Richard B. Cheney photo

Interview of the Vice President by Diane Sawyer of ABC

November 29, 2001

ABCNEWS' DIANE SAWYER Do we have intelligence now that we really trust? In other words, do we have any intelligence that is taking us closer to bin Laden?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY I think so. We're getting a lot of reports now, more than we got before. The volume has increased. And some of them conflict, but truly what's happened is we've narrowed the amount of space inside Afghanistan that he feels safe in.

SAWYER Do you believe he's in Tora Bora?

CHENEY I think he's still in Afghanistan. I think he's probably in that general area.

SAWYER Why do you think he's still there?

CHENEY Because I think he was equipped to go to ground there. He's got what he believes to be fairly secure facilities, caves underground. It's an area he's familiar with. He operated there back during the war against the Soviets in the '80s. He's got a large number of fighters with him probably, a fairly secure personal security force that he has some degree of confidence in, and he'll have to he may try to leave, that is, he may depart for other territory, but that's not quite as easy as it would have been a few months ago. Anybody who contemplates providing sanctuary for bin Laden at this point has to keep in mind what happened to the Taliban when they did that.

SAWYER Have we seen, those infrared sensors showed up a lot of people in any caves?

CHENEY We followed, with our various intelligence assets, some of it's human reporting, some of it comes from imagery and so forth. We're able to follow groups moving around inside Afghanistan to zero in on certain facilities, where we've had considerable success hitting particular facilities where we thought there were leaders of al Qaeda, and we've clearly been able to hit a number of them. But he doesn't travel around with certainly the big banners saying "I'm Osama bin Laden." This is a guy who has gotten very good at security, who's been through a lot over the years in terms of understanding our capability and our strengths, and so he works very hard at preserving his security, and so far he's been successful, although not fully successful because we've gotten so many facilities.

SAWYER We'll come back to that in a moment. Does he travel with enough people that they hole up inside the caves?

CHENEY I can't say that. Some of these caves are very deep, go back a very long way, some of them with fairly elaborate structures, and there are a lot of them, so and there have been times, I'm convinced, where he hasn't been in the caves, where he's stayed in homes. He's moved around, and but it's, you know, if we knew precisely where he was, we'd go get him. We've got a general idea, and I think, as I say, the volume of reporting has increased as his circumstances have become more difficult.

SAWYER Want to give us the square footage on the general idea?

CHENEY No, I can't do that really. I wouldn't want to be that precise and be misleading.

SAWYER Why not just go in and bomb the mouths of all the caves in that region?

CHENEY We have in fact done exactly that in many areas. We have had an active campaign under way to take out some of these underground facilities.

SAWYER You talked about intelligence being more refined now. What kinds of things have we learned that are new to us?

CHENEY I think we can think about intelligence in this conflict that's different. I think we've done a better job of tying together all of our platforms of the people on the ground. We clearly were very good in the Gulf War with certain precision-guided munitions, but now we have a much higher percentage of our weapons are precision-guided munitions. And to use those effectively, you have to have intelligence on the targets as to actually where they're located. We've done a much better job in terms of being able to fly the Predator, for example. This whole area, unmanned area of vehicles, that we can launch, keep up for hours, and have the capacity to intercept various kinds of signals as well as getting visual images of what's going on the ground and carry that by satellite back to remote locations clear outside the theater, and let us bring to bear assets, call in airstrikes. That kind of capability is much more impressive than ever before. This really goes to the area of tactical intelligence, battlefield intelligence, and let's us apply it effectively.

SAWYER And when you say we've gotten some of his key operatives, there was one report that we had an intelligence chief and a communications chief captured. True, not true?

CHENEY I haven't been able to confirm that yet. We do in fact have reporting of that, but I haven't been able to confirm it yet.

SAWYER And Sheik Rahman, known as the blind sheik, the man who is imprisoned here in this country and who is allegedly responsible for bombing attempts here, we have his son?

CHENEY His son. And again —


CHENEY — that report comes from the Northern Alliance. I think it's a credible report, but we don't have final absolute confirmation on our side yet, but I think it's probably fairly credible.

SAWYER Well, what will be done with him? Will we ask that he be —

CHENEY Well, right now he's being held by the Northern Alliance. We have been involved. We've got people on the ground who are helping interrogate and screen these folks that are being held. We are obviously interested in people that are part of the al Qaeda network, people who may have knowledge of where bin Laden is, people who may in fact have knowledge of future terrorist attacks planned against the United States, but there are a lot of reasons why we want to know what they know. And so we've got a process under way and we've got teams actively involved in trying to find out as much as we can from the prisoners that are being captured, as well as, for example, going into these sites where we've found papers, laboratories, evidence of the kinds of activities that they've been engaged in. All of that intelligence is very valuable to us.

SAWYER But will you be pushing to bring him here?

CHENEY I'm not that concerned about bringing him here. I would like to know, obviously I think all of us would involved in the effort, like to know what he knows about the al Qaeda operation and especially, of course, we're interested in people who have knowledge about pending operations or plans for future operations. That's very important to us.

SAWYER Might he be the first of the military tribunals?

CHENEY The president will have to make that decision clearly. The tribunals have been established. We've got work under way in the Justice Department and in the Defense Department to write the rules and regulations that will cover them. The president will make a decision on each case, but clearly a high-ranking al Qaeda official captured in Afghanistan, who's been involved in the organization is exactly the kind of individual that the tribunals were established for.

SAWYER I think a lot of people who have watched you over the years and who know you have wondered and not to debate historically what happened with closed and secret tribunals, and not to debate its international consequence or anything else, but they simply wonder, as you watch this happening and I think just today there is a report that we're now going to use visa leverage in order to get people to give up information about people around them, which again causes another degree of at least watchfulness among civil rights group. Anything at all about this give you pause?

CHENEY Well, I think anybody, Diane, who has gone back and looked at history, and who understands the nature of the threat we face today and the kind of problem we're all of a sudden up against as of Sept. 11 would conclude, as the president did, as I have, as the attorney general has, this is a perfectly reasonable and responsible way to go. Military tribunals are well established in American history. They were used by Washington in the Revolution, they were used in the Mexican War, they were used during the Civil War by Lincoln and to try Lincoln's assassins, they were used by FDR during World War II.

SAWYER But the U.S. has opposed them, for instance, with Lori Berenson.

CHENEY Well, again, you've got to remember what the president specified here. People are not discriminating between the kind of military tribunal that the president had spelled out in his order that he wants established and the kinds of activities that have taken place elsewhere. The fact of the matter is the president has said specifically they will apply to terrorists. It mentions al Qaeda, for example, in the area of jurisdiction; secondly, they are not to be Americans. They will be non-U.S. citizens; they will have engaged in or plotted in or provided support and sustenance for those who planned the terrorist activities against the United States. The people assigned to this will be directed by the president. He will make the decision on each case. They are to be guaranteed a full and fair trial. They are to be granted counsel, and they are to be handled in a humane way. All of this is spelled out in the executive order. So there is nothing extraordinary or unusual about this given our history. And a couple of other important points to keep in mind here too. If we do business as usual before Sept. 11, clearly, what we were doing was inadequate to guard against the kind of thing that happened at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. We have to be very aggressive if we're going to intercept, if we're going to disrupt, if we're going to prevent future attacks against the United States. We also need to be able to protect and preserve sources of intelligence. One of the prime reasons for doing this is that it will allow us to use intelligence information that we couldn't use in a regular court proceeding in order to bring these people to justice and, at the same time, be able to protect the sources of information. One of the reasons bin Laden is so good today with his security is because he's gone to school on it. He's learned from previous leaks, and previous disclosures in the press, and previous disclosures in trials how we operate, and he then adjusts his style of operation and we then lose access to information about what he's doing. Here, we've got the opportunity, using these military tribunals, giving people full and fair trials, and represented by counsel to proceed to bring them to justice and, at the same time safeguard those very important elements of national security information.

SAWYER So you fully, wholeheartedly, without reservations support all of this, the visas, all of it?

CHENEY Absolutely. Think about the visa thing now. All of the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11 came in on visas. They all entered the country legally. Three of them had overstayed their visas, were in violation at the time of the attack, but we've been a very generous and very open society, and we need to look at our visa system, in terms of seeing whether or not there are things there we can do to tighten up, to make it impossible for terrorists to do to us what they did on Sept. 11. I'm a little bit concerned here that what happens is we get farther and farther away from Sept. 11, people forget the horror of what occurred on that day, forget the thousands of men and women and children who, innocent Americans, who were killed and slaughtered by these individuals who came to this country with one specific purpose in mind, and that was to kill Americans, and we have to guard against that. This is a set of circumstances unlike any we've ever faced. There are historical analogies in terms of the authority the president is wielding here, but it is perfectly consistent with past practices. It has been approved by the Supreme Court. There is every reason in the world why this is an appropriate way to go to deal with the unique circumstances we now find ourselves faced with. These people are not going to be mistreated. They are going to be treated like the unlawful combatants that they are.

SAWYER You have worked with President Bush, father and son. Give me one difference in the two of them in wartime.

CHENEY One difference of the two of them in wartime. Well, they're each…they're very much separate individuals in terms of, I suppose I work with them so closely that I see enormous differences, and just in terms of their, they are very much different kinds of individuals.

SAWYER What's the big difference?

CHENEY Well, President Bush that I work with now is very much…he's very orderly and organized in terms of the way he goes about things. He thinks in terms of tasks and assignments, and I suppose it's partly it's his business school training and background.

SAWYER And the former president?

CHENEY I think of Number 41, as we referred to him, the former president was more oriented toward personalities, for example. He knew all of these people he dealt with around the world, met them when he was ambassador to the United Nations, or when he was representative in China or when he was vice president. So he tended to think of personal relationships and grab the telephone and deal with these individuals. This is just a different style of operation. They both did the other thing. President Bush today is very good and spends a lot of time on the phone with the leaders, other world leaders, a great relationship that he's developed, for example, with President Putin. But he tends to function more as a manager, as an executive, and his father I think was somebody who had these great set of relationships around the world, and they both were very effective in their own way.

SAWYER President Bush has now said that when he said wanted dead or alive, Mrs. Bush not only winced, but basically went up to him and said, "Bushie, are you going to get him?" And backed him off. Did you wince?

CHENEY No, I didn't wince. I think that was appropriate.

SAWYER Has Mrs. Cheney ever came up to you — yes?

CHENEY She has.

SAWYER And what does she say? What did she come up to you —

CHENEY Well, this is a relationship that goes back some 37 years now, and there have been occasions too numerous to count when I received good advice from my bride about what I should and shouldn't say.

SAWYER You won't give us one?

CHENEY No, I won't give one.

SAWYER I guess we'll have to call her.

CHENEY All right.

SAWYER I want to ask one quick question about this. As you know, people are fascinated and they certainly understand the security precautions, but they are fascinated with this idea of you going into what is colloquially called the cave.

CHENEY The cave, yeah.

SAWYER Especially when the president said earlier this week the two of you had breakfast together, it was like everyone went —

CHENEY Oh my gosh.

SAWYER They were together in the same room.


SAWYER I know this sounds like — like I don't know — Robin Leach or something, or one of those magazines, but we're just trying to get a visual sense of what it's like when you're there. Are there places to sleep? Are there — somebody said to me, "Does Mrs. Cheney come there?" I mean, people are imagining you in some —

CHENEY [Inaudible]

SAWYER Some Quonset hut someplace.

CHENEY Well, it's … first of all, the reason for it is, given the nature of the threat we're faced with now — it used to be that presidential security, the concern was over a nut with a gun, an individual act that was aimed at the president. Now we're faced with a situation where the government itself may be the target, the White House, as we think probably was the case on September the 11th. And in terms of our responsibility for the continuity of government, to ensure the succession of the presidency, we believe that we need to spend a certain amount of time not in the same location, at different locations. That's really what it's about. When the president's on the road, I'm usually in the White House. When he's in the White House, I'm usually at the place, sometimes it's traveling. Sometimes it's just what we describe as our nondisclosed secure location.

SAWYER And how should we imagine it? What should we —

CHENEY Well, you should think of it as a facility where there is a high degree of personal security, where there are good communications, where I'm able to go on and do my work. I always have my staff with me, a portion of it. We divide up the duties so they don't have to go all the time. They've got other responsibilities, families and so forth. But where I'm in constant touch with the White House, have several video conferences a day with my own staff, with NSC, or Connie Rice, Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, and with the president. We always begin every day with the same sequence of meetings. If we're both in the White House we do them together in the Oval Office. If we're separated, we do them over the video conference. So it's — it works very well. Everybody's adjusted to it.

SAWYER You just spend the night there comfortably?

CHENEY Sure, oh yeah. And the main purpose of it is again to make certain that we don't allow ourselves into a situation where we both could become a target. That doesn't mean we will always be apart, but it does mean that on those occasions when we do get together, we don't announce it. So it's more a matter of being unpredictable.

SAWYER And when will you know when to stop doing this, when it's OK to stop doing this?

CHENEY We still have sufficient concerns about the threat to the United States that it's very important that we continue to be cautious and exercise due regard for the succession of the presidency. The Ramadan, for example, is a period that we're in the midst of right now, that has special significance in the Muslim world.

SAWYER Do you envision it for the rest of the presidency?

CHENEY I can't predict that. I didn't envision Sept. 11. We do know that Osama bin Laden and his organization have sought to acquire nuclear weapons, that they were trying to acquire biological and chemical weapons. We know that they have already launched very serious attacks against the United States and may well do so again. It's entirely possible, assuming we're successful at getting bin Laden, that the al Qaeda network, an organization would still be in place. They're in some 50 or 60 countries around the world. And it may be some considerable period of time here before we can relax and say that there's no longer a threat to the United States.

SAWYER Well, I'm going to sit this down in just a minute, but I've got to ask, do you watch Saturday Night Live?


SAWYER Do you really?

CHENEY I — but actually what happens is I usually fall asleep before it comes on, because I tend up early and go to bed early, but —

SAWYER Do you have a favorite?

CHENEY I loved the one where I was in the cave in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I thought that was superb. I enjoyed the show very much, and he's got it down. He's doing pretty well. He's not there yet, but he's doing well in terms of his impersonations.

SAWYER You mean the bionic heart, the whole thing?

CHENEY The bionic heart, the coffee maker and where he was in effect a one-man Afghani wrecking crew, as I recall. I thought it was pretty good.

SAWYER And speaking of hearts, how are you feeling?


SAWYER And do people — does your staff bring you the Cheney jokes of the day?

CHENEY And if they don't, my daughters do.

SAWYER Do they really?


SAWYER Do you have a personal favorite?

CHENEY Well, the tape of the Saturday Night Live.

SAWYER Is there another just joke that you —

CHENEY That's the main one that comes to mind. I think there's a bunch.

SAWYER Saddam. As we know, the president just said basically that there will be consequences if he does not let the United Nations, the UNSCOM group in to inspect. His answer is we will not permit it. Going on, an Iraqi spokesman said anyone who thinks Iraq can accept an, an arrogant and unilateral will of this party or that is mistaken. So the lines have been drawn, and the Germans, at the very least, have said wait a minute, don't go there, and the exact quote I believe for the foreign minister is: "All European nations would view a widening of the conflict with greater skepticism and that's putting it diplomatically." My question is will the United States go in and blast Saddam Hussein if he does not let inspection groups in, and will we do it alone, and so what is the rest of the allies say no?

CHENEY The president was very clear, the other day, Diane, when he was asked about Saddam, that we believe he should in fact allow inspectors back in. That's what the U.N. Security Council has called for. He kicked 'em out about three years ago. The Clinton administration basically didn't respond at that point. There's several things to keep in mind about Iraq and about the Iraqis. We know that he was developing nuclear weapons, and that in 1981, for example, when the Israelis struck the Osirik [ph] reactor they dealt a major blow to his program. We know, in 1991, at the time of the Gulf War, that he also was getting close, once again, to acquiring nuclear weapons. We know he has developed biological and chemical agents. He's used them, not only on his own people but also on the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. That thousands and thousands of people have died at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction already. That's history. There's every reason to believe, since he kicked out the inspectors, that he did that specifically because he wanted to develop further his capabilities in this area, so-called biological, chemical agents and nuclear weapons.The reason those inspectors were called for in the first place, and he agreed to them at the end of the Gulf War, that was one of the conditions for moving forward, was to make certain, to reassure the world that he was not developing these kinds of capabilities again. Now I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that this guy is clearly, continues to be a significant potential problem for the region, for the United States, for everybody with, with interests in the area, and for the president to say that he thinks those inspectors should be readmitted, I think is a perfectly reasonable policy statement for him to make.

SAWYER And will we go in and blast them alone —

CHENEY I would not, I would not want to speculate on, on what the future might hold, but we do think that the appropriate thing for him to do is to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and allow those inspectors to come back in.

SAWYER And will allies' reservations stop us from doing anything?

CHENEY I, I will simply leave it where it's at. The president's made it clear what U.S. policy is on, in this regard, and we'll continue to work with our friends in the region and with our allies and with members of the coalition to address not only those problems, but others that are bound to arise as well.

SAWYER I want to play a tape of something you said, and I want to make sure that I get to, to the economy and one question on Congress. But you, in talking about the intelligence and the ability to refine it, I think a lot of people wonder what it means, now, in terms of the high state of alert we're supposed to be on in terms of America's safety. And I — there are so many people who have said to me, I remember when the vice president said something that made me stop and think, "Oh, no, I understand where we are now," and I'm just gonna play it for you, if I can work the machine, which of course is never certain with me.

SAWYER As I say, it was a moment that made so many people stop and think and pause. If there were one thing you could say, right now, to Americans about this future of casualties, here at home, and overseas, what would it be?

CHENEY Well, that we're doing everything we can both to sort of harden the target here at home, to make it tougher for the terrorist who comes to launch an attack against the United States, and military tribunals are a part of that, a tougher visa system is a part of that.

SAWYER And does the intelligence enable us to make a distinction now between what is a real threat and what is a threat we've got to worry about, even though we can't confirm it?

CHENEY Intelligence is, is fuzzy. Sometimes it's fairly precise; sometimes it's a threat focused overseas, sometimes here. It's never, almost never the kind that said on, you know, on Jan. 13, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 8th Street in Washington, D.C., the following will happen. It's never, never that precise. But our intelligence is, is good, it may not be perfect, though, and I guess the other, the key requirement and, and the best response I can give to people who are legitimately concerned is that a good offense is the best defense. That at the heart of our success, in terms of being able to avoid further attacks against the United States is to go get the "bad guys," for us to go, aggressively take down the al Qaeda network, wrap up Osama bin Laden and punish those states that provide sanctuary to terrorists, on the grounds that they are just as guilty of those acts as are the terrorists themselves. So an aggressive U.S. posture overseas I think is exactly the right place to be and as well as doing everything we can here, at home, to, to make it tougher for the terrorists to operate in our society.

SAWYER But it's been a while since we've had one of those heightened state of alert. Everybody should keep your eyes peeled at every second. It's been a while.

CHENEY Well, you … these are difficult calls to make in terms of when you tell everybody, you know, let's … everybody be concerned because we've got a new threat, and you want people to focus on it. You don't want to do that so often that it becomes routine, that people don't focus on it when it happens. Hopefully people are still very much aware that the world changed on Sept. 11, that we are vulnerable as a society, that we do need to be aware of what's going on around us, that we do need to report suspicious people to the proper authorities, and I think we're getting much more of that than we have before.

SAWYER But have there been events where you thought about going out and saying that and decided, no, in this case —

CHENEY Now we've had, we've never really come down off the alert, in a sense, at least from our perspective. We put it out there and, and it needs to continue to be there. Now what you get is this continued sort of sequence of reporting. A lot of it never comes to pass. Sometimes it's, it's phony. People do it for whatever reason. Sometimes it's a disgruntled spouse makes a charge against a husband. That in fact happened within the last couple of months. Sometimes it's somebody who's looking for something and trying to gain money, you know, by selling information. We run all of these to ground, lots of them turn out to be false, but some of them obviously are true. Sometimes they'll specify a particular period of time when something's expected to happen, and because of actions we've taken, because we have gotten very aggressive with law enforcement, because we are out there rounding up suspects and holding people for questioning and so forth, we're able to disrupt the operations, so they're, they're not able to carry through on, on their plans. But we have to very much keep in mind that this, this is not, by any means, ended. As well as things have gone in Afghanistan, it's just the beginning. We really have a large worldwide network of thousands of those terrorists who have gone through those training camps who have been taught all kinds of practices that are potentially damaging to the United States, and you'll find them in Malaysia, and Indonesia, and throughout the Middle East, and Europe, and we had some obviously here in the United States.

SAWYER Holiday season particularly more frightening or it's the same?

CHENEY I don't know. I can't — I'd like to be able to say to everybody that you can relax at 3 o'clock next Tuesday. I can't say that. We continue to do everything we can to safeguard against another attack, but people do have to remain alert, they do have to be sensitive to what's going on around them and use caution.

SAWYER On the economy, 400,000 jobs lost, the biggest in 22 years, I think I read. If you're just talking to them, with what percentage of certainty can you say to them, if you get your economic stimulus package that this economy will turn around by when?

CHENEY I think, based on the economists I talk with, you have to recognize the source of the information, but we fully expect to recover next year. We had a slowdown of again about a year ago, last September of 2000, that tipped over into a recession in March of this year, now, according to the experts and was dealt a severe blow by the events of Sept. 11. But I think we are on the way to recovery. We're beginning to see signs of that. The unemployment claims and so forth have dropped off, our first week unemployment claims. There's some anecdotal evidence out there that things are beginning to turn around. But I think the stimulus package is essential. What the president has asked for is the kind of relief that will stimulate investment, and growth, and the creation of new jobs, and we think that's vital. We need to take care of those people who have been laid off through unemployment compensation, perhaps extending, adding additional weeks during which they can draw benefits and doing some of those things as well too. But I'm confident the U.S. economy is the strongest in the world. It's a remarkable, resilient entity, and we are going to do very, very well in the future, but we've got to get through these next few months, and the best way to do that is with the stimulus package the president has asked for, and the House has passed. Congress needs to act. There is work under way between the Senate and the House leadership. The president and I had breakfast with some of the members yesterday, and hopefully they can get a process put in place that will give[?] us results[?].

SAWYER Do you want to light a fire under them? Are you frustrated?

CHENEY I am, but I'm also — I've learned over the years that in the midst of delicate negotiations, probably not a good time to strike a match.

SAWYER And are you willing to leave the second, third leadership behind? Are you willing to leave Armey and DeLay behind if they stick to the corporate tax cut that the president wants?

CHENEY They'll be very much a part of the discussions and negotiations. I think the bill that the House passed is a pretty good bill. It's embodied a lot of what we asked for, and I think, in the end, if it's going to fly, it's going to require a coming together of both House and Senate, both parties' leadership on both sides if we're going to get a good bill.

SAWYER I know I have to let you go, but I've got one question that occurred to me. It's such a silly question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. So Mrs. Bush calls him "Bushie." Is she the only one who calls him Bushie? Just checking.

CHENEY She is the only one who would, would use that term. I've never heard it used by anybody else, and I think for good reason. The president responds very favorably when Laura refers to him in those terms, but the rest of us would not use that phrase, I don't believe.

SAWYER And what does Mrs. Cheney call you?

CHENEY I'll never tell.

SAWYER Fair enough. As we head into the Christmas season, just thinking about you and Christmas, is there a song, carol you love the most? Is there something that most means Christmas to you?

CHENEY When I think of Christmas, I think of home, in Wyoming, the mountains, a family practice for years that we go to Jackson Hole where we have a home, and the family comes together. We ski, we spend several days together, and that's — it's the Wyoming Christmas I guess that's always foremost in my mind when I think about that time of year.

SAWYER Dreaming of the horizon way out there.

CHENEY Well, the mountains. We're at the foot of the Tetons, and it's the prettiest valley in the world, and we get to spend Christmas there, so that's always a very special time for the family.

SAWYER Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY Thank you, Diane.

Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Diane Sawyer of ABC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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