Responding to criticism from former Vice President Cheney that President Obama is making the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, the president’s National Security Adviser, Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), told ABC News in an exclusive interview that actually the reverse is true: President Obama’s greater success with international relations has meant more terrorists put out of commission.
“This type of radical fundamentalism or terrorism is a threat not only to the United States but to the global community,” Jones said. “The world is coming together on this matter now that President Obama has taken the leadership on it and is approaching it in a slightly different way – actually a radically different way – to discuss things with other rulers to enhance the working relationships with law enforcement agencies – both national and international."
Jones said that “we are seeing results that indicate more captures, more deaths of radical leaders and a kind of a global coming-together by the fact that this is a threat to not only the United States but to the world at-large and the world is moving toward doing something about it.”
The former Marine General didn't provide any specific numbers to back up his claim, but he said “there is an increasing trend and I think we seen that in different parts of the world over the last few months for sure.” He added that he was not “making a tally sheet saying we are killing more people, capturing more people than they did -- that is not the issue.”
But the numbers are going up, he said. “The numbers of high value targets that we are successfully reaching out to or identifying through good intelligence” from both the CIA and intelligence agencies from US allies has made the difference, he said. “We have better human intelligence; we know where the terrorists are moving. Because of the dialogue and the tone of the dialogue between us and our friends and allies...the trend line against terrorism is positive, and that’s what we want. If we have a positive trend line we have a safer country.”
Jones made his comments the day after Mr. Cheney said he has “serious doubts” about the extent to which President Obama “understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation.” Cheney assailed the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to begin a preliminary investigation into whether any CIA officers went beyond what they were told was legally permissible in interrogating detainees.
“It's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration,” Cheney said.
Jones dismissed questions that the investigation was the result of political pressure and said “people that were acting within the law don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Obviously the former Vice President feels strongly about certain things,” Jones said, “I don’t know if it is a question of legacy.”
“I take exception” to assertions “that something that we decided or the president decided will make the country less safe,” Jones said. “I just don’t agree with that. We are about making this country safe. I think that we are fashioning global relationships with other countries around the world.”
“We are doing everything to make this country safe every single day,” Jones asserted.
Jones didn’t buy Cheney’s argument that the effectiveness of the Bush-Cheney counterterrorism policies are proven in the fact that the U.S. didn’t experience any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after September 11, 2001. “It’s very easy to leave office and say, ‘Well, no other disaster happened on the size and scope of 9/11, so we did our job well.’ Well, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.”
Jones did not dismiss Cheney’s argument that Holder’s decision could have a chilling effect on the willingness of CIA officers to do what they are told to do.
“I think it is something we have to address,” Jones said. “I think anybody who works in a law enforcement agency -- whether it is the police or FBI or CIA -- have to know clearly what the rules are and have to know what the law says and have to act with the parameters of the law. I think we are back, we are getting to a more consistent point.”
“We’re a nation of values,” he told ABC News. “I was on active duty when these techniques were used. I was surprised and disappointed.” The United States, he said, isn’t “known as a country that tortures people.”
Jones said he couldn’t provide any definitive answer as to whether, as Cheney argues, any detainees who were interrogated using methods President Obama has banned – ones that qualify as torture under international law – provided information they would not have offered using other means.
“I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that would argue because somebody was subjected to enhanced techniques that there was a revelation that we wouldn’t have had,” he said, “but it is very hard to prove the negative on this.”
Jones argued that a recent report that terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided information after being water boarded dozens of times is counter-balanced by KSM’s testimony to the International Committee of the Red Cross that some of those times he provided false information.
“He himself admitted that in order to get them to stop doing it, he lied,” Jones said, “and he is smart enough to play out the lie a little bit. I just think it comes down to our laws and our values and we are what we say we are or we are not and I think we are on the way back to being what we say we are.”