NOW with Bill Moyers

Transcript - Jane Wallace talks with Seymour Hersh

JANE WALLACE: Thank you for joining us.

SY HERSH: Glad to be here.

JANE WALLACE: It might be safely said that the one country for whom the war on terror has been a bombless bonanza is Pakistan. In a matter of two weeks they went from being an international pariah, to being our new best friend.

The aid started flowing. It is flowing in the billions. Are they worthy of our friendship and our aid, the Pakistanis?

SY HERSH: In a perfect world, sure, it would be great if Musharraf, the head of the country can hold it together and they can become secular. And we can avoid having an Islamic republic with a lot of nuclear weapons. But it's dicey.

JANE WALLACE: What kind of dicey?

SY HERSH: I think it's a losing game. I think it's a losing game and I think there's a lot of evidence that Musharraf is certainly much more interested in his own survival than ours. I can't give you chapter and verse of things. He came to American when and when there was tremendous concern about the fate of Danny Pearl, the WALL STREET JOURNAL reporter.

And he was here about a week or so before it became known that Pearl was dead. And the whole time, we later learned, that he was here, when he was saying, you know telling us that he was doing everything he can. He was sure he was alive. He knew that Pearl was dead. We now know that. We knew he was deceiving us.

JANE WALLACE: How do we know that?

SY HERSH: Because--

JANE WALLACE: Time of death on Pearl?

SY HERSH: More than that. There's-- we were able to unravel a lot of information, WALL STREET JOURNAL reporters and others about when he died. And there was, if you remember, there's been a trial. And everything that showed up in the trial indicated that-- witnesses told about telling the government things-- weeks before we thought they had.

JANE WALLACE: There is a man facing death, facing hanging, Saeed Sheikh, in the murder of Daniel Pearl. Saeed Sheikh is reported, in various quarters, to have been an ISI Pakistani intelligence agent.

SY HERSH: Asset. Yeah.

JANE WALLACE: Do you believe that?

SY HERSH: This certainly is a case when he gave up, he turned himself in basically eventually to ISI and-- who-- not-- not right away, but pretty immediately. He turned a-- he was made available to the ISI and they debriefed him first.

JANE WALLACE: Why would he turn himself in to Pakistani intelligence as opposed to the police?

SY HERSH: There's no question he has some connection. There's no question he had some deep standing-- long standing connection to Pakistani intelligence.

JANE WALLACE: Now let me draw the picture ... If in fact he has a deep long standing connection to Pakistani intelligence, we are supporting a government that has some responsibility in the murder of an American reporter?

SY HERSH: What can you do?

JANE WALLACE: Let's talk about Konduz. During the war with Afghanistan--

SY HERSH: Great story.

JANE WALLACE: -- you reported that during a key battle our side in that battle had the enemy surrounded. There were a reported perhaps 8,000 enemy forces in there.

SY HERSH: Maybe even more. But certainly minimum that many.

JANE WALLACE: It's your story, take it.

SY HERSH: Okay, the cream of the crop of Al Qaeda caught in a town called Konduz which is near ... it's one little village and it's a couple hundred kilometers, 150 miles from the border of Pakistan. And I learned this story frankly-- through very, very clandestine operatives we have in the Delta Force and other very...

We were operating very heavily with a small number of men, three, 400 really in the first days of the war. And suddenly one night when they had everybody cornered in Konduz-- the special forces people were told there was a corridor that they could not fly in. There was a corridor sealed off to-- the United States military sealed off a corridor. And it was nobody could shoot anybody in this little lane that went from Konduz into Pakistan. And that's how I learned about it. I learned about it from a military guy who wanted to fly helicopters and kill people and couldn't do it that day.

JANE WALLACE: So, we had the enemy surrounded, the special forces guys are helping surround this enemy.

SY HERSH: They're whacking everybody they can whack that looks like a bad guy.

JANE WALLACE: And suddenly they're told to back off--

SY HERSH: From a certain area--

JANE WALLACE: -- and let planes fly out to Pakistan.

SY HERSH: There was about a three or four nights in which I can tell you maybe six, eight, 10, maybe 12 more-- or more heavily weighted-- Pakistani military planes flew out with an estimated-- no less than 2,500 maybe 3,000, maybe mmore. I've heard as many as four or 5,000. They were not only-- Al Qaeda but they were also-- you see the Pakistani ISI was-- the military advised us to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There were dozens of senior Pakistani military officers including two generals who flew out.

And I also learned after I wrote this story that maybe even some of Bin Laden's immediate family were flown out on the those evacuations. We allowed them to evacuate. We had an evacuation.

JANE WALLACE: How high up was that evacuation authorized?

SY HERSH: I am here to tell you it was authorized Donald Rumsfeld who we'll talk about what he said later it had to be authorized at the White House. But certainly at the Secretary of Defense level.

JANE WALLACE: The Department of Defense said to us that they were not involved and that they don't have any knowledge of that operation.

SY HERSH: That's what Rumsfeld said when they asked him but it. And he said, "Gee, really?" He said, "News to me." Which is not a denial, it's sort of interesting. You know,

JANE WALLACE: What did we do that? Why we would put our special forces guys on the ground, surround the enemy, and then-- fly him out?

SY HERSH: With al Qaeda.

JANE WALLACE: With al Qaeda. Why would we do that, assuming your story is true?

SY HERSH: We did it because the ISI asked us to do so.

JANE WALLACE: Pakistani intelligence.

SY HERSH: Absolutely.


SY HERSH: Yeah. That's why. You asked why. Because we believe Musharraf was under pressure to protect the military men of the intelligence people from the military, ISI, that were in the field. The Pakistanis were training the Taliban, and were training al Qaeda.

When the war began, even though this is-- again, you know, this is complicated. Musharraf asked, as a favor, to protect his position. If we suddenly seized, in in the field, a few dozen military soldiers, including generals, and put them in jail, and punished them, he would be under tremendous pressure from the fundamentalists at home.

So, to protect him, we perceive that it's important to protect him, he asked us-- this is why when I tell you it comes at the level of Don Rumsfeld, it has to. I mean, it does. He asked-- he said, "You've got to protect me. You've got to get my people out."

The initial plan was to take out the Pakistani military. What happened is that they took out al Qaeda with them. And we had no way of stopping it. We lost control. Once there planes began to go, the Pakistanis began-- thousands of al Qaeda got out. And so-- we weren't able to stop it and screen it. The intent wasn't to let al Qaeda out. It was to protect the Pakistani military.

SY HERSH: What else can you do? We need the idea of some sort of country as a bulwark to what's going-- look, Afghanistan is smoking today. You know if you want another reality, the reality that nobody wants to hear about is that probably from Khandhar to Jalalabad and all of the southern part of Afghanistan is cowboy and Indian territory.

It's ISI. It's Taliban. It's Pashtun. Some al Qaeda. You know you don't find our troops-- a little bit in-- on the coast near-- you know in the north-- the northern territories. We're-- it's-- we have un-- we're-- we're really at square one even in Afghanistan.

JANE WALLACE: Okay, I'm gonna slow you down because you know your material very well. The northwestern part of Pakistan--

SY HERSH: Right.

JANE WALLACE: --that borders on Afghanistan now is where the-- the al Qaeda forces are said to be regrouped?

SY HERSH: Along with Kashmir. They probably are there too.

JANE WALLACE: Yes. This is where some of our American troops-- we have about 8,000 left in Afghanistan, are facing some of the heaviest fighting they've seen in a year.

SY HERSH: The forces that are seeing heavy fighting are a few special forces that are there and some elite units from the 82nd Airborne. Most of our troops are just guarding bases. But we have some elite units in contact. Yes.

JANE WALLACE: What you're saying is that then part of the forces our guys are facing are forces that are being supported by or intermixed with Pakistan intelligence which is a government we support. And al Qaeda, which is supported by a government we support. In other words we're doing battle with ourselves to some degree?

SY HERSH: I'll make it better. We have reason to think, from intelligence-- I haven't written this that-- that the Saudi's are financing some of this all the way.

JANE WALLACE: Financing what?

SY HERSH: Saudi's put a lot of money into Pakistan to religious aspects. I'm not saying the Saudi's necessarily-- the Saudi government knows that the money they're putting in is ending up supplying the forces that are in contact with our forces in the northern territories. But the fact is the Saudi's are still a supplier of a great deal of funds to Pakistan. We've got a country that's teetering on the edge, we don't want Pakistan to go Islamic. We don't want the weapons to get out of control.

JANE WALLACE: How exactly did the Pakistanis acquire nukes?

SY HERSH: They stole the technology from Europe-- to-- basically-- they used enriched uranium, Enriched uranium makes as perfectly a good a bomb as plutonium without a big nuclear reactor that anybody can see and-- and get intelligence on. They began turning out warheads. We now know I-- as they say, we estimate up to 40-- and that's just a rough guess.

JANE WALLACE: Forty warheads means what in terms of destructive power?

SY HERSH: Well, it depends the average warhead probably-- takes out New York. A good chunk of New York.

JANE WALLACE: So forty warheads is a lot--


JANE WALLACE: --for a country the size of Pakistan?

SY HERSH: I would say one isn't a lot if you can fire it. Yes, if you know how to do it and-- and-- it's a lot. They--

JANE WALLACE: So formidable, especially in a third-world country where we're not entirely sure--

SY HERSH: It could--

JANE WALLACE: --who's in charge of the switch?

SY HERSH: Well, we'd like to think that the military and Musharraf is in charge of the switch. That makes us very happy to think that. That's the whole issue. The issue is making sure and reinforce Musharraf being in charge of the switch, which--


SY HERSH: It's--

JANE WALLACE: --on the--

SY HERSH: --it's a--

JANE WALLACE: -- issue--

SY HERSH: --it's a crap game. It's a roll of the dice. That's what it is.

JANE WALLACE: You reported recently that not only do the Pakistanis have the nukes, the international community knew that. That's why they were ostracized for many years, because they wouldn't stop developing their own nuclear program. So they were blackballed by the rest of the world. Forget it, we're not trading with them anymore.

They were in that position when 9/11 struck. Not only do they have these nuclear weapons, but then they go one further to put it in our face and start helping North Korea develop the same cheaper, more efficient warheads. What is that about? These are our new best friends?

SY HERSH: Well, this started before they became our new best friends. This isn't-- this started in '97. What I did is I wrote about an intelligence report that the White House had for, what, eight months before it became known.

I love the story that this administration does live in a sort of a web of it's own sort of stories. They-- the story they put out was last fall one of our guys goes to North Korea, the Pyongyang and-- and confronts the North Koreans. And they admit they have it. And we're stunned. They've admitted they have it. Something we've known they've had for a year.

What they did is in '97-- they buy missiles from North Korea. The North Korean government is insane. Half the people starve and meanwhile they have a tremendously efficient missile system. They-- they-- if-- if the leader of that country decided that he wanted to-- to get rid of the missiles and start spending money on-- on-- on food, they could all live. There's enough there. But it's-- it's a madness society.

And so the North-- the North Koreans are supplying missiles for-- for Pakistan for years. And in '97, Pakistan had some serious economic problems. And I can tell you right now i-- if nu-- if Pakistan's economy is-- is in the toilet, North Korea's deep in the sewer.

So here they are. North Korea's-- one of their great exports is missiles for cash and then they sell some missiles to the Paks. And the Paks come to the North Koreans in '97 and they say, "Hey guys, we can't pay. We got no money. We're broke too. But we've got something in kind. I'm giving you the most--" this is actually an interpretation the community-- intelligence community, same people in the American intelligence community.

And by the way, there's a lot of good people in our system. And awful lot. And they must be very frustrated with it, because I think things at the top-- it's a very strange world at the top of this government. It's a cocoon. And no bad information invited. I'm talking about in a-- in the-- in the leadership.

JANE WALLACE: What do you mean cocoon, no bad information invited?

SY HERSH: Oh, I just don't think it was hard-- I don't think they could sell this story of the-- the-- I don't think the intelligence community was-- was able to get the President and the Vice President and other people to focus on North Korea-- for a year before it became known. It was just-- they didn't wanna focus on it. They had other issues.

But the Paks then start giving the fruits of their 10, 15 years, 20 years of nuclear labor to the North Koreans. And you have to understand, to start with a centrifuge and some designs and get to the point where you can actually make bomb-grade material is a 12, 15 year process. The Paks--

JANE WALLACE: It's very sophisticated?

SY HERSH: Oh. The Paks cut it way down to a couple years, three, four, maybe five years.

JANE WALLACE: So you could really spin 'em out?

SY HERSH: You can kick it out. You can put it in high gear. They gave 'em prototypes of the centrifuges that they made. They gave 'em prototypes of the warheads. They gave 'em test data.

There's something called cold testing. You can actually test natural uranium in a warhead and it gives you a lot of information about the real stuff-- enriched stuff would work.

JANE WALLACE: So both third-world powers become more dangerous?

SY HERSH: To put it mildly.

JANE WALLACE: Colin Powell did not deny your story. He did go out of his way to say, the Secretary of State, that Musharraf has assured the State Department that this is not happening now.

SY HERSH: Right.

JANE WALLACE: That's all-- well, what do you make of that?

SY HERSH: It's the-- it's the-- it's the-- the three-card Monty we have going, which is that, "What are you going to do with this guy? Are you going to say--" it's clear that some of the help that Musharraf gave the North Koreans took place after 9/11. That is a continuum.

Musharraf's answer to us was a-- you know, "Oh my god. There's gambling on the premises?" You know shades of Casablanca. And, "I'll stop it right now." And we say, "Great." What else are we gonna do?

Are we gonna take a run at this guy and make it-- make him more vulnerable to his critics that are there already? The fundamentalists-- the Islamic-- the mujahadin? So we--

JANE WALLACE: Or are we gonna pretend it didn't happen or-- or at least it's stopped?

SY HERSH: We-- the rationalization for pretending it didn't happen or that it's stopped-- and it probably has stopped. The rationalization-- first of all, why shouldn't it stop? They've got what they need already?

The rationalization is that we can't jeopardize Musharraf. We've gotta keep him going. Prop him up as much as possible.

JANE WALLACE: This is getting to be a very costly prop up.

SY HERSH: Absolutely. But you know, let me give you another-- theory. Why do you think Pakistan has only helped North Korea with nuclear weapons? Why haven't they helped other countries?

JANE WALLACE: I don't know why.

SY HERSH: Well, the answer is, they probably have. They're interested in spreading it to the Third World. How much control does Musharraf have?

JANE WALLACE: Do you have any evidence?

SY HERSH: No, no. I'm just telling you-- heuristically, I'm just telling you-- I'm telling what I-- my instinct tells me that in a perfect world, if our editor of the world's newspaper, I would-- I would want to look at our-- is Pakistan-- I'd look at Pakistan and Iran, look at Pakistan and-- and Indonesia. Look at Pakistan even and Lebanon. There's a lot of ties that I'm interested in. Are they gonna be spreading nuclear technology into the Muslim world above and beyond their own country?

JANE WALLACE: If we were really going after the people who sponsored al Qaeda, wouldn't we be bombing Pakistan?

SY HERSH: Well, it'd be attacking Pakistan is not like attacking Afghanistan, or Iraq. They have an air force. They have nuclear weapons, of course. They have a-- very strong powerful Army. We're not gonna attack Pakistan. That would be-- that would be an impossible chore. If you said to me, "Are we better off in Pakistan or in Iraq in terms of beating terrorism?" I would say to you-- if you'd asked me that question, I would say, "No question. Let's forget about Iraq and let's focus on Pakistan and start doing-- the money we're gonna spend if we go to war there, even in moving troops, if we tried to use some of that money in-- in positive ways in Pakistan, we might be able to accomplish more than we are right now."

JANE WALLACE: The picture you are painting here is that we're dealing with the devil.

SY HERSH: It's not a perfect world.

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