Transcript: Fran Townsend, White House Homeland Security Adviser

Written by Chris Wallace / Published July 11, 2005 / Fox News Sunday

This is a partial transcript from "FOX News Sunday," July 10, 2005, that was edited for clarity.

BRIT HUME, GUEST HOST: Joining us now to talk about the terror attacks in London and what more could be done to prevent similar attacks here is Fran Townsend (search), the president's homeland security adviser.

Welcome back.

FRAN TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Good morning.

HUME: What do we know now that we didn't know, say, yesterday about who may have been behind this?

TOWNSEND: Well, the most interesting development we've discovered, you'll recall the initial reports suggested that the four bombs went off within about an hour of one another. What we learned yesterday from initial forensics is, the first three bombs went off within 50 seconds, less than a minute of one another. The fourth one went off within about a half an hour, 20 minutes later.

What that tells us is significant. One, these were clearly timed devices scheduled to go off simultaneously.

HUME: We don't think now suicide bombers, right?

TOWNSEND: The forensics aren't there to say that these were suicide bombers.

HUME: More likely planted bombs?

TOWNSEND: Correct. The one that we have to look, and look at the forensics later, is the one on the bus. That's not as clear. But what it suggests to us, Brit, is that the magnificent emergency response in Britain by British authorities may have prevented that fourth bomb from going into the tube system.

HUME: How would that have happened?

TOWNSEND: Well, what happened was, that bus was not on its normal route. That bus was diverted as a result of the initial bombings inside the underground system, and so it was off its normal route. That bomber or the individual carrying that bomb may not have been able to get into the subway system.

HUME: Michael Chertoff (search), your colleague in the administration, DHS secretary, said that our transit systems are safe. Are they really safe?

TOWNSEND: You know what I would say? They're safer than they were after 9/11, they're safer after the Madrid bombings. We put extensive warnings about the kind of techniques that Al Qaeda (search) uses to do these attacks out to state and locals, so they can take protective measures. It's a lot safer.

We look every day, Brit, to make it safe. But there are no guarantees in this world. I could have gotten hit by a bus coming in here. But we are working hard to ensure the safety as best we can.

HUME: We've seen this enormous difference between the amount of spending at the federal level on air safety. Now, I recognize air safety is principally a federal responsibility.

TOWNSEND: Yes. And the relatively puny sums — and we're talking about billions and billions for air safety, millions and millions for rail and other safety, other ground transportation safety.

HUME: What about those discrepancies? And isn't it possible and likely that it's just nowhere near enough money for the transit safety?

TOWNSEND: Well, let me talk about the money first. I think you can't just compare federal funds. Many of the funds spent on rail and mass transit security are done at the state and local level, which you're not factoring in.

Second, we've spent about $250 million, which was up from almost nothing prior to 9/11. In our current budget, the infrastructure protection program would allocate $600 million more. And that doesn't even account for the over $8 billion...

HUME: $600 million more for...

TOWNSEND: Available for rail and mass transit.

HUME: To be allocated by...

TOWNSEND: By the Department of Homeland Security using grant funds.

HUME: So, in other words, even though it's not earmarked it could be spent on that.

TOWNSEND: That's correct. And there's over $8 billion in the Urban Area Security Initiative that's available for rail security in DHS's grant program.

HUME: And DHS decides how that money gets spent and what the grants are for?

TOWNSEND: That's right.

HUME: All right. Let us assume that you could spend whatever you wanted — how do you secure bus lines?

TOWNSEND: You know, the answer is, if we're waiting until the very last second, where an individual is going to strap a bomb on or plant a bomb in a subway system, we've waited until a point where we're least likely to be successful to prevent it.

That's why you fight them away. That's why you're in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting them there so you don't have to fight them here. It's why do you things like reorganize the intelligence community, including the CIA and the FBI, to adjust to the current threat and the current enemy. It's why you need tools like the Patriot Act.

HUME: You're saying, in effect, that ultimately you can't do it in an open society with bus lines?

TOWNSEND: Well, no, because...

HUME: I'm just talking about with defensive measures.

TOWNSEND: Right. And you do things like increase patrols. You do things like canines, which are very effective.

But that's the last point of defense. And my point to you, Brit, is what you want to do is narrow the funnel way earlier so you're trying to prevent it at the point before they even enter this country.

HUME: That raises the question of border security. And no one disputes our northern and southern borders are basically porous.

TOWNSEND: We've taken a lot of measures, including moving toward more secure travel documents, more secure passports, increasing a presence on the southwest border with Border Patrol. Secretary Chertoff, and Secretary Ridge before him, have made border security a very high priority.

There's more we can do. And we're looking at what technology we can leverage along the southwest border. And we've made progress there with UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles.

HUME: Well, you wouldn't dispute the idea, though, that it's still pretty easy to get into this country from the north and south.

TOWNSEND: I would tell you there's more we have to do.

HUME: And is enough money being allocated for this purpose, in your judgment?

TOWNSEND: I think what you've got to do is have a strategic program that looks across what kind of options are available to us, personnel and technology, and find the best mix. It's not the same mix along that whole 2,000 miles of southwest border.

HUME: Do we have such a plan?

TOWNSEND: Secretary Chertoff is establishing a program office inside the department to look at what is the most effective mix, and has allocated in the current budget for more personnel on the southwest border.

HUME: So it sounds as if we will have a plan, but we don't have one now.

TOWNSEND: Well, we have a plan now, and it includes increasing our personnel. What we're looking at is can we also leverage technology to make that program on the southwest border most effective.

HUME: What about the intelligence that nobody seemed to have on this? Since Thursday, has any intelligence emerged from anywhere that suggested something like this might be afoot?

TOWNSEND: I want to be clear: We had no specific, credible intelligence of an imminent attack in London or the United States transit systems. But we've known for some time, and we have increasing intelligence from detainee debriefings, that Al Qaeda was, in fact, interested in an attack on the transit system…

HUME: The transit system in?

TOWNSEND: Transit systems worldwide. Because they did see the effectiveness of the Madrid bombing.

HUME: What about Mustafa Nasar? This is the Syrian who was mentioned in our news shorts a little while ago as a possible suspect. What do you know about him? What do you know about his possible role in this case?

TOWNSEND: Well, he has been a longtime and well-known bad guy terrorist, and involved in terrorist circles. The fact is we and the British authorities are working very hard together to try and locate him and question him.

HUME: So he's not yet a suspect as far as you know, but potentially?

TOWNSEND: I wouldn't presume to speak for the Brits. I know the Brits want to speak him. And I think he should present himself for questioning.

HUME: Everyone seems now to agree that London was a place where something like this was almost bound to happen. It was striking, not necessarily in the words spoken by U.S. officials on Thursday, but in the tone — I wouldn't call it serene, but there seemed to be a confidence that we were not about to experience anything like that here. Why is that? Is there such a difference between the atmosphere in London and the atmosphere in American cities?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, the American people will never forget the tragedy of 9/11 and really have, sort of, internalized the fact that we have to be constantly vigilant. I think people understand, if they stop getting on their subways and trains and buses, it's a win for the terrorists. And so people are very resolute.

HUME: I understand. But we read and hear of these mosques in London, where the most extraordinarily aggressive, pro-violence messages are continually preached, the reluctance of the authorities there to crack down on this sort of thing, or try to. Do we have a comparable problem here? And if not, why not?

TOWNSEND: No, I don't think we have the same problem here. But, you know, part of that is because we've got tools like the Patriot Act that permit us to get ahead of it so we can prevent terrorist attacks.

And I think what you'll find — Britain is looking at their current counter-terrorism legislation. It's been read once in their Parliament. It'll come for a second reading. And I think the British authorities are going to look at the tools that their law enforcement and intelligence need to fight this most effectively.

HUME: There was an amendment in Capitol Hill to our Patriot Act, which is up for renewal, to sharply diminish the leeway that authorities have to look at certain kinds of business records, to include library records and others. The administration now are going to try to have that provision struck?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely not. In fact, the president has called for the full reauthorization of the Patriot Act with no sunset provision.

HUME: What I'm talking about, though, is the amendment. Do you support the amendment or not?

TOWNSEND: No, we do not support the Sanders amendment that sought to strike those provisions of the Patriot Act.

HUME: And what do you anticipate will happen to that?

TOWNSEND: Well, the bill is going to come up before the Congress for reauthorization. The president has spoke numerous times. And, you know, when we hear about this debate, people talk about, "It diminishes civil liberties." Well, Brit, the president has appointed a civil liberties board to address those concerns. And second, I would quote Dianne Feinstein, who is the person who said, "There's not a single documented instance of abuse of the Patriot Act."

That act needs to be reauthorized in full with no sunset provision.

HUME: I want to back to intelligence for a moment. We've, obviously, made enormous changes. You've described some of them and their intelligence apparatus and so on. How alarmed you at the fact that no one seemed to have any warning of this attack? And what does it tell you about the attack?

TOWNSEND: Well, I mean, it tells us that it was well-planned, well-coordinated and that the tradecraft of our enemy — they learned from their mistakes. And so we have to go back and understand. That's why the forensics are very important, understanding precisely how they committed the attack so we can target their vulnerabilities. It goes back to the issue of: You need strong intelligence early on, not when they're boarding the train, but when they're planning the attack where they have to eat and sleep. They need money, they need personnel, they need equipment. And so that's where you want to target them.

HUME: Well, if you have homegrown cells of the kind that many suspect are present in some number in London and perhaps other European capitals, possibly here as well, that kind of intelligence is not likely to available, is it?

TOWNSEND: I think that's wrong. You know, the FBI has developed an enormous intelligence capability. They operate under the supervision and guidelines of the attorney general so that it's consistent with our Constitution's civil liberties, and gives us a better chance of finding them before they're about to commit the act.

HUME: Jane Harman, senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the other day that, while deploring these attacks, she said that this shows that the idea that you fight them in Iraq so you won't have to fight them in your cities doesn't work. What do say to that?

TOWNSEND: You know what? I think it's a lie we tell ourselves if we believe if we weren't fighting in Iraq, that attacks wouldn't happen. The fact is, Brit, as you well know, we had the Beirut barracks bombing back in the '80s. We had Khobar in East Africa and the Cole. And what we learned then was if we didn't fight them — if we didn't take the fight to them on offense, they were going to continue to bring it to us. And I'd rather be fighting them over there than fighting them here.

HUME: Understood. But the argument is also made that this attack in London was specifically in retaliation for the British presence in Iraq. And the argument is made as well that an astonishing and seemingly growing number of terrorists are pouring into Iraq all the time, still able to make a terror attack in London, and that the fighting in Iraq itself has become a recruiting tool, and has had the effect of enlarging the enemy. Your answer?

TOWNSEND: No, what it has is it attracts them to Iraq where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London.

I think that's wrong, Brit. And I think we know that from the prior attacks. That's the bad guy's argument is that they're conducting the attack in London because the British are in Iraq. That's a lie and that's simply their propaganda.

HUME: Fran Townsend, nice to have you. Thank you for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Thank you, Brit.

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