WMD Panel Member Details Dire Warning

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," December 2, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Bill Hemmer. Good evening.

Breaking now: Americans are being told to expect a nuclear or biological attack within the next five years. That's the findings in a new bipartisan report just out today. It carries a stern warning, and that is this: The U.S. needs to beef up efforts to counter a catastrophic attack at home.

My first guest this evening, a leading player in that study, former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, a vice chair of that commission.

Sir, good evening to you.


Video: Watch Bill Hemmer's interview

HEMMER: What are you seeing out there that we need to know?

TALENT: Well, the margin of safety on balance for the country from a "weapons of mass destruction" attack by a terrorist, we think, is shrinking. Now, what that means is we're making progress in certain areas. Our report says, for example, in the intelligence sector which we've been having a lot of difficulties with. We're very pleased about the progress there but the terrorists are adopting, too.

And the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the availability of what's called "dual-use" technology pathogens in the bio area as well as instability in places like Pakistan, means that we think, gradually, our margin of safety is shrinking.

HEMMER: You mention the country of Pakistan. And we'll talk about that in a moment here.


HEMMER: But it's almost 2009. But why was 2013 such a critical marker in this report?

TALENT: Well, because when we interviewed — and we interviewed hundreds of people that went over thousands of pages of evidence and material. We really did a deep dive. The instinct emerged that we were dealing with a near-term risk, not an intermediate-term risk. And we thought five years was the right place to peg it.

Now, obviously, we don't have some classified document that says, you know, al Qaeda has some five-year plan that's going to come to fruition in 2013, but that was our belief as experts looking in a real deep dive through the material.

HEMMER: Well, you mentioned Pakistan. There are clear concerns in that country for a variety of reasons.


HEMMER: Not to mention the freshest in our minds about happened in India last week. Now, what are you are seeing in Pakistan that is so alarming to you?

TALENT: It's an epicenter of some very bad trends. It's a nuclear power. It has an unstable government, a government that's attention is diverted away from the terrorists and away from potential subversion within its own ranks. I mean, we're not certain what kind of sympathizers are there. They, obviously, have a lot of competition and difficulty with India, which could trigger problems, and al Qaeda is reconstituting in terms of safe havens in parts of Pakistan. So.

HEMMER: How would you measure the level of cooperation you're getting out of Islamabad? Or are these groups operating entirely outside of their government's work?

TALENT: Well, we are getting cooperation, I think. The problem is: How much attention and urgency is the government paying to it? Now, one of the good things that may come out of this, the Sunday's terrible incidents is the government understand that these terrorists can compromise its position across a broad front.

So, this is a government that isn't stable. And a government that's not stable pays attention to its own stability, first and foremost. And then the question is, they just, like for example, they just don't have a sophisticated level enough of protocols for guarding their nuclear material. I mean, it's a poor country that's still fairly new in dealing with all this. So, it's.

HEMMER: As you put out this warning today, are folks in Washington listening to this? Are they too caught up in the bailout mess and the economy disaster?

TALENT: Well, I think the answer is yes and yes, frankly. Yes, they are listening, but the danger — and we say this in the report over and over again — is the danger of the urgent crowding out of the (ph) important. And this is why we're saying is, look, this is not just important, it's urgent. No matter what else you're doing, you have to keep paying attention to this because — I mean, look, this is — we're facing the possibility of the destruction of a city someplace in the world, and potentially in the United States if we don't get this under control.

HEMMER: It is ominous, and it's something everyone needs to pay attention to, frankly. I mentioned this is a bipartisan report. This is not just a rogue group of politicians putting this together. You guys got together for a very long time and looked very closely at this.


HEMMER: There was a political message I read in this, too, and that is if the new administration wants to talk to Iran or talk to North Korea, you say, tread lightly. Explain.

TALENT: Well, what we say, both with regard to Iran and North Korea is, look, if you're going to negotiate and we're willing to comment of whether they should directly negotiate, but if you're going to and that's certainly an option, bargain from a position of strength. Your goal should be the elimination of their nuclear weapons program, and you should be prepared to use sticks as well as carrots in dealing with them.

So, that's the general message on the level of principle that we took. We did not get into tactical recommendations because we felt that depended too much on conditions on the ground on any given instance.

HEMMER: I can understand that.

Jim Talent, thank you for your time tonight.


HEMMER: We are paying attention here. Thank you for sharing tonight. Thank you, sir.

TALENT: Thank you, Bill.

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