nic robertson

I am CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson. I just got back from the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen where police are searching for terrorists among the stream of drug smugglers and illegal workers trying to sneak across the border. Ask me anything.

Hi Reddit! I’m CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. I’ve been traveling the world for CNN since 1990, covering global terrorism, wars and other stories. Most recently, I interviewed troops fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria, visited the scene of the Taliban school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, and covered Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s ascent to the throne. After years of trying, I finally got permission to see how the Saudis patrol their border with Yemen – home of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Ask me anything.
My Proof: See the editor’s note.

What exactly is the situation today and can you explain it with a bit of historical context for naive readers like me?

Saudi/Yemen border ? historically decades back the border had been very open.. little more than a line on the map.. of course go back before that and there was no line on the map.. more recently .. about 6 years ago Houthi tribesmen crossed in Saudi took control of a village.. 3 week battle.. helicopter gun ships before Saudis got it back.. as Yemen has become more unstable.. economy has gotten worse… clearly Saudi the richer country with more oil.. Yemen has some too.. but border is division between haves and the have nots on Yemen side.. so many come to Saudi.. for work.. even an 11 year old boy i met earning $100 a month working on a till at a small supermarket.. so only way for some Yemenis to make money.. they cross over for that stay weeks/months.. the huge numbers crossing make it hard to control and know who is who.. terrorist or poor guy

If the coup in Yemen by the houthis is finalised, what would the new outlook be for US and Saudi interests in combating AQAP?

AQAP has the smartest Al Qaeda bomb maker.. made the underpants bomb.. Detriot christmas 2008.. AQAP.. still threat to US/europe.. Charlie hebdo.. an example.. there was a case in the US a few years ago of some one AQAP told to attack in US.. Maj Nidal Hassan another.. the london bomber 2005 inspired by AQAP.. so i can understand the reason not to shut down the embassy right now.. a toe hold in Yemen is vital to continue fight against AQAP.. Houthis cant run the country by them selves.. question of today.. will it become a failed state or will some kind of government emerge involving Houthi and may be the last President Hadi.. certainly yhat is the educated view from Saudi.. complex Yemeni negotiations / fighting before that dynamic resolved

You always hear about PTSD with soldiers. Do you find yourself experiencing it given your work?

sure PTSD does hit journalists too.. soldiers tend to face the exposure to those kind of traumatic events for much long and often more intensely than we do.. we have access to help here at CNN and i’ve talked to our expert over the years.. i’ve never felt that i’ve suffered from PTSD.. but i’d say i do get awful sad sometimes after a bad story.. tears etc.. but it passes.. i have a great home life.. i love to run.. cycle.. that kind of stuff gets you out of your self.. but i’d say my exposure to trauma has not been that excessive..

I read somewhere that people like to think of themselves as “good”, even the Taliban, for example, think of themselves as “good Muslims”. From your interviews, do you get that sense? That Boko Harem or the Taliban think they’re the “good guys”?
If so, why? How can you kill scores of people, kidnap girls, oppress women and still be “the good guys”?

they think they are righteous – they think all others have fallen away from the so called correct path

CNN keeps reminding us at home that they aren’t going to show any of the photos of the captured Jordanian pilot. During and after the Charlie Hebdo massacre they kept letting us know they weren’t going to show any of the offending cartoons. With all you’ve seen what are your thoughts on news organizations making those kinds of decisions?

In this day and age all these things can be found on line some place.. at least that’s my experience.. i have seen the video of the pilot.. and i feel horrible..
The pope posed an interesting question i though essentially what sort of people do we want to be.. the power is our hands.. do we want to inflame or do we seek a more just equitable world where we respect and tolerate each other.. its a powerful concept..

Do you think the release of the video today from ISIS will have a greater impact on the region’s view of ISIS as a whole.. How will it impact recruiting?

I think the impact on the Jordanian population will be the same as when ISIS killed James Foley, it really strengthened US resolve. Killing the pilot this way will only unite and strengthen Jordanian support for action against ISIS – they have miscalculated

Given your beat, what’s your take on the White House’s decision not to use the term “radical Islam” when referring to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, ISIS, etc.? On a related note: what do you think about their reluctance to call the Taliban a terrorist group?

I get why not to call Taliban terrorists.. and lets remember there’s more than one taliban.. the afghan one.. is trying to get in to politics.. or at least part of it is.. terror tactics yes for sure.. trying to avoid civilian causalities yes they say they want to.. jury clearly out on that not doing a very good job of it.. BUT for a group that will likely be part of government in Afghanistan in 10 years.. only part of tho’ i see the rational..
I think theres needs to be a better job of getting the right label for these nihlistic groups that so utterly sets them apart they can not claim islam in any shape or form. How can anyone justify the burning of the Jordanian pilot.. as an Islamic act.. no way.. they need to be described for what they are..

How was my country’s border patrol/army ? We’re they as you expected? Worse maybe?
Also how was Saudi?

they were professionals .. i was struck by the quality of the officers.. and the access we were given.. i was only there for a day.. but ehy have a huge job on their hands

Is there anything from the border you want to share, that wasn’t included in the story? Can you talk about the process and problems of trying to gain permission for it?

Only thing was so many more people than we could get in our TV reporting.. i wrote a story after i did the TV piece to cram in more details posted to our web site with link to the video.. but i was shocked. i didn’t quite know what to expect that day but it was way more people and drugs than i’d realized .. try to get everything in our reports.. BUT was group after group particularly at dusk we saw being caught

In your opinion, is the media in US doing a good job in adequately covering international news?

I’d love to see more coverage on international news.. we seem to work flat out some days/weeks/months and i feel there is still so much to get to..

What was the best part of the trip? Do you like CNN?

i do like CNN, I have grown here.. i met my wife here.. build up to first gulf war she was a reporter for CNN back then, Margaret Lowrie when i was an engineer.. CNN let me grow professionally.. the day on the Saudi/Yemen border was the day.. 29th January of my 25th anniversary with CNN.. WHEN i joined i had no idea i would be here this long.. i still ove it.. i love getting up every day and i cherish the fact from beging to end of the day i dont know what will happen next.. that said.. a dinner has been left on the table as i’ve rushed out the door.. i have the most amazing and understanding wife.. and with out her i could not enjoy this job and CNN

Have you ever omitted some of the truth from any of your reports? If yes, was this because of external (to you and your team) pressure?

No.. we will omit peoples names and hide them if their lives will endangered by our reporting.. or they can not speak officially but have important stories to tell where there is no other way to bring the issue to light

What have you found to be the biggest three obstacles in locating terrorists?

they can usually be found through intermediaries.. some times its more dangerous than others..

Do you think Saudi Arabia’s new king will institute any significant policy changes for the kingdom? What sort?

he has had quite a government shake up already.. significantly some younger faces on the scene.. the new information minister used to work for a TV station.. thats a first.. but really i don’t think we should expect big changes until we drop a generation from the sons to the grandsons of the founding King.. the number 2 in line to the throne Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef.. then we will see more change

When you started at CNN, they were a news leader. Now that the cable news landscape had changed, what is different about working for CNN?

Longer hours.. 24 hours the news day was never dead.. that was back then.. now the news day seems a whole lot more alive.. what do i mean by that.. back in the day when i joined.. lets take Sarajevo.. i was there for 9 months before we did our first live broadcast.. we fed one story generally a day.. we had a satellite time slot to hit and we had to make it.. now with the internet .. that time window is never closed.. we can do multipole live broadcasts.. and feed as many stories as we can cut in that same day.. and surprisingly the news cycle seems to get faster so more news comes along more quickly.. we are busier than ever

What was it like there?

always interesting.. you never know who you will meet what you will lear and got to meet some pretty cool folks.. i’m talking to this lady.. the wife of the jailed blogger.. next day her husband and brother have been nominated for a noble peace prize.. how cool is that.. never a boring moment

Do you think Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks or anthrax attacks in the U.S. in year 2001? What do insiders say the classified 28 pages contain?

15 of 19 911 hijackers were Saudis – not aware of a connection to Anthrax

It takes balls to do what you’re doing! Why are you doing it? What made it happen?

its important the world hears what’s happening in its darkest corners.. its important for the people in those dark places to know that people care… that they are people to.. whose lives count

Has your life ever been endangered while traveling to places around the world known for instability?

Some places trickier than others, try to stay safe and make right wise decisions. I really feel people should care about what happens to those less fortunate.. this world can be a better place — it wont happen if we don’t try

Do you feel that there is a pressure within the American media to not criticize the actions of Israel, even in cases of using White Phosphorous or killing civilians and targeting infrastructure in Gaza? Helen Thomas for example may have been a visible victim of this parameter?

I dont feel i have been subject to pressure of this type.. in many places we go and report what we say faces extreme scrutiny.. just last week my reports on army deficiencies in Nigeria was called satanic by the government.. it is a very sore subject for them.. i understand why they would say that.. many people feel they have been failing the country.. but will we not report because of what they will say .. no.. we will report if it can be backed up by hard facts and is true ..

How do you feel about foreign men who deceive women into believing that they love, but are secretly trying to secure US citizenship?

Tricky isn’t it.. how do you know what is inside some ones head what they are really thinking..

I’m studying Broadcast right now and would and one of the things I’m interested in is going to the frontlines (both literal and figurative) to report on important world events. Would you recommend? Do I need any special skills?

if you are going to go to font lines best to be supported by a serious and reputable news organization.. cost of getting home when injured and treatment can be high..
before that and you head for the next trench.. do some reporting in places you are more familiar with.. give yourself a good sporting chance of knowing the job well and when you do hit that fox hole.. you’ll be doing your reporting as second nature and can focus on being safe.. there is no one size fits all.. a good rounded education.. doesn’t even need to be journalism … but log some reporting miles before you get to the front line.. you’ll be happier for it

Have you had the chance to cover something…happy?

Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie.. i particularly liked that as it was in Scotland and I do love that corner of the British Isles
There have been others.. that jumps to mind.. but it is really a good feeling when you cover something happy.. i do like those days

When traveling in dangerous countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, does fear ever leave? Do you get an opportunity to meet people and enjoy their way of life?

Yes the good days we do get time to meet folks.. at the end of the day on the border we had half an hour to spare and the border guards took us to the beach and gave us dinner.. fish, lamb.. salads.. humus bread.. right there on a rug at the beach.. you get to relax a little before we ran off to catch the plane. . some times after an interview can chill out a little with folks in their homes.. can be interesting conversations..
always we have mind to dangers of any location..

Do you ever feel like we are living in the 1984 novel by George Orwell with all this focus on terrorism and hate speech etc?

Not living in the novel per se.. but the notion of where the powers of search and control grow or are misused.. yes that is a danger.. I was in Yugoslavia under Milosovic.. the laws he instituted and used were typical control and a warning of checks and balances..
that said the dangers we face today are more on our door step and are real.. there are people who really would do us harm.. we need to be balanced..
Most important if we understand our enemies we can better combat the threat they pose.. without going over board.. alienate others..

When you interview groups that are seen as terrorists, how important is it to you that you make sure they are humanized and not just seen as enemies?

Trying to connect the interviewee to audience.. giving people a reason to listen and understand.. thats always key.. tell their story… we can never condone terrorism.. the interviewee should understand where you stand on the issue.. but it doesn’t mean we cant get their voice heard if it is a route to constructing a dialogue..