Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
August 4, 2004
The Great Terror Alert Timing Controversy, touched off by Dean's interview with Wolf Blitzer, continues as Anderson Cooper gives Dean another at-bat on his show (not even a week after Dean's previous Anderson Cooper appearance)... and Dean keeps on swingin' - Crocuta
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper.
Are the terrorists already here?
360 starts now.
Al Qaeda operatives in place in America, planning to attack? New information on what might have led to the heightened security alert.
Howard Dean says the terror is real, but the timing highly suspicious. Is the president playing politics with terror warnings? Tough talk and strong accusations from Howard Dean. We go one on one tonight on 360.
Howard Dean tonight: more tough talk and strong accusations about politics and terror. Dean is not stepping back from remarks he made. If anything, he's honing his argument. Coming up, I go one on one with the former Democratic candidate.
COOPER: In the next half hour here on 360, this week, when the Bush administration warned of terror, he suspected politics. Has he changed his mind? In a moment, we go 360 with former presidential candidate Howard Dean.
New information about the terror threat. Senior government sources tell CNN that al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan contacted one or more persons in the U.S. within the past few months. Meanwhile, senior Pakistani intelligence sources have separately told CNN that at least six people in the U.S. were contacted by an alleged al Qaeda member who was captured in mid-July.
The events that led to the raising of the terror alert began in the second week of July with the arrest of a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. The next day, another arrest, and then two weeks later, even more.
While experts were gleaning information from those arrests the entire time, it wasn't until Sunday that the terror threat level was actually raised, leading some to question whether the delay was caused by the effort to gather information or by a desire for political advantage.
Howard Dean was most prominent of those who claimed the latter. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)(From the Wolf Blitzer interview)
HOWARD DEAN (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am concerned that every time something happens that is not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. His whole campaign is based on the notion that, 'I can keep you safe, therefore, in times of difficulty, for America, stick with me'. And then out comes Tom Ridge.
It is just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there is some of both in it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I talked to Howard Dean earlier today. Here is the interview.
COOPER: OK, the news out today that two senior U.S. government sources tell CNN that intelligence found in Pakistan shows evidence that a suspected al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan contacted an individual or individuals here in the last several months. Does that change your belief that there is, that politics plays a role in the timing of these releases?
DEAN: The key piece of that, which you didn't read, was, 'a few months ago'. We're still dealing with old stuff. And I actually think the Bush administration is scrambling a little bit on this one, because when you see in the news 'two senior officials', that means that was an unnamed source in the Bush administration, which was voluntarily giving information, to try to deflect the charge.
Here is the timeline, Anderson. In, before 2001, these folks wrote up -- cased these buildings, probably along with the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After September 11, they continued to update. The last update was January of 2004.
Since that time, eight months later, we've captured, the Pakistanis captured two operatives. The most recent one was three weeks ago. Presumably the administration had this information available for the last three weeks.
COOPER: But that's a presumption. I mean, "The Washington Post," an article, I think it was yesterday, said that a lot of senior CIA officials and intelligence officials didn't get the translations of these computer documents until Friday, and that they were working through the night.
DEAN: "The Washington Post" also said senior officials who did not want to be named thought that there was no new information here.
COOPER: And in fact the information that came out today makes you even more convinced that the timing is suspect. That it is political.
DEAN: It is. If you look at the timelines there was no particular time that these guys could have announced this... that they had this information for quite some time. In the last two days since I made this charge, they've been covering their you-know-whats, and trying to come up with additional information. Two days later they claim they stayed up through the night getting the translation and all this kind of stuff.
July 13, the Pakistanis captured the operative who owned the computer discs which this information was on. And that information was, most of it, was more than three years old. A little of it was eight months old.
COOPER: You don't buy that it might have taken three weeks to interrogate this guy to get information?
DEAN: If it took three weeks for them to get this information, than they're not doing their job protecting the United States of America. There is one of two possibilities here. One, they need -- we need a new president so we can really take care of intelligence needs and the defense of the United States of America against terrorism. Or, two, they're playing politics with their timing of the release of these documents. And the release of this information.
The other question is, okay, this has been going on three years, these buildings were targeted three years ago, now we have high security protections around these buildings, which I agree with, because I think the threat of terrorism is real.
COOPER: You've never said the threat isn't real?
DEAN: No, the threat is real. You (have) to say al Qaeda is a real threat based on what they were able to accomplish in September 11. The threat is very real.
COOPER: Your fellow Democrats, John Kerry, the governor of Michigan, among others, have distanced themselves -- not 'sort of', have distanced themselves from your comments. They said they don't think there is anything political in the timing of these announcements. Why do you think they're doing that?
DEAN: I don't know. That's up to them. We're all entitled to our own opinions and I think that's fine. But I'm just telling you the evidence is -- the circumstantial evidence I think is pretty convincing.
COOPER: How do you think this works? What you're accusing them of, this political timing, what-- you think Karl Rove, George Bush calls Tom Ridge and says, 'crank out another release'?
DEAN: I have absolutely no idea. I do know that Karl Rove wrote a memo in 2002 directing Republican candidates to run on the war and run on terrorism issues. I suppose that's Karl Rove's M.O.* still. The president of the United States himself has said that he intends to run as a war time president. If you say those kinds of things then you're going to have to expect your motives to be questioned.
* ("Modus operandi", literally 'way of operating')
COOPER: But according to your theory, there would have to be some sort of operation going on where they -- I mean, phone calls are made, e-mails sent where they ask Tom Ridge to get on board and come up with a new terror alert.
DEAN: If those things are going on, I can assure you I'm not on the e-mail list.
COOPER: Tom Ridge has said, 'we don't do politics'. Do you believe him?
DEAN: No. I think it's very clear these series of warnings, warnings at particular junctions -- this warning is different than the other ones. I think the administration has done something right here. I think this is -- the specifics are important. I was very much an opponent of these warnings that we had for a long time saying there is a general state of 'we're going to be attacked somewhere in America.' I found that as incredibly unhelpful.
I do not -- let me underline, I do not believe that terrorism is an empty threat. I think terrorism is a very serious problem. I think it is wrong for the president of the United States to play politics with terrorism. And I think there is ample evidence for the fact he's doing that.
COOPER: Governor Dean, thank you very much.
DEAN: Thank you.
Many thanks to the CNN transcriptionist who provided this transcript by the morning after. It was originally
posted on http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0408/04/acd.01.html.
Just for grins, I had to show the interview with the Bush campaign spokesman which immediately followed this one, just so you could see how stirred up they are. Unable to resist, I have also larded it with snarky comments - Crocuta