Associated Press has been reporting for the past 24 hours that an unnamed “White House official” said yesterday that the “Bush administration has discovered no evidence of imminent plans by terrorists to attack U.S. financial buildings, nearly two weeks after the government issued startling warnings about such possible threats….” (Ted Bridis, “Official: No Evidence Attack Is Imminent,” Aug. 12.—For a copy, see below.)
But wait: There’s more. A second unnamed White House official, “also speaking on condition of anonymity,” told AP that the Bush administration “still would have issued the terror alerts that it did nearly two weeks ago even had it known at the time that the surveillance documents did not point to an imminent operation.”
Thus the monumentally ostentatious, internationally publicized news conference staged just two Sundays ago (Aug. 1), during which the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, undertook to convince the world—but to convince the captive American mind above all else—that the Bush administration was so vigilant in its defense of the Homeland, its “intelligence” branches had learned of a plot that included (though by no means was exclusive to) detailed knowledge about the “preferred means of attack” (a car or truck bomb) against some highly specific targets (the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup, the IMF and World Bank buildings, and Prudential), in no less than three different American cities (New York, Washington, D.C., and some place called “northern New Jersey”), “intelligence” that was so rich and valuable, it compelled the Department to bump up the terror alert statuses of these locations from Code Yellow (“Significant Risk of Terrorist Attacks”) to Code Orange (“High Risk of Terrorist Attacks”), not only was not really based on evidence gathered in the past 36 to 72 hours (i.e., counting back from Sunday, Aug. 1, when these allegations first were spectacularly publicized), and, indeed, not really based on anything even remotely of the kind.
But, more important, the lack of real evidence doesn’t matter. Because the Bush administration had taken what is, at bottom, a political decision to issue the heightened terrorist alert. (Or “still would have issued the terror alerts that it did nearly two weeks ago even had it known at the time that the surveillance documents did not point to an imminent operation,” in the words of this particular anonymous White House official—one from among countless numbers who have been leaping from this filthy, stinking, rotten ship for months and months already.)
Sound familiar? To my ear, it sounds an awful lot like the process that followed the political decision taken by the Bush administration to militarily invade Iraq—after which, not just one, but no less than four different states’ “intelligence” branches (the U.S., U.K., Israel, and Australia) aligned themselves with American Power, and began producing the documentary evidence necessary for the Americans to stand before the United Nations, and say, “Look what incontestable proof we have!” (For a little more on this business, see, e.g., my old ZNet Blog, “FIVE MAJOR ‘INTELLIGENCE’ RE-ASSESSMENTS OF 2004.”)
FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here three sets of items referenced above: (A) One version of Associated Press’s report (Aug. 12-13), the importance of which speaks for itself; (b) the transcript of a so-called “Background Briefing” for reporters on the evidence for heightened threat status back on August 1 (i.e., they are background in the sense that the material cannot be attributed to a source by name); and (c) transcripts of two separate American television interviews with one Frances Fragos Townsend, the Bush administration’s new in-house Adviser to the President on Homeland Security.—Note that Townsend’s interviews dated from Sunday, August 8—one full week after the Homeland Security Czar upped the ante with respect to the latest non-existent plot to strike at the heart of the Homeland’s Holiest of Holies. By this date, of course, the August 1 threat re-assessment had already been revealed for what it really was—a political re-assessment, built on nothing at all current.
Associated Press Online
August 12, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: Official: No Evidence Attack Is Imminent
BYLINE: TED BRIDIS; Associated Press Writer
The Bush administration has discovered no evidence of imminent plans by terrorists to attack U.S. financial buildings, nearly two weeks after the government issued startling warnings about such possible threats, a White House official said Thursday.
Some documents and computer files seized in al-Qaida raids showing surveillance of U.S. financial buildings had been accessed for unknown purposes this spring, months later than authorities had previously disclosed, the official said.
Officials had said earlier that some files had been reviewed as recently as January.
The seized records included surveillance reports of financial buildings in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J., during 2000 and 2001, which prompted dramatic warnings Aug. 1 from the White House about possible threats to those buildings.
But nothing in the documents themselves has suggested any attack was planned soon, the officials said.
“I have not seen an indication of an imminent operation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity with reporters from nearly a dozen news organizations. Investigators are still poring over volumes of the seized information.
The White House homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, told “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend that authorities believe discovery of the surveillance has disrupted all or part of al-Qaida’s plans to carry out such attacks.
The FBI and local police still haven’t determined whether surveillance of the financial buildings was performed by a single person or several people, and the FBI has not yet identified anyone involved in the surveillance, the White House official said Thursday, adding that the detailed reconnaissance indicated “an awful lot of time and energy put into it.”
Another administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the White House still would have issued the terror alerts that it did nearly two weeks ago even had it known at the time that the surveillance documents did not point to an imminent operation.
The administration remains deeply concerned about information uncovered separately in the spring suggesting al-Qaida was plotting a major attack inside the United States – perhaps in August or September – to disrupt the elections, the first official said.
None of the documents or computer files recovered in the recent raids in Pakistan mentioned any election-related plots, the same official said.
This official said unspecified intelligence indicates al-Qaida’s plans for an attack before the election were “more than merely aspirational” but declined to be more specific because it might reveal the information’s source. Timing was unclear, the official said, acknowledging that intelligence agencies “wish we had a sense.”
Senior U.S. officials – including Townsend, Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice – have expressed similar concerns since March about possible al-Qaida efforts to disrupt the U.S. elections.
Townsend said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she believes the surveillance of the U.S. financial buildings might be related to the election-period threat.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Background Briefing by Senior Intelligence Officials
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 1, 2004
Senior Intelligence Official: (already in progress) it’s clear about al-Qaeda’s intent, as well as their capability to carry out attacks both here and abroad, but the intelligence effort against al-Qaeda is a painstaking one, one that requires tremendous patience and tremendous effort on the part of many different government agencies and departments. And we had a briefing here several weeks ago regarding the information that we had about al-Qaeda’s plans to carry an attack in the homeland this year.
What we have are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and now we have some very specific, and as the Secretary said, specific and credible information regarding al Qaeda’s plans to carry out attacks here in the States. Today’s news, today’s intelligence, is both a cause for concern as well as, clear evidence of success in the war against terrorism. Because of the tremendous detail and specificity that we’ve been able to acquire, the collection agencies have been able to acquire, about upcoming attacks. We frequently get this type of information after attacks take place, but this information before these attacks are able to be carried out.
The new information is chilling in its scope, in its detail, in its breadth. It also gives one a sense the same feeling one would have if one found out that somebody broke into your house and over the past several months was taking a lot of details about your place of residence and looking for ways to attack you.
When I went through the information over the past 36 hours the type of information that has been acquired about the target sets here in the United States demonstrates that al-Qaeda is meticulous in its efforts; it is patient in its efforts, and since 9-11 there has been an effort made to ensure that they have the information that they need in order to carry out attacks.
What I want to do is walk through briefly some of the types of information. What we have now is extensive information about the activities that have taken place from a reconnaissance standpoint in terms of collecting information, also in terms of casing and surveillance as far as the types of targets to be attacked, the vulnerabilities, the perceived vulnerabilities, as well as the possible optimal ways to carry out attacks to bring down buildings.
There is detail now available regarding the types of security procedures at some specific buildings; the security checks that are required; the types of security personal at different posts; whether or not these individuals are armed or not; the presence of security officers at these posts at different times of the day; the types of uniforms that they wear; the number of pedestrians in the area, the number of employees in buildings; information regarding potential escape routes for perpetrators of attacks; different points of reconnaissance in order to ensure that they have the full breadth of information regarding the targets; different types of shops that are near by.
There is extensive information now available on the information they’ve been able to acquire regarding the other facilities in the area, whether they be religious establishments, schools, libraries, hospitals, police departments, fire departments; talks about the different access measures, as far as whether or not there’s a physical desk or intercom systems; types of surveillance activities or counter-surveillance activities such as cameras; good places to go to meet employees; good places to go to acquire additional information; the types of traffic patterns that are near buildings; the different types of vehicles that in fact can enter different types of parking facilities; the incline that is used, that exists, as one enters an underground parking facility; the different types of materials that in fact should be brought into different types of vehicles and to address whether or not certain materials can, if detonated, cause, in fact, buildings to collapse; the placement of such devices and bombs to maximize the damage to the architecture of the building.
It identifies also the disadvantages of certain types of plans in terms of the possible dissipation of the force in terms of the size, the height of the building, the height of a ceiling where in fact a vehicle might in fact be detonated. It talks about different means of ingress and egress; how one can get in side buildings. It talks about the configurations of parking lots. It talks about whether or not the parking garages and facilities are close the core of the buildings and near certain offices. It talks about the different types of shops nearby that can provide cover for additional types of acquisition of information. It talks about the number of cars passing different types of targets at particular times of the day.
It talks about the many types of procedures that employees themselves have to use for access to buildings. It recommends the type of material to be used. It talks about the types of techniques. It talks about the types of trucks, vehicles, other types of means of bringing in and bringing close to the targets, explosive devices. It makes reference to the extensive detail that individuals who have been involved in this have been able to acquire from publicly available sites, from various types of information that’s available, as well as the types of personal reconnaissance and surveillance and casing that goes on.
So again, from the standpoint of intelligence availability on different types of targets and my experience, the amount of detail available here is such that really provides the different types of organizations involved tremendous insight into what, in fact, al-Qaeda is contemplating and what they already have identified in terms of means of attack.
Senior Intelligence Official: I wanted to spend just a moment talking about a different piece of this puzzle. You’ve talked about the, what do we know, what have we acquired.
There was a question earlier about where this came from. Let me talk for just a moment about how we got here and we know what we know. There’s been commentary in the media over time about things like chatter, about acquisition of information off the internet. This is not that kind of information. What this is a result of is the offense we have taken in this war and the disruption of this al-Qaeda adversary.
Over the course of the past three years since 9-11, we’ve taken out, this is CIA in concert with our law enforcement colleagues, our military colleagues, and our friends around the world, I’d estimate more than 70 percent of the al-Qaeda leadership. And what we have found is a mosaic, an understanding of this adversary that is slowly and steadily coming into focus. It’s coming into focus again, not just because of chatter or because of internet information, but because we acquire information from disruptions that allows us to get behind the organization and understand exactly what they’re trying to do in some respects just like someone else just described, and this information as I said is the result of disruptions of the organization. I’d make one more comment about this.
The adversary we saw and have seen since the 1990′s, the adversary that conducted the operation of September 11th, put in place many plans. It’s a very strategic thinking organization. The leadership of the organization, I think, it was very focused and committed to what they were doing. What you’re seeing in some cases is the remnants of what that leadership tried to set up years ago, and what you’re seeing in response is the manifestation of our offensive disruptions. We are seeing what they put together and seeing it as we take down people, and as we take down what we call documents and other document exploitation.
So as we take out the remnants, the mosaic is coming into focus, and in some sense we have a bit of a good news story today. Disruption has allowed us to get a clarity that we have not had before. So that’s a quick picture. I don’t know if anyone else has comments to make.
Senior Intelligence Official: I’ll speak very briefly, but the information that has been received over the last short period of time has really carved out a lot of work for us to do. It’s provided us a lot of veins that we are going in collectively. As someone has already said, this is really a success story for all of us and the opportunity for us to be able to take advantage of the intelligence that has been developed and look behind the intelligence to expand and look in other directions is very valuable.
The last three years we’ve had some extraordinary partnerships that have been developed, not only among those of us agencies that are up here in front of you, but especially the state and local law enforcement agencies and our counterparts around the world. And it’s that partnership that’s allowed us to get to where we are and that we can now take this information and put it to good use in the areas that Secretary Ridge has mentioned in New York, Northern New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
We’ve been speaking directly about this intelligence with Ray Kelly, Commissioner from New York; Chief Ramsey in Washington, D.C.; as well as other individuals in the homeland security law enforcement sectors in those areas as well as in New Jersey. And we’ll continue to do that and work in partnership to exploit this information.
Senior Intelligence Official: I’d just like to echo the other official’s comments here that we are doing our best to get this information out to the state and local authorities and to the private sector here in the United States to inform them about the threat and to assist them in any way that we can and understanding it and dealing with it.
There are many people at work. It’s a large team. All agencies of government are involved. We’re doing everything we can to clarify the situation and to inform people and you, of course, are a vital part of that and we appreciate that very much. We would like to, kind of leave a thought with you today that Secretary Ridge mentioned, but I’d like to just reinforce before we take any questions you might have, and that is that this information we have now is still developing, and additional information is likely to come into our hands in the next few hours and days and weeks.
We think this is a long term set of problems that we’re up against. This is not a flash in the pan, so to speak. So all of us together, everyone who not only serves and supports the American people, but who are the American people, in fact, have to pull together on this one to secure our nation.
Thank you very much.
Senior Intelligence Official: Before we have questions I realize we’ve had a couple of people that may have joined us late. I just want to reiterate that these individuals for the purpose of this briefing are senior intelligence officials of the administration.
Question: Is Homeland Security taking charge of working with the private sector or is the FBI, or is it a combination?
Senior Intelligence Official: This is not an intelligence question. I didn’t give an intelligence presentation either in my remarks…But keep in mind, there’s something we remind ourselves of all the time here, and that is that protection and response are local issues.
Senior Intelligence Official: The private sector is the point of the spear, so we can’t, you know, we can do so much with this information but at the end of the day it’s got to be operationalized by the private sector working with the local cops and the local law enforcement community. So the nexus is right there and we talk about, the Secretary had pointed out some of the specific buildings and the companies that we’re interested in, well we’re working directly with their directors of security, their CEOs to ensure they’ve got the right messaging, the right things to do in terms of operationalizing protection plans, you know coordinating with the local law enforcement community so that’s really what this represents.
I mean this is a contextual approach toward, you know, identifying the threat, understanding protection methods that can correspond to that threat and ensuring that everybody’s got the appropriate resources aimed at the right thing.
Question: Can you give us justification of …(inaudible).
Senior Intelligence Official: I think the indications are that this has been a very long standing effort on the part of al-Qaeda, that it dates from before 9-11; it continued after 9-11 and based on what it is that we are concerned about, we know about in terms of al-Qaeda’s plans and intentions that it probably continues even today, in terms of preparations and acquiring additional information that would allow them in their mind to optimize the chances of success.
So I think the scope of the information, the breadth of it, indicates it’s been going on for quite some time and it was conducted over an extended period of time, probably by many individuals.
Question: Is that what you believe or does that mean that you think since 9-11 (inaudible)
Senior Intelligence Official: I believe that since 9-11 they have been able to acquire additional information on these targets here in the United States, yes, I do.
Question: Have there been recent events that have not been reported that would be (inaudible) that you’re talking about of this plot, this plan that would be where this information comes from?
Senior Intelligence Official: I don’t think I’ll get into the details of where it came from. Let me give you two perspectives. The first is we have a strategic backdrop of disruptions that goes back to the take down of senior al-Qaeda leaders like (inaudible) Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah. We have over time developed a clarifying picture of this organization and what they’re trying to do to us, strategically understanding them as an adversary. Within the past days, we’ve acquired additional information that give a remarkable level of clarity and that information is very fresh, but it comes against a strategic backdrop that we’ve been worried about for a long time.
Senior Intelligence Official: I think that would be a stretch. We have a lot of work to do here. The way we operate is when you start looking at information like this, I guess sort of like journalists, the amount of information that we are going to develop from this and be able to act upon is going to be huge. This for us is a potential treasure trove.
Senior Intelligence Official: Someone else mentioned there is a treasure trove of information that has recently become available against a backdrop of a volume of information that provides insights into the types of people, the types of individuals and where they may be coming from and what they may be going about doing.
And so this is part of that jigsaw puzzle I mentioned about getting intelligence and law enforcement to piece it together to try to identify the actual individuals and it runs all the way, as we know from the 9-11 attack, individuals who were orchestrating it from far off lands to individuals who were in charge of different cells, to the actual operatism of cells. And so this is one of the things that we’re trying to do is to make sure we feed all that intelligence in to law enforcement.
Question: How many people do you think are involved in (inaudible) carry out the (inaudible) or is it a different group?
Senior Intelligence Official: There’s really no way to determine how many people were involved in the actual reconnaissance and casing. I think we know from other types of operations al-Qaeda has carried out overseas that sometimes individuals who do casing and surveillance are actually participants in the operations themselves, to include suicide attacks. In other instances there are individuals who are facilitators only and are not the people who actually carry it out.
Question: (inaudible) sleeper cells or individuals in the (inaudible)?
Senior Intelligence Official: Not in my review of the information at all in terms of the information itself right now. Law enforcement is picking up the intelligence and working with it as we speak.
Question: So you’re saying you have not identified specific individuals involved in these (inaudible)?
Senior Intelligence Official: At this point, as you can imagine, this is on-going intelligence case as well as law enforcement investigative case, and so what might be happening as we speak about specifics and specific individuals or whatever is something that we will not address.
Question: (inaudible) come from the arrests Gadlani and as far as this (inaudible) talk about here today, did you have information on (inaudible) what you found in his pocket or his possessions?
Senior Intelligence Official: As I said, I think I would prefer not to discuss a specific source of information except to say that it was acquired pretty recently.
Question: And how significant (inaudible)?
Senior Intelligence Official: I’ve leave (inaudible).
Question: (inaudible) you mentioned documents (inaudible) you saying you recently acquired additional documents related to this (inaudible)?
Senior Intelligence Official: No, what I’m saying is as we’ve looked to understand the al-Qaeda organization, there’s a variety of information that we use to understand it. Someone referred to internet earlier.
We certainly try to understand the organization’s motivation from public sources, but in addition to what is publicly characterized as chatter, we have a whole, we have a growing wealth of information, whether it be from human sources, technical sources, but also documentary sources that help us get a level of granularity over time that we’ve never had, and what we’re seeing now as you neck down this organization is specificity that in the three years post September 11th we’ve been fighting this, we have never seen before.
Question: Is it possible this information is tainted?
Senior Intelligence Official: You can see the partnership here. We’re so closely linked that we’re not certain who’s going to answer the question. I suspect that the motivations are other than being a partnership, we’re trying to dodge the bullets. Can you run that one by me again?
Question: Is it possible this is old information (inaudible)?
Senior Intelligence Official: I think I would refer to what an official said earlier. We acquire over the course of time information that dates sometimes pre 9-11 sometimes post 9-11, but what I think what we’ve seen over the course of time indicates that al-Qaeda remains focused on the United States is what we call the brass ring, and what we have seen of late does nothing to tell us otherwise.
Fox News Network
SHOW: FOX NEWS SUNDAY (09:00)
August 8, 2004 Sunday
Transcript # 080801cb
HEADLINE: Interview With Fran Townsend, Jane Harman
GUESTS: Fran Townsend, Jane Harman
BYLINE: Brit Hume
BRIT HUME, GUEST HOST: I’m Brit Hume, in for Chris Wallace, and this is “Fox News Sunday.”
Key terror suspects are arrested overseas, and authorities uncover a wealth of new intelligence about al Qaeda plans to attack in America. We’ll cover the war on terror with Fran Townsend, President Bush’s counterterrorism advisor, and Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Unemployment was down in July, new jobs up. So why are Democrats saying the numbers are bad news for the president? We’ll ask Allen Sinai, the chief global economist and president of Decision Economics.
And some vets are challenging John Kerry’s service record. What’s the political fallout? We’ll find out from our panel: Paul Gigot, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.
All on the August 8th edition of “Fox News Sunday.”
Good morning from Fox News in Washington. Our guests will join us in a moment, but first the headlines.
There is new information out this morning on those threatened terror attacks against financial institutions in New York and Washington. According to Time magazine, terror planners indicated they wanted to use limousines packed with explosives, possibly gasoline tankers as well, helicopters, even speedboats with divers to hit various targets.
Pakistani authorities confirm this morning that a key al Qaeda operative has been arrested in the United Arab Emirates. Qari Aktar (ph), a known associate of Osama bin Laden, used to run terror training camps in Afghanistan. Aktar (ph) is now in Pakistani custody.
And Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, made an unannounced visit today to the war-shattered city of Najaf, calling on militants there to lay down their weapons. Allawi said Shiite militia men loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr should leave the holy city quickly.
Major terror arrests were reported abroad this week, as we know, as officials here issued new warnings about al Qaeda’s efforts to launch attacks in America. Throughout the week, President Bush turned to our first guest for briefings on the arrests and threats. Joining us is Fran Townsend, the president’s counterterrorism advisor.
Good morning, and welcome to you.
FRAN TOWNSEND, PRESIDENT BUSH’S COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: Good morning, Brit.
HUME: Tell me about the arrest of this man who is now in Pakistan, I gather, in the United Arab Emirates. Who is he, and how big a fish, how big an arrest?
TOWNSEND: Very important, particularly for Pakistan. He’s wanted in connection with the two assassination attempts on President Musharraf. He was also involved in the training camps in Afghanistan.
HUME: Is he thought currently to be someone who’s operational…
TOWNSEND: Absolutely. Absolutely.
And, you know, this is really — the fact that he was picked up in the UAE, transferred back to Pakistan, is really cause to feel good about the relationships within the region on counterterrorism issues.
HUME: You mean between the U.S. and countries in the region?
TOWNSEND: That’s right.
HUME: All right. Now, we had this arrest, we had the Muhammad Khan arrest and, what, three laptop computers and a stack of, what are they, CDs or disks or what?
HUME: Like floppy disks?
TOWNSEND: That’s right.
HUME: All right. And you had the arrest in London of this man al- Hindi.
Reading all this, one gets the sense that perhaps a corner is being turned here, that this is a big moment in this war on terror.
Is this really a big moment, or is this just a big visible moment?
TOWNSEND: No, it’s a big moment. And it’s also very visible, and that’s OK. People ought to feel good about the fact — what we’re seeing now are the dividends based on the president’s counterterrorism policies. We’ve spent a lot of time investing in those relationships.
You know, three years ago, you wouldn’t have believed that we could have this kind of cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism. They were not our strongest partners, and now they really have come around. It’s not only a threat to the United States, al Qaeda, but it’s also a threat to President Musharraf, because, as I mentioned, of those two assassination attempts.
Likewise in Saudi Arabia, we’re seeing unprecedented cooperation. And that’s a long-term investment that’s now beginning to show dividends.
HUME: So your point is, then, that Pakistan really, in terms of these recent arrests, is the linchpin.
TOWNSEND: That’s right.
HUME: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about the fascinating details that are contained in this Time magazine article that will be on the newsstands, I guess, tomorrow. Talked about limousines possibly being used to attack the Prudential building in New Jersey. We mentioned earlier some of the other devices and ideas that these planners apparently had.
It seems from this report that the Prudential building in Newark, New Jersey, was a centerpiece, if not the centerpiece, of the planning, at least as can be determined from these disks. Is that correct?
TOWNSEND: I’m not sure I would bring particular attention to the Prudential building. All five — it was incredibly detailed, incredibly chilling. So much so it’s not clear if it was one person who did all that detailed work, in terms of the surveillance, or whether it was a group of people. It certainly looks like one person wrote up the reports.
HUME: The criticism has been made that perhaps the administration should have said in the immediate briefing that was done last Sunday, briefings that were done last Sunday, that some of this information was several years old. We didn’t find that out until the next day.
In retrospect, would it have been better to say that when the first briefings were done?
TOWNSEND: In fact, it was said when the first briefings were done.
TOWNSEND: As it was reported in the L.A. Times.
After Tom Ridge’s press briefing, we had four career counterterrorism intelligence officials do a background briefing for the press. And they did mention it then. Only the L.A. Times reported it, and it wasn’t until a day later that the other papers picked it up.
You know, and it’s unfortunate, because when it broke, it didn’t break with the whole story. And that is what we know from the East Africa embassy bombings; those casings were done five years earlier. 9/11, the casings were done almost five years earlier.
So the timing of the casings was not what’s important. It’s the detailed nature of them that ought to frighten us.
HUME: It has also been said that there was additional information that, combined with this earlier surveillances, made them current, and more current and urgent than they otherwise would have been. Can you, in any sense, characterize that information, the recent information?
TOWNSEND: Well, what we did was we went out with the five that were most detailed, because we were going to have to do investigations here in the United States, and so it was going to become public anyway. And we wanted to have the benefit of the help of both the public and state and local officials, as well as the corporate entities that had been targeted.
There were others. We obviously didn’t want to go out with everything that we knew and indicate to the terrorists exactly what we knew and force them off targets that we were unaware of. We worked directly with those other entities that have been targeted to take additional security precautions.
HUME: Well, you said, for example, that the casing information, with regard to these buildings that we now know about, had been updated as recently as January, or some of it had been.
What other current indications did you have that these buildings or others like them might now be currently in play and, perhaps, imminently, or at least sometime in the near future, likely targets, actual targets?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because the casing reports were not a sole strand of intelligence that we were reacting to. You’ll recall, earlier in the year, both Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft went out and talked about a preelection threat.
We had, from a variety of methods of intelligence, both signals intelligence, HUMINT. We understood there were meetings in the Pakistan- Afghanistan region by senior level al Qaeda officials. We understood that there were targets and discussions about preparations for an attack inside the United States. This event came on top of that.
TOWNSEND: And I suspect, Brit, we’re going to find additional information about targets in the United States after the arrests and seizures in Great Britain.
HUME: How likely do you think it is that an attack will be attempted at least between now and the election, or perhaps at the time of the election?
TOWNSEND: I think it’s certainly their intent. I think the good news to this terror threat alert is that we’re in front of them. And every time we get in front of them, we get additional time to try and disrupt them and deter an attack.
HUME: So you think that’s happened here?
TOWNSEND: I hope so. I mean, I think yes. I certainly think that by our actions now that we have disrupted it. The question is, have we disrupted all of it or a part of it? And we’re working through an investigation to uncover that.
HUME: I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, why don’t these terrorists simply put a handful of suicide bombers out in various public places in this country? Might not kill a lot of people; it would scare the bejesus out of everybody.
Why do you think that is?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, what we know about al Qaeda and the way they attack, they want something — and we’ve seen it in the intelligence – – they want something bigger than 9/11. They want a catastrophic attack.
That takes more planning, more precision, more explosives, more time to put together. And it really requires a level of operational security. It’s quite different in scale than what you’re describing.
HUME: We’ve had no suicide attacks in the United States. Why do you think that is?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Brit, I would call September 11th suicide attacks.
HUME: No, I agree. I’m talking about…
TOWNSEND: Since then.
TOWNSEND: Well, we’ve — there’s varying analysis about that. We believe that what they’re trying to do is put together time for a large, catastrophic attack.
HUME: The Kerry camp, Kerry himself, have called for the wholesale acceptance and enactment of the recommendations in the 9/11 report.
TOWNSEND: Well, you saw the president’s announcement…
TOWNSEND: … last week about the national intelligence director, as well as the national counterterrorism center.
Frankly, Brit, what that doesn’t — what goes before that, frankly, is all the work the president’s done since 9/11. You know, when you look at the recommendations, there’s about 41, 36 of which might have been fully enacted or are in the process of being enacted by the president.
HUME: Let me ask you another question about the 9/11 recommendations. You’ve had this current round of success: Three major suspects picked up; this treasure trove of data from the computer.
Did anything in the 9/11 Commission’s report, recommendations, would they have affected those events in any way?
HUME: Are they relevant at all to the major — I mean, the 9/11 Commission recommendations relevant at all to the kind of thing that has happened this past week?
TOWNSEND: Well, sure they are. And the bipartisan commission really made some wonderful recommendations. But as I say to you, the fact that we’ve already begun implementing 36 of the 41 has enabled us to get in front of it. It’s good work. We need to improve on it. But that’s why it was important for us to take the time to read it, to understand it and to move forward with it.
The president feels strongly about this national intelligence director. He’s very reform-minded on the intelligence issue. And we believe that, for example, the national counter intelligence center will build on reforms already put in place, like the Terrorist Threat Integration Center.
HUME: Fran Townsend, nice to have you. Thanks for coming in.
TOWNSEND: Thanks, Brit.
HUME: Joining us now for another perspective, we turn to Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She joins us from Aspen, Colorado. Lucky her.
REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Good morning, Brit.
HUME: Nice to have you.
Let me ask you first off about — just pick up where I was talking with Fran Townsend here, about the 9/11 Commission report. Everybody’s rushed to embrace it. The Kerry camp says the Bush campaign has been too slow to embrace it.
Should it be embraced and accepted wholesale, as John Kerry recommends?
HARMAN: I think it should be embraced. I wouldn’t…
HARMAN: … say “wholesale.”
It builds on so much good work that’s been done before. Let’s remember that Brent Scowcroft, former Republican national security advisor, first recommended a national intelligence director. Then 37 members of Congress, on a bicameral, bipartisan basis, held 23 hearings over a year, and we recommended it two years ago.
Then there was the Senate Intelligence Committee, and now there is the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. These issues have been considered for years. There are two pieces of legislation in the House Intelligence Committee, one of which is mine, and it recommends this. And it’s been there for four months.
So I think we’re ready to go. And I think the country wants action, not just a lot more talk.
HUME: Can you think of any recommendation of the 9/11 Commission report that, had it been enacted ahead of time, would have stopped the 9/11 attacks?
HARMAN: I do, and I think Fran Townsend said that as well.
If we’d had a national counterterrorism center before 9/11, even if we’d had TTIC, this Terrorist Threat Integration Center that the president set up, we might have been able to fuse the intelligence about what was going on in the flight schools, where these two guys, two of the hijackers who we were trying to find, were in San Diego, et cetera, and been able to find a few of these people, and perhaps unravel the plot pre-9/11.
We’ll never know that for sure. I don’t want anyone to think we could have prevented it, but we certainly might have gotten closer.
HUME: Does it seem to you, though, that the recommendations, which are rather heavily focused on reorganization of the way things are operating here in Washington, and I guess down through the ranks as well as a result of that, has really very much to do with the kind of human intelligence, for example, and cooperation we’re getting from Pakistan, which seems to be, as Fran Townsend put it, that relationship now seems to be the linchpin of these recent successes?
HARMAN: Well, let me commend our intelligence agencies for doing some very good work recently.
And let me say that it’s not just this president, though I commend him, but it’s the members of Congress who’ve been supporting our human intelligence capability over years. We’ve voted together to increase human intelligence, and it was the last administration that began to beef up our HUMINT capability as well.
But my point is, HUMINT matters, but organization matters too. We have a 1947 business model for our intelligence agencies. They’ve way outgrown it. No business in the world could operate that way. And we need a revamped intelligence capability for the 21st-century threats.
We should have done it in 1989, when the Cold War came down. Instead, we started disinvesting in intelligence. This was in the first Bush administration. And we haven’t caught up yet. We started ramping up again in the mid to late ’90s.
And I think these threats are enormous. I do congratulate our intelligence services for what they’ve unraveled, but let me just say about that, it’s a very dangerous country.
I agree with Fran Townsend, and I’m glad we’re protecting five buildings, but we better anticipate that these asymmetric threats could attack us elsewhere, now that they know we’re protecting these particular five sites. And we have to be ready in a much bigger way than we have been.
And our threat warning system has to be improved. People still don’t know what to look for and what to do. And if we’re going to warn the public, we have to give them specific information about what to do.
HUME: Well, how, for example, would you have warned the people — what would you have warned the people that work in those buildings where there was an alert last week, what would you have warned them to do?
HARMAN: Well, it’s not just the people who work in the buildings. I think that they’ve got pretty good information, and I think that — I commend our officials for giving them that information and for the level of protection.
But what are the other folks in New York supposed to do? What are the people about to head to New York for the convention supposed to do?
This is a hard thing to be doing, but I think that we ought to find a way to do these threat warnings that is more specific and more informative, or we ought not do them.
HUME: Let me ask you this about this question that I asked Fran Townsend. It looks like, to the naked eye, it looks like a turning point. You have three major arrests. You have this treasure trove of information turning up on three computers, plus a stack of, what, 51 floppy disks, and so on. Is that how it looks to you?
HARMAN: Well, I think we’ve said “mission accomplished” in the past, and I remember Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, saying we’d turned the corner about a year and a half ago.
I’m weary of saying that. I think the terrorist threat is going to be with us for the entire 21st century, unfortunately, and so is the proliferation threat.
I think that we should feel encouraged by what we’ve been able to do. I really commend those who did it. But I also think now is time to reorganize, put strong leadership in charge.
Ad I think voters are going to measure us, that is, the elected officials in Congress and this president and the Kerry-Edwards team, by whether we’re ready to admit mistakes and step up and fix the problems on a bipartisan basis or whether we’re just going to point fingers.
HUME: Well, what appears to you to be happening, with regard to the 9/11 Commission report? You know, everybody’s embraced it. The president seems to be putting a part of it in place. John Kerry says he would do the whole thing, apparently with almost no reservations about it. That sounds pretty bipartisan to me.
HARMAN: Well, I think the president’s press conference last Monday was not adequate. He made some general endorsements, but then he didn’t offer any specific proposal, nor did he call the Republican leadership in either house of Congress and say, “Let’s move it.”
In fact, in the House, what’s happening is, on a unilateral basis, the Republican leadership is slowing this down. The committee leaders are slowing this down.
On the Senate side, it’s more encouraging. On a bipartisan basis, the leadership has designated the Government Affairs Committee to take the lead, and on a bipartisan basis Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman are doing that. I commend them for that. And they’re working with the 9/11 Commission on a package of bills that will get the blessing of the commission.
So, hopefully, if this president is more forward-leaning on the Republican leadership, we can get some real action. I think that would be a great victory for the 9/11 families and the American people. If he doesn’t do it, I think voters will measure that.
HUME: Well, what about the idea of having a special session of Congress? Would you want to be heading back to Washington from Aspen, Colorado, where — and I envy you, by the way.
HARMAN: I’m going anyway.
HUME: You’re coming back here, are you?
HARMAN: I’m coming back…
HUME: Well, would you like to come back for a special session?
HARMAN: I’m ready to do that. I think…
HUME: Well, would you like to see the nominee of your party, who suggested the idea, summoned back to Washington for a special session of Congress to deal with the 9/11 recommendations?
HARMAN: I’m sure he’s prepared to do it. I’m coming back on Monday. On Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, has called all Democrats together. She’s asked for a special session of Congress. We’re ready to go.
I think the committees, which are holding these random hearings — my committee is holding one hearing each Wednesday for the month of August; I went last Wednesday, and I’ll be there next Wednesday — should be holding legislative mark-up hearings to move legislation that’s been in our committee for four months.
We have all the information we need to deal with some of these tough issues, like, do we place the national intelligence director inside the White House or outside?
HUME: Got you.
HARMAN: Do we give this person budget execution or budget reprogramming (ph) authority?
Let’s make the decisions and act.
HUME: All right. Jane Harman, always a pleasure to have you. Thank you very much. Enjoy your day out there.
HARMAN: Thank you, Brit.
HUME: All right.
Up next, what do Friday’s employment numbers really mean for the presidential race? We’ll try to get answers when we return.
CBS News Transcripts
SHOW: Face the Nation (10:30 AM ET) – CBS
August 8, 2004 Sunday
HEADLINE: Frances Townsend discusses terror alerts
ANCHORS: BOB SCHIEFFER
BOB SCHIEFFER, host:
With us now: Frances Townsend, the homeland security adviser to the president. Joining in our questioning this morning: Evan Thomas of Newsweek magazine.
Ms. Townsend, I think, first, we should tell people who you are because you’ve been behind the scenes for a long time. Suddenly this week you emerged as kind of a spokesman on this issue. You came into the government back during the Clinton administration and spent most of your time, as I understand it, over in the Justice Department.
Ms. FRANCES TOWNSEND (White House Homeland Security Adviser): Actually, I came into the federal government under Rudy Giuliani in the US attorney’s office going back years ago, before I came down to Washington during the Clinton administration.
SCHIEFFER: But while the public’s just now coming to know you, you’ve been dealing with this for a long time.
Ms. TOWNSEND: Yes, sir.
SCHIEFFER: You have said, I believe, and said again this morning that al-Qaida’s intention is to stage an attack in this country before the election. Does this new information that you received this week cause you to think that’s more likely or less likely?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, actually, as you point out, this information about the specific targets in New York, Washington and northern New Jersey came into what was, really, a continuing stream of intelligence that we were already aware of. Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft had held press conferences earlier in the year about our concern over pre-election threat. While it’s not clear if this is the entire pre-election plan, this is–certainly looks like it was a piece of it.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I guess what I’m saying is are you more worried today about an attack than you were, say, six months ago?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, sure. I mean, I think this is a clear picture now that is beginning to emerge about the intentions of the terrorists and our enemies to attack the homeland. And what we know now that we didn’t know six months ago is that they’ve done a good deal of planning and surveillance work to accomplish that goal.
Mr. EVAN THOMAS (Newsweek): Fran, is al-Qaida here now in the United States?
Ms. TOWNSEND: You know, Evan, it’s hard to say. I mean, certainly when you look at these surveillance reports, they’re so detailed; it had to be done by someone who had access to those targets. We came out with those five. There were others that we saw, but they weren’t nearly as detailed. I think for the safety of the country, we’ve got to assume that they are. And the FBI working with the CIA and our allies overseas looks for lead information to try and identify al-Qaida members or associates here in the United States.
Mr. THOMAS: Does this feel to you, in your gut, like the summer before 9/11?
Ms. TOWNSEND: I actually think, Evan, the intelligence now is much better. I think it’s much more definitive, clearer and much more detailed. I think it feels sort of more serious, more urgent than it did even then–compared to then.
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this. When Secretary Ridge made this announcement on Sunday, he specifically named these financial institutions. But shortly after that the US Capitol Police put up these extraordinary roadblocks and took all these new security precautions around the Capitol. Has there been some threat against the Capitol or congressmen that has not been announced, that we don’t know about publicly?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, as I mentioned and answered to Evan’s question, there were other targets that we were aware of. There’s also continuing threat streams. We knew that al-Qaida was–practiced in the training camps for assassinations and kidnappings. And there are a number of others like that that are continuing threat streams. We shared, in an unprecedented way, in this recent terror alert the detailed intelligence that we had. In particular, Commissioner Ray Kelly in New York participated in the principles conversation about announcing it. And s…
SCHIEFFER: But–not to interrupt, but in other words, what you’re saying is there had been some threats against the Capitol and members of Congress?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Yes, in the past and as part of this continuing threat stream, and so we shared that with them.
SCHIEFFER: Why did you not share it with the district police? As people who do not live in Washington perhaps do not know, we have three police forces here; we have the Metropolitan Police force, we have the Capitol Police, who guard the Capitol; we have the US Park Police, who guard the monuments. Apparently, the Capitol Police, when they threw up all these roadblocks, caught the other police in town totally by surprise.
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, each works within their own sort of jurisdiction and mandate and takes those steps that they believe they need to take to protect their buildings and responsibilities. Through Secretary Tom Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security, we did communicate with a number of state, city and local officials.
SCHIEFFER: But, apparently, you didn’t deal with the district police, because they say they were caught completely unawares. They say the information they have gives them no reason to believe that there’s an increased threat. And, in fact, the mayor announced this–or last week that he intends to sue the Secret Service and some of the other government agencies, that they’re trying to block off more streets because they don’t believe it’s necessary.
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, the whole idea of sharing the intelligence with them is so that they can make their own judgments. It’s clear from what you’re saying that they’ve made–they have made their own judgments, different from ours. We try to work with state and local officials, and so it’s a more cooperative and coordinated process. And I actually, Bob, do think that the Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Ridge in particular, did work with officials in the district.
SCHIEFFER: Well, are you saying that all these police forces got the same information and they made different judgments about what to do about it?
Ms. TOWNSEND: They got the information that was relevant to their area or locality. Obviously, the district wouldn’t have been interested in the detailed information that regarded New York.
SCHIEFFER: In retrospect, could you have done a better job in how these terror alerts were announced?
Ms. TOWNSEND: You know, I–the terror alerts have three real main purposes. One, in terms of federal agencies, it tells them what expectations there are, because they know–at the different levels. State and locals, it allows them to plan for protective measures that they can take. And then there’s the general public. I’m a mother of small children, and I want as much information as the government can give me to make smart decisions for my family. But I also then have the opportunity, if I see suspicious activity–for example, if I saw somebody taking pictures of the World Bank, which is not your typical tourist attraction, I could report that to local officials so they could take action.
Mr. THOMAS: But what have you learned about how to do these alerts? I mean, it is a learning curve. What have you learned?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, one of the things I think we’ve all learned, and that is when Tom Ridge did the press conference, what we did right after it was we had four career intelligence counterterrorism officials there to brief the press and background them on the material that led us to take these actions. That’s really important in terms of an understanding. It was interesting to me, Evan–but, you know, for example, in that backgrounding brief, we talked about the age of the intelligence and how that was not relevant. The East Africa bombing–embassy surveillances were done five years in advance. The same thing was–the 9/11 planning happened five years in advance. We reported that to the–in the backgrounding brief, and yet that wasn’t really picked up very well by all the papers.
SCHIEFFER: But why wasn’t that announced by Secretary Ridge? Because, as we all know, when you have a background briefing, what is said, the government hasn’t–doesn’t have to take responsibility for that. That’s a way for the government to put out information and not take responsibility for it. Why didn’t Secretary Ridge say, ‘Some of this information is new, some of it is not new’? As–what happened–it took three days to get this story. We first were told it was not new, then the next day we were told–I mean, that it was knew; the next day we’re told, ‘Well, it’s not new,’ and the third day we’re told, ‘Some of it’s new and some of it’s old.’ Why wasn’t that all done in the first day?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, in fact, we thought we had accomplished that in the context of the background briefing.
SCHIEFFER: But why did that need to be on background? Why wouldn’t he make that public?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, but the purpose–remember, the purpose of Secretary Ridge’s announcement was to announce the raising of the threat level in the three cities in a very surgical way. You know, it’s the first time we’ve ever used the alert system just to particular sectors in a city, recognizing the economic impact that raising the threat alert has, we want–we’re able to now, in a more mature and sophisticated way, target the raising of the threat level. Secretary Ridge was sort of talking at the strategic level, and we decided that we thought it was important to give the additional detail, but not have it–it wasn’t important to have it come particularly from Secretary Ridge.
SCHIEFFER: Well, it became important, if I may say so.
Mr. THOMAS: You look at the intelligence product every morning. How good our spy service? How are we doing on human intelligence?
Ms. TOWNSEND: The fact is we have–we’re seeing now the benefits of President Bush’s investment in the intelligence services, and we’re starting to glean kind of the payoff for that. We get more and better human intelligence. We have a view into al-Qaida now, a window in that we never had before especially pre-9/11. And we have stronger allies in the region, both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, for example. We have counterterrorism relationships we never enjoyed before.
Mr. THOMAS: But are we too dependent on our liaison services on other foreign services? Do we have enough of our own spies getting inside?
Ms. TOWNSEND: As I said, Evan, we’re doing better than we’ve ever done and I think we need to continue to increase that capability over time. That’s part of the whole idea behind the intelligence reform.
SCHIEFFER: Do you think we’ll be staying at this level for the election, this level of security?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Bob, it’s difficult to say. You know, with the arrests in Great Britain, I think we’re going to see additional information. We may see additional US targets. It’s hard to judge that now until we have a better sense of what we see out of Great Britain, Pakistan and this arrest over the weekend in the UAE.
SCHIEFFER: What would cause you to lower it?
Ms. TOWNSEND: Well, if we believed that we had taken sufficient protective measures, I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a point based on what we’ve seen so far to think these are not real targets. If we increase our long-term protective measures against particular targets and particular sectors, we’ll be able to come down.
SCHIEFFER: Ms. Townsend, I’m sorry. Our time is up. Thank you so much for enlightening us on this this morning.
Ms. TOWNSEND: Thanks.
SCHIEFFER: I hope to have you back again.