March 3, 2005 | Broadcast
We know that al-Qaeda wants to attack the United States, but there’s more bad news. The Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah has cells in at least 14 cities in the US. One of the group’s slogans is: Death to America. My guests, Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz, hope their new book, “Lightning Out of Lebanon,” will be a wake-up call about the threat of Hezbollah in America.
Barbara Newman is a former NPR reporter and investigative producer for “20/20.” She’s now a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Tom Diaz is a former lead Democratic counsel on counterterrorism issues and helped write counterterrorism legislation. More recently, he consulted to the Justice Department on the use of high technology by terrorists. Their new book traces the history of Hezbollah and then focuses on one cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was busted by the FBI in 2000. The leader was convicted in 2002.
Hezbollah, which translates to `party of God,’ was founded in 1982 with the help of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and is headquartered in Lebanon. It’s unclear whether the current political turmoil in Lebanon will strengthen or weaken the group.
What are some of the acts against American interests that Hezbollah has been responsible for?
Ms. BARBARA NEWMAN (Co-Author, “Lightning out of Lebanon”; Senior Fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies): Well, Hezbollah has been at war with the United States, really, since 1983. Their first major action was the explosion at the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 servicemen and women. They were responsible for the kidnapping of all the Western hostages in Beirut in the ’80s. They were responsible for the torture death of the CIA station chief, William Buckley, in which they placed a tube in his throat and slowly drowned him. That tape was sent to the CIA and–with tremendous consequences. CIA Director Casey–people said it almost drove him crazy.
Since then, they have been responsible for the ’92 and ’94 bombings in Argentina of the Israeli Embassy and the Argentinian Jewish Cultural Center. They also were involved in the bringing down of the Khobar Towers in the ’90s in Saudi Arabia, in which dozens of American servicemen were killed and wounded. In 1995, they tried to kill President Clinton’s national security adviser. They have been penetrating the United States and setting up cells, sending people here, highly trained people, since the 1980s.
Mr. TOM DIAZ (Co-Author, “Lightning out of Lebanon”): May I add just one point to that, which is that in the view of Hezbollah and in the view of many Islamists, Hezbollah was responsible for the only two great armed successes that they can point to. One was they did get the United States out of Lebanon after the Marine Corps barracks bombing in 1983. Although then-President Ronald Reagan said, you know, `We’re going to go after the people who did this,’ the end result was that we left. They also take credit for having forced Israel to leave Lebanon. That was not only a victory for Hezbollah within itself. Hezbollah has a very high regard among the Islamists who want to confront the West and the United States in particular.
GROSS: Now you write in your book that for Hezbollah, Israel is the little Satan, but America is the great Satan. Why does Hezbollah hate the United States so much?
Mr. DIAZ: Well, Hezbollah regards the United States as, first, Israel’s major patron, so they see us as sort of the main enemy, which is why they call us the great Satan and Israel the little Satan. And part of that derives from the philosophy or ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini from Iran, which is a prime patron of Hezbollah. But Hezbollah also has another view of the United States and the West in general, which is that we have no business–we defile the world of Islam, and they want us out of the world of Islam, wherever one defines that world to be.
GROSS: What is the connection, if any, between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda? Hezbollah is older than al-Qaeda is.
Ms. NEWMAN: Hezbollah works–trains al-Qaeda. In 1994, there was a meeting in the Sudan between the operations chief of Hezbollah, someone called Mughniyah, with Osama bin Laden, in which it’s alleged that he told him about a favorite Hezbollah tactic, which was to use two simultaneous, huge explosions to get the point across. And that happened, of course, in the African embassies of the United States in the–1998. So there was an old feeling, you know, that the Shiites and the Sunnis wouldn’t cooperate. That’s not true anymore. You know, `The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is what’s happening, and we’re told that they’ll train anybody. Hezbollah has fabulous military training, probably the best intelligence operation of any terrorist group. And last week the head of the CIA and the director of the FBI told the Congress that Hezbollah could strike the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
GROSS: Did they say the United States or US interests?
Ms. NEWMAN: They said US interests, which includes the United States.
Mr. DIAZ: Yeah, I think there was specific reference to the United States. And whether they said it or not, in the course of research of our book, we know, from having talked to the top counterterrorism people in the United States, that they are specifically concerned about the ability of Hezbollah to strike in the United States.
GROSS: Now one of the things–one of the so-called innovations in the world of terrorism that Hezbollah is responsible for is the suicide bombing. Could you talk about how Hezbollah created that as a terrorist tactic and how that fits into a fundamentalist Shiite group?
Mr. DIAZ: Hezbollah did not invent the suicide bomb, but they were like Henry Ford. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he made it a mass-production, common sort of thing. Hezbollah basically introduced the huge car bomb or truck bomb into the modern terrorist’s toolbox. When they blew up the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon and attacked the US Embassy and the French troops, which they did all roughly during the same time period, they opened a new era in terrorism, which we see today all over the world. The huge bomb is their trademark. And when it’s coordinated, as in the attacks on the American embassies in Africa, which al-Qaeda did, that’s a Hezbollah concept.
Now the suicide-bombing aspect of it–it’s very interesting because, really, the concept of suicide bombing was not one that was welcomed within the world of Islam and to many Muslim clerics still is not. But Ayatollah Khomeini, in the war between Iran and Iraq, approved the use of basically suicide squads and often of children to attack the Iraqis. So he was, really, the sort of religious or clerical author of the idea that a martyrdom could include suicide. Then a fatwa was issued to Hezbollah, and they started doing their truck bombing.
Ms. NEWMAN: They have–we’ve seen tapes of young children–actually, we saw a very chilling tape, which was repossessed after they took down the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, of some kids, one to three years old, being slapped and asked, `Who are you? Who are you?’ And they started crying. And the mothers would say, `You are Hezbollah. You’re Hezbollah.’ And then we saw another tape in which a young boy appears with–he’s about seven years old–in military training–in an interview, he says my greatest goal is to die for Islam, like my father did. And this was on al-Manar, which is the Hezbollah-sponsored television entity, which, until about two weeks ago, broadcast in the United States. It has since been banned.
GROSS: My guests are Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz. Their new book is called “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guests are Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz. They’re co-authors of the new book “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.”
Now I think it’s true that most people in the United States think of Hezbollah as a terrorist group that operates in the Middle East but that isn’t a direct threat on American soil. But your book is largely about an American cell of Hezbollah that was busted by the FBI, but it’s one of several American cells. And the others apparently are still operating. Can you give an overview…
Ms. NEWMAN: Yes.
GROSS: …yeah–about Hezbollah’s representation within the United States?
Mr. DIAZ: We were able to come up with a list that we’re pretty confident of 14 cities in the United States where, as of the time we wrote the book, there were active investigations of Hezbollah operations going on. The rule of thumb is something like this–there’s a tremendous Lebanese Shia diaspora. An interesting, to me, fact is that there are about three million Lebanese in Lebanon; there are about three million Lebanese in the United States, including Lebanese American. Now I hasten to add not all of those–in fact, a marked minority of those–are Lebanese Shia and further to say that not all Lebanese Shia support Hezbollah, certainly not support any kind of operations in the United States.
But the fact remains that within that diaspora and within that diaspora specifically in the United States, which is widespread, there are people who are willing to and do respond to the operatives who are inserted into the United States specifically to form organizations that support Hezbollah and are available, which is the risk, for operational activity. So we found 14 cities that we can confidently name, but we’re also just as confident that there are many more operatives in the United States that are under investigation. And we do know of at least one case where a very chilling sort of person is in the United States.
GROSS: So what are some of those 14 cities that you have been informed have Hezbollah cells?
Ms. NEWMAN: OK. I’m starting off on the East Coast: Boston; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta; Tampa, Florida; Miami-St. Petersburg; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Spokane, Washington; Detroit, Michigan.
GROSS: Now the cell that you write about was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and that seems like an unlikely place for a Hezbollah cell. How was it chosen…
Ms. NEWMAN: That’s weird that…
Ms. NEWMAN: That’s one reason it’s so hard to get a line on them, because they come in through family groups and friends. The–some Lebanese Shiites from the same area of Lebanon, a refugee camp called Burj el-Barajneh, came to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina, and they brought their brothers in and their friends. And when they left, actually they gave their identities to the new people who came in. And they started operating on criminal activities that were very low level, under the radar. Tom, you want to describe some of those?
Mr. DIAZ: They stay away from violent crime because that’s going to draw the attention of local law enforcement, and they stay away from high-profile crime for the most part–for example, drug trafficking. There have been some allegations that Hezbollah in the United States was involved in drug trafficking, but we were never able to confirm that. So what they look for are schemes that seem even to most Americans as–if not harmless, relatively benign.
So, for example, the Charlotte cell was heavily involved in cigarette smuggling. The tax on cigarettes in North Carolina, which is a tobacco-producing state–very low; I think it was something like 5 cents a pack. The tax in Michigan, on the other hand, which is the home of many Lebanese Shias–making a convenient other end for the funnel–the tax in Michigan was very high. There was a tremendous differential between the tax in North Carolina and the tax in Michigan. They made literally millions of dollars smuggling cigarettes.
Now the average American and, indeed, the average law enforcement official, up until the discovery that this was a big funding vehicle for terrorists, would say, `Cigarette smuggling–OK, cigarettes are bad for you. Maybe Michigan’s not getting the tax it deserves, but we’re not really all that concerned about it.’ So any sort of these midlevel, sometimes administrative, white-collar crimes, they were involved in big time. And that’s how they make the money that they then send off to be used either for direct terrorist acts or to buy dual-use military equipment.
GROSS: So one of the goals of this Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, was to make a lot of money and send money back to Hezbollah in Lebanon to fund weapons and other things. Did they also have a goal of planning an attack against Americans?
Ms. NEWMAN: Well, wait. Let me just modify that. It’s to send money back to Lebanon, but also they procured weapons of war through a Hezbollah network in Canada. So it was not just to send money back but to procure what you call dual-use equipment–in other words, highly sophisticated computers, infrared night vision–even drones, those drones you’ve heard about that are flying over the south of Lebanon, very sophisticated equipment. So it was twofold in that.
GROSS: And what about planning an attack on America? Was that one of their goals?
Mr. DIAZ: Well, we do know that Hezbollah operatives in the United States have done surveillance, which is a characteristic preliminary. So, for example, we know that they surveilled the FBI headquarters in Washington. We know that they’ve surveilled the White House. In terms of did somebody uncover a blueprint that said, `We’re going to do a bombing,’ or something like that, to our knowledge, that has not been, at least publicly, proven. I do want to say two things, though, that qualify that answer. One is that the leader of this cell, Mohamad Hammoud, and his brother were described by an informant, who was central to breaking the case and, by the way, who was himself a Lebanese Shia, who played by the rules and didn’t like it that they were coming here, to the United States, where he had built a life and were basically breaking things up. He said these two guys would be willing to do anything; that’s number one.
Number two, the 9-11 Commission said in its report that further investigation needs to be done about the potential role of Hezbollah in past terrorist attacks on the United States. Now where that takes us, I don’t know. The biggest fear, though, is that we can look at the example of the bombings in Argentina, where there were very similar cells that people thought were benign, fund-raising, getting materials to send to Lebanon. And when the time came, when the highest levels of Iran, though Imad Mughniyah, through Hezbollah, wanted to have terrific bombings in Argentina, they had the infrastructure. And these cells could become operational overnight. That’s what worries people in the United States, because it’s really not a very great leap to go from being an organization raising money, recruiting people to doing operational support.
So what does operational support involve? It involves the ideal thing for people who are integrated in the community: You get transportation; you get identification; you do surveillance that we know they’ve done; you plan to get in and out. All of this stuff can be done before the professionals, which is characteristic of Hezbollah, come in, do the job and leave. That’s what really worries, I think it’s fair to say, counterterrorism people in the United States.
GROSS: How did the FBI get wind of the Hezbollah cell in North Carolina, in Charlotte?
Ms. NEWMAN: It was–many things happen almost by accident. There was a young agent called Bob Clifford who worked at headquarters on terrorism, and he said that all the FBI did was surveil, surveil, surveil. They didn’t pre-empt anything. And he wanted to have a new type of tactic. He wanted to go after who they knew were terrorists and get them on criminal offenses. The problem is at the time that Bob Clifford existed, you had the–you know the Chinese Wall that existed between intelligence and criminal affairs at the FBI. But this Bob Clifford took it on himself, really, to do something pre-emptive on terror. So in the time he was in Washington, I think he had 50 Hezbollah terrorists kicked out of the country.
Then he was offered, through John O’Neill–John O’Neill is this man you probably heard a lot about. He was the head of the FBI’s intelligence operation in New York, and he was killed in the World Trade Center. Well, O’Neill was a risk-taker, and he agreed with this strategy. And he appointed Clifford special agent in charge in Charlotte. He, you know, absorbed the information, and he put together a slide show, called together all the law enforcement in the local area and said, `Hey, you guys, you have a Hezbollah cell here.’ And that was prompted by an informant who came in and gave them a lot of information about one of the members of the group.
GROSS: One of the major things that helped the FBI investigate the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then break the cell was the fact that they were able to flip someone named…
Ms. NEWMAN: Yes.
GROSS: …Said Mohammed Harb(ph). And he was somebody who was running a lot of scams and helping to fund the cell with that, right?
Mr. DIAZ: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And the FBI flipped him. So who was this guy, and how did the FBI get ahold of him?
Mr. DIAZ: Yeah. Said Harb was–he was really a fascinating character. He’s a relatively short guy. He calls himself Sammy Harb(ph). And, actually, the law enforcement people–he’s one of these Runyonesque characters that–they actually like the guy, even though criminal schemes just came to him very naturally. So he was heavily involved in much of the crime. He did a lot of credit card fraud. He had so many different personalities in his credit card fraud that he kept a little notebook with the different names. And then he had his phones programmed to ring differently for each name, so that if he got a phone call for a given name, he could immediately look at the book and know what he was supposed to tell the bank card company or what have you.
Well, Said Harb made several serious mistakes in the course of his activity, one of which was he sent some–a sum of money to a Hezbollah operative in Canada to help buy dual-use–that is, technology that has both military and civilian application–unbeknownst to him, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service was monitoring that cell. So Said Harb lit up like a rocket on the Canadian service, and they eventually transmitted that information through the proper channels to the FBI in the United States. There was a difficulty in using it immediately, but the FBI knew this was the guy who really was up to his neck in both criminal and support of terrorism activities. So they knew they had to turn him.
GROSS: Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman are the authors of the new book “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.” They’ll be back in the second half of the show. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: Coming up, using RICO, the anti-racketeering law, to break up a terrorist cell. We continue our conversation with the authors of “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.” And rock historian Ed Ward profiles the pop group the Chairmen Of The Boar ? created by the Motown production team Holland, Dozier & Holland.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz, authors of the new book “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.” Hezbollah was founded in 1982 and is headquartered in Lebanon. Its name means `party of God.’ The group considers Israel and the United States its greatest enemies. There are at least 14 Hezbollah cells in the US. “Lightning Out of Lebanon” focuses on a cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was busted by the FBI in 2000. The FBI was able to flip a scam artist who was helping to raise money for the cell, then the agency used RICO, the anti-racketeering law that’s been used against the Mafia.
This was the first time that RICO was used in a terrorism case. How did the FBI apply it?
Mr. DIAZ: The RICO law basically provides that if you have–it enables one to stand back from a big criminal enterprise where you have a lot of different people doing a lot of different kinds of crimes, as they were doing in Hezbollah–cigarette smuggling, Internet pornography, bank fraud, credit card fraud–but if they’re all tied together in one common enterprise–that’s called, you know, a racketeering enterprise–then these other, bigger heavier penalties kick in. That’s one aspect of it, and the common denominator here, once they were able to show it, was Hezbollah.
There was another aspect, though, of the RICO law, which agent Rick Shrine(ph) had learned in the prosecution of a motorcycle gang, and that is that if you can–in doing your search warrant, if you can make an allegation that there might be what they call indicia, common indicia–so in the case of a motorcycle gang and you’re going to go in a serve a search warrant on their headquarters, you can look for things like badges, different kind of gear…
Ms. NEWMAN: Patches.
Mr. DIAZ: Patches, things that are characteristic of that specific gang. The same thing was applied when the warrants were initially served on these groups of people in Charlotte. They were able to say, `We’re going to look for Hezbollah material,’ and they found a treasure trove of tapes, written material and so forth which helped link the group together ultimately in the prosecution. So there are two aspects. One, you’re able to prosecute them under severe penalties of federal law, and two, in the investigation, you are able to get together materials which clearly showed they were linked to Hezbollah, a known terrorist organization which was one of the predicates of the crime of providing material support to terrorism. So it worked both ways: evidence and prosecution.
GROSS: Now the FBI also used the 1996 anti-terrorist law that banned material support to terrorists, and I believe it was the first case that that law was successfully used on…
Mr. DIAZ: It was first case that actually went to trial, and there was a conviction after trial. There was at least one other case where the people basically took a plea before they went to trial. This was the first…
GROSS: So how was this law used?
Mr. DIAZ: The law was passed in 1996, and basically what it says is, it is illegal now in the United States to provide material support–and it defines what it is, but for these purposes, money, funds, clearly material support–to a designated terrorist organization. Who designates the terrorist organization? The Department of State. So the law was passed in 1996. The Department of State designated Hezbollah in 1997. The government was able to prove, even though this cell had been operating since 1992 roughly, that after the designation, they sent money to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that clearly met the predicates of the law. So they were vulnerable to that.
I want to add a couple points about this law. Before the material support law was passed, this was one of the problems that people like Bob Clifford, the innovative FBI agent, ran into. You could see these people, you knew their connections, but there was no law under which you could prosecute them except for criminal activities that they were involved in or if you waited to the last minute and actually saw them commit a law. So the passage of the material support law was key to being able to go after Hezbollah and, incidentally, many other organizations in the United States today.
GROSS: So what are some of the ripple effects of this case? The FBI successfully prosecuted the leader of the cell in Charlotte, North Carolina. What have been the ripple effects on other terrorist cells or on precedents for the FBI in trying to break cells?
Ms. NEWMAN: Well, other offices of the FBI have seen how this prosecution went down and what they could use legally. There are many, many, many cases that are open now. And I think that it has energized the FBI, and I know that Clifford has gone around and given a lot of talks on what he did and what to look for. So in that sense, it’s had a big effect.
Mr. DIAZ: Yeah. And I want to add that just in the more mundane effect of unraveling the threads, there have been cases opened in Detroit that were leads to the other end of the pipeline, and those have led to some other investigations that are ongoing right now. So breaking this cell is like opening up a spider web. You follow each strand out to where it goes. All over the United States right now, incidentally, a new approach is being taken which is that federal prosecutors, intelligence agents and criminal agents now work together. In the past, under the time of the Chinese Wall, they didn’t talk to each other. Now they’re doing it. Prosecutors are becoming much more aggressive in developing cases along with the other agents. So we see that happening throughout the United States, and this case was one that proved, yes, that approach actually does work.
GROSS: My guests are Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman. Their new book is called “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guests are Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz. They’re authors of the new book “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.”
Let’s look at what’s happening in Lebanon now and how that may or may not affect Hezbollah. Last month the prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated. It’s believed that Syria was involved with that. Syria has troops and intelligence personnel in Lebanon. This week the Syrian-backed prime minister, Omar Karami, resigned. How might this connect with Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon? Hezbollah has 12 seats in the parliament in Lebanon, so is this likely something that is going to strengthen or weaken Hezbollah?
Ms. NEWMAN: Very in flux. Hezbollah is not taking part of this groundswell of support against Syria. Moreover, the UN resolution which passed last October, in which Syria was told to leave Lebanon, also had a provision for Hezbollah being disarmed. Hezbollah is not just a guy with two knives. It was described to us as a terrorist group, as the best light infantry in the world. So the United States is not going to stand for Hezbollah controlling Lebanon any more than it likes Syria controlling Lebanon. Neither will Israel stand for that. So the situation is very much in flux. The question is, what about Hezbollah? It was supposed to disarm, never did disarm and never will, unless there probably will be some kind of an armed conflict. But I don’t see them ever peacefully turning into only a civilian political party.
Mr. DIAZ: I’d like to add a point or two relevant to our book, which is that it’s a very perilous time for Hezbollah. Hezbollah has several state sponsors, Syria and Iran. We don’t know how Hezbollah will react to a threat to its existence, except we do know that the secretary general of Hezbollah has said repeatedly that, `We will not be exterminated by the West, by the United States, and we will strike back.’ He said that many times. So the question is, how will Hezbollah react if–Syria could sell Hezbollah out theoretically? Iran could say, on the contrary, `Don’t let this happen.’ So the question is, how will Hezbollah react, or will it react in the United States or against other American interests? That’s what we need to be concerned about in the United States. The events in Lebanon could affect very directly events in the United States.
GROSS: Well, getting back to Hezbollah in America, I have to say, it didn’t make me feel good to read this book and figure out that it’s not just al-Qaeda that’s here.
Ms. NEWMAN: You know what?
GROSS: It’s Hezbollah, too.
Ms. NEWMAN: It’s depressing because, you know, I was a friend of this John O’Neill and he told me, `Do a piece on Osama bin Laden,’ in around 1998. And I said, `John, I can’t do a piece because I won’t have anyone watching it.’ No one in America wants to watch these people with those big names and those things on their heads. And we were both right. I wouldn’t have had any audience, but he was a major threat. Now it’s the same thing about Hezbollah. We’re sort of fixated on al-Qaeda, and yet ever since the 1980s, this terrifying, much more disciplined group, much better trained militarily with far better international intelligence, is right here on our soil. And what they will do, we’re not sure. It depends upon what happens in our relations, really, with Iran and with Syria and what happens to them in the flux of events in Lebanon.
Mr. DIAZ: If I can add just one more optimistic note, which–you know, I agree with Barbara about the concern and the lack of interest. The law enforcement people that we talked to were really a starlike team, and I think the good news is that they are well aware–the FBI and some other agencies are now well aware of the problem of Hezbollah. They’ve been connecting it for some time. That’s a positive note.
I want to add another thing, though, about the whole history of terrorism and the public’s interest in specific groups. Barbara and I first met when I worked for a small think tank that looked at terrorism issues, and Barbara came and wanted to do–she was one of the first television journalists who wanted to do a piece on what then people called green terrorism because of the flag of Islam, but basically, it was Islamic terrorism. And the people I worked for knew about an Egyptian cleric whose name was Omar Abdel-Rahman, who’s now sitting in a federal prison for planning attacks against the United States. We got a lot of grief for talking about him, because he was characterized quite often as just a sort of–the phrase that was used was `a blind cleric.’ And it was as if we were picking on this man. That’s one of the problems. Terrorism happens, people are very concerned about it, then interest drops off. Then something else happens, then interest drops off. The problem is, you have to have a stable, long-term view of terrorism, because the terrorists certainly have a stable, long-term view of what they want to do to us.
Ms. NEWMAN: And it’s not just that the FBI is into it, which they are, but they’re sort of not supported in the media, and the issues are not really explained except in a sort of liberal/conservative way, and this has nothing to do with liberal and conservative issues. It shouldn’t be put in that framework.
GROSS: You know, now that we know that there are Hezbollah cells in the United States and that the members of these cells are from Lebanon, they’re Shiite Muslims, you’re not suggesting that Americans become more fearful, more paranoid of Lebanese immigrants or of Shia Muslims in the United States.
Ms. NEWMAN: Well, absolutely that’s wrong. That is un-American, and that’s why we say we would like all the tools we could possibly have in the hands of people who now have to deal with it, like the intelligence people and national security people. But our people should not look at these people and think badly of them, because most Shia people are law-abiding and add quite a lot to the substance of life in our country.
Mr. DIAZ: Yeah. I would only add this. Look, when you talk about Lebanese in the United States, most of the Lebanese in the United States are Christians, an amazing preponderance. Second, of the Lebanese who are Muslims, a minority are Shia. Third, of the Shia, most of the Shia are law-abiding. They came to this country because they want to build a new life and they buy into it. And in fact, specifically in the cell that we investigated in North Carolina, it was Shia Lebanese who came forth as informants and said, `We don’t want this war being brought to the United States.’ So anybody who thinks that because a person is Lebanese or because a person is Shia or because a person’s Lebanese-Shia is, therefore, a terrorist simply hasn’t listened or read what we’re talking about.
GROSS: Having written this book and investigated Hezbollah in America as you have, have your ideas shifted about the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties?
Mr. DIAZ: When we first started doing this book, I told Barbara, frankly, that I was skeptical. I was skeptical about the cell in North Carolina and I was skeptical about Hezbollah’s reach, and my skepticism was completely erased, and, as many people, I was actually alarmed. I don’t know if my views have shifted, because I do believe that there is a balance, but if they have shifted, it’s to this extent: We need to be open-minded about the needs of law enforcement. Many of the tools that law enforcement and specifically counterterrorism people say they need, we have seen specifically how they can be applied and how they’re needed. So I understand there needs to be a broad and intensive debate in the United States about tools and civil liberties, but we cannot just be closed-minded. And as Barbara said, we cannot be partisan about this. We have to be open-minded, because real lives are involved.
GROSS: Barbara, what about you?
Ms. NEWMAN: I knew you were going to ask me this. You know, I’ve covered terrorism since the ’80s, and I’ve lived with terrorists for months, and I know what they want to do and what they think and how they think about us. I was all over Lebanon, including the south, and if you can believe it, Syrian intelligence was my guide. Why? At that time, Hezbollah was too independent, so they wanted to help me do a television piece to put them in their place. It’s a new world we live in since 9/11, unfortunately, and I just feel that in the years ahead, there’s going to be a lot of danger, and I know that one of the purposes of terrorists is to take away our way of life, our civil liberty. So I just believe that all the facts have to come out, and there has to be a decision among the people of the United States as to how far they think we ought to go. But it should be framed not in a liberal-conservative or libertarian but with all the facts out there.
GROSS: I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. DIAZ: Thank you.
Ms. NEWMAN: Thank you so much.
GROSS: Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz are the authors of “Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.”