Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: No siege mentality.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight, the big story of the failure to connect, not to collect. President Obama just finished addressing the country after receiving reviews of how a man armed with hidden explosives was able to board an American airliner with the intent of blowing it up. He, the president, said the intelligence community did not follow up on leads, failed to connect the dots, and that there are gaping holes in the no-fly system. The president announced specifics step to fix the system but said the U.S. would not succumb to a siege mentality. And that is the bottom-line difference between him and Cheney and the Peter Kings of this world. We‘ll get to that in HARDBALL.
In a few moments, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, head of Homeland Security Janet Reno—or rather, Janet Napolitano, and deputy national security adviser John Brennan will brief the press, and we‘ll bring you that live here on MSNBC.
Plus, politics: It‘s not just Democrats who may be in trouble after two of their U.S. senators—and major U.S. senators at that—and one governor, the one from Colorado, decided not to seek reelection yesterday. The GOP brand is badly damaged, and Republicans are taking incoming from the tea party crowd, which side could well take advantage of the anti-incumbent anger. We could see suicide squads, we could see circular firing squads in the Republican Party.
We begin with reaction to the president late this afternoon. Richard Ben-Veniste and Slade Gorton both served on the commission that investigated the attacks of September 11.
Richard, what grabbed me was the president‘s finale, when he said this is not a siege mentality. We are in a state of war against al Qaeda. He still doesn‘t want to say a “war against terror.” I take that very seriously, that distinction. Do you?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: I think the semantics of it, Chris, are being played up by the Republicans. You can set your watch by Vice President Cheney making the kind of partisan statements...
MATTHEWS: The cuckoo clock. He‘s become a human cuckoo clock.
BEN-VENISTE: You said it, I didn‘t say that.
MATTHEWS: Well, he has. He comes out every once in a while and says “Cuckoo,” basically.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the point of it is, is that this president has taken responsibility immediately after this foiled attack.
BEN-VENISTE: He took responsibility. He said it again today in very clear terms. I think that there was a fair amount of human error here. He‘s moving quickly to address the problems that are indicated here...
MATTHEWS: Is he goosing the system, to us a colloquialism? Is he basically trying to say to people, If there‘s a 50 percent worry, act like it‘s a 75 percent worry? Is he gigging it up and saying, Don‘t be casual and say, Well, we heard one of them last week, we‘re going to let it go. No, we heard it this week, we‘re going to do something about it.
BEN-VENISTE: There‘s definitely a message of urgency involved in this. Here we had a lot of information, like 9/11. We didn‘t use that information intelligently enough to stop this man from getting on the airplane. He should have been subjected to secondary screening. We knew enough information to subject him to questioning, and perhaps more sophisticated body searches.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the president late this afternoon. Let‘s see if we can get a bit of what he just said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality. And so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children.
And in this cause, every one of us, every American, every elected official can do our part. Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let‘s move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people. For now is not a time for partisanship, it‘s a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands. That‘s what it means to be strong in the face of violent extremism. That‘s how we will prevail in this fight. And that‘s how we will protect our country and pass it safer and stronger to the next generation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We have former senator Slade Gorton joining us. Senator Slade (sic), I can almost imagine now—in fact, I can see it in my mind‘s eye—Dick Cheney over there at his house across the river e-mailing something over to “Politico” right now. He seems to do it, like a cuckoo clock, with tremendous regularity and sometimes strangeness.
But let‘s go on. You‘re a former Republican senator. I think it‘s fair to call you a moderate. I hope that‘s not a curse word in the Republican Party these days, with this vigilante committee out there, the tea baggers, looking for people like you. But your thoughts on what the president said both politically and in terms of policy.
SLADE GORTON, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: I think the president made exactly the right kind of speech. I couldn‘t find anything that he said with which I disagreed. He‘s been mugged by reality, and he‘s making exactly the kind of reaction. I think the irony is that both he and President Bush were very similar in many respects. Both of them spent the first eight or nine months of their presidency not paying an awful lot of attention to this kind of threat to the United States. Both got hit by a big disaster, and I think both responded very, very positively.
I think—I don‘t disagree with a single thing the president said that he was doing better. In the future, when someone like this guy‘s father comes into an embassy, we‘re not just going to make a little note about it, we‘re going to pull his visa and we‘re going to see to it that he doesn‘t get on an airplane.
But I think there are a couple of things that the president didn‘t say that I wish he had talked about. We now know that these terrorists are almost all young male Muslims from about a dozen countries. It seems to me that we ought to at least begin a certain degree of profiling and say that every such person gets special kinds of screening before they get on a plane coming to the United States when they are not citizens of the United States itself. That‘s number one.
And number two, he didn‘t change his view on whether or not someone like this guy should be charged in a criminal court and given 5th Amendment rights. I‘m convinced that he should first be treated as an enemy combatant and should be questioned as long as we can get any new information out of him, and only then if we want to charge him with a crime, do so. We‘ve lost valuable information not about the individual but about how he got where he was and who helped him.
MATTHEWS: Well, your thoughts on that, Richard, and that particular point? Should we treat people who come representing a foreign cause—they‘re not holding up a gas station for 200 bucks in cash, they‘re coming here to kill Americans on behalf of a foreign organization, al Qaeda based in Yemen—should we treat them like a common criminal?
BEN-VENISTE: Well -
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think it‘s the most important question in the world, but I‘d love to know your answer.
BEN-VENISTE: I rarely disagree with Slade Gorton, for whom I have great admiration and respect.
MATTHEWS: But you do.
BEN-VENISTE: But I do in this case.
MATTHEWS: OK. Hold your thought.
BEN-VENISTE: And I‘ll tell you why...
MATTHEWS: We‘re go right to Robert Gibbs right now. Hold on, Richard Ben-Veniste and Senator Gorton. Here‘s Robert Gibbs with the briefing at the White House.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I apologize for the delay in the events that have occurred over the past couple hours. As you all know, declassifying a highly complex document takes some time, and we wanted to get that right.
You all should have either with you or in your inbox two separate documents that were e-mailed out. The first is a summary of the White House review, which is that declassified document that I spoke of a second ago. And secondly, a memo, third-page memo, signed just a little while ago by the president on corrective actions that have been ordered.
We will hear momentarily from two individuals, Secretary Napolitano from the Department of Homeland Security, and John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. After they speak, we will spend about half an hour or so taking your questions.
I know many of you all have deadlines. So if you need to sneak out of here, that is certainly fine to do. And we will hear first from John.
JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you, Robert. Good evening, everyone. As the president said today, following the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, he directed me to conduct an immediate review of the watch-listing system that our nation uses to prevent known or suspected terrorists from entering our country. He also directed key departments and agencies to provide their input to this review. And I want to commend Secretary Napolitano, director of national intelligence Blair and other leaders of the intelligence community for their cooperation, candor and support.
Now, let me say that every department and organization provided the information that was needed. That speaks to the seriousness with which this administration takes what happened on Christmas. It also speaks to our urgency and determination to make sure that this does not happen again.
The review had three primary goals—to get the facts, to find out what happened, to identify the failures and shortcomings of what went wrong, to make recommendations on corrective action so we can fix the problems. And I want to address each of these areas.
First the facts. As the president has described in his public remarks, in the weeks and months leading up to the Christmas attack, various components of our intelligence community had fragments of information about the strategic threat imposed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and the specific plot of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It was known that AQAP not only sought to strike U.S. targets in Yemen, as they had when they attacked our embassy in Sana‘a in 2008, but that it also sought to strike the U.S. homeland.
Indeed, there was a threat stream of intelligence on this threat. It was known, thanks to the warnings of his father in November, that Abdulmutallab had developed extremist views and his father feared he had joined unidentified extremists. And as the summary points out, there was information about an individual now believed to be Mr. Abdulmutallab and his association with al Qaeda. These are among the fragments of intelligence that were available in the intelligence community on Christmas Eve, before Abdulmutallab ever boarded an aircraft in Amsterdam.
Of course, the central question is, given the fragments of intelligence we did know, why weren‘t they integrated and pieced together in a way that would have uncovered and disrupted the plot? That leads to the second line of inquiry, what went wrong. As the president described, this was not the failure of a single individual or a single organization. Yes, there were some human errors, but those errors were not the primary or fundamental cause of what happened on December 25th. Rather, this was a systemic failure across agencies and across organizations.
I want to be very clear about this because there‘s been some confusion out there. In recent days, it‘s been widely reported that we saw the same failures before 9/11, or the same failure to share information. And after eight years, why hasn‘t this been fixed? Before 9/11, there was often a reluctance or a refusal to share information between departments and agencies. As a result, different agencies and analysts across agencies were at times denied access to the critical information that could have stopped the tragic 9/11 attacks.
And over the past eight years, those issues have largely been resolved. That is not what happened here. This was not a failure to share information. In fact, our review found the intelligence agencies and analysts had the information they needed. No agency or individual was denied access to that information. So as the president has said, this was not a failure to collect or share intelligence, it was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had.
We didn‘t follow up and prioritize a stream of intelligence indicating the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike our homeland because no one intelligence entity or team or task force was assigned responsibility for doing that follow-up investigation. The intelligence fell through the cracks. This happened in more than one organization. This contributed to the larger failure to connect the fragments of intelligence that could have revealed the plot, Abdulmutallab‘s extremist views, AQAP‘s involvement with the Nigerian, its desire to strike the U.S. homeland.
This, in turn, fed into shortcomings in the watch-listing system, both human and technological, which resulted in Abdulmutallab not being placed on the watch list, thereby allowing him to board a plane in Amsterdam for Detroit. And while the watch-listing system is not broken, how the intelligence community feeds information into that system clearly needs to be strengthened.
This brings us to the recommendations. How do we fix the problem? Today, the president is issuing a directive to all the relevant agencies on the corrective actions he has decided on. There are more than a dozen corrective steps all together, and each is assigned to an agency that is now responsible for their implementation.
As the president said, they fall into four broad areas. First, he is directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively so that plots are disrupted.
Second, he‘s directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. Third, he‘s directing that we strengthen the analytic process. Director of National Intelligence Blair will take the lead in improving day-to-day efforts. The president‘s intelligence advisory board will examine the longer-term challenge of identifying and analyzing the intelligence across the vast universe of intelligence that we collect. That challenge, dealing with the volumes of information, is growing every day.
Finally, the president is ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria used to add individuals to our terrorist watch lists, especially the no-fly list, so that we do a better job keeping dangerous people off airplanes.
The president said he is going to hold all of us, his staff, his national security team, their agencies, accountable for implementing these reforms. The national security staff is going to monitor their progress. The president has directed me to report back on the progress within 30 days and on a regular basis after that, and I will do so.
Taken together, these reforms are going to improve the intelligence community‘s ability to do its job even better, to collect, share, integrate, analyze and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively to protect our country.
And finally, I want to say that in every instance over the past year, the intelligence community, the homeland security community, the law enforcement community has done an absolutely outstanding and stellar job in protecting this homeland and disrupting plots that have been directed against us. It was in this one instance that we did not rise to that same level of competence and success.
And therefore, the president has told us we must do better. I told the president today I let him down. I am the president‘s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, and I told him that I will do better, and we will do better as a team. Thank you.
JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Thank you. I want to update all of you on the actions the Department of Homeland Security took immediately following the failed Christmas Day attack and the longer-term recommendations that DHS made to the president in our preliminary report. These recommendations lay out how we will move forward in a number of areas that are critical in our efforts to protect air travel from terrorism.
As many have already experienced, we have immediately strengthened screening requirements for individuals flying to the United States. Every individual flying to the United States from anywhere in the world who has an itinerary or passport from nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest is required to go through enhanced screening. In addition, the majority of all other passengers on United States-bound international flights will go through random threat-based enhanced screening.
At airports throughout the United States, we have deployed additional airport law enforcement officials, behavior detection officers, air marshals and explosive detection K-9 teams among, other security measures both seen and unseen.
I want to express our thanks to the traveling public for their patience with these security measures. And I want to thank, as well, the Department of Homeland security personnel who have been engaged on a day-in, day-out basis to implement them since Christmas.
Today I would like to describe to you five of the recommendations that are included in our report to the president. First, there needs to be a reevaluation and modification of the criteria and process used to create the terrorist watch lists. This will involve the Department of Homeland Security and other members of the intelligence community. Specifically, the effort will include evaluating the process by which names are put on the no-fly and selectee lists.
Let me pause here a moment to say that the Department of Homeland Security works day in and day out with the NCTC and with other members of the intelligence community. These are dedicated men and women. All of them are dedicated to the safety of the United States. Here, as John has indicated, we simply had a systemic failure.
Now, DHS, as you know, uses the list as the cornerstone of our efforts to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding airplanes bound for the United States.
Second, we will establish a partnership on aviation screening technology between DHS and the Department of Energy and its national laboratories. This will allow government to use the expertise that the national labs have to develop new and more effective technologies so that we can react not only to known threats but also to proactively anticipate new ways by which terrorists could seek to board our aircraft.
Third, we should accelerate deployment of advanced imaging technology so that we have greater capabilities to detect explosives like the ones used in the Christmas Day attack. We currently have 40 machines deployed throughout the United States. In 2010, we are already scheduled to deploy 300 more. We may deploy more than that.
But the TSA does not conduct screening overseas, and the Christmas Day incident underscored that the screening procedures at foreign airports are critical to our safety here in the United States. Therefore, we have to do all that we can do to encourage foreign authorities to utilize the same technologies for aviation security. After all, there were passengers from 17 countries aboard flight 253. This is an international issue, not just one about the United States.
Fourth, we have to strengthen the presence and capacity of aviation law enforcement, on top of the measures we have already taken. This includes increasing the number of federal air marshals, and we will begin by deploying law enforcement officers from across the Department of Homeland Security to help fulfill this important role.
And, fifth, working with the secretary of state, we need to strengthen international security measures and standards for aviation security. Security measures abroad affect our security here at home.
The deputy secretary of DHS and other top officials from my department have for the last several days been on a multi-country, multi-continent mission, meeting with top transportation and airport officials, discussing ways to increase cooperation and security.
Later this month, I will be traveling to Spain to meet with my European counterparts for what will be the first in a series of meetings with counterparts that I believe will lead to a broad consensus on new international aviation security standards and procedures.
These five recommendations that I have just described are important areas where DHS and other federal agencies are moving quickly to address concerns revealed by the attempted attack. Added to the intelligence review, also underway, that—that John Brennan just described, these are changes that will help us prevent another attack from ever advancing as far as the one did on Christmas Day.
GIBBS: Thank you. Yes, ma‘am?
QUESTION: The president talked about using enhanced screening technologies. Does he intend to deploy the body imaging systems as the primary method of screening for all airports across the country (OFF-MIKE)
NAPOLITANO: I think we look at security as a system of layers. It is advanced screening technology. It is the magnetometers with which people are so familiar. It‘s explosive detection technology. It is canines and increased use of canines. It‘s behavior detection officers. It‘s increased law enforcement presence, both uniformed and undercover. It‘s that series of layers that we will be adding to the security we already have at our domestic airports in the wake of this incident.
QUESTION: Following up on that, you said that 300 additional of these scanners will be deployed in—in 2010. Was that planned before this event? And you said more may be developed—or more may be deployed on top of that. How many more? And how much will that cost?
NAPOLITANO: The answer is, it was planned before this. It was already in funding that the Congress had appropriated for—for the TSA. With respect to how many more need to be done, we will be working on that as part of our ongoing review as to how many are needed.
But, again, I would caution you not to focus solely on that technology. As I just explained to Elaine, this is a series of layers that we deploy and will be enhancing their deployment of at domestic airports.
QUESTION: One follow-up, Robert, if I can. Both of you and the president also mentioned the word “accountability,” and all three of you have made a point that it was several agencies and not just one person. But if there are several people and several agencies, who‘s being held accountable now?
GIBBS: Well, I think as you‘ve heard the president now on a number of occasions, including today, take responsibility for the system that we have right now. That‘s what led the president to ask these two individuals to conduct reviews, to seek where we fell down and how we can plug those holes.
Our focus right now—and the president‘s focus—is on the timely completion of that review and to implement his directive for corrective action as quickly as possible.
We don‘t have any announcements other than that today. As you have heard the president say, the buck stops with him. But the team understands that what John started is a dynamic process—and we talked about that in here, I think, yesterday—that will continue over the course of the next 30 days and then long after that to ensure that what has been outlined by all these different agencies in acknowledging their responsibility for the attacks, what they have acknowledged, that they‘ll take the corrective action that‘s necessary.
I would also mention the billion dollars the president mentioned in his remarks about technology was contained in the Recovery Act.
QUESTION: To Mr. Brennan, the president kept referring to—certainly at one point, he referred to him as a known terrorist. My understanding, he was a known extremist. Was he a known terrorist?
And to both of you, what was the most shocking, stunning thing that you believe came out of the reviews?
BRENNAN: As far as being a known terrorist, we knew that Mr. Abdulmutallab had departed from Nigeria and was in Yemen associating with extremists. This came directly from his father, so you‘re right.
We knew from that stream of information that he was extremist and had those radical tendencies. The rest of the intelligence indicated that this plot was underway. We did not map up the two, that intelligence about this individual who was a terrorist, who was, in fact, Nigerian, with Mr. Abdulmutallab.
So what we knew about him the person, the extremist, what we knew about this other plot developing and the individual involved in that was, in fact, a terrorist.
QUESTION: So he‘s a known alleged terrorist now after the fact, a known extremist at the time?
BRENNAN: He is a terrorist now.
QUESTION: What was the most shocking, stunning thing that you found out of the review.
And, Secretary, to you, as well?
BRENNAN: al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an extension of al Qaeda core coming out of Pakistan. And in my view, it is one of the most lethal, one of the most concerning of it. The fact that they had moved forward to try to execute this attack against the homeland I think demonstrated to us—and this is what the review sort of uncovered—that we had a strategic sense of sort of where they were going, but we didn‘t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here. And we have taken that lesson, and so now we‘re all on top of it.
NAPOLITANO: I think, following up on that, not just the determination of al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but the tactic of using an individual to foment an attack, as opposed to a large conspiracy or a multi-person conspiracy, such as we saw on 9/11, that is something that affects intelligence. It really emphasizes now the renewed importance on how different intelligence is integrated and analyzed and threat streams are followed through. And, again, it will impact how we continue to review the need to improve airport security around the world.
QUESTION: Was there an outside contractor used for security in Amsterdam? And, also, what is really lacking always for us is you don‘t give the motivation of why they want to do us harm.
GIBBS: Why don‘t you take the first part? And then, John, we can—you can address the second part.
NAPOLITANO: The—the screening at Schiphol Airport was done by Dutch authorities. And they did the—the screening that was described to you earlier this afternoon. The hand luggage was—was screened. The passport was checked. He went through a magnetometer, but it was done by Dutch authorities.
QUESTION: And what is the motivation? I mean, we never hear what you find out or why.
BRENNAN: al Qaeda is a—an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. What they have done over the past decade-and-a-half, two decades is to attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks.
He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam and has corrupted the concept of Islam so that they have been able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.
QUESTION: And you‘re saying it‘s because of religion?
BRENNAN: I‘m saying it‘s because of an al Qaeda organization that falls—that uses the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.
BRENNAN: This is a—this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
QUESTION: But you haven‘t explained why.
QUESTION: Can we clear up a couple of things, either one of you? First of all, what was learned while the flight was underway? There have been a couple of stories suggesting that additional information came to light after the flight took off and that Mr. Abdulmutallab was going to be questioned when he arrived. That‘s one...
NAPOLITANO: Why don‘t I answer that one?
NAPOLITANO: In Schiphol, his name did not appear on any terrorist screening watch list, and so nothing pinged to keep him off of the plane.
While in the air, customs in Detroit has access to the entire TIDE database. And as we all now all know, that‘s the—the large mega-database. It has 500,000-plus names in it, and they knew he had a ping there, and so they were ready when he landed in Detroit to question him about that—that ping against the TIDE database.
NAPOLITANO: But the terrorist watch list—but the terrorist watch list—the terrorist screening watch list did not have his name on it.
QUESTION: Another question. Why was Director Leiter allowed to take leave after the incident on December 25?
BRENNAN: I will take that issue. When the incident occurred on Christmas Day, a number of people came in to the—to the—their offices and focused on it immediately. I was in constant contact with Mike Leiter throughout the afternoon, throughout the evening.
Mike Leiter raised with me that he was, in fact, scheduled to go on leave to—to meet his—his son. And he asked me whether or not he should cancel that trip. I asked Mike about whether or not he had a full complement of folks and his deputies were going to be in place. Mike said he did. And I said, “Mike, no, you deserve this vacation. You need to be with your son.” So I was the one who told him he should go out there.
The events that took place on December 25, our review has looked at what transpired before then. Since then, I think we have all sort of recognized that the—the government, the intelligence community, the homeland security community has worked seamlessly well, and we were in constant contact with one another throughout the period in the week after the attack.
QUESTION: First question. When did we first—for Mr. Brennan—when did we first know that AQAP had intentions to strike the U.S. homeland? How early?
BRENNAN: In the intelligence that we have acquired, over the past several years, it‘s been rather aspirational. It has said things. It has promoted a certain view, as far as bringing the fight to us.
But all of their activities, at least that we were focused on, were happening in Yemen. They carried out attacks against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, in Saudi Arabia, against Saudi targets, inside of Yemen against Yemeni, as well as against U.S. targets. So it was aspirational.
We saw that there was this mounting sort of drumbeat of interest in trying to get individuals to carry out attacks. That was the fragmentary information.
And so, in hindsight now—and 20/20 hindsight always give you—gives you much better opportunity to see it, we saw the plot was developing. But at the time, we did not know, in fact, that they were talking about sending Mr. Abdulmutallab to the United States.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) one follow-up. Just—your first recommendation is to assign responsibility on all leads that are high priority. And it just seems like that would be the basic premise of any intelligence system. It seems so fundamental. I‘m sure people wonder, “Really, that‘s a reform we need?”
BRENNAN: What we‘ve done so far since 9/11 is to really help to distribute information throughout the community, increase capability throughout. There are a lot of different organizations involved. I think what we‘re trying to do is to make sure that, as these threads develop—and there are so many of them—that it‘s clearly understood who has the lead on it, because most times, CIA, DHS, FBI, NCTC and others are working it.
What we want to do is to make sure that, for each one of these threats, there‘s a lead, and they‘re going to make sure that it moves forward.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, you—you mentioned the problems of intelligence-sharing before 9/11. But after 9/11, when the 9/11 Commission report came out, it was all about connecting the dots. And at that time, there was a pledge by the intelligence community to do better on connecting the dots.
And I‘m wondering, why from that—not from the pre-9/11, but from the post-9/11 Commission standpoint, why dots weren‘t connected? And when you say you‘re going to improve analysis, how is it going to happen this time when it didn‘t happen that time?
BRENNAN: Second point first. Analysis has, in fact, improved steadily. As I said, we have an amazing track record here within the United States, the intelligence community across the board, as far as identifying these plots early, disrupting them, thwarting them, and preventing those types of attacks, in every instance. So what we want to do is to make sure that we even raise that game even higher.
As far as information-sharing and those dots, in the past before 9/11, you had dots in separate databases that were separated from one another and were not connected from a network standpoint. Also, you had a husbanding of those dots by individual agencies and departments. We don‘t have that anymore. There‘s better interoperability. There‘s better accesses. More places have access to more of those dots that come in.
And so that‘s the challenge, is making sure that we can leverage the access to those dots so we can bring it up and identify all of these threats.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you mentioned—the president mentioned major investments forthcoming. There‘s already a billion dollars in the stimulus. Can we expect more investments beyond that billion dollars? And how will that be paid for? There are talks about raising airline security fees to cover some of these costs.
NAPOLITANO: Oh, I think it‘s premature to—to—to make that—those statements right now. I think that‘s part of the ongoing review that we‘ll undertake, as the—in the coming days, in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: But—but the major investments will be more than the billion in the stimulus? There‘s more money that will likely be requested beyond?
NAPOLITANO: Like I said, I think it‘s premature to—to put a number on it. But I will say that, as part of our review, we will be making ongoing recommendations to the president about what needs to do with domestic airports.
But don‘t lose sight of the fact, he was screened at an international airport, and it‘s the international air environment that we also need to work on.
And that‘s why we have undertaken this very rapid reach-out around the globe to say, look, this is an international issue. This affects the traveling public of people in countries around the world, their safety. These terrorists don‘t discriminate when they get ready to take down a plane. And so that‘s a very important part of the ongoing process, as well.
QUESTION: Robert, am I going to be able to ask non-terror-related questions at the end, if there‘s time?
GIBBS: If there‘s time, I‘m sure (OFF-MIKE)
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, I would like to pick up on something that General Jones said in his interview with USA Today. He referred to the Fort Hood massacre as strike one.
And I‘m curious if you can explain to the American public why things that were learned after Fort Hood—Yemen, a cleric who has quite a visible role in advocating for terrorism—didn‘t create within the intelligence community and the larger apparatus a higher sensitivity to the kinds of things also visible in the Abdulmutallab case? And how much does that disturb you?
And, secondarily, were you personally briefed, sir, by the prince of counterterrorism in Saudi about the possibility of explosives being hidden in garments or clothing as a—and did that get communicated down to the system, as well?
BRENNAN: On the issue of Mr. Awlaki, yes, we were very concerned after the Fort Hood shooting about what else he might be doing here. And that‘s why there was a very determined and concerted effort after that to take a look at what else he might be trying to accomplish here in the homeland.
Now, remember, Mr. Abdulmutallab was a much different story, in terms of a Nigerian who traveled to Yemen and then came over here. But what it clearly indicates is that there is a seriousness of purpose on the part of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to carry out attacks here in the United States, whether they‘re reaching people through the Internet or whether or not, in fact, they are sending people abroad.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied that the intelligence community sort of rose up and—and—and responded to what it learned about Fort Hood in a way that worked or didn‘t work?
BRENNAN: Absolutely. I think we have already sort of taken those corrective steps. That‘s one of the things I might want to just pause here and say—President Obama has directed several reviews of incidents, Fort Hood, as well as this. This one has been completed, a preliminary report, within two weeks‘ time, lightning speed, in my three decades within the U.S. government, as far as being—being able to bring an issue all the way through to have reports we can take corrective action as soon as possible.
We‘ve already done that with the Fort Hood report. We‘re instituting those changes. We‘re doing that here. This is going to be the start of a process. But within two weeks‘ time, we‘ve been able to identify, diagnose, and now take the corrective steps so that we can ensure that this is not going to...
QUESTION: And the Saudi prince?
BRENNAN: Yes, I was. I went out to Saudi Arabia a week after that attack, was able to work with the prince, see the place where—the—the room where the attack took place, talked about the explosives that were used in that, and the concerns about it, and we had serious concerns about it. That was an assassination attempt. And we‘re continuing to work with the Saudis and others about these types of techniques that are being used by al Qaeda.
And I think, as Secretary Napolitano said, what we‘re trying to do is to stay a step ahead. Obviously, they are looking at all these different types of techniques so they can defeat our security perimeter. So what we need to do is continue to advance and evolve, and that‘s what we‘re doing.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, how come—do you have any concern that the nation‘s national security apparatus is being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information it takes in...
QUESTION: ... can keep up with—with just the volume of stuff that you...
BRENNAN: I think the national security record, particularly on the counterterrorism front, is superb. What this country has been able to do, what the counterterrorism community has been able to do, with the increasing amount of information and the collection systems that have come in.
In fact, I think you see that what happened in—last month in Yemen, with our very good counterterrorism partner in Yemen, was able to actually address the growing threat of al Qaeda there, because of the tremendous ability for us to be able to collect information and use it swiftly.
So I think the national security establishment is well served by the changes that have taken place over the last half-dozen years, as well as what we‘re trying to do here in this administration to make sure that we‘re able to use the information that exists within the different data sets to address our national security priorities.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, you said that one of the most alarming things that you found was the strength of this al Qaeda cell in Yemen. What else is it capable of, did your review find or do you believe?
BRENNAN: Well, as I said, they—they have taken a number of different paths to try to carry out an attack. That attack against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a suicide bomber, concealed within his clothes an explosive device that, in fact, was very similar to the one that was used by Mr. Abdulmutallab.
They‘re also, though, carrying out attacks against hard structures, like the embassy, our embassy in Sanaa in 2008. So there‘s a diversity there, but there‘s also several hundred al Qaeda members within Yemen. And what we need to do is continue to work very closely with our Yemeni partners and other international partners to make sure that we‘re able to drive al Qaeda down within Yemen, because they do present a serious threat there, but also abroad.
QUESTION: Why should this have been such a surprise, though? Why should this have been such a surprise?
BRENNAN: What I‘m saying is that—they were able to bring a person into that execution phase and actually put them on an airport coming here to the United States. As I said, that was one of the failures. As far as we saw that this increased activity was taking place, but we were not focused enough on making sure that we were able to identify whoever was going to be used to carry out that type of attack.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything that would suggest that this terror suspect specifically chose Detroit, perhaps to send a message to the large Arab-American population there? And, on that point, when the president today talked about his concern about lone recruits being attracted to al Qaeda and their messaging, he talked about wanting to have some special efforts to break those kinds of—that kind of appeal. Is there anything that you‘ll be doing specifically in an area like southeastern Michigan, that has a very large Arab-American and Muslim population?
NAPOLITANO: The Department of Homeland Security has had outreach efforts into different populations, Muslim American populations, Somali communities across the United States, over the last years, trying to build bridges, so that there‘s good communication between us, even in the face of those who would distort a religion for terrorist purposes.
We need to look at strengthening those activities. We also need to look at the whole issue of what is called counter-radicalization. How do we identify someone before they become radicalized, to the point where they‘re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values, and so forth, in this country, but also around the globe?
How do we work with our allies, like the UK, on this? That‘s been a major topic of conversation between us and the UK over the prior months.
So you are right to point out that there‘s a whole kind of related issue here, which is how do we get into the process before somebody becomes so radicalized that they‘re ready to commit this kind of an act.
QUESTION: And did you find any reason to suspect that that particular flight was chosen because it was headed to Detroit, given the large Yemeni and Arab-American population there?
NAPOLITANO: You know, I think that‘s within the purview of the criminal case. So it wouldn‘t be appropriate for comment right now.
QUESTION: This goes to Madame Secretary and Mr. Brennan. Focusing on the international issue, Yemen, as well as Africa, has—since this attack, has anyone from the Yemen embassy or the Yemeni ambassador come to the White House, since the attack happened recently, to talk to anyone about this? Do you know?
NAPOLITANO: I can‘t talk to communication with the White House.
BRENNAN: We‘ve been in regular contact with the Yemeni government. I‘ve spoken to President Saleh, in fact, after this event took place. And the Yemeni foreign minister is going to be coming here. So there have been a number of interactions with our people, as well as with the Yemeni officials.
QUESTION: Now the issue of extradition—as I understand it, there‘s no extradition from Yemen. Is that an issue, particularly with the breeding of terrorists there, and extremists? Is that on the table with the Yemen government? Extraditing them?
BRENNAN: Back here to the united states? If in fact there‘s a reason to do that, we will do that. If they have someone.
QUESTION: And also, on the national issue, some of the national security community are saying that focus needs to be placed on the continent of Africa. You—the president‘s talked about Somalia. There are breeding grounds in Africa, where extremists from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border are going to Somalia. And there‘s a fear that the tentacles will spread from there into Northern Africa and Europe.
Have you, or anyone here, talked to any of the African leaders? And is Afri-Com appropriate to handle this kind of situation right now, after the Christmas attack?
NAPOLITANO: Let me just say that, as I mentioned, we‘ve already deployed high officials from our department around the globe. And, indeed, they will be going to Africa as well. They need to be part of the solution. This is a global travel issue. Not just, as I‘ve said before, the United States. So, indeed, there‘s active engagement there.
BRENNAN: There are many different groups in Africa that are a serious concern from a terrorist perspective, Al Qaeda in East Africa, al Shabah (ph), al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. We‘ve had an on-going and robust dialog with African countries and leaders, as well as with other countries in the area.
But we see that as an area, in fact, that al Qaeda preys upon, that they particularly are looking in Africa for recruits. And this is something that we‘re very concerned about in following.
QUESTION: -- instead of just having Afri-Com particularly just handling this—
BRENNAN: Afri-Com is just one of many elements of the US government, as far as the Department of State and others, who are engaging with African countries and leaders in a way to address this issue, from the standpoint of both cooperation, security training and our systems.
QUESTION: John, to follow up on that question, is there any information that the government has been able to analyze now that you had prior to Christmas, but hadn‘t gotten to analyze yet, that is now sitting retrospectively into sort of explaining what had happened?
BRENNAN: There‘s a lot of information that‘s being reanalyzed and reevaluated in light of this, because any type of instance like this, it gives us new insights into methods, modus operandi and other types of things. So there‘s scouring going on right now of all the different data sets within the intelligence community to identify. And we are pursuing a number of leads as a result of that review.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about any of those findings? The report today was scrubbed. Is what was released today to us a greatly redacted version of what‘s been presented to the president and does that explain the delay this afternoon?
GIBBS: As I said earlier, part of the delay is in declassifying a very complex document. And we apologize for the delay. Lynn?
QUESTION: Is the system already in place, meaning if the father would have gone into—went to the embassy in a similar situation to date, would it immediately happen—would the cross tab come up with the fact that the person had a visa, for example? The next one—isn‘t that one of the things that you‘re talking about? I‘m wondering if the fix is already installed?
And to Secretary Napolitano, since there aren‘t body imaging machines all over the world, I take it that pat downs might be used. What do you say to people who are just squeamish about the person privacy being invaded and body searches?
NAPOLITANO: Well, obviously, as we move to strengthen security, we always have this balance to be struck with issues about personal privacy. Here in the United States, we train officers on how to properly conduct a pat down. They do it in other countries around the world as well.
Part of the initiative that we are undertaking is to make sure that that kind of training and capacity is in built in continents around the globe. But you are right, it is likely, in addition to the things I listed, that there will be increased use of pat downs as well.
BRENNAN: On the first question, I‘m confident that we have taken a variety of corrective measures that would have allowed us, had we taken them before, to identify Mr. Abdulmutallab as somebody of concern. He was identified as an extremist by his father, not a terrorist, not somebody who was planning to carry out a violent act.
Particularly the Counter Terrorism Center has been working day and night, since this December 25th attempted attack, has been scouring all of the databases, identities databases, as well as all-source databases, to make those correlations. I‘m confident that they have done that very thoroughly.
GIBBS: Thank you, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Napolitano.
MATTHEWS: Richard Ben-Veniste is still with us, as is former senator from Washington State, Slade Gorton. Richard, what grabbed you in that briefing by Janet Napolitano and by John Brennan, the security chief?
BEN-VENISTE: I think everything they said we can agree with. What‘s somewhat mystifying is how the information that was available to customs and border patrol, which had sent the message to hold this man, Abdulmutallab, after he got off the plane for screening and questioning, was not utilized before he got on the plane. I think there are questions about that.
MATTHEWS: The tide list. He was on the 500,000-person tide list. It was available to the authorities in Detroit. That would have been too late to protect the airline.
BEN-VENISTE: That same information should have been available to subject him to secondary screening in Amsterdam. One of the recommendations, as Slade will tell us, as well, that we made in our final report had to do with these transit airports, where people from third-world countries transit through western European countries to come to the United States, since there are very few nonstop direct flights from those places to here. And to improve the security in these locations.
That‘s an area that I think must be focused on. There was not a sense of urgency in the last five years to do that, as well as to give TSA much more authority in connection with these lists.
BEN-VENISTE: That‘s being done, now we hear, from the president directly.
MATTHEWS: Senator Gorton, it seems to me if you‘re in the Amsterdam airport—we were there a while ago—it‘s such a modern airport. It‘s certainly more modern than most of our airports. You wonder why they don‘t have the same sense of urgency about detecting trouble.
GORTON: Look, from the description from Secretary Napolitano, the Amsterdam airport did exactly what would have happened somewhere in the United States now. He got exactly the same kind of screening that he would have got most places here.
I would like to move become and say I agree fully with Richard. That question of how something came up while he was in the air is an intriguing one. And I hope that we—I hope we learn more about it.
I guess I‘d have to say this. I found the president to be much more precise and much more decisive, you know, than the people who were working for him inn this last half hour. One of the problems here was that when the father of this guy went in to the consulate in Nigeria and said, you know, my son—I thought he said he was a terrorist, an extremist—that wasn‘t sufficient to put him on a no-fly list.
As I heard the president say ---as I heard the president say, in the future, it will be. One entry into a computer and he goes on a no-fly list. He loses his visa, and then maybe he can go and persuade that this is all wrong and he ought to be allowed back, but the burden of proof is on him.
Secretary Napolitano just said, I think, we are studying that. I hope the president was right. That would be very, very important to do.
MATTHEWS: Gentlemen, you were both on the 9/11 Commission. Let me go back to that very point you raise. If a father goes to the point of turning in his son, in any situation, but imagine turning him into the intelligence agency from another country. He went and talked in Lagos, Nigeria, to the station chief for the CIA. In other words, he turned his son into the CIA, six weeks before he boarded that plane.
What more do we want? And then also within the CIA, they knew before he got on that plane that there was a Nigerian working with the Yemenis-based al Qaeda organization that was going to do something in the area of terrorism.
Two questions I put to you, Richard, and then to the senator. Why didn‘t the CIA people in Yemen call up the people in Nigeria, ask to talk to the station chief who had talked to the father of this kid, and said, you got any trouble makers there? We hear there is a Nigerian coming to cause some trouble?
Second question, why didn‘t the station chief in Lagos, Nigeria, call the people in Yemen when he was told by the father of the kid he is heading to Yemen and he is going to cause some trouble? We were handed this. And this casualness with which they say there was no human error—well, these were human people. The station chief, the CIA people in Yemen are human beings. It isn‘t systemic. They didn‘t act.
Now, the president‘s trying to create some urgency here, trying to goose these people into acting like normal common sense people would act. And I know I‘m speaking in retrospect. And it is easier. But it is a lot harder to defend this thing in retrospect than to see what could have worked better. Richard? Right? Am I right?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think there were missed opportunities all along the line here. What we had here was a very significant red flag. Remember that we now know—
MATTHEWS: The father‘s waving the red flag in our face and saying my son. He goes to the head of the CIA in his country, turns his son over to the head of the intelligence organization, in many ways the most feared intelligence agency in the world, and says, my son is trouble, catch him. And what happens? Nothing.
We will be right back with Richard Ben-Veniste and Slade Gorton, both members of the 9/11 who know their stuff. We will be back at 7:00 Eastern with a live program, the entire new edition of HARDBALL. We are going to get to the politics of this thing, as well as the realities of the intelligence failure. Back into this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Richard, do you share the statement just a moment ago by Senator Gorton—you are both members of the 9/11 Commission—that these briefers weren‘t as effective or as sharp in their points as the president?
BEN-VENISTE: I think they are coming from a different perspective. They were more in the weeds than trying to respond to questions. I think the president was very focused and very determined to fix what went wrong. I think he was shocked. Frankly, he was PO‘d by what he learned immediately after the aborted attack, and recognizing the potential for harm, and learning the amount of information in different pieces and tranches that were available.
For me, the information that al Awlaki (ph), who was key to all of this, was involved in the original piece of information about a Nigerian coming to the United States as part of a holiday attack on the United States soil—this means Yemen, and this then should have been knitted up with the information from the father, who talked about his son in Yemen, who had become radicalized. Someone should have at least pulsed the system to put these two pieces together.
I think, at the end of the day, you are going to find some human error, people working 14, 16 hours under very difficult conditions, who did not put this together. It will require additional resources to field and to knit together these diverse pieces of information that come in every day from all over the world.
MATTHEWS: Senator Gorton, last thought, Awlaki was involved, perhaps, in the Fort Hood matter, involved in this at the outset. We talked to Jim Jones, national security director, who said two strikes against the president, failure to act against the Awlaki connection. The guy is still over there. Are we facing a third attack from this guy, directed by him and wasn‘t addressed today at all in these briefings?
GORTON: Of course we are. But I want to go back to the important point, that the information we got from Lagos, under the previous system, wasn‘t sufficient to do anything. It wasn‘t enough. The rules weren‘t strict enough on it. The president said, as I heard him, in the future, it will be. It would have automatically disqualified him. I hope the president is right.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator Slade Gorton from Washington State, Richard Ben-Veniste, both members of the 9/11 Commission. We will be right back at 7:00 Eastern with a live edition of HARDBALL tonight on this hot topic. That‘s one hour from now.
Coming up right now, “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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