of State Colin Powell
Interview on CNN's Late Edition
Washington, D. C.
September 16, 2001
MR. BLITZER: Now let's go back to the diplomatic effort involving the United
States to try to put together a coalition against terrorism. Earlier today I
spoke with the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. Who is responsible for these
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the prime suspect, I think, is the al-Qaida organization,
which is essentially a holding company of terrorist organizations that have
worldwide presence. And the head of the al-Qaida organization is Usama bin Laden.
Now, the evidence is still mounting but certainly that organization, al-Qaida,
is the prime suspect.
MR. BLITZER: Do you believe that other terrorist organizations were cooperating
with al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden?
SECRETARY POWELL: We don't have enough information yet to make that case, but
we are looking at every lead we have. Right now, the prime suspect is al-Qaida,
which is headed by Usama bin Laden.
MR. BLITZER: Is there any evidence that any state in the region or around the
world may have supported, financed, directed, this operation?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have not seen any such links yet, but you can believe we
are working hard to see whether such links exist.
MR. BLITZER: How do you do that? How do you find out if there are such links?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, the FBI and other agencies of government
are hard at work. Some 4,000 FBI agents are working on this. And as they look
at those 19 terrorists who killed themselves September 11th, they will start
to turn up leads. And they'll follow those leads and follow them wherever it
takes them, one, to make sure there are no other terrorists loose in the country,
and, if there, let's get after them and get on them and roll it up; and also,
to find out the origins of this group and to go after those origins and pull
up the sources and to find those who gave them haven, those who gave them support,
those who gave them financial support, and start ripping up this entire network.
That is why we keep saying it's going to be a long-term campaign against this
enemy, whether it is al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization that comes
after us, our interests, or, frankly, those after the civilized world.
MR. BLITZER: When you say long term, how long?
SECRETARY POWELL: We're probably going to be in the counter-terrorism business
at a very high level of intensity for as long as anyone can imagine, as long
as there are people out there who are willing to do the kinds of things those
terrorists did this week, then we're going to have to be on guard and constantly
looking for them, trying to penetrate them and trying to stop them -- and not
just respond to them, but to stop them; get ahead of them, to get inside their
MR. BLITZER: This is not weeks or months, but this is years?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, no. In the near term we will go after the specific organization
responsible for what happened at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon. And
we'll get the evidence and we'll get the goods on them. And we'll go after them.
And we've already started that. You've seen the diplomatic effort that we've
made over the last four or five days, which has produced results already. And
then we will do whatever is necessary to take care of this organization and
make sure they are not able to commit this kind of offense against us again
and against the civilized world.
It's important to remember that it's not just US citizens who were lost here.
Some 40 countries lost people in the World Trade Center. And they are all outraged.
The whole world is outraged over this kind of terrorist incident. And it has
to be a worldwide response, a worldwide campaign using all the tools that are
available to the United States and available to like-minded nations around the
world who see this as a scourge on the face of the Earth to do something about
MR. BLITZER: As you know, Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida, his organization, have
operated within Afghanistan, supported -- if you will -- by the Taliban regime
over there. The United States occasionally talks to the Taliban leadership.
What are you saying to them right now?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we're not talking to them right now. But I expect we
will be in the days ahead. And we are going to make it clear to them that they
must comply with previous directions they have received from the United Nations
and other organizations to stop this, to expel this organization, to destroy
this organization, or to help us to destroy this organization. And they will
be held accountable for the support they have given to this organization if
that's who we finally determine is responsible and we are going after them.
They will have to make their choice -- whether they want to be on the receiving
end of the full wrath of the United States and others, or whether they want
to get rid of this curse that they have within their country.
MR. BLITZER: Do you have any expectation that they will change their policy
and cooperate now with the US and the west and arrest, if you will, Usama bin
SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not carrying an expectation. The only thing I'm looking
for is results. They either do or they don't. It's binary -- yes or no. You
either respond to this crisis, this tragedy, this horrible thing that was perpetrated
by perhaps al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden. And all, all the indications point
in that direction. You either respond and rip them up, help us rip them up,
get rid of them, or you will suffer consequences.
MR. BLITZER: Now, specifically what does that mean to the Taliban, who may be
watching right now?
SECRETARY POWELL: They will --
MR. BLITZER: What kind of consequences will they suffer?
SECRETARY POWELL: They will suffer consequences. We have a variety of means
at our disposal, which are political, diplomatic, international, military, intelligence
-- lots of things that are available to us. All the elements of national power
will be brought to bear on this problem.
The Taliban have a problem right now in hosting this kind of regime, in the
form of the al-Qaida regime, the al-Qaida network, and those who support the
al-Qaida network. And they will have to make a choice as to whether or not they
are willing to pay the price that they may have to pay to continue to support
this kind of activity.
MR. BLITZER: As you well know, there have been reports over the years that this
organization, al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden's troops and forces, have also operated
in Yemen, in Sudan, and other countries. Are you giving them the same warning?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. We are talking to all of our friends and partners in
this coalition. And what we are saying to them, not necessarily a warning, but
saying to them, look, this is the time to end this. Whatever host support you
have been providing to this network, stop it. There are UN resolutions and there
are other directions from international communities that these things should
be ejected from your country, these kinds of cells, this kind of activity.
And we are just going to remind them of their responsibilities and let them
know it will be a means by which we measure our relationship with them in the
future. It's not necessarily a warning; it's just a clear statement of fact
and principle. We are going after them, and you can either help us go after
them, and if you choose not to help us go after them, this will have an effect
on the relationship that we have with you.
MR. BLITZER: There are reports this morning that the Government of Pakistan
is now about to send a delegation into Afghanistan and demand the arrest of
Usama bin Laden. Did you ask Pakistan to do that?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have asked Pakistan for a number of things. I have seen
that report, and our Ambassador in Islamabad is in touch with Pakistani authorities.
And I know the Pakistani Ambassador will be on your show a little later this
morning. But I cannot confirm yet exactly what the Pakistanis might be doing
I know that there is movement in such a direction, and I know that the Pakistanis
have made some contacts in the UN on such a move. But we will wait to see, but
I am not in a position right now to confirm it.
MR. BLITZER: Have you been in direct touch -- I know the President has spoken
to President Musharraf, Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan. What specifically
has the United States asked Pakistan to do?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, the President did speak to him yesterday.
I spoke to President Musharraf several days earlier and Deputy Secretary Armitage
spoke to some associates of the president who were in town. And we gave them
a list of things that we thought they should be responsive to, and we would
be giving them greater specificity with respect to what we wanted off that list
in due course.
But since that is a matter of, as you can imagine, sensitive diplomatic discussions
between the two sides, I think it's best that we follow up on that list. They
have come forward with a very supportive statement. They have said yes. And
President Musharraf said that to President Bush against last night. And so what
we now have to do is send a team to Islamabad as soon as we have a better idea
of what we will need and what kind of support might be required, and talk directly
to our Pakistani friends.
MR. BLITZER: When will that team leave, and who will head the delegation?
SECRETARY POWELL: It's not yet been decided, but I am sure it will not be in
the distant future -- I would expect in the very near future, the next several
days. And we will put the team together and determine who the head will be,
and when they go over they will also be working with our ambassador, Ambassador
Wendy Chamberlain, who has been doing such a great job over the last four days.
MR. BLITZER: One of the statements issued by the Government of Pakistan is that
they will cooperate as long as you don't get the Israelis and the Indians --
the Government of Israel and the Government of India involved in this because
presumably they would be embarrassed. What is your reaction to that?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we'll see what their position is. We'll talk to them.
And right now, you know, we are not planning a -- we do not have a multi-national
force going anywhere yet. And so we understand the sensitivities that would
be involved in anything that might involve India or Israel. And we will take
those sensitivities into account. At the end of the day we will do what we think
is appropriate and necessary.
MR. BLITZER: Have the Pakistanis agreed to allow the US to go over their air
space with missiles or with planes if, in fact, there is going to be a military
operation aimed at Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POWELL: What we are going to do is sit down with the Pakistanis and
discuss with them what we might need. I don't want to give any indication or
hints as to what might or might not be planned as a military operation or a
diplomatic operation or any kind of international initiative at this time.
MR. BLITZER: What about their ground positions as staging points? Or their ports
for US naval vessels to --
SECRETARY POWELL: We have not approached them yet on any specific requirements.
And when we do it will be in a confidential channel so we are not giving any
indication of what we might or might not be doing militarily.
MR. BLITZER: If you look at the map of Afghanistan, it's landlocked. To the
north is Uzbekistan, one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. Is there
any need for cooperation, for example, from Uzbekistan?
SECRETARY POWELL: We will be talking to the Uzbek authorities. There may be
something they can assist us with. But we will explore that with them. They
have been forthcoming.
MR. BLITZER: And as you know to the west is Iran. Any prospect at all of seeking
and receiving cooperation from Iran?
SECRETARY POWELL: Iran has always had difficulty with the Taliban regime and
recognized the nature of that regime. And they gave a rather forthcoming statement
of condolence and how there might be ways of cooperating with us in the response
to what happened. But at the same time we have always seen Iran as a state that
sponsors terrorism. So we will explore what they have said to us without making
any commitments, of course.
And if they are interested in fighting terrorism, it has to be terrorism not
just related to this incident but terrorism of the kind that they have sponsored
in the past. So if this represents a new page in Iranian thinking, then let's
see what's written on that new page.
But we're prepared to explore. But we have no illusions about the nature of
the Iranian regime.
MR. BLITZER: So you would want them specifically, for example, to back off in
their support of Hezbollah?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, they can't say we will help you fighting terrorism here
but we will not help you fighting terrorism elsewhere. Terrorism is terrorism.
And Hezbollah is a threat to the region, just as al-Qaida is a threat to the
world. And I think we have to see this not only as a struggle against what happened
the other day and a struggle against al-Qaida, if that's who we ultimately determine
we should go against. But there are other acts of terrorism that take place
perpetrated by other terrorist organizations. And so it is a scourge, as I said
before, against civilization. And we have to go against this scourge in the
most comprehensive way possible.
MR. BLITZER: Are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other states in the Gulf, in the Persian
Gulf region with whom the United States has close relations, are they ready
to cooperate militarily with the United States in this new war?
SECRETARY POWELL: They are ready to cooperate. They have all been supportive.
Now, we have not asked them for any particular military components of that cooperation
yet, but I have been very impressed by the speed with which our moderate Arab
friends in the region have come forward to express condolence and also show
support. Saudi Arabia particularly reminded everybody that they stripped Usama
bin Laden of his citizenship years ago and consider him a disgrace to his Saudi
heritage. Senior Saudi clerics have spoken out strongly against this kind of
activity in the last several days. I am pleased with that.
We have also heard from Israel and so many other friends. So lots of people
are coming forward. But we haven't placed any specific military requirements
or demands or requests on any of them yet.
MR. BLITZER: Where does the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, fit into this entire
scenario for war?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, he is one of the more despicable persons on the face
of the Earth, and we have not heard of course -- and wouldn't expect to hear
from the Iraqis -- any sense of understanding of this loss of life and the fact
that not just the United States, but 40 other nations, to include Arab nations
who lost lives in the World Trade Center. So far, we have not discerned any
link between the Iraqi Government and what happened the other day, but we are
certainly examining links that might exist between what happened the other day
and any country and any terrorist organization in the world. We are determined
to run this to ground, get them out of their holes, pull it all out, see what's
there, and then deal with it.
MR. BLITZER: Over the years since your experience as a young officer in Vietnam
and during the course of your more subsequent experience, you have come up with
what is called The Powell Doctrine: a defined mission, overwhelming force, exit
Let's go through that right now. What is the defined mission?
SECRETARY POWELL: To make sure that nothing like this happens again; and to
make sure nothing like this happens again by going after the sources, the terrorist
sources and those who harbor terrorist activities and terrorist groups; and
destroying those networks, those groups; and making sure it is no longer in
anyone's interest to harbor or provide haven to such groups.
MR. BLITZER: It sounds like a very broadly defined mission.
SECRETARY POWELL: It isn't. No, I think it's pretty specific. It is a broad
mission, but it is a very specific mission.
MR. BLITZER: Overwhelming force. What should that require?
SECRETARY POWELL: It requires political, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement,
financial and military effort -- all coming together in a campaign. And nobody
should think this is going to be we go in and it's over in two days and we're
out. This is going to change the way we do business. It's going to change the
way we go about our daily life here in the United States. It is going to require
a greater emphasis on homeland defense so we can defend ourselves against those
who, notwithstanding our best efforts overseas, are still trying to get into
the country to hurt us. And so we should see this as a long-term campaign, and
do apply decisive force to it. And that force isn't just military force; it's
all the elements of national power that are at our disposal.
MR. BLITZER: Presumably, beyond the 50,000 reservists and National Guard troops
who are being activated, the number could go way up.
SECRETARY POWELL: But don't just see it in terms of activating reservists. The
Pentagon has a fabulous force, all of whom now want to be a part of this campaign.
But just don't see it in those distinctly military terms because, in fact, going
after a lot of these cells and finding these people, it's more an intelligence
war, and we have got a great intelligence community. It's a law enforcement
war. It's finding out how they get their finances, how do they move people,
how do they cover people when they get into a place like the United States.
They were in this country legally.
And so it's that kind of war which isn't just a military war. It's a different
kind of war. And the so-called Powell Doctrine, as you describe it, can cover
this kind of contingency as well: Use all the forces at your disposal, make
sure you know what you're going after, and stick with it until you succeed and
get that decisive victory.
MR. BLITZER: And what is the exit strategy?
SECRETARY POWELL: That was never part of the Powell Doctrine, but I'll accept
the question. The exit strategy is when we know that the American people are
living in safety without this kind of a threat. And it may be a long time before
we can create such circumstances again, but we will get there because we are
a proud people, we are a strong people. Notwithstanding the depth of this tragedy
and the sadness it has inflicted upon our nation, look at the strength that
has emerged, look at how people are shaking each other's hands and hugging each
other again and going to our churches and mosques and synagogues and reinforcing
our belief in our society. They can knock down buildings, they can kill thousands
of us and cause so many Americans to grieve. They can't destroy our society.
They can't destroy who we are. They can't destroy America.
MR. BLITZER: Since 1976 when President Ford was in the White House, there has
been this executive order on the books. Let me read it to you. "No person
employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage
in or conspire to engage in assassination."
Is it time to change that?
SECRETARY POWELL: It is still on the books, and as part of our campaign plan
we are examining everything -- how the CIA does its work, how the FBI and Justice
Departments does its work. Are there laws that need to be changed or new laws
brought into effect to give us more ability to deal with this kind of threat?
So everything is under review.
MR. BLITZER: What is the difference now, as opposed to ten years ago when you
led the US military? You were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the Gulf War.
What is the biggest difference between this war and that war?
SECRETARY POWELL: That war was easy to see, easy to define, with an enemy that
essentially sat there waiting to be attacked when we finally did attack it.
In this case, the enemy is clever, more resourceful, broken down across the
world in many, many countries in small cells, doing everything to remain hidden,
with a long-time horizon. They will take months and years to plan an operation.
And so it is a much more difficult enemy to find and fix. But that's what we're
working on -- finding them and fixing them. And when we find them and fix them,
then we will go in and finish them.
MR. BLITZER: So what I am hearing you saying is that there still may be terrorists
at large even here in the United States right now?
SECRETARY POWELL: I can't ignore that possibility. It would be foolish to do
so. And I can assure you that the law enforcement activities of the United States
Government are following every lead. Four thousand FBI agents are working this
in the field. Another 3,000 support personnel are working. The CIA and many
other agencies are hard at work using their vast resources to go after this
problem and to deal with that possibility.
MR. BLITZER: And finally --
SECRETARY POWELL: At the same time, even though there may be people wandering
around, America has got to get back to work. We have got to get back to some
sense of normalcy. If we stick in our bunkers and walk around afraid, they will
have won. Well, we're not a fearful people. We know how to overcome tragedy
and we will restore a sense of normalcy to this society, to this country very
quickly in a way that will impress the world.
MR. BLITZER: On that note let me thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much.