One on One with Former President Clinton — Terrorism in the Information Age
More than 80 paramilitary troopers were killed following a suicide bombing at a training center in northwest Pakistan. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for the Americans raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden back on May 2nd.
Meantime, Former President Bill Clinton has been tight-lipped publicly about that very operation. In a CNBC exclusive, President Clinton broke his silence speaks to Maria Bartiromo for the first time about what he knew about the operation, what it means for the war on terrorism, and what's next for the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Information has become one of the most powerful tools of the global revolution we’ve seen in the Middle East region. Mati Kochavi, Founder & CEO of Cyber Security Firm AGT International joined President Clinton to discuss how companies and countries can effectively manage the threats.
Here’s a transcript of Maria Bartiromo’s interview with President Clinton and Mati Kochavi, Founder & CEO of AGT International.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. President, let me kick it off with top--probably the biggest story of our day right now, and of course that is the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. And we first learned about Osama bin Laden's capture and death through social networking, through Twitter. Were you surprised at how the information flowed?
Pres. CLINTON: A little bit, although I think if you look at what's happened with all these social network sites, not just in political upheavals—Tunis and Cairo, and the work that's been done to shut them down in other countries--but the role that Google played, for example, in helping us to find people who were buried under the rubble in the Haitian earthquake who were still alive, and get there in a reasonable amount of time so people would survive. I wasn't so surprised. In this case, I think it's possible that the traditional television networks actually knew about it about the time whoever twittered it did, and just sat on it at the request of the White House because they were--I was watching CNN, and they were sort of speaking in code for three hours, dancing around the subject, waiting for the president to come on. And--but I do think this instantaneous communication, it's a fact of life, and it's a good thing. It's one of the reasons we in America need to speed up our Internet connections and become globally competitive as quickly as possible.
BARTIROMO: And we're going to talk about that. Mati, we want to talk about how to protect yourself in this new world. But first, Mr. President, I've got to ask you, given the fact that we found bin Laden very close to the military base, I mean, do you think the Pakistani government knew where he was, and do you think this hurts the US-Pakistan relationship going forward?
Pres. CLINTON: Let me answer you this way. Someone asked me the other day, `Do you think Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror, or someone there knew bin Laden was there and helped him stay anonymous?' And my answer was yes to both questions. That is, I doubt that anyone in the civilian apparatus knew. I don't think Prime Minister--President Zardari knew. I doubt that anybody in his inner Cabinet knew. The heads of the intelligence services and the military have acted wounded about this, maybe they didn't know. But somebody may have.
One of the problems that Pakistan has and--is sorting out its own identity because there's so much internal conflict there between those who want to be reconciled to the rest of the world, beginning with India, and those who essentially buy the narrative of al-Qaeda. The latter group, I'm convinced, are in the minority, but there are enough of them to cause a hell of a lot of damage; not just what you saw in Mumbai with the hotel bombing, but also within Pakistan itself. So I think it's a--that's why I think the administration has been absolutely right. I noticed the secretary of state, with whom I normally agree--makes my life a lot easier, but I also happen to believe it--said the other day that Pakistan was still a key partner in our efforts to contain terrorism. I agree with that. We have no choice but to try to work with them and help the internal battle that is going on there to come out the right way.
BARTIROMO: Do you think we've cut off the head of terrorism, or do you expect retaliatory attacks? What do you think al-Qaeda's response will be at this point?
Pres. CLINTON: I don't know, because I think that he clearly was symbolically the head of al-Qaeda and a still--if what we read in the press is to be believed about there being a veritable treasure trove of information on his computers, was still thinking about what to do. The operational head for a long time has been his number two, Dr. al-Zawahiri, and in recent years al-Qaeda's operated more like a franchise operation than a top-down operation and has morphed, just as communications has morphed. I mean, the fundamental challenge you have with terror is that the--in the world we live in, you've said it first with the Twitter example, all the borders look more like nets than walls. And most of us like it. It's made life good for us. But you can't avoid feeling the consequences of instability in another part of the world. So I think it depends. I don't think there's any question it's a setback for them. I don't think it's any question that, ironically, coming when it did with the rise of the democracy movements in many Islamic countries, that the juxtaposition of the two may lead to a rejection of the whole mind-set.
The thing that was so tragic about bin Laden, who was a charismatic, intelligent and courageous figure in a way, in the sense that he lived in a cave and then hid out and--you know, he came from the richest family of Saudi Arabia, he could've had a very different life--was that he has a world view that is totally inconsistent with human survivability. You cannot say that you have the absolute truth and anybody, including your fellow Muslims, who disagree with you are less human than you are and deserve to die as soon as possible. You--that is a--that world view is totally incompatible with everything that makes the world work today. So I think it therefore is a net plus that he's gone because I think it will put a damage in the world view. Ultimately, this is a battle of the mind and heart. Is it a good thing we've got better intelligence? You bet. Is it a good thing that we're much more mobile than we used to be, witness the Navy SEALs? Yes. But in the end, we got to win this fight in the head and the heart. And I think that what's happening in the streets in a lot of these countries is evidence that even though Americans may not always agree with what the popular will is, that the politics of extermination are losing their appeal.
HOW TO PROTECT PEOPLE AND COUNTRIES
BARTIROMO: Mati, we certainly are watching extraordinary events take place, whether it be the capture here, but more importantly as it relates to technology, what we saw in Tunisia, what we saw in Egypt, Bahrain. What do governments need to do to ensure they're protecting their people and their countries?
Mr. KOCHAVI: Well, it's extraordinarily interesting. Bouazizi burnt himself on I think December 17 or 19, say. Less than a month later he passed away, the young man in Tunisia. And from there we saw what happened in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen. And if anyone had to predict that that's going to happen an hour before it happened, I would think he would be fired from every intelligence agency that he was been working for. So the question of information and understanding what's happening is really becoming quite complicated. It's strange. I mean, we live in an age of--era of information. We know so much. We have the Internet, we have the tweeters, we have everything, and yet we again and again are unable to predict real, significant events. So that raises a lot of questions, and that's the biggest challenge as a government itself. Governments really need to be able to predict, and the prediction's becoming more and more complex.
I think there are two reasons for that. What's unique about it, beginning of the 21st Century, is that space and time have changed. Space because of globalization. We have less borders because of political arrangements. We have much more trade, services, $12 trillion moving between countries. But borders have been removed. And then time because of the Internet. Things are moving the speed of light. We have to make decisions much faster, and things--and information gets created as much faster. And those two things of space and time are making governments and companies in many ways less stable because when something happens, it happens big, major magnitude, and very fast.
BARTIROMO: So you're really talking about predicting, using tools to actually predict outcomes and create solutions before you actually have a bigger event?
Mr. KOCHAVI: Yes. The ability to predict on level of companies and countries is becoming more complicated in the world that we are living in because it's much more complex. Why this is more complex? Because events are not any more local. I think, Mr. President, when you were president, I think that were--you used to say there were about 50 Web sites.
Pres. CLINTON: When I became president, 50 sites on the Internet in the world.
Mr. KOCHAVI: And I have internal information about you which I was told that you only sent two e-mails during the--your time at the White House.
Pres. CLINTON: And that's because I didn't think they were secure.
BARTIROMO: And they weren't.
Pres. CLINTON: I sent one to our soldiers on a ship in the Adriatic during the Kosovo conflict, and one to John Glenn when I approved his going into space at the age of 77.
But, you know, let's go back. Maria asked you another question that I'm curious about because I see this technology, it's--like everything else in life, it's a double-edged sword. I remember once Bishop Tutu, the Nobel Prize-winning South African campaigner against apartheid, once said at our Clinton Global Initiative, he said, you know, `Religion is like a knife. If you use it to slice bread, it's very good. If you use it to slice off your neighbor's arm, it's bad.' And so this technology, it's like a knife. That is, is there some way that a country can preserve a core of security without basically shutting off access to information to people in a way that the Iranians have tried to do, the Chinese have tried to do, and others? Is there some way of doing that? On a microcosmic basis, my daughter is on the board of an NGO called Common Sense. What Common Sense tries to do is to guarantee that children using the Internet have personal privacy, that they can't be invaded, but that parents still have enough control over their access to the Web site to keep them from being exposed to pornography and exploitation. It's an ever-morphing challenge. So is this a fool's errand? It's what you do--how can the United States, for example, preserve--the WikiLeaks thing makes the point. Most of that stuff didn't amount to a hill of beans, but nobody'll ever tell us anything again. Now when a diplomat sends an e-mail, they'll just make it up because nobody's going to talk to them after what they saw. So is there a--is there a way to have fundamental security over the things that deal with, let's say, the survival of the state of Israel, the survival of the United States, the survival of Jordan without being so repressive you're basically trying to deny access to information technology to preserve autocracy?
Mr. KOCHAVI: You know, we talk about governments. I would start with the companies. Let's take example the search engines companies. When we search something and ask for a question and we get it, we are very pleased because we got the answer and we are even not being asked to pay for it. So we look at the search engine companies or platforms, and we're saying those are great guys. They're doing great service for free. We forget about two things. We forget that what motivates or positions the result of the search on the top is going to be advertising or it's going to be algorithms. And the algorithms that are looking for the information are not based on accuracy, they're based on popularism. They're saying, where is the most interesting site that most of the people visit? And that's what brings it to the top of the search. It's like taking the tabloids and sending it to the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
So it begins with the companies. Why can't we have a credibility bar near every result of search. And you're going to say, OK, this information comes because it was written by a great blogger, or it was written by a 15 year old
person, or it was written by a very serious person. Why don't we--we have it on--when we buy food, we have the ingredients on the food. When we go to see a movie, we have rating. So it begins by the responsibilities of the companies who are doing those things that can do a lot of change over there. And we can see discussions about privacy, and we see it more and more, such as why won't I be able, when I'm going to my social network, to know why would they want put a note over there, `We want you to know that your information was given to A, B and C. It was sold.' So it begins with the credibility of those organizations. And if they're going to increase their credibility, governments are going to have much easier life because then, when I see information, I'm going to know if I can really take it seriously or not.
There is no power of belief on the Internet. I mean, someone can write the wrong story, can use the Internet in the right way, it is going to reach popular blogs, reach the top of the search, everyone is going to know it's false, everyone is going to agree that it's wrong, and yet you cannot delete it.
BARTIROMO: But, you know, what--we're dancing around a very important subject here, because the president made the--made the comment and question, can we actually secure what we need to secure without shutting down information flow from the people? And you're saying, well, what about a credibility bar? Who puts that credibility bar in? I mean, would you want to see the Internet regulated?
Pres. CLINTON: Well, the fact that it hasn't been explains one of the reasons it's grown like crazy. And even regulators wind up having their own interests at stake. He obviously has an idea about it, so how would you--how would you have a--it's more like a temperature thing, right, going up and down.
Mr. KOCHAVI: Right.
Pres. CLINTON: How would you determine whether this story is credible or not? Look, 90 percent of the time it'd be easy, right?
Mr. KOCHAVI: Right.
Pres. CLINTON: The only hard thing would be the opinions. `This is going to happen day after tomorrow.' But most of the time it would be easy. What he's talking about, we don't even have a factual bell ringer that goes off on the Internet.
Mr. KOCHAVI: Right.
BARTIROMO: Even Wikipedia can be changed...
Pres. CLINTON: Yeah.
BARTIROMO: ...by anyone.
Mr. KOCHAVI: Right. So we all agree that information is the most powerful thing. I mean, I remember the first days that the Internet came to our world. We saw it as a great opportunity for freedom. You headed this great initiative to commit schools, right?
Pres. CLINTON: Yeah.
Mr. KOCHAVI: To multimedia and Internet.
Pres. CLINTON: We did it.
Mr. KOCHAVI: It's going to bring education, it's going to create wonderful things. And we forgot to look at the dark side of the Internet. And the Internet can be easily manipulated. It can become a very powerful tool to bring forth information.
Now, who's going to give the credibility? I would say the companies are doing the search. They should say, `Here is--here is information about the search. Here is the data where we took it from. Here is what we can tell you about the source of information.' If those companies would take responsibility like this, so then we'll be able to start evaluating the value of the information that we have. We have no ability to value the information.
BARTIROMO: Yeah, it goes both ways. I mean, on the--in the case of Osama bin Laden, I mean, I was astounded the other night to hear a sound bite from Christiane Amanpour, who said in 2008, `I heard Osama bin Laden is living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a cave.'
Pres. CLINTON: Really?
BARTIROMO: She said that. So she knew where he was.
Pres. CLINTON: She knows a lot of stuff. She's good.
BARTIROMO: But governments didn't.
Mr. KOCHAVI: She's really good.
BARTIROMO: Yeah. I mean, I saw it on tape. So, I mean, what are the risks, Mr. President, of being a globally connected society? We talk about the world being a small world and we need to be connected globally.