Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC Good Morning America
The Pentagon
Arlington, Virginia
September 17, 2001
7:07 A.M. EDT

SAWYER: Joining us now from the Pentagon is the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you for joining us this morning.

RUMSFELD: Yes, indeed.

SAWYER: As Americans head back to work today, what can you tell us about the latest overnight intelligence about whether there are more cells operating out there, more terrorist cells waiting to act?

RUMSFELD: Diane, we know, of course, that this one organization, Al Qaeda, which is a loose network of a lot of people from a lot of different countries who are operating in maybe 50 or 60 countries across the globe, including the United States -- so we know that there are a great many people involved in this activity. You don't have that kind of exceedingly well-coordinated precision attack, causing that many thousands of people's death, without a good deal of careful planning.

SAWYER: Are you expecting anything today?

RUMSFELD: I think that it isn't a matter of today. It is clear that there are terrorists and countries harboring terrorists who are determined to cause great damage to the United States and to the West and to our way of life. It really strikes directly at what we, as a people, are. We're free people.

And so we have to be, as the president has said, in a state of heightened awareness. And certainly the defense establishment is and the FBI is, the law enforcement people in the United States. But the reality is that a terrorist can attack any time, any place, using a whole host of different techniques. And it's not possible to defend every place at every moment against any conceivable technique. That means the president's approach is the correct one, and that is to go after terrorists where they are and root them out.

SAWYER: On that front, Mr. Secretary, the latest intelligence that we have shows, according to Reuters, that there are 20,000 Afghani troops now massing on their border. Can you confirm this?

RUMSFELD: I don't get into that business of confirming intelligence reports.

SAWYER: What about the reports now that the Pakistani attempt to go to the Afghan government, to the Taliban, and say to them, "Turn over Osama bin Laden in three days or else" has failed? Or is it just inconclusive at this point? And how long will we give them beyond the three days?

RUMSFELD: There are a host of things taking place. Some are diplomatic, such as the kinds of things you're discussing. Others are economic. Some are financial. And certainly the military side is also an option.

The way these things play out is that there will be a lot of confusion. There will be a lot of people doing a lot of different things. There'll be a lot of misinformation circulating around the world. And what we need to do, those of us in the United States government, is to help the world understand the seriousness of purpose and the importance of this effort and see that we get the maximum cooperation from countries all across the globe from the standpoint of providing us intelligence, making demarches, and, as you suggest, the Pakistanis have with the Afghans, and urging them to stop terrorist acts and urging them to turn over terrorists and urging countries to stop harboring and assisting terrorists.

SAWYER: So it's not necessarily three days or else.

RUMSFELD: What the United States -- the last thing you're going to find people who know anything from the United States government doing is talking about operations. We just won't do it.

SAWYER: You mentioned other countries and the attempt to build a coalition. Some surprising reactions. From Italy: "The term 'war' is inappropriate. Italian troops will not go anywhere." From France this morning, the French defense minister saying, "In the long term we should not be taking punitive actions and, in essence, igniting more terrorism." Are you disappointed? And are they just wrong?

RUMSFELD: We have received overwhelming support from all across the globe. As a matter of fact, I was on the phone with the Italian defense minister yesterday, and they are completely supportive of what we're doing.

SAWYER: But no troops, he says.

RUMSFELD: I think the important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a question of punishment or retaliation. This is a question of self-defense. The only conceivable way that the United States can be protected against terrorist acts of this type that take place inside of our country -- and, I might add, potential terrorist attacks of considerably greater magnitude -- is if we attack the problem of terrorism at its roots and go after the people who are doing it. That is what needs to be done.

SAWYER: If I could turn to another issue and clear up something from over the weekend, the president, according to his own statements, and also the vice president, had authorized the shooting down of a passenger plane should that passenger plane be indicated that it was hijacked and heading in to cause more damage. This is the question: Was that authorization given before Flight 77 hit the Pentagon? Was it an authorization for that plane specifically? And also, would it have been in effect for Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania?

RUMSFELD: The United States military did not shoot down any of the aircraft that crashed. The Pentagon, the defense establishment, and I specifically, have established rules of engagement as to how U.S. military aircraft will operate in the current environment. And they're written, they're clear, and they are appropriate.

I should add that in no instance was -- I guess the correct answer to your question is no. The rules of engagement had not been put in force the way they are today at the time of those flights. The idea of the United States military going up and shooting down an American airline plane filled with American citizens is not something that one contemplates.

SAWYER: Secretary Rumsfeld, again, we're so grateful to you for joining us this morning. And again, we face another week in which we hope we can speak to you often. Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.