tv Peter Bergen The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden CSPAN December 20, 2021 5:52pm-6:59pm EST
if i can't go, i just stand behind these black gates. >> only on the c-span now mobile app. ♪♪ ♪♪ >> c-span on the go, much the political offense live or on-demand anytime anywhere on our new mobile video app c-span now, access cap highlights. this into c-span radio and discover new podcast. ♪♪ ♪♪ >> i am brian fisher, director for counterterrorism and dangerous organization facebook,
former director of research and combating terrorism, i am pleased to be a moderator for today's program. it's my pleasure to introduce p distinguished speaker, peter, journalist, documentary producer, cnn's national security analyst, vice president for global s studies at america and author of the new book, the rise and fall of osama bin laden. full disclosure, i'm pleased to say i worked for peter here's a cup and stuff particularly excited about today's discussion. peter has been called the world's leading expert on osama bin laden as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the lasting affluence of this man. his new book, rise and fall of osama bin laden, the first reevaluation of the man responsible for the united states, precipitating law enforcement al qaeda, allies and descendents. peter has all the dimensions in his life, a family man,
battlefield commander and as a fugitive. thanks to the exclusive interviews with family members and associates documents and recently, this reveals who he really was, continues to inspire a new generation of jihadists. we are going to h have a conversation about the man who sits close with the american foreign policy for the 21st century and ideological errors the u.s. continues to battle today. welcome, peter. >> great to be with you. we worked together for many years and it's great what you are doing with facebook. trying to make sure -- >> thank you for taking the time, it is a pleasure and i enjoyed the book. you've written a number of books
obviously and the world is your oyster, why this book right now? >> i teach and -- al qaeda and taliban, really good question was asked and i realized the kids i'm teaching really don't and people are volunteering to fight in the u.s. military after that 11th so it was an event, to me it's something that happened in history. of course it continues to influence to thisof day trying o pull out of afghanistan, that was one thing where i thought it
was a good time.me with in modern and i'm learning from the documents, there were files released and it was the lead, she is the expert on this. she has a book coming out in spring of 2022 about the documents, every little letter he received from it's really what he was really thinking and the big discovery in the documents was the family journal which was written from a handwritten and i had to help with that.
the journal in the final months and weeks and of course what was happening when he was extremely concerned that he could somehow intervene and get people to think of both leaders, he was of course delusional since they were asking his opinion about it but one of the things readers in the book was the extent to which he relied on this, both had phd's, one in child psychology. he was assembling, most nightly meetings to discuss how they should position themselves. as 9/11 was approaching, they made a statement about that for
terrorists. he is considering issuing an apology, strangely. the killed tens of thousands. he was thinking of issuing an apology fort saying -- an apoloy to muslims saying al qaeda is going to be rebranded so we knew a lot more about that because of the documents and what was released in full, there was a big documentary. i had written oral history in
2006 and i think is a missed opportunity to write. >> one of the most striking aspects of the book was the degree to which you explain, you drove and as a human being, not just as a mythical hero or villain, leader of al qaeda and coming back even before al qaeda, this is a man comes from a large wealthy family in saudi arabia and almost feels like it waso inevitable, that bin laden would become the man he was, how did he become the world's most infamous man when his brothers and sisters and his parents did not? >> that's a great question because it's kind of a controlled experiment, you have siblings, half brothers and sisters, they grew up in knots
similar circumstances. all sorts of reasons, i just don't think it's that hopeful, i try to lay out to the reader how it happened rather than white happened r. one question that's hard to answer, we don't even know ourselves whether or not to i understand our own motivations so trying to get inside somebody's head, to show that there were secrets, it didn't happen overnight. ... killing the mass killing of civilians. this is what the book attempts to do.
that's really also why i decided to write it. i don't to compare hitler there's books about hitler and his motivation is a why question about hitler. the end of the day is not respectable. the last time we had a conversation comment while looked in to americans and often found they themselves were not experts of why they turned tohy this. a culture in the region with jihad is in. you take the younger brother if he was here why would you do it he would not have an
explanation here talk about foreign policy. when you decide to launch 911 or kill innocent spectators at a boston marathon. at the end you kind of hit a brick wall to some degree there is not a rational reason. and there's a definite demand case. folks let me try to get at this question without using reit using the word why. i guess what are some of those choices that took him right or events that took him right and why? >> one of the things as far as i can tell had not had a meeting with his father's entire life's parents divorced when he h was to his dad died in
an air crash when he was ten. it always had a big impact on him. he told ahe his family that he really began to study because of the death of his father that's when he became a religious. he even said saudi arabia demands have is not typical nateenage behavior. middle of the night as far as their religious teenager and then and then there's someone at his high school in saudi arabia and had those ideas.
and he leaned towards those ideas. and then there is the division of afghanistan by the soviet union and the ayatollah's. >> out by religious zealots. that is a very significant and within two weeks of the soviet invasion. in the soviet rule in afghanistan is gone back and forth. i always knew the fall of the afghan regime iran into afghanistan one of the myths thatr helps in the suicide manner there is a wonderful book in arabic he published a book in 91.
he had access to bit that takes the afghan out i think it'sof a pretty realistic piece of history. as a young journalist in saudi arabia 1988 he visited. another transformation with the soviets. it was called al qaeda and al qaeda in the base became the name of the group. moods to formalize the founding in a most civilized manner. and it would indicate an anti- american militarized meetings,
anyone taking noteset knows the notetaker can have his or her spin on it. have to contend with these documents with the founding of al qaeda. bin laden was quite anti- american and about other eyewitnesses we he delivered speeches and the invasion of kuwait for saudi arabia we had a number of projects which did not go well. which at the time he wanted to overthrow the saudi government and they favored a g unified yemen.
the soviets had been defeated by the communist government. the afghans did not take him seriously they saw him as a money guy which is exactly right. he was rescued byy the afghans essentially in 1989 was a fiasco and 911 attack was a strategic air it with this guy was not a big military genius had no military training. and have this military organization. he had a big ego or something. >> i need to ask you two questions. your book documents to keep periods here that i think contribute to al qaeda in ways i think are contrary to fact.
one is, you go at this very hard in the book is clarifying the arab volunteers in afghanistan in 1984 were not a major component of a fighting yet that experience was whatever bin laden did it was keep going forward. but the potential supporter then. on the point that was just made about 9/11 as a strategic failure and a strategic mistake by al qaeda. can you talk about those two pieces? it's going to challenge some of assumptions for folks >> some on bin laden's team on the battlefield against the soviets military insignificant is correct. estimates of the size of afghan fighting the soviets in
hundred 75000 to i have an instant need a lot of help with fighting with no military experience. there were some who had military experience the egyptians he was an egyptian with the egyptian army there were some people that did understand. and so i think that's point never went point number the 911 attack like pearl harbor was was not a strategic victory. and it backfired. bin laden in 2004 released a videotape and bankrupted.
there is no evidence at the actual time. at the time he did not believe his own propaganda which is the united states this week sent really believed to people apply enough political pressure the nine sites would pull out of the middle east. on the basis today and kuwait and uae did not exist before 9/11. so it backfired spectacularly. it did not work. there are some people who sort of believe that's to accept one's own failures. >> and longe's on the run after 911. he was surrounded at bora-bora.
when i think is not asleep bin laden's choices but america's choices. explain what happened and bore borja folks listening in the decision-making among americans. ask about this pointedly later on but the process of withdrawing from afghanistan. there was a moment in bora-bora 20 years ago now where the immediate goal after 911 with al qaeda and finding bin laden might have been achieved and it was not. what happened there? >> i don't do a lot of them in the book what state we capture and kill of it much harder to continue the afghan war that might have been easier to make a deal with the taliban that
might have been harder to make which is predicated not on mass destruction but bin laden had been captured orr killed. one interesting document is a believer of al qaeda he really sees in 2015 we hit a very specific account of what bin laden did in the day he escaped and the time. we have escaped with bin laden and say december 12, 2001 at 11:00 p.m. bin laden disappears birds reason that is so interesting is me know there's an eight hour time difference between the united states and afghanistan.
so it's exactly at this moment donald rumsfeld is doing a a discussion with the commander of the afghan about the war plans. hetold tommy franks he had a week to rewrite them. and they did the briefing that day. that was literally and i went back to see it when it smoldering unders on december 12. essentially escaping the battle and we e did not put extra boots on the ground, the reason i say that with some certainty special forces officer who led the american forces attack he counted a total of 70 american special forces and two -- 12 people
and also susan of the washington post was also a journalist there they set about 100 served. if the journalist could get there and it's like they have apache helicopters. interestingly. [inaudible] the commander have up to 1500 marines. and he preferred the plan to put marines in the observation posts. the plan just sort of died on the vine specializes in bora-bora is the wintry at the time of the battle until the point is we didn't try. i'm not saying if we n had tried
is about 6 miles long, we could go into pakistan very easily and eventually escaped. the main thing is we just did not try. there were administration officials despite the interpretation of what happened when the election came up in 2004 if you go back on the public record said he was there, cheney said he was there. and of course he was. >> the refocusing in the immediate perpetrators of 911. >> yes.. al qaeda was disrupted tremendously not only the immediate aftermath of 911 but
the u.s. had on afghanistan but in then on the ensuing years. they conducted a number of tax onon the west and it had grown and at times split off in different directions. bin laden ultimately winds up in the statehouse not far from afghans of west w point. to what extent while he is held up in that state has to the only western american journalist to have been there, to what extent the sea actually running the show for al qaeda during those years? what strings did he actually have to pull? >> outside observer to get inside the compound was kind of reconstructed the night he was killed. there are two ways of answering the question.
one is, if you're running the business and you're relying on messages that's hard to run a business because messages get lost. people get a message pretend they never got it they send a reply and it gets lost. he was trying to micromanage the organization it was hard to micromanage. it was hard to micromanage without face-to-face meeting or phone calls or e-mail. so he did the bestie could. and again as you know have the elevation of the hierarchy to become the leader of al qaeda not to identify with al qaeda is bad for fundraising. one of the things he said was don't try to set up a local islamic state.
do not try to attack do focus on the united states. he would write 40 page of memos to his top deputy. and on theop top deputy would distribute those orders to different parts of the organization. you can make the argument he giwas managing the organization and still in short or you can make the argument it was hard for him to manage because he had to kind of communicate in a very strange way. had a very good line in the book and don't bother with joe biden is not prepared to be president. the task is completely preposterous in these documents are mining of hitler is moving these army divisions
around europe. it is a complicated picture in the reason he tried to micromanage things with the tools he had. >> there goes a lesson there for all of us. often times the only insight folks have is what these people say. i'm what they say may be deeply divorced from reality.ng saying you're going to blow up the eiffel tower does not mean you can blow up the eiffel tower. it is a stark reminder, and my mind and one of the risks frankly some of the analysis we see based on statements these folks make doesn't mean you can back it up. >> i think he famously said
they that you can say things that would produce a reaction but in the end he died knowing his attack against the united states didn't happen. it was not a heroic he was still anhe inspirational figure. i think over time half wife of people's attention gets andker, and quicker, quicker actually tracks with suicide bombing which is in iraq and pakistan and civilians in the public approval for suicide bombing
which was a signature tactic. i think eventually i am pretty sure this was by president bush's speech writer but it's about al qaeda who could eventually be aside to the unmarked grave that a wonderful line and i think 2002's in congress by president george w.0000 bush. maybe were getting to that point it's not like he was subject to great discussion. i'm should be inspirational but it does not mean he's going to have a huge impact he made it very simple if the
united states withdraws its support from the middle east everything can change. on another thing in history turns out to be true he did not achieve what he had hoped. >> he would be delighted of course. are going to have a split screen course the u.s. military until the split screen and 911 will be a towel man on american military taking over afghan c city which is honduras and that's of significance. it's not the towel man
stronghold they are making the calculations we are going to push so wee can take cobble. that tended afghan national armies not break the afghan special store forces the militias are ready to fight. they're going to be fighting for their home territory. we see them coming back my wife said he didn't know he was still alive. these guys are seriousf fighters and they spend their entire life doing it. he would say hey i got that he would be reveling in this moment. >> i want to come back to this
this is obviously a critical question and is contemporary. i want toic stay focused. what is the future of al qaeda? once you lose it bin laden there a lot who have experience. how do you see that organization being able to function in ten years they are still out there, we still hear from them occasionally they still conduct attacks. do they have a future? does al qaeda have legs without osama binin laden? it's a black hole it would've appealed to someone like yourself and the extent people overestimated how important it was. turns out it had against the
united states and 911. he had no real bigotry of attacking the united states i think egypt is number 29 on the list at something that's almost never talked about. spent six months in prison that's right in the middle and planningng attacks on the embassy in africa. and he has demands there is not a big thing window dressing he becomes the deputy.
and that the u.s. counterterrorism official who would be a much more serious contender with the egyptian special forces officer. he's been dealing with al qaeda since the beginning. now al qaeda is a local jihad a group that has a commitment to north africa, to east asia kind of relaxed at the time you may recall al qaeda in yemenn it's not the same country it is now. you may good chunk of semi and that is not true now. that can change. they are talking san francisco
and the bay area and washington d.c. with the attack in the united states. there's only been one attacked by a foreign terrorist organization since 911 in the united states and by a saudi military officer in 2019. it was still directed by the al qaeda in yemen we had this conversation despite attempts they're not able to carry out the attacks on the united states that is what happened it isn't to say that they get afghanistan to disappear into a giant civil war you've seen
the movie before entering lincoln and the secretary of state and joe biden presided overm that decision to pull down troops in in december 2001. on the obama administration is because of isis. house prices and the taliban are different but it's interesting, it may recall that whole campaign that al qaeda and iraq to get the prisoners released, then you seen that with the tallow band with the peace negotiation with the taliban you got the afghan government force them to release prisoners with the tile man. i'm in the taliban goes into
the town they build the prison and there's some interesting similarity between thehe tallow band is different organizations. but they are using prisoners there using people are not fighting the tallow band and i am surprised by this it's weaker than the iraqi national army at the time of 2013 isis campaign. if that's true it is sad. >> thisla is coming up in some of the questions folks are asking, what is the alternative? we spent 20 years in afghanistan it pumped trillions of dollars trying to build out a government that can fund itself and do these ngsorts of things. and yet we see that within a matter of weeks, months, it's
crumbled. is that good moneyey after bad to continue to invest? >> president obama, president trump, president biden kept a similar kind of answers. i did it cost benefit analysis he brought home the t troops. so, very different private presidents and that's part of the confusion. eaor still in south korea at 75 years after the armistice we have 25000 troops in south korea one of the poorest countries in theth world 1953 is not like they are exactly the same but there are some similarities 20 years is actually not that long of time of the grand scheme of things.
spent authoritarian for time afghanistan is not a perfect democracy. promoted discussions with the d.tallow band really perform the negotiations for the united states. who had left somebody outside the u.s. embassy of ironic. but i think the problem is been a messaging problem in the sense december 1, 2900 delivers his speech and set
we've been talking about it for a long time which is having an effect on the taliban government. i think it could have been a bigger operation but the entire project from the very beginning were very uncomfortable with aspects. the factie is, i do believe we had some interest in afghanistan in preserving andno preventing another al qaeda and kind of the -- received to the post taliban era. i spent time in afghanistan and the population was a 500,000 nobody knows there's
no economy development to stop measuringth indicators. taliban to become the government again there's new evidence is going to be different. they have their version of law and they think that is sufficient. i think the good thing is, afghan is when the youngest countries in the world and i don't think for most of those men and women they know what happened but we will see. what will happen for sure is a very nasty or the afghan special forces because they
are ready to do it again so instead of the taliban taken over the entire country makes the present conflict we may have to do it again we did it and iraq the habit not staying there. in the america policy when you were going through the documents i want to ask you about the development with the u.s. government with the rise of bin laden.
skipping ahead a little bit what was the relationship between al qaeda andnd the taliban now? does that tell us anything they did come and negotiate with this al qaeda would not have done that. they have long-term relationships and-tho government and others responsible they have had discourse in ways al qaeda would not. what should we understand as the relationship with the same about al qaeda and thehe taliban and what is different? what is the difference? >> they want more on the
negotiating table than on the battlefield. and there's more to go along with perhaps. they divorce themselves from alac qaeda. the relationship of the united nations is not an organization promotingg war and here sank the al qaeda andhe the taliban are very close. because there's intermarriage and so of course the tallow man is an ethnic group that wants to establish bureaucratic state that is kind of al qaeda's goal hoping the style, just trying to summarize the two. one is a nationalist movement
which is a total nutcase fundamentalist asked to it. that means he is the commander everywhere it's not a modest statement. he was a religious fanatic, the difference is less important than the similarities in the sense he's gotten the documents t you asked often show the relations between the al qaeda in the tallow man it ensures al qaeda funding the taliban which is kind of interesting. the documents show bin laden the weeks before he was killed letters to al qaeda as the main negotiator from the taliban so the documents portray a pretty real relationship. but fast forward to accounts
of al qaeda being the front line today, i was always skeptical of these groups. i think people make a mistake because the international actor i would say the they said the tallow man they realize what a disaster and they can separate themselves from al qaeda. and that is not true. i do think however there is a moment missing 2002 it would have been easier to have a peace negotiation with them then when they were defeated and ready to talk. that was an opportunity not taken. today don't that this can be a peace negotiation with the afghan government not so one
of the premise of our peace negotiations in 2018. >> yes. i have a lot of questions for you, peter and i could talk about afghanistan all day. i've been summarizing a few of those questions. there couple interesting, one is you have any idea why bin laden. [inaudible] >> that's a great question i asked that question directly. he did not have a good answer to that. it's like he hadon not even considered the question. i am trying to do my best to answer for bin laden through this question.
even though he started think about pal so many as a teenager, and focused on the issue. [inaudible], -- the point is he didn't why he didn't and i had another point which is he thought it was a jewish target i think. and he was asked after 911 kind of like about al qaeda's role in the conspiracy theory abouthe the jews it did not show up to work. one of the anecdotes in the book is aa few days after 911 and sophie it was the aunt he hoped his daughter would grow up to kill a jew. there is a profound anti-semite in israel and he
did not attack israel himself. it's a question he really could not answer when he was asked. >> there are a couple questions here that i think point to some of our politics in the united states right now and the terrorist threat domestically. how do we understand the continued threat and al qaeda international terrorist groups like that how do you compare those different to ever get a bin laden coming from an american? >> interesting question. there's all forms.
the killed the numbers are not precise fighting terrorism of course has been a very steady with the united states and proceeded with planning and other. some people forget the 1970s more than for criminal purposes. there international is that dead detonated bombs. the fairly constant feature in americanan life. so in america with bin laden you cannot have training
thousands of people and have an organization it would be very, very hard to do. there have been extremist and interestingly one of the things we are tracking we track the attacks with conservatives and methodology so there's a question around we don't include. as the modern uptick of some terrorist attacks. we are seeing some rather small numbers of leftists with the attacks. with the jihad he attacks. the jihad eight terrorist attacks tend to be there were
people in 2016 on behalf of isis. but anyway we woke up to this eerecently and anybody in law enforcement is very concerned aboutt it. january 6 insurrection to things. crazy way of the government i think law enforcement has been concerned about this for a long time. because it is a real issue. >> peter, i think there are
some who argue i have not read the book it's about to come out. there's a book coming out called reign of terror worries basically connecting the process of fighting the war on terror and its impact on our domestic civil discourse. it is sort of undermining our political norms. what is the impact of our dedication and0 focus for the last 20 years with perpetual war fighting, does it have an impact on who we are and how we talk to each other? >> i think it does. i read the manuscript and i agree with everything het says. i do say in my book because if you go back to 2015 -- 2016
the americans were pulled on terrorism. they were asked a question would you be a victim of terrorism are you planning on it was the number after 911 during the 2,015,002,016 they would be attacking the party in california. isis killed hundreds of people there is a lot of coverage with american journalists and others. there's a huge amount of news coverage over this. truck came up with the idea of the tallow man which made sense is actually quite popular idea. and that was 80%. the point is to be able to use that money talk about it as it
receded he was involved with the end of isis. but he really tried to put himself back in the 2016 presidential campaign but terrorism was a big issue. trump tended to better on the issue had a really simple answer which had no impact in the tile man stopped was not like having tons of terrorist attack. the saudi military advisor that i described and he of course was not subject to the travel man. so as p a solution apartment didn't really exist. i think everything has
consequenceses. trump plant see mention of arabs killing on 911 but he was going toe tap into the fear of terrorism that was really into thousand 15 -- 2016 is a clear advantage for him. >> i want to come back we only have a few minutes left, i want to come back to t the notion this is a whole picture of osama bin laden as a mastermind but also a family man. he was there living with some of his wives, kids, bodyguards. tell us about his life there and explain american intelligence analysts and special forces operators are trying to figure out how to attack this compound, what sort of considerations did
they have to go through or think about an assault on a compound with 25 people on it including a bunch of children. >> ivy when you in their expected there to see that. they did not know how many people you said 25 ultimately there 27. two other kids there were under the ages of two and did not know some of hisre grandkids were there. interesting picked up by the "new york post" and have an excerpt of it in my book. there is too much laundry on the line for just the bodyguard. the 11 members of the bodyguards and families in their 16 there were some kids and adults and that would fit with bin laden.
and there is attacks on the right but that training was about and they change the headlines and showed a picture of bin laden. i did not mean he was a nice guy. that does not mean he was a good w guy. but the mass murder of bin laden and had his wives and somewhat high regard for that. can be compatible it's crazy we never anyone who studied history knows mass murder carried out by humans
attempting to do a two-part is not our intent here. >> i think is one of the few people with the recent evidence of changing the course of history there's an explanation of who he was and does not pretend he had three wives and had kids and grandkids for five years when he was living in that compound. that is part of his story. >> the intelligent analyst putting together the package. >> the people that knew him the best in the intelligence community there be a dozen kids and grandkids along for the ride. they were like wow this is expected this is exactly the
way was sued on the parliaments, the multiple case exactly the same way in this replicating. said to them this was evidence this could have been entirely circumstantial. they serve the large family as evidence of him not being there. >> his body was dumped into w dthe arabian sea. there was sort of a moment of disbelief in washington. in decision-making by president obama when and how to announce that he had been killed. talk us through that process. decision-making. i think it is important since one of our only chances as the united states to shape that finaler legacy to shape the understanding of how he went out. what was that process like?
>> what things we learned is president obama had the timing right. he had agreed he was paying them $100 a month. it was a very dangerous job. there were a letter jena 15th 1971 the bodyguards would leave one of the reasons obama made the decision is what if they leave. turns out the house was not in his and was in the bodyguards name. the bodyguards were leaving, they were fed up. and so the process of obama getting to that decision i can't get into it takes too
long. is you look at the kennedy process during the cuban missile crisis. but we elect presidents to make decisions with imperfect information. whether it was the missile crisis for kennedy but for a bomber and they both made decisions without knowing the facts for sure, at least in obama's case. again there was a big discussion people you know in the white house situation room in the newsroom and others he is 60% there, and eventually cuts it off and says look it is a 50/50. obama made the decision is either there 100% there doesn't the discussion of
percentages you can't put odds on something. he made a decision and that is what presidents are supposed to do. you're not making difficult information with perfect information you're making difficult decisions with imperfectnf information. i think ittb is a textbook case of how the process works. and the president made the right decision. obama was there. >> of less than two minutes left. you and the book talking about what happens when terrorists fade into history. as i can happen with osama bin laden? >> i think it will. on occasion you see the national terrorists center the
day he died she said have you heard of gang and the young colleague said no which was an infamous terrorist group in the 1970s inhe germany. and they said there been d people in the counterterrorist for. [laughter] but she was saying for a fact. but i think he will reseed, and received, and reseed and his influence on history, he did not get what he wanted. he will not disappear he was in. the days and weeks after 9/11. >> peter bergen seen at national security vice president for globalna studies
and author of the new book the rise of all of osama bin laden. i want toem remind everyone peter's book is available online and at your local bookstore prevail sort of viewers, andour now the program is adjourned. ♪ ♪ >> sunday, january 2 on in-depth, historian joins us live to talk about the urban intellectual history of the united states. civil war and the reconstruction era. the great emancipator. i am biography of the confederate general of the civil war. joint and the conversation with your phone call, text and tweet sunday, january 2 at noon eastern on in-depth.
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