Guests: Michael Sheehan, Evan Kohlmann, Charles Slepian, Frances Townsend, Peter Greenberg, Ken Timmerman
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Welcome to the show.
The news today absolutely chilling. What could well have been the most spectacular terror attack since 9/11, a murderous plot involving jumbo jets and targeting thousands of unsuspecting American travelers. But unlike the deadly attacks on New York and Washington almost five years ago, this plot was thwarted, possibly at the very last minute.
British police arrested 24 people overnight in what they believe was a plot to blow up nine airplanes headed for this country. But they warn they may not have captured all the members of the terrorist cell.
Breaking news from U.S. intelligence officials. They say terrorists had planned to stage a dry run within two days. Now passengers on both sides of the Atlantic are facing a security gauntlet and massive delays.
Joining me now with the latest from London, NBC News‘ Ned Colt. He‘s live at Heathrow airport.
Ned, is it chaotic there? Set the scene.
NED COLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is. Right now there‘s been a quiet, so I can hear you, as a matter of fact. But about five hours ago, planes starting landing here with the typical frequency which we hadn‘t seen earlier today.
Some 500 flights were canceled in and out of Heathrow earlier today, but now the BAA, which oversees—British Airports Authority, which oversees Heathrow and the other airports, the other four London-area airports, say that things are getting back to normal.
Now, that said, it‘s going to take another couple of days before the backlog of passengers are able to get on flights and get out to the states, among other destinations here. But clearly, the sites were set, from everything we‘re hearing, on three U.S. airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and possibly Continental, as well. But Continental doesn‘t fly out of here, so we don‘t quite know why that would be. And also British Airways.
But security right now is extremely tight. So, yes, the flight frequency may be returning to normal, but security right now, anyone boarding flights has to wait outside the terminals here at Heathrow, the busiest airport here in Europe, with 180,000 people traveling through it every day. And when they get on board, when they go—when they go to check in, all they can carry is a transparent plastic bag with—with essential items such as any medications, wallets, cash, passports, and the like. Even, we are being told, that baby formula has to be tasted by the individual who is traveling with that infant in sight of—in sight of security police before they can get on that flight.
So, there‘s very, very strict security right now. No carry-on luggage allowed. I think that‘s the case, is what we‘re hearing in the U.S.
Now, in terms of the investigation here, Tucker, we are hearing, as you said, that 24 people have been arrested. We‘re also told that some five other individuals are being sought. Now, of those 24, it does appear that the majority, if not all, were born in the U.K., are British passport holders. All of them apparently Muslims.
And as you said, also, that according to U.S. intelligence, they may have been planning to carry out a dry run within a couple of days, that may—we don‘t know for certain yet—be the reason why this plot was broken up when it was on very short notice. No one here at the airport really knew about it aside from early last night—Tucker.
CARLSON: How long, Ned, do—are authorities saying these people were under surveillance? How long have British authorities known about this plot?
COLT: We have been hearing back at least until April. So, what is that? About four months ago that there was some question of what these individuals were involved in. And clearly, the investigation was continuing.
And we can say that because, clearly, they weren‘t able to arrest ail of those that they were seeking. Again, five are still being sought. But, again, the issue being that as many as three were going to get on these nine planes, is what we have been hearing, and mix their explosives on board, and then detonate those explosives.
And these—and these liquids that they were apparently going to smuggle on board were apparently quite benign in their simple singular form, but once you put them together, whether it be in the washroom on board the flight, or wherever, you could create a very, very dangerous mix to blow an aircraft out of the sky.
CARLSON: Shocking. Ned Colt at Heathrow.
Thanks a lot, Ned.
So, with British police still hunting for more suspects and tensions rising on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, what do we now know about the thwarted terror plot? Is this a major victory in the war on terror, or did we just get lucky this time?
Here with more, NBC News terrorism analyst, Michael Sheehan. He joins us live from New York.
Michael, did we get lucky? How sophisticated was this plot, and how did we foil it?
MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there‘s a lot of good news and bad news in this story, Tucker. The bad news, obviously they have a major cell, 15, 20, maybe as up as many as 50 people intent on blowing up aircraft. The good news was that apparently the British intelligence operations worked.
When a cell gets complicated and big in order to conduct an operation, this sophisticated, it leaves itself vulnerable to penetration. And I think the British were able to penetrate this cell. So that—that‘s the good news.
CARLSON: Now, what role did Pakistani intelligence play or Pakistan‘s government play in this, do you know?
SHEEHAN: Clearly, the Pakistanis were cooperating on the other end of the equation here, but this was primarily the penetration, from what I believe, what I understand was done by—by the British, by new Scotland Yard, MI5. The intelligence services there penetrated the cell, but we can see that already links of this group back to Pakistan are pretty clear. And over the days and weeks ahead, we‘re going to see the extent that this group was linked to al Qaeda or affiliated organizations like the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba.
CARLSON: Now, when you say penetrated, does that mean British intelligence had a member of the group reporting back?
SHEEHAN: Not clear to me at this time yet, Tucker, whether they had someone inside the cell, but clearly they were aware of what was going. They probably at a minimum had it under physical surveillance, probably listened to some phones and computers as well. And they had their hands around this group. But clearly, they were also looking for others, and I think this investigation will continue to go on in the U.K. and in Pakistan.
CARLSON: You just heard Ned Colt say that the idea, so far as we know at this point, is these men would bring on benign or inert liquids, mix them together to form some sort of explosive and bring down the planes.
How complicated is that? Is that as easy as it sounds or not?
SHEEHAN: Well, it‘s been done before. This is no big new story, using explosives in flight.
It was done actually in December of 1994 by Ramzi Youssef, who was the main instigator of the 1993 Trade Center attack. He blew a hole in a Philippine Airlines plane in 1994 which fortunately was able to land.
SHEEHAN: But one person was killed.
It‘s feasible, but to actually cook up the bomb on the plane itself with these types of volatile materials is a little bit difficult. I think it would be easier for them to make the bomb outside and then assemble it with a detonator on the plane, as Ramzi Youssef did in 1994.
CARLSON: So, do we have any idea where the training come from? I mean, if it‘s not that simple, is it a matter of pulling the information off the Internet? I mean, did they go to—were they trained by a foreign government? Do we have any idea?
SHEEHAN: Unfortunately, Tucker, the information is very, very easily attainable on the Internet. But in order to become a sophisticated bomber really requires training in a camp where you can actually test the explosives.
I have had my own experience dealing with these types of explosives when I was in the Special Forces and later with NYPD. It‘s not that easy.
You need to get to test it. You need to get to a camp where you can test it. If we find out in the weeks ahead that these folks, they had some people actually go to camps in Pakistan, test these explosives, that will indicate a much higher degree of sophistication and seriousness of this plot.
CARLSON: Are there still terror training camps in Pakistan?
SHEEHAN: Oh, absolutely. Up along the—up in the northwest frontier territories, which are very remote mountainous region where the Pakistani government has really not ever had full control over there are camps. They are not like the camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11, where bin Laden sat for months and years with impunity.
These are smaller camps, more mobile. But clearly, there‘s still training being done there, people coming together, getting experience, making networks. And that—that is still going on in those regions. It‘s just not as longstanding camps as they had previously.
CARLSON: Do you think this plot was tied to the five-year anniversary of 9/11? And is the U.S. and, for that matter, the British government, have they been worried about a plot like this since the anniversary is coming up?
SHEEHAN: It‘s possible, but probably not likely, Tucker. In my—in my experience looking at terrorist groups over—over the last 25 years, most cells attack when they are ready. To wait for a certain date violates every principle of operational security for a sophisticated terrorist.
They‘re going to attack when they are ready. When they get everything together, the bomb is ready, they plotted out which flights they want to take, then they are going to go.
To risk an operation based on a date is not normally what they do. So I‘m not sure it would have been linked to 9/11.
CARLSON: Michael, at this point, is there any indication that there was Americans involved in this plot? I know there‘s been talk about two men arrested in Ohio, potentially having some connection.
Do you know anything about that?
SHEEHAN: Yes, I‘m not sure they are connected at this point, Tucker. What I—what I understand, it‘s primarily a group of Pakistani U.K. citizens, second generation Pakistanis that grew up in England and perhaps one or two other nationalities, but also Islamics of the U.K.
For right now, we don‘t see any links back to the U.S., but clearly we‘re going to find out more about what ties they had in Pakistan.
CARLSON: Very quickly, since you spent so many years in government, it strikes me as very odd that people who grew up in Great Britain would be devoting their lives to destroying Great Britain. Is anybody in government, ours or the British government, seriously studying why people would do something like this, studying the ideology behind it? I never hear anybody talk about what motivates these people.
SHEEHAN: Well, NYPD did a lot of studying of the ideology of that, and we looked a lot closely at the phenomenon of second-generation individuals. Their parents came to England for a better life, and many of them had a better life.
They have businesses. They were educated. Many of these people are not completely disaffected. They‘ve had jobs, they‘ve played on cricket teams.
They were married. They were parts of the community.
SHEEHAN: But for some reason they felt some humiliation, frustration that they didn‘t fit, neither in the U.K. society, nor with their Pakistani brothers back home, and they fell into the trap of this ideology that gave them something to aspire to, this radical Sunni ideology that preaches hate, and they fall into that. And it‘s a phenomenon of a second generation, which is very, very troubling in Europe, and I would dare say in the United States as well.
CARLSON: Yes, it is troubling. I mean, they have seen the fruits of the West and rejected them. It‘s upsetting.
Michael, thanks a lot.
SHEEHAN: You‘re welcome.
CARLSON: Still to come, the conventional wisdom is that al Qaeda is behind the latest terror plot. But could the conventional wisdom be wrong? There are rumblings that Iran may have been involved, meanwhile. But is that nation planning an even bigger attack in the coming days? Some in the Bush administration think it‘s possible.
That story when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL STEPHENSON, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF LONDON POLICE DEPT.: We cannot stress too highly the severity that this plot represented. Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Mass murder on an unimaginable scale. It sounds like al Qaeda.
Is Osama bin Laden the mastermind behind it? And, if not, who else has the resources to put together a plan of this kind?
Here to answer those questions, NBC‘s terrorism analyst, Evan Kohlmann.
You saw today FBI Director Mueller said this plot had all the earmarks of al Qaeda. Why would he say that?
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there are a number of factors about this that we already know that seem to smack of al Qaeda.
First of all, obviously multiple simultaneous targets, something that, you know, al Qaeda, among other groups, particularly enjoys doing. The targeting of airliners, something that al Qaeda has repeatedly gone back to even after 9/11. The use of multiple operatives divided into two different cells, one part of the cell for facilitation, one part of the cell for execution, that‘s a degree of specialization within the actual terrorist cell that you very rarely see outside of organized terror groups.
And, of course, look, I mean, the liquid bombs being used here. Liquid bombs is not something you can teach yourself to build over the Internet. It‘s not something you can read out of a manual. You need to be taught this by an instructor, and it‘s something that requires training camps. And I think that draws attention back to something that‘s very interesting, which is that al Qaeda apparently has reopened training camps inside of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We had hints as to that—with regard to the 7-7 bombers in London who apparently did train at those camps and met Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy head of al Qaeda, at those camps. And now it would appear that others are going to Pakistan to train at those camps to learn how to build advanced explosives, to meet with al Qaeda leaders, and perhaps to receive orders to carry out terrorist plots.
CARLSON: Well, prior to 9/11, there were, of course, a lot of terror training camps in Afghanistan, some in Pakistan. And Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, was fully aware of their existence and may even have helped support those camps.
Do we think the Pakistani government now is wholly on our side? Are parts of it still on the side of al Qaeda? I mean, where is the Pakistani government on all of this?
KOHLMANN: There are a lot of questions about that right now, especially on the other side of the border in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials and U.S. military officials in Afghanistan have been putting a tremendous amount of public pressure on Pakistan, because in their estimation—and I believe they are correct—much of the problem with the Taliban, the resurgence of the Taliban right now in Afghanistan, can be directly traced back to what is going on inside of Pakistan with radical religious parties.
There is a major election coming up in Pakistan, the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is trying to curry favor with those conservative religious parties. And in doing so, he may be taking a bit of a soft hand toward some of the jihadist movements, like Lashkar-e-Toiba, for instance, that has been tied to the blast that took place in Mumbai just a few weeks ago and which continues to operate in the open inside of Pakistan under the name Jamat Udowa (ph).
Everyone knows that‘s Lashkar-e-Toiba, including the government of Pakistan. But because of political sensitivities, they are unwilling to take action. And, you know...
CARLSON: That‘s right. But that is—that is a syndrome that has been going on in that country literally for decades, where the leadership coddles these nut case groups, then pays the price for it. The rest of the world pays the price for it.
Do you think -- 24 people arrested. Do you think there are many more people involved in this plot? I mean, are there indications that many more are going to be arrested?
KOHLMANN: Well, there‘s talk of as many as 50 people. And I think if you look at some of the latest jihad cases that have been coming up in the United Kingdom, it seemed to fit into a pattern where this are subsequent arrests in the cases in the days—in the days coming.
I think it is fair to say that the Brits take their time with these cases, they try to drain them and squeeze them of as much intelligence value as humanly possible without putting human lives at risk. So, in this case, I think given the fact that they thought a dry run was imminent, you know, there was enough concern to move against these individuals, perhaps there are others that they are waiting to see what kind of phone calls they make now, who they are reaching out to, who they are, you know, meeting with in person, trying to get a better idea of how this terrorist plot might tie back into al Qaeda proper.
And this has been done before, I might add. For instance, after the ‘98 East African embassy bombings, members of the cell who were left behind ended up making phone calls which, you know, we didn‘t realize it at the time, but were leading us directly to some of the 9/11 hijackers.
So, these—this kind of information can be very, very useful. And so, you know, we have to give the Brits some time to try to absorb what they can before they make the full series of arrests.
CARLSON: All right.
Thanks a lot, Evan.
KOHLMANN: Thank you.
CARLSON: Still to come, a nightmare for air travelers, but will heightened security and canceled flights make anyone safer? Good question.
And could the terror plot have an upside for the White House, a rise in popularity for the president?
That story, too, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We recognize these measures are going to be inconvenient, but they are proportionate to the very real threat to the lives of innocent people that was posed by this plot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: That was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier today.
The terror plot was thwarted just in time to save thousands of unsuspecting passengers, apparently, but will it hit the aviation industry with a crushing blow?
Joining me now, Charles Slepian. He‘s the CEO of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center and an aviation expert.
Charles Slepian, welcome.
CHARLES SLEPIAN, CEO, FORESEEABLE RISK ANALYSIS CENTER: Hi, Tucker. Good to be with you again.
CARLSON: Why now? I mean, I am not at all convinced, though I may be wrong, that keeping people from bringing toothpaste and shampoo on board is going to keep our air travel safe.
What do you think?
I‘m not convinced either, to tell you the truth. We have had the same experience, as you know, about a decade ago. There was an attempt at that time to take over airplanes, to use liquid explosives, to cause a mass attack on the United States.
You know, terrorism groups will come and go, but it appearance that our aviation vulnerabilities seem to stick with us. And we just need to clean it up.
This won‘t go away by breaking up a terrorist group. The only way it‘s going to be successful is to ensure that our airlines, commercial aviation in general, our airports, cease to be as vulnerable to attack as they remain today.
CARLSON: It just—it seems like the people responsible for protecting our airports and are air travel are hopelessly reactionary, right? Always responding to yesterday‘s threat, fighting last week‘s war, but never looking ahead. I don‘t know if that‘s—if that‘s a fair characterization or not, but I travel a lot and that is certainly my impression.
Is it accurate?
SLEPIAN: Well, on the policy level that is true. They seem to react to the latest threat.
The problem is they don‘t see it through. They come up with a program to take some corrective steps, and then they forget about instituting those remedial actions and go on to something else.
And the bottom line is that the traveling public pays the price. Because -
because we can‘t keep bombs out of airports, we ask the public to leave their baggage at home, not to travel with their computers, to leave the baby formula in the refrigerator somewhere.
CARLSON: But it‘s so stupid, because it‘s a very, very, very small percentage of the population that is even remotely likely to do something like this on an airplane. You‘re talking about targeting a small group of people with profiling, right?
I mean, let‘s be totally honest. These are radical Muslims who are threatening us. They‘re not radical Presbyterians.
So why not spend our time and resources looking for people who are far more likely than the rest of the population to commit acts like this? Why can‘t we do that?
SLEPIAN: Well, we need to take note of the fact that the Transportation Security Administration has announced that starting this summer in 60 airports across the United States they are going to engage in behavioral profiling. So if they are doing it, good for them. I don‘t know if they have commenced yet.
I also would say for TSA is that they have refocused their attention on explosives and gone away from the notion of trying to shake you down for your little pen knife in your pocket. Those are all good things.
Implementation is very, very slow, and the public will pay that price in terms of, well, long lines for two and a half or three hours, perhaps. The inconvenience of not being able to take your laptop on board a plane, and at the same time we suffer from a very high rate of lost and stolen baggage.
So that which you can‘t carry you will be asked to check. And you‘re going to have to think twice about checking a $2,500 to $3,000 laptop computer before you board.
CARLSON: Well, yes, but also—I mean, wait a second. It seems to me that in the aftermath of a crisis like this we turn all decision-making over to the people with guns, the professional security people, without thinking through the question of air travel in a broader way.
Without air travel, without convenient inexpensive air travel, our country falls apart. I mean, let‘s be honest. This is a big country. Cheap air travels is what keeps it, you know, lubricated and working. The economy really will tank without it.
Does anybody think it through, or do we just let the security people make all of the decisions?
SLEPIAN: Well, I think that the terrorists are thinking it through, and they know they‘re hitting us where it hurts the most, and that‘s in our financial communities. The inability to continue to do business, the destruction it does to tourism, particularly in the height of the summer, and on a governmental level, I‘m afraid they don‘t think it through.
So, on the corporate level we must think it through and we must take the steps necessary to plug those vulnerabilities in airports and not have the same thing repeat itself. This is a repeat of the 1995 Bojinka incident in the Philippines.
SLEPIAN: We should have learned. It was 11 years ago. This sounds like 9/11 all over again.
CARLSON: That‘s right. And, you know, a three-hour wait at the airport is its own form of terrorism, in my view.
CARLSON: Mr. Slepian, thanks for joining us.
SLEPIAN: Thank you.
CARLSON: Still to come, air travel will certainly be a nightmare for the foreseeable future, and that‘s too bad. What you need to know to reach your destination eventually, that‘s coming up.
CARLSON: Still to come, the latest terror plot has been thwarted, but are we really any safer? And could Iran be involved? We‘ll get that in just a minute, but right now here‘s a look at your headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11. We‘ve taken a lot of measures to protect the American people, but obviously we‘re still not completely safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: That was President Bush earlier today answering the question: Are we safer now than we were before 9/11? Joining us now to talk about it from the White House, Frances Townsend. She‘s assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
Ms. Townsend, thanks a lot for coming on.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Hi, Tucker.
CARLSON: Are we safer? It feels more dangerous in this country. If we are, how are we safer than we were before 9/11?
TOWNSEND: You know, we‘ve taken a lot of measures, particularly regarding airline security, using the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration that is responsible for that. We now have a program that‘s curb to cockpit.
We‘ve done many things. We‘ve hardened cockpit doors. We screen luggage. We screen individuals. We do explosive detection screening. But, you know, Tucker, as we go forward, our enemies, the bad guys who want to do harm to Americans, watch what we‘re doing and they try to adapt their techniques.
And this is a good example. They‘ve tried to adapt their techniques to get past screenings so they can get component pieces to an explosive on a plane, and then assemble it, and blow a plane up, actually multiple planes. They are determined in their hatred and their desire to kill us, and we have to be equally determined to stay ahead of them.
People will suffer an inconvenience at the airport. But, as Secretary Chertoff has said, it‘s temporary. What we‘ve got to do is adapt our screening procedures so they can‘t get past us.
CARLSON: If we‘ve known for more than 10 years that terrorists have at least thought about bringing down planes with liquid explosives put together on board, why haven‘t until today we had measures designed to keep liquids off airplanes?
TOWNSEND: There‘s a little bit of an assumption in that question, and let me just go back for a minute. I think what you‘re referring to is the Bojinka plot...
CARLSON: That‘s right.
TOWNSEND: ... which was to bring down the planes over the Pacific. You‘re assuming that the devices are identical and that the way that they were going to get them on the planes and secrete those devices before they exploded them is the same. It‘s not, and that‘s my point really.
What the terrorists do is they look at what our screening procedures are and they try to adapt it. I can‘t—I hope you can appreciate I can‘t go through with you all of the details. We don‘t want to tell the terrorists what we know about what they were planning and how we‘re going to adapt our screening measures, but they‘re adapting and we are staying ahead of them.
CARLSON: This question we were talking about just a minute ago, it‘s obviously great news that 24 suspects were caught, but it seems to me bad news that 24 westernized Muslims would be willing to die in order to hurt Americans. Are we in the United States government thinking deeply about why these people are willing to kill themselves to hurt us? And what are we doing about that?
TOWNSEND: Absolutely. We have been reaching out, and we have allies around the Muslim world, around the world, but we work with our allies, like Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, to understand how we can do a better job at denying them the pool of people they seem to be recruiting from.
I was listening to your earlier dialogue, and I‘ll say to you, I don‘t think that you can target a particular population. We know from what we‘ve learned in intelligence channels that, as soon as we focus on a particular population of people that we believe are going to be used as suicide bombers, they‘ll shift. They may go from young Arab men to people of Southeast Asian descent. And so you have to—you can‘t—the minute you...
CARLSON: Well, wait a sec. I mean, with all due respect, Ms. Townsend, and I definitely have respect for you, we know that they‘re all observant Muslims. I mean, there is one population that remains constant. Sure, they may be different colors, different ethnicities, but they share a religion. And so once we know that, why not focus on people we know are observant Muslims?
TOWNSEND: But how do you know that, Tucker? I mean...
CARLSON: Well, you don‘t know, but once you know that, you know, observant Methodists, or Presbyterians, or orthodox Jews probably aren‘t going to be members of Al Qaeda, so, I mean, you can ignore them and save a lot of time.
TOWNSEND: Well, that‘s right, but, I mean, I guess my question to you is, how would people feel if, when people came up to screening, we were asking them, “What is your religious belief? Are you Catholic? Are you Jewish? Are you Muslim?” We find that offensive.
CARLSON: Oh, it is offensive. On the other hand, so is waiting in line for three hours or destroying the American economy. I mean, at some point, you know, there are tradeoffs. We keep talking about, “We‘re all going to be inconvenienced.” Well, why exactly is that? Why aren‘t we smarter about it, since we know that only a very small percentage of the population is likely to do anything like this?
TOWNSEND: Well, but what we hope to accomplish here is the inconvenience is a temporary one. It is awful. You go—I have two small children. The notion of going through the airport and waiting on a long line with two small children and having to give up my carry-on is an inconvenience, and it‘s a tremendous burden on me. Do I resent that? That‘s right, but I‘m not angry with the government and I‘m not angry with the screeners. I‘m angry with the bad guys who have put us in a position to make us have to go through that.
CARLSON: Well, so am I. So am I. But, I mean, also, you know,
simply because there are bad guys trying to hurt us doesn‘t give us the
right to be dumb. And I think anybody who flies a lot—and I fly a lot -
knows that we‘re really dumb sometimes in the precautions or lack of them that we take. We‘re reactionary.
I mean, you know, banning cigarette lighters but not matches, but Richard Reid has used matches, not cigarette lighters. I mean, you know, at some point, you want to have confidence in your government, but the government needs to give us better reasons sometimes to have confidence in it, don‘t you think?
TOWNSEND: That‘s right. And I think what you‘ve seen over time is we have gotten smarter. I heard again, in your earlier interview, we moved away from things like taking away your pen knife and said we‘re going to look for the things that we really believe are most likely to do us harm.
We‘ve said this is a temporary inconvenience, and Secretary Chertoff is committed to the American people that we‘re going to look for ways to train our screeners to be able to screen for this so it won‘t be a permanent ban on liquids. I agree with you: We do have to get smarter. And we‘re committed to doing that.
CARLSON: Well, since you know a ton of secrets, I can‘t resist asking you this question, even though you might not be able to answer. Is it true that one of these men arrested is an Iranian?
TOWNSEND: You know, I will tell—I can honestly say to you, Tucker, I don‘t know. I have not heard that, and I don‘t know that. My understanding, frankly, is that these are British citizens of Pakistani descent, and I‘m not aware that there is an Iranian who is in custody.
CARLSON: All right, Frances Townsend from the White House. Thanks very much for coming on. Appreciate it.
TOWNSEND: Thanks, Tucker.
CARLSON: This terror plot is certain to disrupt air travel in the U.S. for a while, at least. For one thing, you can‘t carry liquids on planes anymore, drinks, shampoos, creams, toothpaste, hair gel. Those are all banned now from carry-on luggage. Baby formula and some medication will be allowed, but it will be checked. So just how much will this massive terror plot affect the way you travel?
Let‘s ask Peter Greenberg. He‘s the travel editor for the “Today Show.” He‘s the author of the book, “The Travel Detective,” and he joins us from Minneapolis.
Peter, welcome. How bad is this going to be for the average person?
PETER GREENBERG, “TODAY SHOW” TRAVEL EDITOR: In the short term, it‘s going to be a major inconvenience, today being the worst of all those days, both in the United Kingdom and here. And there are a lot things on that list that weren‘t listed in your just list. I mean, even cologne and perfume, we can go on, and on, and on.
The problem is, we do a good job of adapting in this country when we have to, and we will adapt to this. We‘re going to learn the law of plastic bags and zip lock bags. We‘re going to learn to not put that in our carry-on bags. And luckily, at least you don‘t have the same ban that they have in the United Kingdom, which is banning all carry-on bags at this moment, no electronic devices, no laptop computers, no, you know, wireless devices. And you know what? For business travelers, that‘s almost suicidal. So we‘re luckier than the folks who are trying to fly out of London right now.
CARLSON: Now, you suggested sending bags ahead to your destination.
Is there a cheap, fast way to do that?
GREENBERG: Well, you know what? You know, it‘s the law of supply and demand. And necessity being the mother of invention, there are 17 different services that will do that for you. I personally have not checked a bag in over eight years. I believe there are two kinds of airline bags: carry-on and lost.
CARLSON: Yes, I agree.
GREENBERG: I believe in that. OK. So I save 2 ½ hours of my life prior to today not checking bags. Now, when I finish this program, I‘m going out to the airport in Minneapolis to fly back to New York to the “Today Show” tomorrow. I‘m about as close to being naked by the time I get to that plane as you can get. I just have one briefcase, nothing in it, and my boarding pass.
But, you know, your last guest talked about, you know, common sense. And if she didn‘t, I will. I‘m going to probably be taking out for secondary screening tonight because I made my reservation at the last minute, I‘m on a one-way ticket, and I have no checked bags. My first name might as well be Ahmed. And that‘s not good profiling. That‘s no common sense at all.
CARLSON: Yes, but your name isn‘t Ahmed. It‘s Peter Greenberg. You‘re the travel editor for the “Today Show.” The idea that you would be taken off for secondary screening is insane. And it just shows how unserious we are about actually fighting terrorism.
CARLSON: I mean, come on. If you get taken out for secondary screening, you know, we‘re not going to win this war against terror, I‘m sorry.
GREENBERG: And I get taken out all the time.
CARLSON: It‘s crazy.
GREENBERG: The bottom line is—well, here is something else that‘s crazy. You know, Frances Townsend talked about screening luggage. OK, great, what about screening the cargo that‘s carried in the belly of my commercial flight tonight? They‘re not doing that. That, to me, is a security loophole you can drive a Humvee through. That‘s no common sense at all.
CARLSON: Aren‘t the companies—I mean, the U.S. mail, FedEx, presumably—I‘m not sure actually if FedEx is carried in the belly of commercial flights. But it‘s...
GREENBERG: No, they‘re not.
CARLSON: Right. So but as far as I understand, it‘s the U.S. mail is one of the great, you know, suppliers of cargo at the bottom of planes.
GREENBERG: Oh, sure.
CARLSON: Do they do their own checking?
GREENBERG: You know what? I don‘t know the answer to that, but people forget the airlines got their start in business by mail contracts with the United States Post Office. There will be mail on my plane tonight and cargo from independent shippers. And my question is, who‘s inspecting that?
CARLSON: How long before people can go to Europe, say, without worrying about just terrible snafus at Heathrow or De Gaulle?
GREENBERG: I think the cycle problem will be about four to five days, because, remember, when a plane can‘t make its cycle, meaning it goes from London to New York to Chicago to New York back to London, it exponentially decreases your opportunity to get on that plane for a number of days. There‘s a complete ripple effect.
So most airlines are telling you 48 to 72 hours. I‘m telling you probably four days. Some of the airlines, like British Airways, are allowing people to re-book their flights with no penalty fees or cancellation fees up until December 1st. So that ought to tell you about the ripple effect.
CARLSON: All right. Peter Greenberg, travel editor of the “Today Show.” Thanks a lot, Peter.
GREENBERG: You got it.
CARLSON: Iran‘s president taunts George W. Bush in the interview with Mike Wallace, but terrorism experts say taunts could be the least of our worries on August 22nd. What‘s the significance of that date? We‘ll tell you.
And something nearly as frightening as an Iranian terror plot: Nancy Grace armed with a shotgun. Why‘s she pulling weapons out on the set? Find out, when we come right back.
CARLSON: Well, it‘s time to “Beat the Press.” CNN used all of its abundant resources around the world to cover the British terror plot. The network even enlisted its personal finance editor to give out antiterrorism tips. All hands on deck! If you think that‘s strange, wait until you hear her advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, meanwhile, when you‘re out and about, keep your guard up, keep your eyes and ears open.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That‘s right. You know, if you see anything suspicious at all, let the authorities know. Never touch anything that looks questionable. And here‘s a big point that I‘d never heard until today: Don‘t use your cell phone within 50 feet of a suspicious object. You could unexpectedly detonate something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: That‘s from the personal finance editor telling—excuse me
don‘t use your cell phone within 50 feet of a “suspicious object,” whatever that is, as if, a, you could ever convince Americans to turn off their cell phones—not going to happen—b, you could define what a “suspicious object” is. That‘s amazing. That‘s what happens when the personal finance people go into antiterrorism.
Well, Nancy Grace is scary enough when she‘s not armed, but last night she put the fear of God into her viewers when she grabbed a .12-gauge shotgun from a guest and began waving it all over the set. Nancy used the deadly prop to demonstrate how a woman may have killed her husband. Here she is, Nancy Grace, armed and dangerous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY GRACE, CNN HEADLINE NEWS HOST: One gun kills just as easily as another. The reason this .12-gauge shotgun will be imported into evidence is because, to work it, Mary Winkler had to go through so much to kill her husband. She‘s about my height, 5‘2”. To pull back, load, and aim, and pull, that takes quite a bit of effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Notice the terror on the face of the man behind her. I‘ve got to be honest, you know, we bring up Nancy Grace almost every day on this show, and I‘m starting to kind of like her. I kind of find her sort of compelling.
But here‘s the point: Nancy Grace fails the absolute power test. Here it is. If Nancy Grace had absolute power, she could do whatever she wanted. If she were omnipotent, how many people would die? Many.
Well, on FOX News last night, Bill O‘Reilly announced the results of a Gallup poll that measured the popularity of leading television personalities. He dedicated part of the segment to his own numbers. He even invited a panel on the show to help him bask in his own popularity. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: On “The Factor Follow-Up Segment” tonight, evaluating TV news people and celebrities, a new Gallup poll ranks us on a favorable, unfavorable basis. Diane Sawyer is the highest favorable rating, 80 percent. Shockingly, Dan Rather is number two: 70 percent of Americans like the Danster. Katie Couric, 60 percent like her. Brian Williams, 40 percent like him.
And that O‘Reilly guy is liked by 45 percent; 35 percent don‘t like me; 12 percent never heard of me; and 9 percent don‘t care. By the way, that 45 percent approval rating beat Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in another Gallup poll.
And you made one mistake in your analysis. You called me a polarizing figure, but you left out the word a “cute” polarizing figure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Unbelievable. Unbelievable. The chutzpah that guy has, doing an entire segment on his own popularity. Amazing. And yet, any poll that suggests that Bill O‘Reilly is more popular than Brad Pitt is by definition ludicrous. I mean, maybe he‘s more popular than Brad Pitt in some rural county in Utah, but, come on, wake up, buddy. Those numbers lie.
How‘d you like to help us “Beat the Press”? Give us a call. Tell us what you see. And the number: 1-877-BTP-5876. That‘s 877-287-5876. Operators standing by.
August 22nd, it is a significant date on the Islamic calendar and a day United States terrorism officials are watching very closely. Is Iran preparing to unleash Armageddon in less than two weeks? Some are taking that possibly seriously. We‘ll discuss it when we come right back.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
The foiled terror plot in England comes at a time when the world is already on edge about the possibility of a cataclysmic attack on the U.S. and Israel by Iran. August 22nd is a significant date on the Islamic calendar. It‘s also a date terror experts have nervously circled as the day the Iranian government may launch a global jihad. Should we be worried?
Ken Timmerman is the author of the book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.” He‘s also a contributor to Newsmax.com. He joins us now from Nice in the south of France.
Ken Timmerman, welcome. Do you think the Bush administration is taking seriously the possibility that Iran will launch some sort of attack against us later this month, August 22nd?
KEN TIMMERMAN, NEWSMAX.COM: Well, I think the Bush administration is very concerned that the Iranians may have a clandestine nuclear program, and that is the big problem. I was in Israel earlier in June looking at this problem with Israeli officials and then went back for Newsmax.com to look at the—to follow the war there.
The Israelis had made their calculation, their timetable of Iran‘s nuclear weapons effort based solely on what they have declared to the IAEA. They say that it will take Iran another three years. I have always contended, and I think there are people in the Bush administration who have been looking at this, as well, who believe that Iran has a clandestine program and we just don‘t know when they will have nuclear weapons capability. They could have it by August 22nd.
CARLSON: Yes. On the other hand, there are many countries that have nuclear weapons, including, terrifyingly, France, who really we‘re not worried that they‘re going to use them, but the difference with Iran is we think Iran may be fundamentally unreasonable and that they may lash out against the United States, or Israel, or both for religious reasons.
Do you think the Iranian regime is unreasonable?
TIMMERMAN: Absolutely. And the problem with Iran is not nuclear weapons, per se. You mentioned France. France is a democratic state. It‘s a republic. There is a form of government control over nuclear weapons.
Iran is a theocracy, and its leaders believe that they take their cue from God. The president, Ahmadinejad, has said his goal is to bring about the destruction of Israel and to destroy America. He believes that, by setting off a worldwide jihad and a worldwide nuclear cataclysm, that he can bring about the end of the world and Muslims will be free, Muslims will be safe. This is an ideology we need to be taking very, very seriously.
CARLSON: Is there any evidence that Iran had any role in the plot uncovered today in Great Britain?
TIMMERMAN: Well, the first thing that I noticed when I learned about this plot was the similarity to a 1986 plot in France involving Hezbollah. Hezbollah operatives, led by a guy named Fouad Ali Saleh, had tried to bring in liquid explosives to launch terrorist attacks. The French caught them; they caught the explosives. They were being brought in, in of all things, in Arak bottles. Those are bottles of pastis kind of liquor, you know, anis type of liquor. But, yes, this is something that has Hezbollah‘s fingerprints all over it.
CARLSON: Is there still—I mean, I know that for years there‘s been tension between Iran, heavily Shiite, mostly Shiite and Persian, and the Sunni Arab states. Do you think that Sunni Islamic radicals are sympathetic with Iran or willing to overlook their theological differences to make common cause with Iran against the U.S.?
TIMMERMAN: Well, here‘s what I can tell you, and I revealed this in my book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.” As of 1993, the Iranian regime started its liaison and its work with Al Qaeda.
They sent their top terrorist, Imad Mugniyah—by the way, the Israelis believe that he is now in south Lebanon coordinating attacks against Israel—they sent him to Sudan to meet with Osama bin Laden. And we know this because the bodyguard of Osama bin Laden has, in fact, become state‘s evidence in the United States in several court cases.
So we have material evidence of the Iranian involvement, starting in 1993. We also have evidence of Iran helping Al Qaeda all through the 1990s, training Al Qaeda terrorists in Lebanon, and taking them into Iran. And again, the experts of Islam we are supposed to listen to and that the CIA listens to says this can never happen, because the Iranians are Shias and the Al Qaeda people are Wahhabi Sunnis.
CARLSON: Yes, well...
TIMMERMAN: But when it gets down to killing Jews and killing Americans, guess what? They get along very well.
CARLSON: I believe that. Ken Timmerman from the south of France, thanks a lot, Ken.
And thank you for watching. Up next, HARDBALL with Chris Matthews.
We‘ll see you tomorrow.
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