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Secretary of State Colin Powell
Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS Meet the Press
Shanghai, China
October 21, 2001

MR. SCHIEFFER: And we begin now with the Secretary of State, who joins us from Shanghai. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for coming.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Bob.

MR. SCHIEFFER: American ground troops went into Afghanistan yesterday. The Pentagon says it was a successful mission, but this morning, as perhaps might be expected, the Taliban says that the Americans were repelled. They say there were American casualties, and they say they are ready now to just wait it out in the caves.

Can you give us an assessment of what the United States Government feels about this yesterday?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, my understanding of the mission, that it was highly successful, both strikes, both missions that went in, and I'm very proud of those brave young soldiers who performed the mission. And my understanding, from everything I've heard and seen from the Pentagon briefings, is that, except for a few minor injuries among the paratroopers and the tragic helicopter accident that was not directly related to the operation, all of our troops recovered safely, and the Taliban is lying.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Can you tell me exactly what the objective was yesterday, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY POWELL: Bob, I think it's better you get the straight answer from the Pentagon; but just so I don't duck it entirely, I think they were looking at a compound where some information might have been available. And I believe they did come back with some documents and other items that might be useful, and they were scouting another facility. But I'll stop there and let the Pentagon deal with that one.

MR. SCHIEFFER: There are reports this morning that the President has signed an executive order that has "told the CIA to basically destroy Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida." What does that mean exactly? Some here say that means that the gloves are off.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I believe what I read in the paper this morning was that he has signed what is called a finding, and those involve very, very sensitive operations. And I hope you'll forgive me, but I never talk about findings of that nature.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Does intensifying this campaign, Mr. Secretary, increase the threat of terrorism in this country? Because many people are worried that perhaps it will.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I think we are facing terrorism with or without this campaign, unfortunately. I think that war has been declared upon us by the al-Qaida organization, and we have no choice but to fight that war with the kind of campaign that the President has put together. Military, intelligence, financial, law enforcement, securing our borders, protecting our citizens -- all of these things will be necessary. I am sure they will try to respond. I am sure they will come at us in other ways, and there may be other terrorist organizations that will come at us.

So this is a time for us to be cautious, to protect ourselves, but to not be afraid, not become chickens. We know how to fight these kinds of conflicts. We've got a backbone of steel in our country, and we'll be just fine if Americans just remember who we are and keep the spirit up and keep driving on with our lives.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You said, "other terrorist organizations." Elaborate on that, if you can.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are other terrorist organizations. I don't want to name any particular one, but there are other terrorist organizations that don't mean us well. And, frankly, we have homegrown terrorists, as we have seen so vividly in Oklahoma City, for example.

So we have to be on guard in this new era where we have rogue groups, where we have fanatics, where we have evil people, as the President likes to say, who might come after us in these asymmetric ways where they can cause a great deal of damage, a great loss of life, as we have seen, and where they are creative. And so we have to keep an eye on all of them, and that is why the President said that this is a campaign not just against al-Qaida, but against all terrorism throughout the world, all terrorism that could threaten us, threaten our interests or threaten our friends.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, do you see, at this point, any connection between the situations involving this anthrax that keeps popping up at different places? And yesterday another smudge of it, if that's what you want to call it, showed up at the US Capitol. Is there a connection between that and Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: There may be, but I don't know, Bob. I think our intelligence, law enforcement, law enforcement agencies, are hard at work trying to get to the bottom of this, the source of the anthrax, how it's being distributed, the persons responsible, and what linkages may exist with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida.

I am quite sure that if al-Qaida did have access to this kind of material -- and I am sure they are also working on it -- that they would use it if they could. They are coming after us. They are evil people. They believe in no faith. They have adherence to no religion. They are evil and they have to be seen as criminals and murderers and terrorists.

And I am sure that our agencies are working as hard as they can to find out the source of the anthrax material we have been receiving and how it's coming at us, how it's being distributed and by whom.

MR. SCHIEFFER: The nations that are meeting there in Shanghai -- the reason that you and the President went there -- the nations that are meeting there put out a very strong statement denouncing terrorism, but I notice that it does not endorse the US military action into Afghanistan, nor does it name Usama bin Laden as the person behind all of this.

Should we read some significance into that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I wouldn't read any significance in it. When I saw a press reporting earlier today that sort of pointed that out, it kind of surprised me because we didn't ask for that. At least nobody in my delegation asked for that kind of reference in the joint statement.

We were looking for a strong joint statement that came down squarely against terrorism; put APEC, the groups that's here, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, put that strongly on record against terrorism, and, in fact, join the coalition in support of the United States goal of ridding this part of the world of the al-Qaida organization, ridding every cell of the al-Qaida organization, no matter where it is in the world, getting rid of it and going after terrorism in general. So I think we should applaud this very powerful statement from this very powerful organization.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, I am sure you are aware of a report that was in the New Yorker this week, written by Seymour Hersh, who says that on the first night of this military operation into Afghanistan, one of the American drone reconnaissance planes -- and it was an armed plane -- got Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, in its sights. The information went back up the chain of command, and the commanding general finally said that there would not be -- he ordered the drone not to fire on Mullah Omar because, as we are told in this report, his judge advocate general, had a problem with it.

In other words, the general apparently went to his lawyer, and his lawyer said, well, there may be some problems, so don't fire. Could that possibly be true?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. I read the story. I have no idea of whether it's true or not, and I think I'll have to refer you to the Pentagon for whatever answer they may choose to make of Mr. Hersh's story.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, are we in a situation -- everybody says this is going to be a long and difficult fight. But are we in a position now where generals have to check with their lawyer before they can order people on the ground to fire on the enemy?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first of all, without saying a word about this story, let me just say that we conduct military operations in accordance with accepted rules of land warfare; and for that reason, you make sure you have lawyers around. And we had them during Desert Storm. But I have no idea, none whatsoever, as to whether that is what happened in this instance, as reported in the New Yorker, and I really do have to refer you to the Pentagon for that.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Any final word, Mr. Secretary, this morning? Do you have a message for Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: The message I have for Usama bin Laden is that he can not hide behind a faith in which he does not believe because, if he believed in it, he would not be doing what he does; and that the coalition is coming after him, and we will find his money, we will find ways to get into his networks through our intelligence and law enforcement work; and the armed forces of the United States and other armed forces that will be working with us and are working with us now, such as the United Kingdom, will not lose faith in their ability to bring this to a successful conclusion, and to rip up the al-Qaida network and to bring Usama bin Laden to justice.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Bob.

END