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America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing To Protect Us From Terrorism

Introductory Speaker: Nancy E. Roman, vice president and director, Washington program, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Warren B. Rudman, senior counsel, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; former U.S. senator; co-chair, independent task force on homeland security sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations
Speaker: Stephen E. Flynn, Stephen E. Flynn, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and author, “America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism”
July 20, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


Washington, D.C.

NANCY ROMAN: You all know Senator Rudman. He served two distinguished terms representing the fine state of New Hampshire. And there are too many things to say about him, but I would point out that President [Bill] Clinton appointed him to chair his advisory board on national intelligence. He has done some very important work for us here at the Council [on Foreign Relations], including co-chairing a commission that looked at security in the 21st century [United States Commission on National Security/ 21st Century, also called the Hart-Rudman Commission] and called for a Department of Homeland Security well in advance of 9/11, I believe it was in January, late in January that year. He subsequently co-chaired with Senator Hart two task forces looking at first responders [" America— Still Unprepared, Still in Danger" and " Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared"], which have been an important sort of policy driver of discussion in this town. And this work together he's done with Steve Flynn. I think it's been— it's influenced your thinking and your work in the book tonight.

I'd also like to introduce Steve Flynn, who is our Council's own fellow. He holds the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick chair for national security studies. He served two decades in the U.S. Coast Guard, where a lot of his first thinking was really formed on the issue of whether the nation is prepared, and he got a look at it from a very interesting perspective before serving in both the [George H.W.] Bush and Clinton administrations, and then joining the Council to take a look at these issues from a policy perspective.

We got our books yesterday, and I guess I'll point out to you that they are available for sale right out here at a 20 percent discount. And I would like to thank Politics and Prose [bookstore] for offering that discount. We don't usually hawk books but, given that I galloped through this book yesterday myself, I feel I can personally recommend it as a clear and provocative read. The media have focused very much on the vulnerabilities and the scary parts of this book, but if you read through you'll find that he also offers some solutions and some steps that he's recommending we take to better secure the nation.

So I'm delighted to have both of you here. I would just remind you that unlike most Council meetings, this one is on the record. If you haven't turned your cell phone off already, please do so. And if you would— if you would keep your questions brief, please, I will impose upon even our distinguished guests to be brief in their reply because we'd like to work as many of you into the conversation as possible. So thank you for being here.

And with that, I turn it to you, Senator Rudman.

WARREN RUDMAN: Well, thank you, Nancy, and good evening, all. I have many friends here, and it's good to see all of you.

You know, back in 1997, when the United States Commission on National Security was created by the Congress, and [former Senator] Gary Hart and I decided to chair that and spent a little over three years working on that, had anyone told us at the time that our commission— which was a mirror image, if you will, of what Harry Truman did in 1947, which resulted in enormous change, resulted in the Department of Defense [DOD], the CIA, a total reorganization of much of government— that we were going to do the same thing 50 years later, I never would have believed, nor would anyone have believed, that we would lead off the report with the fact that we believed that America was in dire threat of attack on our home soil by terrorism, but that's exactly where we came out.

And in order to get there, we had to talk to many people who are experts in the subject. And early on, I had the occasion to meet then— I guess you were just out of the Coast Guard— Commander—

STEPHEN FLYNN: No, still there. [Laughter.]

RUDMAN: All right. Were you still in at that time, Commander Flynn? And I was just enormously impressed with the breadth of knowledge he brought to the whole subject, not just maritime security, but in general. And as a result of his terrific work for us on that commission, and a number of other people who are experts in the field, the report was produced, which of course has resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and a number of other steps along the way. And then following that, as Nancy said, the Council asked Gary Hart to get together with me and to work on a couple reports on first responders. And Steve was enormously helpful in putting the first report together.

On the eve of the publication— I guess on the day of the publication of this book, we are in a situation where I don't think anyone who is knowledgeable would disagree with the following statement: That we are probably somewhat safer than we were on 9/11, but we have extraordinary vulnerabilities in our seaports, in our critical infrastructure, in our cyberspace, and in our whole being on the corporate side of America.

We would also probably say that our intelligence is probably doing a better job; but this whole issue has three components to it. And one, of course, is prevention, the second is protection, and the third is response. And my problem is that I don't think we've come far enough, particularly in the area of response or protection. We've done a lot to look at prevention.

Steve asked me to read the book when it came out in galleys. It must have been, what, six months ago, seven months ago. And when I read the book, it just occurred to me that he had really, in a very vivid, non-sensational, totally nonpartisan way laid out for anyone who wants to read it the cause that exists in this country to protect ourselves in these three ways. And so we're going to take your questions tonight, but I hope Steve will expand a bit on his book.

It's a wonderful book and I'm very proud that I think by bringing Steve into the Hart-Rudman Commission as a working member of that back four, five, now, heck, seven years ago, that I think it stimulated you to really get involved in this field beyond maritime security, which, of course, as a Coast Guard officer was your expertise. So Steve, why don't you go ahead.

FLYNN: Thank you very much, senator. Thanks, all of you, for being here tonight. There's so many friends and faces. It's just wonderful to have you here on this launching of the book. You come out of this stage with a relief, and then, though, the subject of the book requires that you don't lose the energy. And so that's something that I'd like to continue forward here.

I actually probably have to credit Senator Rudman in part for derailing my Coast Guard career by pulling me into this world. In fact, the very first meeting we had together— I have to share the story here— I was just new to this group and I was on the back bench, and it was just a first discussion the commission was going to have about the homeland security issue. And Frank Hoffman [former staff member for the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century], who is here tonight, was leading this brief, and before he could even open his mouth, Senator Rudman said, "I just want to say one thing"--and all the commissioners were gathered up here— "before we go forward with this. This commission will be doing God's work if it gets the United States Coast Guard out of the Department of Transportation [DOT]!" [Laughter]

RUDMAN: [Laughs]. Which it did.

FLYNN: He went on to say that it was one of the most capable agencies in Washington, working for the most bungling bureaucrats in Washington— which maybe beat up on some of the DOT guys a little too harshly. So I thought, well, that was very interesting, I'll take some notes on this one.

But then General Chuck Boyd, who was the executive director of [the commission], decides to smoke me out. He goes, "Well, senator, I don't know if you know it, but we actually have a Coast Guard guy here who's going to be briefing you at lunch." He goes, "Steve, do you have any reaction to that?" [Laughter.] So you can see where my career path was going when I said I thought he was dead on— as he has been with so much else that's gone on in this country.

And you know, one of the most sobering moments, I think, that I had was being able to be a part of the— a witness of the briefing of the commission on January 31st, 2001, where their primary finding that the No. 1 national security challenge that will confront this nation in the 21st century is a catastrophic attack on our soil and that we're fundamentally not organized to deal with that; that there wasn't a single major media news outlet at that briefing on Capitol Hill. It met with a collective yawn. And I'm going, people of this stature spending this time in a directed study come to that conclusion, and we're focused on shock attacks, which we were that summer— I mean, it just— so it's clear the uphill battle we had in changing a mindset. And 9/11, we all presumed, was going to change that mindset.

The reality, as I'll have to say from the result of having again the opportunity, a year after 9/11, to work with Senator Rudman and Gary Hart in a very distinguished blue-ribbon report, where we said where are we a year later; the title of the report is "America, Still Unprepared, Still in Danger" from catastrophic terrorism. Now that reality, I'm afraid, persists today, nearly three years after 9/11. I try to make three sort of overarching arguments in the book, which will frame, perhaps, our discussion. The first is the need for us to acknowledge the depth of our vulnerabilities.

It's one of the great paradoxes of our time, that the most powerful nation on the planet— and we, bar none, are the most powerful nation on the planet— we'll spend more on conventional military capability this year than the next 30 nations combined. Put that in the— think of the British at the height of their game. Their goal was two capital ships for every one that a great power could muster. Within four years, at the current spending track, we're more than everyone else combined. Nobody's messing with us on the military side in terms of that capability— they can't compete. Economically, it's the same; culturally, the same.

But that power exists in large part because we are an open society built around global networks. That's what bankrolls that power, and it also makes us uniquely American and makes a lot of what the world wants to emulate, as well as what some resent. We're, to some extent, an empire that's built around that vulnerability.

These networks— of transportation, of information, of finance, of energy, and of labor— these networks were driven with market imperatives over the last decades in a cascading way with four imperatives in mind: how we make them as open as possible; how we make them as efficient as possible; how do we make them as reliable as possible; and how do we make their use in them as low cost as possible? And these were cascading. The lower the cost, the more people could use them; the more people who were using them, the more the need for greater efficiency and reliability. Security was viewed as raising cost, undermining reliability, undermining— making systems more closed, and obviously adding cost.

I used to describe my life pre-9/11, when you tried to talk about security of one of the networks I was very focused on, the transportation one— it's like being a teetotaler at the New Year's Eve party. When you said this network has vulnerabilities, the market was saying, "Yeah, but the cost," and all, so forth. So that's our paradox. And I think, one, we need to acknowledge the depth of that contradiction of history that we're in and realize that most of what we're doing in the war on terror today is not addressing that reality.

And that leads me to my second one, the rethinking of national security. I would contend that the days after 9/11, when President [George W.] Bush stood up in front of both chambers of Congress and announced that he was going to select Governor Tom Ridge to head his— to head up his effort for homeland security, that you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief by everybody in the national security establishment, and at the Department of Defense, and the intelligence agency, and the State Department, and so forth— we don't have to do any of this new stuff; Ridge has got the job. It was: We already have a job to do; it's the traditional national security job dealing with threats beyond our nation's shores, shaping the international environment. But this new threat, this new vulnerability, Tom Ridge has got that job.

Now, of course, we fumbled with that initially, with this office in the White House, then we've gone and built a department. We can go down a whole of conversation about that. The reality is, that's only one component. Here's these global networks, and we've got this within-the-water's-edge approach, a cobbling together, basically, of largely poorly supported agencies over many years, putting them on the roof, providing no real resources to make them work well. We're just supposed to be able to sing "Kumbayah" and it's all supposed to work magically now. You know, that was not a formula that was going to get us a lot of capability.

So the rethinking of national security, which is the isolation of homeland security from national security, was a fatal flaw in how we approach the post-9/11 world. Homeland security and the elements that we identify, our vulnerability of 9/11, its core reality; the terrorists are here. They used our own infrastructure against us; [they] didn't have to import a weapon of mass destruction, they converted a domestic airliner into one, as they could convert a chemical refinery, as they could convert much of the loose radiological material that's still loose in the society. They didn't have to import it. And yet, we're with this paradigm of we do it over there so we don't have to do it here.

You know, there is no central front in this war on terrorism, we all know that. We know our vulnerability, or should be willing to acknowledge it, and we're not rethinking the national security paradigm. And it leaves us in this quirky position we are today. We have 361 seaports in this country that connect us to the world. It makes everything that we run, 90 percent of whatever moves in and out of our society moves by sea. The federal government has made available $500 million in grants to support the protection of our seaports. That's what we're spending every three days in the war on Iraq. If this is the new threat— the use of catastrophic terrorism directed at the non-military elements of a power, which is precisely what happened on September 11th— then we're not waking up to that reality to recalibrate. Now, I'm not a guy who's advocating robbing Peter to pay Paul. We're a wealthy country who's under attack. You can't rely just on an offense, you need a defense. And we're way out of whack in that balance.

The final one I want to try to raise here speaks and is a message, I think, of hope in all this, because it really is. There's a lot that we can do right now, in the near term. We've identified that in these commissions and in the task force, if we just pull ourselves up by the boot straps, it's to mobilize the nation. Mobilize the nation.

One of, I think, the sorriest things that's happened post-9/11 is the missed opportunity to engage the American people and the private sector in the security of this nation to confront the threat. It's most likely to be directed at them. We missed that opportunity. We've told the American people their job is to shop and travel while the federal government works behind closed doors to try to secure them. That's a formula that can't work. The government doesn't have the capacity. We don't have the intelligence that will make that work, we don't have the expertise in government to make that work. It's not going to happen.

We need to reach out to people, our people, by talking more candidly about the threat, and we need to provide the mechanisms to engage. The mechanism that I end up laying out in the book is a— what I'm calling the Federal Security Reserve System as a potential model. It's modeled off the Federal Reserve System. It's to say the critical infrastructure in the society is largely owned by the private sector— about 85 percent. Most the rest of it is owned by local and state authorities. So rather than a top-down approach, what we need to do is find a way in which we can harness the expertise, but set standards and requirements that draws those players into the enterprise.

But you can't do it from essentially the top down. So I basically say, let's take them all to the fed, which is districts. Let's pull representatives of the critical infrastructure into it. In the Federal Reserve, local banks— people come out of industry for a couple of years on something of a sabbatical to both learn the regulatory process and to shape it and go back into their sector to inform that process.

Let's build this bottom-up approach of drawing that expertise, giving these players the clearances, set standards for adequate levels of vulnerability assessments for conducting training and minimal levels of security. And let's have that information bubble up and have national reports to Congress every year saying, "Here's the state of our vulnerability. Americans, how much risk are you willing to live with, or how many resources do you want to invest to mitigate that risk? It's your call."

And I think that kind of approach is going to keep us from what is my biggest fear of the next event. We always used to say, pre-9/11, perhaps it'll take another attack to get America to take this— take an attack to take this threat seriously. I think most of us who are involved in this are horrified by the fact that we're now saying it'll have to take another attack.

But there is no guarantee, post the next attack, that we'll behave rationally as a society. Our liberties are most in jeopardy when we're a nation in national trauma and when there's a crisis of public confidence that would come from what the heck has been going on in our government the last three-plus years, whatever the [inaudible]--That's a formula for demagoguery, potentially, and ad hoc kind of quick fixes that will get us in trouble.

Engaging people in the conversation, talking candidly about it, beginning to build the wherewithal will, I think, give us resilience as a society. There is strength in not just throwing a punch but in being able to take a punch, and we have to be— in this new world, we have to be thinking along those lines. So hopefully you have some fodder for us to chat about.


FLYNN: And I thank you for the opportunity to lay it out a little bit.

ROMAN: OK. I think we are going to open it to the floor now for questions and— to both of our guests. I would ask you to wait for the microphones before you— and stand up and identify yourself, please. OK. Right there, the woman on the aisle.

FLYNN: Yeah. Do we have a microphone for—

ROMAN: Yes, the mic is coming.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Frances Seymour from the World Resources Institute. Stephen, I'd like you to reflect a little bit on one of the contradictions I think is implicit in your first point, and that is the contradiction, or at least the apparent contradiction, between providing the public with access to information about such things as risks and vulnerabilities of that chemical processing plant you mentioned, both to help them protect themselves but also be a political constituency to close those vulnerabilities, versus providing information that helps terrorists target our vulnerabilities. Maybe just principles, approaches for how to resolve that apparent dilemma.

FLYNN: Sure. I mean, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it really isn't that hard. There's a difference between providing a blueprint that says, "Here's where you take something out" and saying, "The chemical industry is vulnerable." You know, making the— "everything's fine; don't need to talk; keep shopping and traveling; we got it all under control"--that's a formula for a breakdown in public trust.

One of my favorite examples I use in the book and happily is here tonight, Admiral George Naccara— he's a former Coast Guard officer. He's now the Transportation Security Administration's federal security director in Logan Airport, and it's really a model of how things approach— but for me, I just love this one thing he did. There was a reaction right— as we all know, Logan is surrounded by water, and one of the responses from Washington was [to say] create a security zone around your perimeter. Don't let anybody in. That's how we do security zones.

And Admiral Naccara had the idea, one, the politics of that is pretty hard when you have generations of clammers who have been working in that area. He said they're not the enemy. So they went out and gave them free cell phones. They called them in and they said, "Here's the deal. There may be people out here who want to come at this airport. And you guys are out here, you're as interested, more so, probably, than most of us, in trying to protect that area. This is where you made your living for generations. Here's a cell phone with an automatic button to push. If you see something out here, help us out." This changes the whole dynamic. You didn't have to give them a road map of exactly how the bad guys were going to do something. They know whether somebody's in there that's not supposed to be in there. That's the kind of— a very simple, micro-example, but I argue there are macro cases where that kind of engagement—

It's really how Scotland Yard has approached this issue in dealing with similar threats there, calling people together, talking about the threats. Initially, when the IRA [Irish Republican Army] first started bombing, it was the same political— [inaudible]. "Oh, if you tell people in a neighborhood next to a base that there may be some efforts there, it'll drive real estate values down. Oh, we can't do that." What they did is they said the threat is too serious— [laughs]--to warn us, Mickey Mousing on those issues. Let's bring people in, talk to them like grownups and get them engaged. And that's the kind of model we should be learning from. Senator, did you have some thoughts on that one?

RUDMAN: No— [inaudible]--a question. We'll ask for another question out here.

ROMAN: OK. Before we do, I just want to put one question to you, Senator Rudman. When Steve and I had lunch today with several journalists, a couple of them were skeptical that any of this is going to work, any of these efforts to make things more secure. They were critical of the Department of Homeland Security. I wanted to ask you, when your commission first called for a Department of Homeland Security, you obviously had something in mind. How do you think the current department is functioning vis-à-vis what you'd envisioned? And you know, how would you work in some of what Steve is suggesting in his book?

RUDMAN: Well, of course, the history was we made the recommendation; it was pretty much ignored, as the report was, until after 9/11, at which point people in Congress thought it was a very good idea. There was some resistance from the administration, but then it came forward and became essentially the kind of department we envisioned. You know, it's not very complicated. What we said was that everybody who had a major homeland security responsibility ought to be under one command. They ought to have interoperability, intercommunications. They ought to have the same policy.

I think it's very hard to answer the question as to how it's done. It is the second-largest department in the government. It is larger than the one that we had proposed. There were more things in it than we had recommended. That doesn't make it wrong. But I think it'll be another year or two before we have some sense as to how it's organized.

Now there were some parts of it that I think continue to do very well. The United States Coast Guard is doing very well, and I'm very up to date on what they do. The Border Patrol is becoming, I think, much better at what they do. And there are other things in there that are working well. How it's working totally as a system, I'm not in a position to judge that. I don't think you could judge the Department of Defense in 1950, three years after it was formed. It's taken an evolution. But it's the right thing to do. It needs strong leadership. I worry sometimes about the politics involved and the bureaucracy involved, people protecting turf.

The thing that is really in bad shape is the Congress. The Congress needs reorganization in this area. I mean, right now you've got a number of committees that must continue to assert jurisdiction, and that's got to change. You cannot have these people at Homeland Security having to go up to 25 or 30 different subcommittees. It just doesn't work. So we have been very forceful on that point, and I think that— you didn't ask me the question, but to me that is lagging behind the executive branch. Congress ought to organize along those lines, and the House has gone a long way to get there. The Senate still really hasn't reached a conclusion.

ROMAN: OK. Right there.

FLYNN: Back there.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Jim Landé, at the State Department. Stephen, I had a question for you, and senator, perhaps for you as well. Based on what you've been talking about so far, your book seems more focused on security, as you put it, on this side of the water's edge. But I'd be interested in knowing what we need from foreign governments, and not just Mexico and Canada, but worldwide, in order to help us make ourselves less vulnerable, whether it be the ability to inspect cargo ships at the ports that they're coming from or better transparency in foreign banking systems. And in the same vein, what do foreign governments need from us in order to better protect American interests that are located abroad? Thank you.

FLYNN: Great. You couldn't have set me up better. That's exactly where I wanted to go in this book is to try to make the case, again, that these are global networks, and so it certainly requires America to get its act together. The thing about when you automatically get into them, how you defend and protect them, you're automatically talking a global landscape.

And part of the problem of the narrowing the scope of the Department of Homeland Security largely within the water's edge, and giving a pass to everybody else in the traditional foreign policy establishment from dealing with these problems, is these issues don't get worked at the level I believe they deserve to be worked. I mean, the secretary of state isn't working, I suspect, every day wondering how the containers thing is going. All right? I know he's aware of it, but that's just not— the Middle East is sort of consuming some of his energy these days.

But the fact is, one of the scary scenarios I write about in the book is with this container issue. What makes it frightening isn't that the system is so open, which it is. There are about 18 million containers floating around that people can put up to 30 tons of material in, close it off, and everybody's in a rush to get them to where they need to go. It's when it happens, or if it happens al Qaeda style— where you have three go off at the same time, and then they come on Al-Jazeera and say, "We've got three more in the system that we're going to set off on a whim"--and we close the ports down to sort it out, within three weeks we'd crash the global trade system. It's that straightforward. We'd crash the global trade system. It's mechanical.

That's not a national security issue? Or a primary issue for the secretary of Treasury to be worrying about? Why is it only [Homeland Security Secretary] Tom Ridge and the commissioner of customs and border protection, commandant of coast guard, who are tossing and turning about these issues? And you've got the craziest now, that if Tom Ridge wants a body or an asset from the Department of Defense, it must be personally signed off by the secretary of defense, because he's not going to have any run on his kitty going to this new homeland security stuff. I mean, that's a broken system.

So it's precisely because we need to internationalize this, precisely because we need to find the incentive systems, that I want to make a pitch again for some of these prevention strategies. The prevention strategies at their heart reinforce America's value. They highlight that we hold these networks in value. They highlight the collaborative nature of approaching them. To go on the offense, as we know, is necessary many times, but it pushes that envelope in the other direction.

So there's a lot to be said by the basic line. What a difference it would make— wouldn't it?--if instead of running around the world telling people, "You've got to help us with the bioterror threat," poorer countries that are being devastated by AIDS, you know, "You've got to help us out in America here because we may have a bioterror threat." What if we changed that all around and said, "You need a capable public health system that allows you to detect disease early on and manage it well as a part of dealing with your problems, as well as a part of these other problems." And— wink, wink— that's the same system we need to deal with bioterror.

It would change the whole conversation, the whole tenor— that America isn't a paranoid power, pushing its security imperative on the backs of poorer countries, less capable countries, but it's a united effort to deal with the fact that these are global, transnational threats which we all go down together; and if we work together, we're a stronger, more resilient U.S. society and global society as a result. It's a whole different paradigm.

RUDMAN: I just want to add one thing. To me, the terror scenario is the one of two or three American ports being hit with something other than conventional explosives, whatever that might be. I mean, that is a very serious issue. And although the administration has made some efforts to confront it, I think it is the single most important area in terms of prevention and protection that we have because of the chance of this material coming in from overseas. And what— Steve— less than 1 percent of these things are now inspected, still?

FLYNN: We'll, we're probably— depending on how you define an inspection, we can get up to about 5 percent.

RUDMAN: All right, 5 percent.

FLYNN: But we're still struggling. We're in a trust-but-don't-verify system. That basically is it.

RUDMAN: And that is the greatest— to me, that is the greatest threat that we are facing right now, that and certain other kinds of infrastructure. We want to get some more questions.

ROMAN: OK, right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi, there. Dan Prieto, House Select Committee on Homeland Security. First of all, I want to congratulate you, Steve, on a great book. Second, two quick questions. The first one, can you comment on community preparedness? The general feeling is, I don't think folks have a better sense of what to do in the case of an event now than they did the day before September 11th. And that is very distinct from an era of sort of American history where people— you know, there were bomb shelters and there were air raid sirens every third Wednesday of the month. I don't think there's a sense of community knowledge about what to do. Can you make some recommendations there?

And then second, just comment on homeland security as an issue and prognosticate, if you will, on how it's going to play out in the presidential election. Thanks.

FLYNN: OK. Your very first question, as we know, Governor Ridge attempted to roll out— well, he has rolled it out, but it was [a website] called It's out there, it's a program that's there. It had a tough start. Part of this, you just wonder. When he actually presented the press conference to roll this campaign out— I don't mean to beat up on one of our news outlets, but I will— CNN cut away because there was a dog on a piece of ice that was being rescued— and so initially, he went down to a quarter screen, but they were at that tense moment where they were bringing the dog into the boat, so they completely consumed the screen. And then— oh, back to our secretary of homeland security— [inaudible]--complicity in the kind of madness we have today in not taking this seriously. But it's gone pretty quiescent, let's say, since that duct tape and plastic sheeting woes.

I think the issue— the way I try to present it, and it works, I think, at least with the audience I have, is this: part of the problem I think Secretary Ridge had in rolling it out was saying the odds are that you could be hit by a terrorist; you need to do all those things. That's just simply not true. We're a big society; terrorists can't hit us everywhere. The odds that all of us are going to be hit by terrorism is pretty small. The odds of whatever we do to protect ourselves, if we're hit— [inaudible]--is going to work is also very small. That's a pretty rugged reality. But here's the reality. When this happens, the things that we depend upon get disrupted profoundly. The odds that the systems we have in place to respond and deal with casualties are going to be overtaxed, that's very high.

And so what I try to say to the American people is making yourself more self-sufficient— to have the water, to know where your family is, to have some cash on hand, to have your medications not down to the last pill— means when this happens and the system is disturbed, you're not going to an emergency room because you have a medical condition at a time they're trying to handle triage for people who really are hurt; you're not on the roadways looking for your loved ones and snarling traffic because you didn't have a plan to talk with people.

So both for your own peace of mind— because these systems, as we found in New York less than a year ago, when the lights go out, your lives will get disrupted by hurricanes and earthquakes, there's things that you could have to make yourself less just-in-time, a little more resilient, and you're doing your civic duty by doing so. It makes you less of a problem for the government. And then also, I think— again, that's drawing people in. But we haven't done it in this way. We've got this sort of— we spook people and then we say shop and travel. And it's not working. So the message needs to get refined.

RUDMAN: Yeah, let me answer the political question for you.

FLYNN: Thank you! [Laughter]

RUDMAN: Steve's not comfortable answering political questions. I am very comfortable answering political questions.

So far it's a little disappointing. [Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry seems to say, "I can do it better than you can." That's what he's been saying. "I can defend this country better than you can." And the president's saying, "We're doing a pretty good job defending the country." But there's been no definition of the issue of homeland security. It has not been joined as an issue, and it would not surprise me— unless something horrible happens between now and the election, which we fervently hope doesn't— that it will become a major issue.

You know, to come back to a question that was asked a little earlier, I talk to a lot of people around the country, and the people in the center of the country— Gary Hart was telling me the other day— people in the center of the country kind of look at this as an East Coast-West Coast problem. They don't seem to recognize that Chicago and Cleveland and Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and Phoenix are every bit as much at risk. In fact, I would make a case that if they do something again, they would do that very tactic, just to make sure that terror did not stop at the two coasts, to scare people. So I guess my short answer is, I don't think the political system is really addressing this in a forthright, thoughtful way. And we'll see if it changes.

Why don't we go to another question?

FLYNN: The only way— I would comment on the political side— what you will hear me saying in the next few days, to the extent that I have this soap box and am allowed to stand on it for a while, is this is not a Democratic issue, it's not a Republican issue; it is an American issue. I think it's the issue for this general election. And I can say I'm afraid, echoing what the senator said, I can't vote on this issue right now because I don't see either candidate— we have a debate about how the war on terrorism could be waged overseas, how the international environment could potentially change. We have contrasting visions about that. Americans can vote on that. What we can't vote on is what anybody has for a plan to deal with what I tried to highlight in this book, which is our vulnerability and these critical infrastructures and how we, as a society, can be mobilized to deal with them. So I am decidedly undecided.

ROMAN: OK, we have a question way in the back.

FLYNN: [Laughs] My comrade-in-arms on homeland security.

QUESTIONER: A question for either panelist. Steve, you used the word isolation a couple times. Could you expand on— I prefer the word bifurcation— what the implications are? And then, what's in the book in terms of resolving that— homeland security bifurcated from national security?

FLYNN: Sure. This is Frank Hoffman, by the way, who's with the Marine Warfighting Lab now, who was— together, we were compatriots working for Senator Rudman when this stuff wasn't particularly fashionable. And I'm delighted to see you again here, Frank, tonight.

What's clearly a problem is— I think it extends right into the White House. We have a Homeland Security Council and a National Security Council. We have a national security strategy and a homeland security strategy. I mean, this is bizarre. Every nation in the world, national security does two things. It first protects the nation, and if there's any power leftover, it protects its interests beyond its shores. That's every nation but the United States of America. National security only does that second thing.

I tell a sea story in the beginning of my book here. Being a Coast Guard lieutenant junior grade on 82-foot patrol boat, being called into the commander-in-chief, Atlantic Area, in Norfolk, Virginia, to give me a plan how we're going to protect the USS Yorktown from incoming terrorists, because the Navy not only didn't protect the United States, it didn't protect itself coming into our harbors. That was a Coast Guard job. What are you guys going to do to help us out?

There is a useful division of labor on some of the stuff, but that mentality of not our job to deal with there, that bifurcation is a formula for disaster. It's making us miss real big problems like this shutdown of the global trade system problem and viewing that somehow as a domestic police and regulatory issue, and it's skewing the resources and it's skewing all the policy attention.

The first-year people that talk to the president— and we all know, you know, people close to the president don't talk about things they don't know much about. You know, it's not good for your ego. It's generally— you know, it just doesn't happen. So when the president surrounds himself with a national security team, you know, and sends his expert up to Nebraska Avenue to take care of the homeland security stuff, we can start to get a sense of where things will likely evolve over time and the definition of what's important and what's not important.

So breaking that down, definitionally, homeland security is a subset of national security. National security has to be broadened to incorporate safeguarding the protection of global networks and an enemy who will go after the non-military elements of our power, which are these global networks. Now the armed forces won't have the big role they always had in dealing with that issue, the big part of it. You got to bring other players; part of the national security strategy, part of our broader international foreign policy to deal with these issues, not the essentially ghettoization of homeland security we have now.

ROMAN: OK. Do you have anything to add before we—

RUDMAN: No, I don't. We'll take another one, do as many questions as we can.

ROMAN: The paper held up.

RUDMAN: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name's Robert Murray, CNA Corporation. Do you have a thought, either the senator or Commander Flynn, on the current situation with respect to command-and-control? Let's say there is an emergency. There's a lot of— it's a lot tougher at some level in our system than it is on the national security side because there are so many actors: public health people, emergency responders, law enforcement, state and local, Congress, executive. Do you have a sense or an opinion on how well we're doing in organizing command-and-control arrangements for actual emergencies as they show up?

RUDMAN: Yeah, I'll give you a brief answer, and Steve may want to expand on it. One of the things that we strongly recommended in our report was that there be an increase in interoperability of communications on a state-by-state level, and then to tie that into a national network. That, No. 1, is very expensive; and No. 2, it takes time; although the technology now exists to do that and to do it rather rapidly. In fact, Washington, D.C. has done that. They do have, in the greater Washington area— Virginia, Maryland, Washington— they do have that existing. The plan that they have is to get that command-and-control through communications in place over the next five years, and I doubt if they'll get it done any sooner than that.

FLYNN: I guess I would only add here, why is that acceptable to us as the American people? You know, we have this disconnect. On July 4th, the president was in West Virginia, talking to folks there and saying, you know, "We made a decision, which is we're going to take the battle overseas so that we don't have to fight the enemy here." And then, four days later, his secretary of homeland security stands up and says, "They're here and they're going to attack in the next few months." I mean, why doesn't that sort of just blow some wires here, OK? I mean, yes, by all means, have that capability. We're— I'm not saying don't have a second-to-none military. I'm not saying don't have the wherewithal to take it to— [inaudible]--here. But my goodness, you've obviously got an urgent problem.

Now we're likely to get into the issue of intelligence coordination. That is a vital issue. I mean, the Senate has been on this for years. But we squandered the 1990s not working on that, and developed— but there isn't much intelligence on these problems to coordinate. It's going to take us probably a decade before we have good tactical intelligence that you could use in a preventative way. That's a reality. It's not going to change.

RUDMAN: And if we end up organizing the intelligence community in the wrong way—

FLYNN: It will be even longer.

RUDMAN: We will set the whole effort back another 20 years. And we'll be very interested to see what comes out of all these reports.

FLYNN: So just the bottom line here is, we have an urgent threat now. I mean, I'd call it— we are living on borrowed time, and we're squandering it. This is the future of warfare. This is the reality. They're here. How can we walk away from the Madrid attacks in March in Spain and say we have a central front in terrorism in Iraq? I mean, there are terrorists there. They have to be fought. There is an environment there that fosters terrorism. It has to be dealt with. But what do you do with that strategy when it deals with— when the terrorists are in your allies'--when they're in Toronto, when they're in Detroit? So beginning this thinking, giving it a priority, this nation— would [former Secretary of State] George Marshall [the architect of the post-World War II European reconstruction program] be talking about a five-year plan to put guns in people's— in his trainees' [inaudible] here in— after Pearl Harbor? Why would we find it acceptable for five years to roll out the fact that the Los Angeles police department can talk to its fire department? It's incredible.

ROMAN: OK. Right here.

FLYNN: Occasionally I get spun up on this stuff. [Laughter]

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Clair Holt, and I used to work for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I was interested in what Senator Rudman just said about reorganizing the intelligence community, and if we did it the wrong way, it would set us back another 20 years. Senator, what do you think is the right way to reorganize intelligence? [Laugher.]

RUDMAN: Got an hour and a half? [Laughter]

QUESTIONER: Yeah! What, if anything—

RUDMAN: Well, I know the 9/11 Commission is going to come out with its report, and if all the leaks are correct, they're going to recommend a czar. Didn't work in Russia. [Laughter] I'm not sure it works here. We've had a drug czar, and with all due respect to some terrific people who have held the position, like [former Office of National Drug Control Policy Director] Barry McCaffrey, I don't think it's worked very well. You know, it's interesting. We have a system on paper that was designed in 1947, that's supposed to work, and that gives the director of central intelligence major authority over the entire intelligence community. The only problem has been that it's never worked that way. And until you concentrate budget authority in one place, with consultation, and that includes DOD, you're not going to get this job done.

And so I really worry about czars without real authority, because you put somebody up here in a bureaucracy that's over the director of the CIA and the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office] and all the other alphabet intelligence agencies, I'm not sure you change anything. What you've got to do is give somebody strong authority to run these. And by the way, this recommendation has been done— has been made on a number of occasions, and DOD constantly says, "Uh-uh." And I think finally someone's got to recognize that DOD does have a point, in terms that it must retain control over its tactical intelligence, and you can't take that away from them. You've got to find a way to reorganize that and still put the authority where it belongs.

The second thing: I hope that the 9/11 Commission recommends that the FBI establish a totally new division— which is what I have recommended in my testimony before them, and others have, and I think [FBI Director] Bob Mueller agrees with this— a whole new division within the bureau that is devoted to counterterrorism, with the same kind of career track that those who fight organized crime and crime generally and whatever else the FBI is charged to do— now is a career track to get to the top. If you do that, and you expand the jointness of the CIA and the FBI and its intelligence analysis and collection, then I think you've made a giant step.

The problem with the other recommendation I keep hearing, about an MI5 [the British domestic intelligence agency], is— here is the show stopper. You say we're going to now create a new intelligence agency, like the British, and that's MI5, and they'll bring in all these brilliant people who are really good at this, and they're going to do it now. There's a very interesting question involved. How do they collect? For anyone that knows that much about collection on domestic intelligence, the way it's collected is because of the extraordinary relationship the FBI has with local, state, and county police. They've got relationships. They're all cops. They talk to each other. They share information. The best domestic counterintelligence during World War II, counterespionage, came out of local police liaisons with the bureau.

As soon as you disconnect the bureau from that, I dare say when some guy walks in and says, "I'm from US5," into the New York PD [police department] and talks to Sergeant Callahan and says, "We want to know what you saw down at the Brooklyn Bridge," he's going to tell him to take a hike. That's what I am told by all my friends in law enforcement.

And I just hope that we come up with a recommendation that truly puts discipline into the FBI's counterintelligence bureau. We shall see. The report's due out on Thursday. And there are people in this room from the department, and if they want to give me a signal that that's what they're going to do, I'd like to catch the signal. [Laughter] But we'll see.

But that is my answer. I think that this is something that has to be done with extraordinary care. If you do it in the wrong way, you will truly do enormous damage to the intelligence community, which right now is kind of fragile anyway, for reasons I don't have to go into.

FLYNN: I would just add, the recommendation that I've tried to put in this book to deal with a big chunk of this issue— the threat to critical infrastructure, particularly, but it also gets to the local issue— I'm calling for the creation of what I call these metropolitan counterterrorism committees in our major cities, mirrored on our districts for our federal U.S. attorneys. See, right now we have a system of cops talking to cops. These are through the Joint Terrorism Task Force that the FBI hosts, as well as the U.S. attorneys running these anti-terrorism coordinating committees. A good step forward; by the way, totally inadequately resourced. The FBI guy goes to the— he has an adjunct job. I mean, this is where we need resources.

RUDMAN: [Inaudible]--principal job.

FLYNN: But the notion I have is, you take people out of these sectors, you give them the security clearances, you bring them in. You have the expert in the chemical industry who can help you vet the [inaudible] and who can also point you to where the real priority may be. We've got to find a way. And there's a model. The Canadians did this with the natural gas issues up in British Columbia. They just said, give us industry people. They did a background check on them, and they brought them into the group.

That's the kind of thing that will give you the real intelligence, because the eyes and ears— we're never going to have enough FBI agents, you're never going to have enough Coast Guard. The value the Coast Guard often has is, because we go out— I have to put this in past tense now— we went out and we reached out to the coast guard auxiliary, civilians who played here. The Coast Guard plays— had a role because it rescues people, and because it provides a service, so when people see something, there's a tendency to say, "Here's something I think you may want to look into." If it's only that you're coming in as an intelligence operative and so forth, it's not just Sergeant Callahan who will tell him— [inaudible]. The average American is going to go, "I don't want anything to do with this."

RUDMAN: And I want to add one other thing. The other very critical issue, which anybody who has worked in intelligence does understand clearly, is when an FBI counterintelligence person is working with a policeman in Chicago, Boston, New York, and they're trying to crack a particular operation and they've got to get into where they're sharing sources and methods and sharing informants, you've got to have a very high degree of trust. That has taken 50, 60 years to establish that trust between local intelligence police departments and the FBI. So I hope that we don't have any recommendations from the commission or other places to take that away from the bureau and put that someplace else. We've got a perfectly good opportunity to change it, and we ought to change it.

ROMAN: OK, very good. Right here, the woman on the end. And then we'll take the next two there and there.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Elizabeth Prescott. I work for Senator [Edward] Kennedy [D-Mass.] on the Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. And we've obviously focused quite a bit on bioterror issues. And I'm very excited to hear that you're emphasizing the public health infrastructure side of preparedness. And I'm especially worried, as we look at how the public health infrastructure is continually getting its funding cut, and it's primarily because if it does its job right, there's no obvious need to put more money there. If it eliminates the need for measles vaccinations, people say, "Why don't we put the money somewhere else, until it comes back up?" And I worry with preparedness at the national level with the public awareness, as well as the political awareness, it might fall prey to a similar mechanism; that if we're doing the job right and we don't have another event, people start saying we're wasting money by putting it here, when in fact, it's a difficult balance to keep. And I'm wondering what your views are on that.

RUDMAN: Well, one of the— both reports, the one that Steve did, and then the one that [former White House Counterterrorism Director] Richard Clarke helped me with, which was the second one, both addressed that issue. And there is no question that we were dealing with a very unusual situation on 9/11. Sadly, the great majority of victims were killed. In most incidents, many more people are seriously injured than killed. And if you have the kind of incident that we think about, you're going to have an enormous need for a surge capacity and a knowledge not only [inaudible], but in other areas of America's public health system and our hospitals, private and public. And we lay out a whole number of things we think have to be done.

Now, politically, that's very hard to do. And, you know, I sometimes wonder if we always need a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 or something else, then we— you know, this attack took place on 9/11 with airplanes, so we've spent zillions of dollars on airports, not worrying about anything else. Now, God forbid, we have a horrible incident in a major city and the hospitals are unprepared and thousands of people die because they're unprepared, then we'll spend gazillions of dollars on hospitals. I mean, it seems to be the way the body politic works. And what we have collectively been trying to do for the last five years is to bring rational reason to this debate. And that's why I think this book is very timely and very important.

FLYNN: Let me just make the point here that there should be a window— shouldn't there?--for bipartisan cooperation in that the same system that you need to rally those public health resources for issues, whether it's tuberculosis— [inaudible]--also support dealing with the bioterror threat? I mean, again, this is an American issue here. We have a real— so people who are very much wedded to the notion that security requires government assets and resources, it just turns out that it's the same stuff. You can't have one or the other.

But there's a problem almost right now where it's being skewed in the other direction. There's very limited public health expertise, and they're now being directed— because there's big money for it— to deal with low-risk, high-consequence scenarios that are tearing them away from the day-to-day problems they have to deal with. And we saw the kinds of things— if we don't get this right, the kind of things the governors were talking about, losing their National Guard to deal with the war over there when you need them for forest fires. I mean, sure with forest fires people lose their lives, that's a part of it. What's the capacity, what are the trade-offs?

But the thing is not to see security as isolated. There's so much where they can weave together. Maybe we can get the body politic to stop the ideological— [inaudible]--wrong here and get the finger-pointing, and say, "We're all in this mess together. W we have to build capacity. We've got to commit some of our resources to do it, and we'll be far better off as a nation for doing that."

RUDMAN: Those two reports are still on the Council's website []. And I, as a matter of fact, mentioned it with Ted Kennedy when I have talked to him and others about these issues, knowing of a concern. And there's a lot of ammunition there, both in the reports and in the footnotes, sort of building a case for what you're talking about.


RUDMAN: Right here there's a gentleman. We can try and have—

FLYNN: We could take them together, maybe, here as we're in the final stretch.

ROMAN: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTIONER: Alan Platt [from] Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. I do a lot of work with the ports on the West Coast, and a couple years from now down the road they're only marginally more secure than they were a couple years ago. What specific recommendations— and you've kind of been hinting at it— do you have to build the kind of political consensus that will lead to some of the recommendations you've put forward? And in the case of port security, what kind of bipartisan ideas do you have about who's going to pay for it?

ROMAN: OK. We're going to bundle a few questions here. The gentleman beside you?

QUESTIONER: Bruce MacDonald, Provectus Technologies. In a way related; I was going to ask the larger question that any major initiative faces the problem of running into, this big headwind called the deficit. And I'm encouraged a little bit, I think, about what I'm hearing, Steve, you say about what sounds like, in essence, leveraging what we're already doing. Are you able to put any kind of a cost estimate on the overall recommendations in your book? And how much new effort will be required versus just rejiggering and deploying more smartly what we're already doing?

ROMAN: OK. The ports, the cost. We'll take two from this side, and then we'll give them the final word. Any questions over here? One way in the back?

RUDMAN: This is very good. By the time we get to the fourth question, we'll forget the first question.

FLYNN: Actually, I'll –

ROMAN: The point is that –

RUDMAN: At least I will. [Laughter.]

ROMAN: --you squeeze more questions in this way. I'll help a little. [Laughter.]

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Frank Finelli with the Carlyle Group. I'd actually like to piggyback on the flip side of that question, which is, fundamental to reducing vulnerability in these key networks is enhancing private sector investment in security capability. What can be done to incentivize that investment?

ROMAN: OK. We'll pause there. We've got the ports, we've got the cost -- how are you going to pay for all this?--and then what can be done to incentivize private investment? Steve?

FLYNN: Oh, OK. Well, I think there's a way to bundle these as well so it would work together. What I've been pushing hard not just in the book, but in trying to work within the U.S. government for quite some time and also with overseas players....

Transcript ends.

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Our Hair Is on Fire

Authors: Warren B. Rudman, Stephen E. Flynn, Leslie H. Gelb, and Gary Hart
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