Long-term vs. short-term threats facing US

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 12, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: We are very concerned about the actions of the new young leader, and the very belligerent and the rhetoric emanating from the North Korean regime.

MATTHEW OLSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: We have seen that threat become geographically disbursed, as affiliated groups and groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda's message have grown in areas, for example, in North Africa.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: What is happening in the cyber arena cuts across any of our disciplines, whether it be counterintelligence or counterterrorism as well as criminal.


BRET BAIER, HOST: North Korean, the threat from Al Qaeda, and cyber-attacks from possibly Russia, China or Iran, all talked about today at this threats of the world hearing up on Capitol Hill. We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think there are two kind of threats, the ones that are the long-term ones that are targeted at us, and that would include, of course, Al Qaeda, and spreading around the world, even though the core Al Qaeda is obviously diminished, the ideology, the murderousness remains unchanged.

The second is the cyber security, which is an issue -- we've  never suffered a Pearl Harbor. We can imagine it but we are not sure what it would look like. But apart from the long-term threats -- and of course on that list is Pyongyang and China in the longer run -- is the immediate threat to world peace, and I think the paramount one. And one that slipped from the consciousness is Iran going nuclear.

Remember, it was a year ago when the secretary of defense, Panetta, said that by six months ago Israel would already have attacked Iran. When the prime minister of Israel spoke at the General Assembly he had a cartoon bomb and said we are going to reach critical moment in spring or summer. Spring starts next week.

BAIER: OK, pause for dramatic effect. Thank you.

KRAUTHAMMER: The 20th of March and equinox and all that, but I thought I didn't really have to elaborate.


BAIER: Kirsten, at one point in the hearing, the national intelligence director was asked about Benghazi and asked what lessons might have been learned from the 9/11 attack in Libya.


CLAPPER: I think one lesson in this is a greater force -- a greater emphasis on the intelligence community on force protection for our diplomatic facilities. That clearly was I think a shortfall for us, having a bet appreciation of the tactical situation on a diplomatic facility by the diplomatic facility. The other lesson learned is don't do talking points, unclassified talking points. That is the lesson I learned.


BAIER: How about that, Kirsten, obviously referring to Ambassador Susan Rice relying on the talk points?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: I thought it was interesting. He got -- he mentioned in the hearing about the pre 9/11 mindset but he didn't link so it so much with Benghazi, but I do think that is a little bit what happened there. They didn't have anybody on alert in the area. And I thought to me this is the most interesting and most important part of the testimony, which is taking us back to the '90s when we really had a pre-9/11 mindset, and were cutting intelligence and they cut the intelligence community by 23 percent. He was just really talking about the fact we need to not get in that mindset again and how sequestration is affecting the intelligence community. I think that is biggest thing with Benghazi and a lot of other areas we are really flying back into that mindset.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I agree with DNI Clapper that one of the lessons is that the intelligence community shouldn't be doing talking points for policy makers. It's not an appropriate role. But I would say if you do talking points, don't edit them and allow them to be politicized in the way they were.

The bigger take, it was so interesting to watch these hearings, because of the apparent consensus, everybody out there, that Al Qaeda is such a severely diminished threat. You know, nobody said we don't need to worry about it, but the clear message out of the hearings was that the potential for a strike on the homeland is minimal. They even, I thought, downplayed potential threats of growing Al Qaeda, you know, the geographic distribution and strengthening of Al Qaeda in the region. I think it's -- it's something that -- I was watching it and thinking this is a hearing we could see played back later after an attack.

BAIER: To that point about the diminished effectiveness of Al Qaeda, here is the national intelligence director and then the story we brought you last week about the documents, recovered in the Abbottabad compound for Usama bin Laden, hundreds of thousands of them believed to not have been released. We only received 17 of them so far and apparently they tell us a lot more, according to numerous reports. Take a listen.


CLAPPER: The threat from core Al Qaeda and the potential for a massive coordinated attack on the United States is diminished. But the global jihadist movement is a more diversified and decentralized and persistent threat.

THOMAS JOSCELYN, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I think the files probably complicated the Obama restriction overall counterterrorism strategy in that they show there is a cohesive international terrorist network led by Al Qaeda that operates to this day and Al Qaeda really isn't that close to defeat.


BAIER: Apparently, Charles, they show a lot more interconnected Al Qaeda steering even affiliates.

KRAUTHAMMER: And it completely undermines the Obama argument before Election Day and even after Election Day that somehow because of Obama, the threat has radically diminished, which also implies it was the Bush administration and all of the things that it did, invade Iraq, et cetera, which was a recruiting element that augmented the jihadists.

In fact that's not true. It didn't effect, as we see today. It's spreading today without a Bush administration, without Iraq, and with a new Obama administration that opened itself up to the Arab world. So it is intrinsic enmity and it has nothing to do essentially with our policies.

BAIER: Do you think we'll see any more of the bin Laden documents?

POWERS: I have no idea. I stopped making predictions.

HAYES: We should. They paint a different picture than the one presented. My question is, do these leaders of these intelligence agencies know what is in them at this point?

BAIER: That is it for the panel.

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