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GWEN IFILL: The House and Senate are taking a hard look this week at President Bush’s proposal to merge 22 agencies and offices into a single new Office of Homeland Security. So far there are more questions than answers, especially about how the military, the states, the FBI, and even the private sector, will join forces in this new effort.
Here to give us their sense of whether this will work are two former Senators who co-chaired the commission, which warned of domestic terror threats even before September 11: Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat; and Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican.
Senator Hart, do you think that President Bush’s plan does what it needs to do?
GARY HART: It’s a workman-like approach. I think it probably does not justify the nine months it took to produce it. But it leaves an awful lot of questions unanswered, principally the role of the military, what the new northern command located here in Colorado Springs will do, what its role in homeland security will be, and more importantly the distinction between the National Guard and Reserves and the regular Army if catastrophic events occur and how that will be managed.
Finally I think it does not display a kind of understanding of a new generation of warfare that we’re face in the 21st century and respond to that with some new approaches to what is neither war nor crime.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Rudman, Senator Hart seems to find a lot of things undone and a lot of things unaddressed in the President’s proposal. What’s your take?
WARREN RUDMAN: Well, I think that’s probably true but I would not criticize it for that. I’m not sure that Gary is criticizing it for that. This is a work in progress. I spoke to the folks over in Tom Ridge’s office the day it came out. They were frank to say this is a work in progress. It is a strategy paper, which the Congress demanded that they wanted before they acted on the Department of Homeland Security which, of course, our commission recommended several years ago essentially the model that they’ve adopted.
But I believe that Gary has raised a number of points which will have to be addressed. Frankly, I don’t think they will be addressed until the new department is established, and they will be addressed working with the Congress.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s start with one of those questions: The question of the role of the military in domestic terrorism, counterterrorism, efforts. Do you think that the military should have an enhanced role where in the past there’s been this line where the military took care of us abroad and domestic groups like the National Guard took care of us at home?
WARREN RUDMAN: Our commission came to the conclusion, a, that the National Guard ought to be duly trained to help first responders in the kind of acts which could take place against American citizens. Secondly, we made a statement and reached a conclusion that no one disagrees with. If there were a weapon of mass destruction visited upon an American city, only the United States military has the manpower, the transportation, communication, and all of those things are needed to help first responders deal with the aftermath. We do not believe, nor does anyone that I have talked to believe, that the military ought to be involved in this country in domestic counterterrorism.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Hart, what do you make of that?
GARY HART: Well, Warren is right on point and he has been over the past number of months and years on this issue. Clearly if we are… if we sustain a major and continuing attack, every resource of the United States, including the Department of Defense and all the uniformed services, must be called in to play.
I think the question is, I think the question recurs on what happens before that and who should have the lead role. I am a very strong believer that the National Guard should have that role for constitutional and statutory reasons. It exists because the Constitution created it to defend the homeland, and that’s what its principal mission should be. And that’s what this strategy document indicates it should be.
GWEN IFILL: You talk about the role, Senator Hart, of the northern command based in Denver. Do you think enough thought is being given in Washington as to how to integrate all these different segments of the military, paramilitary, National Guard in homeland defense?
GARY HART: I know all the cities out here look alike to you people on the East Coast but it’s headquartered in Colorado Springs about 60 miles south of here.
GWEN IFILL: I do apologize.
GARY HART: No. I think a great deal of thought is being given in the Department of Defense and the new general commanding the northern command that I recently met, and other policy makers. The issue of what role the military, the standing uniformed military, the regular military, should play in civil defense is a very profound one, going back 225 years. And I have to believe that the senior officials in this administration and in Congress are giving this very serious thought.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Rudman, what about this idea of public disclosure? There is some suggestion in the President’s report that public disclosure requirements should be rolled back, weakened in some ways to help with information gathering. Do you think that’s a good idea?
WARREN RUDMAN: Well, I’m not sure. It will have to be spelled out in more detail than it was spelled out. Obviously we’ve got security concerns about a number of things, but sometimes secrecy is a haven for covering up mistakes. And so I’d want to be very careful that this department was not invested with the kind of over classification that all of us have seen in the Department of Defense. I mean there is no one at DOD who would tell you with a straight face that that classification system works well. Things are classified that shouldn’t be. I hope that this Department starts on the clean slate.
GWEN IFILL: What do you think of that, Senator Hart? Do you agree with Senator Rudman on that?
GARY HART: I do indeed though there’s another vast area we haven’t discussed, and that’s the issue of civil liberties and the balance between security and liberty. This document, as our reports did, paid homage to the tradition of constitutional freedoms in this country, but the devil is in the details. And the question of how much liberty we are going to be required to give up so that we can be securer in our homes is a very profound one that I think is going to evolve over the next couple of decades.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think that is being, that is as front and center as you would like it to be in this discussion right now about the President’s plan?
GARY HART: Most of the discussion right now is over the structure of the new agency, and that’s because it’s on a fast track. The President wants to sign it on September 11. And apparently Congress is going to make that possible. Then the real hard work starts, and that will include the issues we’ve been discussing of a new kind of conflict and how to address that — the role of the military in that conflict, and how do we protect the civil liberties of this country?
GWEN IFILL: Senator Rudman, let’s talk a little bit about where the debate is, about the flexibility is President is asking for, flexibility to move money around, to move people around, which Tom Ridge, the director of — the Homeland Security czar, talked about on the Hill again today. Is that something which is going to hit sticking points in Congress?
WARREN RUDMAN: I think the two flash points in this legislation, first there will be a battle about whether or not some people can protect that turf and keep some agencies out. Some people would like to keep the Coast Guard out, other people would like to keep the INS out. Those are turf battles. They speak about them as if they had to do with national security; they’ve got nothing to do with national security. They have everything to do with individual turf. I’m a bit surprised with September 11 being so vivid in our minds that people even assert that position.
Be that as it may, the two flash points will be how much flexibility to give the new cabinet secretary within each of these entities that are transferred to move people around, to change job assignments, to change classifications, and essentially you’re impinging on the civil service system, which our commission said unequivocally wasn’t helping national security too much because of its rigidity. The other flash point, of course, will be the budget flash point. Senator Byrd, the dean of the Senate, the chairman of the Appropriation Committee, make it very clear that he doesn’t think they should have any flexibility.
I disagree with that. I think they ought to have some flexibility. On the other hand, it is the Congress that appropriates funds, so they’ll have to find a rather precise compromise to allow them the flexibility that this unique agency will have without giving up the power of the Congress to appropriate but these will be major issues.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Hart, what do you think of the possibility that these kinds of flash points could derail the whole plan?
GARY HART: I don’t think it will be derailed at all. There will be a new department. There’s no question about that. But I concur wholeheartedly with Warren on the issue of parochialism. I think it’s absolutely shameful that some members of Congress are putting their own personal political and parochial interests ahead of the national security. I hope their constituents let them know that. And I hope the President will slap them down as well.
GWEN IFILL: What is the role, as you… what is the best role that you can envision in this new department when it becomes an actual department for the FBI, for the traditional domestic counterterrorism intelligence-gathering effort at the FBI, Senator Hart?
GARY HART: Well, my own view is that the intelligence community should not be part of this department. This department will be a principal and in some ways the principal consumer of intelligence but we reached a decision 55 years ago after the end of World War II that the producers of intelligence and information should be separate from the consumers. Otherwise, you get all sorts of conflict of interests and people begin to report what they think their superiors want to hear instead of what they should hear.
So I think when people criticize this plan for not solving the problem of reform of CIA and FBI, they’re missing the point. That is a separate and profound set of issues and problems that we have to face right away, but it has… it has only tangentially to do with creation of this new department.
GWEN IFILL: Assuming that this is not part of this new department, Senator Rudman, should the FBI, the intelligence gathering agencies, domestic intelligence gathering agencies, should their role be addressed in just the whole umbrella idea of how we should be protecting ourselves?
WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, absolutely. There is no question that we have been slow to change the focus from a Cold War focus to what now is the number one job of U.S. Intelligence, and that is to protect this country. However, they still have major overseas problems — with North Korea, certainly Libya, Iraq, and all over the world.
But there are two intelligence committees having joint hearings behind closed doors — they will soon be public — attempting to find ways to get these agencies to work more efficiently. And I believe they will succeed. The problem we’ve had, in my experience, has been not — not enough information but too much information and the inability to decide who needs it and what’s timely and what isn’t. It is one thing to deal with the Soviet Union and something quite different to deal with a terrorist organization, but I’ve got great, great expectations that these agencies will now change the way they have to. If they don’t, then we’ve got a serious problem.
GWEN IFILL: We will meet here again to take it up again. Senator Rudman, Senator Hart, thank you both very much.