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GUEST: Vice President DICK CHENEY
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information
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doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS (202)885-4598
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 we’ve 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 it’s been focused very much on
trying to manage the crisis and to deal with the problems of the
immediate situation. But yesterday we’ve 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.” There’s an expectation in the
country that we’re 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 we’re faced with here is a situation where terrorism is struck
home in the United States. We’ve 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, it’s a qualitatively
different set of circumstances.
also important for people to understand that this is a long-term
proposition. It’s 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. It’s Arabic for “The Base.”
MR. RUSSERT: That’s Osama bin Laden.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: He headed it up and organized it, but it’s
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. There’s not going to be an end date that we say,
“There, it’s all over with.” It’s going to require constant
vigilance on our part to avoid problems in the future, but it’s 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 wasn’t
successfully hijacked, are they still at large in the United States?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t 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 didn’t 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 that’s all there
is. There may well be other operations that have been planned and
are, in fact, in the works.
RUSSERT: When the president said, “Everyone in uniform get ready,”
did that — does that suggest a massive call-up of reserves?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We’ve 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, we’re 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 — that’s different here,
what’s changed in terms of U.S. policy, is the president’s
determination to also go after those nations and organizations and
people that lend support to these terrorist operators.
If you’ve 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
MR. RUSSERT: Full
wrath. That’s a very strong statement to the Afghans this morning.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It is, indeed. It
MR. RUSSERT: The
president said that Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect. Why?
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. We’re able to tell — going back now
looking at relationships and the way they’ve operated in the past,
we’re quite confident that, in fact, as the president said, he is
the prime suspect. That doesn’t mean we know all there is to know
yet. That doesn’t mean there weren’t 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 we’ve
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?
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 that’s sort of a trend that you see all the time in
these kinds of reports. But we didn’t...
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, it’s 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 that’s 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 it’s very simple. It
doesn’t 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
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 it’s 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 we’ve dealt with the problem. I’m sure they’re out
there right now thinking about new, creative ways to come after us
that don’t involve any of those techniques at all, but something
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
we’ll play it right now. These are followers of his chanting, “We
have to fight every day, even to the shedding of blood in God’s
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.” That’s 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.” What’s
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 he’s filled with hate for the United States and for
everything we stand for...
VICE PRES. CHENEY:
...freedom and democracy.
RUSSERT: Why does he hate us so much?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It must have something to do with his
background, his own upbringing. He’s 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 he’s
not going to be successful. And...
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 this event?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. The fact of the matter is
that the-we’ll not allow him to achieve his aims. We’re 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, I’m
convinced eventually we’ll 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. He’s 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 we’re coming in and taking him”?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We could say such a thing.
MR. RUSSERT: Legally?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, legally certainly. I’ll
simply restate again, Tim, I don’t 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
MR. RUSSERT: You’re
convinced he’s still in Afghanistan?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t 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 I’d 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. We’ve seen our NATO allies for the first time
in history invoke Article 5, an attack against one is an attack
against all. It’s 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
it’s an attack not just upon the United States but upon, you know,
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
it’s 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 we’ve 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: I’ve 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. They’ve 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
that’s covered in the statement they’ve made there.
MR. RUSSERT: They will get more assistance from
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, we’d
like to be able to work with them. You’ve got to remember,
Pakistan’s been a close friend and ally of the United States in the
past. The relationship’s 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 we’re
clearly in a situation here where that relationship is important.
It’s important to us. It’s 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 there’s nothing wrong with providing economic
rewards for helpful behavior.
PRES. CHENEY: No. I think you’re going to want both the carrot and
the stick approach.
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?
PRES. CHENEY: Well, we’re clearly very sensitive to those kinds of
problems. Any time you’re 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 we’re
well aware of all that. But it also — it’s one of the reasons,
frankly, you’ll 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 we’re going to have to operate in
if we’re going to be successful. And again, the key here to keep in
mind is that what we’re asking nations to do, and which the Paks
have clearly made a decision to do, is we’re asking nations to step
up and be counted. They’re 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 it’s a fairly clear-cut choice. And
I’m delighted to see that Pakistan has, in fact, stepped up to the
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
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I
think you’ve got to recognize from the standpoint of the Saudis, for
example, they’re 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 Mubarak’s 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 it’s 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 they’ll be prepared to help us.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, how difficult
and delicate is it to send this message that we’re 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. It’s 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. We’ve got a great many Arab Americans, for example,
who are first class, loyal American citizens. We need to make
certain that we don’t 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, that’s not the
case. They are as appalled by it as we are.
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 we’re considering, in that kind of minute magnitude?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I’m 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 world’s finest military. They’ve 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. We’ve 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 we’re going to be
successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s
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 we’ll see a very thorough sort of
reassessment of how we operate and the kinds of people we deal with.
There’s — if you’re going to deal only with sort of officially
approved, certified good guys, you’re 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, you’re 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. I’m 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 their mission.
RUSSERT: These terrorists play by a whole set of different rules.
It’s 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 bombing.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah, the — I think it’s — the thing that I
sense — and, of course, that’s 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.
CHENEY: No. No. He’s the target at the moment. But I don’t 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 won’t. You’ve
got this organization, as I say, called al-Qaida. It’s — somebody
described it the other day as — it’s 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 that’s 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.
RUSSERT: You wouldn’t 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 there’s a track
record there, would we have any reluctance of going after Saddam
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do we have evidence that
he’s harboring terrorists?
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 Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we
continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are
MR. RUSSERT: Do we have
any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
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?
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, that’s 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
MR. RUSSERT: The national
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. I’d given word to Andy
Card’s 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 don’t 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
they’re 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, it’s 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.
MR. RUSSERT: This is Flight 77, which had left Dulles.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Which turned out
to be Flight 77. It left Dulles, flown west towards Ohio, been
captured by the terrorists. They turned off the transponder, which
led to a later report that a plane had gone down in Ohio, but it
really hadn’t. Of course, then they turned back and headed back
towards Washington. As best we can tell, they came initially at the
White House and...
MR. RUSSERT: The
plane actually circled the White House?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Didn’t circle it, but was headed on a track
into it. The Secret Service has an arrangement with the F.A.A. They
had open lines after the World Trade Center was...
MR. RUSSERT: Tracking it by radar.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: And when it entered the danger zone
and looked like it was headed for the White House was when they
grabbed me and evacuated me to the basement. The plane obviously
didn’t hit the White House. It turned away and, we think, flew a
circle and came back in and then hit the Pentagon. And that’s what
the radar track looks like. The result of that — once I got down
into the shelter, the first thing I did — there’s a secure phone
there. First thing I did was pick up the telephone and call the
president again, who was still down in Florida, at that point, and
strongly urged him to delay his return.
MR. RUSSERT: You told him to stay away from Washington.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I said, ‘Delay
your return. We don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks like,
you know, we’ve been targeted.’
RUSSERT: Why did you make that judgment?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, it goes to — you know, sort of my
basic role as vice president is to worry about presidential
succession. And my job, above all other things, is to be prepared to
take over if something happens to the president. But over the years
from my time with President Ford, as secretary of Defense, on the
Intel Committee and so forth, I’ve been involved in a number of
programs that were aimed at ensuring presidential succession. We did
a lot of planning during the Cold War, Tim, with respect to the
possibility of a nuclear incident. And one of the key requirements
always is to protect the presidency. It’s not about George Bush or
Dick Cheney. It’s about the occupant in the office. And one of the
things that we did later on that day were tied directly to
guaranteeing presidential succession, and that our enemies, whoever
they might be, could not decapitate the federal government and leave
us leaderless in a moment of crisis. That’s why, for example, when
we have a State of the Union speech and we’ve got the entire
government assembled — the president, vice president, congressional
leaders, Cabinet and so forth — we always leave a Cabinet member
out. He’s always taken to a secure location and set up there in case
something should happen in the House chambers so we still have a
MR. RUSSERT: Did you have
any role in Speaker Hastert...
PRES. CHENEY: Yes.
...speaker of the House being taken away?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We evacuated Speaker Hastert to a secure
facility, and later, the rest of the congressional leadership. I
also ordered the evacuation of Cabinet members. And so we sent Tommy
Thompson, Ann Veneman, Gale Norton also up to a secure facility. And
in the days since, we’ve always
maintained to say — I’ve spent a good deal of my time up at
Camp David since the president returned to the White House just so
we weren’t both together in the same place so we could ensure the
survival of the government.
president was on Air Force One. We received a threat to Air Force
One — came through the Secret Service...
MR. RUSSERT: A credible threat to Air Force One. You’re
convinced of that.
VICE PRES. CHENEY:
I’m convinced of that. Now, you know, it may have been phoned in by
a crank, but in the midst of what was going on, there was no way to
know that. I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret
Service to bring it to me. Once I left that immediate shelter, after
I talked to the president, urged him to stay away for now, well, I
went down into what’s call a PEOC, the Presidential Emergency
Operations Center, and there, I had Norm Mineta...
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Transportation.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: ...secretary of
Transportation, access to the FAA. I had Condi Rice with me and
several of my key staff people. We had access, secured
communications with Air Force One, with the secretary of Defense
over in the Pentagon. We had also the secure videoconference that
ties together the White House, CIA, State, Justice, Defense — a very
useful and valuable facility. We have the counterterrorism task
force up on that net. And so I was in a position to be able to see
all the stuff coming in, receive reports and then make decisions in
terms of acting with it. But when I arrived there within a short
order, we had word the Pentagon’s been hit. We had word the State
Department had been bombed, that a car bomb had gone off at the
State Department. Turned out not to be true, but we didn’t know that
at the time. We had a report that Norm had provided that there were
six airplanes that might have been hijacked, and that’s what we
started working off of, was that list of six.
Now we could account for two of them in New York. The
third one we didn’t know what had happened to it. It turned out it
had hit the Pentagon. But the first reports on the Pentagon attack
suggested a helicopter, and then later, a private jet, and it was
only after we got ahold of some eyewitnesses that we knew it was an
American Airlines flight. So then we had three planes accounted for,
but we still have had three outstanding.
We had reports of planes down in Ohio, turned out not to be
true; down in Pennsylvania; turned out that was true. And all of
that — excuse me — added with the report of a prospective attack on
Air Force One itself, we’d have been absolute fools not to go into
button down mode, make sure we had successors evacuated, make sure
the president was safe and secure. Offutt was a good location for
that purpose, and also the president...
MR. RUSSERT: In Nebraska.
PRES. CHENEY: In Nebraska.
RUSSERT: Are you convinced there were only four hijackings, that
there were not other hijacks attempted that we don’t know about?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don’t know. We
know there were four, of course. I don’t think until we’ve completed
our investigation, looked at all the ties and relationships, we’ll
be able to say that there were no other plans for additional planes.
MR. RUSSERT: When you made the
recommendation to the president, “Stay where you are, go to a secure
facility in Nebraska,” were you ever concerned, did it ever enter
your thought process that there would be criticism of the president
for not coming back to Washington during a crisis?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I didn’t really think about it. I
mean, it was such a clear-cut case, in my estimation, that the most
important thing here is to preserve the presidency. We don’t know
what’s happening. We know Washington’s under attack. We don’t know
by who, we don’t know how many additional planes are coming. We
don’t know what all is planned for us, at this point. Within about
35 or 40 minutes, we’d seen this unfolding of this monstrous
terrorist attack, and it was absolutely the right decision. I have
no qualms about it at all. The president wanted to come back. We
talked repeatedly during the course of the day. He made it clear he
wanted him back as soon as we thought it made sense. The Secret
Service did not want him back. They even talked to me to try to get
me to evacuate a couple of times, but I didn’t want to leave the
node that we’d established there, in terms of having all of this
capability tied together by communications where we could, in fact,
make decisions and act. And if I’d have left, gotten on a helicopter
and launched out of the White House, all of that would have been
broken down. And we had the presidential succession pretty well
guaranteed, so I thought it was appropriate for me to stay in the
MR. RUSSERT: Symbolisms
are so important to terrorists. The fact that George Bush stayed at
the White House, you came to Camp David. Are you concerned that that
sends a mixed message to the terrorists that they can disrupt our
government, or do you err on the side of caution and safety and keep
the two key leaders separated?
PRES. CHENEY: Well, we erred on the side of, I’d say,
responsibility. The — when something like this happens, we’ve got
certain obligations and responsibilities you’ve got to carry out.
And those took priority. They did for the president. They did for
me. Also with modern communications — I mean, the president was in
touch with me throughout the day. We talked repeatedly. He made some
key decisions that were very important to the operation. Once he got
to Offutt, he convened a meeting of the National Security Council
again using the secure video conference hookup and...
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the most important decision
you think he made during the course of the day?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, the — I suppose the toughest
decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept
incoming commercial aircraft.
RUSSERT: And you decided?
CHENEY: We decided to do it. We’d, in effect, put a flying combat
air patrol up over the city; F-16s with an AWACS, which is an
airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a
long time. It doesn’t do any good to put up a combat air patrol if
you don’t give them instructions to act, if, in fact, they feel it’s
MR. RUSSERT: So if the
United States government became aware that a hijacked commercial
airline was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would
take the plane down?
CHENEY: Yes. The president made the decision, on my recommendation
as well, wholeheartedly concurred in the decision he made, that if
the plane would not divert, if they wouldn’t pay any attention to
instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort, our
pilots were authorized to take them out. Now, people say, you know,
that’s a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You’ve got an
airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by hostages,
captured by terrorists, headed and are you going to, in fact, shoot
it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board? And you
have to ask yourself, “If we had had combat air patrol up over New
York and we’d had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that
hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing
that?” I think absolutely we would have. Now, it turned out we did
not have to execute on that authorization. But there were some — a
few moments when we thought we might, when planes were incoming and
we didn’t know whether or not they were a problem aircraft until
they’d diverted and gone elsewhere and been able to resolve it.
MR. RUSSERT: And that will be the
policy of the United States in the future?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, the president will, I’m sure, make a
decision, if those circumstances arise again. It’s a
presidential-level decision, and the president made, I think,
exactly the right call in this case, to say, “I wished we’d had
combat air patrol up over New York.”
MR. RUSSERT: More and more, Mr. Vice President, we’re finding
out, it appears, that the fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania
crashed because of some real heroism by Americans. Jeremy Glick had
received a — called his wife to say he’d been hijacked. She informed
him that two planes had struck the World Trade Center. And he said,
“I think we have to do something.”
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It’s true. I think the Washington part of
the attack was significantly interfered with. I’m speculating. Some
of this is informed speculation; some of it’s based on some
evidence. But clearly, we know the plane that crashed outside
Pittsburgh was headed for Washington. We know it was part of the
scheme. Mr. Glick and others — Mr. Burnett — were very courageous
when they made that decision, knowing that they were doomed.
MR. RUSSERT: And you’ve told his wife
that, haven’t you?
VICE PRES. CHENEY:
I called Mrs. Glick yesterday, as a matter of fact. Haven’t been
able to reach Mrs. Burnett yet, but I’m going to call her, too. And
I’m sure there were probably others on the aircraft who helped, but
what they did was to foil, I think, the attack on Washington. My
guess is, speculation, that target probably would have been the
Capitol building. It’s big; it’s easy to hit. I think one of the
reasons that the White House did not get hit, I think it turned out
to be tougher to see than they had anticipated. When you come in
from the west, as American 77 did, unless you get up altitude a
ways, you can’t see the White House because the Executive Office
Building is there.
MR. RUSSERT: And
Treasury on the other side.
PRES. CHENEY: Treasury on the other side. And I’m speculating that
the lack of ability to be able to acquire it visually may, in fact,
have led them to go back.
RUSSERT: Gave it up as a target...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah.
RUSSERT: ...and went to the Pentagon, which is clearly visible?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: And went to the
Pentagon instead. And speculation on my part. We’ll never know for
sure. But without question, the attack would have been much worse if
it hadn’t been for the courageous acts of those individuals on
MR. RUSSERT: Two important
symbols. Should the World Trade Center be rebuilt?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think we clearly want to redevelop
that area. Exactly what it ought to — what it ought to look like and
what will go in there, those are decisions that are going to have to
be made by New York officials. But the president’s very interested
in supporting those efforts, and I’m absolutely convinced that
that’s the right thing to do. We don’t let terrorists prevail in
this day and age.
MR. RUSSERT: Should
Ronald Reagan National Airport be re-opened?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We’ve got to find ways to deal with
that problem. It’s been controversial from time to time over the
years. But, of course, we’ve always kept Ronald Reagan open because
of its location. It’s very convenient for people living in
Washington. The problem we have is, of course, that on the approach
or takeoff from Reagan, you fly right up the Potomac and you’re
within seconds or a minute or two of being able to hit the White
House, the Congress, important facilities in Washington. And finding
the way to deal with those circumstances is going to have to
precede, I think, a re-opening of the airport.
MR. RUSSERT: So it may be closed for some time.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know yet.
I mean, Norm Mineta is working aggressively on this and — but we did
— especially this week, we wanted to be supercautious. As long as
there was the possibility there might be other teams out there that,
in fact, planned the same kind of operation that the terrorists
undertook on Tuesday. We thought it was prudent to keep it closed
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Vice
President, we have to take a quick break. We’ll be right back with
more of our discussion with Vice President Dick Cheney. We’re at
Greentop in the shadows of Camp David. Be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: A lot more questions for the vice president of
the United States, Dick Cheney, right after this.
RUSSERT: And we are back talking to Vice President Dick Cheney. He’s
been here at Camp David speaking with the president and the national
security team for the last 36 hours at least. Mr. Vice President, a
lot of discussion as to our preparedness. The first hijacking was
confirmed at 8:20, the Pentagon was struck at 9:40, and yet, it
seems we were not able to scramble fighter jets in time to protect
the Pentagon and perhaps even more than that. There have been at
least five serious reports on domestic terrorism, how to cope with
it, one given to you in May, Cheney to Lead Anti-Terrorism Plan.
Were we ready for this?
CHENEY: Were we ready for it? I think the agencies responded very
well once it happened. I think the courage and the bravery of the
men and women of New York, for example, the first responders, if you
will, fire and rescue teams, many of whom gave their lives when the
towers collapsed, was superb. I don’t think you can take anything
away from them. But the problem you have here — I mean, if you think
about it from the standpoint of aircraft — do we train our pilots to
shoot down commercial airliners filled with American civilians? No.
That’s not a mission they’ve ever been given before. Now we’ve got
to think about that. With respect to the intelligence area, there’ll
be, I’m sure, a lot of sort of Monday morning quarterbacking,
second-guessing, if you will, about whether or not there was an
intelligence failure. Clearly, we did not learn of this operation or
we would have stopped it if we had. But I think it’s important to
remember that our men and women in the intelligence business out
there all over the world 365 days a year, defending and protecting
us, oftentimes very successful, oftentimes in ways we can never talk
about, but we clearly need to do everything we can to forestall
those kinds of activities by improving our intelligence
capabilities, and this offers a lot of lessons learned.
At the same time, the key, though, is to go
eliminate the terrorists. We may never have 100 percent perfection
in terms of our intelligence capabilities to be able to penetrate
and know about all these kinds of operations — Timothy McVeigh, for
example, in Oklahoma City. But if we go after the terrorists, if we
deny them sanctuary, if we take out their bases and their locations
where they operate, that’s probably the most effective way to deal
with this threat. But we have to recognize, no matter how good we
are, no matter how aggressively we pursue this, we’re likely to be
subject to that partly by the very nature of our society. We’re an
open society, we love it that way, that’s very important to preserve
that, and not to let the terrorists win by turning ourselves into
some kind of police state.
RUSSERT: The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said this
is a failure of great dimension in terms of intelligence. Will
George Tenet remain as director of the CIA?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think George clearly should remain as
director of the CIA. I think — I’ve had great confidence in him.
I’ve watched him operate now and worked closely with him for the
last seven or eight months. I think he and his people do superb work
for us. And I think it would be a tragedy if somehow we were to go
back now in the search for scapegoats and say that George Tenet or
any other official ought to be eliminated at this point. I don’t
think you can say that.
When Air Force One returned to Washington, we saw it accompanied by
VICE PRES. CHENEY:
MR. RUSSERT: General Norman
Schwarzkopf, a man you know well, has suggested that perhaps in the
short term, at least, Air Force One should be accompanied by fighter
jets while flying over the United States just as a precaution.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Perhaps. I don’t
know that we’ve made that judgment yet, that decision yet. You know,
what happened on Tuesday — of course, once we got all the aircraft
grounded, that gave us a fairly high degree of confidence that we
were in control. The problem was, there were some 2,000 aircraft up
when this operation started, and it took several hours to get them
all down. And as long as there were aircraft up and there was a
report of a threat against Air Force One, and there were aircraft we
couldn’t account for, that might, in fact, have been taken by the
terrorists, flying cover for Air Force One was very important.
MR. RUSSERT: Would we consider using
fighter jets to protect Air Force One for the short...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think if we believe it’s
necessary, we absolutely will.
RUSSERT: In Europe, the government provides security at the
airports, highly trained, well-paid specialists. Here in the United
States, it’s a low-paying job hired by the airlines. Would we
consider having the government take over airline security, airport
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We’re
clearly going to have to look at this whole question and find ways
to improve and enhance our security, without a doubt. And it’s going
to be a prime focus for Norm Mineta and the folks over at the F.A.A.
Exactly what the answer ought to be, Tim, I don’t have enough
information now to be able to judge that. But without question, this
was a significant failure there in the sense that they were able to
take four aircraft. But again, they didn’t do it with guns or
explosives; they did it with knives.
MR. RUSSERT: The airline industry is losing $300 million a
day, several teetering on bankruptcy or at least Chapter 11. Would
you support a federal bailout of both loans and grants and
assistance to the airline industry?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: The president hasn’t really taken a
position on any particular piece of legislation. And I think we’re
very interested in finding ways to make certain that in this
particular instance, there is no sort of permanent damage, if you
will, to our civil aviation capacity. It’s very important. We’ve got
people — Norm Mineta’s working on it. Larry Lindsey, who heads the
economic council, is heavily engaged in it. We’re working with the
airlines, and I’m sure we’ll come up with some...
MR. RUSSERT: So you’re open to the concept?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: About a week ago, we were all discussing
the so-called Social Security trust fund and who...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: And the lockbox.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and the lockbox...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and who spent the surplus. Is that
debate now moot?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I
think so. I certainly hope so. I think, you know, we’ve all been
concerned to make certain we protect Social Security. But we clearly
have a situation here — and that debate was a little bit fallacious
anyway, because, in fact, there was never any question but what the
United States government was going to pay its obligations to our
seniors. We’ve never defaulted on a debt since Alexander Hamilton
was Treasury secretary, so that’s never really been an issue. But
clearly, at this stage, we do have a surplus that’s generated
primarily by the payroll tax, and as has been true oftentimes in the
past, that comes in, we were using it to retire debt. Clearly, some
of it now is going to be used to meet this emergency, the urgent
supplemental that the Congress passed this weekend of some $40
billion; take those steps we need to take, both to recover from this
attack, as well as to do everything we can to prevent future ones.
MR. RUSSERT: The president said he
would use the Social Security surplus in case of war and/or
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Do we now have both war
VICE PRES. CHENEY:
Quite possibly. We clearly have a war against terrorism and we don’t
know yet what the third quarter is going to be like. But if the
economists come in and revise the second quarter down into negative
territory in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth and the third
quarter, fourth quarter-third quarter of the calendar year, fourth
quarter of the fiscal year...
RUSSERT: And the economic shock from this.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yeah. If that comes in negative, then we’ll
have the definition of two negative quarters. That would qualify as
MR. RUSSERT: What about
the debate over missile defense? Many Democrats are saying this now
proves that our focus should be on terrorism and counterterrorism
and preparedness, and that the primary threat is not something the
missile defense could take care of.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I just fundamentally disagree. I
mean, there’s no question but what there’s a threat on the terrorist
front, and we’ve got to deal with that. We’ve been work it. We’ll
continue to work it. But there are also-this does not, in any way,
diminish the threat with respect to ballistic missiles down the
road. A ballistic missile equipped with a weapon of mass
destruction, a nuke, for example, a nuclear weapon would be far more
devastating than what we just went through. If one of those was to
hit one of our cities or to hit a major base overseas where US
forces are deployed, the casualty list would be higher. The
consequences would be even greater than the terrible tragedy we’ve
just been through.
MR. RUSSERT: So we
can afford this war on terrorism and a missile defense system?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don’t see, Tim,
how anybody can argue that we cannot afford to defend America, and
we’re going to have to defend it against conventional threats. We’re
going to have to defend it against ballistic missile threats. We’re
going to have to defend it against the threat of terrorism. And I
think for public officials to argue because we got hit with a
terrorist assault, we should ignore the ballistic missile threat out
there strikes me as irresponsible.
MR. RUSSERT: The stock market has been closed since Tuesday.
It reopens tomorrow. Are you concerned?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think that our economy is strong. I do
believe the market’s going to open tomorrow. That’s clearly the
current plan and expectation. I would hope — I’m not an investor
anymore, because I had to get out of the market since I’m now a
public official. But I would hope the American people would, in
effect, stick their thumb in the eye of the terrorists and say that
they’ve got great confidence in the country, great confidence in our
economy, and not let what’s happened here in any way throw off their
normal level of economic activity. We look forward to recovery later
this year from the slowdown period that we’ve been through, and I
have every confidence that that will, in fact, happen.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you ever consider undoing or
holding off or triggering part of the tax cut in the future if the
resources were necessary?
CHENEY: No, I think the tax cut’s crucial. And that’s exactly what
we needed in terms of the slowdown. Having the tax cut out there now
means we’re going to have a more robust year than would have been
the case without the tax cut. It’s a key piece of stimulus. And I
think the president did exactly the right thing.
MR. RUSSERT: There is such fervor, such emotion, such
anger in the country right now. And as we conduct this war against
terrorism, as you said, it’s going to take, days, months, years.
What do we ask of the American people? Will they have to sacrifice
in order to help win this war?
PRES. CHENEY: I guess I would ask vigilance. Be aware of what’s
going on around you. Don’t operate on the assumption that somehow
because we live behind two oceans we’re immune to attack. We now
know we’re not. I would ask, obviously, that they be understanding,
if you will, of the importance of the effort that we’re going to
have to undertake here. We may end up, you know, with more stringent
security measures at airports and things like that. But I think
there’s a unity and a spirit out there that I’ve not seen for a long
time in this country. And I see it on Capitol Hill between
Republicans and Democrats. I see it — the workers who were cleaning
up the mess in New York where the president visited yesterday. I see
it in the people I’ve talked with. And I think we have to recognize
we are the strongest, most powerful nation on Earth. We’ve got a
tremendous set of accomplishments and an enormously bright future
ahead of us. There are those in the world who hate us and that will
do everything they can to impose pain, and we can’t let them win.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll find them.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We’ll find them.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, we
thank you for inviting us up to the mountains here with you, and
we’ll be watching you very carefully.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Like all of you, I have spent this week wiping my
eyes and grinding my teeth and wondering why. I’ve drawn strength
from a story about a man I knew, Father Michael Judge. The chaplain
of the New York City Fire Department, a Franciscan, he raced to the
World Trade Center after the explosion to comfort the injured. While
administering the last rites to a dying rescue worker, he, himself,
was killed by flying debris.
York’s bravest physically carried Father Mike away. They brought his
body first to the altar of St. Peter’s Church, where it would be
safe, then to their firehouse on 31st Street, Hook and Ladder
Company Number 24, directly across from the friary where he lived.
They wrapped him in sheets and placed him in one of their own bunks.
They asked his fellow Franciscans to cross the street and join them.
Together —f iremen, priests, and brothers — wept and sang the prayer
of St. Francis, “May the Lord bless and keep you and show his face
to you and have mercy on you.” That is the way of New York. That is
the spirit of America. From February 1945 at Iwo Jima to September
2001 at the World Trade Center.