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CNN Today

Congress Addresses Need to Tighten Naval Security

Aired October 27, 2000 - 2:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Navy now says it's taking a hard look at its security procedures at home and overseas in the wake of the attack on the USS Cole.

Republican Congressman Jim Saxton of New Jersey is thinking about holding hearings on naval security. Now, he is chairman of the House special oversight panel on terrorism -- you saw him being presented with that videotape report from WABC. He joins us now from Washington.

Congressman, have you been surprising any of your colleagues with this information that you've learned about?

REP. JIM SAXTON (R), NEW JERSEY: Very much. We have already had one classified hearing on this subject -- or where this subject was discussed. And I think people were quite surprised to hear this.

I must say that, for the past 10 years, I have been working on issues like this. And even I, after all of the experience I've had in studying and addressing issues that have to do with terrorism, I was surprised that Jim could take his small boat in right alongside our warships.

WATERS: I was taken by the Navy's response. They wouldn't speak on camera but they said, essentially, the threat level in the United States is low. That, essentially, if we are alerted, we tighten up.

The question I had to that response is, what if they're not alerted?

SAXTON: Well -- and that's the very nature of terrorism. People are able to -- terrorists are able to successfully carry out their strikes because you never know where they're going to be or when they're going to be there. And so it is a very real threat, not over to our bases overseas, as we have seen, unfortunately, demonstrated just recent; but it's also a threat here in the United States to think that someone who had the will to do so, could have a boat like Jim's and have a result similar to the Cole.

WATERS: Would you agree with Admiral Eugene Carroll's assessment in that piece, that the Navy's guard is down?

SAXTON: Well, the Navy's guard is down; and I asked a question the other day in a closed forum about this. And I guess I'm not at liberty to say what the answer was because it was a classified forum bit, I think, suffice it to say that most of the time in the United States, the Navy's guard is down.

WATERS: What are you going to do about this now?

SAXTON: Well, you know, I think there's a growing awareness that the threat has changed. In fact, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said, way back in 1990, that when the Soviet Union goes away, the threat won't. The threat will change.

One of the changes that we have seen is the emergence of what we call an asymmetrical threat which is terrorism. And, obviously, with the new technology available to terrorists, the powerful explosives that they can use, as demonstrated, unfortunately at the Cole. This is a threat that the American people need to become more aware of and that Congress and the armed serves are going to have to deal with in an effective way.

As many have said, it's not a question of whether we'll be hit, it's a question of when.

WATERS: Does it bother you that you even have to, as a member of Congress, or the Congress a whole, has to deal with this? The United States has just lost 17 sailors in an apparent terrorist attack overseas. This videotape was presented to you and, I imagine, other members of the Navy to respond to. You would think that the Navy would respond immediately, would you not -- oh my God, I can't believe this is happening?

SAXTON: Well, we're going to see to it that we can do everything that we can to get all of the services to respond to this potential threat. Obviously this story by WABC News is very timely because of the Cole, but there are other weaknesses in our system as well.

The GAO recently did -- that is the General Accounting Office -- recently did a study and a report on our overseas bases and detailed some of the weakness, or many of the weaknesses there. I have asked the General Accounting Office now to do a detailed study of our U.S. national bases in this country to determine what needs to be done there and to make recommendations.

And I've also written to the secretary of defense and we'll be having a meeting with him, I hope, in the next few weeks -- or one of his representatives -- in the next few weeks, to discuss in some detail what the threat is and how we can expect the military to move forward to deal with it.

WATERS: We began the story by mentioning that the defense secretary is calling on his commanders to beef up anti-terrorist protection overseas. To your knowledge, is Mr. Cohen aware of this report that you and I and others are considering right now?

SAXTON: Well, I have written to the secretary of the Navy and have spelled this story out before it was ever on television. So the Navy -- the secretary of the Navy is aware of it and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to meet with the DOD officials who are responsible. And I think another thing that we need to be very realistic about, is that adequate defenses against terrorism require resourcing; and so the Congress has a role to play here as well. Obviously, the military has only so much money to spend; and if we are serious about defending our military personnel, which we have to be, then we have got to provide the resources and the money for those defenses to be effective.

WATERS: And we'll be following your efforts. Thanks, sir...

SAXTON: Thank you.

WATERS: ... for spending with us, Congressman Saxton from New Jersey.

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