Homeland Security Chief: We Are Unequivocally Safer Post 9/11
by Steven Emerson
September 6, 2007
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TAMRON HALL: Steve Emerson is a terrorism expert. He joins us now to talk more about this.
Thanks for joining us, Steve.
STEVEN EMERSON: Hi.
HALL: Well, you know, as we consider the recent threats against Americans, can people at home feel secure?
EMERSON: I think on the homeland they can feel secure. I mean, look, there's no guarantee that a terrorist attack won't occur but considering the fact that we've gone six years without an attack and that virtually every single potential attack has been averted through FBI infiltration of the cells operating in the United States, it means the FBI is still batting a thousand – and I give them a lot of credit for that.
And I think there are other mistakes that have been made – obviously we're going to talk about the new GAO report, but I think in general the American public can feel a lot more secure than they did, let's say, even three years ago.
HALL: It's interesting, yesterday Michael Chertoff, the head, of course, of the Homeland Security, said we are safer in this post 9/11 era. It would seem a difficult question to answer, but do you believe that that is true?
EMERSON: We're safer but we're not safe. And this comes in a contradictory development – sort of a paradox. As new homegrown radical Islamic cells develop – we saw what happened in Copenhagen just five days ago, what happened in Germany yesterday, and, of course, what happened at Fort Dix and a JFK plot just about a month ago. So, there are definite cells that are developing in the United States still trying to carry out jihad. I know the FBI is onto other potential cells. Of course they can't talk about it, but they have managed to infiltrate them and that's a great thing.
HALL: And of course, people at home know that this is a different time – if you go to the airport, you know that the instant that you walk through the door. Do you feel the agencies – from the FBI, the CIA, and even to air travel – have taken the necessary measures needed to fight terrorism?
EMERSON: You know, it's hard to say because, you know, if there's overly cautious efforts to do secondary inspections at the airports, people complain about that. On the other hand, if you are too lax and you go through too easily, you might feel good about it going through it very fast, but it doesn't really [UI] well for tight security.
Airports continue to be the number one area for targets – either the airports themselves, and we saw JFK, Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and of course we've seen other efforts at airports around the world. So those continue to be the – one of the number one target attacks by terrorists.
HALL: Well, I've got to ask you also, with the incident that happened in Germany, many people every year when 9/11 approaches worry that, you know, the jihadists out there and those who want to harm Americans look at 9/11 as an inspiration date. You know, let's make something happen on that date. I would imagine security in and around 9/11 is the highest. But do you think that it's still like – I don't want to use the word Holy Grail, but for lack of a better description, that it's the Holy Grail for many of these jihadists?
EMERSON: I think that it has become a challenge for them to basically pierce the veil of security that the West has claimed it has been able to create after 9/11 in protecting airports and protecting airliners from being hijacked or being used as suicide bombs. So I think that date does pose a challenge for jihadists. Not necessarily would it be al Qaeda, but it would be al Qaeda-inspired terrorists who say, "aha, let's see if we can really try to strike fear in the hearts of the infidels on the very day that we did it six years ago."
HALL: Well Steve, you mentioned earlier the reports that are coming out and some of the information that shows that maybe we're not as far along as we need to be – particularly the GAO report outlined some of the problems that still exist prior to 9/11 and that exist right now. What most concerns you out of this report, particularly the GAO report?
EMERSON: Well, I have not read the report. I've only read the stories that have come out about the report, so I want to basically admit that I'm speaking only about the facts that have been reported. And it suggests that only half – less than half of the 178 objectives have been met, which means that we're batting less than .500.
Now, the question really is, what about the reality of those objectives? Are those real objectives? Are they necessary objectives? You know, one of the criticisms I had of the 9/11 Report was that they set these standards to be met that obviously, I think, were irrelevant to the real cause of fighting terrorism. They didn't really – I don't think they met reality standards. And I think, possibly, we have the same problem here.
You're always going to have bureaucratic standards that cannot be met. This is an agency, DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, that meshed together 22 different agencies with 220,000 people with very different cultures and bureaucratic standards, and to try to get them to mingle and talk to one another is almost an impossible task. It's been done somewhat, but not done enough.
HALL: Alright, Steve, thank you so much for joining us with your insights.