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JIM LEHRER: Now some further reaction from the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama; Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, also a member of the Intelligence Committee; and Strobe Talbott, who was the Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Senator Shelby, what can you tell us about who did this?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, we’re not exactly sure as of this hour. I talked with George Tenet, the director of the CIA within the hour. We talked about some of the details of it. He gave me some opinions that were preliminary. I will not divulge knowledge them now, but I can tell you this. These were dastardly deeds but we’re going to go through some more of this unless we get timely information. You know, this was not an intelligence success. We’ve been going through this. To fight terrorism, we have to beef up intelligence. We have to have the best intelligence in the world. And obviously, we don’t have it today.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to that point in a minute, Senator Shelby, but are you saying that the CIA has a very good idea as to who is behind it, you’re just not going to tell us or they don’t know yet?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, they’re not sure yet. But this was within the hour. I’d say it might be a matter of hours. I don’t think it will be days before they will have a pretty good, if not a definitive, idea who was really behind this.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, what would you add to that?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Only that the appropriation for the next year was already focusing on putting additional resources into human intelligence, the electronic surveillance research, things that are essential. But certainly what happened today, a day that in American life that we will never forget, is going to change the contour of that debate dramatically. When it comes to our intelligence effort and our defense effort, it will be defined based on September 11, 2001 for a long period of time.
JIM LEHRER: Strobe Talbott, much of the attention, rightly or wrongly, has been put on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi…former Saudi resident who is headquartered, believed to be headquartered in Afghanistan, and has been identified with other terrorist acts including during the Clinton administration. Does this sound like Osama bin Laden to you?
STROBE TALBOTT: I think the only proper and prudent thing to say, Jim, is sure he’s a plausible suspect, but there are others as well. And, as the two Senators have said, the first thing to do is to establish the facts. Well, the first thing to do is to try to save as many of our people as possible – but to establish the facts and not jump to conclusions.
JIM LEHRER: But based on… I mean, this was incredibly well coordinated….
STROBE TALBOTT: Jim, what I was going to say in that regard is that the magnitude of the disaster that has befallen our country and the world-and I want to stress that it has befallen the world as well– seems to derive from the extraordinary sophistication that the perpetrators of this brought off. I’m sure that Senator Shelby in his conversation with George Tenet probed this question. But is it possible for private or non-governmental groups to have pulled off something like this without the support of a nation state? And that is part of the investigation that Senator Shelby, his colleagues in the intelligence community will be pursuing.
JIM LEHRER: It sounds to me like you’re suggesting that maybe it wouldn’t be possible for some private group of people to do this?
STROBE TALBOTT: Well, I think even the most knowledgeable officials who have had the benefit of all of the briefings available to them during the course of the day are as stunned as we are out here watching it from around the country that something with this degree of synchronization could be pulled off. So one of the questions is to try to extrapolate from what we’ve seen today who could possibly have the resources to do this, and that raises the question not just of individual terrorist organizations and individual terrorists but also that will have to follow the trail of evidence into capitals as well.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Senator Durbin?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I certainly do. And I think that the investigation, which is underway, is an important one to find the source of this terrorism. I think that the basic advice being given by all the leaders in Washington is, don’t point a finger at any specific source until we are certain. We’ve learned in the past that many times we were wrong in our speculation. We want to be certain, as certain as we can be, of the source of this terrorism and make certain that we have the appropriate response.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Shelby, whoever did it, should this be considered by the United States an act of war?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I really believe it’s an act of war. It’s a different type of war. It’s a war without borders. It’s a war without defined enemies. But nevertheless, Jim, it is a war. And I believe that we’ve got to do better. Dick Durbin just mentioned that we are doing a lot in the Intelligence Committee, and on the Appropriations Committee to fund properly the intelligence agencies, but we’ve got to have a NSA that’s on the cutting edge of technology. We’ve got to have –
JIM LEHRER: That’s the National Security Agency — the electronic eavesdropping organization.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Absolutely. And it’s fallen behind, and we know that, and we’re beefing it up. But we’ve got to do better. People have said in the last year or so all over the Hill, well, we spend too much money on intelligence. That’s not right. We’re going to have to spend more because we live in a free, open society, and we’re going to want to continue that. We must continue that. And we’ve got to run this information, wherever it leads us. We’ve got to find out, as Strobe Talbott said, who did this. It could be nation state. It could be something big — big because this was not an amateur job.
STROBE TALBOTT: Jim, could I just add one point on that?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
STROBE TALBOTT: I think it’s very important for us to see it not just as an attack on the United States. It of course is an attack on the United States, but I suspect that when we go through the dreadful process of toting up the carnage here and we start putting names and faces to the victims, one thing we will see is that there were many, many people killed today who are not Americans.
This was really a blow against the entire international system. All the world suffered from this. And the response has to be equally international. We were able in the past– and a lot of references to Pearl Harbor today, to assemble great alliances that were able to defeat great villains and a new alliance is necessary to defeat this villain. It has to be an international response just as the target was damaged.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, is that right? Should we see this as Pearl Harbor and an international effort must be mounted as there was during World War II?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Absolutely. I think what happened today was just as heinous as Pearl Harbor. The casualties will unfortunately I’m afraid be much larger. It certainly is a mobilizing moment for us….
JIM LEHRER: In other words, more people were probably killed once the death toll mounts, more people were killed today than were killed at Pearl Harbor. Is that what you’re saying?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: It appears that that will be the case. I think what it says and I agree with Strobe Talbott, we would come together with our NATO allies for example, an attack against one nation is an attack against all and invite them and others who are not formal members of that alliance to join us in a common defense against terrorism to say to those rogue nations that want to harbor terrorists or to entertain their activities that that’s unacceptable conduct and that they are going to pay a price for doing so. That’s the only way we can bring this under control.
JIM LEHRER: Strobe Talbott, back to you for a moment. You just left the executive branch of government. You were one of the so-called consumers of intelligence for the… within the government of the United States. The average person, the average American today is wondering a highly sophisticated attack like this, that clearly involved many, many people and many, many resources, how in the world did our intelligence apparatus miss something like this?
STROBE TALBOTT: Well, Jim, just as earlier I think we all agreed we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about who perpetrated this, we certainly shouldn’t jump to conclusions about this being an intelligence failure. My eight years in government left me with the highest respect for the intelligence professionals.
They’re up against a very tough problem here. I mean essentially we have an enemy here that’s exploiting what makes our society as strong and as effective as it is, which is its freedom, its openness and its mobility. So anybody who wants to take advantage of that is going to have some clean shots along the way. The extraordinary thing about this one is that they were able to take a number simultaneously.
Now that said, I think both in our approach to intelligence and in our approach to defense, what happened today, even though it’s not the first terrorist attack, the sheer magnitude of it, is going to bring about a revolution in the way we set priorities for what we’re looking for and how we deal with it.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Shelby, in your conversation with CIA Director Tenet, did you ask him directly, hey, George, how did you miss this one?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I didn’t say that. But I did say, George, to the effect that this was certainly not an intelligence success, and if it’s not a success, it’s a failure. What intelligence is about is timely information. If we don’t have timely information in a democracy like we have, an open society like we have, we’re going to have these kinds of situations, disasters. If we don’t continue to improve our situation with intelligence gathering and preventing terrorist attacks, we’re waiting for the next attack. We can do better. We must do better.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you — let me put the question to you in a more difficult fashion. You’ve been on the Intelligence Committee now for how long?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Seven years, chaired it nearly five.
JIM LEHRER: Right and you were the chairman for five, right. Based on your knowledge of the intelligence community, did it surprise you that we didn’t know about this?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: It surprised me. It didn’t shock me — because we’ve had a number of intelligence failures. Look at Khobar Towers. Look at the Trade Towers One, as we would call it. Look at today. Look at the “U.S.S. Cole.” Look at the strategic intelligence failures, some of us called it, dealing with the lack of information on the Indian nuclear testing. We can go on and on. We can do better. We must do better.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, what’s wrong with our intelligence?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, frankly, we need to not only invest the appropriate resources in it; we need to hold those who are responsible for it to a standard that really reflects the danger in the world today. That, of course, is going to be a tough thing to do — to ask for that kind of assessment. But I think that after this tragedy that Congress will demand it of all of the leaders in the Pentagon as well as those in our intelligence agencies.
We understand that we live in a dangerous world. We’re warned all the time about the possibility of terrorism. Who could possibly have imagined that two major aircraft would crash into the World Trade Center Towers within 18 minutes of one another coming from separate airports? This was a highly sophisticated and coordinated attack on America. And I think that’s going to teach us that we have to be that much more vigilant in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Strobe Talbott, beginning with you and then going back to the two Senators after you. What about the fear and the uncertainty that this unleashes among the average American as a result of this? We thought we were safe and now we’re not. How does the leadership of this country deal with this and what should they do about it?
STROBE TALBOTT: I think not just the leadership but the American people as well need to be… beware of a danger, which is that the fear that you’re talking about, so justified after today, will push us in the wrong direction.
Colin Powell in his opening statement that you showed at the top of the show said that this was an attack on the spirit of democracy. We’ve got to be very careful that we preserve that spirit in the way we deal with the problem. And that means civil liberties. It means making sure that we remain an open society because if we don’t, then the terrorists who struck today will have won.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Shelby?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I believe that he’s right, Strobe’s right on his remarks there. But if we don’t improve our intelligence gathering– I know I’m harping on this, but it’s so important — our information gathering — we’re just going to continue to be vulnerable to the next attack because there will be other attacks. And it could be sooner than later. We have so much to gain here. If we are aggressive and we’re prepared, we can do better. We can penetrate a lot of these rings… we’ve penetrated a lot of these cells. But we can do better. We have to do better for the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I might say that the intelligence community doesn’t receive a lot of plaudits when they avert disasters — and they have helped us avert many. That should be remembered during the course of this debate. But it also means that we need to change the way we do business in some ways in America. Members of Congress are the biggest frequent flyer club in our nation.
We understand what we go through at airports with metal detectors and searches and questions being asked and the procedures on airplanes. It’s not enough. We have to do more. It means more inconvenience and some sacrifice on each of our parts, but that may be the small price that we’re going to pay to avert this kind of disaster from reoccurring.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, all three, thank you very much.