Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Speaks with Sean and Alan

Published January 23, 2006

| FoxNews.com

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," January 20, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: People all over the country, some are still on edge tonight after yesterday's re-appearance of Usama bin Laden in an audiotape played by the Al-Jazeera network. The terrorist leader threatened more attacks against the United States and said that preparations for those attacks are already under way.

Joining us now with the very latest, Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back. First of all, we're confident it's him? We think it was made in December, the tape?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, we do believe it is him. In terms of pinpointing when it was made, I'm not sure we're completely sure about that yet. But we do know it is him.

HANNITY: But we work under the assumption that it's really a matter of when, not a matter of if, there's going to be another attempt at attack on the United States, correct?

CHERTOFF: Well, we certainly know, Sean, for the last four years — in fact, more than four years — it's been the intent of Al Qaeda to carry out attacks on American soil. So this doesn't give us any new sense that we didn't have before.

We always monitor the flow of information, intelligence, threat streams to see whether we have any indication there's some imminent. We work hard to identify potential cells and disrupt them. This is one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on intelligence gathering.

HANNITY: But Mr....

CHERTOFF: And this is particular tape...

HANNITY: Go ahead.

CHERTOFF: ... is obviously interesting to analyze from an intelligence standpoint, but standing alone it really doesn't signify more than propaganda.

HANNITY: Mr. Secretary, were you as, perhaps, surprised as I was at the high level of awareness that he had in his references to the American political scene, referencing the attacks on the opposition party towards the president, who's leading the war, paying attention to polls. He even used, basically, the same phrases, played on the fears of the American people. Somewhat sophisticated in an evil way, no?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think you're right, Sean. I mean, Al Qaeda is very media-savvy and very focused on what goes on in the global media. If you go back in 2004, a tape came out of Al Qaeda that — in which bin Laden talked about the election. So he is very conscious of what is going on in the media. He tries to manipulate us. This is really a form of propaganda. And we have to...

HANNITY: Right.

CHERTOFF: ... evaluate it, not only in terms of the merits, but in terms of understanding that he is trying to influence us.

HANNITY: To be very, very clear here, in case — I guess there might be some people that actually think you could have peace in your time or some type of negotiations with the terrorists. I do not believe that. I know you don't believe it, Mr. Secretary.

But this is an enemy that must be defeated. We've got to remind the American people he must be beaten. He must be defeated, correct? There's no...

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: ... possibilities, no discussions, no negotiations?

CHERTOFF: You are absolutely right. You don't bargain with terrorists. You don't appease terrorists. And anybody who believes that this is about something we've done has to ask themselves why it is, on September 11, 2001, before we were in Afghanistan, before we were in Iraq, he committed a dastardly attack killing over 3,000 people. I mean, this is not a matter of negotiation; it's a matter of victory.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Mr. Chertoff, it's Alan Colmes. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Secretary. Why after four years is he still out there?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, he's obviously got a fairly large terrain to move in. He's obviously got people in the area who are hospitable to him.

But one thing that we have done in the last four years is we have really put pressure on the leadership of this organization. We have killed a significant number of leaders. We've captured others. Those that remain have to look over their shoulders, they have to be on the run. So that even if we don't manage to kill or capture them all within four years, what we do do is put the kind of pressure on them that makes them focus on their own skins, as opposed to carrying out attacks.

COLMES: All right. Now, you know, Gary Berntsen, head of the CIA in Afghanistan there, he was a field commander. And he has a book out called "Jawbreaker." And he says we missed an opportunity at Tora Bora to get him. We put resources elsewhere. That's been a critique of the administration. Did we miss opportunities? He's out there. He's got a tape. He is still threatening the United States.

CHERTOFF: Well, Alan, you know, first of all, I haven't read the book, so I'm not — I can't do a book review. But what I can tell you is that we are hunting for him, but this is not really about one person only. This is about a network of people.

And as we have taken out or captured many of the key operational leaders, we have had an impact in degrading their ability to carry out sophisticated operations. At the same time, the threat is still there. The terrorists still want to strike at us. We can't afford to become complacent. We can't afford not to use all of the tools at our disposal, if you try to disrupt their activities.

COLMES: When he says he's preparing for attacks on the United States and we'll see them soon, what confidence can the American people have that we're any safer now than we were in September 2001?

CHERTOFF: I don't think there's any doubt that we're safer than we were in September 2001. Our intelligence sharing is much more robust. Our intelligence gathering is much better. We've elevated the degree of security on our transportation. We've done better securing our ports. We've done better with our infrastructure.

Now, we are not where I want to be. We've got more work to do. But in terms of the road to achieving security, the kind of security we're entitled to, I think we've made quite a bit of progress.

COLMES: He said on this type, "Delay in attacks," and I quote, "has not been because of a failure to breakthrough" — our — "United States security measures." Do you believe that?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, Alan, this is a propaganda piece. I would hardly expect the enemy to concede anything in favor of what we're doing. We have to be mindful of the fact that the threat is there. We cannot afford to relax; we cannot afford to assume that the problem has been resolved.

On the other hand, I wouldn't let somebody manipulate our psyches by letting his characterizations of what he's doing be given any weight.

HANNITY: All right, Mr. Secretary. I also think it was a great thing that that Predator drone got that fourth-ranking member of Al Qaeda. And I thought that was a tribute to the good work of our law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Thank you, sir.

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