New Year's Eve Under the Threat of Terror

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, December 30, 2003.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: THE O'REILLY FACTOR is on. Tonight, New Year's Eve under the threat of terror. As revelers get ready to party, security gets ratcheted up from Times Square to Las Vegas. Will it be enough?

I'm Tony Snow in for Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight.

Heightened fear and beefed up security all around America in the hours leading up to New Year's Eve. The feds will have choppers patrolling Times Square and a no- fly zone will be in effect over parts of New York, Washington, Chicago, Las Vegas and Disney World.

Joining us from now from Washington is former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir (search). And from Philadelphia, terrorism expert, Ed Turzanski (search).

Mr. Turzanski, let's begin first with a question. I notice in the newspapers today in New York, they're talking about the alert level here in New York City being orange plus. What on earth does that mean?

ED TURZANSKI, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Tony, it means that New York is a natural target, not only because of 9/11, but also it represents to Al Qaeda (search) such a high value target in terms of Western political and economic influence.

New York is really the kind of place they would love to pull off a spectacular attack. And that's why it's only natural that New York would be on an even greater security status than other portions of the country.

SNOW: But Howard Safir, first I want you to outline a little bit the kind of security measures that are being taken in New York because they're truly impressive. And that being the case, would it not be unlikely that Al Qaeda would try to mount an attack at a time when everybody is looking out for them?

HOWARD SAFIR, FMR. NY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I don't think Al Qaeda's going to mount an attack on New York, but again, there are no guarantees. And I think one of the things that happens in New York, and we've been doing this many years, is there are going to be up to 750,000 people in Times Square and the surrounding area [on New Year's Eve].

They're going to be funneled into the area through chutes, where they're going to be screened very carefully. Manhole covers are going to be welded. Receptacles for trash are going to be removed from the streets. All cars are going to be taken or towed out of the frozen zone.

There are going to be helicopters overhead, both NYPD and other agencies. There's going to be hazmat units, biochemical units available.

There's going to be heavy weapons groups and a lot of undercover police officers around. And I think that the whole key here is you make it so hard for terrorists to be successful, that they look to go somewhere else.

SNOW: Ed Turzanski, what kind of people would Al Qaeda try to dispatch? Let's suppose that they were trying to do something in one of these high-value targets on New Year's Eve. What kind of people would they dispatch to the scene to try to pull it off?

TURZANSKI: Tony, first of all, what they would do is spend a lot of time casing out the area and making sure that they knew what the responses were, what the precautionary measures were.

And I want to echo what Commissioner Safir said. I don't think it's likely that anything will happen in New York, largely because of the great precautions that the city's taken.

But in terms of these people, they're going to be the kind that fit in and aren't going to stand out in any way. And by the way, it's getting harder and harder for them to get into the country, largely because — if I can use a sports metaphor — we've decided to play offense, and we are preempting the attacks at the point of origins. We are fighting this battle overseas so that we don't have to fight it here in our streets.

SNOW: And we have been told, Howard Safir, that it took two years or more to mount the Sept. 11 attacks. Two years have transpired, two years plus since then. Do you think that Al Qaeda, given what we know about the attacks on Al Qaeda cells and leadership in the last couple of years, has the kind of resources and furthermore, has the kind of top-quality personnel from their point of view to be capable of pulling off these attacks?

SAFIR: I think they do. And I don't think we should underestimate our enemy or overestimate our successes to date. The fact is Al Qaeda is alive and — although not as well as it used to be, it certainly has the capability of pulling off significant attacks.

We should never forget that the same group that pulled off the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center is basically the same group that did the 2001 Sept. 11 attack.

I think we have to be very cautious. And you know, I think what our enemies are counting on is us losing our resolve because nothing's happened, saying well, “We're OK.” Well, we're not OK.

SNOW: Ed, why don't you talk a little bit also about precautions around the country? We tend to be focusing on big cities, New York, L.A., Chicago and so on, but we have seen reports in recent weeks that Al Qaeda also may be targeting more out-of-the-way places, whether it be nuclear plants or other things. Surely there need to be security precautions in those places as well.

TURZANSKI: Yes, they do, Tony. And let's keep in mind that Al Qaeda is not only interested in casualties. They're interested in disruptions. What they want to do is upset the economic system of the country.

[They want to] attack things like air travel so that you shut down the entire air system of the country, power grids, communication centers. So they're looking at systemic sorts of attacks that will bring down the economic system of the country.

So it's not just emotional high value, but also very practical attacks that will cripple our ability to conduct commerce. That's what they're interested in, which is why we look at the power grid, nuclear power plants, water, communications, travel modes.

SNOW: Howard, we've talked a lot about intelligence gathering. Once Al Qaeda members get on American soil, it becomes the responsibility of the FBI, but also local police departments, to figure out who the bad guys are and to track them. How do you do that?

SAFIR: Well, I think one of the most important things is since the American Patriot Act was passed, the intelligence agencies have been able to share information with law enforcement. And that needs to get down to state and local police.

I mean, there are basically about 22,000 federal agents in the country. There are over 750,000 state and local police officers. They're going to be the people that are going to be the first responders, and they need the information. What we have to get better at is the federal government passing that information on in a timely manner to state and local police.

SNOW: Ed, one of the things a lot of people worry about is borders. You constantly hear complaints that we've got porous borders. It's easy for people to get across, especially if they're determined and clever. Is that true? Or have we done a much better job of policing the borders? And I'm particularly interested, not in the Mexican border, but the Canadian border.

TURZANSKI: Right. And it's the longest unprotected border in the world. Tony, we've done better, but we're not nearly as good as we need to be. And we still have a considerable problem with undocumented aliens.

It really is a matter of political will. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have wanted to touch this issue. And it's one that frustrates local law enforcement because when you pick up someone who is not documented, who isn't supposed to be in the country, you often find that the feds are not as cooperative as you would presume they would be in apprehending them and in doing something with them.

So borders are still a problem. And we're not nearly as good as we need to be.

SNOW: Howard, you just raised a couple of interesting questions. Number one has to do with the notion of police morale when you're dealing with these problems. Do you find that there's a morale problem? And going back to a point you made earlier, with all the warnings we have seen, is there a danger that not only the citizens become numb to warnings, but law enforcement personnel as well?

SAFIR: Well, I don't think law enforcement's going to become numb to warnings. And we have to make sure that citizens still stay alert, because they really are our eyes and ears.

But you know, getting back to this immigration issue, immigration was a dysfunctional agency before Sept. 11. It's going to take a long time to get it up to where it's really going to function the way it should.

But what we really need is a biometric visa. We need to be able to track people who visit our country and make sure that they're doing what they said they were coming here to do.

We can only do that with either a fingerprint or a facial recognition or a retinal scanner or something that will give us the ability to know that the people who are visiting our country are here for legitimate purposes. We are a long way from that now.

SNOW: All right, Howard Safir, Ed Turzanski, gentlemen, thank you very much. And have a safe New Year's.

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