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JIM LEHRER: Tonight four United States Senators: Two Democrats, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Armed Services Committee, and John Kerry of Massachusetts, member of the finance and Foreign Relations Committees.
And two Republicans, Richard Lugar of Indiana, a member of the Select intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, and Fred Thompson of Tennessee, member of the Intelligence and Governmental Affairs Committees.
First, Senator Thompson, you announced today you’re going to run for re-election after all partly because of those attacks on September 11. Explain the connection.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, I’ve got to admit that it had a good deal to do with it. I just didn’t feel that even though I thought seriously about going back into the private sector– and I had always planned to do that before very long– that now was clearly not the time to do it. I think that there are an awful lot of Americans out there right now looking for ways to help out, and I had a pretty obvious one right here staring me in the face. So I think this was what I needed to do.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Senator Lugar, on today’s warning about crop dusting planes, alarm bells about possible chemical/biological attacks in the United States. We just heard what Attorney General Ashcroft said about that. How seriously should the average American take those and what should they do about it?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, the average American should take it very seriously. The pilots and other hijackers really have gone to school in many ways and we’re just simply getting another layer of this. But the crop dusting mechanism is one that could be utilized to spread at least a weapon of mass destruction.
I would hasten to add before people become alarmed that this takes some formulation. It is a very intricate process, but it’s not beyond people. And they’ve thought this thing through, at least those who have been working in Russia and in the United States for that matter — on chemical weapons in the past. Now, we’ve agreed as a nation and so have the Russians to destroy all chemical weapons.
We’ve guarded in Russia in seven places, 40,000 metric tons is what they have and we’re destroying ours. But the facts are that terrorist groups attempt to get their hands on at least small portions of this or formulations. We saw in the Aum Shin Rikyo attack in Tokyo some success at least in making saran gas from precursors.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lieberman, what would you add to that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I would add that once we have gone through the horror of seeing people commit the insanely inhumane act of flying planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, you’ve got to expect the possibility of anything. I don’t think the American people should panic, but I do think it’s time to be prepared.
We’re holding hearings in our Governmental Affairs Committees tomorrow on airline security and next week again on critical infrastructure to focus in on making sure that we’re doing everything to be prepared from the government point of view. I do think there’s a new role for the individual citizen in America though in this new era of our history. In some ways the terrorists have made every citizen a combatant, including civilians. I think now it’s the opportunity and responsibility of individual citizens to act that way. When they see things that bother them, that look suspicious, to call up their local police department or the FBI or hit the Internet for the appropriate Web site to convey that information and be alert and be prepared.
There are nations in the world that have feared gas or chemical attacks, for instance, where people just ordinarily declare that one room in the house is a sealed-up room and they put some tape on the windows, if there are windows, tape over the doors and are prepared to go there if necessary if this happens. We’ve got to err on the side of caution in this first chapter of this new phase of our history.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kerry, following the money issue that the President spoke of today, you spent a lot of time in your committee assignments looking into this in terms of terrorist money. Do you think what the President announced today and what action was taken today is going to do the trick?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, I support what the President did today. It’s a first step. But it is not the whole effort by any means whatsoever. I mean, what we really need is to convene the developed country leaders, the G-7, G-8, so-called and begin to come up with a standardized set of rules that we’re really going to all adhere to, all enforce, so we create a level of transparency and accountability in international financial transactions that is supposed to be part of the standard but is not.
In fact, what we need to do is extend the authority considerably beyond what the President did today. Law-abiding, legitimate businesses will have nothing to fear. There are ways of protecting the intrusiveness of these systems into any individuals’ personal and legitimate wealth. Where you have probable cause and where the international community is in fact trying to harden down on terrorist activity, we need the cooperation of banking systems all around the world.
Right now, particularly in the Middle East, Osama bin Laden benefits from the lack of enforceability, the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability within those banking systems and also the Al Qaeda system that actually operates outside of it, sort of a loose transfer of money and the Islamic charities that fund them.
In addition to that, we have to get tougher. If we’re really going to say to legitimate countries, “you are either part of the solution or part of the problem,” then those countries have got to be prepared to penetrate the veil of secrecy and to assist us in enforcing these higher standards so that we should use the force of our marketplace, the strongest market in the world, to be meaningful their money must come through New York and elsewhere.
We need the world’s financial marketplace and centers to bring the hammer down on those who traffic illegitimately in their banking systems and deny them access literally, get tough and demand accountability and shut the terrorist money off at the source.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Thompson, some people might say why in the world haven’t we done this before now?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, that’s what some of us were talking about before the show went on to tell you the truth. We have been warned time and time again of the nature of this problem, that we were… It was a question not whether or not we were going to hit but when and where. We’ve had commission after commission study. We’ve had several committees looking into this from time to time.
But in the hurly-burly of our activities and the nation’s activities, very little of this has gone up to the executive branch and gotten their attention. Very little has gone out into the American people who are learning about some of these exposures and vulnerabilities for the very first time or even among ourselves, if a member is not in that committee hearing that day. And I think we’ve got to… We’ve got to learn from this. It’s taken a lot to get our attention, but the good news is our attention has been gotten. I think the President and his team are showing very strong leadership. We’re seeing very strong bipartisan leadership in the United States Congress, some good, solid legislative proposals are on the table.
We need to take our time and look at those things. We don’t want a bunch of unintended consequences and we’re not going to pay a price with… for national security with giving up of individual liberties. But we’re approaching it that way. And I think that some real good is going to come out of this, not the least of which is the resolve and dedication of the American people now to do what’s necessary to make this country safer.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, on the issue of Osama bin Laden there’s been a lot of talk about the United States should offer proof of his culpability on these September 11 attacks. Based on what you know as a United States Senator, confidentially or otherwise, is there any doubt in your mind we could make the case.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: No doubt whatever. The only point that Secretary Powell has made is that proof is going to be given. It will come in various forms depending upon the security situation with countries that we want support from; but we have the proof — as has been pointed out by Fred Thompson, bin Laden has been indicted again and again throughout the world.
The proof of his culpability in past situations is really beyond any type of question. In the current situation, however, it’s apparent that the President and Secretary Powell feel that some further word is needed with some of our allies, with some of our friends, with some that we’re networking with. That apparently is going to be forthcoming within limits.
JIM LEHRER: To all four of you, beginning with you Senator Lieberman, to pick up on a point we were talking about a moment ago in terms of biological or chemicals weapons but in a more general way– or be as specific as you would like– there is some kind of military action on the horizon:When it’s going to happen, the nature of it or whatever and people are expecting there are going to be possible counterattacks from the terrorists who reply to what we do, et cetera. What sacrifices… if you’re not in the military, if you’re not involved in this directly, what should the average American be prepared to face over these next few days, these next few weeks, even months as a result of what’s about to happen?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, let’s start by setting the horrible standard that the terrorists set on September 11 when they committed acts that have resulted in thousands of deaths. That fact sets the condition for what’s to follow. Some of us may be asked to do things less conveniently. Some will be asked to be more alert. As I said earlier to declare themselves to be citizen soldiers in the war against terrorism, to be alert to any signs of suspicious behavior and report them to the appropriate authorities.
If we’re not careful and we’re not able to stop the same kind of outrageous acts that occurred on the 11th, some will suffer a… more directly. Of course those in the military will be putting their lives on the line. But this is a struggle, as the President said so eloquently last Thursday night, when he spoke to Congress — that goes to the heart of what we’re about. It goes to our freedom. It goes to our values. It goes to the uniquely American faith in God, which has unified us and strengthened us, not divided and defeated us as our opponents would do. I think now is the time for us to rally.
We’re the greatest country in the world. Remember that terrorism comes from the word “terror” and it means that the enemy attempts to break our will and our confidence through terror. And I think once we conquer that fear, then we look at our strengths and we are by far the mightiest nation in the world and able to defeat this enemy but it will take work and it will take sacrifice by every American.
JIM LEHRER: The word “sacrifice,” Senator Kerry, some people have suggested the only sacrifice we’ve been asked to do is be a little inconvenienced going on airplanes. Is there sacrifice for most Americans coming and if so what is it?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I think that the principal thing that America need to understand and perhaps recognize is that there needs to be a higher state of vigilance. But I particularly want to distinguish a higher state of vigilance from any state of fear or even panic. There isn’t any cause for either of those. We do not need to live in fear, nor should we. I don’t believe the threat is of that nature. I mean during World War II, London suffered terror in the blitz, and there were many people around the globe who suffer terror on a daily basis unlike anything that will possibly touch the United States, in my judgment, than this. Are there risks?
The answer is yes. But, in my judgment, we have the ability to move on these terrorists, in their cells, in their home bases with the cooperation of the world and close in around them in ways that we never have previously. And so, yes, there will probably be another incident of some kind. I don’t know what kind. I can almost guarantee you it won’t be an aircraft. It will be driven by some pilot as the result of a hijacking. They will look for the next area of weakness, which is what terrorists do.
But we Americans need to focus on the type of war this will be. It’s going to be different from anything we’ve ever been through. It will not be some great television war like the Gulf with a huge military action. There may be some military actions, but I think it is going to be principally one on the covert special operational front and mostly on the intelligence front. That is the single most important weapon for us in this, and every American needs to help contribute to that.
JIM LEHRER: Sacrifices, Senator Thompson?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Yes. If you took a public opinion poll, as everybody always does on a regular basis, you probably find national defense up until September 11 not in the top ten of people’s area of concern — maybe not in the top 20. I haven’t looked at any of those numbers lately. I think that we’re going to have to reorder our priorities as an American people.
We’re going to have to recognize the vital importance of national security and national defense. We’re going to have to come up with the money necessary to rebuild our military. The Congressional Budget Office and others have told us it would take $50 billion a year additionally to just maintain where we are now. We’re going to have to take another look at our domestic wish list — all of these social programs that we want to have — we want our American people to have the benefit of.
But understand that we can’t have everything at once and all the time. And understand where the real priority is. I think now we understand where national defense belongs in that list of priorities.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, what would you say about priorities and sacrifices in light of what’s about to happen — or what already has happened and what is about to happen as a consequence?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I believe that emotionally people will find it more and more difficult to keep patient, to listen to the President indicating that all of these financial situations, all of the coalitions, all the rest of it takes a lot of time rooting out people one by one. The wear and tear of that in a country that wants short-term results is going to be difficult. In addition to that, there will be physical sacrifice.
By that I mean in the short term, in the next couple of quarters or maybe more, we’re going to have an economic recession of some consequence. That is going to lead to less standard of living for most Americans — and that we don’t like at all. I would say that combined with the wear and tear, the patience of fighting a war that goes on months and years, is something that people really have to gird for – to think about because that will be very substantial sacrifice for most Americans.
JIM LEHRER: Senators, all four, thank you very much.