Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show
The Pentagon
Arlington, Virginia
October 2, 2001
7:03 A.M. EDT

COURIC: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in charge of the military buildup for the war against terrorism. Just a few minutes ago I spoke with him and asked him if the U.S. was closer than ever to a military strike.

RUMSFELD: Well, as you know, President Bush has concluded -- properly, in my view -- that the only way to deal with the terrorist network and terrorists is to take the effort to them. You simply cannot defend at every place at every time against every terrorist technique.

And if you want to preserve your way of life and your free way of life, the only thing to do is to go after the terrorists where they are. And the al Qaeda organization is indeed one of the principal terrorist networks, although not the only one, and al Qaeda has its activities in some 50 to 60 countries.

COURIC: So what is the best approach? Is there any kind of disagreement within the administration? I know that you have said recently that we ultimately, over time, will be able to track down and make life so difficult, so uncomfortable, that people won't want to be in that business. How will the United States accomplish that goal?

RUMSFELD: Well, the only way it can be accomplished is by having a very broad-based effort that involves financial efforts, economic, political, diplomatic, as well as military, and I would say both overt and covert military, because the terrorist networks don't have, in many cases, high-asset-value targets. They don't have things that they value so much, because they live in the shadows.

So the only way to do it is to recognize it'll take time and to be persistent and to create a situation where those countries that are harboring terrorists decide it's not in their interest to do that.

COURIC: Secretary of State Colin Powell, in fact, said yesterday that President Bush had not ruled out an attack on Iraq. Is the administration planning to go after state sponsors of terrorism as well? I know this has been a subject that you all have been discussing.

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think the president has been very clear about that, that there are a number of states that have historically sponsored terrorism and that have been engaged in financing and fostering and facilitating, and in some cases tolerating terrorist attacks on other countries and other people. And certainly the president is focusing on all of those states and all of the networks that are engaged in that type of activity.

COURIC: And yet, Mr. Secretary, the Saudis and other Arab nations have warned that broadening the campaign, and broadening it to include other countries, would, in fact, shatter the coalition. So how do you balance those two goals?

RUMSFELD: I think the first thing to realize is there's not a single coalition. There are a number of groupings of countries. And some people will be supportive and helpful with respect to some aspects of this. Others will be not supportive with respect to a piece but supportive with respect to other elements.

So I think that it's going to be a series of coalitions that will be involved. Some countries will be helpful publicly and some countries are going to decide to be helpful privately but not publicly, for very good reason. And we understand that.

COURIC: You also said recently that, given the probability that terrorists eventually would be equipped with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by nations sponsoring terrorism, you would make, quote, "some adjustments in the military's command structure to make room for domestic defense." Can you tell us how you would do that? And is there time to move that shift in strategy through the somewhat cumbersome bureaucratic process in Washington?

RUMSFELD: Well, we've been focusing on this since -- if you think back to President Bush's speech at the Citadel when he was running for president, he talked about the range of asymmetrical threats -- cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, cyber attacks, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. And since I came into office in January, we have interested ourselves in the issue of homeland defense and weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.

We just put out our defense review [ QDR ], which has a focus on that, and it's correct; we will have to make some adjustments in our command structure, because historically we've been in such a neighborhood, with friends to the north and friends to the south and oceans on either side, that we have not had to worry so much about homeland defense. But it's clear that those days are gone.

COURIC: Most experts say the response to an attack using chemical or biological weapons will come from this country's public health system. Are you at the Defense Department working with medical experts to outline a strategic and coordinated response to an attack of that nature, or does that fall under the purview of Tom Ridge and the Office of Homeland Security?

RUMSFELD: Well, basically, the issue of events of that type inside the United States, the first responders are, as you point out, the local police and the health officials in the area where something like that may occur. On the other hand, the Defense Department has always been, on request, available to assist. And we do have teams of people who are capable of assisting in things like that.

COURIC: But what will be done to beef up the response is, I guess, the question, Secretary Rumsfeld.

RUMSFELD: Well, there's a great deal being done. Indeed, there's been a good deal done over recent years, and certainly in recent months and weeks there's been a great deal done. There are a host of things that need to be attended to; the issue of, for example, security of airports, security of ports, greater heightened awareness, as President Bush has said.

And we are fashioning a new set of relationships with the appointment of Governor Tom Ridge, as you point out, who will have a coordinating responsibility, which is exceedingly important. And it's important that he get in place soon.

COURIC: All right, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.