December 22, 2003 | Broadcast

Scarborough Country

And President Bush talked about the orange alert today.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American citizens need to go about their lives. But as they do so, they need to know that governments at all levels are working as hard as we possibly can to protect the American citizens.


SCARBOROUGH: Former CIA Director James Woolsey is here. He’s now vice president of Booze-Allen & Hamilton Consulting. And we also have Christopher Shays, a congressman who is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security with us.

General, I’d like to thank both of you for being with us.

And let me begin with you, Director Woolsey.

We’ve now had four of these other warnings. What’s the difference this time? Why should the American public listen and be concerned now?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I don’t think this is not so much for the public as a whole as it is for the first-responders, the law enforcement officials, people like that customs guards remember at the time of the millennium celebrations was perhaps a little extra alert because everybody was worried about terrorism right then. And she caught Ahmed Ressam as he was crossing into the United States from Canada to try to stage a terrorist attack on the L.A. Airport.

I think that people generally probably shouldn’t change much of what they do. They might stay really sharp. They pick somebody up. Somebody up in Lackawanna, New York, I believe, some time back, heard that there were some people in the neighborhood who had been in Afghanistan and some camps and tipped off the police. Something like that could happen.

But, generally speaking, I think the people who are going to benefit from being told that things could be really tense are people like airport guards and customs officials and the like.

SCARBOROUGH: Have you heard — do you have any information on why the government, why Tom Ridge, why the president, are telling us now that this may be the biggest threat since 9/11?

WOOLSEY: No, except for apparently the volume of the chatter that they’re picking up on various communications links and the Internet and so forth.

The problem with this kind of intelligence is, it very rarely gives you anything except maybe a hint, maybe a method, but not a time or a place, or a time, but not a place or a method. And, as a result, it’s hard to know exactly what to do for those of us who are just out here listening.

But I think it’s quite responsible of them to let us generally know, and particularly law enforcement authorities and first-responders, know that this is a time to be particularly on the alert. I think that’s the main function of this.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, Congressman Chris Shays, as you know, I’m a man of the people. I served with you in Congress. And the people are asking me today, how concerned should we really be? Isn’t this much ado about nothing?

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: No, I think this is huge.

This is a very important issue that we need to deal with. And the American people deserve the truth. Some day, we’re going to be faced with chemical, biological, radioactive material, heaven forbid, maybe even a nuclear attack. And it’s not just based on the chatter that has occurred, but it’s also the increased intelligence that we have.

So people need to know the truth. They’re a lot safer today than they were before September 11. But the reality is, if we’re asking all of our intelligence people, our police, the security folks to pay closer attention, they need to know why the wait is going to be longer when they go to the airport.


SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Chris, real quickly, you just talked about chatter. Education on the term chatter. What are you talking about? You pick up information on the Internet or on cell phones? What exactly is this chatter we keep hearing about?

SHAYS: Well, I think the director could a better job of explaining it.

But it’s that. It’s people that we’re watching, increased activity there. It’s all of those things. And they tell us something that’s quite significant. We’ve been spared from any attack in recent months. But we know that people are out there. We know that cells are operating. We check some of these cells. We have better intelligence.

And my only point is that I sure as heck would be careful what I did. I wouldn’t go needlessly to a place where there are large crowds if I didn’t have to. People in New York may not like this, but the last place I would go to is Times Square on New Year’s night.

SCARBOROUGH: I was just going to ask you that.

Now, let me ask you whether you believe that, if a constituent called you up and said, I’ve got to fly to Los Angeles for a New Year’s Eve, big New Year’s Eve party, would you tell them to stay at home or would you say: Go ahead. Get on the plane. You’ve got nothing to worry about?

SHAYS: No, I would tell them the truth. The plane could be blown up. Terrorists still can find their way in. It’s made it a lot more difficult. And so we’ll be better able probably to find them. No cargo is basically checked. And 20 percent of cargo goes on passenger planes.

SCARBOROUGH: So you think the federal government has failed in making the skies safer for the American people?

SHAYS: No, no, no. The skies are a lot safer. It’s just not foolproof, Joe.

There are still ways that people can get — we check all the baggage on planes, so less likely it’s going to be on baggage. But we don’t check the cargo. And 20 percent of the cargo goes on passenger planes. That is what Ed Markey and I have been talking about. We do not check for explosives in cargo and cargo planes or the cargo that goes in passenger planes.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, now, Homeland Security Secretary Director Tom Ridge says that the threat level has never been this high. This is what he said.


RIDGE: The sources we could point to that are credible and our ability to corroborate some of this information, the strategic indicators suggest that it is the most significant threat reporting since 9/11.


SCARBOROUGH: Director Woolsey, if that’s the case, do you agree with Chris Shays. If somebody called you up said, hey, we’re thinking about going to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, should we go, what would you tell them?

WOOLSEY: Oh, I suppose it wouldn’t be the most prudent thing to do.

But I don’t think that’s the main thing we ought to focus on. I think the thing to focus on is trying to make our infrastructure more resilient, so that, even though we know there are going to be terrorist attacks, we try to keep them from being catastrophic. If those flimsy cockpit doors hadn’t been built the way they were on 9/11, the terrorists could have killed the people on the airplanes. That would have been awful.

But they couldn’t have taken them over and flown them into buildings and killed thousands. And our infrastructure is full of things like that, lack of sufficient spare transformers for the electricity grid, for example, that we just need to get control of and repair, so that — those buildings in California, Joe, that didn’t fall down with this earthquake that was here yesterday or today, they didn’t fall down, even though they do in some other countries, because of our building codes.

And they’re flexible and they’re well-designed. It didn’t mean that nobody got hurt or nobody got killed, but it was much less devastating than otherwise. We need look at the rest of our economy and make similar fixes. And, unfortunately, terrorists are a lot smarter than earthquakes. They can change what they do. We need to look to the resilience of our whole infrastructure.

SCARBOROUGH: Director Woolsey, one final question. You caught a lot of flak before the war. I saw you on “Nightline,” a lot of other places, for supporting this war against Iraq.

With the capture of Saddam Hussein, with the way things are finally turning around over there, do you feel justified in your prewar position?

WOOLSEY: Oh, I called it the way I saw it.

I think the person who ought to feel justified is the president and the congressmen, like Congressman Shays, who supported him. This is all one war, for all practical purposes, against the terrorists and against the Baathists. They are like two mafia families. They hate each other, but they’ll cooperate against us. And we’ve got to fight it over there and we’ve got to fight it here at home. And I think the president is showing good leadership on that.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much for joining me, Christopher Shays and James Woolsey. We greatly appreciate it.