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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

The politician who authorised the last attempt on the life of Bin Laden 20/9/01

WILLIAM COHEN
(Former US Defence Secretary):
None of us have ever been through anything of this magnitude. All the past coalitions - certainly with the Persian Gulf War, that was a significant operation, but it was much different in terms of its organisation and also in terms of its goal. What is going to be required here are a number of shifting coalitions. Each country that will be called upon to contribute to this effort to combat terrorism will provide something quite different. Some might be asked and be willing to provide military assistance, special forces, people and personnel and perhaps capabilities. Others will be asked for overflight rights, basing rights. Others, and many others, will be asked for intelligence co-operation. And so there will be a series of shifting coalitions depending upon the local governments, their particular position with respect to the Arab world and the Muslim world. And so we have to take into account their sensitivities in terms of their existence and what they can contribute. So, ultimately, the United States is prepared to act militarily alone, if necessary. It would be better if we could have multilateral, multinational contributions to that effort. But the United States will look for a variety of contributions from a variety of countries.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
And militarily, which countries will be able to offer most?

COHEN:
I think Great Britain is obviously one that is prepared to help and is capable of helping, given its special forces' capability. This is the type of war that is not subject to simply mass weaponry and capability. We have that. But this is a war that's going to take highly classified information being shared with responsible organisations and having a special forces and covert capability. The United States has that, certainly Great Britain also has it.

PAXMAN:
Are you talking about special forces on the ground in Afghanistan?

COHEN:
This is not going to be confined to Afghanistan. At this point we don't have conclusive proof that Osama Bin Laden did, indeed, conduct this operation or orchestrate it. He's a prime suspect. We have not focused on him solely, although he is very high on the agenda. So it could be a number of countries who support, or give harbour or moral support or financial support to terrorist groups. And they, of course, will be the subject of perhaps a different type of operation.

PAXMAN:
Can you imagine Iraq being a target?

COHEN:
It depends upon what the connection is to this particular operation. If there is solid evidence that they participated in some fashion, then certainly they could also be added to any list of targets that would be developed.

PAXMAN:
You were Defence Secretary at the time of the last American attack on Osama bin Laden. That failed. Is your intelligence any better now?

COHEN:
We failed, but only barely. We had fairly good intelligence in terms of what was about to take place in Afghanistan, but it's very difficult, given the level of communications available to groups like al-Qaida and others. They can encrypt their conversations, telecommunications, they have the availability of the internet. So it becomes very difficult to in any way gather information by technical means against them.

PAXMAN:
After that failure, did you improve human intelligence?

COHEN:
We're short in terms of being able to put people on the ground to get at these organisations. We have certainly enhanced our ability to try. But we have not been successful in actually penetrating those organisations yet.

PAXMAN:
That means it will not only be an extremely difficult war to fight, it will be an extremely difficult war to start.

COHEN:
It's going to be an extremely difficult war to fight, indeed. And it's going to take a good deal of patience on the part of the American people and our allies and coalition friends to understand that this is not going to be a one-strike proposition. It's going to come in many forms, financial, economic, diplomatic isolation, as well as the potential for military operations. It's going to take a long period of time to reach down, dig out the network itself and rip it up. As underground cables have to be torn up, the same thing has to take place with these networks. And it's not enough to think you can go after one individual, like Osama bin Laden, or one organisation. There are many. They are interlinked and interlocked, and that's why we need the international co-operation to go after them.

PAXMAN:
Do you think it's time the presidential restriction prohibiting the assassination of foreign leaders was lifted?

COHEN:
If this is a war that's been declared against the United States and the civilised world, the rules of war and the rules of engagement are quite different. The political assassination ban applied to foreign leaders who were not conducting military operations against the United States. This is not a case of assassination. This is a case of engaging in warfare against those who are trying to kill you.

PAXMAN:
When you look back, do you regret the fact that the CIA trained and helped bin Laden?

COHEN:
Well, it's easy to look back and have doubts about past actions. I don't think we can dwell on that. If it were not bin Laden himself, there are others. Again, let's not focus on bin Laden. Let's focus on the fact that there are many organisations who are determined to wreak havoc on the civilised world, the US being one of the more obvious targets. But every civilised country is now subject to the same kind of attack.

PAXMAN:
We're talking about a war which is going to go on for years?

COHEN:
Yes.

PAXMAN:
Mr Cohen, thank you.


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