August 4, 2003
Senator Gary Hart Talks about Terrorism, the Bush Administration and What's Not Being Done to Prevent Further Attacks
"And that was our first recommendation to the President. And it was that failure to act -– to begin to do that -– that I think permitted this event to happen."
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If anyone knows that the United States -– and the Bush Administration -– should have seen September 11th coming, it’s Gary Hart.
Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart co-chaired both the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which issued three public reports forecasting the age of terrorism and outlined a new, post-Cold War national security policy, as well as the Council on Foreign Relations task force on homeland security, which recently released its report "America -- Still Unprepared, Still in Danger."
Many of the issues Hart presciently raised and discussed in the 1970s and 1980s -- including military reform, intelligence reform, energy independence, and a number of others -- have now begun to re-enter the arena of national debate. In the late 1990s, Hart's mastery of security issues and grasp of foreign policy led him to make multiple and tragically unheeded predictions -- one as late as September 5, 2001 -- that America would be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction.
No longer a "prophet without honor" in the wake of 9-11, Gary Hart believes the United States is still woefully unprepared to intercept and respond to attacks on American territory. Like a latter-day Paul Revere, he is continuing to provide direction to both his party and his country in an age marred by terrorism.
(Much of this introduction is excerpted from Senator Hart’s weblog [LINK])
In the light of the recently released 9/11 report, BuzzFlash turned to Senator Hart to provide some insight into America's war on terrorism.
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BUZZFLASH: First I wanted to ask you, before we get into the Hart-Rudman report, on your Garyhartnews.com [LINK] of June 25th, you wrote, "Meanwhile" – and I’m quoting – "the Administration’s efforts to remake the Middle East to our liking, with all the ramifications of benign imperialism, goes on. It just happens to have little to do with the real war on terrorism." Can you explain a little more what you meant by that?
SENATOR GARY HART: Well, I think when the history of this military engagement is written, the real purposes behind it will have to do much more with the politics in the Middle East than with any war on terrorism. We are not, in North Korea or anywhere else, preemptively attacking nations whose governments we do not like, or who are oppressive to their own people, or even in the case of North Korea, which possesses weapons of mass destruction and might use them against us. So all the arguments used that were ostensibly the reason for war in Iraq, I think, were efforts by the Administration to bring Iraq under the umbrella of the war on terrorism. They worked for the moment, but now that we are trying to make the case, we’re not able to do so. I think the real reasons, as I’ve said, had a lot more to do with our long-range objectives in the Middle East and the Arab world.
BUZZFLASH: Among the controversies about the just-released 9/11 report, there are a couple things we’d like your comments on. First of all, the missing pages that allegedly have to do with support by individuals within Saudi Arabia -- and perhaps within the government -- for Al-Qaida. Do you have any comment on that? Some would argue that the Bush Administration has been covering up for Saudi Arabia, and that there are far more indications of connections between Saudi Arabia and al-Qaida than Iraq had.
HART: I gather you’re talking about the Congressional report that just came out.
HART: Well, it’s very difficult for us to want to withhold that portion of the report on the grounds of protecting the Saudis, when the Saudi government officially stated it wishes the report released. And I gather the Saudi Foreign Minister made that case to the President. So it puts us in a position of protecting a government that claims it doesn't want to be protected. I think frankly, if it looks like that, we’re endangering the Saudi government in the region, because essentially what we’re saying is we’re so close to the Saudis we need to protect them in this. And the Saudis don't want to be protected. And that makes them look very beholden to us politically. And so I don't see as it’s doing anybody any good. You can blank out sources and methods –- how you learned something or who gave it to you –- and still 95% of that section could be released, and I think it should be.
BUZZFLASH: Now, you co-chaired the Hart-Rudman report, and it was officially released just about the time that the Bush Administration came into office. And it received some coverage –- not a tremendous amount -- but some media attention was given to it. And I have a CNN article in front of me from February 1, 2001, which says, in the introduction to an article about the Hart-Rudman report, "While few officials doubt the group’s research, some question whether these suggestions are possible and necessary." How did you feel at the time that the report received coverage, but pretty much died down as much news does after awhile if there’s no one to keep it alive?
HART: Well, first of all, there were three reports. The first was issued sometime before the one you mentioned. These are all public -– rolled out in news conferences with full notification to the press. And the first report said that America would be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and Americans would lose their lives on American soil, possibly in large numbers. The date of that report was September 15th, 1999 -– two years, almost to the day, before the attack on the World Trade Center. Furthermore, a second report came out in the spring of 2000, and the third one is the one that you mentioned. The first of fifty recommendations, all of which were eminently doable, was to create a National Homeland Security agency. And if CNN or anyone else was saying that it wasn't feasible, well, two years later, we had one finally created. So the question was: are you going to do it before the terrorists attack, or afterwards? And unfortunately, the Administration waited until well afterwards.
I would point out also that the so-called newspaper of record, the New York Times, didn't print one word about that final report. Keep in mind this wasn't just another federal commission. This was the most comprehensive review of U.S. national security since 1947. And so we weren't competing with a thousand other federal commissions. This was groundbreaking stuff, and we had spent two and a half years putting these recommendations and findings together.
BUZZFLASH: Because of that intensity of work that was put into it, it covers a lot of ground. And I won't ask you to try to review all of it. But let me ask you about a couple of significant areas of discussion. One was the issue of the National Security Council at the White House, and that it had perhaps become too imbalanced over the years, too reflective of a given administration’s position, not necessarily just the Bush Administration. We certainly saw that under Nixon and his relationship with Kissinger, and your commission recommended that more power should be returned to the State Department. Do you feel that events have borne out that finding?
HART: Yes, I think so, having very little to do with 9/11. But I think most of us felt, and many others have felt, that the power of the National Security Council has grown well beyond what its original purposes were -– that is, to coordinate the security activities of major branches of government. It has become a second State Department, and a competitor with the State Department. That happened well before the Bush Administration. It’s been going on for quite some time. And it’s, in almost every administration, been the source of friction and grievance and confusion. So it seemed to all of us who had studied the matter for some time that it made eminent sense to reestablish a proper balance between a smaller and more discrete national security staff and the State Department, which is tasked with conducting the foreign policy of the United States.
BUZZFLASH: The Hart-Rudman Report mentions the importance of human intelligence gathering. Can you explain that a little bit? Has our reliance in the recent past been on gathering intelligence primarily through technology?
HART: Well, in the latter days of the Cold War, technology permitted us, through the use of overhead satellites and very sophisticated listening stations and devices, to acquire a great deal of information. Indeed, at some points, more than we could ever possibly digest. And, as our reliance and fascination with those sources expanded, we more and more neglected the agent on the ground, and particularly the agent penetrating organizations that might pose a threat.
And it was just very simple -– if you believe that one of the largest, if not the largest threat, of the early 21st Century is going to be terrorism, these are non-state organizations that do not lend themselves to the kind of electronic surveillance that nation-states do, with capitals and governments, and established networks of communication and so on. So it’s just kind of common sense that if you’re going to fight terrorism in this new world, that you’re going to have to get agents inside those organizations to tell you when, where and how they intend to act.
BUZZFLASH: In a news story prior to the interview, we were looking back on the history of the recommendations from the Hart-Rudman reports. And one news story mentioned that you had tried to warn the Bush administration, I’m quoting from them, "Hart pleaded with the Bush Administration to take the Al-Qaida threat seriously, throughout the spring and summer of 2001, with Hart even meeting personally with Rice just one week before the Twin Towers were attacked." Do you have any comment about this interpretation of events?
HART: I’d put it differently. There were fourteen of us, and not all of us agreed or shared the same degree of urgency about this threat. We all concluded that it existed. We all concluded that it was going to happen. The question was: would it be sooner or later? I felt, and I think a few others felt, a higher degree of urgency about this. And in my case, I went around the country. Keep in mind the mandate of the commission required that it be dissolved by February 15th, 2001. We got an extension because there were Congressional committees that wanted testimony from us. But by and large, once we delivered the reports, as a body, we had pretty much completed our work.
But individually, I went around the country, gave speeches and urged people to pay more attention to this. I also urged reporters and journalists to pay more attention. One of the speeches I gave was in Montreal, ironically, to an International Air Transportation Association meeting. And the next morning, the Montreal papers’ headlines were: "Hart Predicts Terrorist Attacks on America."
BUZZFLASH: And when was that?
HART: That was the day I went down to Washington and met with Dr. Rice, whom I had known before. And I said, "Please get going more urgently on the issue of homeland security." And that was September the 6th, 2001 –- five days before the attack.
BUZZFLASH: Rice has said that Bush was briefed, I believe, on August 6th of 2001 -– if that’s not the exact date, it’s within a couple of days –- that there might indeed be serious bombings by Al-Qaida in the United States, or hijackings, but that they couldn't predict planes would be flown into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. Do you have any response to that?
HART: Our commission did not have the resources to give detailed projections as to how, when and where. But the fact is that for two years we had said this was going to happen, and one major step that needed to be taken was to coordinate existing federal assets, particularly our border control agencies -– Coast Guards, Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We were very explicit about that, and we had been. And that was our first recommendation to the President. And it was that failure to act -– to begin to do that -– that I think permitted this event to happen. No one believes in absolute security. But the goal is to make it as difficult for the attackers as possible, and we had not done that. There had been no –- to my knowledge -– no major step taken by this administration in the period between January and September to stop these attacks, including coordinating the databases and communication systems of the Board of Control Agency and the INS. Everybody since 9/11 that’s looked at the situation has said the porousness of that system is what permitted these people to do what they did. And the question is: what, if anything, did the administration do between January 31st and September the 11th? And the answer is: not very much.
Now a commission of fourteen people cannot substitute for the federal government of the United States. The President had the power. The President controlled the FBI and the CIA. And when the tragedy happened, no one was fired. Why is that? Why was there no accountability? So instead of pointing the finger at us, and say: well, if you’d just told us they were going to use airplanes, and that the target was the World Trade Center, and it was going to be September 11th, maybe we could have done something. That’s total nonsense.
BUZZFLASH: Well, we’ve pointed out on BuzzFlash on a number of occasions that when Rice mentioned that they knew of hijackings, but not hijackings into buildings, that this was beyond ridiculous, because the way you stop a hijacking into a building is the same way you stop a hijacking.
BUZZFLASH: And so though the ultimate destination perhaps, according to her, was not known to them, the means of preventing it was the same.
HART: Yes. I was told very recently that there was somebody in the intelligence community that created a scenario that did involve the use of airplanes. I haven't seen that scenario or where it came from, but I didn't know it existed until somebody said it –- that it had been in one or more scenarios.
BUZZFLASH: Your co-chairman of the Hart-Rudman committee, former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman, headed the panel for the Council on Foreign Relations that recently released a report that says -- and I quote – "The United States remains dangerously ill-prepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil." This was just released a short time ago. And particularly that we were lacking in equipping and training the so-called first responders.
BUZZFLASH: The Administration dismissed this as a commission outside the government that didn't really have access to enough information to make these judgments. What do you think about that finding?
HART: Well, first of all, to complete the record, that report succeeds one that Senator Rudman and I did for the Council on Foreign Relations in October 25, 2002 –- last fall. We did one on the anniversary of the attacks to assess how much progress had been made in homeland security in the year following 9/11. Our report was entitled, "America’s Still at Risk. America’s Still Unprepared."
The members of that panel included two former Secretaries of State, including George Shultz and Warren Christopher, three Nobel Prize winners, some of the top security experts in the country. And Warren [Rudman] and I, who had, by now, spent three or four years of our lives on this -– to say we were outside the government, and therefore couldn't know what was going on, is nonsense. We talked to an awful lot of first responders. I personally have talked with mayors. I’ve talked with fire departments, police departments. We talked with the City of New York. We talked to an awful lot of people. And so this wasn't wild speculation. Warren’s report absolutely tracks what all of us have been reporting all along; that is, that the integration of the federal, state and local government simply has not taken place.
BUZZFLASH: Now, something horrible happened on September 11th -- surprised the Bush Administration, surprised us all, terrified this country. Since that time, the Bush Administration has said: trust us; if you challenge us, you’re unpatriotic. Everyone’s concerned about terrorism. I mean, this is a natural human instinct. We want to protect ourselves, protect our families. I hate to ask the proverbial question, but if you were president, what would you be doing that’s not being done? And what would you not do that’s being done? In short, what are the gaps here beyond the first responders?
HART: Well, the Administration has three massive tasks of integration. The first is to integrate the 22 federal departments that are part of a new Homeland Security Department. That’s a massive task. It’s going to take quite awhile. And part of it’s happening, but it’s not happening fast enough. The key word here is urgency. There is no sense of urgency.
The second, as I’ve said, is to integrate the federal system. The first responders are not federal forces. They are state and local forces –- by and large, local. This is a test of the federal system, meaning the national government, state governments –- fifty state governments –- and thousands of local governments. The federal government’s role is to train and equip, and to provide the resources for those state and local responders, particularly local. They are not doing that. They are not doing it nearly fast enough. So across the board, whether it’s a communication system, whether it is databases, whether it is linking local databases to the federal database and watch lists, training emergency health workers, training and equipping the National Guard, port security -– the list goes on. It’s contained in the first Council on Foreign Relations report last fall and the second one this summer, in considerable detail.
The third integration that no one -- almost no one -– ever talks about is to integrate the public and the private sector. There is something called the critical infrastructure. That’s composed of financial systems, communication systems, transportation systems, and energy production and distribution systems, all of which are critical to the operation of our society and our economy. Virtually none of those industries have been hardened or prepared for cyberattack or any other attack. And then you’ve got other industries, including chemicals, food and so forth that also have to be protected. And the federal government can't do all this. Those industries themselves have to be tasked, either by law or by Presidential leadership, with making themselves less vulnerable to being used as a means of attacking our society.
An example: legislation was introduced in the last Congress to get the chemical industry to harden its sites and protect them better. Every member of the chemical industry lobbied against that legislation. And no word was heard from President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or Governor Ridge about the duty of the chemical industry as good citizens to help protect itself and the American people. And there was no meeting in the White House chaired by the President with the CEOs of any of these industries, saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, here’s what I expect you to do as loyal American citizens to help make this country invulnerable. You are not doing it. Now does anybody here have a problem with that? I want to see your hand." No hand would be raised. That would be strong Presidential leadership.
BUZZFLASH: Let's return to where we started, which is the war in Iraq and the Middle East, and the quote from your entry in Garyhartnews.com, which is to say, if you were president, would you have considered Iraq a target to expend $4 billion a month and the loss of so many lives as significant enough in the war on terrorism to spend those costs and lose those lives? Or were there other targets or uses of our limited defense forces and funds that probably might have better served to advance the war on terrorism?
HART: I don't think you put it in dollar terms. I think you rather say where are the most immediate threats to American security and American lives. And I would not have put Iraq first in that war on terrorism. North Korea comes ahead, possibly one or two other places; Al-Qaida certainly. And I agree with Bob Graham when he says that the war in Iraq took our focus away from Al-Qaida. When was the last time you heard anything about us finding any Al-Qaida people? So by mistakenly or erroneously dragging Iraq into the war on terrorism, or making it the highest priority, we have, in fact, dispersed our resources and taken our eye off the principal challenges that we face. There was an alternative.
People say, well, so you were just willing to let Saddam Hussein prepare to attack us. Of course not. The alternative was coercive, intrusive, permanent inspection, permanently keeping Saddam in his box. And that could have been done totally with international support. And instead, the administration was so hell bent on regime change –- getting rid of him –- that they overrode the international community on the grounds this had to do with our security, when no proof had been made that it did. In fact, the arguments that were made for the war having to do with our security have almost all turned out to be wrong.
BUZZFLASH: As a final question, Bush and the Attorney General and Vice President Cheney have said and/or implied that to challenge them on how they’re conducting the war on terrorism is, in essence, unpatriotic. Do you have any thoughts about that?
HART: Of course, it’s nonsense. This is kind of the last refuge of scoundrels –- to say that anybody who disagrees with you is unpatriotic. It’s almost not worthy of response. Anybody who says "my way or the highway," including the President of the United States, or any party that says "we define patriotism and if you don't agree with us, you’re unpatriotic," hasn't read the Constitution or doesn't have a clue about what the history of this country’s about.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original