LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Are We Safe?
Aired July 30, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The threat is real. Al Qaeda could strike again soon. President Bush had that warnings for Americans today, but is the country prepared?
The airline industry is being told to look out for hijackers while it hears about cutbacks of airport screeners.
Meanwhile, some say the U.S. has let Osama bin Laden's trail go cold as it tries to put head on Saddam Hussein. Is the worldwide war on terror being won?
And good evening. Welcome. Glad to have you with us this evening. I'm Paula Zahn. This is a special edition of LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES. Tonight, we will dedicate the whole hour to a seemingly simple question: are we safer tonight than we were on September 10, 2001? We want to know what are the new threats? Is it safe to fly? Is the war on terror making progress overseas? And how can you stay safe?
We're goning to start with a new threat. Former Senator Gary Hart co-authored four separate reports on the threat of international terrorism. The last one came out a full seven months before the September 11 attacks. It actually predicted a major attack on the United States. I spoke with him earlier tonight and asked him if he thinks new attacks are coming.
FORMER SEN. GARY HART (D), COLORADO: Yes, there's no question in my mind that we will be attacked again. I think making war in the Middle East and an Arab nation escalates the threat, and that feeling is backed up by statements made by the director of the CIA and FBI. So I think it's only a question of time.
ZAHN: And where is it, do you think, we're the most vulnerable?
HART: Well, the vulnerabilities are all over the place, particularly if the plot goes undetected by our intelligence agencies, and of course they can't pick up everything. They do -- hopefully, they do the best they can, but there's no absolute protection.
I have always felt, just intuitively or instinctively, that it would be multiple targets on the -- in the interior of the country and probably be some form of biological warfare. But that's pure intuition.
ZAHN: From a security perspective, how ready are we to deal with another potential attack?
HART: Well, Senator Rudman and I, as you know, not only issued the three reports for the Commission on National Security with our 12 other colleagues, but we both co-chaired a task force for the Council on Foreign Relations last fall, a year after 9/11, and we found America still unprepared and still at risk. And Senator Rudman has chaired the task force recently which issued yet a second report almost two years after 9/11, documenting fairly widespread failure to take all the urgent steps necessary to make us better prepared for a second attack.
ZAHN: When you say we are still unprepared and still at risk, does that mean you believe we are no safer today than we were on September 10, 2001?
HART: No, I think that would be unfair to Governor Ridge and the new department. Of course that department was only created by law the 1st of March of this year. So it's a brand new agency. But the tasks are daunting, almost overwhelming. He has to -- or that department has to -- integrate 22 different federal agency. It also has to integrate the federal, state and local governments, in terms of law enforcement and police protection. And finally, it has to integrate the public and private sector.
And it's these last two tasks that I think we are really far behind on. I think local law enforcement and first responders are not nearly as prepared and trained and equipped and supplemented as they need to be. And I think the private sector, with very few exceptions, has done very little.
ZAHN: Give us your perspective on what you think this latest advisory means.
HART: Well, in terms of -- I think all these result from some inside information from one of the detainees. At least that's what the news reports are. I guess the only two sources are sources in the field, that is agents that we have out there, or things we picked up from the detainees.
I think the real question, where these kind of episodic warnings come along, is is this part of an al Qaeda deception operation? Do they -- have they been trained to periodically leak these threats to keep us off guard? Unless you're on the inside, there's no way to know.
ZAHN: Are you inclined to believe this is part of an al Qaeda deceptive operation?
HART: I have no knowledge one way or the other. I think so long as there tend to be warnings of one kind of operation or another coming out of the detainees and the detainees tend to be the same people, you begin to wonder after awhile whether or not they are programmed every couple of months to say, Oh by the way, I just thought of another plan that I heard about. And that keeps the nation on edge.
ZAHN: Once again, that was former Senator Gary Hart. He joined us a little bit earlier tonight.
We're going to talk specifics now. What do we know at this hour about the alert that went out to the nation's airlines? Let's check in with Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, who is standing by in our Washington bureau tonight.
Good evening, Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula.
Well, the alert that went out to airlines was very telling. First, it underscores that al Qaeda remains dedicated to trying to use aircraft for possible terror attacks. Now that's despite increased security measures.
Intelligence officials say that al Qaeda has a history of using methods of attack that it successfully used before. And no attack was more successful, of course, than the one that we saw on September 11.
Now second, the alert explains that the would-be hijackers determined that they could get on airplanes with items such as cameras that had been modified to be used as weapons. Now officials say that this suggests surveillance has been done and that operatives have flown on U.S. airlines possibly with similar items to see if they could get through security.
Now also on this front, the alert goes into detail about the possible exploitation of the visa transit system. Now this is the current system that doesn't require travelers to have visas if they're on flights that stop in the United States on the way to other destinations. Experts say that it's another sign that terror organizations are constantly adapting their approach in response to new security measures, continually looking for vulnerability is.
And here's one final thought, Paula. Officials say there's always a lot of discussion about how much information is put out in warnings like these because they too serve as intelligence for terrorists, just like your broadcast. Back to you.
ZAHN: Point well taken. Kelli Arena, thanks for the update.
Now, even if America hasn't changed quickly enough to adapt to new threats, there are signs that al Qaeda is adapting and actually adopting some new techniques, tactics. What new methods might it use against the U.S.? Even Kohlmann is a senior terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project.
Good to have you with us tonight, sir. Welcome.
EVAN KOHLMANN, INVESTIGATIVE PROJECT: Thank you very much.
ZAHN: My first question to you is, what evidence is there that you see that al Qaeda is changing, or adopting new tactics? KOHLMANN: Well, al Qaeda is not quite as simple or as stupid as we might think. These are individuals that have had upwards of a decade to think about how they wanted to strike at the United States. And undoubtedly, they anticipated that after 9/11, security would be raised and it would be more different to carry out these kind of strikes. And we have seen al Qaeda operatives on U.S soil plotting and planning new attacks.
Now what's interesting about these operatives is that number one, a lot of these guys are U.S. citizens, which is a change. Before al Qaeda had to rely primarily on foreign nationals in order to engage in these suicide attacks. The focus is increasingly turning on those that can -- that have U.S. or Canadian passports -- or British passports for that matter -- that are more easily able to evade security, including among those ex-military members, particularly among them Hispanic and African-American ex-military members that al Qaeda perceives might have a grudge against the U.S. military.
ZAHN: When you talk about the new face of these al Qaeda operatives, can you give us any numbers?
KOHLMANN: Well, there's no numbers, unfortunately, but there are faces, faces like Richard Reed, faces like Jose Padilla -- faces that are not the traditional al Qaeda operatives. These are not Middle Easterners These are Americans. Jose Padilla grew up in the gang streets of Chicago. Richard Reed was from London. You know, a pretty urbane kind of guy.
These people are much more easily able to evade security. And with their foreign passports, with their Western passports, there's very little we can do to stop them. Richard Reed, in fact, was able to board an American Airlines flight after being refused from the same flight the day before for security reasons. In the end, security officials, because they had no intelligence information on Reed, had to let him fly because he had a British passport. And later, he tried blowing up his shoes on board a U.S. airliner.
So indeed, this threat is very, very real.
ZAHN: Evan, finally tonight, what are you inclined to believe? That what we're hearing in this advisory is part of an al Qaeda deception approach? Or do you believe that perhaps the U.S. is putting out this information to smoke out some of these al Qaeda members?
KOHLMANN: Well, I never would want to discount the possibility that this is, you know -- this is a hoax by al Qaeda. In fact, if we look at look some of the things that Abu Zubaydah, one of the top al Qaeda detainees in our custody has told us -- if you remember last year, there were a bunch of reports that came out, alerts from homeland security talking about bank bombings and shopping mall bombings. These never ended up panning out. And in retrospect, some of us now believe that Abu Zubaydah may have been playing a joke on some of his interrogators.
But the latest warnings, these latest warnings about possible hijackings, come from at least reportedly multiple sources, including al Qaeda detainees and -- quote unquote -- "other intelligence information." So the U.S. officials at this point are taking these threats very, very seriously. And as President Bush advised us today, so should we.
ZAHN: Thanks so much for your insights tonight. Evan Kohlmann.
KOHLMANN: My pleasure.
ZAHN: Our pleasure as well.
U.S. officials warn of possible 9/11 style attacks before the end of the summer. Coming up, are the skies any safer than they were before September 11, 2001? We're going to take a look.
Also, we're going to talk to a leading lawmaker Joseph Lieberman about the state of homeland security in America.
Plus, whatever happened to Osama bin Laden? Two years ago, President Bush said he wanted him dead or alive, but has the terrorist master mind been eclipsed by Saddam Hussein? That story when LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES continues.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a little nervous. We're taking a group of 14 teens to Trinidad for a mission trip. And with what's been in the news lately, we're a little nervous but we've been screened very well and so far we haven't had any problems.
ZAHN: Tonight we're taking a look at the question of whether we are any safer than we were before 9/11/2001. Perhaps nowhere is that question more relevant than when it comes to the nation's skies. In fact, there were reports out of Washington today that the biggest security changes for the airlines since 9/11 was in danger of being scaled back because of money problems.
Officials now strongly deny that news. Jeanne Meserve joins us live from Washington with that part of the story. Hi, Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. That denial is now being qualified a bit. Administration officials now say some air marshals were notified of schedule changes last week that were attributed to budget cuts. But these officials say they do not yet know if the schedule changes went into effect and left some high risk flights uncovered. They also do not know at what level the changes were authorized. But they say there was no official policy guidance calling for the changes.
The air marshals program falls under the wing of the Transportation Security Agency, which is facing a budget shortfall of almost $1 billion. Officials acknowledge they would like to shift some money away from the air marshals to other TSA programs but that would curtail some advanced training for the marshals and some hiring and appears to be a nonstarter in Congress. In fact some Democrats in Congress today expressed shock and anger that much changes were even being considered at a time when the nation is facing the threat of possible hijackings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: The bottom line is, Homeland Security Agency is like the proverbial bed, where there are five children and enough covers for four. And what Mr. Ridge and Mr. Hutchinson keep doing is pulling the covers from one place to the other when an emergency occurs in one of those place. But there's never enough covers for all the children. For all the needs. We are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: The Department of Homeland Security tried to calm the storm. Secretary Tom Ridge saying there has been no reduction in air marshal missions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY: America should know that every air marshal that we have is being deployed and additional resources are being directed to that very critical mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Tonight officials reinforced that message authorizing the TSA to tap other federal law enforcement agencies for personnel to make sure there are enough marshals to address the current threat.
And, Paula, let me add there is a new piece of information tonight about the origin of the aviation threat. Government officials tell CNN's Kelly Arena that one source was an al Qaeda detainee named Al Abid Al Ghandi who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is believed to have been a central figure in the Riyadh bombing attacks of May 11 -- Paula.
ZAHN: Come back to the point you made at the top of the report once again. I know this is confusing with the reports coming out and then, sort of, backing off of reports. Some air marshals were told, because of budget cuts, their shifts would be changed, but now the government is saying those changes might not have gone into effect?
MESERVE: Right. They certainly have been rescinded at this point in time. No air marshal schedule changes are in effect at this point in time. What they can't determine yet is whether this schedule change, which went out last week, did have some effect in the intervening days. That's what they're trying to determine at this point in time.
ZAHN: All right, thanks so much for clearing that up, Jeanne Meserve.
As we mentioned, since 9/11 security inside the cockpit has come under increased scrutiny. So what has changed?
I'm joined now, from Waco, Texas, by Mike Brooks, who also happens to be the former manager of corporate security for Delta Airlines. Always good to see you Mike. What have you learn?
MIKE BROOKS, FORMER MANAGER, COPORATE SECURITY, DELTA: Good to be with you Paula. Well, things have gotten a lot better since 9/11. One of those things is enhanced cockpit doors. Yes, they are a protection measure. They're bullet resistance, because nothing is bullet proof. Just small arms, possible grenade.
But the doors are only good if the pilot stays in the cockpit on the flight deck. So, training has to be done for the pilots, also flight attendants are a big role in this. Because flight attendants are some airlines are taught now to roll carts in front of a door when the pilot goes out to use the lavatory on long flights. They're taught also personal defense training. Delta is one of the first airlines of the majors to start up personal defense training. But it has been dropped there and is right now up in the air whether it's going to be mandatory for all airlines to do this.
So, you see, on many flights a secure zone in and around the cockpit doors because that is the main thing. The pilots can not come out of the cockpit -- Paula.
ZAHN: Alright, Mike. Thank you for your perspective as well this evening.
Now, if U.S. airlines truly are going to be more secure, they may want to take a que from El Al. The Irseali national carrier is widely considered to be the most secure airline in the world. I'm joined by a Isaac Yeffet former director of security for El Al. Welcome, sir.
ISAAC YEFFET, FRM. SECRUTIY DIR. EL AL: Thank you.
ZAHN: So, first off, what can you point to, do you think, are improvements of the U.S. air system today?
YEFFET: Unfortunately, we have very little improvements since September 11. And if you ask me, we are ready with the level of security to prevent disaster in the future, my answer unfortunately is no, we are not ready to prevent tragedy to this country again.
ZAHN: Specifically, what is it you have a problem with?
YEFFET: I have a problem with the fact that we rely only on technology. Technology is good to help the qualified and well trained human being. Technology can never replace a qualified human being, number one. Number two, the current technology that we have in our airports in the United States are not giving us the answer we expect from x-ray machines to receive. 35 percent of the time that we screen luggage we have false alarms.
We have 1.5 billion luggage every year that we send on U.S. air carriers. Can you realize what is 35 percent? If you break it to a day, you will come up to 1.something million luggage that we have to rescreen or to do hand search. How many times we can give the security people that we have -- and we'll talk about them later on -- to rescreen and to open luggage and to find nothing inside because the technology is blind.
After a while, they will come to the routine, which is one of the biggest enemy of the security that they will say, look how many times, how many millions or hundred thousands of luggage we opened, and nothing happens. Why now this will happen? And then we start to ignore all these threats that we get from the technology. We don't have -- we don't have any kind of profile. We don't have any kind of interview. We don't have any kind of proactive security system that we can say, we are ready to the enemy if he comes, we will stop him on the ground.
ZAHN: You have been consistently tough on the system here in the United States, and you have to acknowledge a lot of what you're talking about will cost billions and billions of dollars. There are things that can be done, you think, in the interim that aren't going to cost that kind of money that could be put in place today, short of the things you're talking about.
YEFFET: First of all, security costs money, yes. But my question is, the American lives cost less than the money that we need to protect them, to make sure that they can fly safe and secure to their destination?
This is not the poorest country in the world. This is not the weakest country in the world. There is no problem to find the budget to build a security system that we will show the enemies, no more September 11. We spent hundreds of billions of dollars after September 11 to go after bin Laden, to bring him to justice. Unfortunately, we don't see the end. Give me small percentage of this huge amount of money that we spend to bring the bin Laden to justice, and I can show you what kind of high level of security we can build in this country, in this country, similar to El Al.
ZAHN: Isaac Yeffet, we appreciate you joining us tonight, the former director of global security of El Al, the Israeli airline.
YEFFET: Thank you.
ZAHN: Thank you.
YEFFET: Thank you.
ZAHN: What do Saudis in high places know about 9/11? When did they know it? Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and some Saudi leaders, want President Bush to tell the world. After the break, two Republican senators will join us with their view. I'll also be speaking with the director of information at the Saudi embassy to the United States. Stay with us.
ZAHN: Welcome back. Tonight we are spending the entire hour looking at how safe America is from terrorists and whether the worldwide war on terror is being won. Much depends on how good U.S. intelligence is and whether U.S. knows who its friends are. The White House has classified 28 pages of a congressional report on the 9/11 terror attacks. The pages allegedly deal with Saudi ties to the terrorist hijackers, ties the Saudi government denies.
In Congress, there is mounting bipartisan pressure on President Bush to release the material. Here is what the president had to say about that push.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My point of view, however, since I'm in charge of fighting the war on terror is that we won't reveal sources and methods that will compromise our efforts to succeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Nail Al-Jubeir is director of information at the Saudi embassy to the United States. He joins us from our Washington bureau tonight. Welcome. Glad to have you with us.
NAIL AL-JUBEIR, DIRECTOR OF INFORMATION, SAUDI EMBASSY: Thank you.
ZAHN: Do you think in releasing these 28 pages the United States would be compromising its intelligence gathering techniques?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, we wouldn't really know since we have not seen the 28 pages. I have to admit that I'm probably one of the few people who will admit publicly not having seen the 28 pages, does not know anybody who has seen it, nor has been in contact with anybody who has seen it. So it makes it difficult for us to sort of assess what's in it.
We have to take the president at his word when he says it does.
ZAHN: You are telling me tonight you have absolutely no idea what's in these 28 pages?
AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely none. What I hear is what we hear the pundits talk about, and every pundit who appears on television or in the press, somehow has a contact who have seen it. We haven't.
ZAHN: All right. Let's talk about what some of those reports suggest. "Newsweek" reporting that the classified part of the report draws, quote, "apparent connections between high level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers."
AL-JUBEIR: Well, that again, we're back to reports that nobody has seen. It's unfortunate that these experts tend to sort of leak the news out. We can't defend ourselves. That is why we went to the White House, have spoken with President Bush about releasing the information so we can see it, so we can come up and defend ourselves. And if there is any link to any terrorism in Saudi Arabia, we want to go after those. ZAHN: So why is it do you think the president won't release this? Do you take him at his word?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, we have to. He was kind enough to provide us with 40 minutes of his precious time. We pleaded our case about releasing the information. He presented his case for not releasing the information. Unfortunately, we had to disagree with that decision, but it is his decision at the end. And he's the president, and we have to go along with that.
ZAHN: What do you say, sir, to the folks in the audience tonight who think you want to have it both ways here? On one hand, you say you take the president at his word, even after one of your contacts tried putting on pressure on the president to release it, and the president saying that it will compromise national security in some way?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, we want the information to be released. We want know what the information is out there so we can, one, defend ourselves. Because right now, we have a 900-page document with 28 pages that are blank. And those who are trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia can fill in whatever they want. We can't defend blank pages. If we have the information, we can face them, we can challenge them, we can respond to them, and if there's any incriminating evidence in there, we can go after those people who are behind it.
ZAHN: But let me make sure I'm understanding this tonight, sir. You're suggesting you want this made public even if it will in some way compromise the United States' information gathering, which is exactly what the president had to say?
AL-JUBEIR: No. What we want to do is we want to be able to defend ourselves against the accusations. Right now we have all the accusations out there accusing us of the most heinous crime of the century. Yet we can't defend ourselves. We can't defend against blank pages. Which means everybody has a field day with throwing out accusations, sources that we can't challenge. Anybody can say whatever they want based on information they have received on these pages, yet we haven't been able to see that. That's what the unfortunate aspect is. We do not want to compromise U.S. intelligence gathering, because we both are in the war on terrorism, but we want to be able to defend ourselves.
ZAHN: Finally tonight, Mr. Al-Jubeir, I want to read to you part of a letter which is being circulated among U.S. senators who are being asked to sign it, which in part say the information to classify this information makes it appear as if elements of the Bush administration desire to keep the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11 private. This impression damages the credibility of the government in the minds of the American people. Your response?
AL-JUBEIR: I find it unfortunate that any person, any person would believe that this president, who's been fighting the war on terrorism, would cover up for anyone involved in 9/11. If there's a link to 9/11, if there's a Saudi official involvement, if there's Saudi citizens' involvement, we want to know. We want to bring them to justice ourselves. But that's unfortunate that we can't defend ourselves if we don't know what's in there.
ZAHN: Nail Al-Jubeir, we appreciate your spending some time with us this evening. Thanks so much.
AL-JUBEIR: Thanks for having me.
ZAHN: Now for two views from Capitol Hill on whether the White House should reveal the classified parts of the 9/11 report, we are joined now by two Senate Republicans, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Richard Shelby of Alabama. Thanks for joining us at the end of a very long day, gentlemen.
Senator Shelby, I'm going to start with you this evening. Do you have any intention of signing this letter that's being circulated among your colleagues?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I haven't signed it yet for several reasons. I'm not on the Intelligence Committee now. I was, as Senator Kyl was. Senator Roberts is the chairman of the committee. If he leads, then I'll follow because I have a lot of respect for him. I have said before that I have reviewed myself very thoroughly the words constituting the 28 pages, and so forth. There are some things in there that I believe should not be classified. I believe myself that most of it should be declassified. But at the end of the day, that's either going to be done by the president, or we could do it in a laborious way through the Congress. But ultimately, at least for now, I think it's up to the president to do.
ZAHN: Senator Kyl, how successful do you think this campaign will be on the part of some of your colleagues to try to put more pressure on the president to change his mind? He seemed pretty adamant today that that's not about to happen.
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: The president is right, and it's very irresponsible for anybody to sign a letter like this. I just reviewed again today all of those 28 pages, plus some other parts of the report. Senator Shelby and I both helped to put that report together, and we're both familiar with the reasons why some of it has to remain classified.
In the case of these 28 pages, there are three specific reasons why it's got to remain classified. It is very, very specific information. Some of it reveals sources and methods, how we collect intelligence and continue to do so this day. Secondly, there are numerous names of people who are currently under surveillance, against whom we have operations, perhaps legal cases, and are sources for us. There is no way that those names can be declassified. And it's not just a matter of few names. Every page has many, many names on it. So it'd be very difficult to declassify that. And finally, there is some very sensitive information regarding at least one other foreign government, and it's information that would be detrimental both to that government and the United States were the information to be declassified. ZAHN: Senator Shelby, you heard my last guest, I believe, parts of that conversation, and in spite of our last guest saying that he takes the president at his word and that it potentially could compromise U.S. intelligence gathering, he still says his government wants this information public. Do you understand that position, or is it wanting it both ways?
SHELBY: Well, I suppose I would say that he probably wants it both ways. But I'm going to say again there are some things that even I believe that are in the 28 pages should not be declassified. I'm not saying and have never said that all 28 pages should be uncensored and left out. But I still believe that a lot of it could be declassified or become uncensored.
ZAHN: Finally, Senator Kyl -- I got 15 seconds left -- how much do you think anybody would be embarrassed by the release of this information?
KYL: It's not matter of embarrassment, it's...
ZAHN: Either on the U.S. side or Saudi Arabia.
KYL: It's not -- well, the country involved could well be embarrassed, and they can do a lot about solving that problem by taking actions that cooperate more with the United States. But it's not about embarrassment, it's about classified material that we cannot give to our enemies. I'm happy to share things with the American people, but unfortunately, declassifying the document doesn't end there. It goes to our enemies, as well. And that we cannot do.
ZAHN: Senators Jon Kyl, Richard Shelby, again we appreciate your time tonight.
SHELBY: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: I know you've got a lot of demands during your day.
ZAHN: After the break, the Democratic response. We're going to be talking to Senator Joe Lieberman and get his take on whether America is safer today than it was two years ago. Also ahead: Amid all the doom and gloom, what you can do to stay safe in a post-9/11 world. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: We go now to one of the most influential voices on security issues in American government on the Democratic side, Senator Joseph Lieberman. I spoke with him earlier tonight to get his response to our question: Are Americans safer tonight than they were September 10, 2001?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We are safer than we were on September 11, 2001, because we have taken the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and we have overthrown Saddam Hussein. But here at home, unfortunately, we have not invested enough in our homeland security, and therefore I would say we are only marginally safer. Put it another way, quoting former senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, who said in a report he issued about a month ago that America remains dangerously unprepared for another September 11-type attack. So we've got a lot of work do to overcome that conclusion.
ZAHN: And Senator, when you say it is your belief we are only marginally safer, what is it that you are concerned about?
LIEBERMAN: We just have not invested enough in the new Homeland Security Department. We've not been willing -- and I fault the administration for this. Part of this is priorities. They've spent too much money on other things, not given enough money to the department for additional personnel, for the kinds of tools they need to make us safer.
Look, the report that came out last week talked about -- from the Joint Intelligence Committee, talked about the failure of the CIA to communicate the names of two terrorists who were on their watch list to other agencies. So maybe we could have broken the plot before September 11. We still, almost two years after September 11, '01, don't have a coordinated watch list. So a local police officer or a transportation security person at the airport doesn't have the ability to punch into a computer and find out whether that person they've just stopped who looks suspicious is actually a terrorist. That's unforgivable.
ZAHN: Let's move on to the issue of the 28 classified pages in the 9/11 report. According to "Newsweek" magazine, the classified pages draw apparent connections between Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers. What are the implications of those relationships, if this is true?
LIEBERMAN: The implications are very serious. They make concrete what a lot of us have been saying to the leadership of Saudi Arabia, that they have to take very aggressive, immediate action to make sure that no money is going from Saudi Arabia, certainly not from people involved in the royal family or in the government, to terrorists.
The fact that the administration refuses to let that information become public is just plain wrong. I mean, I was -- I was -- the fact is that the Saudis have asked for it to become public, and I assume they're sincere about that, and they ought to be, because if it becomes public, it gives the Saudis an opportunity to know the charges against them and to respond to them, if they are false, or to convince us that they've taken action to make sure that doesn't ever happen again.
The only reason to keep that information undisclosed, away from the public, away from the Saudis, is if disclosing it will compromise the names of intelligence agents working for us or the methods that they followed. And I can only tell you that I've talked to colleagues of mine who've seen those 28 pages and they believe that 95 percent of it doesn't at all compromise or even come close to compromising intelligence sources, methods or national security. The president ought to stop this cover-up and let this information come out.
ZAHN: Those are pretty harsh words, "stop this cover-up." In spite of what your colleagues have told you and your friends have told you, the president made it abundantly clear today that this would indeed compromise methods and practices. What is it that you think the president's trying to hide here?
LIEBERMAN: I don't know. The United States doesn't benefit from this. The Saudis don't benefit from this. Our ability to learn everything we possibly can about how September 11 happened, so that we can prevent anything like that from ever happening again, is compromised without the fullest disclosure possible.
ZAHN: So it is not your belief, then, that U.S. dependency on Saudi oil has anything do with the administration not allowing these 28 pages to be seen?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I worry about it. I think there are reasons to be concerned about whether that is a factor here. Look, the Saudis, in a lot of ways, have been good allies of ours. But we were attacked in a way that we've never been attacked before on September 11, and any connection between Saudi citizens, let alone members of the Saudi royal family, and those attacks on us ought to be publicized. The Saudis ought to be confronted. We ought not to have anything hold us back from that, oil or anything else, when it comes to the lives of the American people. And the Saudis ought to be told that our relationship will never be the same unless they root out the problems that that report describes. They deserve the opportunity to be confronted with the charges against them and to respond to those charges.
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ZAHN: Senator Joseph Lieberman, thanks.
The U.S. says it's closing in on Saddam Hussein, but what about Usama bin Laden? Has the trail gone cold? Coming up, we'll look at whether the war in Iraq has overshadowed the search for bin Laden.
ZAHN: Recently, the U.S. has focused much of its attention on fighting Saddam Hussein, and some observers say that has diverted attention from the man previously thought of as public enemy No. 1, Usama bin Laden. Jane Mayer of "The New Yorker" has written an article exploring that possibility. She joins me live from Washington tonight. Welcome.
JANE MAYER, "THE NEW YORKER": Thanks.
ZAHN: All right, Jane, let's talk a little bit about what you believe. Do you think the war in Iraq has cost or compromised the search for Usama bin Laden in any way? MAYER: Well, I interviewed an awful lot of people who certainly feel that way, and I know the Bush administration has said that it has not -- the war in Iraq has not affected the search for bin Laden. But a lot of the people who work in the CIA and on the search feel that it has drained resources. It's certainly taken some of the energy out of the search. About half the number of people are working on it now as they were before the war in Iraq began.
ZAHN: We're going to put up on the screen what one of the terrorism experts you interviewed had to say along that line. Quote, "I feel that if they had not gone to Iraq, they would have found Usama by now. The best people were moved away from this operation. The best minds were moved to Iraq. It is a great shame. It's the biggest military failure in the war on terrorism so far."
Do you believe the U.S. has lost its chance to find Usama bin Laden?
MAYER: Gosh, I really hope not. No, I don't think that. And I don't think that Rohan Gunaratna, the terrorism expert, thought that, either. It's just that there's been a shift in priorities which really hasn't been described that much before. But there's just an awful lot more attention and energy going into the search for weapons of mass destruction and search for Saddam Hussein right now. And it's -- there are a finite number of people who work at the CIA who speak Arabic, and there are a finite number of Predator drone planes who can do kind of the aerial surveillance that would be needed to sort of spy on al Qaeda. And there -- many of them have been deployed to Iraq instead.
ZAHN: So given the restraints you just -- or constraints you just outlined, is it your belief, then, that this is not an active effort on the part of the U.S. government to find him?
MAYER: Well, I think that would be probably going too far. I mean, I think there are a lot of very brave and very dedicated people working on this. It's just that there was -- if you remember the days right after 9/11, 2001, the president was talking about how Usama bin Laden was "wanted dead or alive" and we were not going let him hide anywhere in the world. We were going find him. And it's been almost two years now, will be two years in September. And obviously, they've had trouble finding him.
And I guess one of the things that interested me so much when I was researching this piece was that there's so much known about where he is, at this point, and yet we can't seem to get our hands on him.
ZAHN: What are your sources telling you about where they think he is and how he's communicating with operatives?
MAYER: Well, you know, in the first days after 9/11, there was high hopes that he was dead, and a lot of people thought he was. And since then, the growing consensus is that he's alive and hiding in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's in Pakistan, most people think. And he's in a tribal area, where he's surrounded by people who are sympathetic to him. And he's communicating, apparently, no longer on the phone because he knows that signals can be picked up by our intelligence. And so he sends handwritten letters. He sent one, apparently, to his mother. He sent one to -- he sends them out on various occasions -- condolences and things like that. And they kind of go through a human chain-link fence that is of couriers.
ZAHN: So Jane, in closing tonight, what do you think is our best hope of flushing him out?
MAYER: I think the only hope, really, is to lean harder on Pakistan. One of the CIA officers said to me, you know, the blond- haired, blue-eyed CIA agents parachuting in -- that only happens in the movies. What we really need are people who can get better intelligence on the ground and who can penetrate al Qaeda.
ZAHN: Well, your piece is fascinating, and we thank you for dropping by to spend a little time with us tonight.
MAYER: Thanks for having me.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
With all we've heard tonight, the world can seem like a very frightening place, indeed. Remember, you're not alone. There are some things you can do to better protect yourself. A look at that when LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES continues. Stay with us.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I have a small family, so it's something to think about. But I can't say, No, I'm not going do something. I have to continue with my life.
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ZAHN: We have spent the past hour looking at whether we really are any safer since 9/11. Now we want to take a step back and take a wider look at the situation. We want to know the things you can do to make sure you and your family are safe. I'm joined now by Nancy Schretter, editor and publisher of the on-line Family Travel Network. Welcome.
NANCY SCHRETTER, FAMILY TRAVEL NETWORK: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: Let's start off by talking about this latest terrorism threat and this advisory that became public yesterday. International travel down by some 19 percent last year alone. What impact do you think this new advisory will have on travel?
SCHRETTER: That will certainly send international travel down, as well. I think people are a little bit more seasoned than they were before, but they're also concerned about what their safety is going to be and how they're going to deal with these types of threats. And they're always looking for information, such as the type that you're providing, to try to assess what the level of risk really is.
ZAHN: So what will the travel industry do if there are cancellations en masse? If one doesn't have travel insurance, will they be covered if they need to cancel their reservations in the coming days?
SCHRETTER: Well, travel insurance typically does not cover fear of terrorism. So if you decide not to travel specifically because of the terrorism alert, travel insurance typically does not cover something like that unless there is a specific travel event, such as your resort is bombed and you can't go.
What happens oftentimes, in the past, is once the travel alert status is raised, then sometimes on, a specific by specific basis, case by case, the airlines will evaluate what the situation is and decide to suspend their cancellation policies. And resorts sometimes do that, as well. So it's very important for travelers to stay alert and to find out what their airline travel policies are and resort travel policies if they're traveling during the summertime.
ZAHN: So what do you say to folks out there who are anxious to travel this summer but who are very concerned about this latest travel advisory?
SCHRETTER: I tell people to take a look at this in light of every other risk that goes on. I think Americans have gotten to be more alert but also more comfortable than they were prior to September 11 because they're starting to understand that this is a situation that we need to live with and deal with. There's always the question of, Should I stay or should I go? But I think people are starting to get comfortable with what their own level of risk is. And given the information that comes across from sources such as yours, they can start to assess, Is this a risk level that I'm comfortable with? And if not, then I'll stay. If I am, then I'll go.
They also start to provide this type of information to their children and talk with their families and say, This is the level of risk that we're dealing with. But these are the types of people we are. And I feel that we're comfortable in moving forward.
ZAHN: All right, Nancy, come clean here. Are you going get on plane any time soon?
SCHRETTER: Actually, I am...
ZAHN: ... summer vacation?
SCHRETTER: Yes. I just came back from Honolulu yesterday, and this news hit about four hours before we hit the plane. My daughter was the first that heard it, and she said, Should we get on the plane? And I said, Absolutely. And I'll be getting on a plane next week, as well.
ZAHN: Well, you've made us very jealous when we heard that Honolulu word.
ZAHN: Nancy Schretter, thank you, of the Family Travel Network.
SCHRETTER: Thank you very much. Thank you.
ZAHN: Glad to have you with us tonight.
We're going to be back -- right back with some final words.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uncomfortable, but I feel that the government's doing everything that they necessarily need to do to make it safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was on my mind, but I felt safe. I didn't feel any danger at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to travel and enjoy life. You can't overprotect yourselves, so -- of course, you have to be cautious, but not overdoing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And that's where we are tonight. We end tonight where we began. Today the president said the threat is real. So, too, is the debate. We will have plenty more discussions in the days and weeks to come about living in a world facing a terrorist threat.
We thank you so much for being with us tonight. We hope you'll be back with us same time, same place tomorrow night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. His guest tonight, Christopher Reeve. Have a good night.
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