needed knives, cardboard cutters, razor blades, whatever it
was, and an airline ticket. And thats it. They then were able to take
over the aircraft and use our own, you know, heavily loaded with fuel large
aircraft to take over and use it.
MR. RUSSERT: Intentionally choosing planes that had lots of fuel and a few passengers?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It certainly looks that way. And the so the sophisticated
on the one hand its very simple. It doesnt involve a lot
of hardware or complex devices that they have to bring into the United States.
They, in effect, turned some of our own system against us, but its simplicity
does, in fact, also speak volumes in terms of planning, creativity, ingenuity
in terms of how they go about these kinds of operations.
MR. RUSSERT: We clearly will have to revisit our visa procedures.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We ought to look at all aspects of the operation here in
terms of what happened. Clearly there are going to be a lot of lessons to be
learned from it. But its important for us, too, not to get trapped into
thinking if we just guard against another situation where terrorists can hijack
airplanes and use them to hit vital targets in the U.S. that weve dealt
with the problem. Im sure theyre out there right now thinking about
new, creative ways to come after us that dont involve any of those techniques
at all, but something totally new.
MR. RUSSERT: Osama bin Laden released a training video, 100 minutes long, which
was obtained by the Western media this summer, and I want to show a portion
of that to you and give you a chance to respond to it, and well play it
right now. These are followers of his chanting, We have to fight every
day, even to the shedding of blood in Gods righteous path. There
he is himself with his own rifle. They go on to say, We thank God for
granting us victory the day we destroyed the Cole in the sea. Thats
the U.S.S. destroyer that was hit last year. Those are his supporters marching.
There you are as secretary of Defense visiting Saudi Arabia, used in this video
to rally support for Osama bin Laden. And bin Laden himself, We have to
practice the way of the suicidal commandos of faith and the heroism of the resistance
fighter and we refuse their culture and we will take advantage of their misfortunes
and the blood of their wounded. He goes on to say, Mr. Secretary, that,
With small capabilities we can defeat the U.S. America is much weaker
than it appears. Whats your message this morning to Osama bin Laden?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think he seriously misreads the American people.
I think the I mean, you have to ask yourself, why somebody would do what
he does. Why is someone so motivated? Obviously hes filled with hate for
the United States and for everything we stand for...
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: ...freedom and democracy.
MR. RUSSERT: Why does he hate us so much?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It must have something to do with his background, his own
upbringing. Hes the son of a prominent Saudi family, successful business
group with significant wealth. He went and served in Afghanistan with the mujahedeen
during the war against the Russians, and he has, for whatever reason, developed
this intense hatred of everything that relates to the United States. And his
objective, obviously, is to try to influence our behavior to force us to withdraw
from that part of the world, and clearly hes not going to be successful.
MR. RUSSERT: He has stated unequivocally that he wants the United States out
of the Middle East. He no longer wants the United States to be the ally of Israel.
Will our relationship with Israel change in any way, shape or form because of
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. The fact of the matter is that the-well not allow
him to achieve his aims. Were not about to change our policies or change
our basic fundamental beliefs. What we are going to do is aggressively go after
Mr. bin Laden, obviously, and all of his associates, and even if it takes a
long time, Im convinced eventually well prevail.
MR. RUSSERT: There is an FBI wanted poster, and there he is himself, wanted
for the murder of US nationals outside the United States. Hes under indictment
for his involvement in blowing up embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Could we
say to the Afghanistan government, You are harboring a fugitive from justice.
Give him over in 48 hours or were coming in and taking him?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We could say such a thing.
MR. RUSSERT: Legally?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, legally certainly. Ill simply restate again,
Tim, I dont want to get into the business of predicting what specific
steps we will take. But without question, the president has been very, very
clear that to harbor terrorists is to, in effect, accept a certain degree of
guilt for the acts that they commit. And the government of Afghanistan has to
understand that we believe they have, indeed, been harboring a man who committed,
and whose organization committed, this most recent egregious act.
MR. RUSSERT: Youre convinced hes still in Afghanistan?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We dont know.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there any international law or United States law which would
prohibit us from killing him if we found him?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Not in my estimation, Tim. But Id have to check with
the lawyers on that, obviously. Lawyers always have a role to play, but one
of the intriguing things here is the way in which people have rallied around,
other governments have rallied around this notion that, in fact, this is a war.
Weve seen our NATO allies for the first time in history invoke Article
5, an attack against one is an attack against all. Its never before been
done. They unanimously agreed to that proposition earlier this week in Brussels.
I think the world increasingly will understand what we have here are a group
of barbarians, that they threaten all of us, that the U.S. is the target at
the moment, but one of the things to remember is if you look at the roster of
countries who lost people in the bombing in New York, over 40 countries have
had someone killed or have significant numbers missing. The British, for example,
have an estimated 100 dead and 500 to 700 still missing. So its an attack
not just upon the United States but upon, you know, civilized society.
MR. RUSSERT: A very important country in all this is Pakistan, on the border
of Afghanistan. Pakistan there are reports on the wires today-has sent
a delegation to the Taliban government in Afghanistan saying its time
to turn Osama bin Laden over. The Pakistan government is also saying to its
people this morning, We will get more aid from the United States. The
United States will lift economic sanctions against us. And weve been given
assurances that the Indian government and the Israeli government will not be
part of any military operation based in Pakistan. Can you confirm that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Ive seen some communication back and forth at this
point. Let me simply say we have had discussions with the Paks. President Bush
called President Musharraf just yesterday afternoon from Camp David. Theyve
had a good conversation. We have made certain requests of the Pakistanis. They
have agreed to work with us in this endeavor, and some of thats covered
in the statement theyve made there.
MR. RUSSERT: They will get more assistance from us.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, wed like to be able to work with them. Youve
got to remember, Pakistans been a close friend and ally of the United
States in the past. The relationships been somewhat strained in recent
years primarily because congressionally imposed sanctions have had an adverse
effect, clearly, on the relationship, and the sanctions were imposed as the
Pakistanis developed nuclear weapons. But were clearly in a situation
here where that relationship is important. Its important to us. Its
important to Pakistan. Pakistan borders Afghanistan; they one of only three
countries that have diplomatic relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They
can be very helpful in this case, and we expect they will be.
MR. RUSSERT: And theres nothing wrong with providing economic rewards
for helpful behavior.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think youre going to want both the carrot and
the stick approach.
MR. RUSSERT: Pakistan also has a nuclear capability. How dangerous is it for
that government to come out against Osama bin Laden or be helpful to the United
States? Are we concerned about destabilizing Pakistan with nuclear capability,
a capability that could fall in the hands of the Taliban or Osama bin Laden?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, were clearly very sensitive to those kinds of
problems. Any time youre dealing in that part of the world in the Middle
East, the potential for instability always exists. You could have a change in
government in relatively short notice, and were well aware of all that.
But it also its one of the reasons, frankly, youll see the
al-Qaida organization, Osama bin Laden, choosing to locate in that part of the
world because it is an area of instability, because there are places that nobody
really controls. And those are the areas were going to have to operate
in if were going to be successful. And again, the key here to keep in
mind is that what were asking nations to do, and which the Paks have clearly
made a decision to do, is were asking nations to step up and be counted.
Theyre going to have to decide. Are they going to stand with the United
States and believe in freedom and democracy and civilization, or are they going
to stand with the terrorists and the barbarians, if you will? And its
a fairly clear-cut choice. And Im delighted to see that Pakistan has,
in fact, stepped up to the task.
MR. RUSSERT: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan three critical countries in
the Middle East, who have been somewhat supportive of the United States. They
also have segments of their population that look at Osama bin Laden as a hero.
If we demand that they support us, do we risk destabilizing those governments?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I think youve got to recognize from the standpoint
of the Saudis, for example, theyre a prime target for this organization
of terrorists, Osama bin Laden. He adamantly opposes the Saudi royal family.
Probably second only to the United States would be his hatred for the current
government in Saudi Arabia. With respect to Egypt, for example, the Egyptian
Islamic Jihad, these are groups and organizations that have threatened the government
of Egypt in the past. President Mubaraks been the target of several assassination
attempts during the course of his career; some of them promulgated by these
kinds of groups and organizations. So I think governments, friends of the United
States, the governments you mentioned, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., they
understand very clearly that its as much in their interest as it is in
ours that we end these kinds of activities and that we put a stop to this kind
of international terrorism. And I think theyll be prepared to help us.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, how difficult and delicate is it to send this
message that were going to uproot terrorism and Osama bin Laden and some
other cells, but that this is not a war against Islam and not a war against
all Arab people?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We have to continually remind folks of that. The president
has been very clear, and it would be a huge mistake for we as Americans to assume
that this represents some kind of or should lead us to some kind of condemnation
of Islam. Its clearly not the case. This is a perversion, if you will,
of some of these religious beliefs by an extremist group. We have extremists
associated with, you know, every imaginable religion in the world. But this
is by no means a war against Islam. Weve got a great many Arab Americans,
for example, who are first class, loyal American citizens. We need to make certain
that we dont make the mistake of assuming that everybody who comes from
a certain ethnic group or certain religious background is somehow to be blamed
for this. Clearly, thats not the case. They are as appalled by it as we
MR. RUSSERT: When Osama bin Laden took responsibility for blowing up the embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. embassies, several hundred died, the United States
launched 60 tomahawk missiles into his training sites in Afghanistan. It only
emboldened him. It only inspired him and seemed even to increase his recruitment.
Is it safe to say that that kind of response is not something were considering,
in that kind of minute magnitude?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Im going to be careful here, Tim, because I
clearly it would be inappropriate for me to talk about operational matters,
specific options or the kinds of activities we might undertake going forward.
We do, indeed, though, have, obviously, the worlds finest military. Theyve
got a broad range of capabilities. And they may well be given missions in connection
with this overall task and strategy.
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. Weve
got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs
to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using
sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if were
going to be successful. Thats the world these folks operate in, and so
its going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically,
to achieve our objective.
MR. RUSSERT: There have been restrictions placed on the United States intelligence
gathering, reluctance to use unsavory characters, those who violated human rights,
to assist in intelligence gathering. Will we lift some of those restrictions?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Oh, I think so. I think the one of the by-products,
if you will, of this tragic set of circumstances is that well see a very
thorough sort of reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal
with. Theres if youre going to deal only with sort of officially
approved, certified good guys, youre not going to find out what the bad
guys are doing. You need to be able to penetrate these organizations. You need
to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, youre
going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall
these kinds of activities. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out
there, and we have to operate in that arena. Im convinced we can do it;
we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied
the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing
MR. RUSSERT: These terrorists play by a whole set of different rules. Its
going to force us, in your words, to get mean, dirty and nasty in order to take
them on, right? And they should realize there will be more than simply a pinprick
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah, the I think its the thing that
I sense and, of course, thats only been a few days, but I have
never seen such determination on the part of well, my colleagues in government,
on the part of the American people, on the part of our friends and allies overseas,
and even on the part of some who are not ordinarily deemed friends of the United
States, determined in this particular instance to shift and not be tolerant
any longer of these kinds of actions or activities.
MR. RUSSERT: Even if we take out Osama bin Laden, that will not stop terrorism.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. No. Hes the target at the moment. But I dont
want to convey the impression that somehow, you know, if we had his head on
a platter today, that that would solve the problem. It wont. Youve
got this organization, as I say, called al-Qaida. Its somebody
described it the other day as its like an Internet chat room, that
people who come and participate in it, for one reason or another, engage in
terrorism, have sometimes different motives and ideologies, but the tactics
they use, the way they operate, their targets, that will continue until we go
out, basically, and make the world unsafe for terrorists. And thats a
key part of the strategy, in terms of working aggressively with those nations
that have previously provided support and sustenance and sanctuary, to see to
it that they no longer do that.
MR. RUSSERT: You wouldnt mind having his head on a platter.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I would take it today.
MR. RUSSERT: Saddam Hussein, your old friend, his government had this to say:
The American cowboy is rearing the fruits of crime against humanity.
If we determine that Saddam Hussein is also harboring terrorists, and theres
a track record there, would we have any reluctance of going after Saddam Hussein?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do we have evidence that hes harboring terrorists?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: There is in the past, there have been some activities
related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus
is over here on al-Qaida and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Husseins
bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy
where the Iraqis are concerned.
MR. RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the events of Tuesday. Where were you when you first
learned a plane had struck the World Trade Center?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I was in my office Tuesday morning. Monday, I had been
in Kentucky, and the president had been in the White House. Tuesday, our roles
were sort of reversed. He was in Florida, and I was in the White House Tuesday
morning. And a little before 9, my speechwriter came in. We were going to go
over some speeches coming up. And my secretary called in just as we were starting
to meet just before 9:00 and said an airplane had hit the World Trade Center,
and that was the first one that went in. So we turned on the television and
watched for a few minutes, and then actually saw the second plane hit the World
Trade Center. And the as soon as that second plane showed up, thats
what triggered the thought: terrorism, that this was an attack...
MR. RUSSERT: You sensed it immediately, This is deliberate?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah. Then I convened in my office. Condi Rice came down.
Her office is right near mine there in the West Wing.
MR. RUSSERT: The national security adviser.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: National security adviser, my chief of staff, Scooter Libby,
Mary Matalin, who works for me, convened in my office, and we started talking
about getting the Counterterrorism Task Force up and operating. I talked with
the president. Id given word to Andy Cards staff, who is right next
door, to get hold of Andy and/or the president and that I wanted to talk to
him as soon as they could hook it up. This call came in, and the president knew
at this point about that. We discussed a statement that he might make, and the
first statement he made describing this as an act of apparent terrorism flowed
out of those conversations. While I was there, over the next several minutes,
watching developments on the television and as we started to get organized to
figure out what to do, my Secret Service agents came in and, under these circumstances,
they just move. They dont say sir or ask politely. They came
in and said, Sir, we have to leave immediately, and grabbed me and...
MR. RUSSERT: Literally grabbed you and moved you?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah. And, you know, your feet touch the floor periodically.
But theyre bigger than I am, and they hoisted me up and moved me very
rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs, through some doors and down some
more stairs into an underground facility under the White House, and, as a matter
of fact, its a corridor, locked at both ends, and they did that because
they had received a report that an airplane was headed for the White House.