Interviews

How can we weed out terror supporters in US?

Former DHS secretary Tom Ridge weighs in

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," February 9, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right.

Well, if ISIS isn't already here in America, those who want to help them are, the federal government charging six Bosnian immigrants across some three states with assisting ISIS and Al Qaeda. They allegedly sent weapons and cash to the terror groups. In fact, they were set to fly out to Syria when all of that was done last summer. We stopped them.

But former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge fears they might not be alone, and we might be behind the eight-ball.

Secretary, Governor, always good to see you.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Nice to be with you again. Thank you.

CAVUTO: How did we catch these guys? Do we know?

RIDGE: Well, I can't say for certain.

But I do know that multiple sources of intelligence, including our friends at the FBI, got them appropriately, probably had their eyes on them for quite some time.

CAVUTO: Right.

RIDGE: And, unfortunately, Neil, I think this is a manifestation of a troubling, but permanent reality in the 21st century.

CAVUTO: That they are here, that the bad guys are here and we're not doing enough to...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: ... them out?

RIDGE: Well, no, but the reality is, is that we're going to have people in this country that are going to support the savage attacks on -- that ISIL perpetrated on Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians.

But we're -- also, there's another level of engagement. And, unfortunately, it will be either ISIL veterans returning to this country or just think about the Tsarnaev brothers.

CAVUTO: Oh, right.

RIDGE: They operated independently of any central command.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: And all these six Bosnians, if memory serves me, Governor, they were all here legally. There was nothing in question about them, as were most of the 9/11 terrorists.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: Right.

CAVUTO: How do we weed out groups like that?

RIDGE: Our best hope -- our best hope is to gather sufficient information in time to connect with them before they act.

But in a country of 330 million people, even though we now have more restrictions on immigration, we're foolish to conclude that we could catch them all before they all act. But whatever the sources were for these individuals, fortunately, we were able to detect it.

That's one area where I think those families, individuals in the communities, if they're operating in the broader Muslim community, it's pretty difficult for these individuals to operate independently, that won't let their intent be known.

And that's why I think sometimes it's just people in the community give us a heads-up. Unfortunately, we didn't get any of that with the Tsarnaev brothers.

CAVUTO: Right.

RIDGE: But, I think time will tell. I think that's one of the responsibilities of the broader community, Muslim community.

CAVUTO: I have asked you -- I'm sorry, sir. I have asked you this before. But do you think we're going to have another 9/11-type event?

RIDGE: I think the prospects of more independent, smaller attacks similar to the ones that we saw in Boston, are probably closer to the reality we have to deal with.

But I don't think we should ever conclude that the big strategic hit is something that's not on minds of Al Qaeda. But, right now, they seem to be taking -- they're in second place in the Islamic jihadist world. But there is no doubt in my mind that they would continue to plan something as significant and as horrific as 9/11.

But, right now, I think our prominent concern has to be these kind of attacks, the support to ISIL overseas and the possibility that there would be one or two operating independently in this country.

CAVUTO: Right.

What would change if ISIL/ISIS got control of a sovereign country? How does that change things, in other words, if they took over Syria, if they took over Iraq? You have heard all the caliphate arguments. What happens?

RIDGE: Well, you know, sadly, Neil, I don't think they have to take over control of the entire country.

They control enough square miles now, exclusively under their control, unless they're ousted. Then obviously, it becomes a much larger training ground than Al Qaeda had in Afghanistan.

CAVUTO: But what if -- to Ted Cruz, who might be running for president, who says no boots on the ground, no U.S. boots on the ground?

RIDGE: Well, I just -- I think his premise is wrong.

I think we need boots on the ground, but I also think it has to be a global coalition. This is a global scourge. We ought to have global fighter pilots, not just the Jordanians. But I think Saudis ought to be there, the Emirates ought to be there, the Qataris ought to be there, the Japanese should be there.

But we also should have global troops on the ground. And it requires leadership. Our leadership should come from the White House. But since you're downplaying -- they're downplaying the threat -- and I think they truly are.

CAVUTO: Yes, what did you make of that? I asked Senator McCain about this.

RIDGE: I saw that.

CAVUTO: The president sort of saying, it's really the media, if it leads, it bleeds, and that that -- or it bleeds, it leads, I think -- but that it's the media making a bigger deal out of these thugs than they deserve.

RIDGE: I think it's a tragic, delusional mind-set, and basically ignoring the reality of the world.

We ignore the reality of Putin's incursion into Ukraine. You ignore the reality. Remember, this is the president that said Assad must go. We didn't do -- take any action then, created a fairly fertile ground for ISIL.

No, I think the president is just wrong, and whether it's by design or not. But his view of the world is not shared, frankly, I think by even most Americans. I don't think you have to be a member of the National Security Council to appreciate and understand the horror and the possibilities associated with this group, beheading humanitarian workers, beheading journalists, and a president who is incapable of calling what it is, and that's radical Islamic jihadists.

So, I think the average citizen has a better point of view and has a more thorough understanding of the challenges that this country faces right now than perhaps our president does. And I think that's...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But you have been critical of more than just the president. Republicans who wanted to sort of defang the Homeland Security budget after his executive order...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Now, they counter -- because they see the show all the time, as you know, and not surprising, Governor, said, well, you have got to tell the governor that we're not for defanging Homeland Security, just that portion that goes to the president's executive order program.

You argue that it's not that clean and simple.

RIDGE: It's not that clean and simple.

And let's face it. I said to my Republican friends, it's political folly, it's politically insane and it's absolutely wrong to take that capability away from Secretary Johnson. This is a department that has many, many missions, including obviously the one that the public is most concerned about. And the thrust of this effort is trying to deal with this constant, permanent threat.

CAVUTO: But they say they wouldn't hurt the funding for that. You're saying you can't do that.

RIDGE: Just -- I'm saying, you created a spider web, and you can't get out of it yourself.

CAVUTO: I see.

RIDGE: Give this man and give this -- these men and women the tools that they need.

And if you want to argue about immigration, my view is, send the president a fairly significant immigration bill, consistent with what you think is important for us to have a solution to this national economic security and humanitarian problem and see what he does with it. But take the funding of the Department of Homeland Security off the table. It's just flat wrong to do it.

And I might say that Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Napolitano -- there may not be much bipartisan agreement, but at least you have the three previous secretaries of homeland security saying, get out of the secretary's way, let him do his job, and then go deal with the immigration issue, as you should, offer the president some legislation and see what he does with it. That's what you're there for.

CAVUTO: Governor, Secretary, thank you very, very much. Good seeing you again.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: Always my pleasure. Thanks.

CAVUTO: All right.

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