Will Intel Reform Bill Make Us Safer?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: It's been a long road to the signing of the Intel Reform Bill today. Was it worth it? Was it worth the fight? And will it actually make us safer? I'm joined by former Speaker of the House, FOX News Political Analyst Newt Gingrich (search).

Newt, the only reason any of us care about this is the idea that we do need to be made safer. Does this do it?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, I think this is a step in the right direction. It doesn't do it by itself.

The intelligence budget is way too small; we have far too little emphasis on human intelligence; we don't have enough assets in places like Syria or Iran or North Korea. So it's going to take a lot of work to really strengthen the intelligence community and to make it effective over time.

This bill is a start, but nobody should relax and think that this bill does the job.

GIBSON: Mr. Speaker, bills are also something that sometimes make most Americans' eyes glaze over. Walk us through it. What does this new legislation do? What are we actually going to see in the way of changes?

GINGRICH: Well, the most important driving thrust of this bill is that there should be a coordinated effort where all the different intelligence services talk to each other, where the information flows to the president and to other decision-makers and to the military in a timely way, and where there's some kind of overall coordination, which is what we've not had; we've had a series of disparate agencies doing things.

But I just want to emphasize, while this is a very useful step, I very much supported passing this bill, unless the budgets are adequate, unless we recruit enough people, unless Congress changes its attitude about human intelligence and the problems involved in asking people to go out and risk their lives for this country in difficult places like Syria and Iran and North Korea, this bill by itself will just add a new layer of bureaucracy.

So, there's a lot more that has to be done than just this bill.

GIBSON: Well, let me put is this way: let's just say some of those things that you mentioned — I think everybody now agrees that we need more spies; we need more human intelligence and we need people who speak languages and can slip into these areas and do things — but let's say the bill's in place, this whole new apparatus is in place, how does that save us from the next Mohammed Atta doing more or less what the last one tried to do?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, nobody should assume ever that we're 100 percent safe or that any kind of intelligence preparation is going to make us 100 percent safe. We're up against smart opponents. They're going to study us every day, they're going to try every day to get through. They only have to get through once to cause a disaster.

Whereas, we could stop them 50 or 100 times and some of them will come back again. So, I think this is a step in the right direction, but it's not going to guarantee that you and I can go to sleep tonight and be sure that the United States is safe.

What it will do is it'll create a much more integrated picture of where our resources go; what we're trying to accomplish. Having a National Counterterrorism Center gives us a much greater ability to integrate the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (search), the Border Patrol, Customs, the people involved in actual CIA and other kind of spying; the National Security Agency (search), which does most of our electronic intercepts.

There are a lot of different assets out there that are working to make America safe. And historically, they haven't talked to each other very well; they very often have hidden secrets from each other; and I think we're trying to get to a system where the user can pull forward all of the information. And the obligation is on the intelligence agency to actively share that information, not to hide it from other American agencies.

GIBSON: Do you think that it makes much difference — you heard Mike Emanuel talking about this — whether the director of the CIA, who will then have a boss, the director of National Intelligence, whether either one of them actually goes to the Oval Office every morning and delivers the presidential daily brief?

GINGRICH: Yes, I think it makes an enormous difference because the person who sees the president the first thing every day is the effective deliverer and describer of intelligence on America. If that person sees the president say, 280 days a year and they're with the president for a half hour 280 times a year, their relative influence on the president, their ability to win bureaucratic arguments is going to be dramatic.

So, whoever — you'll know where the real power is by who gets to actually walk in the Oval Office and brief the president.

GIBSON: I've got to sort of, move us over one click in this discussion, and that is this — because we're going to talk about it later in the show at much greater length, but I do want to know what you think about this — there's this whole sudden discussion about whether Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, should stay or should go. And his critics are, this time, not coming from the left, but from the right.

What do you make of it? Should he stay or go?

GINGRICH: Well, I think it's totally wrong to focus on Secretary Rumsfeld. The American military did a great job in Afghanistan; the American military did a great job in Iraq; the American military's doing a great job in the global war on terror. It is the State Department which has failed to cut off Iran and Syria; it is the State Department which has failed through the Agency for International Development to create jobs in Iraq.

The Congress gave $18 billion to the Coalition Provisional Authority (search) and they couldn't spend the money. The bureaucracy couldn't deliver. So, I think it's really wrong for people to focus on the Defense Department as the problem, when most of the problems, frankly, are in the civilian side of national security, and in bureaucracies that aren't able to deliver.

GIBSON: Right. But Mr. Speaker, this particular discussion is centered on a moment when Mr. Rumsfeld was asked a question by a soldier, and he said something, and I think everybody agrees is true: "You go to war with the army you got, not the one you wish you had."

But nonetheless, it seems most people, or a lot of people, think he was being insensitive to the soldiers who were out there riding in those vehicles that aren't armored up. Just a bad day for him and mark it off as that?

GINGRICH: Look, Don Rumsfeld has had the characteristic for four years of telling the truth to the American people and telling the truth to the men and women he leads in the Defense Department. I think what he said that day he believes. And I think he said it as directly and as candidly as he could.

I find it amazing that politicians, including people who have pretty regularly voted against appropriations for defense and people who have pretty regularly voted against doing what we need to strengthen our country, in terms of these kinds of things, decide to jump on Don Rumsfeld for what they think is insensitivity.

This is a man who has done everything he could for three and a half years so our young men and women could have the best equipment, despite the Congress, so our young men and women could have the best support, despite some of these people in Congress.

And I find it a little ironic that some of the people, who voted no on spending the money, now want to say that it's Donald Rumsfeld who's somehow insensitive.

GIBSON: A ringing endorsement of the Secretary of Defense. Former Speaker, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

GINGRICH: Good to be with you.

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