CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


By:  Pete King
Date: Oct. 12, 2011
Location: Unknown


Let's continue our discussion with Congressman Peter King. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, how good is this evidence against Arbabsiar?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Wolf, from all that I have seen, it's extremely solid evidence.

I was a briefing this afternoon with FBI and National Counterterrorism Center. And I would just say that the accumulation of evidence to me seems to be overwhelming. There's no doubt from what I have heard that this was a very serious plot and that Arbabsiar was the center of it.

And without going into detail, I would just say that the case is very strong and I have no reason to dispute it. Obviously, there will be a trial and there will proceedings, but from all I have seen so far, this was very effective law enforcement, very strong cooperation between the DEA and the FBI and all the components of our national security team, including, again, interrogation groups within the FBI and our Counterterrorism Center, all of whom did an outstanding job.

BLITZER: How high do you believe, based on what you have heard from authorities, did this go in the Iranian government?

KING: Well, without going into what I was told at a briefing, just looking at the public record, the fact is, the Quds Force is an elite operation. To even contemplate an attack of this magnitude, to be actually carrying out attacks and murders and bombings in the United States, this violates all international law.

It would have been an act of war if it was carried out. So I just have to believe that, considering what an elite force it is, that this would not have been done unless it was sanctioned by the very highest levels of the Quds Force. And I can't imagine they would sanction it unless they have been given the sign-off by people higher up in the government, perhaps all the way to the top.

But, again, that is really just based on my analysis of the public record and common sense, because this is different from anything. I can't emphasize that enough. This is different from anything that has happened before, to actually have an act of war carried out in the United States by Iran. And that's what this was contemplated to be.

This is serious business. And I can't imagine so many at any lower or middle or even upper-middle level carrying this out without authority from on high. BLITZER: Because U.S. administration officials have been very precise. They have suggested that elements of the Iranian government, that high elements in the Quds Force, but they have specifically not said that the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the grand ayatollah personally was responsible or even knew about this.

Have you heard something different about these two individuals, Ahmadinejad or the grand ayatollah?

KING: No, Wolf, what I'm saying is that, just looking at the record, it's hard to believe -- the public record -- it's hard to believe that this didn't go very high, if not to the top, to just below the top.

But again I'm not telling you anything I have learned. This is just my analysis of knowing that it was within the Quds Force, knowing how disciplined they are, knowing how their chain of command works, that I can't believe an attack of this magnitude involving so much money, involving all the money transfers that had to occur, and again just the enormity of it, where we're attacking -- contemplating attacking embassies, killing, potentially murdering hundreds of Americans and killing a foreign ambassador on American soil. That had to be at a very, very high level.

BLITZER: Is it your sense, Congressman, that this operation was in fact, even though it was not successful, an act of war?

KING: I would consider this to be an act of war.

Certainly if it had have been carried out, it would have been an act of war. And to me, conspiring to carry out an act war as a practical matter, there is no difference. Certainly as a moral issue, as a legal issue, I don't really see the distinction.

So I think we have to, as a country, realize that, that there's a red line that has been crossed here. We are now in a different level of our relationship with Iran than before. And we have to rethink really all of our thought process up until now.

But I don't think anyone really contemplated at this stage Iran would be willing to contemplate an act of war, such an attack like this against the United States. So this has to -- talk about pushing a button. This has to force us, I believe, to plan very differently and to assume the worst from Iran.

BLITZER: Well, when you say plan very differently, the administration is ratcheting up sanctions, but are you suggesting military action right now is appropriate?

KING: Well, what I'm saying is we shouldn't take military action off the table.

But, listen, the president's the commander in chief. I don't want to get out in front of him. But I think we certainly should very seriously contemplate removing the Iranian agents from the United Nations, the Iranian representatives that are here in Washington, because very often, Iranians, elements of their missions or their representatives are involved in espionage or involved in terrorism.

I think it would send a strong signal if we removed all their staff at U.N. and all of their staff here in Washington, order them out of the country as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, how do we know that this individual, this suspect in this case, Manssor Arbabsiar, was not just some individual who made up all these stories, was telling this informant what was going on, just simply seeking to make some money, but really didn't have any direct contact with high elements in Iran?

KING: Well, first of all, there's no way this could have been done without involvement of high elements.

Secondly, there is an accumulation of evidence which backs up or confirms what he has admitted to. There's -- just talking about the amounts of money involved, to have that type of money transferred, how it was done, how sophisticated that had to be and to get that over here or get it to Mexico, no, this was not a work of someone who's delusional. This is not someone who is making it up.

From all I have seen, this was -- again, this was very a sophisticated plot and it had to go beyond one person. And, again, there's enough there to -- more than enough to confirm virtually -- I would say everything that he's saying can be confirmed independently.

BLITZER: Well, we will see what happens in the courtroom.

On the second part of this allegation, this alleged plot, the blowing up, the attack on the Saudi and Israeli embassies here in Washington, how advanced was that? How serious is that part of the story?

KING: I would say it was very serious. It was certainly very seriously contemplated. And all I will say is that, at the briefing I got, I took it very seriously.

BLITZER: Could you elaborate a little bit on that? The other allegation was that they also talked about blowing up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

KING: I would say all three of those, the Israeli Embassy in Washington, the Israeli Embassy -- the Saudi Embassy, Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, all of that, I would say -- I would take it very seriously.

BLITZER: Here's one final question and I wrote about it on my blog today, on THE SITUATION ROOM blog.

Why Adel Al-Jubeir, the 49-year-old Saudi ambassador in Washington, well-known to many of Us, A graduate of Georgetown University? Why target -- what's in it for the Iranians? Why would they want to allegedly kill him?

KING: Well, he's the ambassador to the most high-profile country in the world, the United States, just the fact that you said, you know him, all of us know him. We have all met with him. He's extremely prominent here in Washington.

Why he's not a member of the Saudi royal family, he is very close to the Saudi royal family, and certainly moves in their circles. And this would have had a devastating personal impact on the Saudi royal family if the ambassador had in effect been killed. And it also would have sent a strong message I think to the Saudis that the Iranians are coming after them and that, as we go through a whole situation with the Arab spring, this would be a strong signal to the Saudis to stay out, not to be getting involved in other countries such as Syria, whatever.

So this is a -- I think this was a decision made by Iran to send a strong signal to the Saudis, an extremely strong signal to the Saudis, and also the fact that they'd be willing to do it in the United States just shows, would show the Saudis and others how serious the Iranians were and how that they are willing to stop at nothing.

So I think it was clearly thought out. You and I might think it was erratic behavior, or crazy behavior, or irresponsible behavior, but I think they were trying to send a clear signal that, yes, they can be irresponsible, but they know what they're doing, if that's not a contradiction.

BLITZER: Congressman Peter King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

KING: Wolf, Thank you.


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