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Transcript: Secretary Chertoff, Rep. Hoekstra on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published August 14, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial edition of the Aug. 13, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: For more on the other major story of the week, the terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights, we're joined now by the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.
And welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".
HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Good to be here.
WALLACE: Britain's home secretary said today that it's highly likely that there will be another attempt at a terrorist attack and that there, in fact, may be more plotters still out there. What can you tell us?
CHERTOFF: I think that explains why the British and we have continued to maintain the alert level at red in Britain and orange in the rest of the United States.
Obviously, they believe they've picked up the main players, but it's a plot that's international in scope. We haven't fully analyzed the evidence. And therefore, we're still concerned there may be some plotters who are out there.
And we also have to be concerned about other groups that may seize the opportunity to carry out attacks because they think we are distracted with this plot.
WALLACE: In fact, do you know that there are other plotters still at large?
CHERTOFF: We don't know there are specific individuals that are high up on the list of plotters that are out there, but we also don't know what we don't know. And we know in general that there are other groups and pockets around the world that want to do us a lot of harm.
WALLACE: The Pakistanis arrested a key player in this operation, Rashid Rauf, who has close ties to Al Qaeda. The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. says there is definitely an Al Qaeda connection to this.
After looking over all the information over the last few days, Mr. Secretary, what was Al Qaeda's role?
CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, let's distinguish between whether there was a command and control relationship, something that was specifically approved at the higher levels of Al Qaeda, or whether we're dealing with a looser network that is related to Al Qaieda.
I think we're still in the process of forming a definitive conclusion partly because, as I say, there's a huge amount of evidence to be gone through, but certainly this plot bears the earmarks or the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda-type plot in sophistication, global reach, and really the nature of the plot itself, which is multiple terrorist attacks at the same time.
WALLACE: Still no signs of any involvement, any presence here in the U.S.
CHERTOFF: Chris, this is our number one priority. We are literally, minute by minute, reviewing the evidence as it comes over to see if there's any sign of plotting or operational activity in the U.S. by these plotters. We have not seen that at this point. But that's going to be something we'll be watching literally hour by hour.
WALLACE: British laws give their authorities more latitude to pursue these terror plots than we have here in the U.S. It's easier for them to get search warrants. They can go further than we can on arrests and detention. They have MI-5 devoted exclusively to domestic surveillance.
In fact, do the Brits have more weapons to fight the war on terror than we do?
CHERTOFF: In some respects, they do. They have an easier time getting electronic surveillance and they also can detain people up to, I think, 28 days without charging them, and those are very useful tools when you're trying to intercept an ongoing and very dynamic plot when you may not have collected all the evidence.
I do have to say they have actually a little bit more of a challenge when it comes to bringing the cases in court because there are legal restrictions on their using evidence that we do not have. So in that respect, we have a little bit of advantage when we actually prosecute the case.
WALLACE: Is there anything that they have that you'd like to get and, in fact, are going to call for?
CHERTOFF: Well, I think certainly making sure that we have the ability to be as nimble as possible with our surveillance is very important. And frankly, their ability to hold people for a period of time gives them a tremendous advantage.
Now, there are some legal restrictions here under the Constitution that they don't have, but their nimbleness and their flexibility are important tools we want to have here as well.
WALLACE: So you'd like to see some changes in our laws?
CHERTOFF: I think we should always review the law to see whether there are some things that would help us intercept these plots more readily.
WALLACE: Speaking of the laws, it's been widely reported that U.S. officials went to the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to get warrants for some surveillance done in this country. Was that because there was concern that doing it without warrants would be illegal?
CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, I was not involved in the process of whether warrants are obtained or not, and I'm not going to talk about specific techniques.
I think one of the challenges we face now is there's been so much churn in the legal environment that we want to make sure that we're clearly on the right side of the law. But that, again, underscores the importance of our ability to do electronic surveillance and other kinds of techniques in a very fast and efficient way.
And we've got to have a legal system that lets us do that so that we can prevent things from happening rather than punishing people or reacting after the fact.
WALLACE: Let's talk about your department. There has been criticism that DHS — and this is criticism since the plot was exposed — that DHS is too focused on fighting the last war, that you're too focused on preventing another 9/11 with box cutters when, in fact, you should be worried about new threats.
For instance, we have known since the Bojinka plot was exposed in the Philippines in 1995 that Al Qaeda was trying to use liquid explosives, yet, Mr. Secretary, as we sit here today, 10 years later, your department still does not have the capability to detect liquid explosives on carry-ons.
CHERTOFF: Actually, Chris, let me set the record straight on that. First of all, last fall, when we announced that we were going to cut back on some of the restrictions involving nail clippers, we made exactly the point you've made now. And this is, of course, months ago.
We said we felt we had gotten the cockpit security to the point we didn't need to worry so much about 9/11 plots, and we were going to put our resources and our training into explosives. We've run six pilots on liquid explosive detection.
We have retrained 38,000 screeners in up-to-date techniques for spotting detonators and modern types of explosive devices. So in fact, we have done the very thing you're suggesting.
WALLACE: But wait. But as we sit here today, if these plotters had come through with bottles of clear liquid in their carry-on, you couldn't have detected that.
CHERTOFF: It's actually unclear whether we would have or not. But of course, until we can ascertain that our techniques allow us to spot this kind of plot, we want to make sure we're safe rather than sorry.
The challenge here, Chris, has been this. It's not that we can't detect the chemicals. It's that the chemicals are very common, and there would be a lot of false positives. And a regime that required us to open every bottle would make it intolerable to get on line and wait to get on an airplane.
What we have to do is build a system that is efficient as well as one that's capable of detecting.
WALLACE: The Government Accountability Office says that in 2003 DHS redirected more than half of its $110 million in research funds to pay for more screeners.
And as a result, in 2005, GAO said this, and let's put it up on the screen. "TSA delayed development of a device to detect weapons, liquid explosives and flammables in containers found in carry-on baggage or passengers' effects."
Then this June, after DHS considered taking another $6 million away from technology, the Senate Appropriations Committee called your research arm — and again, let's put this up on the screen — "a rudderless ship without a clear way to get back on course."
Mr. Secretary, aren't those serious problems?
CHERTOFF: Well, let me make this point. You can't look at the screening of bags for explosives as merely a technology issue. Technology is certainly one solution, but you know, human ingenuity is a huge part of this, and that's exactly why retraining and hiring screeners is important.
Look what the Israelis do. The Israelis do not rely only on technology. They have people who are trained in pattern recognition, who ask very probing questions. That is exactly what we've done over the last year, Chris. We have reprogrammed our training to focus on pattern recognition and giving screeners the tools to look at the most modern detonating devices.
So it's wrong to look at technology as the only solution. It's part of a system of solutions.
WALLACE: Finally, and we've got about a minute left, let's do a lightning round — quick questions, quick answers — on some security issues that are going to affect a lot of people. Would you ever consider banning all carry-on luggage for safety?
CHERTOFF: Unlikely at this point.
CHERTOFF: Because I think that we can do the job with our screening, screening training and our technology without banning all carry-on luggage. And we don't want to inconvenience unnecessarily.
WALLACE: How soon will you lift the code red on all flights from the U.K. to this country?
CHERTOFF: I think that's going to be something that's going to very largely depend on where the British investigation is.
WALLACE: Finally, all Muslims aren't terrorists, but all these terrorists are Muslims. Why not, even if it's not politically correct — why not engage in security profiling instead of wasting time taking my 85-year-old mother — who's not 85; I don't want her to get mad at me — but taking my mother out of screening and checking her?
CHERTOFF: Well, we're not against using common sense. And obviously, screening 85-year-old grandmothers probably isn't very sensible.
WALLACE: But it happens all the time.
CHERTOFF: But I will tell you that the terrorists themselves focus on using people who do not look like our ordinary conception of terrorists precisely in order to get around our security.
So if we become too focused on a particular profile, we're likely to be dropping our guard precisely where the terrorists are going to be acting next.
WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for coming in today.
CHERTOFF: Good to be on, Chris.
WALLACE: For more on the terror plot, we turn now to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, who joins us from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Mr. Chairman, I know that you got a full briefing from intelligence officials on Friday. Do you think that Al Qaeda was involved? And what do you know about this question of whether members of this plot are still at large?
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA, R-MICH.: Well, I think it's very clear, as Secretary Chertoff talked about, this has all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda being involved in the process — the types of attacks that were planned, the scope of the attacks.
Remember, this was an attack that was going to be as big, if not bigger, than 9/11, over 3,000 Americans potentially dying on a single day within a few hours of each other. This has all the hallmarks of, at minimum, an Al Qaeda-inspired type of attack.
WALLACE: And are some of the members of this plot still at large?
HOEKSTRA: I think we need to look at the principle here, Chris. This is a war. There may be some members of this specific plot who are still at large, but we also need to recognize that there are probably other plotters and other plans ongoing as to how they can attack the U.S. in the homeland or our interests abroad.
WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, there are a lot of questions about Pakistan, which did a good job in arresting some of the key plotters, but on the other hand, time after time turns out to be headquarters for maybe some would say Ground Zero for a number of these terrorists.
Is President Musharraf doing everything he can to roll up the terrorist networks inside his country?
HOEKSTRA: I think the principle here is this is a global effort. We need to fight this on a global basis. President Musharraf, I think, has done a number of things that have been very, very helpful in this War on Terror.
We obviously see that one of the other places that we need to focus on is Great Britain and Europe, where there are a tremendous number of radical Islamists who have participated in these types of plots. But they've also been found in Canada. They've also been found in Australia.
We need to fight and engage this battle on a global basis and build the alliances that will enable us to be successful.
WALLACE: Let's pick up on that, because as you well know, Chairman Hoekstra, President Bush says that the central front in the war on terror is Iraq.
Doesn't this plot show that, in fact, Al Qaeda has many more direct ways to attack us, and to attack us here in our homeland, than in Iraq and Afghanistan?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think that what you see here is it is a global war. This is a real war. It is fought on a global basis. The techniques that we need to employ are offense, not defense.
We need to reach down into these terrorist organizations and get them at the planning stage, which is exactly what happened in this case. We need to tip our hats to the intelligence community. This was a tremendous success last week.
The tools that we've put in place, the strategies that we've put in place worked. I told the intelligence folks this on Friday. They said thank you.
Now we need to go back to work because this is an ongoing effort. Yes, we were successful this week, but the threats are still very, very real and very significant.
WALLACE: Let's talk about this question of international cooperation. I know that a number of other countries have concerns about the ability of our government, of our intelligence community, to keep secrets, to keep these things from not appearing on the front pages of the New York Times. Was that an issue in this investigation?
HOEKSTRA: I think it, again, is an ongoing issue. It raised its head here again because what happened here in the U.K. — it moved from foreign intelligence, which is how we're treating it — in the U.K., this is now a law enforcement issue.
The British have to take these folks that they've arrested, put them into the legal process and now prosecute the case successfully. And as information comes out through the U.S., leaks, the problem is it may jeopardize their ability to prosecute some of these individuals.
Leaks are absolutely devastating our ability to build these international connections that we need in this global war.
WALLACE: Let's discuss the issue that I brought up and discussed with Secretary Chertoff. Are the British better equipped than we are to fight the war on terror, legally better equipped? And would you like to see changes in some of the U.S. antiterror laws?
HOEKSTRA: I think what we need to do is we need to take a look at this specific plot, take a look at the tools that were used that allowed us to effectively stop that plot and see if we need to implement some of those in the United States.
What I'm more worried about, Chris, is we have people here in the United States who want to take away some of these tools that we've developed.
Our strategy for excellence in this War on Terror, our ability to stop financing, our ability to link foreign intelligence with domestic law enforcement, and our ability to do the kind of surveillance and get the speed that we need to get within the decision-making cycle of the terrorist groups — there's folks that in the United States want to get rid of some of the tools that we have developed over the last five years.
When we start talking about change, those are the changes that I'm most nervous about.
WALLACE: Well, we've got less than a minute left, and I want to ask you about that, because in this particular case, according to reports, authorities, U.S. authorities, went to the FISA court and got warrants to carry out surveillance.
Doesn't that, in fact, show that you don't need some of these programs the president started after 9/11, like warrantless wiretaps?
HOEKSTRA: I don't think it shows that necessarily at all. I'm not going to talk about specifically what tools were used in this case. We do know that we need speed.
The other thing we know we need, Chris — we need to get back to bipartisanship. You know, a threat on this scale shows that this is a real war. This is a real threat. No one should use this event or this war for political advantage.
WALLACE: Congressman Hoekstra, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for sharing your Sunday with us.
HOEKSTRA: Thanks, Chris.
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