OTR Interviews

Should the Iraqi prime minister's subway terror plot warning be taken seriously?

Iraqi prime minister says intel operation has uncovered an ISIS plot to attack on subway systems in the United States and Paris, but US officials have not confirmed threat

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 25, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a FOX News alert. ISIS is threatening attacks on subways and trains right here in the United States. The Iraq prime minister tipping us off, warning the terror threat might be imminent. The most terrifying part of this warning is the attack has not been stopped.

FOX News chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge, joins us -- Catherine?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Greta, what's curious about this story is that the details provided by the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al Abadi, are extremely specific. He said he got information from Baghdad that individuals had been arrested. They were members of ISIS. There was a plot to attack the subway systems in Paris and also the United States. And that the operatives, who are not Iraqis, they were American and French nationals. Once this hit the wires, what you saw here in Washington was a pretty rapid response. What we heard universally was this information had not been passed to the U.S. government through formal channels and they were unaware of this information.

VAN SUSTEREN: Has everyone been arrested in this little group, that had no idea?

HERRIDGE: The Iraqi prime minister -- again, this is what has my attention is the specificity. When people speak very generally, there is not always a lot of truth to it. But he is talking with a number of specifics. He says, we have arrested individuals but they are part of a network. So we don't believe that the threat or the plot has been completely thwarted.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why doesn't the United States know about this? Why are we sort of --

(CROSSTALK)

HERRIDGE: There are a couple -- sorry to just jump in there. There are a couple of explanations. One, that it's just bogus information, OK? It's bogus information --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: And we're vulnerable to that right now.

HERRIDGE: Well, it's bogus information. And because of that, it was not passed through these proper or traditional government channels. Number two is that there could have been what I would call sort of a ships- passing-in-the-night situation which is that the Iraqi prime minister gets the information from Baghdad. He is at the U.N. He is surrounded by reporters. And there is not really a filter. He releases the information, and it hasn't had a chance to get into the government channels.

But the bottom line is that this episode underscores the fact that everyone understands ISIS, their ambition is to hit the United States, if they can and do it domestically.

VAN SUSTEREN: Catherine, thank you.

HERRIDGE: You're welcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, why haven't U.S. officials confirmed the ISIS terror plot to take place on U.S. soil? And what does Iraqi intel know that we don't?

Representative Peter King is on the Homeland Security Committee. He joins us. Good evening, sir.

REP. PETER KING, MEMBER, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Hi, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: Very well.

Prior to today's announcement from the Iraqi prime minister, had you heard anything about a plot to hit New York or Paris subways?

KING: No, I didn't. And from talking to everyone that I know in the intelligence and law enforcement community today, it seems to be no evidence to substantiate what the prime minister has said. And I mean, there is nothing coming from Iraqi intelligence, as far as I know, the FBI, Homeland Security, NYPD. Now this would have involved a subway attack in New York. Remember, we have 140 government leaders in New York this week, including every major world leader has been here. And so obviously, you would have thought that somebody would have contacted the NYPD. And Baghdad would have made this known. Right now it appears it's misinformation. Obviously, it's going to be examined. And you can be sure that our people are in very close contact with the intelligence agencies in Baghdad.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess that I would love to believe that. And then I sort of think is this bogus? But then I think, look, our intelligence people didn't catch 9/11. They didn't catch the terror plot in Times Square until that happened. The underwear bomber, he was allowed to board a plane buying a one-way ticket without any baggage. It's like on the one hand, I don't want to be an alarmist. On the other hand, there is some really bad things that have slipped through the cracks with our intelligence service.

KING: Oh, no, that can always happen. You don't know what you don't know. But, in this case, if there were more to it, you would think that Baghdad intelligence would have immediately told our intelligence agencies. And they have their own prime minister in New York, the city that could have been attacked. You would have thought again what should have happened is and, in fact, happens 999 out of 1,000 times, is that when a nation finds something like this or thinks they find something, even if it's a tip or hint, they immediately pass it on to the intelligence communities affected. What I can find out the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, nobody was notified by Baghdad of anything. In fact, their prime minister was in the city at a time when they felt, according to him, that there could be an attack on New York. It doesn't add up. But, again, everything has to be checked out.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well I guess it would make a big difference to me as I sort of guess as to whether this is real or not. Frankly, we are in a position where we have to guess, regrettably.

KING: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does the U.S. get like a bunch of these scary alerts like five a day so that this is just one of many or is this unusual, so that maybe, you know, give it more attention?

KING: No. We get quite a few. You get people who come to embassies around the world, some have been reliable in the past, others haven't. They will come in and say they think there is going to be an attack in such and such location. That happened several years ago before 9/11. The 10th anniversary of 9/11, we got information there was going to be attack on ground zero of 9/11 itself. It was an all-person alert in New York for those two days before and the day itself. And as it turned out, it was either bogus or the plot was called back.

But, again, we can't take anything for granted. Every hint, every tip is tracked down. And in addition to that, though, there's always those you don't hear and it comes too late. As you mentioned, certainly, the Christmas Day bombing, the Times Square bombing. We should have certainly, with the Christmas Day bombing, we should have known more. But, again, all is analyzed and is looked at.

And also for the prime minister to -- the last thing he should have done is mentioned it publicly before he had told the American government. If it were real, you would think something as serious as this he wouldn't mention to a bunch of reporters on a street corner.

VAN SUSTEREN: That is curious, indeed. I agree.

Congressman, thank you, sir.

KING: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: With the very unnerving warning of a subway terror plot in the U.S., what is and could be done to prevent these attacks?

Our next guest is a former agent of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Jonathan Gilliam.

Nice to see you, sir.

JONATHAN GILLIAM, FORMER AGENT, FBI JOINT TERRORISM TASK FORCE: Good to be here, Greta. Thanks for having me.

VAN SUSTEREN: The prime minister of Iraq, he says this is a specific attack on a subway in New York and Paris. How do we find out whether this is the real deal, and what do we do?

GILLIAM: Well, contrary to what a lot of people would think, actually having a specific threat will help an investigation because it gives us specific sources that we he can query. It let's us look at specific groups that the threat may be coming from. So basically, what you will see now is a ramp up, the sources, the data base checks, and we'll see overall the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the DOD intel groups will see if they can find any chatter or sources that they may know about this. At the same time, you'll see state and local law enforcement really amp up, if they need to, their security at those specific sites.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I find troubling right now is I think we are particularly vulnerable to panic. We just had two Americans beheaded. A tourist has been beheaded. An aide worker has been beheaded. There has been a woman in Iraq, a human rights activist who was just tortured and killed. We are pretty vulnerable. And we're dropping bombs in Syria and Iraq. Who do we know? I mean, how does law enforcement -- you know, I imagine you get lots of these -- determine we can't chase everything down every second. What do we do?

GILLIAM: Let's look at it in a way that everybody can understand. Bank robberies happen all the time in the United States. But you're not -- you don't see people panicked and running out of a bank because of fear. You have to be smart. You have to know that these things can happen. And it's a gambling game. You know, the terrorists, they have the odds in their favor because no matter what defense we set up, they have the ability to wait, look at it, and go around it. So, you know, it's similar to a bank, you have to be aware when you go in there is always potential, but you have to go there. If you have to go to work and take the subway, be aware. There are people --

(CROSSTALK)

GILLIAM: I'm sorry, go ahead, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you can be on a subway and be 30 feet underground and between two stops and all of a sudden you think the person next to you has a package of C4 plastic. You are really out of luck at that point.

GILLIAM: You are. But, however, let's say you are not out of luck, like in Spain when the bombs went off, you had individuals getting off. This is on video. They are riding the escalator up. The first bomb goes off, they turn around and look. I hear a bomb go off, I'm running. Unfortunately, those people, the next bomb went off and killed them.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, it's not the old days where you need a big fighter plane or big bomber to drop a bomb on something. One person can do an awful lot of damage.

GILLIAM: One person seeing it and notifying somebody can always make or break that. There is no great tool or technique that we have, no technology that can beat an aware human at foiling a terrorist attack.

VAN SUSTEREN: We all feel deputized by 9/11 to speak up, or at least I hope so, if we see something peculiar.

Jonathan, thank you, sir.

GILLIAM: Good to be here. Thank you, Greta.