updated 12/29/2005 10:35:37 AM ET 2005-12-29T15:35:37

Guest: James Bamford, Tim Sparapani

CURTIS SLIWA, HOST:  Thanks, Joe. 

And thanks to you at home for tuning in again.  We definitely appreciate it. 

Tonight, nervous flyers, beware.  A new plan by the TSA will have baggage screeners chitchatting with passengers to spot possible terrorists.  Is this really a good idea?

Also, the three words that have all Democrats on edge, will Hillary run?  We'll find out when I speak with the campaign director for the Hillary Rodham Clinton for President Committee. 

Plus, you'll be amazed at what 35 bucks will get you in hurricane ravaged New Orleans.  A controversial new bus tour promoting America's worst catastrophe?  It will soon be up and running, but does it cross the line of good taste?  We'll address that in just a few minutes. 

But we begin tonight with yet another controversy involving President Bush's domestic spying program.  Some of our country's biggest terrorism cases may now face legal challenges from defense lawyers who say their clients were the victims of illegal wiretaps. 

The lawyers for Jose Padilla, who is currently being jailed as an enemy combatant, and imprisoned Muslim scholar, Ali Al-Timimi, may file motions early next week to determine whether the NSA's wiretapping program was used to gain incriminating evidence against their clients.

Here now to discuss the ramifications of wiretapping is the author of two books about the NSA, “Body of Secrets” and “The Puzzle Palace.”  James Bamford joins us live tonight from Washington. 

Good evening, James. 

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR:  Good evening, Curtis. 

SLIWA:  James, I understand you worked for the NSA, so please help me...

BAMFORD:  No, I never worked for them.  I'm a journalist.  I just write about them. 

SLIWA:  OK.  Well, help me with this, because I'm in the media.  I host a talk show on WABC in New York.  I get a double hernia from all the newspapers that I have to schlep to and from work.  I understand what the NSA does.  I have no idea how they do it.  Break it down for us, please. 

BAMFORD:  NSA is the biggest intelligence agency in the country, and it specializes in one thing, eavesdropping. 

Basically, if you look at the FBI, when they do eavesdropping, they do it sort of a retail way.  They eavesdrop on individual people, individual homes, or individual offices.  They attach little cables, little alligator clips to a house. 

NSA eavesdrops on a wholesale basis.  In other words, when satellite signals carrying millions of international communications come into the United States, NSA intercepts the entire stream, and then filters a stream through these massive computers, that are very fast and filled with people's names and people's telephone numbers, words, phrases, and so forth.  And whoever happens to be in that computer will get kicked out. 

So NSA is America's big ear.  It's much bigger and much more secret than the CIA and it specializes in eavesdropping. 

SLIWA:  So it's the equivalent almost of strip mining in the coal industry?

BAMFORD:  That's a pretty good analogy, yes. 

SLIWA:  OK.  Now, I've read some of your writings, and you seem to make a link between the controversy that the president is in for authorizing the wiretapping of individuals post-9/11 here in this country, communicating with people on foreign shores, and what had taken place during the Nixon-Kissinger years. 

James, I grew up during Watergate, and I remember the paranoia on the Nixon-Kissinger administration was aimed in wiretapping journalists, members of their own administration, members in the State Department.  I don't see the link-up.  How do you justify that comparison?

BAMFORD:  Well, it's very easy.  That's exactly what President Nixon did.  It's one of the things that led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 

President Nixon called in the director of the National Security Agency to the Oval Office and ordered him, for the very first Time, to turn NSA's big ear away from listening on people overseas to listening to people in the United States.  It was done in 1969, and it was the first Time NSA had been directed by a president to eavesdrop on American citizens. 

And the second Time this happened, is George Bush, when he did it back in 2001.  He called in, I guess it was Vice President Cheney, called in the director of NSA, and it was very similar, ordered them to basically start eavesdropping domestically.  That was the entire reason the FISA court was created. 

SLIWA:  James—James, respectfully, there's been no eavesdropping on journalists, no eavesdropping on members of the Bush-Cheney administration, no eavesdropping on members of the State Department.  That was at the epicenter of the wiretapping that we saw during Watergate. 

BAMFORD:  Well, during Watergate, NSA was turned inward.  It wasn't just journalists.  They were eavesdropping on anti-war protesters.  They eavesdropped on Dr. Benjamin Spock.  They eavesdropped on lots of people. 

And maybe you know more than I do, but I don't know who the NSA has been eavesdropping on recently under the Bush administration because the Bush administration hasn't admitted to who's being eavesdropped on. 

SLIWA:  All right.  Very quickly, based on what the president has told us, in this country, about the wiretapping, do you think he's lying to the American people, and do you think he may have committed a criminal act?

BAMFORD:  In terms of lying, that's why we have a court there.  That's why we set up this firewall between the president and NSA, and the American public.  I don't know.  That's for the judge to decide. 

What they decided to do was let some shift supervisor make decisions that, by Congress, was delegated to a judge to make a decision, on who should be eavesdropped on. 

And, yes, it's illegal.  If you read the law, it says that is the only way you can—the NSA can eavesdrop on American citizens, is by getting a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. 

And you know, when they set up the law, Griffin Bell, who was the attorney general at the Time, he said, when he testified publicly before the House Intelligence Committee, he said, “The current bill recognizes no inherent power of the president to conduct unauthorized surveillance.”

SLIWA:  But, James, this disagreement we have now is the disagreement that is transpiring in this country, that obviously is going to be debated in the new legislative session as we enter the new year after the inauguration. 

I want to thank you, though, for joining us this evening, James. 

BAMFORD:  I appreciate it.  Thank you, Curtis. 

SLIWA:  All right.  For more on how this whole NSA spying fiasco will affect both parties, we bring in MSNBC political contributor, Flavia Colgan. 

So nice, we are doing it twice, Flavia. 

FLAVIA COLGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Thanks for having me, Curtis. 

SLIWA:  All right, now, Zogby poll, you know, as an Arab-American, so this is a very sensitive issue to him, says that close to 50 percent of the American people give a high five to the president, say he's got more than the right and authority to be wire tapping to protect our backsides.  Your response?

COLGAN:  Well, my response, first of all, is that's a response on party lines.  He uses the—which he was debating, Zogby was, whether he should use the name President Bush. 

You see the other polls, where they just say the president in general, it's 2-1 where Americans feel that civil liberties, you know, should not be encroached upon. 

But Curtis, this is a very serious issue.  And I don't want to get into polling for a minute, because I want to cut right to the real crux of the issue.  And if you'll allow me 10 seconds, I want to read from something that men and women in uniform pledge their lives to defend. 

SLIWA:  Please, don't read.  You read in church. 

COLGAN:  I'll read—don't worry.  I'll read it with passion.  I feel very strongly about this.  Curtis, could you just give me one minute?

SLIWA:  Can you paraphrase it?

COLGAN:  Sure, “the right of the people”—but I want to be exact—

“the right of the people to secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects”—you can add in cell phones and e-mails—“to not have unreasonable searches and seizures and that should not be violated without a warrant or probable cause.” 

SLIWA:  OK, Flavia.  OK.  I'm going to ask you a simple question. 

COLGAN:  Let me just tell you very quickly. 

SLIWA:  The FBI... 

COLGAN:  The Fourth Amendment—no, let me finish my statement, because this is very important for the viewers of THE SITUATION to get the facts straight. 

What I just read from, what the lives of men and women put their lives on the line for, was the Constitution of the United States of America.  That's the Fourth Amendment.  And no president, including President George Bush, has the right to violate that, and...

SLIWA:  Flavia. 

COLGAN:  ... when people are dying in the name of democracy, we are not going to undermine it at home. 

SLIWA:  I do not believe...

COLGAN:  We are not. 

SLIWA:  I do not believe that some man or woman serving the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ducking the bullets of the Taliban and al Qaeda are saying, “I'm doing this to preserve the Fourth Amendment.”  I do not believe that.

COLGAN:  Well, I disagree with you.

SLIWA:  I want to ask you a more pertinent question.

COLGAN:  I disagree with you, because when you sign up to serve in the armed forces, you pledge to secure the Constitution of this country.  And we are trying to spread democracy around the world, whether you agree with it or not.

SLIWA:  Flavia...

COLGAN:  And we shouldn't be undermining it here at home. 

(CROSSTALK)

SLIWA:  Flavia, let me get to the core issue here.

COLGAN:  President Bush has violated the Fourth Amendment and a Supreme Court decision of 1968, which said doing just that is not—is not American.

SLIWA:  Flavia...

COLGAN:  It's illegal.

SLIWA:  Can I give you a litmus test...

COLGAN:  Absolutely.

SLIWA:  ... to see if you're a purist on this subject or an ideologue?

COLGAN:  OK.

SLIWA:  Back in the '60s, the FBI broke every law in the book to break the back of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been destroying the Freedom Rides and had killed three members of CORE (ph) and basically were disrupting the entire civil rights movement.

They illegally wiretapped.  They bent lead (ph), stuck it in people's pockets.  Liberals, progressive cheered.  I cheered when our government broke the back of the Ku Klux Klan by almost all means necessary.  Were they wrong to have abridged the rights of the Ku Klux Klan, violating their rights?

COLGAN:  Absolutely wrong, 100 percent. 

SLIWA:  Oh, please. 

COLGAN:  The true test—the true test of democracy is not when things are going well; it's when things are going tough.  We have to abide by the wisdom of our Founding Fathers.  We have a democracy that has stood through the ages.  And we cannot decide to violate those things just because it's convenient to us. 

I respect police officers all across this country, that make warrants and searches and seizures every day that are legal.  The FISA court has issued thousands.

SLIWA:  OK, Flavia.  You're defending rights of the Ku Klux Klan.  But in the meanTime I want to flip...

COLGAN:  No, I'm not. 

SLIWA:  I want to flip the script on you. 

COLGAN:  This isn't KABC or Sean Hannity's radio show.  I'm not going to let you railroad me like that and mischaracterize what I just said. 

SLIWA:  OK.  But we're getting off.  It's a different stop. 

COLGAN:  I'm not defending the rights of the Ku Klux Klan.  I'm defending the rights of a democracy and the United States Constitution. 

SLIWA:  All right.  Now...

COLGAN:  To be enacted fairly in this country and for American citizens. 

SLIWA:  OK.  We have a report, released yesterday by the House Democrats that claim that homeland security has failed to fulfill 13 of its promises to protect the nation. 

If the department is doing such a horrendous, lousy job, how is it that our country has managed, Flavia, to avoid being attacked since 9/11?

COLGAN:  I think it's wonderful, and I pray every day that we don't get attacked. 

However, as you well know, this report echoes the report card that the bipartisan 9/11 Commission put out.  And Kean, of course, who's a Republican, was quoted as saying we will be attacked by terrorists again. 

Look, I'm not interested in getting into a partisan back and forth about who did what.  The fact of the matter is, I care about the safety of the American people, and we cannot afford to have any gaps in our security, which this report, as well as the report from the 9/11 Commission show that we still have tremendous amount of weaknesses in nuclear power plants, in our ports, in terms of cargo ships.  Coordinating local and state agencies, which we saw firsthand in Katrina. 

And we need to put our partisan differences aside.  And all the pork barrel spending of politicians in D.C. better listen up.  And the funding, as former Congressman Tom MacMillan said in an article today, should be based upon need and threat level. 

SLIWA:  Flavia... 

COLGAN:  So for those who are in Alaska and Wisconsin, I'm sorry you're not going to get as much money as New York.

SLIWA: OK.  But...

COLGAN:  And we need to be serious about homeland security.  And we're not doing enough.  We simply aren't. 

SLIWA:  Flavia, can I ask you a question?

COLGAN:  Of course. 

SLIWA:  We've basically written out a map for any wannabe terrorist out there to hit the heartland of America.  How to get the great American mall.  We've told them how to get our containerized shipping.  We've told them how to get at our airports.  We've told them how to get at our chemical plants, our nuclear plants.  We have told them everything about our vulnerability, even how they can schlep across the border, from Canada coming down south, or from Mexico coming up north.

And yet since 9/11, no attacks here.  Can't you for the first Time give praise and credit to the Bush administration for rallying all of us and bringing an administration together with all of its complicated entities and actually preserving our freedom and safety here?

COLGAN:  Look, I give credit to the men and women across this country who work hard every day to make sure that terrorism does not strike here at home. 

SLIWA:  Who leads us?  The president.  Can't you praise the president?

COLGAN:  Can I tell you something—of course, I mean, I'm not going to praise the president, because let me tell you something, we don't have Time to do an end zone dance or celebratory, you know, lap right now.  We are facing a real threat in this country, and that's real.  And if you don't see that, then we're on very different pages. 

SLIWA:  Flavia...

COLGAN:  And we cannot stop for a moment, not on this program, not in our daily lives, to not be vigilant and do everything we need to do because the terrorists will exploit new weaknesses.  And it's not enough to keep—we have to continue getting nuclear, you know, bombs and so forth...

SLIWA:  Flavia...

COLGAN:  ... loose nukes around the world.  These are serious threats. 

We cannot stop. 

SLIWA:  Flavia, I have not... 

COLGAN:  The TSA Rollbacks are unacceptable. 

SLIWA:  I understand.  But Flavia, I'm not Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals doing a celebration dance in the end zone for Bush-Cheney, but I give credit where credit is due. 

COLGAN:  You want me to just give the president a high five, and, yes, I'm glad we haven't, you know, been hit on soil.  Who deserves credit, I don't know. 

SLIWA:  On that note—but Flavia, we're in solidarity together.  Maybe we'll do a trifecta tomorrow night.  It will be my last night, substituting for Tucker.  Maybe we'll go for the trinity.  But anyway, thank you, Flavia, once again, for joining us. 

COLGAN:  Thank you, Curtis. 

SLIWA:  Whew. 

Still to come, airport baggage screeners being trained to detect terrorists through small talk.  Is this chitchat method a positive development or will it lead to radical profiling?  We'll investigate after the break.  Don't go anywhere.

Plus, we'll tell you about a New Orleans bus tour that plans to profit off of the sites ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, putting a price tag on disaster when THE SITUATION returns.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SLIWA:  Still ahead, screening for terrorists through conversation.  A great airport security tactic, or will it test the nerves of already nervous passengers?  I'll battle it out with a member of the ACLU when THE SITUATION continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SLIWA:  Welcome back.  Sitting in tonight for Tucker Carlson, I'm Curtis Sliwa.  As you can see, no bow tie.  It's the red beret.  I am Guardian Angel man. 

If the airport security screening seems a bit too friendly these days

·         no, he's not eyeballing you.  It might be because he's psychoanalyzing you, to see if, well, you might be a potential terrorist. 

The Transportation Security Administration wants screeners to pick out unusually nervous or evasive passengers for extra scrutiny. 

But my next guest thinks subjective screening is a problem.  Tim Sparapani is a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.  He joins us live tonight from his home in Wisconsin. 

Good evening, Tim. 

TIM SPARAPANI, ACLU:  Hi, how are you, Curtis?

SLIWA:  Very good, but you know, I'm used to getting online, like a lot of Americans, and for awhile there, if you were number seven, they checked you for belly button lint, had to take your shoes off.   You could have been a World War II veteran, 88 years old, and you were the one they checked.  Meantime, Abdul, just recently from Afghanistan, he walks right through the line. 

Don't you think that measures that get us closer to who potential terrorists might be are going to work out a lot better for all our safety, like just me, being a security agent, having a conversation with you?

SPARAPANI:  You know, Curtis, I think this is absolutely the wrong approach the TSA is about to take.  As it was with the incidents you are talking about.  Quite simply, profiling doesn't work.  And TSA screeners have enough trouble doing the job they're supposed to do, which is to keep explosives and weapons off of planes.  They get consistently poor grades and have ever since 9/11, just doing their basic job. 

SLIWA:  All right. 

SPARAPANI:  Month after month, we hear reports about weapons, guns, knives, slipping through the screening system.  What we want, what the American people want, what the flying public wants, is for those screeners to be focused 100 percent on that monitor in front of them to make sure that weapons and explosives aren't getting on board.  That's the real threat. 

SLIWA:  OK.  Tim—Tim, rather than have Sergeant Joe Friday, you know, just the facts, how about a little Mayberry RFD, you know, where there's a little conversation?  And then if the person is a little uneasy, a little nervous, you put a check on their ticket, and you send them for more scrutiny.  Better to be safe than sorry. 

I mean, they're already checking baggage.  They already have to be vigilant.  Why not get the conversationalists, of which there have to be a few of them, actually conversing with people to sort of test them out a bit?

SPARAPANI:  Curtis, it's unfortunately a really bad idea, and here's why.  Millions of Americans are nervous whenever they fly.  People have to run through gates.  They're going to be sweaty.  If the TSA can't be counted on to consistently find explosives and weapons, we can't possibly expect TSA screeners to be able to tell the nervous flyer from the business traveler who had to run from gate to gate, because they were late getting to the next flight. 

SLIWA:  Time, you would agree the number one security agency in the world for air flights is El Al, the Israeli airline.  I've flown El Al.

SPARAPANI:  Absolutely. 

SLIWA:  Seven layers of questionnaires you go through.  It's worse than a deposition.  It's worse than cross examination in a criminal case.  And they're constantly comparing their notes.  Asking you all kinds of personal questions, questions you wouldn't even answer if your wife asked you while engaged in pillow talk.  And yet they're considered the top line security agency.  So why can't we mirror that?  Why can they do it and we can't?

SPARAPANI:  Well, you know, the Israeli experience is actually pretty instructive here.  The Israelis are the experts on profiling.  They started the practice.  They perfected it.  And they've largely abandoned it. 

And the reason they've abandoned it is because they found out as soon as they had their profile of who the likely terrorist was, the young male between 17 and 35, only modestly educated, unemployed, the terrorists began to change the profile.  The next bomber became an elderly gentleman or a young woman, and so as soon as they had a profile that was established, the terrorists were smart enough to figure out how to evade it. 

SLIWA:  OK. 

SPARAPANI:  That's exactly what's going to happen here.  It's important to understand this for the American public.  They think that we're going to be able to identify a certain group of people who are going to be the terrorists. 

Al Qaeda is a smart organization.  They're a patient organization.  And there are other terrorist groups out there that want to hurt this United States. 

SLIWA:  Tim—Tim... 

SPARAPANI:  Se need to be looking for everybody who is a terrorist, not just one group.  That's the best security we can get.

SLIWA:  I understand.  Anybody who has been through a check point Charlie will be amazed if any of the security agents can actually string enough sentences together to have a conversation.  How are they going to get them to that?

DEAN:  That's right. 

If they can do it, I am all for it.  I want to thank you for the Time you spent with us this evening. 

Good.  Thank you. 

Still to come, the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008 gets a boost from the queen of talk.  Say it ain't so, Oprah.  But do Democrats really want Hillary to run in '08?  Stay tuned for the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CURTIS SLIWA:  Welcome back. 

When Oprah Winfrey talks, people tend to listen.  So a lot of ears perked up when she told Hillary Rodham Clinton, quote, get this, “I hope you do us the privilege”—privilege, Oprah? -- “of running for office.”  She was alluding to speculation that Clinton may seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

But does Hillary have what it takes to rally her base?  Here to talk about it, is Daniel Plaugher, deputy campaign director for the Hillary Rodham Clinton for President Committee.  He joins us live tonight from the heart of the confederacy, Richmond, Virginia.  Thanks for joining us. 

DANIEL PLAUGHER, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN.> How are you doing, Curtis?

SLIWA:  OK, now, first of all, why did you get all involved in what to me seems to be like this cult of following Hillary, so early in the campaign. 

PLAUGHER:  I don't necessarily think it's a cult.  The main reason I got involved in it is because the Democratic Party currently is lacking leadership.  Even with the president's polling numbers dropping steadily, the Democratic Party has not been able to rebound off any of his poll number drops. 

And we need a decisive leader like Hillary Clinton to take the Democratic Party back to victory.  We're in a minority in the House.  We're in a minority in the Senate.  We haven't had the presidency in nearly eight years. 

SLIWA:  All right.  Let me ask you this.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is like a panderer, a flip-flop.  Let me give you an example. 

You remember her famous statement in defense of her husband, “Oh, there's a vast right wing conspiracy against us”?  And now all of a sudden, she will be in this huge box, evangelical church, with the Bible, doing the holy roller routine, trying to get the evangelical vote, or if you go over to Israel, after having embraced Sue Arafat—remember Mrs. Arafat?  She'll now get into and Apache helicopter and she'll man the gunship and actually shoot at Hamas in the West Bank. 

Do we really know which side of the issues Hillary is on, or is she just wherever she thinks the general public is that day?

PLAUGHER:  Curtis, Hillary Clinton is a moderate.  And what she does is she brings two sides of different issues together, and that's what she's doing. 

You call it a flip-flopper.  I say she's trying to be concise and trying to tear down the diversity or not the diversity—not diversity—but of the stigma of just hatred that we have in America right now. 

With George Bush leaning further to the right, we need a leader who can bring America back to the center, and I believe Hillary Clinton is going to be that leader. 

SLIWA:  I mean, former Governor Warner right there in Virgina.  You're in the state of Virginia.  Why don't you give him any play?

PLAUGHER:  I think Warner is a great governor.  I think he would be an excellent but clearly, in 2008, IO supporting both the web search for Hillary Clinton.

I think that she has the leadership, both in the foreign posse and domestic issues.  To bring America back to the center, and another jihad.

SLIWA:  I hear the dogma, I hear the rap.  But did you—are you the first to line up?   Because this is sort of like Xbox 360.  K-Tel has out the best speeches of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

You get your mp3 player, 14 track, Hillary on Katrina.  Hillary on health care.  Hillary on how there's cannibalism on violent video games.  Have you gotten that yet?

PLAUGHER:  No, I haven't. 

SLIWA:  Well, you should know that.  I mean, since you're in the forefront of the Hillary for president campaign. 

But I will tell you this, having heard some of those speeches downloaded, I think I would much prefer to hear the best of Yoko Ono, Sinead O'Connor, or Ashley Simpson.  I mean, they're bad.  You better do something to spark up those speeches.  You know, CSPAN's best?

PLAUGHER:  Curtis, that's the big difference.  I mean, you're a New York elitist.  You know, people in regular states, you know, we know what we want.  We know what America needs, and America needs Hillary Clinton. 

SLIWA:  OK.

PLAUGHER:  OK.  We don't need to be attacked. 

SLIWA:  I understand.  You called me a New York elitist, but it was Hillary and her husband who came up, you know, on the truck from Little Rock, Arkansas, and basically hijacked the Democratic Party in New York as a carpetbagger. 

We'll have to save that for a future discussion.  I'd have to say you're in the lead, and I'm sure other lemmings will follow you in your pursuit of coronating Hillary Rodham Clinton as the next president of the United States.  Thanks for having joined us, though. 

PLAUGHER:  Thank you, Curtis, have a good new year. 

SLIWA:  You got it. 

Up next, tourists return to New Orleans.  But are these guided tours of Hurricane Katrina damage capitalism at its best or worst?  We'll dig up the debate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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