Guests: Michael Chertoff, Bob Baer, Mitt Romney, George Pataki, Richard Ben-Veniste, Howard Fineman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hatred, the 9/11 nineteen killed thousands, forcing Americans at the World Trade Center to jump from 100 floors. The terrorist rounded up today in England wanted people to fall from 39,000 feet over the Atlantic. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, coming to you tonight from outside the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. A terror plot of unimaginable scope was thwarted today. British authorities arrested 24 British subjects, suspected in a plot to blow up nine airplanes on their way from London to the U.S. President Bush and U.S. officials worked with their British counterparts in the days leading up to today‘s arrest. Here‘s the president today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘ll have more on today‘s developments with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Plus, in response to today‘s events, Governors Mit Romney and George Pataki and Arnold Schwarzenegger put out their national guard troops to airports in their states. They‘ll tell us what those troops will do and what other steps are being taken to bolster security in this country. But we begin tonight with “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” anchor Brian Williams at Heathrow Airport in London. Brian, what have you seen over there today?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Chris, absolute bedlam. The scenes earlier today of people trying to stuff into their checked bags what they were going to carry on the aircraft. Mothers complaining that they had to throw away a sealed container of milk that they had hoped to use in mid-flight on a bargain airline to give their children to drink, because, as you know, even before today you couldn‘t count on getting the beverage of your choice on some of these airlines. That‘s the bargain we make to pay low fares. But now, Chris and, you know, we‘ve had all day to reflect on this, think of how this and God forbid we were talking about anything else tonight, think of how this will affect American life and will we now, to allow people to fly the way they wish, see a kind of scientific Marshal Plan, to catch up.
OK, if the game is going to be clear liquids, if the game is going to be outsmarting us, using aircraft again, can science and industry in the United States and around the globe catch up with that, meet the challenge to allow people unfettered access to air travel again? I don‘t know how long people are going to be willing to put up with, in some flights, in some cases, not having a book, not having the music of their choice, let alone food or beverages or, in some cases, thinking they‘ll need something they‘ll need during a long haul flight.
MATTHEWS: Brian, one of your expertises is in this field of airline security and airlines generally. Does this mean we‘ll have to have cavity searches, body searches? You‘re looking for liquids. It seems to me there‘s so many places you could hide a liquid.
WILLIAMS: Well, that‘s right. And this is, again, where science comes in. Companies like the one that owns us, General Electric, companies like those that make all the detection equipment, the machines they call the Puffer, that blow air and look for atomized particles on you. The machines act as kind of a live x-rays or M.R.I. There are privacy concerns with those, but there are also privacy concerns with what they are taking from you at the airport and leaving you with in these clear bags, as was the case here in Heathrow today. So we‘ve got to decide, I guess, as a nation. We now know the threat, we know the challenge. We‘ve got to decide do we have the means and do we have the will and how badly we want it.
MATTHEWS: Brian, how far ahead of reality have been our people, our authorities, in anticipating this kind of weapon, this liquid explosive device that can be mixed together aboard an airplane?
WILLIAMS: Well, Chris, as you know, people in our business long ago committed to memory the Tom Friedman quote that may live on more than anything else post-9/11. The failure of imagination. And I suppose it will take days and weeks to find out just how far along they have been moving. And what the next big thing is that they suspect that they don‘t share with anyone, of course, so we can have some air of mystery and secrecy and remain a step ahead of the bad guys. It is clear this is going to be the enemy. That the days of enemy soldiers coming up over a ridge in an identifiable fashion, so the good guys can mow them down, that‘s as antique a notion as fighting and bombing of World War II is in this countryside.
MATTHEWS: You know, in our first edition of HARDBALL tonight, we had a senator on, former Senator John Edwards on, who said that once these people in the east and the Islamic world get to know us personally, understand our good character, as he said, they wouldn‘t hate us so much, they wouldn‘t want to commit suicide to hurt us. But here we have maybe 25, 24 people who have lived in London and England and the free world for all these years, that become citizens, subjects of the crown, and, yet, after having gotten to know us, they want to kill themselves to hurt us. Isn‘t that an even deeper conundrum here than the chemicals being used in these attacks?
WILLIAMS: And that, Chris, that last aspect, the willingness to take one‘s own life, I always tell people, you know, there are guys on our team like that, too. They‘re called Army Rangers and Navy Seals and the special forces folks and the first responders on 9/11 who went into those buildings knowing, by the way, they weren‘t going to come out. So we have players like that on our team. But to the center of your question, it goes to etiology. Can you reverse the clock here. We now know this is the conflict of our generation. Who would have thought it would take this shape? Who would have thought it would be against an enemy we can‘t always see, and who would have thought the new target would be a stainless steel tube flying, as you put it, at 39,000 feet, full of innocent people.
MATTHEWS: Frightening stuff. Thank you very much for this report from Heathrow Airport in London, Brian Williams. Just a short while ago I spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the department‘s headquarters, which you can see over my shoulder. Here I asked him what he knew about this foiled terrorist plot.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, we know it was a sophisticated plot. We know that the plan was to smuggle explosives onto airplanes and detonate the explosives simultaneously in a number of different aircraft. We know that they relied upon kind of garden variety types of materials like beverage containers or things of that sort as the means of disguising the components or the explosive.
We know there were at least 20 people involved, 21 have been arrested now in Great Britain. And we know it was a sophisticated plan with international reach, so I would rate this, in terms of the complexity and strategic reach, up with the classic type of al Qaeda terror plot that we have seen over the last 10 years.
MATTHEWS: Not to be too graphic, but I guess we have to be. What would it be like if they had conducted these explosions over the Atlantic Ocean?
CHERTOFF: Well, what could have happened potentially is the loss of several airliners with hundreds of people on each of them. Now, I can‘t tell you that the particular explosives they had designed would have succeeded in bringing the planes down, but certainly you don‘t even want to come close to taking that kind of a risk.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the nature of your learning about this. How long have you had a beat on this?
CHERTOFF: Well, the British, of course, had been looking at networks like this and overlapping with this for some considerable period of time. But I would say within the last couple of weeks, it became clear that this particular network was focused on the United States as a target, not the country itself, but airliners going from Britain to the United States.
Once that became clear, the British really accelerated their investigative activities. They got us much more involved and so ...
MATTHEWS: When was that, Mr. Secretary, when they gave the OK, the heads up to you that they were looking at this dangerous plot?
CHERTOFF: I think this became something that we knew was exceptional and was accelerating within the last two weeks, maybe the last 10 days. And as we have been looking at it—and we have been spending quite a bit of time with it in the last few days—it appeared that it was picking up speed and the magnitude was perhaps greater than originally thought.
So we have known certainly for the past 10 days to two weeks that we are dealing with something that is a well advanced and well thought out, and is really resourced to succeed.
MATTHEWS: Can you confirm that they were planning a test flight two days from now?
CHERTOFF: You know, I have to be respectful of the British system. They have certain legal requirements. They are, frankly, stricter than we are. I don‘t want to get into specific evidence.
What I can tell you is if you look historically at these kinds of terror attacks, it is almost always the case there‘s a dry run or a couple of dry runs before the attack is carried out. So it wouldn‘t surprise me to see that in this case.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the scenario. You have seen a case back in ‘94, ‘95 of this, called the Bojinka plan. How does—tell us about that plot, and how this may have tracked that in terms of the methodology?
CHERTOFF: Well, I would say it‘s eerily similar. The Bojinka plan was the brainchild of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who eventually brought us 9/11, and the plan there was to detonate, I think, 11 -- bombs on 11 airliners crossing the Pacific. There was actually a dry run in that case, and I believe an individual, a businessman, was killed in the test run.
We became alerted to that—and this is before my time, obviously—because overseas investigators discovered the bomb maker, and through interrogation, the plot was ultimately unraveled and was frustrated. This plan appears, at least in general form, to be very similar to that. I can‘t tell you that the plotters here were thinking about that plot.
But here, again, we have simultaneous—the plan is simultaneous or near simultaneous, detonations on multiple airliners which really magnifies the impact of the plot, and here also a very sophisticated plan with a lot of thought given into how to smuggle explosives onto the airliners.
MATTHEWS: You have known since ‘94 or ‘95 that there was possibility of terrorists using liquid explosive materials aboard planes. What have we been able to do to detect those materials on an airplane with someone getting on?
CHERTOFF: Well, I don‘t know that the 1994 plot was liquid explosives, but it is true that we have been thinking for some time that about the fact that some explosives come in liquid form. And we are, obviously, working to advance the technology.
There are a lot of techniques we do use to distinguish between benign liquids and dangerous liquids, but I don‘t want to mislead you. It is a challenging thing to do, particularly when people are designing the packaging in a way that is very, very well-disguised.
Now, it is one thing if someone comes in with an obvious bottle of some liquid with duct tape and wires sticking out of it, but when someone, you know, separates the bomb into components, and each of the components is benign and appears to be very similar to an ordinary beverage someone might bring on an airplane, then you are really dealing with a very sophisticated challenge.
MATTHEWS: So if you see five guys getting on a plane, whether they look Arab or not—or Islamic or not—they are getting on a plane and they‘re drinking out of sports bottles all at the same time, that would be an indication you have got a problem.
CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I would have said a week or two ago that seeing a lot of people get on airplanes with sports bottles would be the most natural thing in the world.
CHERTOFF: And I think that is why we‘ve taken a pause here, we‘ve banned liquids on coming into the cabin on carry-on. We are, obviously, going to look at the devices now that we‘ve—this plot has been disrupted. We‘re going to analyze the approach that was being taken here.
We‘re going to reverse engineer it, so to speak, and then we‘re going to develop countermeasures. But until we are confident that we have got a reliable way to easily distinguish between dangerous liquids and benign liquids, we‘re going to have to be better safe than sorry.
MATTHEWS: When—I travel quite a bit by airplane, like a lot of people do in this business, and I have been told, as I‘m going through metal detectors, to take a sip out of a drink I‘m carrying, Starbucks or whatever. How does that help us if there‘s these invisible bottoms in these containers?
CHERTOFF: Well, I don‘t think that the issue was an invisible bottle
or an invisible bottom because the volume of liquid you would need to make a bomb is pretty substantial. It‘s not going to be concealed in a bottom. Obviously, if you sipped something that was an explosive substance, you are not likely to survive that encounter, so ...
MATTHEWS: So that was the precaution we were using?
CHERTOFF: Well, we have used that technique and we could use that again. But, again, without giving recipes out to terrorists which I have no intention of doing here, they were thinking of ways to get around that problem. And I think that‘s why we have to always be careful to match their advances in the trade craft with our own advances in defense.
MATTHEWS: That was the chief of homeland security in this country, Secretary Michael Chertoff. Coming up former CIA operative Bob Baer will be here to talk about how this plot was stopped. That‘s the big one tonight, we stopped it. You‘re watching HARDBALL live from outside the Department of Homeland Security, here only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. NBC News has learned that the alleged mastermind of this airline plot is still at large in Pakistan and has yet to be captured. Bob Baer is a former CIA officer who was stationed in the Middle East. He‘s also the author of the new book, “Blow the House Down.” Bob, you‘re the expert. What comes to mind when you think about this plot and its use of liquid explosives?
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: Chris, you know, it‘s exactly what you said. You go into an airport and they say sip your coffee. You know, how do you know, for instance, that the explosive is not in the coffee? What I‘m trying to say is this plot was not stopped by airport security, it was stopped because the British, the Pakistani intelligence services, got sources inside this group, or they monitored telephone calls. The July 7th bombing was preceded by hundreds of telephone calls between the group, the suicide bombers and Pakistan. And I think the British are focusing in on this group, and it‘s just good intelligence which saved these airplanes.
MATTHEWS: So you‘ve got to catch the plot before it‘s carried out.
BAER: Oh, absolutely. You can‘t, I don‘t like to undermine people‘s confidence, but the fact is the technology in these airplane bombs is moving a lot faster than our own airport security. You can get common products from a drugstore, you can mix them in an airplane, you can blow the plane up with enough of it, and you can get enough of it on. So we‘re going to have to rely on good, old-fashioned intelligence.
MATTHEWS: How potent are these explosive devices that you‘re talking about, where you can take over-the-counter chemicals, cleaning fluids, whatever and you can put them together in a compound that will be so volatile that it will create an explosion? Does that explosion depressurize the plane? Does it blow a hole in the cabin? What does it do?
BAER: Well, what they do and this technology is on the Internet. This is no secret. You want to take the bomb and put it against the skin of the airplane. It splits the airplane open enough, it breaks in half and it goes down. You could do this in a bathroom, for instance, because the bathroom on an airplane will normally be against the skin. You put it against the skin. You just need a small crack to bring an airplane down. You do not need that much liquid explosives.
MATTHEWS: So a pilot confronted with an explosion like this over the Atlantic ocean would be able to do what, nothing?
BAER: It would bring the airplane down. This is enough, you do not need, you do not even need a gallon of this stuff to bring an airplane down.
MATTHEWS: Would the plane crash or would he be able to bring it down in a kind of a belly landing?
BAER: No Chris, it splits in half. The plane goes down. Just like at Lockerbee, it split the airplane in half and that was a lot less explosives than I think these guys are bringing on airplanes. This time around, the airplane, the structure of it disintegrates.
MATTHEWS: So it comes down to what you‘re saying, I guess, badly phrased, but what you just said is if we don‘t catch these plots as they‘re being hatched, we‘re not going to catch them getting on the plane.
BAER: Right now, no. The technology is too far behind. Some of these liquids don‘t even have nitrates in them, so the nitrate sniffers are not good enough. The MRIs are not good enough. There‘s even military explosives now, Chris, that can be disguised as talcum powder, that almost do not have a signature, a nitrate signature, as I understand. I‘m not an expert, but this is what I‘ve been told.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go to the politics, then. Pakistan, we have an alliance with the Pakistani dictator, Musharraf. We know that his own intelligence services are riddled with Islamic fanatics who don‘t like him or his alliance with the United States. Now we know, we‘ve got a couple, a dozen British subjects located in Britain itself, who are so—what‘s the right word—so zealous that they‘re willing to kill themselves to get the West.
BAER: Well, Chris, the problem is these guys in Britain are identifying with the Muslims in Lebanon, for instance. So if Israel goes in, they say we have to do something to defend our fellow Muslims. The Pakistanis have a lot of these groups infiltrated, bin Laden, al Qaeda, but they can‘t get all the groups. They work in cells, and they‘re going to keep on coming back and back and back again. So we‘re not out of the woods yet.
MATTHEWS: How rational is this evil behavior? We can call it evil, we can pass moral judgment. Obviously, it‘s easy. They‘re killers, they‘re bad guys. But their motivation, I just want your expert opinion. Is it logical? Is there something in the fact that bin Laden‘s country had 10,000 American troops in what he and his people consider the holy land, that he saw a threat even from our humanitarian effort in Somalia? How logical is this suicide terrorism?
BAER: Chris, it‘s not logical at all. I‘ve been doing a film for British television on these people up in Leeds in the east and East London, and you know what they said to me? They said we are the victims after the July 7th attack. We are victims as Muslims, and we‘re going to fight back. And we hate the United States. We hate Britain. This is our only country.
MATTHEWS: But why the hell did they move there?
BAER: Even though they‘ve never been...
MATTHEWS: Why do these people move to a country, live there, take up its citizenship if they don‘t like it?
BAER: This is second generation, and my personal feeling is I would send them home. You know, you just find out who these people are, say fine, go back to Pakistan.
It is a terrible problem. We‘ve got 15 million Muslims in Europe who are disaffected and think they‘re at war with the United States. Not all of them, of course, but enough to cause us real problems, our aviation and other suicide bombings.
MATTHEWS: So you believe it was significant politically that those planes were coming to the States?
BAER: Absolutely. We are the number one evil. We are the great Satan, as the Iranians call us. They hold us responsible for the war in Lebanon, they hold us responsible for the civil war in Iraq, and they‘re going to kill us.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this, this is the HARDBALL question of the night. You know, when you fly the Israeli airlines, you‘ve got to go through practically the Minnesota multiphasic personality test to get aboard. You‘ve got extensive discussion with people who know what they‘re looking for, psychologically and politically. Are we going to have to go that far with our international travel, that we‘re going to have to check on people‘s basic psychic realities before we let them on our planes, and would that work?
BAER: It‘s not psychic reality—you know, the psychology of these people. The Israelis know who is inside their country. This is why they‘ve not been hit by a suicide bombing since July 12th. They know who‘s on those airplanes, who‘s coming in. They question them. It‘s a professional intelligence service, professional police. And we do not know who‘s inside our country, which makes us vulnerable.
MATTHEWS: So they know the targets. We would have to start from square one and just imagine the targets.
BAER: Chris, I hate to tell you this, but we‘d have to take control of our borders. I could draw you a scenario where the suicide bombers come through Mexico, get their materials here and hit a domestic flight.
MATTHEWS: Well, maybe we‘ll wake up one of these days.
Anyway, thank you, Bob Bear. You‘re an expert. It‘s great to have you on, especially tonight. When we come back, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will report on the political battle which already has begun over national security, with just 90 days to go until this election day in November.
And later, Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and George Pataki of New York, will tell us about their decisions to sends in the National Guard to beef up their airports. You‘re watching HARDBALL, live from outside the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: The foiled terror plot comes at a very delicate political time for the Bush administration. Americans are growing increasingly weary of the war in Iraq, a country which had no role in 9/11. And with the November congressional elections fast approaching, a key issue will be whether Iraq has helped or hurt America in the terror war, or possibly taken our eye off the ball.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Bush kept his focus on politics, fund-raising in Wisconsin, as scheduled, for Republican congressional candidates. But the president called the developments in London a stark reminder.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.
SHUSTER: Security officials say the terror plot and the British efforts to unravel it have been going on for months. An administration spokesman says President Bush and British prime minister, Tony Blair, spoke about the case on Sunday and again during the day on Wednesday.
Late last night and early this morning, police began conducting raids across Great Britain. At 1:30 a.m. Eastern in the U.S., 6:30 a.m. in London, Scotland Yard announced 21 arrests.
PAUL STEPHENSON, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, SCOTLAND YARD: We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder.
SHUSTER: British and American officials said the terrorists were planning to use liquid explosives disguised as beverages, hair spray, or even tubes of toothpaste, to blow up as many as nine commercial aircraft. The suspects were allegedly planning to target flights to New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
Early this morning, as some flights to the U.S. were canceled and new screening measures were put in place, Homeland Security official Michael Chertoff.
CHERTOFF: We believe that the arrests in Britain have significantly disrupted this major threat. But we cannot assume that the threat has been completely thwarted.
SHUSTER: At airports across the nation, lines lengthened, passengers waited, and National Guard units were called up to help with security from coast to coast. In Congress, lawmakers steered clear of talking publicly about the political impact or the terror plot, but with the midterm elections around the corner, several politicians acknowledged it could be a huge political twist in an already volatile campaign season.
The latest polls show Democrats ahead of Republicans on the GOP signature issue: handling terrorism. The question is whether this is because of the absence of a threat and whether Republicans now stand to gain from public knowledge of a new specific attempt to target America.
And then there is the issue of how it all plays against the backdrop of the Iraq war. The administration has repeatedly linked the war to 9/11.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we follow Congressman Murtha‘s advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993, we will simply validate the al Qaeda strategy and invite more terrorist attacks in the future.
SHUSTER: The political danger for Republicans comes if the public sees the latest terror plot as separate from Iraq and as evidence that the Iraq war has distracted the nation‘s malingering threat to the American homeland.
(on camera): In other words, even though the focus is now on London, the debate over Iraq may intensify and 12 weeks before the Congressional midterm elections, the question is will the news from today help President Bush and members of his party or hurt them.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Up next, National Guard troops are patrolling airports in Boston, New York and California. Will this make us safer? Will it make us feel safer? Governor Mitt Romney and Governor George Pataki will be with us when we return.
You‘re watching HARDBALL live from the Department of Homeland Security
it‘s right behind me—only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, overlooking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
For the first time since September 11, 2001, National Guard troops have been ordered to patrol Logan International Airport in Boston. Governor Mitt Romney issued the order this morning and he joins us now from Boston. Governor, what will the army troops, the National Guard troops be able to do there that the airport police can‘t?
GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS: Well, frankly, the real reason they‘re there is because we don‘t have enough airport security personnel and TSA personnel to man the double number of points for inspection that we‘ve had in the past. We‘ve always had one single place for security checkpoint.
Now we have a checkpoint at gates, as well as at the security point. We have to double our number of personnel, almost, and there just aren‘t enough people ready to do that. And that‘s why the National Guard has to step in and play that key role.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Bob Baer, the expert who just came on and said that the problem now isn‘t so much the detection of metal objects that could‘ve been used—that certainly were used in 9/11 and could be used again, because these liquids are undetectable and therefore we‘re going to be in the situation that the Israelis are in, where you really have to detect the criminal intent of the passenger.
How are we going to have the logistical capability to conduct those kinds of lengthy examinations of people before they get on a shuttle to D.C., for example?
ROMNEY: Well, I think what this particular experience has taught us is one more time, the only way to effectively protect the homeland is not by inspecting every possible source of attack, but rather to do effective intelligence and counterterrorism work. That‘s what the British have shown us again.
You have to find the bad guys, reveal the plots before they carry them out, because the number of ways that people can attack us and the number of possible targets is so large that you can‘t protect every single asset, every single human, every single airplane, building, hospital, school. You have to find the bad guys and get them out of our country before they attack us.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s the tough stuff, because, as you know, you‘ve got to make decisions regarding civil liberties and national security which often come in conflict. How do we really do a great job of surveillance if we have people who are very concerned in this country about the Fourth Amendment and other guarantees of our freedom?
ROMNEY: Well, of course, we have to respect our Constitutional guarantees of freedom, recognize that the most important civil right we have is the right to life. And we need to make sure that our citizens are protected and don‘t lose their lives by virtue of not having done an effective job to survey those who would attack us.
Fortunately, in Great Britain, they have a very tough Patriot Act equivalent which allows them to do the kind of surveillance that identifies this plot before five or 10 aircraft end up killing all on board.
That‘s the most important thing that we have to do is to protect our citizens, and we can do it within a constitutional framework that we‘ve come to know and love. But intelligence work and counterterrorism has once again been proven as the only effective way to protect the homeland.
MATTHEWS: How do we do that? I‘m sure you‘ve traveled to Israel and gone through those interviews where they‘re very extensive. I remember back when I got out of the Peace Corps, they asked me what was I doing with a typewriter, was I going to write anything about the country, really invasive kinds of questioning to try to get at your political intent because that‘s the only way Israel has retained its 100 percent safety record with regard to hijacking. Can we get that tough?
ROMNEY: Well, we‘re going to be as tough as we have to be to protect our citizens from the kind of criminals that want to kill them. I was at Logan Airport today, as people were having their bags checked one more time just before they got on the aircraft.
They were checked first at the security checkpoint, now at the gate checkpoint. And I asked people going on board, do you find this intrusive, are you bothered by this? And they said, no, we‘re glad you‘re doing it. The American people want to be safe as they travel. They want the airline industry to be safe and effective and on time. They want the hotel industry to be able to accommodate passengers.
Look, this is an extremely high priority for our country, to protect our citizens, and the most effective tool we have currently is intelligence and anti-terrorism efforts. But, of course, we‘re also going to use every means of technology we have to protect citizens at the airport and to have those devices in place that can identify attack weapons and the like. But there‘s no way you can find every possible weapon and secure every possible target. It‘s just impossible. Instead, you have to go after the bad guys.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. We‘re joined on the phone right now by New York Governor, George Pataki, who‘s also sending the National Guard to the airports in his state. I guess again the same question to you Governor Pataki, what can guardsmen, guardspeople do that can‘t be done by the officials at the airport already?
GOV. GEORGE PATAKI ®, NEW YORK: Well, Chris, it‘s not a question about sending them there. In New York we‘ve been at level orange since September 11th and even before this heightened alert today we had 300 National Guard troops deployed largely in New York City, at places like Grand Central, Penn Station and other transportation facilities. They‘re very familiar with the security at the airports and we have deployed them there in the past to call up more guards, more so at J.F.K. and Laguardia, and that‘s not something that they‘re unfamiliar with.
In addition to the National Guard, the first thing, of course, we did was ramp up the security that the Port Authority police department has in place. They‘re working with the T.S.A. and have a police officer at every one of the screening gates and more in the terminals. What we‘re going to be doing with the National Guard is have them team with the Port Authority police officer so that where we used to have one, we have two. And that‘s just always a better thing to do.
MATTHEWS: New York has so many people from so many different parts of the world being visited all the time from all over the world. How in the world, literally, are we as Americans going to protect ourselves from the unknown political purposes of people who can carry weapons we can‘t detect?
PATAKI: Well, we just have to continue to be aggressive, to go after those who would attack us. I heard your question earlier about balancing civil liberties. And another thing we cannot do, of course we have to make sure we‘re safe, and I think the Patriot Act and the president‘s efforts to monitor international phone calls of those who attack us, are an important part of keeping us safe, but we also have to go about our lives and not change our way of life, because we know there are those who are out there who want to attack us again. New York is probably the most diverse community anywhere in the world, and yet I know that virtually everyone there has one goal, and that‘s simply to be a part of the American dream and build a better life for their family and we want them to continue to have the ability to do that.
MATTHEWS: A lot of Americans don‘t like having their phones tapped. They don‘t like Americans getting their phones tapped generally. Here we have two dozen British nationals, British subjects, who apparently had their phones tapped to the extent they had the plot unraveled. That‘s how they caught them. That‘s how the Brits caught them, by tapping their phones. Will we have to do that in this country, the tapping of phones, even those held by, used by Americans?
PATAKI: Well first, thank God that the British were tapping those phones and did catch these terrorists and prevented the plot from going forward. Here in the United States you have that capability. You do have the ability. But you have to go through the process of getting an order from a court to allow you to do that, and I think that‘s an appropriate safeguard. I have very little doubt that the judges in this post-September 11th era, if the FBI or the law enforcements or the NYPD or the New York state police make the case that it is appropriate to put a tap on a particular phone, that they will allow that to happen.
MATTHEWS: OK, great. Great to have you on the show, Governor George Pataki of New York. Thank you sir.
Up next, former 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben Veniste will be here. Are we safer now than we were on 9/11? You‘re watching HARDBALL live from the Department of Homeland Security right behind me only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. British and U.S. officials have told NBC News tonight that some of the alleged plotters had purchased ticket on a flight this weekend to test run how easily they could have smuggled their bomb components on to those airplanes. How much has our security been improved since 9/11? Richard Ben-Veniste is a former 9/11 commissioner. I think you‘ll always be a 9/11 commissioner here. Let me ask you, does this surprise you, this use of clear fluids that can be mixed over the counter, standard materials, put together on an airplane in a bathroom somewhere, 39,000 feet, the plane explodes.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR 9/11 COMMISSIONER: It‘s an old story, Chris. They‘ve used liquid explosives before in plots. They blew themselves up trying to do the Bojinka plot, and in a way this is a step backwards from hijacking a plane. Hijacking a plane allows you to kill all the people on the plane, but then use the incredible explosive force of an airplane to wreak horrible additional damage. Here, by taking the steps to protect the cockpit, we see that in this plot they were back after blowing up airplanes, which they‘ve done before.
MATTHEWS: Is there also the additional frightening deterrence effect of everybody would like to take at least their retirement trip to Europe? You know, you look forward to it in your working years, maybe one quick trip through Europe. Now a trip through Europe requires crossing the Atlantic and now these alarm bells are going off. I‘m sure right now with people planning their trips.
BEN-VENISTE: Terror is terror is terror. It‘s going to have an economic effect, yes. But if you blow up trains in Madrid, if you blow up buses and subways in London, it‘s going to have a terror effect. And that‘s what this is all about.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got a shot on a train of not dying. But if the plane goes down, everyone dies.
BEN-VENISTE: That‘s correct.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about what we could do. I know surveillance and precaution aren‘t your game, more or less. But is there any way we can stop this unless we go to the full Israeli attitude, which is if you want to get on an airplane, you‘ve got to prove you‘re safe. You have to really be able to demonstrate that you‘re a safe passenger.
BEN-VENISTE: Surveillance and precaution in the sense of intelligence are very much my game, it‘s what I‘ve been preaching all along is focus. We need to focus on what you‘re after and here obviously the MI-5 and special branch were focused on this group. They infiltrated them.
How they began their attention to this group, we don‘t know yet. But for sure it wasn‘t because they looked them up in the phone book and picked out some people at random.
MATTHEWS: Well, apparently they used the phone, though. They apparently were tapped.
BEN-VENISTE: Yes. But you need a predicate, you need some reason to start tapping phones. And presumably they had that reason, if it was through phones or through emails or however they infiltrate, or through human intelligence.
MATTHEWS: It‘s so close, though. We just got this information to NBC that the plot was foiled on the eve of the plot. They already had their tickets for their test flight. One of them apparently, I got a report tonight, already has done his martyr video, you know, the ones that we‘ve seen unfortunately so many times. They were fairly close to D-Day here, and the Brits caught them, luckily.
BEN-VENISTE: But I think they were looking at them for months. So my hunch is that they had the intelligence available to know what their timing was, and decided to roll them up at this point.
There was also some report about two of the individuals involved in the plot being unaccounted for. And so, this is another reason to roll it up now. There‘s always a tension between when you get more intelligence information and when to stop the plot by making the arrests.
MATTHEWS: OK. We have a difficulty in detecting and eliminating the weapons aboard airplanes. You agree, it‘s getting harder and harder.
BEN-VENISTE: It‘s hard. I don‘t know that we have ever foiled a plot at the airport. We have foiled a plot at the very last point of detection, which is on the airplane, as happened with Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, when the passengers saw what he was doing, a very bizarre thing, lighting his shoes on fire.
MATTHEWS: He was lighting up his shoes.
BEN-VENISTE: His shoes, right, and not smoking them. But, you know, obviously, the passengers took into their own hands what they needed to do.
I don‘t know, you know, about sending troops, National Guard, into airports—for what? That is not what this is all about. This is about intelligence. This is—nobody is invading our airports, this is about doing what we need to do in a focused, intelligent way, not scaring the public, but letting the people who know what to do, do their job.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t have time to ask you my big question, which is motive. We‘ll have to get to that next time you‘re on. Motive is so scary here. Richard Ben-Veniste. These people lived in London, they lived among the West, they knew what we were about, and they still decided to kill us all.
When we come back, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman will be here to talk about the political fight, which is emerging already over national security and this question. You‘re watching HARDBALL live from the Department of Homeland Security, as I said, in the dark behind me, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Howard Fineman is chief political correspondent for “Newsweek,” he‘s also MSNBC‘s chief political analyst, I should say. He‘s certainly here tonight.
Let me ask you, Tony Snow yesterday at the press conference, took a direct shot at those who oppose this administration‘s policy on terrorism. Was that timed, coordinated, whatever, with this disclosure today?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Well, I think it had to be. And it was in the immediate aftermath of Ned Lamont, the anti-war Democrat, winning that primary up in Connecticut against Joe Lieberman. Tony Snow had to know that the terrain was about to change. Because the administration has been keyed into this British thing for weeks, they‘ve been following it minute by minute. Snow is in there, he knows what‘s going on. So he‘s out there saying, watch out, Democrats. Don‘t get on the wrong side of this, knowing that something was coming. It gets fascinating, when Karl Rove called Joe Lieberman Tuesday night to say, hey, friend, you know, good luck, did he say something to him? Did he say, hey, the environment is about to change, hang in there? I don‘t know. But it is changing.
And what‘s happening is that the volume is being pushed up. The intensity, the colors between red and blue is pushed up. You had President Bush today coming out on the tarmac there on his campaign swing, saying we are fighting the Islamic fascists, and he‘s daring the...
MATTHEWS: Why those words now? Not insurgents, not terrorists, but Islamic fascists? What‘s that about?
FINEMAN: OK. Two things. One is, he‘s talking about clash of civilizations. He is drawing the bright line and daring the Democrats not to do the same thing. They‘re going to say the Democrats are afraid to name the enemy for what it is, number one, and he‘s using fascists to try to connect it up to World War II, try to put himself in the FDR/Truman role. And you know, it‘s going to be this way all the way.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are coming out with all kinds of statements trying to say, as Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and even Ned Lamont here in this statement today said, look, we know the situation is bad, but it‘s your policies that have made it worse. We‘re less safe now. Al Qaeda is angrier with more adherents now because of your policies, and that‘s what this is all going to be about.
MATTHEWS: Will the hook of the administration be that we need to tap phones, and it‘s the liberals and the ACLU people that won‘t let us do it? Because the Brits caught these guys, foiled this plot at the last minute tapping?
FINEMAN: Yes. They‘re already saying that. They‘re already lining up everybody who had anything critical to say about any PATRIOT Act provision—the first PATRIOT Act, the second PATRIOT Act. That is going to be on the list of every attack ad that you are going to see—PATRIOT Act opposition, refusal to call the enemy the enemy. They‘re going to say that the liberal Democrats are out to take back the House so they can try to impeach the commander in chief. It‘s going to get that nasty that fast.
MATTHEWS: The president today was pretty tough. He said it‘s a battle right now in this country, our country, between those who think that terrorism is a threat and those who don‘t think it‘s a threat.
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s not true. Ned Lamont knows it‘s a threat, John Kerry knows it‘s a threat. They have a different answer, and if the Democrats are going to get anywhere this fall, they‘re going to have to articulate that answer, of strength but shrewdness, better than they have so far.
MATTHEWS: Smart and tough.
FINEMAN: They‘ve got to do it, or they‘re not going to win.
MATTHEWS: Great report, thanks for coming back tonight...
MATTHEWS: ... Howard, on our second show. Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek.”
Just now, much more on the foiled terror plot on our Web site, msnbc.com. So go to it right now. And at 10:00 p.m. tonight, join Rita Cosby for an MSNBC special, “Target: America, Terror in the Sky.”
HARDBALL returns tomorrow night at 5:00 and again at 7:00 Eastern.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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