The New Face of International Terrorism

7:00 PM SEPTEMBER 7, 1998

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Time for "NBC In-Depth" tonight. It's been one month since those simultaneous attacks on American embassies in Africa opened a new front really in the war on international terrorism. It is a war that America already is fighting with vast resources. Over forty different federal agencies and organizations are all engaged in counter-terrorism activities. They spend a total of seven billion dollars a year at it, but now the war on terrorism has been complicated by a new breed of terrorist, raising difficult and troubling questions about just how far America should go to combat it. NBC's Fred Francis tonight, "In-Depth".

FRED FRANCIS: The destruction in Africa shocked the world. And it was just what U.S. intelligence fears the most - battle with a new breed of enemy lurking in the shadows. This is not a war to be fought with nuclear missiles or a conflict solved by superpower summits with treaties. This is not the "evil empire" of the cold war. This is what the Pentagon calls a "dirty war against Terror Inc."

ELY KARMOM [Israeli Terrorism Expert]: These are not armies that can be destroyed completely and then there is an agreement that they surrender.

FRANCIS: The general of this fanatical army - Osama bin Laden, the world's first independent, transnational terrorist. Stateless, self-financed, with 5,000 soldiers of many nationalities. How to fight this enemy? Terrorism experts say - a change in U.S. policy.

NEIL LIVINGSTONE [Terrorism expert]: The only thing that's going to make a difference is to kill bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

FRANCIS: Is that legal? A question recently asked by senators of the Justice Department. An executive order does prohibit assassination of heads of state. But some legal scholars believe that that does not stop the military from taking out a terrorist like bin Laden with a well-aimed bullet.

LIVINGSTONE: It's time to use the military for what we pay them for, what we train them for, and that's to go after this guy and even if that runs the risk of casualties.

FRANCIS: Or wait for someone else to do it. Killing adversaries has always been Israeli policy. These Israeli commandoes are not only trained to kill, they do kill.

KARMOM: It is difficult sometimes to act according to legal evidence, especially when you speak about terrorist activities abroad.

FRANCIS: The U.S. does have the forces and the know-how to deploy in a "dirty war" against bin Laden. Highly-trained U.S. Special Operations forces, commandoes, can be flown to any spot in the world in twelve hours. They can infiltrate rough terrain or urban enclaves and wait to strike. If they get into trouble, larger numbers of U.S. paratroopers can fly in for combat support. That's what a "dirty war" would look like. Though many believe it's a war without end.

JOHN PIKE [Federation of American Scientists]: We're going to have no more success in eradicating terrorists than we've had in eradicating drug smugglers. You can make their life more difficult, but you can't make their life impossible.

FRANCIS: The administration's rhetoric makes it sound like the U.S. is ready to fight. But many say the president is yet to show the will to order a dirty war.

Fred Francis, NBC News, Washington.