TOPICS > Politics

Connecting the Dots

June 6, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: A new role and tools for the FBI and restructuring homeland security. We get four views on all this from Capitol Hill: two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whom we just saw at today’s hearing: Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; and from two House members of the Joint Intelligence inquiry into 9/11, who’ve also heard from Director Mueller in closed sessions this week: The ranking Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of California, and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Welcome to you all.

Senator Leahy, after hearing today about the problems at the FBI from Agent Rowley and the proposed solutions from Director Mueller, does it seem to you as if Director Mueller is creating the new kind of FBI that’s up to the job of preventing terrorist attacks?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think I heard frustration both at the top with Director Mueller and then the field from Coleen Rowley. And the frustration is that evidence is gathered, material is there, and it never gets brought together.

Whether it’s the Minneapolis and the Moussaoui matters, whether it’s the Phoenix memo, it just never gets to all the places it’s supposed to. The Director is appropriately frustrated. He’s dealing with, for some reason, for years, nobody upgraded the computers, although it takes more than that. And he’s dealing with an atmosphere where you don’t blow the whistle. Now, Coleen Rowley blew a whistle that was heard all the way through Washington, and I think to the betterment of the FBI. Yes, I think the Director wants to improve it. I think they can improve it, but not without changing the whole culture that unfortunately is near the top in the FBI.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Specter, your view on this in terms of… I mean, Director Mueller has made some specific proposals, changing the mission of the agency, adding more agents, more money for computers, new surveillance powers. I mean, he has a lot of ideas, some of which he started to implement. Do you think they go to address the kinds of problems that Agent Rowley laid out today?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: No, I don’t. What Director Mueller has said does not go to the heart of the issue. They have a culture of concealment, and they have a culture of not really moving directly to the problem. Their culture of concealment was illustrated on this Phoenix memo.

They started an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Justice on September 28, and they should have turned that memorandum report over to the Judiciary Committee, which Director Mueller had promised on his confirmation hearing. We have a lot of institutional knowledge and expertise.

We could have helped them. Then when it came to the critical issue as to what happened to the application for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, they were applying the wrong standard. The US Attorney — so said Agent Rowley — wanted 75% to 80%, and others thought it was more likely than not 51%, and that’s just the wrong standard.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about probable cause?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: In probable cause. And had they followed the appropriate standard, they would have gotten a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and we now know that in late August they could have learned a great deal about the terrorists who were involved in 9/11. So that when you put all the pieces together, they had a veritable blueprint.

Now, the question is: Will they be able to put the pieces together if they have as much information on a potential future attack? And I think they’ve got a lot of work to do. They’ve got to come to the oversight committees; they’ve got to be candid with us, and we can help them, but they’re going to have to change their culture of concealment.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And I think one of the problems of that culture of concealment that Arlen talks about, is that I think there’s a growing feeling in the Department of Justice and elsewhere that they dropped the ball on September 11. The material was there, the evidence was there, and now there has to be that terrible feeling, had we put it together, could we have avoided what happened on September 11? What they should do is say, “Here are the problems, let’s plug the holes before we have another attack.” Unfortunately, there are many who want to say, “Let’s hide the fact that they have dropped the ball before September 11.”

MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman Pelosi, how does it look to you? Does it look to you as if the changes that Director Mueller is laying… one, that they’re coming to grips with the problems, the same problems you all are looking at as you look into what led to 9/11, and do you think that the changes he’s suggesting at least would get halfway there? If they got the same information again this year that they got last year, they might be able to act on it?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: One of the concerns I have about what the Director is proposing is that every time an intelligence agency or any agency that has a responsibility to prevent an act of terrorism in our country, any time a mistake is made, the response is we have to spy more on the American people. That’s what I have a concern about.

But the Attorney General in his recent pronouncement, as well as the suggestions proposed by the Director, all look to spying more on the American people. There are three parts of intelligence, as everyone knows: Collecting the information, analyzing the information, and disseminating or sharing the information. The information was there. They didn’t recognize it or analyze it properly and disseminate it in a way that protected the American people, so they say, “Oh, we need more information, we need to spy on the American people.”

Maybe that is so, but I think we have to proceed very cautiously down that path. We have a grave responsibility to the families and those who lost their loved ones to find answers to why September 11 occurred. That’s important, so it helps us prevent it from happening again, and we have to have great accountability within the agencies… within our own agencies and then to the Congress and to the president of how these agencies operate.

Anyone can make a mistake, any isolated incident cannot be blamed for September 11, but somehow it happened, and we have to… I would like to see the Director work more closely with Congress to put forth something that has a broader base of support, that has a longer period of consideration, rather than its just proceeding.

Do we need more analysts? We’ve always known that. Do we need to spy more on the American people? Maybe to respond to some of the changes in technology, we have to make some changes, but I think we have to proceed very, very cautiously.

MARGARET WARNER: Representative Chambliss, do you share the… I guess it’s discomfort or dissatisfaction that I’m hearing from your colleagues?

REP. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, we all know now, based upon the facts that we’ve seen, that existed on September 11, that the sharing of information between our federal law enforcement agencies, between our intelligence agencies was not what it needs to be. In fact, the sharing of information within the agency was not what it needs to be.

Just echoing what Senator Leahy said, you know, there was a level of bureaucracy that existed at the FBI that did not allow the Williams memo to get to the level at which it needed to reach. Had it gotten to the top level, could we have prevented September 11? I don’t think any of us can sit here tonight and say, “sure, that’s what would have happened.” But I think the important thing is that Director Mueller is addressing the systemic problem that exists within the FBI to share information with each other, both horizontally and vertically.

Then you’ve got to move over to the CIA; you’ve got to have the same thing. Then you’ve got to move to every other federal agency that has jurisdiction over anything to do with the terrorism issue, and you’ve got to ensure that all of those agencies are sharing information with each other. I think that’s… Director Mueller has addressed what he’s doing within the FBI, but this is a much broader issue than that.

It reaches to other federal agencies out there because, unless we all work together and share information that is gathered in our particular area of expertise, then we’re not going to win this war on terrorism. So I think you’re going to hear the President talk about that tonight.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Specter, do you share Congresswoman’s… I want to get the President’s plan tonight, but first let me just ask you about these increased surveillance powers. What is your view of those, that the FBI and Justice in general has asked for?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I do share the concerns that Congresswoman Pelosi has said. We see a report in the press today about many, many people being placed under surveillance — that means followed… the director said that he is concerned that they are members of al-Qaida and that they have terrorism plots.

I think that the oversight of the Judiciary Committee has to take a look at what they’re doing. In one sense, it is true that if you keep somebody under surveillance, you may not be intrusive, but there’s an inevitable feeling of being watched. And I don’t think Americans ought to be watched unless there is some reason. And if there is some reason, then we may have to revamp our laws.

Congress has the authority to make laws, and if we have a little different standard, we change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to add a word “significant” to finding people who were agents of a foreign power, and we made changes after the Wen Ho Lee investigation. But if the FBI will come and talk to the Judiciary Committee, we can have some real effect on not subjecting the American people to spying or to invasions of privacy that are not warranted with some reason.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Leahy, let’s go on to the president’s plan that he’s going to announce tonight, which is to create this new cabinet-level agency. I think it’s going to have a budget of $38 billion and 170,000 employees. Do you think that’s the right approach to take?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, we haven’t seen what the plan is. I’ve already talked with the members of our Judiciary Committee. The part that involves us, we’ll hold hearings on it fairly quickly and look at it.

The idea is appealing to have everything in one place, but I just want to make sure we’re not just reorganizing for the sake of reorganizing, and certainly not reorganizing for the sake of closing our eyes to the mistakes that were made last year. The… all of us are agreed on one thing, I mean, the president’s agreed, the members of Congress agreed, both parties that we want to stop terrorists from hitting us again, and we know there’s a real threat for that. But it’s how you do it.

We had an awful lot of things in place before September 11; they just were not used correctly. They were not used correctly, and as a result, we got hit and hit very badly. Doing a different flowchart is not going to change that. Making changes in mission of some of the agencies we now have could help. So I keep an open mind to what the president has and I’ll be glad to work with him, and we’ll be glad to have the hearings to look at it.

MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman, Pelosi, your view of that.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think it’s very important for federal government to take a bold step, as the president is suggesting, to form a homeland security agency to coordinate the activities to protect the American people. I do have a concern that this is quite a large step, and I hope that it’s one that can be calibrated in a way that will work.

This agency will include parts of the Department of Health and Human Services, maybe Commerce, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, the Department of State in terms of visas. It is a very, very expansive power setup that is being established here. And I just hope that it will be done… that it’s possible, that it’s possible. And I think that when Congress weighs in on it, that it will be an improved product. Again, I go back to where I was before, this agency will be able to collect classified information and other information that is commercially and publicly available — big privacy issues involved in having a master cabinet position about security in our country.

The main goal of terrorists is to instill fear, and that is to change the way, also, that we live our lives and conduct our business and our government. And I hope that this agency will be one that not only protects the American people, but protects and defends our Constitution, as well.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: We have to look at the fact that… just think back to the J. Edgar Hoover days. Suppose he had had, with all the terrible things that went on there, suppose he had had all the electronic abilities and computers that we now have.

And I think that we, as the American people must make sure that we strike that balance to protect ourselves against terrorists, of course, but not do it in such a way that every one of us has to constantly think, “Is somebody listening to my phone calls, is somebody checking on my family, is somebody going into really my innermost thoughts?” There is a balance, but simply adding more scrutiny doesn’t necessarily make you safer. Making the things that we now have that weren’t used right in the past can make us more safe.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Congressman Chambliss, let me hear what you have to say on this, this idea of new kind of super-homeland agency.

REP. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I think there are a couple of advantages to centralizing our intelligence community from a domestic standpoint, and that’s one thing that the president’s proposal does. And everybody’s right here that we’ve got to look at exactly what the details are in the package. We’ve been given some general outlines of it, but I think the concept is good.

A number of us, including myself in the House have been opposed to the creation of a cabinet- level position until such time as we had worked through all of the potholes and the problems with the Homeland Security Office that Governor Ridge heads. We’ve reached that point now in the eyes of the administration, and I think we have an obligation to look at this in a very open and bipartisan way, and I think that’s what’s going to happen. You’re going see the Senate hold hearings, you’re going to see the House hold hearings.

And I’m very confident, at the end of the day, we’re going to come together in a bipartisan way to do what’s best for the American people, and that’s to create a cabinet-level position that’s going to centralize all of the domestic intelligence operations, to hopefully avoid another September 11 from happening. That’s the goal of both the four of us and every other member of the House and the Senate.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Specter, you’ve proposed a piece of legislation to do exactly this. From what you’ve heard, and I know the White House has only briefed the rough outline, does it sound to you like the kind of thing you’ve been advocating?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, it’s a step in the right direction. A number of us have been invited to sit down with the president tomorrow morning. It all depends on what happens here. The president has the authority, if he had the time, to see to it that the FBI and the CIA and the other intelligence agencies work together. Now, if you give the Director of Homeland Security that kind of authority, he could do a job.

If you take out the law enforcement functions of Immigration and Naturalization and Border Patrol and Coast Guard and federal emergency and some of the functions of Health and Human Services on responding to an attack, that could be done. It’s a big job. Presumably it’s going to be Governor Ridge, who’s a very qualified fellow, and we’re going to work on it. The Congress is going to consider it. Our House counterparts will, and so will we in the Senate. But I think it has the potential to be structured to put enough centralized control to avoid a lot of the problems we’ve seen.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senator Specter, Senator Leahy, Congresswoman Pelosi and Congressman Chambliss, thanks so much.