updated 7/26/2004 11:26:01 AM ET 2004-07-26T15:26:01

Guest: Michael Isikoff, Susan Collins, Christopher Shays

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, on a special SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “The 9/11 Report: A Call For Action.” 

Details from the 9/11 Commission show how efficient and thorough the terrorist system is and how broken down America‘s is.  While SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY examines these grave findings, Congress heads for vacation.  MSNBC terror expert Steve Emerson is going to be here to share disturbing information from deep inside the report, like how al Qaeda had completely exploited the U.S. immigration and aviation systems.  Also, the negligence of the Saudi government will astound you. 

We‘re also going to tell you tonight about our plans to stay on the case and to make Congress accountable to you, the voter.  We called every senator in Congress today and we‘re going to tell you what they said to us and how you can share your views and concerns about the 9/11 report with your elected leader in Washington. 

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome to this SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special.  I‘m Joe Scarborough. 

Well, the 9/11 Commission drops a bombshell report that could affect your family‘s safety and Congress goes on vacation for a month.  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

You know, bombshells were set off by the release of the 9/11 Commission report, which graphically detailed why America slept before September 11 and how al Qaeda‘s next terror attack could be even more deadly than September 11.  But your politicians in Washington aren‘t going to be working on implementing security measures that were recommended by the bipartisan panel.  Why?  Because Congress decided to take a one-month break right after the report was released. 

In the words of Yogi Berra, it‘s just like deja vu all over again.  In August 2001, Congress went on an extended vacation, and on their first day back, over a month later, America was under attack from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  And its most important institutions, they were in flames.  Sadly, Congress may be doing less harm out of town right now, because after I first got elected to Congress, I soon learned that nothing good got done in months leading up to a presidential election. 

You know why?  It‘s because petty political bickering reaches almost hysterical proportions during presidential campaigns.  So what does that mean?  That means that your congressman and senator may be fiddling while Rome burns.  How much safer are we today than on 9/11?  I‘m asking that question with greater urgency tonight than ever because of a special SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY report this week that focused on the strange occurrences that happened aboard Northwest Flight 327.

That‘s the flight of course where 14 Arab males were met by FBI and immigration officials after passengers complained that those people may have been using the flight to prepare for a future terror attack.  You know, the FBI assured NBC‘s Pete Williams that everything checked out fine and these supposed suspects were Syrian musicians in our country legally. 

Well, last night, we broke the story that in fact the FBI was dead wrong.  It seems the swarm of FBI agents and immigration officials meeting that plane overlooked one simple fact.  The Arab men were in the United States illegally without valid visas when they were stopped at LAX, one more reason to doubt any politician or intelligence officer who tells you not to worry about it, everything‘s under control. 

Well, friends, tonight, I tell you everything is not under control.  Congress and the president had better act fast to shore up America‘s homeland defenses or they may lose their political careers before we the people allow 3,000 more Americans to die for their mistakes.  It‘s time for us to take action, and that‘s exactly what we need to do.  We need to push politicians in Washington to do the right thing and stop taking month-and-a-half vacations.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

You know, we are going to take the first half-hour with you now to talk to terror expert and MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson.  He‘s of course going to break down some of the dozens of shocking revelations in the 9/11 Commission‘s report, including these, that the presidential daily briefing Bill Clinton saw was astonishing compared to what President Bush saw three years later, how al Qaeda completely penetrated all aspects of America‘s aviation system, how they utterly exploited the U.S. immigration system, how al Qaeda set up a virtual document factory to make and manipulate passports, and how Arizona was ground zero for Muslim extremism and al Qaeda training. 

Steve Emerson, thanks so much for being with us tonight. 

You have been poring over this commission report since it was first printed and hit the bookstores.  Tell us, what did you find out? 

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, Joe, there‘s just an amazing amount of detail. 

The report, as you know, is divided in between two sections, the recommendations—actually three sections—the recommendations, the outline of the plot and the history leading up to the attacks, and also the footnotes, which are absolutely mesmerizing in their detail.  They‘re an amazing, shocking list of revelations, Joe, that I think are going to be bombshells as they get disclosed and refined over—in the media as well as in Congress, presumably as they hold hearings. 

And we can only hope that they do immediately in order to totally discuss the ramifications of what the commission found.  I can only tell you, Joe, that I‘ve been looking at the issue of Islamic extremism for 10 years.  And I‘ve been absolutely in shock—and I‘m not use any exaggeration—at the degree to which the United States was thoroughly compromised and how it has continued to be thoroughly compromised by Islamic extremist groups going back to the early 1990s. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, Steve Emerson, we‘ve been talking to you some time.  You, of course, are our terror expert, one of the most respected in America.  You have been sounding warning bells for years about Islamic extremism and about al Qaeda, about Osama bin Laden.  Are you telling us here tonight that, after reading the 9/11 report, it‘s much, much worse than even you imagined? 

EMERSON:  Absolutely.  I was absolutely amazed.  And I still am, as I still pore through the amazing details of the footnotes.

And the commission staff did a phenomenal job, I must tell you, Joe, in amassing an outline from two million documents.  Rarely does any commission ever get this access.  And it‘s absolutely mesmerizing to the extent that they were able to find everything from the CIA to FBI to INS officials in terms of what they were discovering, putting it together, showing the magnitude of how the U.S. Treasury was unable to track terrorists—terrorist financing, how the FBI really had—could not put the large picture together, the extent to which Islamic militants working for al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups were residing in the United States, knowing and exploiting the full freedoms that were available to them and snubbing their noses at U.S. officials.

And I‘m still amazed, even as I speak to you right now, Joe, at the degree to which they were able to compromise all aspects of U.S. national security.  We can only hope that we‘re doing a better job.  I believe we are, but we‘re still not safe yet. 

I would like to obviously go over with you some of the revelations that are in this report, which are absolutely compelling. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Steve, let‘s go over the first revelation that you brought up.  That has to do with the presidential daily briefings. 

Bill Clinton received a PDB in December of 1998.  It was titled—quote—“Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack U.S. Aircraft and Other Attacks.”  Now, President Clinton‘s memo, according to the commission, contained much more specific classified information than the PDB that President Bush received in August 2001.  That was, of course, entitled—quote—“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.”

Now, let‘s look at the specifics of the presidential daily briefing that Bill Clinton saw, according to the commission—quote—“In late 1998, reports came in of a possible al Qaeda plan to hijack a plane.  A December 4 presidential daily briefing for President Clinton brought the focus back to more traditional hostage-taking.  Had the contents of this PDB been brought to the attention of a wider group, including key members of Congress, it might have brought much more attention to the need for permanent changes in domestic airport and airline security procedures.”

Steve Emerson, let‘s forget for the minute the political questions about double standards.  Talk to me about why an important revelation like this was not told to members of Congress, not told to other people in intelligence agencies who could have acted more aggressively to stop these type of hijackings going all the way back to 1998? 

EMERSON:  Well, Joe, look, the details of this PDB, which really have not been fully revealed by anyone in the media yet, in terms of reporting on it, are staggering, because what the PDB, the presidential daily briefing, of December 4, 1998 -- and I‘ve got a copy of it here from the report—shows example after example of hard-hitting classified intelligence showing that bin Laden was trying to hijack airplanes and his people in the United States in order to free Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, as well as attack other parts of the United States or even use SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles. 

I was amazed actually by the degree to which the U.S. intelligence agencies had intelligence on this type of operational efforts by bin Laden.  And the question is, why didn‘t...

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Steve, was there a double standard here, Steve? 

EMERSON:  Well, I can only tell you, if you look at the lack of detail that was given to the President Bush in August of 2001, one asks why was current President Bush denied the same details as President Clinton was, and why is there all this heap of criticism for President Bush for not acting, when there is no actually asking of President Clinton why he didn‘t do anything substantively after getting this briefing, which is absolutely phenomenal, because this preceded by three years what the president, current president, received in 2001. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it certainly is surprising that Bill Clinton gets this specific information in 1998 and like you said, the intel agencies did not give President Bush the same degree of information about bin Laden wanting to hijack planes in the U.S.

Let‘s talk about another finding.  You say that al Qaeda—or the report says that al Qaeda completely infiltrated the U.S. aviation system.  And this is what the report says—quote—“One Libyan with suspected terror ties had a master‘s degree in a technical field, yet was working in menial jobs at the airports as a skycap and then a baggage handler.  Another was working as a technical avionics officer for a domestic airline and oversaw the complete overhaul of aircraft and was checking for structural integrity.”

Now, Steve, this wasn‘t just a few terrorists learning to fly airplanes.  They actually had operatives in the cargo holds, baggage handling, food service?  I mean, explain this.  They completely infiltrated our system. 

EMERSON:  Absolutely, Joe.  This is really another one of those revelations that are so stinging, because most people had focused on the pilots that trained at flight academies and obviously took their operational traits and perfected them on 9/11. 

But, clearly, the report shows in incredible detail that hostile nations from Libya—well, they don‘t identify nations, but certainly Libya was identified, Lebanon, Yemen, even Syrians, as well as other Saudis, and, of course, the terrorists from al Qaeda, who deliberately tried to penetrate all aspects of the U.S. aviation security system, from reservation networks to actually food baggage, as well as passenger reservations. 

It was an amazing degree of infiltration.  And we don‘t really know to this day, Joe, how far they‘ve been able to sort of bury themselves into the system.  But it clearly was a vast type of effort going on since 1995. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s move on and talk about the next finding in the 9/11 report that you brought up, the document factory.  You say that al Qaeda—or, actually, the report and you say al Qaeda maintained a sophisticated document factory that created credentials, drivers licenses and also manufactured and manipulated passports. 

They even infiltrated the Saudi passport agency.  Two of the 9/11 hijackers had family members inside the Saudi passport office who provided them with new passports for their trip to the United States.  Let‘s talk about that for a second, Steve.  How did that help the terrorists on 9/11 take over these airplanes? 

EMERSON:  First of all, their passports were constantly refabricated, reissued.  They had been able to manipulate the visas.  As you just pointed out, they had assistance from relatives inside the Saudi passport agencies.  They were able to actually create and fabricate other document travel, credentials around the world.

And they—using an office that they had at a Kandahar airport.  And its entire mission, Joe, was to fabricate credentials.  And I‘m amazed actually the degree to which they were successful in fooling every single country in the world.  They were able to fool all the airlines.  They were able to fool the best U.S. counterfeit detection methods, clearly resulted in the worst penetration of U.S. security.

And the only question is whether the U.S. government has been able to basically upgrade its technology to detect the fraudulent means.  And it‘s an open question. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Steve, stick around, because we‘re going to have much more with you on the 9/11 report just ahead. 

Plus, we‘re going to be talking to Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Chris Shays about what they plan to do now about the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. 

We‘re also going to tell you how you can contact your congressmen and senators and president and make a difference.   

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You can give your congressman and senator vacation reading by writing them about the 9/11 report.  To do that, go to Joe.MSNBC.com.

We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, I‘m Joe Scarborough.  We‘re back with a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special. 

We‘re going to bring back in Steve Emerson, MSNBC terrorism expert. 

Steve, one of the things that surprises me so much—I know surprises you also—is how al Qaeda and these terrorists had infiltrated some of America‘s most important systems.  One of them, of course, had to do with the immigration system.  The next revelation, that Mohamed Atta and other top-level al Qaeda members had totally thorough knowledge of the U.S.  immigration system and its laws.  Explain. 

EMERSON:  You know what, Joe?  If I were looking for an immigration lawyer and Mohamed Atta were alive today, I would use him, because this guy perfectly knew the entire vulnerabilities of the immigration system.

He was able to get visas issued for the other hijackers.  He personally actually applied for visas for some of his colleagues.  He knew exactly when the expiration was.  He knew about the six-month visa for tourists.  He knew about the work visas.  He knew about the student visas.  He knew exactly when to leave the country, when to come back in order to trigger the new time code. 

So this was a man who really studied the system, which was totally available.  I might add, Joe, that the 9/11 attacks unfortunately at first instilled a sense of weakness that we were vulnerable only on that one day.  But this report shows, Joe, that the entire apparatus of U.S. national security and domestic institutions had been compromised to a much greater degree than ever previously thought. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, and what is so frightening is so many of us like to think, oh, gee, well, these were just religious zealots, crazy people that irrationally flew planes into building. 

What this report is finding and what you‘re telling us tonight is, they were very calculating, brilliant tacticians in figuring out how to strike at the heart of America‘s financial and military system. 

Let‘s move on and talk about the so-called second wave of terror that the report discusses.  There were actually al Qaeda recruits and the report says its members were in America on reconnaissance missions as early as 1996.  The report says this—quote—“A terror suspect later indicted in Spain was visiting America in 1997 and videotaped a number of U.S.  landmarks, including the World Trade Center.  Later reports say that Mohamed Atta included a nuclear plant in his preliminary target list.”

Talk about this reconnaissance, these reconnaissance, missions, Steve, that, again, started a full five years before 9/11. 

EMERSON:  What the report shows in incredible detail is the degree to which al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists reporting either to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or to bin Laden or to other terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, were in the United States since 1995 at the very minimum, documenting vulnerabilities, videotaping, doing reconnaissance, and reporting back to terrorist groups as to where they might be able to strike, including attacks on the Jewish communities in New York, as well as other vulnerable institutions such as you pointed out, nuclear facilities. 

Clearly, the al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have developed this incredible library of intelligence using video and on-site inspections for the last seven years from friendly types of terrorist operatives who have gone back and given them access to everything they need to strike again in the future. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, the report also talks about ground zero, actually not the ground zero in New York, but the ground zero in Arizona, because another startling revelation is how Arizona became the nexus for al Qaeda in the United States.  Tell us about how Arizona was ground zero for al Qaeda recruitment and training. 

EMERSON:  You know, Joe, there is an intriguing and an incredible footnote.  It‘s on—it‘s footnote 58.

And permit me, because I think I need glasses.  But al Qaeda figures at the university in Tucson included Mohammed—Mubarak al-Douri (ph), reportedly bin Laden‘s principal procurement agent for weapons of mass destruction, Mohamed Bozayed (ph), an al Qaeda arms procurer, Wahid al-Hage (ph), an operative who was linked to the East Africa bombings, Walid Julidon (ph), a Saudi extremist who has also been linked to al Qaeda.

And I can tell you there are many others who were living in Tucson or Phoenix since the mid 1980s that were the key command-and-control for bin Laden in the United States.  And it‘s one of those enigmas as to why that state became ground central.  But clearly it had the highest concentration of top al Qaeda terrorists until 9/11. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But no answers as to why Arizona itself or the Phoenix area attracted so many al Qaeda terrorists? 

EMERSON:  Well, it‘s not just al Qaeda.  There was also Hamas actually set up its command in Tucson in the mid-1980s.  And I can tell you from my other investigations that there were at least five other Islamic terrorist groups who set up command-and-control from Tempe, Arizona, down to Tucson.

And I can only speculate that it has to do with the fact that terrorists enrolled at the universities extended their ability to stay in the United States and then brought over families.  And this developed a whole pattern of others who basically migrated there because that‘s where they found it most safe to operate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, let‘s talk about another revelation in the 9/11 reports.  There are several examples of General Anthony Zinni‘s opposing efforts to assassinate bin Laden because he was worried about collateral damage. 

According to the report, it says, General Zinni predicted collateral damage would number well over 200 and he was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque.  A senior intelligence officer made a different calculation, estimating half as much collateral damage and not predicting damage to the mosque.

Now, let‘s talk about the incredible political correctness here, not only with General Zinni, but also we‘ve heard about it inside the Clinton administration, where there were people sitting around the Cabinet table saying, we really don‘t want to attack Osama bin Laden or take him out even if we have the chance, because it might cause some of our Arab so-called allies to be angry.  Talk about how the report goes into that. 

EMERSON:  Well, it‘s interesting.  The amount of detail that is given to a period in 1998, in terms of what was going on in the U.S. military and the National Security Council, focuses clearly on the debate surrounding the efforts to take out bin Laden, assassinate him. 

And the interesting revelations focus on the fact that General Zinni, not just on one occasion, but on several occasions, opposed the use of force, and not just because of collateral damage.  There is also an indication here that Zinni himself, according to Richard Clarke‘s memorandum, opposed the use of AC-130s to take out bin Laden. 

So there is a real question as to why General Zinni consistently, according to the report, opposed the use of force to take out bin Laden when he was clearly in the crosshairs.  And there‘s a lot of hand-wringing during these discussions, and obviously, to this—we want to know why and we need to ask General Zinni, as well as President Clinton why there was this ambiguous type of authority, and then revoked to a certain extent, on killing bin Laden in 1998 and 1999. 

The report itself says that President Clinton himself actually changed the presidential authority for killing bin Laden, making it much more ambiguous at one point and therefore reining in those people on the ground who thought they had a green light to take him out. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And that obviously was a big revelation in the 9/11 report, that actually President Clinton was given language that would allow bin Laden to be killed.  He scratched that language out, made it more ambiguous,so bin Laden couldn‘t be killed.  When Bill Clinton was asked why he did that, he said he had no recollection of the event, which of course seems preposterous to me. 

Now, there‘s also information in the commission‘s report that the Saudis were negligent at the very least and withheld vital information, not the least of which was that the U.S. could not get direct access to an important al Qaeda financial official when meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah.  And, of course, Vice President Al Gore asked for that information.  He renewed the request.  But the U.S. never obtained that access. 

That reminds me when we of the Armed Services back I believe it was in 1996 were trying to get information about the bombings at Khobar Tower.  The Saudis blocked us.  It looks like they did it again leading up to 9/11, doesn‘t it? 

EMERSON:  Well, Madani al-Tayyib, Joe, was the highest-ranking al Qaeda official caught, actually detained by the Saudis as he was transiting through Saudi Arabia.  He was basically in charge of the entire financial network of al Qaeda.

When the U.S. found out that he had been detained by the Saudis, the U.S. asked for access to interrogate him or to see the intelligence that the Saudis had gleaned from him.  Both of those requests were consistently denied by the Saudis.  And I can only tell you that at that point in time, that would have given the U.S. a snapshot, which they had not been able to access, into the al Qaeda network around the world. 

It was a real slap at the face of the U.S.

SCARBOROUGH:  It really was. 

Steve, we only have 30 seconds left.  But tell me, what do you think about revelations in this story we broke on Flight 327, that the FBI had all of these Syrian suspects that were talking to, let them go without even noticing that their visas had expired?

EMERSON:  I must tell you, Joe, that it was inexplicable today when I was able to confirm your reporting and that by the reporter, Scott Weinberger, in New York that in fact the 14 visas were expired and nobody in the JTTF, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, noticed it and allowed them to return to Syria without doing the secondary investigation that would have normally occurred had they discovered that they were here illegally.

This is a definite siren for action in terms of improving our system of detection of people here legally and illegally. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Steve Emerson, thanks so much for being with us tonight. 

I‘m telling you, you have provided Americans a great service.  We‘re going to stay with you next and in the coming weeks, too, and get you on.  We‘re going to keep after this to make sure that congressman follow the advice of the 9/11 Commission, important stuff. 

Now, coming up, Senator Susan Collins came out today calling for Congress to come back from vacation to start working on the 9/11 Commission‘s recommendations to make you and other Americans safer.  But will election-year politics get in the way? 

We‘re going to be asking Senator Collins coming up next.  So stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to ask senators and congressmen why they‘re leaving town right after the explosive 9/11 report hits the street. 

But, first, let‘s get the headlines from the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Friday night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY and a special report on the bombshells found inside the 9/11 Commission‘s report. 

Al Qaeda still poses a very real, very immediate threat to the United States.  But will anything actually be done to make America safer or will it be politics as usual inside the beltway? 

With me now, Senator Susan Collins from Maine. 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  Good evening, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, the 9/11 Commission issued its report and everybody in Washington went on vacation, just like everybody did in August of 2001.

And, of course, as you know, Senator Collins, back then, on Congress‘ first day back from vacation, America was attacked.  Is anything going to be different in 2004, three years after that attack? 

COLLINS:  Yes, it is. 

The leaders of the Senate, Bill Frist and Tom Daschle, have tasked Joe Lieberman and me with being the lead in reviewing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.  And we understand the urgency of this task.  We are going to hold our first hearing to evaluate the recommendations the very first week in August.  And our task from our leaders is to get a bill recorded by the Governmental Affairs Committee in the first week of October. 

This task is much too urgent for us to wait six weeks before tackling it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Senator, I said—and I remember in 1999, I predicted to colleagues in the House that nothing was going to get done because of election-year politics.  And that‘s what happened then. 

Don‘t you really believe that your hope and Joe Lieberman‘s hope of getting real reform passed a month before the election, in October of this year, is simply unrealistic because it‘s going to be blocked by partisan presidential politics? 

COLLINS:  We just can‘t allow that to happen.  This issue is far too important.  It transcends partisan politics. 

Joe Lieberman and I work very well together.  We‘re committed to taking a bipartisan approach.  There‘s no more critical priority for our country than improving our capability to respond to, detect and deter terrorist activities.  We just can‘t allow that to be caught up in presidential politics.  This is serious.  It‘s urgent. 

And that‘s why we‘ve started work on the recommendations of the commission today.  Joe and I met this morning.  We had a conference call with the commission‘s two chairmen this afternoon and we‘ve already scheduled our first hearing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Senator Collins, good luck.  Thank you for joining us tonight.  But I can tell you, you‘re going to have an uphill battle.  I‘m glad you and Joe Lieberman are on this, because Congress really needs to act. 

Now, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY...

COLLINS:  That‘s for sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  It sure is.  Thank you again. 

And, you know, we called every U.S. senator today, because we want to hold them all accountable for putting the commission‘s recommendations into motion sooner rather than later and maybe helping Senator Collins and helping Senator Lieberman.  Some senators were unavailable for comment, but most provided SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY with statements. 

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said this—quote—“It‘s up to us as members of Congress to move ahead in a bipartisan way to shore up the deficiencies that once again were pointed out in this commission‘s report, so we can make sure America is a safer place tomorrow than it is today.”

And Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was upset by the suggestion that some elected leaders might not want to have a special session of Congress.  She said—quote—“I‘m disappointed to hear some congressional leaders say we don‘t have time to address these critical national security issues until next year.  The fact is that it‘s an election year, but that should be no obstacle, when personal safety of every American is at risk.  They deserve a full-time Congress.”

And, finally, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is pessimistic that anything can be accomplished before November and had to this to say about the commission—quote—“Its recommendations ought to be implemented and they ought to be implemented soon by the Congress.  Given the fact that we‘re near gridlock in an election season and it‘s very unlikely in September when we come back from the August recess that we‘ll get anything done, I think we ought to consider coming back after the election and implemented the recommendations of the report.”

With me now to talk more about this is Representative Christopher Shays from Connecticut.  And we also have “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff. 

Chris Shays, it‘s so good to see you again. 

I want to start by playing you what Senator Biden had to say to Katie Couric this morning.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  The day before 9/11, I made a speech saying we weren‘t focusing on—to the National Press Club—saying we weren‘t focusing on terrorism.  We‘re doing the same thing again.  We‘re going to look at this report.  We‘re not going to implement these findings, at least I don‘t think we‘re going to do it any time soon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Chris Shays, you and I may not have agreed on every issue, but one thing I always knew about you, you were a bipartisan member of Congress.  You worked with both sides of Congress.  But, Chris, be honest with the American people.  The partisanship in Washington on both sides of the aisle is so extreme that the chances of any real reform passing before the election, it‘s not good at all, is it? 

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS ®, CONNECTICUT:  Oh, I think, on this issue, it is, Joe.  I have never seen it more partisan. 

Every four years, election, a presidential year, it‘s my least favorite because it gets so partisan.  But this issue is so huge.  Just as Senator Collins is going to have hearings, my Government Reform Committee, the National Security Subcommittee, will have hearings in August.  Tom Davis, the chairman, has asked us to do that, get the process started. 

I had a press conference yesterday with four Democrats and four Republicans saying we endorse the basic recommendations of this commission.  We support them.  We want to move them forward.  I think you‘re going to see a lot of bipartisan effort here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, the report actually calls for a reorganization of Congress.  It says, “Congress was slow to react to the growing threats of terror and the intention of Congress was always splintered across several committees.”

What do you think Congress needs to do to refocus their efforts on winning this war on terror in the most efficient way possible? 

SHAYS:  Oh, it needs to do a number of things.  It needs to make sure the Select Committee on Homeland Security is a permanent security with all the powers.

The Department of Homeland Security has so many different committees now to report to, that has to happen.  We do need a new select—a new Intelligence Committee that has budgetary authority, as well as oversight.  It may have to be both a House and Senate combined committee, like we do on economic issues. 

So I mean, there are things we need to do.  But let me just say, in terms of reorganizing Congress, that ultimately will be the decision of what ever Congress is in power in January next year.  One thing I‘ll say to you, Joe.  I will not vote for any rule next year, whether I‘m in the majority or minority, that doesn‘t have reforms in them to correspond to the reforms we need to do for the executive branch. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Chris Shays, the thing that‘s disturbing to a lot of Americans is, when you take an issue as important and seemingly as simple as allowing the president to put his own new CIA director in place, a lot of people are already shooting down the possibility of saying Porter Goss, who once worked for CIA.

Aren‘t you afraid that, again, partisanship—there are a lot of people like you in the center that want to work with the other side.  But you‘ve seen it.  I‘ve seen it.  So many others in Congress have seen it.  It‘s just—it‘s so mean-spirited up there right now, that it‘s so corrosive.  How do you work with the extremes on both sides of the aisle to get real reforms passed that will protect Americans? 

SHAYS:  I honestly believe that there are a lot of very devoted members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that see this as a great opportunity.  Remember, we passed the Patriot Act fairly quickly, some said too quickly. 

We passed a Department of Homeland Security fairly quickly.  And I think you‘re going to see that same approach as it relates to security issues and relates to the 9/11 Commission report. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Isikoff, you in fact just recently wrote that the president ordered a high-level White House group to get together, because he wants to begin implementing some of the 9/11 Commission recommendations—quote—“within weeks.”  Tell our viewers about that. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think this clearly reflects the politics of what‘s going on right now, which is that there‘s clearly momentum to do something and to at least be perceived as implementing the commission‘s recommendations. 

With that said, I think it‘s probably worth taking a little bit of a sort of let‘s take a deep breath and reflect a bit.  I think the commission report is absolutely an unbelievable document.  It is a truly exhaustive historical view of the events of September 11.  They have put an unbelievable amount of information onto the public record that I never would have imagined that they could have gotten onto the public record a few years ago. 

But with that said, a couple of things.  It was a historical look at the world up until September 11.  The recommendations are recommendations for now, to fix a problem that they were looking at that was the way the world looked three years ago.  It wasn‘t necessarily a thorough look at the way the world looks now, both the nature of the enemy, al Qaeda, or the nature of—or the structure of the government as it is now, which is very different than it was prior to September 11. 

So I think you‘re going to see, over time, some people raising some reasonable questions about whether these particular recommendations are really aptly suited for the world as it is today, as opposed to the world as it was prior to September 11. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Isikoff, stay with me.  Congressman Shays, we‘ll be right back in a minute talking more about the 9/11 Commission and the recommendations they made to Congress. 

We‘ll talk more about that when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  The other piece of information that I hadn‘t heard before—and I‘ve been over a lot of the intelligence—was the statement that Iraq had offered safe haven to Osama bin Laden in 1998 or 1999.  And I guess he turned it down because he was happy in Afghanistan. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to our show.  Let‘s go back now to Michael Isikoff. 

Michael, you‘ve been in Washington long enough to be, if not cynical,

then very realistic.  Let‘s just put it that way.  Do you really believe

between now and the election or even the end of the year that President

George Bush or Senator John Kerry are going to step forward and really try

to aggressively implement some of these policies that have been suggested

by the 9/11 Commission? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I don‘t think Senator Kerry is going to be in power to do that, certainly not before the election. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, he certainly could come out, though, and make

recommendations

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Urge the passage of these things.

ISIKOFF:  Well, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Look, as I said before, I think the politics of this right now is clearly running towards doing something and being perceived as moving swiftly and adopting the commission‘s recommendations. 

But that said, that doesn‘t necessarily mean that every one of these recommendations is the best way to go about addressing the particular problems that they‘re raising.  And already, in the very piece you mentioned which we posted on our Web site today, the president did appoint this high-level group to—headed by Andy Card—to swiftly come up with some recommendations about—that he can act on. 

But at the very same time, there are very senior people in his administration that have reservations about some of this and say it isn‘t necessarily the best way to go. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Congressman...

ISIKOFF:  I was going to give you some examples, if you like, but...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, yes, give me one example.  Go ahead. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, OK. 

The creation of the National Counterterrorism Center in the White House, the way the commission writes it, they would be involved in operational planning.  Now, having a White House agency involved in operational planning of intelligence and law enforcement activities is a pretty big step.  We have had scandals in the past when White House people become involved in operational planning of law enforcement activities, which this center would be empowered to do under the way the commission has recommended it. 

I‘m not sure everybody is going to necessarily embrace that wholesale. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Congressman Christopher Shays, almost three years after 9/11, a lot of people have been talking about Northwest Flight 327, where 14 Syrians were very active on a plane going to Los Angeles. 

We broke the story.  And so these people were taken off the plane.  The FBI was there.  The immigration officials were there.  They interviewed them, let them go.  The FBI said nothing to worry about; everything checked out fine. 

We found out yesterday that all 14 of their visas had expired and they were in the U.S. illegally.  Why do we keep seem to be hearing stories like this that shows there‘s still a great amount of incompetence in those people that are trying to bring terrorists to justice? 

SHAYS:  I don‘t have a good answer for you.

It is very frustrating for us.  I will say this.  We have laws about immigration.  We don‘t enforce them.  And then when people try to enforce it, you sometimes have members of Congress asking the department not to because the people are so nice and good or there‘s human interest stories involved with it. 

So not an easy issue to answer.  But I will tell you this, Joe.  That particular issue will be looked at by my committee, because it‘s caught our interest.  And it needs to be looked at.  We just had a hearing on the issue of giving visas, then revoking the visa.  If you catch them before they come into the United States, you can say no.  If you catch them before they get on a plane, you can say no.  When they get here, you can say no.

But once they‘re in the United States, a revoked visa doesn‘t mean anything and we still don‘t understand why that‘s the case. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, that‘s remarkable.

SHAYS:  So lots to talk about.

Could I say something? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Sure.

SHAYS:  Michael Isikoff is so respected.  To have him say that the 9/11 Commission has a tremendous amount of value, that kind of information, I think, is very important to get out there.

And it impresses someone like me, who he‘s coming from the outside looking in at this.  And I just want to say to Michael and to you and to the listening audience, I really believe with all my heart and soul you are going to see significant effort here.  I think the White House is going to reach out to Congress, I think the White House will reach out to Democrats and Republicans.  I know for instance Carolyn Maloney suggested to me today that we get a 9/11 caucus of Republicans and Democrats. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, what a great idea. 

SHAYS:  It‘s a great idea.

But Michael is also right.  It doesn‘t mean everything they suggested is the best way to go.  But they have given us such a great document in which to launch out and work for something meaningful for our country. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Congressman Shays, Michael Isikoff, thanks so much for being with us. 

Congressman, we‘re going to join—we‘re going to follow you and all the hearings that you‘re going to be taking.  We appreciate all the work you‘re doing on Capitol Hill. 

SHAYS:  Thanks.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, your representatives in Congress need to know that you expect action on the 9/11 report, at least have them read it and make recommendations to Chris Shays and other leaders in Congress on what they believe needs to be done.  Log on to Joe.MSNBC.com.  We‘ve got a link there to help you write your congressman. 

We‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks for joining us tonight in SCARBOROUGH

COUNTRY. 

Make sure you tune in to MSNBC for all of your convention coverage needs next week.  I‘m going to be in Boston with Ron Reagan, wrapping up the day for you from midnight to 2:00 a.m. Eastern. 

I‘ll see you then.                                                                                                         

END   

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