Ex-Rep. Harman: We Can't Rest Here

Originally published on May 2, 2011 12:16 pm
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Our next guest became a leading voice on national security issues following the attacks on September 11, 2001. Former congresswoman Jane Harman was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Ms. Harman, welcome to the program.

Ms. JANE HARMAN (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Are you surprised at all by where Osama bin Laden was found; in a more urban area than rural and near a military academy in Abbottabad?

Ms. HARMAN: No, I'm not surprised by this. We talked for years about the couriers he was using and hoped that we could find one who would finally reveal his whereabouts. And it sounds like the chain of events was from a detainee using telephone numbers and finding somebody who was compromised. I sort of thought he was no longer in Waziristan. I believe he was in Pakistan.

But let me say that the fact that he lived there, apparently for six years almost immediately adjacent to the major Pakistani training facility, raises some questions.

I agree with President Obama that justice was done last night. I think it is a hugely important message to the world, and especially the 9/11 families. But we can't rest here. And let me just make a couple of points.

Number one, it's a testament to the courage and bravery of our young men and women who do intelligence and military jobs overseas, often in austere places like this. The skill that they used last night was amazing. But number two, as President Obama said, we are not at war with Muslims. It needs to be clear that Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer of more Muslims than non-Muslims.

INSKEEP: Let me follow up on a couple of points you made here. First, you were mentioning Waziristan and the question of whether Osama bin Laden was in that tribal area at some point. That's one of the questions here. This guy, his location was last known in late 2001. It's thought that he was at this house from 2005 to 2011.

Do you think, based on what you knew as a member of Congress, did you know where he was for those several years?

Ms. HARMAN: No, we never knew. I went to Waziristan on an intelligence trip and we were briefed by people there about what efforts they were making to find him. This subject came up in every intelligence briefing that I had and no one ever seemed to know where he was. But as he was sending out videos, et cetera, we always thought that someday a courier would compromise his whereabouts. And that appeared to happen.

I mean what's interesting here is what role Pakistan did or did not play. But I would say that rather than roll the videotape back, let's have a new start here with Pakistan. There's a huge opportunity, I would think, to work with Pakistani government on rounding up the rest of al-Qaida in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Well, if you'll forgive me...

Ms. HARMAN: Al-Qaida is attacking Pakistan, as well as our troops in Afghanistan, and us in Germany and in the United States...

INSKEEP: Well, if you'll forgive me for rolling back the tape for just a few seconds here. You did raise questions about whether Pakistan might have known something about where this guy was. You were privy to intelligence briefings at one time. Publicly this is a very difficult relationship.

I would like to know, based on your experience, has this actually been a productive, cooperative relationship privately? Or is there really reason to suspect that the Pakistanis were holding something back over the years?

Ms. HARMAN: I don't think the absolute answer to that can be known. There has been, and I've seen it, evidence of cooperation between the Pakistanis and us. And they have undertaken some courageous missions, again in the tribal areas. But there are some - and we all know this now -some training bases off limit, especially the Haqqani network, which is full of highly-trained fighters who attacked us and the Afghans across the border.

INSKEEP: That's former congresswoman Jane Harman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.