America in a 'Trick Box'

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, December 30, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

MONICA CROWLEY, GUEST-HOST: With the new year right around the corner, the United States is urging other countries to place armed law enforcement officers on some flights.

Even though the United States remains on high alert, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) says Americans should not worry.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We will show the terrorists the strength of our resolve and the spirit of our determination, never to falter, never to fail.

So I encourage all Americans to go forward with their holiday plans. Gather with family and friends, reach out to your neighbors, reach -- root for your favorite football team. And rest assured that the full force of homeland security all across this nation is at work to keep you safe.


CROWLEY: So are you safe this holiday season? Joining us now is former FBI Special Agent Harold Copus.

Harold, welcome.


CROWLEY: So last week we had this report that Al Qaeda still may be interested in using airplanes as weapons, and that prompted the announcement today by Tom Ridge to say, you know, look, we're going to ask all international flights to, from and over the United States to have an increased air marshal presence.

Over the weekend, of course, we saw Air France cancel a bunch of flights at the request of the United States, primarily because there were some suspicious names on those passenger manifests.

What kind of intelligence is leading us to prompt these kinds of measures? What are you hearing?

COPUS: Two or three things right now, one of which is obviously intercepts. And that does not always have to mean something you've picked up from the Internet or maybe even telephone conversations.

It could be that we have assets on the ground who are hearing things, and they're passing that back up to their handlers, who get it back over to our intelligence agencies.

CROWLEY: Are you surprised at all that Al Qaeda still seems to be hung up on using aircraft as weapons?

COPUS: Not at all. And you have to remember, that is an easy way to get into the United States.

I thought what was interesting today was the secretary said to us that what he was going to do is put air marshals or sky marshals on.

What he failed to mention was the fact that we're going to have to secure the cockpit doors of those flights, the search of passengers before they get onto the aircraft, and tarmac security. All of that was ignored.

Makes you really wonder what we're really leading up to here.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Mr. Copus, it's Alan Colmes. Good to have you on the show. Let me show what you Congressman Christopher Cox said with Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday about this whole color code system.


REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: The question is, in this balance, how much of a warning is made in a generalized way to an audience that includes an awful lot of people who really can't do much with this information, other than hand wring and hanky twist.

As against, on the other hand, making sure that we get in touch with the people in the cities that we believe are particularly threatened, that we're working directly with them.


COLMES: Does he have a point? I mean, there's not a lot we can do about this, except get nervous, get scared. Congressman...

COPUS: That's true. Well, I think you can get nervous and you can get scared.

And what I do believe that has to be done is that you have to look around and watch your surroundings and see what you think is unusual and report it back either to the FBI or to some police authority.

And specifically, I'm talking about two examples, one of which was in Michigan. I was up there earlier this year.

A police chief up there was telling me that they had arrested a guy who's from the Middle East, who had made some threats against the United States and he was taking pictures of a bridge. This got a lot of people's attention. They reported it.

So I think those are things that you have to be alert to. We in the United States are aware of that. We know the things that are wrong. Let's just be careful and just report it.

COLMES: What is the average citizen supposed to do? I mean, just be on alert. I mean, we're being told security is being taken, the authorities are doing everything they can do. And yet, we're being scared to death.

COPUS: Well, we are being scared to death, and rightfully so. I mean, when they come through and they tell us now specifically, they want us to watch flights coming out of France, out of Mexico and out of the United Kingdom, I think that says something.

Now when they come back and tell us they want to put sky marshals in, that tells us something else.

As an average citizen, though, what we have to do is we have to know that these people are being supported here in the United States. And let's start looking at things that we think are suspicious. Activities that just seem out of the norm.


RIDGE: We know from experience that the increased security we implement when we raise the threat level, along with the increased vigilance that occurs, can help disrupt or deter terrorist attacks. That continues to be the case.


COLMES: You're talking about securing the cockpit door. And we had a report last week that Al Qaeda might be training foreign pilots to be terrorists and that some of the pilots themselves -- if we have secure doors that can't be penetrated, doesn't that work in the terrorists' favor if indeed the terrorists are the pilots themselves?

COPUS: Well, it certainly does. Well, I say to you that you have that issue but no one has said anything about securing the doors yet. That hasn't been a requirement.

What I'm really concerned about, Alan, is that if we put the marshals on there and we haven't done those other points I mentioned, about the cockpit doors and the passenger screening and the tarmac screening, what we're really saying potentially is a shoot-out in the sky.

COLMES: But is securing the cockpit door really a good idea?

COPUS: Well, it certainly could help unless, unfortunately, we have the proverbial, you know, whatever in the chicken house there. We put the terrorists flying the aircraft, we have a problem.

But let's hope that that isn't the issue and we have enough background on those guys that we're not letting those people in.

COLMES: Also, how can we enforce? We're asking other countries now. We're asking our allies to enforce this idea of air marshals and yet Britain saying they are not comfortable, at least the British airline pilots' association saying they're not comfortable with idea of guns and pilots being in the same place.

COPUS: I know. In fact, you'll find a lot of United States pilots saying the same thing. I think it's very dangerous.

We train the marshals here in the United States in a certain way, with the type ammo that will not as much damage the aircraft, take out the bad guy. That's not necessarily what's going to be happening. I think there are some dangers out there.

CROWLEY: Last month, Harold, I flew to Israel on El Al, and I felt incredibly safe between the interrogation, all the checked luggage being checked for explosives, the multiple air marshals every flight and the anti-aircraft missile technology on board every airplane.

I'll tell you, isn't it about time that American carriers have the same kind of aviation security in place?

COPUS: Certainly is and we need to copy that. That's a fantastic model. Now the question is will, we have the ability to carry that one through? That will be a debate. Something just tells me it may not happen.

CROWLEY: Very expensive, I understand that, but what is a life worth? Right?

All right, Harold. We're coming up on New Year's Eve. Millions of people are going to be pouring into our nation's cities. What kind of precautions security-wise, are going to be put into place for Wednesday night?

COPUS: I think you'll see the police will be out in force. I think that anybody that potentially is a terrorist, that the FBI has considered as such, that's on a watch list, will be under surveillance. It will be a busy time for the folks in law enforcement for the next several days.

CROWLEY: I know we're hearing a lot of so-called terrorist chatter. How reliable is this chatter, really, Harold? I mean, is it possible that some of this is diversionary to distract us, perhaps, from what Al Qaeda might really be planning?

COPUS: Oh, you've got -- these people are not idiots. And we can't underestimate them. You know that they know psychologically this is a way of coming at us.

But equally you have to know that they figure out if we can pick up their chatter we can probably trace who the chatter is coming from. So you've got to assume that a part of it or a portion is really just something psychological.

The other issue, though, is some of it may not be and that's where we are in this trick box right now.

COLMES: Harold Copus, thank you very much for your expertise. Good to see you. Thank you for being with us. Happy New Year.

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