Is Homeland Security Doing Enough?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 21, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: To inflict great harm on our country, America's enemies need to be only right once. Our intelligence and law enforcement professionals and our government must be right every single time.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST Only right once, a warning Homeland Security officials have been repeating since 9/11, but are they doing enough to prepare and protect us?

Former Senator Gary Hart (search) co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. Senator, thanks very much. This is now no longer an election issue and probably people can talk about it a little more calmly. How are we doing about preparing ourselves for the next Mohammed Atta (search)?

GARY HART (D), FORMER COLORADO SENATOR: Well, there were four of us who are veterans of that commission that you mentioned who sent a piece that was published last week in The Wall Street Journal saying we're not nearly prepared enough. I know the administration would say the glass is half full. I think our view is that it's half empty. There is not the sense of urgency here at home in terms of homeland security that there is about prosecuting the war in Iraq and it is the lack of that sense of urgency, I think, that is most disturbing.

GIBSON: Senator, I fly all the time. It appears to me that airport security is vastly improved and the security on airplanes is, but what else?

HART: Well, we don't have enough time to go over the whole list, but the National Guard is central to the prevention and response to terrorist attacks. Disproportionately the guard is in Iraq in a support mission and disproportionately the members of the guard are first responders, policemen, firemen, hazmat teams and so on. So we're doubly vulnerable there. There's not a rapid enough movement on common databases, common communications systems. Ports are still enormously porous. The list is just enormous.

GIBSON: Well, let's take the ports because that's one that is pretty dramatic. At one point, it was described as only 2 percent of cargo shipments coming into U.S. ports —

HART: It's gone to about 4 percent now.

GIBSON: All right. So 4 percent. It's double, but still 96 percent not inspected. On the other hand, what I read all the time is that we're trying to inspect cargos or protect us from a bad shipment, a bomb or whatever, where the shipping starts, rather than at our ports. Is any progress being made in your view on that effort?

HART: Absolutely. I've met a couple of times with Commissioner Bonner at the U.S. Customs Service and that is exactly the strategy that he is beginning to use, has been using for about a year. It takes a while to negotiate agreements with the managers, many of whom are private enterprises abroad, to get our customs inspectors in there. But it's a very good program and it's beginning to make progress.

But we're approaching — we're now I guess 3 1/2 years, over three years, beyond 9/11 and although we haven't had a second attack, I think all experts agree it's going to happen and we're not making fast enough progress. I heard a report a couple of weeks ago that it will be 2008 before there's a common database and communications system between the FBI and the customs authority and that's just not acceptable. There has to be a greater sense of urgency from the White House on down.

GIBSON: Senator, let's accept what you say at face value. That would seem like a long time to wait for that. Why isn't it falling into place quicker?

HART: I think people in your profession should be asking the president, Mr. Ridge and his, eventually his successor, members of Congress, other officials in the White House, why not? We're just kind of taking it for granted that these things are being done. I don't read very much in the press at all about examinations of how we're doing. But I do talk to first responders, policemen and firemen, and most of those I meet with and mayors and they're extremely worried.

GIBSON: All right. If there was one or two things, that is, something you could just bring up off the top of your head that you think is absolutely essential we ought to get at right away and pay a lot of attention to, what is it?

HART: Well, I've mentioned two of them. I would say get the National Guard back home. If it requires the conscription to fight the war in Iraq...

GIBSON: The draft?

HART: That's what conscription is. We're not meeting the manpower levels. The fact of the matter is, to fight the war in Iraq, we are draining homeland security in the form of the guard and reserves. If we brought them back home, then if it takes conscription to fight that war, then the president should call for it, but that's a separate issue. We need — the question is, what do we need to do? We need the guard and reserve here at home trained and equipped to prevent terrorist attacks here and second move much more rapidly on the port security than we are and would I add a third, that is get the private sector into this game. This is a capitalist economy. The means of production are owned by private enterprises. I have not heard one word from the president calling on corporate America to do its job to protect itself, petrochemical plants, energy plants and so forth.

GIBSON: Lastly Senator, do you worry about dirty bombs? We seem to see that discussed in the press a lot.

HART: I think if you are in — if you think about this a lot, you are worried about everything. There's no hierarchy. I've said in the past that what worries me the most are biological weapons, viruses of various kinds, small pox and so on, simply because they're the easiest to distribute and we're the least prepared to defend against them.

GIBSON: Former Senator Gary Hart, Mr. Hart, it's always good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

HART: It's a great pleasure. Thank you.

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