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Homeland Security

October 23, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: The very concept of homeland security is an alien one for most Americans. Until September 11, protecting Americans at home meant fighting crime, and coping with unrelated catastrophes like hurricanes or plane crashes, or a particularly wicked strain of flu.

Now Americans face an enemy bent on attacking them at home in unforeseen ways. To try to meet the threat, the President last month created a new Office of Homeland Security, and its first director, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. It’s a job without precedent, as White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer noted today.

ARI FLEISCHER, White House Spokesman: The fact of the matter is we have been a very fortunate nation where this has never happened before. We had plans that were put in place, contingencies that were put in place but no contingency and no plan can ever be 100 per cent effective in anticipating all possible attacks on a nation.

And the fact of the matter is our nation is under attack as a result of these mailings and these cases. We have a war going on overseas and we have a need to defend at home as well as Governor Ridge said yesterday. As part of defending at home we have a mobilization that is underway.

MARGARET WARNER: So what kind of mobilization will the country need to protect the American homeland and against what kinds of threats?

We get four views on that from former Democratic Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. He co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security, which earlier this year warned of a growing threat of terrorist attacks in the United States; former ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism Paul Bremer — he chaired the National Commission on Terrorism in 1999, which warned that the U.S. hadn’t done enough to prepare for a U.S. catastrophic terrorist attack;

Retired Air Force Colonel Randy Larsen, who’s now director of the Anser Institute for Homeland Security, a research institute in Northern Virginia. It sponsored a war game last June with former government officials testing America’s readiness to respond to a bio terrorist attack; and former California Governor and U.S. Senator Pete Wilson. Before all that, he was Mayor of San Diego. He now sits on the Defense Advisory Board and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Welcome, gentlemen.

Before we go right to homeland security, let me ask you, Ambassador Bremer, do these anthrax attacks fit the profile of the kind of attacks your commission was warning about last year?

PAUL BREMER, Former Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism: They don’t yet fall into the category, thank God, of a catastrophic attack in terms of creating tens of thousands of deaths.

The attacks on September 11th met that definition but our commission did look very deeply at the problem of biological terrorism and drew attention among other possibilities to anthrax attacks, so in that sense, they were addressed by our commission.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes. I think your commission recommended the possession of anthrax be totally banned in private hands?

PAUL BREMER: Yes, we set up a general proposition, which was that the United States should develop a regime of control of biological weapons and agents that is at least as rigorous as the one, which we’ve developed over the last 50 years for nuclear agents and weapons. We think that really ought to be the objective. We made a number of specific recommendations on how to improve it in the case of anthrax and smallpox.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart, what about you? Do you think these anthrax attacks fit the kind of profile you all identified?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART, (D) Colorado: Perhaps unlike Ambassador Bremer’s commission, our’s did not do that much scenario creating, but we did some.

And as a result of that, we forecast not just earlier this year but two years ago — the fall of 1999 — that massive terrorist attacks on our homeland using weapons of mass destruction were more than likely.

As a result of that, we urged the creation of a homeland security agency, not just an office. But we listed, based on the discussions we had with terrorism and counter-terrorism experts, biological as the most likely of the weapons of mass destruction.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Randy Larsen, your group does do lots of scenarios. If you were Tom Ridge right now or you were advising him, what kinds of threats do you think he and everyone he is going to be working with have to be most worried about?

RANDY LARSEN, Anser Institute for Homeland Security: I think one thing we’ve learned from the attacks so far is that I’m not worried about a large-scale biological attack on America in the near term. I think in the long term, five years, ten years, we have to worry about that. One of the most important elements of….

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry but why aren’t you?

RANDY LARSEN: One of the most important elements of a biological attack is the element of surprise. We’ve studied this for many years at the national war college. The element of surprise has been blown on the 11th of September.

We knew we were at war now. Our hospitals and public health official s are on a high alert right now. That’s why we’re detecting this thing this quickly. So the element of surprise has been gone. I think they’re going to use this to try to terrorize us. They don’t have large quantities of sophisticated weapons.

I think what we’re going to be facing in the near term are things like truck bombs and car bombs and suitcase bombs, attacks on our infrastructure, attacks to harm our economy, perhaps attacks on our agriculture industry, perhaps something like what happened in England; we still don’t know if that was a terrorism attack on the hoof-and-mouth disease or whether it was Mother Nature.

But I think important thing that Secretary Ridge needs to look at is the long term. He’s doing short-term thing that I think is helping to improve communication with the American public, streamlining things in the government. But what the American public needs to understand is there’s many people in this town who have been working on this subject for a long time. The Hart-Rudman Commission, the Gilmore Commission, the Bremer Commission, our own folks at Anser and at Johns Hopkins and CIS.

This was not just discovered here six weeks ago. There’s a lot of good work, a lot of good data out there. Now our elected officials and appointed officials need to pick the best ideas from these commissions and reports that have been done.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Governor Wilson you’re a former elected official. Pick out some good ideas. What do you think has to be the top priority in constructing a homeland defense?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON, California: Margaret, I think that we are compelled to look at many things because the threats can come in many different ways.

There are many targets. And I think that at the state and local level, the security of water systems, of transportation centers, of power centers is going to fall very heavily on those state and local officials. Police departments are going to have to be involved.

When we’re talking about the kind of pathogens that have created the recent understandable concern and even terror — that obviously is where we look to national officials to CDC to those who are experienced with pathogens. I think it is significant. I agree very much with what the Colonel said. A lot of good work has been going on. The question now is whether or not we are able to make up for lost time. In providing the resources, in mobilizing the manpower and deploying manpower and resources to deal with what will be a multiplicity of threats.

I also think that it’s important that we keep perspective. Yes, we are at war. This is a new and unprecedented kind of attack. And it has caught us by surprise. The surprise is gone. I think that we are going to find now is that if we systematically and realistically examine the nature of the threat and go about preventing– not reacting– but preventing insofar as we can — the American people need not panic.

We simply need to be prepared for… inconvenienced for sustained resolve. I think both President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld have made it very clear to use the phrase that Secretary Rumsfeld used, there will be no D-Day. There will be no signing of a peace ceremony on the deck of the Missouri.

This is going to take a long time and it’s going to take the kind of close cooperation, the kind of realistic analysis and, as in World War II, the kind of mobilization when we had to make up for lost time then. Then we were building ships and tanks and planes. Now we will have to stockpile vaccines. It is something that we can do.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Ambassador Bremer, what we’re talking about then seems to go from everything from law enforcement and intelligence and public health. I mean, if you were advising Governor Ridge, where do you think the priorities should be?

Where are the greatest weaknesses or vulnerabilities in this system that need to be addressed pronto?

PAUL BREMER: Well, right now obviously the important thing in terms of public confidence is to take a rigorous look at the whole public health reaction.

We’ve been lucky so far that none of these attacks– neither the attacks on the 11th nor this attack– has yet really stressed to the limits our public health system. So we have some time to get ready to do things like prepare the vaccines, the antibiotics, get them… get a system of distribution ready. But in the end the Governor is right.

The real counter-terrorism challenge is to prevent attacks before they happen. To do that, if I were in Governor Ridge’s shoes, I would put my top priority on beefing up the intelligence collection, both overseas and in the United States.

I think that the Congress is on the way to passing an anti-terrorism bill, which will help particularly the FBI get some additional authorities that it needs to be able to investigate suspected terrorists in the United States.

And I think in the end, you can do only so much with your vulnerabilities. In a country of 300 million people stretching across a continent we have lots of vulnerabilities and we should take those steps. But in the end you have to prevent the attacks. And to do that, you really have to have good intelligence.

MARGARET WARNER: Gary Hart, Senator Hart, where would you put your focus?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: I would say two things: One, urge Governor Ridge to demand, if you will, the statutory authority over the disparate agencies that he has to get cooperation from.

I think the czar model or the office model or the council model simply will not work. There are too many gaps and seams between the 40-some different agencies. Even though he has the President’s ear, he can’t get the President every day to try to resolve bureaucratic differences. These agencies should work directly for him, otherwise the gaps and seams will continue.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just….

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: There is a fourth kind of warfare here that we haven’t discussed, which is the least expensive.

That’s cyber warfare. I would not be surprised to see a major disruption of communication systems or finance systems sometime in the reasonably near future.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Larsen, your take on the vulnerabilities and pick up on the point that Senator Hart made about the difficulty, given that there are so many agencies potentially involved or that have to be involved, in more than coordinating and getting them all to work as one.

RANDY LARSEN: That’s probably going to be his biggest challenge. Before Goldwater-Nichols reforms in 1986 in the Department of Defense we had difficulty getting the Army to talk to the Air Force. You know, we just had four services.

Now we’re talking about 43 or 46– it depends on whose count you want to use. It is going to be a real challenge. A lot of people particularly in the Senate are saying he needs to have budget authority.

Governor or Secretary Ridge needs budget authority. That’s not something we can change overnight. That’s not a realistic goal. When you see how the process works in the Senate and the appropriations committee and the House side, maybe a long- term goal he would have his own budget.

I think the most important thing he can have is perhaps the ability to fire someone, to get their attention. He needs to be in charge. I like the symbolic thing. We’ve seen him on Thursday and Friday. He steps out in front and he’s in charge of those press conferences. He does need to be in charge.

MARGARET WARNER: What does he have to do? How do you bring in all these local officials?

RANDY LARSEN: That’s right. That’s just at the federal level. For most of our history in this nation we have looked to the federal government for national security. That’s something that has changed. Certainly the Hart-Rudman Commission pointed that out.

It’s federal, state, local and the private sector. He was just talking about a cyber attack. 90 percent of our information infrastructure is owned by the private sector. We can’t expect the Department of Defense and the FBI to protect that.

The private sector has to become a partner. Also in health care — we need to understand that public health is an important part of national security — almost as important as the Department of Defense. Those are some changes. We need to have that public- private partnership. That’s something else that Secretary Ridge needs to work on.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Governor Wilson, if you were still Governor, how differently would you have to be thinking now than you were just in the ’90s?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: Quite a bit differently, Margaret. We had 22 natural disasters, major disasters, when I was in my first term. But the difference was there wasn’t someone who was plotting these. What I’m going to have to do if I am a Governor in this time, in a time of terrorism, is work with federal officials but deploy the manpower available to me.

That means heavy dependence upon local and upon state personnel. It means that we will use the National Guard as in fact they have been used in recent weeks in airports. We need to use them to guard sensitive facilities. We will need to very considerably beef up those strategically sensitive facilities, whether we’re talking about a nuclear power plant or the water system for the City of Los Angeles, and I think that we should listen very carefully to what the Colonel has to say.

There is necessarily going to be an enormous burden upon private facilities, private sector businesses to protect themselves and their employees and their consumers, their customers. They will probably be entitled and should be to some sort of tax treatment that will allow them to routinely spend what is necessary to greatly harden whatever it is that they are providing the public so that they can continue operating without posing undue risk. It’s going to be a very different kind of requirement, and the level of security is going to be considerably more expensive. It is going to be considerably more intensive. It will cause inconvenience.

If the American people understand what is being done and why, and that it is for their protection, I think we can expect a very high level of cooperation.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart, this is such a huge enterprise we’re talking about. If we set aside for a minute whether Tom Ridge can have… be a member of the Cabinet and the power to hire and fire, how does anybody get their arms around this?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: Well, we did it… We have done that with the Department of Defense. I mean if you imagined each of the uniformed services being at a different federal agency and a coordinator trying to run the… our defense establishment, it just doesn’t work.

We did it with the defense department after World War II or the late period of World War II, and we do the same thing with homeland defense now. In fact, it’s less daunting because there are not the amounts of money in procurement involved. But Governor Ridge is simply not going to have the authority to fire anyone if those agencies don’t work for him. That’s the point.

All he can do is exhort. Or if there’s disagreement between the agencies, go to the President and say, “Mr. President, will you call those cabinet officers and try to get them to cooperate with me?” That is not going to work.

MARGARET WARNER: Paul Bremer, you have the last word on how he gets his arms around this thing.

PAUL BREMER: Well, it is a huge job. I am somewhat uncomfortable that Governor Ridge may not have enough authority, but I think the President’s made his decision. He’s chosen a good man for the job. We ought to see how it works now. We ought to get behind him and do everything we can to help him. He’s got a massive job that has to reach down to the first responders. After all, those are the people who respond first, the people who arrive, the EMS personnel, the fire and the police people.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the local people.

PAUL BREMER: Yes. He’s got to reach all the way down there. Hopefully he’ll bring them in on an advisory board of some kind. It’s a big job. And I certainly wish him well.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you all four very much.