9/11 and the Future
In a compelling look at the future, the 9/11 Commission's leaders—Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton—go to the heart and spirit of the Commission's 41 recommendations in a highly personalized and candid interview on dialogue.
As the nation commemorates the third anniversary of the horrendous events of September 11, 2001, the report of the 9/11 Commission provides the blueprint for a more secure future. In a compelling look at that future, the Commission's leaders—Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton—go to the heart and spirit of the Commission's 41 recommendations in a highly personalized and candid fashion on dialogue, "9/11 and the Future."
Also appearing in this program were commentators Akbar Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies and International Relations at American University, and Edward P. Plaugher, former Arlington County Fire Chief. This one-hour dialogue television special was presented by the Wilson Center and MHz NETWORKS.
The program is addressed to all Americans:
- What are the roles citizens and the private sector play in complementing the work of government?
- What are the principles to follow in reforming intelligence-gathering and its congressional oversight?
- How do schools and colleges build the intellectual resources needed to combat terrorism?
- And how should this country understand and relate to new world realities?
Moderated by dialogue host George Liston Seay, this is a conversation with the Commission's Chairmen like no other. It marks a new threshold in the country's debate about its future.
The following is a transcript of this event.
GEORGE LISTON SEAY: Hello, I’m George Liston Seay and this is Dialogue, a weekly exploration into the worlds of international affairs, history, and culture. There are dates of such stark tragedy in history that simply remembering them calls forth their lasting horror. To that long, sad list is added indelibly September 11th, 2001. For that day, like others of painful memory, the enduring questions are the same; how have we been changed by what has happened? What must we now do to harvest lessons, defend against recurrence and seize the best prospects for the nation’s future? These questions are rendered most acute by the age of sustained urgency in which we live. I’m pleased to welcome the leaders of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States Chairman Governor Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Congressman Lee Hamilton. Gentlemen, welcome to Dialogue, welcome to you both.
It’s a remarkable report, as you both know it has achieved best-seller status, and I think that’s a tribute to the lucidity and the eloquence and the way it’s written as well as its content, but I must tell you both having read it the sentence that struck me most, that was most formidable in my mind was this one, “The most important failure was one of imagination.” I’d like to use that as a starting point for our conversation. It seems to me that if imagination failed in the past it can help us understand the future and maybe the first use of it is to understand the challenge we face, the kind of war that we’re in, whether it is a climatic Armageddon-type battle or a long twilight struggle. I’d like both of your contributions on that, but Governor Kean, let's start with you.
GOVERNOR THOMAS KEAN: Well, the simple answer is that we just didn’t understand the threat and we didn’t imagine. We didn’t imagine in our wildest dreams that these people had the capacity and the willingness and the belief that if they could kill as many Americans as possible that would advance their cause without caring whether they’re women or children or military people or civilians, and that they’d do it as often as they could to try to advance a sort of warped idea of the cause. That was something we just never—even though we had warnings. I mean Bin Laden was there with his fatwa saying he wanted to do something on American soil. There were plenty—starting with World Trade Center I all the way through the Cole there were plenty of warnings, but we just didn’t get it.
Do you think that we didn’t get it because in the magnitude of the terror, the horror, the savagery, this violated all the norms—the known standards or norms, if you will, of conflict that...
KEAN: Well, it’s a combination of that and the fact that we hadn’t had an attack on continental American soil since the War of 1812, so you put those two things together. I mean now we know. I mean even the events in Russia—these people would get to know children for two or three days and then shoot them in the back and blow them up. I mean this is something beyond the comprehension of the world that we lived in the past. It’s a new world; we’ve got to have new ways to deal with it.
I mean this is something beyond the comprehension of the world that we lived in the past. It’s a new world; we’ve got to have new ways to deal with it.
I think that’s a very useful phrase, “beyond the comprehension” and that puts special demands on our need for imagination to meet what might be coming next. Congressman Hamilton, in terms of the type of struggle that we’re faced with here, is this going to last our lifetimes? Are we in for the duration so to speak? Is this with us for…?
CONGRESSMAN LEE HAMILTON: We said in the Commission report that we thought it was a generational challenge; in other words, very long term. It’s a formidable enemy. To go back to your earlier question I think we usually don’t believe what we don’t want to believe and Americans don’t want to believe that people hate us to the point where they want to kill us. And so we needed imagination that we did not display prior to 9/11, but we’re going to need in it in the future. We were often advised during the course of the Commission deliberation to kind of let your minds run loose as to the various tactics and targets that the terrorist could adopt, even suggesting that we read science fiction sometimes and get people who are outside the usual bureaucratic mold to think about these things, but there isn’t any doubt that the enemy we face is determined. They do hate us, they do want to kill us, and it’s going to be a very long, difficult struggle.
You point out—you point in the report again a phrase and a concept I think that will be key to how we use imagination and marshal resources and it calls for, and here’s the precise language, “Unity of effort.” Now I’d like you both to comment on what that means in terms of the spirit of the recommendations for government, but also it occurred to me meanings that might beyond government in terms of the public, the private sector. If this is something we’re all in together what does "unity of effort" mean in the grand sense?
KEAN: Starting with your last point, the public. Before 9/11, terrorism was not very high on the public’s radar screen which meant it wasn’t very high on the Congressional radar screen either because what the public wants to do is often connected with their representatives. I mean we checked in the 2000 presidential debate, even though terrorism was—bin Laden was very much out there, we can find only one occasion when it was mentioned. We looked at the polls and found out that pollsters didn’t even ask the question. So it wasn’t high on—so the public has got to recognize the threat and get involved. As far as the government, this has got to be the number one priority. There’s no higher priority in government than keeping the American people safe. That’s number one. And so the government has got to make this a top priority and in doing so all the agencies of government have got to come together. It cannot be one agency over here to do this. It’s got to be everybody coming together in an effort that’s coordinated, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
There’s no higher priority in government than keeping the American people safe. That’s number one. And so the government has got to make this a top priority and in doing so all the agencies of government have got to come together. It cannot be one agency over here to do this. It’s got to be everybody coming together in an effort that’s coordinated, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
Governor, Congressman Hamilton rather, you spent a lot of time in Congress obviously and what the governor has just referred to strikes me requires a new kind of thinking about how we go about our business throughout the agencies and throughout Congress as well. I mean a spirit of communication, a spirit of perhaps surrendering certain prerogatives so that greater efficiencies can be obtained, is that going to happen?
HAMILTON: Well, we hope it’s going to happen. We think it’s an urgent matter that it does happen. "Unity of effort" is, as Tom mentioned, requires the private sector to be heavily involved. Eighty-five percent of the targets are privately owned. We found, for example, that the evacuation of the World Trade Towers did not go as smoothly as it should because people didn’t know what to do.
In the government sense, we found one of the big problems was the phenomenon of stovepiping, which is to say that each agency held on to the information they had and didn’t share it and the basic finding of the Commission was that we did not adequately share information about terrorism and therefore couldn’t deal with it properly. So government has to have a unity of effort and part of that unity of effort is to share the information across agency and department lines and that’s one of the keys, we think, to building better intelligence but also a better integrated and balanced effort that Tom spoke of.
As we do all of that we obviously have to be even more attentive to the clues that the world offers us in going about structuring our own response to terror and I guess that brings to mind the use of foreign example. We’ve seen a great deal of sadly from Bali to Madrid and then, most recently, in Russia and gentlemen to use a phrase there’s a phrase the writer George Steiner uses to characterize the 20th Century, he called it “the collapse of humanness” and I think that applies to what we’re seeing now. This constant evolution of savagery and yet we have a response to respond to it civilly. How do we use that? I mean how do we look at these including the most recent horror that we’ve seen in Russia?
KEAN: First of all, we’ve got to work together. I mean Russia should not have to handle this alone we should be there to help if we can anymore—we appreciated the help and sympathy and the world on 9/11. If Bali has a problem, the whole civilized world, this is a problem for everybody and everybody has got to get involved. For instance, in the United States, it doesn’t do much good if we—or a great deal of good if we have very careful screening of everybody with their passports and the European Union doesn’t because these people then move around with those passports. It doesn’t make any sense if we do a number of things in this country with our intelligence agencies and we’re not cooperating with the finest intelligence agencies of other countries in the world. We have been very fortunate in our alliance with Pakistan because a lot of the top Al Queda leaders have been discovered and brought to justice with the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence agencies in Musharraf. So these things are absolutely necessary; there is one world now and this is the job the civilized world is going to have in our lifetime.
So we have to both learn from these horrible events but also coordinate a world response to them.
HAMILTON: You can’t pick a single tool for attacking terrorism, I don’t think, without coming to the conclusion that you need some help. You can’t stop terrorist financing unless you have the cooperation of several other governments. You can’t stop nuclear proliferation unless you deal with these materials all over the world. Intelligence—we see almost every week in the newspaper instances where arrests have been made, that takes a lot of cooperation and coordination among intelligence and law enforcement people. So international cooperation is just crucial to the war on terrorism.
I do want to draw a distinction that I think is important. The Commission found—you asked the question, “Who is the enemy?” That’s not an easy question to answer, but we answered it in two ways. We said, first of all, there’s a kind of a hard-core group that we identified as Al Queda, we don’t think that’s a huge group in number, we think that it’s a relatively small group, we didn’t put a number on it, dedicated, their leader is Osama bin Laden and it’s not likely that we’re going to persuade that group to see it our way and we decided that group has to be removed. You have to capture them, you have to kill them, you have to remove them from the scene, but the great mass of Islamic people are not in that category. They may have a—they may admire Osama bin Laden, they may look to him for some inspiration, but they don’t agree with the violence that his—and so that’s the target that the American foreign policy has to aim at, those people, and it’s a very important distinction to make.
It’s an extremely important distinction. I’m glad you brought into the conversation at this moment, Congressman Hamilton. In fact, let me use language from the report and turn to this, because I was struck also by this—not just that sentiment and that line of thinking but this very statement. The report says, “The history culture and body of beliefs from which bin Laden shapes his message are largely unknown to Americans.” And so I think—and I guess this a question for you Governor Kean, we have to, as Congressman Hamilton said, make that distinction between who is doing what, but also understand the larger culture. Is that really the challenge that we all have?
KEAN: Oh, absolutely true. I mean for most Muslims this emphasis on violence is against the Koran. This is something most Muslims reject and they’ve rejected it for centuries based on the words of the prophet. This is a strange diversion of a great religion and we have to, first of all, recognize that. When you recognize who the enemy is we call him Islamic terrorists really, but the other thing we have to do is recognize in the larger Islamic world that we’ve got a job to do.
I mean, for most Muslims this emphasis on violence is against the Koran. This is something most Muslims reject and they’ve rejected it for centuries based on the words of the prophet. This is a strange diversion of a great religion and we have to, first of all, recognize that.
Yes, we certainly do.
And let me focus it very precisely on what you both do in terms of the intellectual institutions that you head, Drew University, The Woodrow Wilson Center, because in making these distinctions, understanding that culture, I was also struck gentlemen, in the course of reading this, that we seem to be horribly unprepared to the number of people devoting intellectual energies to this, something like six degrees in Arabic Studies in 2002. What can be done about that, not to really—or all of us, but for both of you right now.
KEAN: Well again, it’s the private sector and the public sector, if I can assume great universities and put them in the private sector. Those of us in those institutions have got to recognize in the world we live in an understanding of the great religions and great cultures of the world is absolutely vital and that we need people trained in those areas and in those languages. That’s number one. Secondly, government can be a great help. A lot of us in the academic world are driven by government, government gives scholarships in certain areas and not in others, government encourages certain things and not others and government can certainly be a great help in encouraging that, not only in scholarships and that kind of thing, but in providing the jobs [laugh].
HAMILTON: George, diversity becomes very important here. I mean if you’re fighting the war on terrorism you’ve got to study 20 languages that I suspect very few of them are offered in an ordinary college course. They’re very, what we would consider, esoteric languages and cultures and yet that’s where this radical Islamic view emerged. So diversity becomes important in not just understanding Russia or China, but in understanding the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan and knowing those languages. You don’t produce people who are experts in those areas in two or three years; that takes a lot of work by a lot of very talented people.
So diversity becomes important in not just understanding Russia or China, but in understanding the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan and knowing those languages. You don’t produce people who are experts in those areas in two or three years; that takes a lot of work by a lot of very talented people.
You know gentlemen it occurs to me as you speak on this very important point is how we get the intellectual resources and use them imaginatively, we’re very lucky because this country is based upon diversity and I guess I pose this a perhaps obvious question, it would seem to me that getting lots of different kinds of people and their representative cultures contributing to our understanding, I’m talking about everything to educational matters, is something that we have to do.
KEAN: That’s one of our big problems. I mean if you look at our agencies, CIA, FBI, and they’re not equipped for that. They haven’t brought in that kind of diversity. I had a cab driver in New York City about three weeks ago who knew more about Afghanistan and the various tribes and the problems in Afghanistan and the Taliban and all of that than almost any of the people that we interviewed from CIA or FBI.
That’s telling testimony.
KEAN: Because he was from Afghanistan—he immigrated from Afghanistan 15 years ago. He still has family there and he and his family would be the kind of people—they’re great Americans, love this country, you bring some of those people into these agencies let them lend their expertise in a way we haven’t done before. The government has got to do that.
Right, I frankly say, “Here, here.” I think you’re both right on those points. We’re going to turn to the foreign policy implications, broadly speaking, in just a moment but I can’t resist asking you this at this point one of the great achievements of this entire exercise, gentlemen I think you both know this, was the bipartisan spirit in which you conducted it. Everyone has commented on that. I think the real challenge here, and hence the question, is how to imaginatively if you will bring that into the ongoing debate? I don’t want it to Pollyanna but is there—can we do it? It seems to me it would be ideal if we could to keep that kind of –
HAMILTON: Well the bipartisanship was principally because of the leadership of Tom Kean...
KEAN: And Lee Hamilton. [laugh]
HAMILTON: I think Tom set the tone for it but, I tell you, there were some techniques involved too. We early on rejected the idea of confrontation when dealing with the White House or anybody else and we had a lot of advice to be very confrontational but we rejected that advice. We decided that we’d focus on the facts. Facts are pretty stubborn—they either are or they are not and they are not ideological and so you focus on facts and that helped a lot. Once you get an agreement on fact than consensus becomes not easy but easier to develop. And I think, Tom, the other thing is we just spent a lot of time at it, talking, and you don’t come to a consensus on these difficult issues without conversation and dialogue.
Facts are pretty stubborn—they either are or they are not and they are not ideological and so you focus on facts and that helped a lot. Once you get an agreement on fact than consensus becomes not easy but easier to develop.
It strikes me—do you have anything to add to that?
KEAN: I was just going to add that I think in this town, Washington, as I see it as a semi-outsider now, Congress is all ideologues. I mean, generally, some of them are in the middle, but most are on the right or the left and then they fight with each other. You can’t do something like come to a consensus on a very difficult problem from an ideological point of view. There’s no right or left answer to this. I mean, there’s an answer that you’ve got to come together on and one of the things that we’ve found is—that members of Congress just don’t do—we spent a lot of time with one another, not only in conversation but even socially— we went to each others’ houses, that kind of thing. And as you get to know each other pretty well the “Big D” or the “R” starts to disappear from one’s chest and you start to feel these are human beings who are just as interested in solving the problem as you are. And you start to see that and then there was a period, I don’t know if I’d give it an exact date, there was a period when the sharp partisan comments that used to sort of surface every now and then in the Commission started to disappear and then sort of totally disappeared and, you know, the last couple of months it was like a seminar in a college class and everybody trying to give their best ideas to come to a conclusion. Quite wonderful. I don’t know how you get to the rest of Washington doing that but it should be done.
HAMILTON: Well, we never had a single partisan vote.
Akbar Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies and International Relations, American University
In America, the biggest misperception of Islam is that it is a religion of terrorism, of violence.
When people talk to me about Islam and ask me to define Islam I remind them, that of the 99 names of God in Islam the two most repeated, most popular names are Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, and they mean compassion and mercy, beneficent and merciful. So a god that is compassionate and merciful cannot ask his followers to go and kill people, particularly innocent people, that’s totally unacceptable.
We are at a critical moment in history for all kinds of technological, communication, ugh… political reasons. For the first time in history, all the world cultures are now juxtaposed, interwoven, inter-penetrated, this has never happened before in history. So we are at a time when a lot of people advocate violence, we are at a time when a lot of people are advocating dialogue.
So we need to be aware, through programs like yours, that there is a choice we have. We have the clash of civilizations, or we have the dialogue of civilizations.
And I would strongly urge and advocate the dialogue of civilizations. Because the world we are living in is a dangerous place, it’s a violent place, and it will not improve until each one of us becomes aware of what is at stake, and what we could be doing to make this into a better world for the future. If we don’t, then I’m afraid that our children and our great-grandchildren are going have a very troubled future ahead of them.
As I said at the outset, gentlemen, the foreign policy recommendations set forth in this Commission have attracted an enormous amount of attention and, quite frankly, I think many people might have been surprised that that got such emphasis so, as a way of setting the stage Governor Kean, was the Commission surprised or did they see this, as I suspect they must have, as a necessary way of giving us the larger context of things we had to do in the world, broadly speaking, to address this evil?
KEAN: I think we felt it was integral but, more importantly, actually the commissioners, I think, feel perhaps our foreign policy recommendations haven’t gotten enough attention because they are so essential to everything else we’re talking about. If we don’t reengage the Muslim world in a very important way that we don’t see as a Commission that we are now engaging them, if we don’t change the image of America in that part of the world, if we don’t perform differently, if we don’t bring our allies into this fight, if we don’t do any number of things which we recommend, then the rest of the Commission recommendations aren’t going to be effective. So it’s all in this context of foreign policy. We’ve got to communicate to the Arab world who we are, what we believe and we’ve got to stop just being a military power. We’ve got to bring in education, cultural exchanges, aid to libraries, all the kinds of things we learned to do in the Cold War and, perhaps, haven’t done since.
And apply them with, again, imagination to this current challenge. Lee Hamilton, Congressman Hamilton, that strikes me as something you’re long familiar with, foreign policy in and of itself, but also an aspect of this the Commission has brought out, and I’ve very glad to hear the Governor say that we can give attention to this that others should be giving to it, the strategy of public diplomacy in reaching a global – in achieving a global strategy. What is public diplomacy in this context? What do you do?
HAMILTON: George, if I may go back a little bit, I’ll try to answer that, too, but I think what strikes us in dealing with terrorism is that you have to develop a counterterrorism policy, and that means that you have to use all the tools of government; the Treasury has got to work on the terrorists’ financing, the Defense Department may have to take military actions, the intelligence people have to improve collection of intelligence and covert actions, diplomacy, which we’ll be talking about, plays a very large role including public diplomacy. You just right down the list and the trick, here, is to integrate all of this and use it effectively.
And on foreign policy—you ask about public diplomacy—it’s a huge part of our effort; public diplomacy, with all of our strengths as the great advertising nation in the world we don’t seem to do as good a job on public diplomacy as we should. One of our witnesses said it’s amazing that a man in a cave in Afghanistan can do a better job of public relations than the United States government can do and that’s a little exaggerated, of course, but there’s some truth to it. So we have to get our message out much more effectively and I think what that means, in specifics, is we have to let people know that we want, for them, a better life, an agenda of opportunity, the kinds of things Tom was talking about, education, healthcare. And we can’t afford all of that, we can’t do it all ourselves, the governments themselves have to be the primary actors, but we can let them know that we’re on their side and that we want for them an agenda of opportunity and a better vision, and that’s what we have to focus on.
In going after that, and I’m obviously impressed by that, the report mentions, and you alluded to earlier in talking about who is the enemy, hordes of disenfranchised young men, in particular, alienated populations and so forth, so that would suggest to me, and I suppose this is the question part, in terms of our diplomacy, our outreach, to the world’s inequities do we have to have broader conceptions of things like aid and development, nation-building, all of that, as elements of the foreign policies we construct?
KEAN: You take one of the most important countries we talked about, Saudi Arabia, which is in that category; it’s got 50 – 60 % of the population is now teenagers, mostly male, without jobs and no future, that’s just asking for terrorists, just asking for bin Laden’s message to take seed. So we’ve got to have an alternate message to those people. We’ve got to look at a country like that and say, “The relationship has got to change.” It cannot just be about oil anymore. It can’t just be, “Hey, you sell us the oil, we’ll support the monarchy, and everything will be fine.” It can’t be that anymore. It’s now got to be, “What about the people of Saudi Arabia?” How are we going to encourage the monarchy to do things which they should need to do in their own interest such as moving towards democracy and a more liberal regime? They can’t do it all at once. You can’t take a regime like that and say all of a sudden they’re going to be a Jeffersonian democracy, that’s not going to happen, but you can encourage them to take steps and, particularly, you can help them take steps in education so these children have some alternative to these schools, some of which teach hate. There’s got to be schools that teach science and math...
And provide them opportunity.
KEAN: And provide them opportunity so these young people can look ahead and make a choice, and the choice is – bin Laden’s choice is actually death, that’s the choice. Our choice should be life and hope, and we’ve got to communicate that.
Do you see that as the message, Lee? And I guess the further example of that – further question about that would be the national willingness—marshalling our national will, via Congress, to embrace these kinds of programs and efforts.
HAMILTON: I think the phrase that sticks in my mind, I think it’s a phrase we used in the report, is US policy has to be on the side of pragmatic reform on change. These societies have to open up, they have to become more transparent, they have to become more accountable, they have to take more steps for their people to improve the lives of their people. We identified three countries that are particularly a problem, Saudi Arabia, Tom has mentioned, but we also focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan and we don’t for a minute think this is an easy matter; this is very, very difficult.
Pakistan is probably, in some ways, the toughest problem in American foreign policy. I mean, here is a country which has the nuclear weapon. If that nuclear weapon came under the control of an Islamic radical government you’d have a big-time problem in the world today—really big. Fortunately Musharraf is there and he’s on our side, but he has enormous problems internally in dealing with these Islamic radical groups.
So you have to be on the side that Tom has mentioned—pushing, prodding, encouraging these folks to open up, but at the same time, you have to recognize that the political leaders in those countries are dealing with extremely difficult problems and that’s—going back to one of your earlier questions, this is why it’s a generational challenge; you’re not going to do this in a year or two. But the United States has to get a much more focused foreign policy, I think, in this area and we’ve got to come down that we’re on the side of hope for these people.
On the side of hope. Let me mention a couple of countries that also, I think, obviously are getting our attention and probably need more of it, and some that may not be getting the attention they need at all. Afghanistan comes to mind. Of course, here’s where we took on terrorism directly, some people called it a terrorist-sponsored state just prior to that war. It’s at a very crucial point, now, it’s at the point of elections. I guess the question here, gentlemen, is that is this going to call for our recognition that this again is generational; we’re going to have to be committed to it for a long time to build it as a country?
HAMILTON: I don’t think there’s any question about it. These are long-term problems; these are problems which we are going to dealing with and which our children are going to be dealing with. Afghanistan is a very difficult state with a tribal history that goes back generations, it’s anti-colonial in many ways in its traditions, it’s different religious groups and different tribes that traditionally haven’t gotten along. We’ve got a good leader there in Karzai, he seems to be a charismatic leader in some ways, but he’s had a number of assassination attempts against him as has Musharraf and we can’t only depend on one person, so we’ve got to be involved there—it’s too important a country. That’s the country that bin Laden came from so we’ve got to be concerned with it.
HAMILTON: This is a very difficult problem for American foreign policy. If you say, as we do in the report, that we want, in Afghanistan, security and stability—easy to say, very, very difficult to bring about, and you can’t bring it about in the short-term. The problem from the standpoint of American foreign policy is sustainability. Can you—okay, everybody’s for security and stability in Afghanistan. You must deny a sanctuary to the Osama bin Ladens of the world; we didn’t do that early on, but we’ve got to do it now. Translating that into American politics, though, what that means if you’ve got to supply a lot of money, and a lot of technological assistance, and you’ve got to stay with it year after year after year.
This is a long-term proposition.
HAMITON: That’s hard to do.
The sustainability is a big issue.
HAMILTON: Sure, it’s a question of political will, and not theirs, ours. Are we willing to stay with them? We can’t commit—I often ask myself the question, “What will my former colleagues on the Hill, there, do five years from now with regard to Afghanistan?” You’re going to have 50 other problems come up between now and then, and can we maintain that? If we don’t do it you can almost be sure in a country like Afghanistan that sanctuaries will develop again, and Osama bin Laden or his followers will go back there and exploit that and start all over again.
You know, this is fascinating stuff and it’s obviously essential to come to grips with it at Congress and realize the long-term aspects of it. A couple of other areas where this is obviously of great importance: Iraq where we are now currently embroiled in the conflict we are. But let me ask you both, on this extraordinary subject alone of Iraq, is the real issue there, in terms of the anti-terrorist struggle, achieving stability? Is that what we’re faced with or is it more complex than that even?
KEAN: I think we say in the Commission that if we fail in Iraq it goes right to the head of the list as far as places that could be sanctuaries for terrorists and real problems. I think we feel that we’ve got to succeed in Iraq. There’s not a question—we didn’t get in, as a Commission, nor should we as to whether we should have gotten into Iraq to begin with and all of that. But now we’re there and I think we as a Commission feel we just have to succeed.
Because no matter how we got in there the risks of failure would be catastrophic.
KEAN: That’s right.
Congressman Hamilton, particularly from the Islamic world, we also hear a great deal of fervent statement that the Arab-Israel conflict is central—a solution to it. I want to know your sense of that, your sense in terms of how much—what kinds of energies and imagination we should be devoting to bringing that to a conclusion.
HAMILTON: Well, if you go back to Osama bin Laden’s fatwas they’re an interesting mix—ideology, theology, hatred towards the United States, desire to set up a particular kind of Islamic government, but they also have a number of political grievances. So I think the two are intertwined and together bring together the motivation. And one of the things Osama bin Laden mentions very frequently is the Arab-Israeli dispute. I don’t think there’s any question at all that it’s a big factor. How big a factor you can have a lot of argument over, but he clearly uses that as a motivational tool to energize the Islamic radicals.
The Commission was not charged with the responsibility of coming up with a solution to the Arab-Israeli question, but I think we did reach agreement on the fact that it ought to be an important part of American foreign policy to try and resolve the question. We didn’t try to spell out the details of the settlement of that problem because we really weren’t mandated to it. On the other hand, I don’t think you can just ignore it and it is important for the United States to be active in trying to bring about a solution there, and we all know how difficult that is.
Another question, and perhaps one that has not gotten the attention it should get in our international affairs, it struck me as I read this report and what we’re talking about now, relating positively to an entire culture and a part of the world, that our capacity, and here I’ll use a hackneyed phrase, to “speak truth to power” is going to be very important; that is to addressing the shortcomings, if you will, of some of our allies in terms of their democratic performance. That was a thought I’ve got, so let me see if I should hold that thought or not. Governor Kean?
KEAN: No, I think that’s a good thought, but we’ve got to do it diplomatically. As I said, you can’t transform these societies all at once and some of these people are our friends and are helping us in the war on terror, and we’ve got to help them to help themselves. We want these people to stay in power, we want these people to run governments that are friendly to the United States helping us in the war on terror, but in order to do that they’ve got to move in ways that increase the welfare of their own people and that’s the brunt of our foreign policy, is to work with those people to convince them what they have to do to help themselves, and if they help themselves they’ll eventually help us.
HAMILTON: Tom said something a moment ago that’s terribly important. These countries are not going to change because we want them to. It may be in our interest to have them change, but the one sure way it won’t happen is if we try to impose change on them. What we have to do is make them understand, and this is the point Tom made, it’s in their interest to change and it is in our interest to change, but more importantly it’s in their interest. And let’s be very specific about it. If the royal family in Saudi Arabia doesn’t begin to open up, doesn’t begin to change, they’re probably almost certainly headed for trouble down the road. Who can say when it would come about or how it would come about but you’ve got all these masses of unemployed young men, and they’re the ones you’ve got to keep your eye on, they’re the ones that cause the difficulty usually, not exclusively but usually, without jobs. They now have television, they know how you and I live, they know how the rest of the world live, and they know how the royal family lives, and that’s the big change. And they’re not going to accept that forever.
So we think that in all of these countries it’s a matter of doing this with great skill, with patience, with perseverance, with pragmatic reform to begin to open up. Now, we think many of the leaders recognize that and they are dealing, let me say again, with very, very difficult circumstances internally that we have to have an appreciation for.
Thank you both for these insights into the foreign policy aspects and I think now we’ll next turn to what it means domestically for us both in terms of our Congress and our people. Thank you.
Edward Plaugher, Arlington County Fire Chief (1993-2004)
The Pentagon and driving by the Pentagon for me personally, is vastly different today than it was pre 911. Obviously, it brings back a great deal of thoughts back to those days, and I’m talking about the multiple days. It also brings to bear the fact that we had spent a huge amount of time preparing for an incident at the Pentagon and I had actually made a statement, a public statement, couple thousand people in the audience, telling them that someday I was going to be on a grassy knoll looking at the Pentagon, when smoke was pouring out off it because a terrorist had hit it. And that we as community need to be prepared for it.
And so the realization that we’re in for very very tough time, we’re in for a very very long haul when it comes to preparedness and our needs for preparedness, and the fact that emerging threats are real thing, I think still every time I drive by the Pentagon that’s what I think about.
I think about the fact that bio-terrorism is real, I think about the fact that chemical-terrorism is real. The fact that there’s a network of people out there that are trying to harm us. And that we as a society need to deal with that, and we need to deal with that in an up front and straight forward fashion. We need the 911 commissions to do their work to find out where we failed where we did really well, and make sure that that is either replicated or fixed.
9/11 told us that the outside world is a very very dangerous place. And that we need to do something a lot different. So how we govern ourselves, how we managed those responses; how we manage our day-to-day lives need to be changed.
Gentlemen, there are 41 recommendations in all, if I’m correct, or thereabouts, quite a few indeed, and a lot of them, obviously, go to how we reorganize ourselves here at home affecting everything from intelligence gathering to how Congress acts to very technical issues about how passports are issued and so forth. So, I’d like to turn to them and I guess the one that’s gotten everyone’s attention here all over the world, indeed all over the world, is the recommendation that we restructure the intelligence effort and put a centralized director above it all. And I don’t want to open up a Pandora’s box that we can’t possibly treat right here, but I would appreciate both of your insights in terms of what you worry about might be being missed in the discussion as it has been conducted. At least to this point there’s been a lot of focus on lining up the boxes but is there anything you would hope that people keep in mind as they address this and Congressman Hamilton perhaps you first.
HAMILTON: I think we think you have to transform the intelligence community. You can’t tinker with it, you can’t work on the margins, you really have to bring about a fundamental transformation of the intelligence community to make it function more effectively and the principle recommendation is that you share information across all of these 15 intelligence agencies. That has to be worked out. In order for that to happen somebody has to be in charge. As long as everybody sees the intelligence problem in their own world, in their own stovepipe, and we’ve got a lot of very talented people working in those areas, but if that’s the whole area then that’s an inadequate perspective. Somebody up here has to take charge and manage the entire intelligence agency and that’s why you have to have a national intelligence director.
So the idea is a director that adds to the clarity of what’s going and increases communication.
HAMILTON: Absolutely, and management.
HAMILTON: What we found again and again was that bits and pieces of information would come to the FBI Director or the CIA Director or somewhere else, but nobody was putting it together. We had these two fellows running around out here in San Diego and we had bits and pieces of information about them. We had Moussaoui up here in Minneapolis who was going to the flight schools, we had a little information about him, but nobody took all of these bits of information and said, “Okay, I’m in charge. I’m going to manage this case.” And that’s why you need a person who can bring it all together and make it work. If you don’t do that you’re never going to solve this problem with intelligence. So you have to have a person who’s in charge and that means he has to have the authority, and in government that means you’ve got to have control of the budget and the personnel at the top, here, in order to make this great, big, $40 billion dollar, tens of thousands of people work together.
Now the critics say you don’t want to centralize intelligence because – but we don’t do that. If you share information you will increase the possibility of getting different point of view. If you limit the information then you’re going to decrease that possibility. So, we think this organization is just essential to improving our intelligence capability.
The way I read it was inspire imagination, generate the information, interpret it and then communicate it.
HAMILTON: You’ve got to disseminate it. It doesn’t help you to have the information...
And hold it.
HAMILTON: The key in intelligence is getting the right information to the right person at the right time.
Governor Kean, in doing what Congressman Hamilton has said that we should be doing, I was struck as I looked at one of the charts in the book that there is a box, if you will to use that word, where international crime is brought into the picture as a major issue of concern, and I was struck by that because it made me aware that if drug trafficking, piracy, smuggling and assorted other evils in the world conflate with terrorism, as they might, we’re in for a real – tell me your sense of that. Why are those connected? Are those connections there to be drawn?
KEAN: They could be drawn very easily. In fact I just read a book, a novel, I’m trying to get my own imagination going through reading some of these science fiction writers, the story is all about that – how the drug cartel gets together, in exchange for new areas where the drug cartel might be profitable, they are now helping people to smuggle into the United States terrorists, the same way they smuggle their own people into the United States; they can get through the Mexican border, they come into Miami and all of that. This is very, very real and these boxes are important.
Now the boxes can be changed as threats change, but this is very real and what people have got to understand, and I think the American people are starting to understand, is that this is our first line of defense. If we can get intelligence about these people before they strike then we can prevent or break up a potential tragedy and there is nothing really more important than that. And what I didn’t realize, frankly, as an outsider in a sense, and what Lee knows so well, is that people in Washington have been recommending changes in the intelligence agency for a quarter or half a century in some cases.
Is that right?
HAMILTON: It goes back to Hoover.
My goodness! Without getting the attention it deserves.
KEAN: So people know it doesn’t work. Nobody says, “Hey, it’s great, they all work.” They don’t work and they haven’t worked and, as an outsider, again, reading the information that the two presidents got from the intelligence community, they didn’t get good information. The intelligence community failed two presidents. Now I think about once in a generation you get a chance to really change government. This is our chance. If we don’t do it then shame on us.
I like that phrase, “This is our chance.” George, I want to pick up on these centers. We focused on counterterrorism because we were the subject of a terrorist attack, but these centers we recommend, you have a national center for counterterrorism and that will pool all of the intelligence and it will plan the operations with regard to counterintelligence. But we all know that’s not the only national security threat, so we say that the President and the National Security Council and the Congress can set up other centers. One of them surely would be weapons of mass destruction, another would be what you mentioned, international crime, so these centers, as Tom mentioned, would change from time to time, but they would all be the principle national security threats against the United States. We think terrorism is going to be the number one national security threat for as long as any of us can see, so we’re going to have a National Counterterrorism Center, but the others are important, too. You might want to put weapons of mass destruction, narcotics, crime, maybe Russia, maybe China, I don’t know what you’d put there.
I again remember a phrase from the report; it says that we have the responsibility to develop an ever more precise understanding. In other words, this is not a stop-the-camera and say this is it.
HAMILTON: It’s dynamic.
It’s dynamic, indeed. And part of that, Congressman Hamilton, that dynamism and the change that you’ve both been not just alluding to but stating very forthrightly affects Congress. The streamlining that you’re urging it to undertake, and I now refer to your 34 years there. [laughter] Because you’re telling Congress to do what may be counterintuitive for them, isn’t it, to restructure themselves.
HAMILTON: Well we’re disappointed in the quality of Congressional oversight in the intelligence area and so we come in with some pretty sharp criticisms of the Congress with regard to its lack of a robust oversight, and we make some rather radical suggestions. What we hope will not happen is that everybody will focus on the structure of the intelligence community or foreign policy or whatever, the things we’ve been talking about, and forget about Congress. Congress has to get its house in order and it has to get its house in order by sharpening, being more aggressive, being better informed, on oversight than it has been. If you’re going to have a national intelligence director, if you’re going to have a counterterrorism center, they’re going to have a lot of power and power means, in our government, you’ve got to have a balance and a check, and part of that check is Congressional oversight.
Absolutely. You know, gentlemen, also as I read through the recommendations of the report I was struck by this – there are times and points, many of them in fact, where suggestions, recommendations, matter of policy and technical concerns all come together, and one of them being – there are many of them, but for time’s sake I want to focus on one that I thought was quite extraordinary – the use, for example, of biometric data in passports and so forth. Using our own genetic code, I suppose, to identify ourselves throughout the world. I want to ask you, Governor Kean, about your sense about how important that is, but allied to that I had the further thought that if it is really as revolutionary as it sounds, could it be the kind of international convention that everyone is using that power [?]?
KEAN: Absolutely. It’s not going to work if we do it alone. The technology has pretty well been developed now. It’s maybe the most expensive of our recommendations. To install that system is not going to be cheap, but safety is not cheap. If we want to be safe we’ve probably got to do it and we recommend it very strongly in our report. But if we do it and the European Union doesn’t do it then where are we? We’ve got to try and get this adopted by the international world; it’s to everyone’s advantage. The time that we found out, from our study of 9/11, that the terrorists are most vulnerable is when they travel. That’s when you can get them. They’ve got to travel and when they’re moving is when you catch them, and the way you can catch them is with biometric identification. That they can’t get around. They forge passports, they’ve filtered [?] Visas improperly, those are all things that they can get away with. They could not do that with biometric identification.
I’m glad to hear that because when I read that I said if that’s all what it sounds like it could be revolutionary, but we all have to do it.
KEAN: We have to do it.
And allied to that, Congress Hamilton let me address this one to you, and Governor Cane has mentioned the travel patterns of suspects and potential terrorists, following the money also seemed to be a major recommendation, getting better at that. Is that as important?
HAMILTON: Well it is an important aspect of counterterrorism policy but, you know, when we first started down the line here in developing counterterrorism policy several years back you remember the phrase “drain the swamp”; we were going to cut off the funding. We’ve found that to be much harder to do than we thought. It was only $500,000 to pull off 9/11, we think. That’s a drop in the bucket in international financial flows, and it’s pretty hard to find. So we want to keep trying to do that. You want to cut off funding if you can, but what we also found is that you can learn an awful lot about terrorist activity by following the money and sometimes you’re better off not to cut it off but you find out where it’s flowing and to whom and, so, you have to look at this on an ad hoc basis.
Gentlemen, you’re both veterans of the political process in almost every conceivable way. I want to introduce the subject now, it itself could be this conversation, and that’s the concern, because we are in a country that prizes its civil rights, that prizes its human rights, that prizes its civility, your sense of our ability to do what we must do in these extraordinary times and yet retain our commitment to civil rights, many people are expressing that worry. I know it’s a vast topic but if you would respond briefly what would you say about our process for doing it and how we do it? Governor Kean?
KEAN: Very, very briefly. First of all, we’re going to have to give up something to become safer. We’re going to have to make some movement in that direction. Having said that, our most fundamental civil rights have got to be protected or we’re not the country that we’re trying to protect. So we’ve suggested, for instance, setting up a board within the Executive, which would watch these changes, watch these reforms, look at their impact on civil liberty and be able to make recommendations directly, I guess, to the President or the Congress or whoever it would require. So we’ve got to be careful of this, but I think it would be wrong to say in doing all this we may not have to give up something.
Are you saying this would be a watchdog sort of board?
HAMILTON: Very important aspect of our recommendations, civil liberties, and this is easily unanimous within the Commission, no objection to it at all. You’re greatly expanding the powers of government when you fight terrorism, you’re becoming more intrusive, and a lot of this we accept. We go through the airplane monitors at the airports and so forth and really have gotten to the place where we don’t think all that much about it, but you’re also increasing surveillance powers and when you do that it should raise a red flag for all of us and say, “Look, you’ve got to be careful here.” And that’s what we do with this board recommendation.
Now that board, and the makeup of it, becomes terribly important in how effective it is and whether or not it can require responses from all of the agencies and departments, but the need for it, I think, is quite apparent.
Just as we’re all American citizens I say, “Amen,” that’s absolutely true.
Gentlemen, as we come to the conclusion of what’s been an enlightening conversation for me, and I think for everyone watching this, about something that literally is our lives; it has not just affected our lives, it is our lives as we live them today. I know that, and the fact that you’re with me today points it out, you’re very interested in getting the message out, getting people to talk about this, a public debate on it, and one big instrument in that is going to be a foundation, I understand, that you’re establishing, so I’d like to know more about that. The public whip sort of thing.
KEAN: Yeah what we decided to do – as 10 commissioners we became some committed to this, republicans and democrats together, that we decided when the Commission went out of existence at the end of August that we wanted to continue as citizens, that is as individuals, to try and educate the country about the dangers of terrorism and our recommendations, what we thought this country could do to prevent another terrorist attack, and so – but we needed to coordinate. We needed money to coordinate Congressional testimony, commissioner travel to speak to the various groups around the country, so we needed a small office. So what we did is we went to the private sector and said, “Would you be willing to give us some dollars so that for the next six to eight months we can establish a small office to do those kinds of thing, to educate the public, to coordinate commissioner travel, to help with Congressional testimony, and we now have some foundations that are coming forward and we are establishing the office and my hope is that it will enable the commissioners to continue to work, the Commission to continue to work, so that we can do our best to get these recommendations implemented.
Gentlemen, I think in looking to the future you express all of our hopes and I certainly join with you in looking forward to the success of that foundation. Let me thank you both, your commissioners and your staff, for what you’ve done for us to this point and you’ll continue doing. Thank you very much and thank you for being with us here today on Dialogue.
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