MR. DAVID GREGORY: Our issues this Sunday: the threat of terror. Nearly five years after the September 11 attacks, a chilling new plot: terrorists planning to blow up airplanes bound for the U.S.
SEC’Y MICHAEL CHERTOFF: This plot appears to have been well-planned and well-advanced with a significant number of operatives.
MR. GREGORY: Their plan thwarted, dozens were arrested, but the investigation continues. Was this an al-Qaeda operation? With us, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.
Then, the lingering questions in this age of terror: How vulnerable are we? And has enough been done since 9/11 to improve our nation’s security? Our guests in an exclusive interview: chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission and authors of the new book, “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission,” Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.
And six years ago he was the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president, but on Tuesday the three-term senator and supporter of the Iraq war, Joe Lieberman, was soundly defeated in his Democratic Senate primary by anti-war political newcomer, Ned Lamont. Should Lieberman continue his Independent bid for re-election, and what does his loss mean for both political parties in the upcoming midterm elections? We’ll ask Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
But first, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.
Mr. Secretary, welcome.
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Good to be here.
MR. GREGORY: The big question this morning: Has this plot indeed been thwarted? Your counterpart in Great Britain, John Reid, spoke to the BBC just this morning on this topic. This is what he had to say:
(Videotape, this morning):
MR. JOHN REID: We think we have the main suspects in this particular plot. I have to be honest and say that, on the basis of what we know, there could be others out there, perhaps people we don’t know, perhaps people who are involved in other plots. So the threat of a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom is still very substantial.
MR. GREGORY: “Very substantial.” Is the threat of terror “very substantial” in the United States as well?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, the priority for us at this point is reviewing all the evidence and information to see if there’s any indication of plotting in the U.S. or an attempt to initiate an attack in the U.S. We haven’t at this point seen anything coming out of the British investigation that points to that, but that is the number one priority we have in terms of our continual review.
MR. GREGORY: Was there contact made between any of those who were arrested and persons in the United States at any point?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: We are in the process of reviewing a huge volume of information about all kinds of transactions and communications, and there may be some contact, but thus far we’ve not found anything that’s meaningful in the sense of suggesting plotting or operational actavity—activity in the U.S. itself.
MR. GREGORY: Some two dozen arrests thus far. Do you believe the plot has been thwarted?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I’ve been talking to Home Secretary Reid every day, sometimes several times a day, and I agree with him. I think the likelihood is the main elements of the plot have been scooped up. We don’t know, however, if there’s some lines that lead into pockets that have not yet been arrested. We also have to be mindful of other groups that may think they have an opportunity to exploit our focus on this plot in order to carry out their own plots.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s talk about the, the threat terror level that, of course, has been raised in this country. We’ll put it up on our screen for our viewers to see. It remains at the highest level, severe risk of terrorist attacks for all flights coming from the United Kingdom, more than 100 a day into this country. How long will that last?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I think that’s going to be very closely coordinated with the British government. They obviously have measures they’ve put in place on their side. We have to be synchronized with them, and so I would not anticipate our doing anything different from what they’re doing.
MR. GREGORY: But there’s some confusion about this for a lot of Americans when they see this, that there’s a severe risk of a terrorist attack from these flights. Why not just prohibit those flights from coming to the U.S. until you’re satisfied?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, the reason we are able to keep the flights running is precisely because we’ve put measures into effect, working with the British government, that keeps those flights safe.
Let me assure you David, and the American public, the number one priority here by a country mile is protecting travelers and American citizens. On the other hand, when we can put measures in place that keep us safe, we ought to do that and keep the trans-Atlantic routes open.
MR. GREGORY: It’s at the second-highest level of terrorist attack for those flights coming from other parts of the world. Is it safe to fly, in your view?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Absolutely. And the reason it’s safe is because we’ve put in a comprehensive series of measures. Some of them are visible, some of them are less visible. But when you add them up together, they create not just one line of defense, they create multiple lines of defense, and that’s what assures airline security.
MR. GREGORY: There has been an arrest of a man named Rashid Rauf in Pakistan. Is he the ringleader, and are you satisfied that you have the top levels of this operation?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I don’t think we’re prepared to say he’s the ringleader or prepared to say we’ve got all of the scope of this investigation. Clearly this is transnational and involves activity operationally in Britain but links to other parts of the world. And we’ve only been a couple of days since we’ve had the takedown. We have a lot of material to go through. So until we’ve completely got our arms around this, we’re going to assume that we have to keep looking to flesh out this scheme.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think this is al-Qaeda?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: It has the hallmarks or the earmarks of an al-Qaeda plot in the sense of the scope, the transnational reach, the fact that it is very similar to a 1994 plot that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had intended to carry out in the Pacific. But I—again, I don’t want to definitively conclude it’s al-Qaeda until we’ve had some opportunity to look at all of the facts.
MR. GREGORY: Given those hallmarks, what does it say to you about the operational capacity of al-Qaeda at this juncture? Is it centralized, or is it decentralized in a way that it, it doesn’t have to order attacks from, from a central location?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, I think it is moderately decentralized. But I have to say, David, it actually always was decentralized, that there’s always been a tendency to look at al-Qaeda as almost a hierarchal organization. But it’s always been a network with a core of people who pledge a loyalty to bin Laden, but then other circles that bin Laden may support or fund, but that actually do their own independent targeting.
MR. GREGORY: But this level of coordination and sophistication, doesn’t it belie the notion that al-Qaeda has been significantly degraded?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I actually think not, because it’s been five years since they’ve been capable of putting together something of this sort, assuming this is an al-Qaeda plot. So what that tells us is we actually have done a lot to degrade them. We’ve destroyed their training camps, we’ve killed a lot of their leaders, we’ve captured a lot of their leaders, we’ve gathered a lot of intelligence. But they are still out there. They’re trying to adapt their tactics, and they’re a very constant presence.
MR. GREGORY: I mentioned Pakistan, a big area of investigative focus in Pakistan now. It’s where Osama bin Laden and other top leaders are thought to be hiding out. Is this becoming the new Afghanistan in terms of an area to train and to plot?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I think it’s certainly much harder for them to operate in Pakistan than it was under the Taliban in Afghanistan. But one of the things we do all over the world is look at pockets or areas in countries where we essentially have kind of a wild west, because we’re concerned that those may be areas where al-Qaeda will take root and start to be able to conduct some of its activities.
MR. GREGORY: Do you—are you completely confident that the Pakistani intelligence service is intent on bringing members of al-Qaeda to justice?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Pakistan has been very cooperative with us. I think we’ve generally been pleased. Obviously we’re always urging our allies to do everything they can to protect not only ourselves, but to protect the whole world.
MR. GREGORY: It is, of course, your job, a major part of your job, to understand how al-Qaeda thinks. This is what the vice president had to say this week with regard to that, after Senator Lieberman’s primary defeat. This is how Newsweek reported it: “Vice president, Dick Cheney, darkly warned that the Connecticut primary victory of antiwar candidate Ned Lamont over Sen. Joseph Lieberman would only encourage ‘Al Qaeda types.’ Interviewed by NEWSWEEK, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge bridled at his former colleague’s remark: ‘That may be the way the vice president sees it,’ he said, ‘but I don’t see it that way, and I don’t think most Americans see it that way.’” What’s your view of how al-Qaeda interprets our domestic politics?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, I stay out of domestic politics. What I do think is important is that we be very clear in our message to the world—and this has to be true on a bipartisan basis—that we are steadfast and resolute in the war against terror. I think if we suggest any weakness, that does encourage them to believe they can carry out their missions.
But I want to emphasize this, David. The targets here are all Americans. They, they do not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats. So we are all in this together, and this has to be a unified effort across the board.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about our coordination with British authorities.
What worked here?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, what worked is deep relationships, trust, the fact that we did not have leaks prior to the takedown. You know, that’s one of the critical lessons out of this whole thing. The British trusted us with very sensitive information, and they were able to do it because they were confident we weren’t going to leak. That’s why leaks are so pernicious. Not only do they actually reveal secrets, but they undercut the basis of trust which is the foundation of our whole international effort.
MR. GREGORY: The liquid explosives that have been detailed as part of this plot, was this a cocktail that had been seen before, learned about before?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: We’ve actually been focused on this for quite some time, the notion of mixing benign ingredients together. But what seems to have been new here was the degree of sophistication about how these would be disguised as ordinary travel items. And I think that’s what we’re analyzing and adjusting for, to make sure that we’re keeping pace with the way the enemy adapts.
MR. GREGORY: But had you given thought before to not allowing liquid on flights?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I, I—we’ve actually thought about it. We’ve done a lot with the screening, and with the training the screeners to teach them how to identify new types of detonation devices. And, in fact, over the last year, as we pulled back from some of the emphasis on keeping nail clippers off the airlines, we focused on training precisely for this kind of new generation of explosives.
MR. GREGORY: But there has been a question of priorities. This is how The New York Times reported it last Friday with regard to liquid explosives:
“Cathleen Berrick, director of the Government Accountability Office’s homeland security and justice division, told a Senate committee in February 2005 that the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, redirected more than half of the $110 million it had for research and development in 2003 to pay for personnel costs of screeners, delaying research in areas including detecting liquid explosives. It has continued to redirect some research and development money, she said. ‘They’ve identified it as a vulnerability, they knew it was there, and they’d taken some steps to address it,’ Mrs. Berrick said.” Why hasn’t this been a larger priority before now?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: It actually has been. But one of the things I think you need—people need to understand is training the screeners is an important part of this effort. It’s not all about technology. It’s about knowing what to look for in terms of the configuration of things that might be a detonator. It’s behavior pattern recognition, which we’ve, this past year, started to train people how to do.
You know, what the Israelis do is they don’t focus on technology, necessarily. They have people asking questions and looking at behavior in order to identify terrorists. And those are the tactics that we, in the last year, have now started to roll out in our own procedures.
MR. GREGORY: But are you confident that the United States government is ahead of the terrorists, actually thinking of the technologies and, and the kind of tools they might use?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Absolutely. You know, I’ve had a number of discussions with Kip Hawley, the head of TSA, on precisely this issue over the last year. How do we move to the next generation? How do we start to turn away from worrying about the nail clippers, which is an issue we’ve dealt with, to deal with next generation of explosives and other kinds of devices? And so we are continuously training, evaluating. We actually have groups that put themselves in the mind of the terrorists and try to figure out how they would carry out attacks if they were terrorists. All of this is an approach that we’re taking to stay ahead of where the terrorists are.
MR. GREGORY: But you talk about screening being a priority. The 9/11 Commission issued recommendations in December of 2005. It gave some pretty poor grades on this front. When it came to transportation security: airline passenger pre-screening, an F; airline passenger explosive screening, a C; checked bag and cargo screening, a D. As we’ve learned this week, these are vital areas. What grade would you give yourself?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: We’ve done a lot over the last year to address precisely these issues. We—we’re doing a lot more screening of cargo that goes into the holds of passenger jets. We’ve done a lot more training. We’ve got pilot projects under way over the last several months looking precisely at liquid explosives. And with respect to passenger screening, we’re pushing to get more information that would make us better at it.
But we do have a challenge here. There are some people who push back against this, who say we shouldn’t get more information about passengers. And I think that that’s precisely the kind of debate we need to have. If we can’t get a reasonable amount of information on people who are getting on airplanes, and if we can’t get it in a timely fashion, we are tying our hands against what is still a very serious threat.
MR. GREGORY: Final point. These restrictions on carry-on lugwage—luggage, rather—no liquid, no gel, no, no liquid of any kind. How long do you think that will remain in place?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I think we’re going to make some refinements that will be announced today—not major refinements, but some things that should make it easier.
MR. GREGORY: Such as?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: I’m going to let TSA roll that out clearly and not try to anticipate it here, but what we—I, I can’t tell you is exactly when we’re going to make major changes. We have to make sure we’ve analyzed the device, we’ve analyzed the plan. And the most important thing is safety first. We’re going to keep the airlines as safe as they’ve been. We’re going to protect the American people.
MR. GREGORY: But, as of today, some of those restrictions will be lifted.
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: There’ll be some very minor changes. I don’t want to overstate it. They may tweak it a little bit, and we’re going to let them roll that out clearly today at midday.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, thank you very much.
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Good to be here.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next, lessons learned from 9/11. Are we doing enough to keep Americans safe? The chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission speak out for the first time since last week’s terror plot was uncovered. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton up next on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: An exclusive interview with the chair and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: Welcome both. Let me show you the cover of this week’s Newsweek magazine. The banner headline: “Terror Now: A Plot Against Airlines, Bin Laden At Large, Iraq in Flames. Five Years After 9/11, Are We Any Safer?”
Governor Kean, are we?
MR. THOMAS KEAN: I think we’re safer, but we’re not safe. There’s still a number of things we should be doing that we’re not doing, and this should be a wake-up call. I mean this should, this just should re-focus us on the whole thing.
MR. GREGORY: This—the events of this week?
MR. KEAN: That’s right.
MR. GREGORY: Chairman Hamilton, do you agree with that?
MR. LEE HAMILTON: Oh, yes. We’ve taken all kinds of measures in the last five years to better protect ourselves. And I think some of those have been effective—not all of them, perhaps. And there are a lot of things, as the secretary mentioned a moment ago, that are still under way. But I’m still nervous about it. I think we are not as safe as we should be five years after the event.
MR. GREGORY: A plot like—has been uncovered this week. Is this precisely the kind of scenario you were most afraid of?
MR. HAMILTON: It’s precisely the kind of thing that we have talked about again and again since 9/11--highly sophisticated, very agile, very flexible, very smart people who hate the United States for a variety of different reasons, who are patient, who are looking at all of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. And we have said again and again that we simply must handle this with a much greater sense of urgency than we have in the past.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, are you surprised that we have not hit—been hit again since 9/11?
MR. KEAN: Well, I’m not surprised we haven’t been hit, but I’m surprised that these people have taken so long, because they were—they want to kill as many Americans as possible. And that’s their whole scenario, that’s what they want to do, but they take time to do it, as this plot was planned for a long period of time.
MR. GREGORY: What does this say—if it is, in fact, al-Qaeda—about its operational strength at this point?
MR. HAMILTON: I think it says that they’re still out there, they’re still plotting.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. HAMILTON: Their intent is very clear, as Tom has expressed, capabilities less clear, but there isn’t any doubt that they’re coming at us, and...
MR. GREGORY: And, and it’s interesting to note that, in terms of this plot, while that relationship is still being investigated, this is a scenario that was included in the 9/11 report indicating that “A  study reportedly conducted by [bin Laden deputy Mohammed] Atef ... concluded that traditional terrorist hijacking operations did not fit the needs of al-Qaeda, because such hijackings were used to negotiate the release of prisoners rather than to inflict mass casualties. The study is said to have considered the feasibility of hijacking planes and blowing them up in flight. ... Such a study, if it actually existed, yields significant insight into the thinking of al-Qaeda’s leaders: ... they considered the bombing of commercial flights in midair ... a promising means to inflict massive casualties.” This sounds like al-Qaeda.
MR. KEAN: Well, it does sound like al-Qaeda. And, and this is Ramzi Yousef. I mean, he tried to do it in the first—excuse me—in the, in the Philippines when he tried to blow up—in the Bojinka plot...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. KEAN: ...12 airlines using, again, liquids combined. This is al-Qaeda trying to do something that they’ve done once before, and this time trying to do it successfully.
MR. GREGORY: And Congressman Hamilton, let me ask you about al-Qaeda’s existence and where it may exist, particularly in Pakistan. A lot of investigative focus there, as I mentioned, with Secretary Chertoff. Is this becoming an area that is allowing al-Qaeda to flourish?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, of course. I think it’s quite likely that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. We have a very different kind of relationship with Pakistan. They are doing some things to help us and probably not enough to help us. I, I think al-Qaeda is much more decentralized than perhaps many people think, and I think what’s really happening here is the radicalization of the Muslim world. And it’s not Osama bin Laden and his cohorts pulling the strings with regard to subway bombings in Madrid and London and now this plot on the airlines, but rather it’s a highly decentralized operation. They prey upon these Muslims who are without jobs, who are angry at the West for all kinds of reasons, who don’t like our way of life. And we have to understand, I believe, that if you’re really going to make the American people safe, it’s not just a question of taking different procedures on airplanes, it is dealing with the fundamental problem of the radicalization of Muslims in the world today.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, has that radicalization gotten worse since the 9/11 attacks, and why?
MR. KEAN: I think it has, because I think there are a whole bunch of things happening in the world which has tended to make Muslims dislike the United States more than they even did before. After 9/11, there was world sympathy that came to us. Since then, the war in Iraq, our support for, for Israel, which is constant, a number of things that have happened have sort of—and, and plus, which, as, as Lee said, these people are not getting any better off. I mean, these people still don’t have jobs, they’re still poor, they still don’t have any future, they don’t have any hope. And if you have no hope then the culture of death, which is really what bin Laden is talking about, and the culture of life, which we’re talking about, death is sometimes the way.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, you bring up the subject of Iraq, which has been a major foreign policy thrust since the 9/11 attacks. You were on the program a couple of years ago speaking with Tim Russert on this very subject, and he asked you whether and how the war in Iraq played into this global war on terror. This is what you had to say about it at the time.
(Videotape, July 25, 2004):
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Do you see the war in Iraq as a distraction from the war on terrorism or as a legitimate front of the war on terrorism?
MR. KEAN: My personal view is if—you know, and it’s a gamble in Iraq. If Iraq works out the way the Bush administration and others hopes it will it could transform the Middle East. If it doesn’t, it could be a source of continuing problems and irritation and a home for future terrorists.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, let me start with you. What are your thoughts now?
MR. KEAN: They’re not much different. I mean, we still—we still are trying very, very hard in Iraq to create a democracy in the center of the Middle East and a democracy that, if it works, will transform the Middle East. But increasingly, as people have said, it looks more and more like a civil war and more and more dangerous, and if it develops in that direction we could have a much more serious situation.
MR. GREGORY: Is it a gamble that’s not paying off?
MR. HAMILTON: I think there isn’t any doubt that it’s a breeding ground for terrorism today. However, I also think the conflict in Iraq is changing, and that it is becoming more and more now a conflict among the various sects there, the insurgents.
So Iraq continues to evolve. But does it feed terrorism, does American policy towards Iraq motivate a lot of these radicalized Muslims? I think there’s not much doubt about that, it does. But it’s only one thing. What Tom said with regard to the disaffection that so many people have with American foreign policy is true. That doesn’t make American foreign policy wrong, it just means that it has a lot of consequences to it that keep flowing. If you kill hundreds and hundreds of people in Lebanon, that has consequences. And the consequences are that you radicalize further a lot of people. You have to deal with that and your policy as best you can by doing the kind of things that Tom suggested, reaching out to the Muslim world.
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about security policy here at home in areas of vulnerability. I, I raised this point with Secretary Chertoff about the report card that the commission issued with a lot of C’s, D’s and F’s. And you spoke about that in 2005, that these failures, in your view, were shocking, that the government was distracted.
Governor Kean, what are the major blind spots now and have new ones been exposed by the plot unearthed this week?
MR. KEAN: Well, for instance, when you and I go to the airport there still is not a unified watch list. There should be. We should know everybody who’s getting on that plane, and/or if any agency has any problems with them, they shouldn’t be allowed to get on the plane. We still don’t have enough of what’s called puffer machines in the airports that detect traces of explosives. We still haven’t got the proper technology for screening baggage. Now some of that is simply dollars. I mean, Congress simply has not given the agency the dollars to put those tings into effect. But those are major steps that should be taken at the airports, and until they’re done we’re not as safe as we should be.
MR. HAMILTON: It’s an amazing thing, five years after this event that we’re still struggling with the whole question of developing detection devices for all kinds of explosives. Five years after this event. And the president—or not the president, the secretary a moment ago spoke about pilot programs. Pilot programs, five years after the event. I’m not sure that’s anybody’s fault particularly, but the urgency of developing these detection machines for all kinds of ways they can do harm to passengers has been very slow.
MR. GREGORY: And isn’t it a fact that had this plot actually gone off, there would have been a lot of questions about why authorities hadn’t anticipated liquid explosives being used, given the 1994 plot, given Richard Reid. Why haven’t liquids been banned before?
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah. Well, we tend to fight the last war, don’t we? I mean, we’ve been very much focused, for example, on land transportation because of London and Madrid. Now, all of a sudden, we switch back to air transportation as the target. The fact of the matter is, this is one of the great problems in counterterrorism efforts, and that is you have to judge—make judgments about priorities, you have to make hard choices about what kind of devices are most likely to be used, what devices have to be—you have to develop detection for, and what kind of targets are likely to be hit. All of this demands tough, hard choices by policymakers. Clearly, they’re reluctant to make those choices. I think they’re now beginning to make them. But it’s been a process that has been terribly slow.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, what has to be done for policymakers, counterterror specialists, to get ahead—both technologically and imaginatively—of the terrorists?
MR. KEAN: This has to be a priority. It’s not right now. It’s a priority, but not a top priority. They’re talking about other things because we’re fighting two wars. We’re doing a number of other things. But you’ve got to make that a priority.
MR. GREGORY: Can you do both? Can you fight two wars, or do you have to be focused singularly on, on the war on terror?
MR. KEAN: If you don’t make the defense of the American people your top priority, you’re not doing your job.
MR. GREGORY: Is Iraq a distraction in this, in this sense?
MR. HAMILTON: It’s, it’s, it’s part of the total picture. It’s not just two wars we’re fighting, we’re fighting three wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on terror.
MR. GREGORY: But are the resources—the priority of Iraq—is that a distraction from some of these other measures that we’re focused on?
MR. HAMILTON: If you, if you pour billions and billions of dollars into Iraq, as we’re now doing, and if you put most of your military effort there, it is clearly a priority for the administration and for the country at this point in time. When you do that, it means you do less things in other areas. We cannot do it all. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the manpower.
So the priorities that you establish automatically reject other options.
MR. GREGORY: But Governor Kean, in your view, then, is the war in Iraq part of the war on terror or is it a distraction from the priorities you’re outlining?
MR. KEAN: Well, it’s part of the war on terror in the sense that, if we fail, Iraq will become another sanctuary for terrorists. There’s not much question about that. If Iraq goes into chaos, that’s the kind of situation that bin Laden and al-Qaeda like. So we’ve got to stop that from happening. So in that sense, it’s a part of a worldwide view where we’ve got to get a hold of these areas that are ungoverned where terrorists work.
MR. GREGORY: But you’re sensitive on this point. The direction question is, do you think it’s a distraction from meeting the priorities that you’ve outlined?
MR. KEAN: Any time you’re spending a tremendous amount of money in one area, Lee is right, it distracts from another. But we think that the number one priority has got to be the defense of the American people, and that’s this war on terror in the United States. We’re not protecting our own people in this country. The government is not doing its job.
MR. GREGORY: Fighting the war in Iraq is not protecting the people of the United States, in your view?
MR. HAMILTON: I think it’s possible to do both.
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. HAMILTON: It’s—we certainly have it if we focus our energy and resources enough. But our priority is homeland security. And we do not think that there has been sufficient urgency, priority, resources, people put into the protection of the people here at home.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about your book, “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission.” There is a powerful new documentary that’s coming out. It will air on Court TV on August 21. Talks about how the commission was set up and the experience of the families pushing for information. Here’s a clip from that documentary that expresses one of the main frustrations. Watch.
(Videotape, “On Native Soil,” Courtesy Court TV):
MS. MARY FETCHET: A lot of the hearings, we heard people that had, clearly, had done their own investigation within their, their agencies. And then when they’re asked a specific question, said they’d have to get back to the commission.
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I will have to get back to you on that.
MS. JANE GARVEY: I’d like to double-check it before I say it, I say it here.
MR. ROBERT MUELLER: That occurred before I, I began my tenure. What I know about it is, is after the fact.
MS. FETCHET: They were not willing to publicly disclose anything that, you know, might hold them accountable.
MS. KAREN WAIZER: I have to say I think the, the families and the survivors who testified were more upfront than a lot of the other people from government positions who came in and testified.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, was that your thought as well?
MR. KEAN: In part, certainly. I mean, this people—of course, we had five or six hours of private testimony, and a lot of people said things outside of the public hearings which they felt they could not, for security reasons or some other reason, say in public. So we got a lot of information that was not in the public hearings that is in our report. But, you know, they—people, people, when they testify publicly, try to protect themselves and their agencies, there’s no question about that.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Hamilton, you, you, you write in the book that there is this fine line between investigating and criticizing, and it was particularly sensitive dealing with New York and questioning Mayor Giuliani. This is what you write in the book, speaking about Mayor Giuliani: “It proved difficult, if not impossible, to raise hard questions about 9/11 in New York without it being perceived as criticism of the individual police and firefighters or of Mayor Giuliani. ... The questioning of Mayor Giuliani was a low point,” you write, “in terms of the commission’s questioning of witnesses at our public hearings. We did not ask tough questions, nor did we get all of the information we needed to put on the public record.”
We should point out that, that Mayor Giuliani’s spokesman was quoted last week saying that this was news to them, that he thought he gave you all, all kinds of cooperation. Why was it a low point?
MR. HAMILTON: It was a very difficult hearing in New York, and the point you make in that excerpt is key. This event had such a traumatic effect on the nation, but particularly on New York. Any criticism, or any questioning of officials—police and fire—immediately brought a reaction, “You’re criticizing the heroes.” There is the tendency here, and in the comments Tom made a moment ago, impresses me, and that is government is not very good at looking back, at examining what went wrong. We were trying to find out what went wrong, even though we acknowledge the extraordinary heroism of the moment.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean...
MR. HAMILTON: With, with Mayor Giuliani, we simply let him off a little too easy. The bottom line, however, is that in the private testimony or conversations with the mayor, we really got the information we needed. In the public hearing, because of that environment that you’ve described, and I’ve commented on, I think we were a little easy on the mayor.
MR. GREGORY: What’s the consequence of that, do you think, toward the overall findings?
MR. KEAN: This was not a criticism of Mayor Giuliani. It was a criticism of ourselves.
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah.
MR. KEAN: He gave us everything we asked him. We just, we just went a little easier in the public hearings perhaps than we should have, because of the emotion of the moment, but we got all the information. Information’s in the report, we didn’t lose anything as far as the public went.
MR. GREGORY: Just a few seconds left. Governor Kean, I’ll give you the last word. What is the, the lasting legacy of the 9/11 Commission?
MR. KEAN: That you can, you can do things in a bipartisan manner in this town, and you can solve problems and bring policy forward without the kind of bickering that goes on again and again in so many issues. I think that was an example the commission set, that I hope Washington is still paying attention to.
MR. GREGORY: Are you confident that it can prevent another attack, your work?
MR. HAMILTON: No, no. Not confident. I think another attack will come. But I think the lesson is that the system works, but it takes an awful lot of work to make the system work.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kean, Congressman Hamilton, thanks to both of you.
Coming next, how will the war in Iraq and our national security affect the political landscape in the midterm elections? The chairmen of both political parties, Democrat Howard Dean and Republican Ken Mehlman, are next.
MR. GREGORY: And we are back. DNC chair Howard Dean joins us this morning from Vermont.
Chairman Dean, good morning.
MR. HOWARD DEAN: David, thanks for having me on.
MR. GREGORY: Chairman Dean, are you able to hear me OK?
MR. DEAN: I can hear you fine, can you...
MR. GREGORY: OK, fine. Welcome, welcome to MEET THE PRESS. Let me...
MR. DEAN: Thanks for having me on.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the big political news of the week, that of course related to Senator Joe Lieberman. Six years ago he was the vice presidential choice for your party. What happened?
MR. DEAN: I think he embraced George Bush’s policies, and the American people are tired of George Bush’s policies. They want a new direction in this country, and, and the voters have spoken.
MR. GREGORY: Should he get out of the race now?
MR. DEAN: I think so. Look, I know how hard this is for Joe, and he’s a good, good person. But the truth is I, I lost one of these races, and I got right behind my party’s nominee, and I think that’s what you have to do if you want to help the country. The way to help this country is to limit Republican power. They have failed in, in the budget, they’ve failed in Iraq, they’ve failed at—with Katrina. I just got back from North Dakota; there’s not—more than a war on terror going on in this country, there’s a war on the middle class going on. There—you know, those folks need help, and we need help domestically. We need a change in this country. We need a new direction, and I think Ned Lamont will give us that new direction.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Lieberman led the charge against the new face of the party after his defeat, saying, in effect, it had been taken over by the liberal wing. This is what he had to say the day after his defeat on NBC’s “Today” show.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters, to the mainstream.
MR. GREGORY: “Back from the extreme.” Has the Democratic Party that, that you represent been taken over by the extreme?
MR. DEAN: You know, I think that was an unfortunate statement that Joe made.
That’s exactly the same line that Ken Mehlman and, and Dick Cheney are using. The truth is, Ned Lamont is a moderate. Ned Lamont earned his own living. He made a lot of money—and good for him—in, in this American system. He wants a balanced budget, he wants a sane defense policy, he wants health care for all Americans. That is what the Democratic Party believes in. The truth is, most Democrat—most people in this country, let alone Democrats, most Americans, by a large majority, agree with Led—Ned Lamont and not George Bush and, and Joe Lieberman.
MR. GREGORY: On the issue of the war, is the Democratic Party welcome to differing views about the war?
MR. DEAN: Sure we are. I think we very much are. You don’t see some of the other senators who were supportive of the war. This is simply—the problem that Joe had was he embraced the president. This is a president who’s been bad for America. You should see what’s going on in North Dakota—farmers who’ve not had any drought relief, people losing their health care. There’s a—the president’s paying no attention to the middle class. Kids want to go to college; they can’t do it now because the president’s cut their Pell grants. There’s a lot of problems in this country that are not being addressed, and Ned Lamont will address those questions.
MR. GREGORY: But, Chairman Dean...
MR. DEAN: And the Democratic Party will address those questions.
MR. GREGORY: ...you say that there’s room for other views on the war in Iraq. Senator Lieberman, supportive of the war, didn’t believe in a—in a date certain for troops. Is that view welcome within the party?
MR. DEAN: Sure. There are many other—many candidates running who don’t believe in a—in a deadline for the troops. The Democratic Party itself is on record saying that we ought to bring our troops home, but we’re not committing to bring our troops home immediately. I don’t know of any—or very few Democrats that want to do that. But we believe, along with the majority of the American people, that this war was a mistake and that—and that it’s, it’s a complete lack of leadership for the president of the United States to say, “Well, we’re going to leave this to the next president.” That is not leadership. This guy got us into this mess; he needs to get us out of this mess.
MR. GREGORY: As you well know, there’s...
MR. DEAN: And we—and we will do it if he can’t.
MR. GREGORY: As you well know, there’s a number of, of Democrats, potential nominees, candidates in 2008, who have, in effect, recanted their support of the war, saying it was a mistake. A notable potential candidate who has not done that, of course, is Senator Hillary Clinton. She has not supported a date certain for withdrawal, nor has she said that her vote of support was a mistake. Does she need to recant that support in order to be the Democratic nominee, in your view?
MR. DEAN: Look, first of all, I don’t comment on 2008, I have to be the referee. Second of all, there’s plenty of room for differing points of view on how to defend America.
The problem is, the president has failed to defend America. Since he has been in office, the number of nuclear weapons in North Korea has quadrupled, Iran has moved closer to nuclear weapons, Osama bin Laden has set up shop in Pakistan five years after the fact. I think one of the 9/11 chairs just said it very well: If your top priority isn’t defending the American homeland, then you’re not doing your job. And I think President Bush is not doing his job on defense or domestically.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about something Senator Lieberman also said in the wake of the UK bombing plot. This is how it was reported in The Washington Post on Friday: “Campaigning in Connecticut, Senator Joseph Lieberman ... said the antiwar views of primary winner Ned Lamont would be ‘taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England.’” Your, your reaction?
MR. DEAN: I think that’s—I think that’s outrageous. I mean, that’s the same—again, the same thing Dick Cheney, who’s been widely discredited by most Americans as essentially a propaganda machine, has said. It’s ridiculous. That is saying to the Connecticut voters that you don’t care about American security and saying to the Connecticut voters that they like al-Qaeda. That is a ridiculous thing. The Republicans hope, once again, to win an election based on fear. They—you know, fear-mongering, whining and complaining and name-calling is not going to lead America.
We need a new direction in America, we need a new direction to defend America, and we need a new direction to make the homeland safe, not just in terms of safety from terrorists, but safe for the middle class again. We have seen a decline in the middle class. We need a strong middle class to make America strong again, and with Democratic leadership we’ll have that middle class strong again, with the ability to go to college, with the ability to count on your pension, with the ability to have decent health care.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about defending America. What is the Democratic Party’s prescription for fighting and winning the war on terror?
MR. DEAN: Well, first of all, if you want to fight and win on the war on terror, the fact is Iraq is a distraction. Iraq never had anything to do with the war on terror and that’s just a fact and that’s what the 9/11 Commission said. So it’s not enough to listen to the right-wing folks that claim that we’re fighting the terrorists off the shore so they don’t come on the shore. That is hooey. The people who fought the terrorism best in the last couple of weeks have been the British, who uncovered this plot. We need to upgrade our airport security and we’ve tried to do that in the Democratic Party, and our additions to the budget in Homeland Security have been turned down by the Republican majority. We need a real tough fight on terror, but we need to be tough and smart, not just talk tough.
MR. GREGORY: You heard the 9/11 co-chairmen. Does the Democratic Party believe—do you believe that a push for democratic reform in the Middle East is vital to winning the war on terror?
MR. DEAN: Yes, but I think the way that the president went about pushing for democratic reform was incredibly foolish. It blew up in his face and now Americans are paying the price for that. We needed a much different strategy. The truth was, we were controlling Saddam Hussein’s air space, he had no air force, he had little army. Saddam Hussein was a pain in the neck and a bad person, but the fact is there are a lot of pains in the neck and bad people in this world. And what we should have been concentrating on is getting rid of the Taliban once and for all in Afghanistan who are now making a resurgence, making sure that Iraq—Iran does not have nuclear weapons. That we cannot afford to have—to allow. And to make sure that North Korea is disarmed. Those ought to be the major priorities, because if nuclear weapons get in the hands of terrorists we have a much more serious problem than Saddam ever posed to the United States or to the region.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Howard Dean, thank you very much for your views.
MR. DEAN: Thanks very much for having me on, David.
MR. GREGORY: We are now joined by Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the RNC.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. KEN MEHLMAN: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
MR. GREGORY: You’ve heard Chairman Dean.
MR. MEHLMAN: I have.
MR. GREGORY: Your response.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, I think that Chairman Dean gets it wrong in terms of defending America. The fact is it’s not the right-wing extremists, as he said, who talks about Iraq being central to the war on terror, it’s the enemy. If you listen to what Osama bin Laden says, if you listen to what Mr. Zawahiri says, they both say their goal is to drive America out of Iraq the way we were driven out of Vietnam and to use that as a base to launch further attacks. They’ve said what their goal is if there’s a failed state sitting in between Syria and Iran.
The second point that I disagree with, that he said, he said, “We want to be strong.” Then why has his party voted against the Patriot Act, against the surveillance programs, similar to the kind of programs that were used in London to deal with the threat? Why has his program—why has his party been against missile defense? When issue after issue after issue, whether it’s not giving the terrorists a victory in Iraq—whether it’s the tools we need at home to figure out what the terrorists are doing, to make sure we’re successful—on every one of these issues, unfortunately, the party of Pelosi and the party of Dean and the party of Harry Reid has followed what Nancy Pelosi said less than a year after 9/11, which is she doesn’t think America is really at war.
MR. GREGORY: It is very clear that this is going to be topic A in the midterm election. This is what another prominent Democrat, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, had to say about the legacy of the Bush years, particularly the war in Iraq. He said the following: “I fear many of our policies over the past five years have done more to inflame extremism than to diminish it. I believe the war in Iraq has diverted resources and undercut the Bush Administration’s ability to protect our people against a terrorist attack.” A view echoed in terms of money spent in the Iraq war by the 9/11 Commission’s co-chairman.
MR. MEHLMAN: I would say, with all due respect to Mr. Rockefeller, tell that to the families of the 241 people who were killed in 1983 by Hezbollah, the people that were in the East African Embassies that were bombed in the 1990s. The fact is, for a generation terrorists have made war on America. From the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich to Mogadishu to Beirut to the East African bombings, to the USS Cole. What changed was that after September 11, this president recognized in fact we’re at war. And the fundamental question Americans are going to have to answer is, “Do you believe we’re at war?” And if you believe we’re at war, then it’s important to use every tool possible to win the war on terror, not to weaken coordination between law enforcement—the Democrats did by trying to kill the Patriot Act—not reducing our ability to interrogate the enemy, as they’ve done, and not oppose efforts to surveil the enemy, which is exactly what, if you look at the reports from London, the British officials were able to do to stop the attack.
MR. GREGORY: The president has said he’s running on a record, as are Republicans in this fall campaign.
MR. MEHLMAN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Here is part of the Bush record on national security. Five years after 9/11, bin Laden is still on the loose. Iran and North Korea, part of that “axis of evil,” have only increased their weapons capacity. In Iraq, we were told we’d be greeted as liberators, now our generals say we’re on the brink of civil war, 2600 U.S. troops have been killed, and anti-American sentiment, as, as the 9/11 Commission co-chair said, higher today than it was before 9/11. Is that really a record of success?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, I think a couple of things, David. First of all, let’s remember, they both made this point, as did Mr. Chertoff, we face a movement, not a country. It’s harder to beat a movement. When you face a country, if you bomb the barracks where the general is, then you’ve eliminated command and control. It’s much harder to fight an enemy when its ability, say, to create an IED can be developed on a Web site. So it’s a different kind of war.
But every one of the points you mentioned—North Korea successfully tested six missiles. The people want to vote for Democratic leaders who have been against missile defense. You mentioned Iran, Harry Reid said we should take the use of force off the table. How are we going to be able to negotiate and prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon—which Chairman Dean is right, is a terrible thing if it happens—if they don’t think force is a possibility? How are we going to be safer as these movements go forward if we can’t interrogate them in an aggressive and effective way, if we can’t surveil them and figure out what they’re doing, and if there’s not good coordination? And finally, think about this: We know that 9/11 taught us how dangerous it was when you had a failed state in Afghanistan. Imagine a failed state on the second-largest oil reserves in the world. That’s what would happen if we cut and run in Iraq, which, unfortunately—which is what the Democratic Party has now made their orthodoxy.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the race in Connecticut, Senator Lieberman.
MR. MEHLMAN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: This is what you had to say after his defeat: “Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defense. And for that, he was purged from his party.” Safe to say that you believe and have respect in Senator Lieberman’s views on national security matters?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, look, in most issues, I disagree with Joe Lieberman. The fact is...
MR. GREGORY: But on national security, you think he has credibility?
MR. MEHLMAN: On national security, I think he was part of the Harry Truman/JFK tradition, which unfortunately apparently isn’t welcome to the Democratic Party.
MR. GREGORY: This is something that he also said last Sunday during a campaign speech. “The fact is”—this is Senator Lieberman speaking—“I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president for, among other things: not winning the support of our allies in the run-up to the war; not having a plan to win the peace; not putting enough troops on the ground; putting an American in charge of the Iraqi oil supply. And I said that if I were president, I would ask Secretary Rumsfeld to resign.” Given your respect for the credibility of his views, do you acknowledge that he’s right on these points?
MR. MEHLMAN: Look, the fact is that our mission in the war in Iraq is critical. We agree on that; we agree it’s wrong to cut and run. But look, we’re not coming in and saying “Stay the course.” The choice in this election is not between “Stay the course” and “Cut and run,” it’s between “Win by adapting” and “Cut and run.”
Let me tell you what we’re doing. The fact is, before the successful Iraqi elections, the number of troops went up from 137,000 to 167,000. That’s adapting to win. Recently, the increased troops in Baghdad, adapting to win. We changed how the training of Iraqi forces occurred to involve more Iraqis.
That’s adapting to win.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MEHLMAN: We’ve involved the international community more, the EU, the U.N.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But do you acknowledge these faults that he’s outlined?
MR. MEHLMAN: I’ve—I acknowledge that when you’re facing any war, the enemy is smart, the enemy thinks, and particularly in this kind of war, it requires you to adapt to win. We’re going to adapt to win, and what you heard from Chairman Dean and when you hear from the Democratic leaders, if they had their way, “It’s too tough, we’ll cut and run,” that’s not the answer.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the Republican candidate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger. You’ve been going around the country...
MR. MEHLMAN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...and been very clear...
MR. MEHLMAN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...and forceful for your support of Republican candidates. Are you endorsing Alan Schlesinger to be the next senator from Connecticut?
MR. MEHLMAN: There’s nothing more important to me, as you know, than electing Republicans. It’s what I spend my life doing; it’s my passion. The way I do it...
MR. GREGORY: So, yes?
MR. MEHLMAN: The way I do it is to work with our leadership in the states, and what my leadership in the state has said to me is, “You ought to stay out of this one. You ought to focus on the House races and focus on the governors’ races.”
MR. GREGORY: Why endorse candidates all over the country but not do it here?
MR. MEHLMAN: Again, I do it based on the leadership in the state.
MR. GREGORY: Do you want Senator Lieberman to win, to, to expose the Democratic Party as divided and weak?
MR. MEHLMAN: I’m following—I’m following the advice—I’m following the advice of my leadership, which is I’m focusing on making sure that Chris Shays and that Nancy Johnson, and that Rob Simmons is re-elected, and that Governor Rell is re-elected.
MR. GREGORY: Do you support Senator Lieberman as senator?
MR. MEHLMAN: I do not.
MR. GREGORY: You do not?
MR. MEHLMAN: I, I, I think it is up to the people of Connecticut. I’m certainly not endorsing Joe Lieberman who, while I agree with him on some issues, I disagree with him on most issues.
MR. GREGORY: Beyond Connecticut, there are new, troubling signs for the Republican Party. There’s a new AP-Ipsos poll. This is the reporting on it. Put it up on screen for our viewers and you. “An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted this week found the president’s approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May. His handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president’s decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South.
“More sobering for the Republicans are the number of voters who backed Bush in 2004 who are ready to vote Democratic in November’s congressional elections - 19 percent.”
And here’s a look at a generic congressional match-up from that same poll. Fifty-five percent supports Democrats taking over Congress, 37 percent Republican. Is the party in trouble?
MR. MEHLMAN: David, there’s no question we’re in a tough political environment. We’re in the sixth year of a president’s term, we know that. We’re in the middle of a tough war. But the focus now is going to be who’s on the ballot? What are the choices? And I don’t believe Americans, in the middle of a tough war, as they see these plots, want to weaken the tools and surrender the tools that are critical to keeping Americans safe. I don’t think they want to weaken how we interrogate potential terrorists. I don’t think they want to weaken the surveillance. I don’t think they want to kill the Patriot Act, and I certainly don’t want to think that they give the enemy the kind of victory that the 9/11 Commission had said they would have if we cut and run from Iraq.
MR. GREGORY: We’re going to have to leave it there. Ken Mehlman, thank you for your views.
MR. MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot. Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And we’ll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: One final note this morning. Our viewers should know that the new TSA guidelines for airport security that Secretary Chertoff announced here this morning will be posted later today on the TSA Web site—that’s [www.tsa.gov], I should say. And for more information on today’s guests and topics, logon to the viewer resources page of our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.