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America's New War: How Should America Respond to Terrorist Aggression?

Aired September 14, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Thanks, Wolf. It's been a day of mourning. The question: What next? How does America respond? Our conversation tonight with Larry Johnson, a former State Department counterterrorism official, and Jerry Bremer, who is the former chairman of the Nation Commission on Terrorism. Bill Press?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Mr. Bremer, as Americans all of us feel as if we've been victims or wounded by these attacks, even though not directly. For you there was a very direct, personal toll. Your company, Marsh-McLennan, located in the south tower of the World Trade Center. How badly were you hurt and what is your company -- how are you dealing with this?

JERRY BREMER, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORISM: We don't have final numbers yet. But we've obviously lost several hundreds of employees in this attack.

PRESS: Your office was located in the south tower? Where?

BREMER: Most of the people who were missing were in the south tower. The high floors above -- really, at the place and above where the second aircraft hit.

PRESS: How many did you have working there?

BREMER: We had a total 1,700 employees in the two buildings.

PRESS: Of which how many are accounted for?

BREMER: We can account for all but about 450.

PRESS: 450 missing among that -- of that total that Wolf gave us a little earlier.

A lot of us -- the question that I hear from people that I've talked to is -- and I'm sure this is true to some of your employees, too. How do you know it's over? I mean, the people who were in those planes are dead. But we haven't found the person who coordinated the attacks yet. There's been not one arrest yet of any other suspects. We know there must be other people in this country. Isn't it pretty clear that they are here, and that they could very well strike again, and it's not over? BREMER: Well, I think it isn't over. Even -- I mean, I would say it wouldn't even be over if we already had arrested all the people who did this, because we are -- people talk about this being another Pearl Harbor. And in a way it is in this sense. Pearl Harbor was the battle of a first long war, and this is the first battle of a long war. And as in Pearl Harbor, we lost this battle. In fact, this is going to turn out to be worse than Pearl Harbor. But as in the last war, we are going to win in the end.

It's going to be a long campaign, as Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday. This is not going to be a one-time thing. We're not going to talk about retaliation. Retaliations implies a tit for tat. We're talking about war, and it's a campaign. In a campaign there are going to be a lot of battles. We're going to win some of these battles, we're going to lose some of these battles. There are going to be more civilian casualties on both sides. More Americans will die.

Maybe there are more of these guys in the U.S. now. I certainly hope we catch them if they are. But I think now -- my sense talking to people, just as I move around in Washington and New York -- is that the American people are ready to understand and to be led by the president in what is going to be a very difficult task.

CARLSON: Larry Johnson, let's talk about the long war that Mr. Bremer is referring to. There appears to be a consensus (a) that nabbing a few terrorist leaders won't do it, and (b) that a ground war in Afghanistan is not likely to be fruitful. The implication is the United States will move against a country. What country do you think that is going to be?

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: The swamp where the mosquitoes in this case reside is Afghanistan. They are not only housing Osama Bin Laden, the Egyptian -- two of most radical Egyptian groups, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Al Gamaa -- Islamiya. The Saudi Hezbollah has a presence there as well. Most of the groups that have been targeting and killing Americans are hiding out and receiving safe haven in Afghanistan. They've been training.

Last year, 60 percent of the people who died in international terrorist attacks died in India. The people carrying out the attacks came from camps in Afghanistan that were passing through Pakistan. Pakistan is also on the list, and it's a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, they've been our very best friend in helping turn over terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef, the bomber of the World Trade Center, Mir Aimal Kasi, the fellow who assassinated CIA employees.

That said, they've been supporting the Taliban, and they've got to make a very difficult choice. They've got to either be on our side or the wrong side.

CARLSON: But what's -- Afghanistan specifically.


CARLSON: Parts of it famously inaccessible, famously difficult to have any effect by air. Of course we failed to kill Osama bin Laden a couple of years ago with -- from the air. So what does that mean exactly for American forces? Does it mean sending ground troops into Afghanistan?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the Bush administration is moving in the right fashion. No. 1, we do not want to get in a situation where it's the United States against a Muslim country alone. That's point one. They're moving to build a coalition, and when you -- the body count is done after the World Trade Center, it's U.S., it's Europeans, it's Latin Americans, it's Asians, and it will also be Middle Easterners whose bodies lie in that rubble.

And therefore, that is why this is an attack against the world. So there you can ratchet it up to diplomatic pressure, but ultimately when we go into a military -- one of the hesitations in the past, you have to have forward staging bases. Until we get Pakistan on board, that is difficult. But now with the Russians coming in, you're looking at the countries Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the north border of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has got a real serious problem down the road.

PRESS: I want to follow up there, Mr. Bremer, with Osama Bin Laden. "The Washington Post" reports the CIA has had basically a blank check to go after Osama Bin Laden and either capture him or eliminate him -- since 1998. He has eluded us. The most powerful nation on earth. He has eluded us for the last three years. What makes us think that we can get him now?

BREMER: When we talk about the next steps, it's lot more complicated than Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan. Basically, we need a three-ring strategy. The inner ring of that strategy is to find out who did this -- and looks like it was Bin Laden -- and punish him, basically eliminate him if we can, and any state which provided him support, which means in this case Afghanistan. And in my view, I differ from Larry. I think it is going to mean putting an expeditionary force into Afghanistan with all that entails.

The next ring out is to deal with all of the terrorist groups, both Bin Laden's and others, that are around the circle. There are a lot of states which support terrorism and have looked the other way for the last eight years. Syria, for example. Lebanon. Pakistan, as Larry points out.

We're going to have to get the international community to take seriously that unless the third ring -- the third ring is to get a new international consensus that says terrorism is simply no longer acceptable. We had a pretty good international consensus during the '80s under American leadership. We've lost it a bit now in the '90s, because of a feckless counterterrorist policy during the Clinton administration. And we're going to have to get it back. These three rings all have to operate together.

It's a very difficult strategy. And the inner ring, as you said, Tucker, is militarily very difficult. I lived in Afghanistan. I know the people of Afghanistan and I know the terrain, and they are both very tough. There is already snow falling in the Hindu Kush mountains. Going into Afghanistan has been the death of many expeditionary forces. So it's not an easy operation.

PRESS: You can ask the Russians. Let me suggest that there may be a fourth ring, which is the American people. Right now they stand very strong, they stand very united. I want to show you maybe a little contradiction in our latest CNN poll asking the American people what they would support. The first question: would you support strategic airstrikes against military targets. 85 percent, right, are there. Opposed, only 11 percent. But you make that question, "Would you support massive bombings that might kill civilians?" 48 percent favor, 46 percent oppose.

We want to do it from the air without any -- without any American casualties, correct?

BREMER: Let me say this. This is basically the challenge of presidential leadership. The president's father faced the same kinds of polls before the Gulf War, and he turned it around entirely through an act of great presidential leadership in the fall of 1990. And this president now faces the similar challenge. He's got, certainly, a base of support, as you point out.

Basically, it's not the fourth ring. It's the base on which all three rings are built. He's got that base now, as you could see in the video clips of the reaction of the people down the at World Trade Center today. And now he's got the challenge as president to lead that forward, to do what is going to be done. It's going to be tough. We should not be kidding ourselves. There are going to be a lot more casualties.

CARLSON: Mr. Johnson, nothing is scarier to most people than the idea of dying in a plane crash.


CARLSON: What can we do to make air travel safer?

JOHNSON: We need do what we should have done 10 years ago. And there are four basic, very simple steps. Number one, we need to eliminate the double standards that we have for aviation security. There is one set in place for international, another set in place domestic. And in fact, even domestically you have one level for some airports and a different level. Stop the nonsense, because that is predicated on being able to predict what someone is going to do. We can't do that. Build one system, high security, that's the standard.

Second, professionalize and federalize the folks that man the security checkpoints at the airports, even though in this case the breakdown was not there. Nonetheless, we need to make sure that that is professional position because there is entirely too much turnover and too many unsophisticated people.

Third, need to have all the equipment that's available technologically, from detecting weapons and detecting explosives at those airports. At all airports. Not just some airports, at all airports. Right now, what we do in some parts of the country, we assume that nobody going to get on board a plane with a bomb because people won't do that. That assumption no longer holds.

And the last thing we need to do is on board the aircraft itself. We need to get rid of this concept of -- I call it the bandit and the teller. Right now, if you go to hijack an airplane, the procedure is for the crew to take you to the front, and you get into the cockpit with the pilot. We can no longer afford to do that.

We need now, from this point forward, to put a new door on that cannot be breached for about five minutes. In that five-minute period, the pilots can do three things: they can descend to a Lower altitude. They can alert appropriate officials, and they can also open a lockbox which contains a firearm. And whoever comes through the door gets shot and killed.

CARLSON: I'm just struck that all the suggestions you've just laid out, none of them have taken effect yet. In fact, the things that we've seen eliminated, like electronic tickets, curbside baggage check-in, closing national airport, possibly for good -- all strike me as ways to punish air travelers, but it's not clear how they're going to make travel safer.

JOHNSON: The FAA is in a tough position, because they've got to demonstrate that they're doing something. But the reality is most of what they are doing is cosmetic gesture.

PRESS: Jerry, just following up on that. Larry mentioned the distinction between different kind of airports, and foreign travel and domestic travel. Domestic travel -- I haven't heard anybody talk about executive jets. Isn't that one great big hole in the whole network?

BREMER: Well, one of the...

PRESS: There is no screening at these executive jet airports?

BREMER: That's right. There is basically none. There is basically none. No, that's right. I fly on executive jets from time to time, and there is no screening, correct.

PRESS: I just want to add that to your list, that's all. I want to ask you about intelligence, because you were chair of the National Commission on Terrorism. Here's the report that you released last June.

BREMER: A year ago June.

PRESS: A year ago June. June, 2000. I just want to read one sentence from your executive summary here. "Today's terrorists seek to inflict mass casualties, and they are attempting to do so both overseas and on American soil." You point out there's a real problem with American intelligence, you make some 20 or more recommendations about changes that have to be made. It's been over a year. Year and a half. How many of your recommendations have been adopted?

BREMER: None that I'm aware of.

PRESS: Why? Why not?

BREMER: Well, in a way you have to ask the administrations, both of them: Clinton, to whom we presented this report, and Bush, who's been in office since June. And Congress, because several of our recommendations were made to Congress. There has been some effort -- there was some effort last October in Congress to try to get some bills through to put some of these recommendations. And it got tied up with the election and of course, they came back in special session and the election overwhelmed everything.

In a way it's sort of personally heartbreaking for me. I don't argue that had done these things this wouldn't have happened. I think that's not the case. But as we pointed out in this report, there was a risk-adverse culture had been created, particularly in the intelligence community. And we focused on the CIA, but I think that it's also been true in the FBI. And we certainly have seen some problems with the FBI ability to track terrorists in the United States out of this thing.

Everything has to come back up on the table now. We need a whole new approach to counterterrorism. It's not just that we need this new approach that I describe internationally. We need a new approach on how we are going to organize the federal government to deal with this problem.

CARLSON: Larry Johnson, if it is true -- and I suppose there is a possibility that there are terrorist cells are still left in the United States.

JOHNSON: Yes, sure.

CARLSON: ...not yet apprehended, and that obviously raises the specter of more attacks. What can the average person do to protect themselves? Anything?

JOHNSON: One of the things we need to avoid -- it's a natural reaction that people have had since the horror of Tuesday. The fear rises. But we need to reassure people that within the United States we have a very effective law enforcement community. And one of the other things we're seeing in New York -- a testimony to the prior preparation for the possibility of terrorism -- that even though the New York City police department and fire department have lost almost 300 people, they've still been able to respond and continue operating. And they even lost their operation center.

I think we need to understand that the core of the government, while there's this perception sometimes it doesn't work right, and it doesn't, there is a genuine commitment to try and prevent this. And it is -- what Osama Bin Laden did the other day is he has awakened not just the United States, but he has awakened the world into a battle he's not prepared for.

Because there is no terrorist in the world that can continue to operate internationally unless they have a place and base of support. This wouldn't have been possible in the United States if Afghanistan had turned him over after the East Africa bombing trials in New York earlier this year.

PRESS: Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us. Jerry Bremer, good to have you here. Larry Johnson, good to have you back on "CROSSFIRE." That's all from Bill and Tucker. We'll go back now to CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Bill and Tucker.



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