CNN TALKBACK LIVE
America Speaks Out: What's the Next Threat?
Aired October 1, 2001 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: Is there reason to be afraid?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are threats of explosives, there are all kind of threats. I think there is a clear, present danger to Americans, not one a that should keep us from living our lives but one that should make us alert.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BATTISTA: How you are planning to protect yourself? Also, is there reason to negotiate with the Taliban?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world should not be deceived by their words. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taliban movement is panicking. They don't know what to do,
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All forcible means should be used to make the Taliban see reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no negotiation with the Taliban. They heard what I said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BATTISTA: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE: America Speak Out. The U.S. has been clear in its message to the Taliban: Hand over Osama bin Laden and his supporters or share their fate.
president bush says the ultimatum is not open to negotiation. So what's left to talk about?
Let's start with CNN correspondent Nic Robertson now in Quetta, Pakistan. Nic, what is the latest? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From the Taliban perspective in a nationally broadcast radio addresses last night and again today the Taliban leader Mullah Omar really essentially said there was nothing left to negotiate. He said he thought at this stage America was just saber rattling and that they had nothing to fear.
But he laid down a challenge to United States. He said the United States should look at why it was attacked and he said that unless they change the reasons why the United States was be attacked they would continue to be attacked. It was very defiant and certainly from the Taliban point of view at the moment, coming from the leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, there is absolutely no reason to believe they are really in any position or likelihood to negotiate, despite the statements coming from their representative here in Pakistan.
Just yesterday they said that knew where Osama bin Laden was, and that if evidence was provided, they would be willing to negotiate. But coming from the leadership, the supreme leader of the Taliban, they are just stonewalling at the moment.
BATTISTA: Nic, if the Taliban wanted to turn over Osama bin Laden, let's say, could they actually do it?
ROBERTSON: That's a question that is very, very difficult to judge. Certainly one would imagine that they would we have more forces at their disposal than perhaps Osama bin Laden would have at his disposal, but one would imagine it would be a very bloody affair, because one would imagine Osama bin Laden wouldn't be likely to turn himself over easily.
And he is understood to have a large security retinue around him, people that are very, very close to him, relatives and very close friends, people that he has built trust with over the years. But he has also built a very strong degree of trust with the Taliban leadership, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and no indication that that may be broken at this time.
BATTISTA: All right, Nic Robertson, thanks very much for the update. Appreciate it. Joining us now is Ambassador Dennis Ross. He is a distinguished fellow and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served as special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton. And he was director of the State Departments policy planning office in the first Bush Administration.
Also with us is Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of "Al-Quds," a Palestinian-based Arabic newspaper. He is based in London and he has interviewed Osama bin Laden.
Ambassador Ross, let me start with you, if I could. We do appear to be at standoff if you will here. How does the United States deal with the Taliban and still get what it wants?
DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. MIDEAST ENVOY: I think the president made it very clear what is required. We have certain basic needs. We were the ones who were attacked. We are the ones who have suffered a grievous loss. We cannot tolerate a situation where not simply Osama bin Laden, but his whole network of terror is allowed to operate there freely and operate in a way that becomes a threat to us and everybody else.
I don't think this is a case that we have to talk to the Taliban. The Taliban knows what's is required. They have heard from the Pakistanis. It think they need to respond.
BATTISTA: Mr. Bari Atwan, even if we were talking to the Taliban, they say one thing one day and something else the next. Can we even trust what they say?
ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "AL-QUDS": The problem is, you know, they don't have other choices. What happened, the American administration said it clearly. You know, even if they handed over Osama bin Laden to the American forces or to Pakistan, they will be punished because they be harbor terrorism as President Bush said. So, they will be punished whether they surrender Osama bin Laden or whether they don't.
So, what's left for them? What is left for them is to fight. This is the problem. To fight whom, where and how? It's really very, very difficult choices for Taliban. I believe talking could open avenues to solve this problem with the minimum of the damages, because to go and fight Taliban and to fight in Afghanistan, this country is fighting guerrilla war for the last 200 years and those people have nothing to lose. And it is a country which is belonging to the stone ages. It is not really modern...
BATTISTA: Let me clarify. Are you are saying you think the United States should be having direct negotiates with the Taliban, or at least third-party negotiations?
ATWAN: I think they should talk to the Taliban. Why not? The British government in the end, they did talk to the I.R.A. and managed to reach a deal. And the same thing, give them some hope. You used a lot of sticks against Taliban and against other people. Maybe it is time to say look, hand him over and you wouldn't be under any threats. So maybe this, even the neighbors of Taliban will be extremely happy, especially the Pakistani, who would like to avoid a war there that would affect the stability of the whole region.
So, try talks first, and if it fail, maybe use other options. But from day one to say no talks, we are not going to negotiate, we will punish you, we will smash you, we are sending seven aircraft carriers. In this case, what is left for them? The only think that is left for them is to be stubborn and to protect Osama bin Laden and to prepare themselves for fighting.
BATTISTA: Ambassador, reaction to that?
ROSS: I guess I have several reactions to that. The first is, we are not starting with a clean slate. We just suffered an incredible catastrophic loss. We do have to respond to that and they have to understand that we will respond to it. That is number one.
Number two: The fact is, they could turn over Osama bin Laden. They don't have to be a safe-haven for terrorism. If they want to talk about something, let them demonstrate their credibility first. You said quite well that one day they say one thing, the next day they say another. What it looks like is they are simply engaging in a kind of delaying tactic. I don't think we can play that game.
BATTISTA: Mr. Bari Atwan, would you agree that there is sort of a chess game going on here, at least a stalling for time?
ATWAN: I do understand Ambassador Ross's point of view when he said we suffered. It is true, Americans really suffered and it was devastating to see 6,000 people were killed. But you know here, are we planning to kill more Americans for one person for example? Is it the age of revenge to inflict more casualties even among other people like the Pakistani, maybe the Afghani people, maybe inflict more misery on a third country?
This is the problem. We are really sympathetic. We really condemn this terrorist attacks against the Americans but we would like to listen to damages. We shouldn't be pushed by our revenge attitude. I believe America is the government of world. It is the biggest superpower. They should behave actually as a superpower, as a respectable, as a police of the world, not just to revenge from here to hit here, to hit there.
This is not what we are hoping for from the American Administration, from the American leadership, to restrain, to have self-control and to try to open all the avenues for finding a solution for this problem and avoid the bloodshed as we can.
BATTISTA: Ambassador Ross, would it do anything to further this for the United States to, as asked, to turn over evidence linking Osama bin Laden with this attack, or as the secretary of state said, that could jeopardize U.S. intelligence?
ROSS: You know, I think, let me just respond first, also to what my colleague just said. The fact is, the United States has not rushed to do anything. We have been very careful in the steps that we have taken so far. We have been working with rest of the international community. The Pakistanis have made an effort to go to the Taliban not once but twice.
It's not like the U.S. is rushing in indiscriminately. On the contrary. We are taking measured steps to try to demonstrate that terror cannot be tolerated on the one hand and we will work with others as we try, if fact, to deal with this scourge.
Now, it seems to me, that beyond that, there is not a lot that the U.S. can do in this situation if we are going to, in fact, try to transform it and not reward those who carry out terror.
BATTISTA: I have -- I only have 30 seconds so let me take a break first and when I come back I have two opposing e-mails that I would like to get both of our guests reactions to. We will be back in a second.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BATTISTA: Let me start with a couple of e-mails I have the gotten here. Aaron in Ames, Iowa is kink of expounding on the question I asked a moment ago. He said, "We should definitely negotiate with the Taliban. Their demand to see proof that bin Laden is a terrorist is valid. We in the United States have yet to see that evidence. I do not see why anyone would even consider turning down negotiations and resorting directly to war. This is a time for understanding, negotiations, and tolerance, not for military campaigns that will cost lives.'
ROSS: You know, I think the administration has made it clear, with those key partners in the coalition, they will share the information that we have recognizing there are certain sensitivities in terms of how you acquire intelligence. So I think we can certainly do that and I think it is probably prudent to do that. But again, I come back to what is it that we are talking about with Taliban.
The Taliban says one thing one day, and another thing the next day. They need to establish some minimal level of credibility before one can do anything. And if nothing else, I think the president has stated a set of conditions that have to be met. If the U.S. at this point, in a circumstance like this, is not prepared to stand by it's word, I think we will find that we will have many more difficulties facing us down the road.
BATTISTA: So in effect, you are saying the only way to do that is to turn over Osama bin Laden?
ROSS: I think we have been very clear about it. The president made it clear, it's not only Osama bin Laden. It's the networks there. It's the training camps there. It's being able to inspect the training camps. You have a place -- you have in Afghanistan, you have a leadership in the Taliban, that pretty much sees terrorism as a legitimate tool of statecraft.
That is not a legitimate tool of statecraft. The world has to make it clear that's the case. I think if it becomes clear the Taliban understands that terror is not acceptable, then different things can be viewed with them down the road.
BATTISTA: All right, this other e-mail is from Vince in New Jersey who says, "Now that the Taliban freely admits to having bin Laden hidden in their country, they have effectively admitted to harboring the worst terrorist in history. We should strike the Taliban immediately pursuant to President Bush's words of treating those who harbor terrorists the same as the terrorist themselves."
Mr. Bari Atwan, let me get reaction from you to that.
ATWAN: Actually, I would like to answer the point which was raised by Ambassador Ross. I think there are plenty of things to talk to Taliban about. You know, if you say to them, look, you will be recognized as a government, if you clean your act, for example. Stop harboring terrorists and behave as a government, as a country, as a state, we will give you your seats back in the United Nations. You will have financial aids to rebuild your country.
There a lot of things to talk. Taliban is the creation of United States and it's ally in that region. It is the creation of the Pakistani's government, Saudi government, American government. It is your baby, it is the American baby. It is not actually something which came out of you know, the moon. So, you know Taliban very well. So, maybe, if you talk to them with this language, maybe this will actually create a little understanding. Maybe it will make them think again and maybe surrender Osama bin Laden or at least kick him out of the country by all means. This is one thing.
Second thing is to go on revenge. Revenge from whom? I toured Afghanistan when I interviewed Osama bin Laden. There is no one single building there. It is mud houses, it is people who are really starving, they hardly find breed to eat and to feed their children. So, to take revenge from those people who are really completely in a very, very poor condition? This is the problem. If you have a country, for example, which has buildings, has governments, has institutions, yes, in this case maybe you can punish it.
But here we have people who are really starving, who are really facing a very, very miserable time.
BATTISTA: Ambassador Ross, I think the point I'm trying to get to here is that any sort of military action or punishment would have geopolitical repercussions far beyond the humanitarian effect as well.
ROSS: Let's be clear. Not using military force once we decide that we have effective options will also have consequences for us. We basically had war declared on us. Not to respond to that is not going to prevent more such attacks on us. So I do think we have respond at one level.
Number two, let me just say, in terms of what exists in Afghanistan today, the potential devastation, making certain that there are not more innocent victims, more innocent Afghanis who are the ones who are attacked, I am in favor of the U.S. using its military force in circumstances where we know what we are going after and where we can be effective.
The last thing we want to do is be killing a lot of innocent people. That is not going to benefit anybody. But by the same token, if we have targets that can get at the heart of how the Taliban supports the business of terror, gets at the heart of how the Osama bin Laden networks are able to operate, that's very important for to us do, not only in terms of its impact with Osama bin Laden and his networks, but also in terms of other states that may provide sanctuary.
If they see us using force effectively, they will also think twice about benefits of providing safe-haven.
BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience and get some reaction -- Stephanie, go ahead. STEPHANIE: I agree that we should negotiate with the Taliban. The reason for that is not whether or not Taliban is a legitimate government head, but rather that there are millions of people suffering and will suffer more at hands of American retribution. Why should we negotiate? Because we should a merciful country. We should be thankful for all that we have materialistically and show that compassion to others that have nothing.
BATTISTA: Let me go to Siad (ph). You are from Iran?
SIAD: My feeling is, I feel sorry for the Afghani people, for the Muslims. But Taliban himself, he brought this. We have to surgically eliminate him, not the Afghani people, anybody else, except Taliban. He is the one that brought himself and we have to go after him.
BATTISTA: On the phone is Kate in California -- go ahead.
KATE: Hi. Thanks for taking my call, Bobbie. I want to let you know that I believe 100 percent in what Mr. Dennis Ross is saying. I don't agree at all with Mr. Bari Atwan. I believe that we are dealing with cold blooded killers who execute at will. I wish that our World Towers hadn't been destroyed and those precious innocent lives of people who weren't expecting it. None of us were.
And we stand exposed to the Taliban regime now. Their philosophies and way of life. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Sherman did an excellent documentary about Afghanistan. I feel for the Afghanis. It's terrible what they are living through. I believe the Taliban is the majority of their hardship and the negativity in their lives. The hardship on their country that they don't seem like a country who is blessed at all. The Taliban are an extremist...
BATTISTA: Quickly Kate, sum up.
KATE: I would say go with President Bush. He has been a great president.
BATTISTA: Thanks very much. Ambassador Ross, before you get away, on Friday on the show we talked about some of the strange bedfellows, if you will, that this conflict will create between the United States and particularly some Middle East countries. Who do you think would be the most helpful to us in the Middle East?
ROSS: Well, I think when it comes to this, it's not so much countries in Middle East that will be of major help. I think Pakistan is probably the key player not only their proximity but also their familiarity with the Taliban, with, I think, Osama bin Laden's network. I think they probably have as much information as anybody.
I think other countries like the Saudis, obviously, are helpful and can be helpful in terms of what we do. Certainly in the context of ensuring this is not seen as the world against Islam -- the Western world against Islam. It's not. This is civilization against those that don't believe in civilization. It has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, it has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with the idea that no cause ever can justify terror. And it's time that we discredit terror.
BATTISTA: Final question for Abdel Bari Atwan, what do you think is the best way to fight this war on terrorism and still avoid that cycle of violence that has plagued Middle East for example?
ATWAN: Actually the best way is to look at the root of terrorism. What makes those extremists for example, popular in certain parts of the Arab world and Muslim world? They are not supported by the majority. Definitely it is a small minority. But we have look at the root of terrorism.
I believe what is poisoning the Arab and the Muslim relation with the United States is the Arab-Israeli conflict, one thing. The United States is always taking the Israeli side. Israel out today killed 20 Palestinian and a hundred were injured and nobody shedding a tear for those people. Also the American Administration is supporting corrupt and undemocratic regimes in the Arab world and this is really creating a huge gap between these regimes and its people and they have created a lot of frustration among certain parts of the Middle East and the Muslim world, so we have to readdress all these kinds of things.
BATTISTA: I have to jump in. That will have to be the last word. Ambassador Dennis Ross and Abdel Bari Atwan, thank you both very much for joining us. We will be back in just a moment.
Just ahead, preparing for another attack: Is there anything you can do?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Have gas masks been issued in the White House?
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware of any distribution of gas masks to staff in the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASHCROFT: It is my belief that we remain in a situation where there is a significant threat of additional terrorist activity in the United States, that that threat of additional terrorist activity may well escalate as the United States responds to the assault on the United States to the acts of war perpetrated against the United States and our people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BATTISTA: Some pretty scary words from the attorney general. Over the weekend, John Ashcroft and other administration officials made it a point to remind the nation that terrorists may still be among us and that the U.S. remains vulnerable to attack.
Gas masks are a hot item on an eBay and sales of anthrax antibiotics are feverish, shall we say.
As the cover of this week's "TIME" magazine says, "How Real Is (This) Threat?"
Alice Park is a science reporter for the magazine, and her piece is something of a consumer's guide, if you will, to protecting yourself from biological attacks.
Alice, thank you for joining us.
Well, how real is this threat? It's hard for, you know, average Americans to judge.
ALICE PARK, "TIME": It's hard for the experts to judge as well. And what we're seeing is that there is some disagreement over -- there's no disagreement that there is a threat. But what there is disagreement over is how real that threat is and how -- and how best we can prepare for it.
BATTISTA: How -- where did they think the next big threat will come from? Is it likely to be something, say, we've already seen, like another airplane into a building, or is it likely to take another form?
PARK: Well, I think again here we've got, you know, opinions from all over. And some people think that the next one will be bigger. Others think it will be a series of smaller attacks. And it's really everyone's best guest. So what we can do in the meantime and what people are starting to do is just look at everything that could potentially be a threat and try to shore security out there?
BATTISTA: And what are we looking at here? What are the potential threats?
PARK: We're looking at everything from our water supply to our food supply to electric plants to the potential of biological attack or a chemical attack, just everything that could potentially cause harm.
BATTISTA: And as I understand it, though, I mean, we don't want to instill panic in people, because we have talked about this on the show before. And for example, water treatment plants, as I understand it, that would be extremely difficult, for example, because most of the chemicals in water treatment facilities would weed out a fair amount of potential poisons. Is that right?
PARK: That's true, and I think what we can remember in the midst of all of this, as we look at what could potentially be threats, is also what's in place to prevent those threats from causing mass harm. And with the water problem you referred to, it's that we -- we do have chemicals and processing in place that purifies water. And when we're talking about reservoirs, which provide most of us our drinking water, were -- these chemicals are designed to take care of most microbes.
BATTISTA: On the other hand, what can we possibly do to prepare ourselves from, say, a biological or chemical or even nuclear attack. PARK: Well, when you're talking about biological or chemical attacks, it's really less about what the individual can do to protect himself, more about what the community can do. And by that I mean making sure that health care workers are educated and trained to recognize the symptoms of a biological attack and that the health care system is properly reinforced to handle it.
BATTISTA: All right, Alice Park, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate your time on this. It's the cover story of "TIME" magazine once again.
Right now, let's meet someone who already owns a gas mask and wonders why we aren't all being vaccinated against small pox. Meet attorney Robert Weiss. Also with us by phone is John Fund. John is a member of the editorial board of "The Wall Street Journal." He is without an office, by the way, at the moment as his went down with the World Trade Center.
Robert, we start with you here. I know that you own a gas mask, but at the same time, how much is that likely to help you? I mean, by the time there's an anthrax or smallpox attack on the population, you wouldn't know enough to put a gas mask on in order to prevent it.
ROBERT WEISS, ATTORNEY: That's precisely the point, Bobbie. This is a function of government. This is what our government should be doing.
I went out and bought gas masks for my family. I have a 2-year- old son. I don't know whether or not I got the proper gas masks for them. There's as lot of misinformation. I had a doctor prescribe antibiotics for me for anthrax. There's a lot of misinformation from that.
The government of the United States has an overriding duty right now to protect you, me, everybody in your audience, all of us, from these types of threats.
The budget right now for public health, as I understand it, is $344 million. Let me put that in perspective: $300 billion a year, a thousand times more than that, goes every year for these weapons systems, the Star War defense, the nuclear subs, all of these old Cold War-type of things. And the money is not going to civilian defense like it does, say, in Israel.
So this is a huge failure of the government, and the government should be instructing us on how to use the gas masks. As a matter of fact, the government should be issuing the gas masks to us. The Congress has gas masks. The Army is all inoculated against anthrax. They're not on the frontlines any more than we are here in New York City. You saw what happened here in New York.
BATTISTA: Let me -- let me bring John into the conversation, since, yeah, he was in New York City. First, let me say, John, we're happy that you are OK.
JOHN FUND, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Thank you. BATTISTA: Do you think the government has failed us here, particularly in the last 10 years, as their knowledge grew about the chances of a biological or a chemical attack?
FUND: I think the government should always take more precautions, and I think private citizens like Mr. Weiss are perfectly free to take whatever individual precautions they want.
But let's be clear: The number that he cited that's spent on public health, that's the federal government's share. The vast majority of health care expenditures that are preventive are spent at the state and local level, and those, of course, vastly dwarf whatever the federal government spends.
He mentioned Israel: Look, in Israel, the average citizen does not own a gas mask. The average citizen does not have antibiotics to guard against biological warfare.
WEISS: The average citizen has access to gas masks in Israel.
FUND: The average citizen does not have a gas mask. I can quote you...
WEISS: They have access gas masks.
FUND: I called the Israeli embassy. Please let me finish my statement.
The average citizen has been living under the threat of terror, and of course, from far more hostile nations than we have been encountered with for several decades.
I think that we need to take sensible precautions, but we cannot allow terrorism to get a victory by exaggerating risks and by literally changing our entire way of life and basically making America what America isn't supposed to be. That way the terrorists will have won.
Sensible precautions, people should know what facilities are in their area. They should also know what -- what short-term precautions they can take. But they should not cower in fear.
We -- we should plan. We should not engage in paralysis.
WEISS: I agree with that 100 percent, John. I don't think we should engage in paralysis, and we should plan, but the federal government has done nothing. I don't have any statistics on what the local public health people have on the biological threat, but I called the Suffolk County people where I live, and they basically had nothing in place and they said they were relying on the federal government.
So there's a patchwork of different governments. It's completely disorganized. And you do have this $300 billion Cold War defense, which is worthless. They could take out one of our cities, it seems like, just as easily as we could take out one of theirs. FUND: Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson explained how every regional center in the country is staffed with over 7,000 trained professionals, and there's a whole range of things that are available in every city in the country.
WEISS: If you've been reading, there's no safety protections in the hospitals.
FUND: And none of that -- and that's...
WEISS: There is not -- there is apparently a lot of anthrax vaccine that is not being distributed. And every single member of Congress has a gas mask, John. Why do they get gas masks and I not get a gas mask or you not get a gas mask?
FUND: The average member of Congress threw it in the closet, because I have to tell you to get a gas mask that truly works would require a family of four to spend about $700. There's a lot more better use of that money...
WEISS: And that's what our government should do.
FUND: There's a lot better...
BATTISTA: Let me -- you know, you guys have...
WEISS: ... farm bill rather than have...
FUND: You really think...
BATTISTA: You guys have touched upon the fact that the country isn't very prepared to handle this as well, let along individual folks. And Brenda...
WEISS: But for a biological threat -- if I can, Bobbie, an individual like myself or John or anybody else, we can't really handle a biological threat. That has to come from the government.
BATTISTA: Well, I'm not sure it would do us any good to have the gas mask anyway. So I mean, I think that's kind of what is saying, too.
WEISS: There are anti-terrorism...
BATTISTA: And what happens if we all run to the doctor's office and ask for anthrax vaccines, there's a run on these vaccines? I mean, I don't know.
WEISS: Members of the armed services have it, Bobbie. And the Congress has gas masks. There was an article in "Roll Call" last week -- I'm sure John read it -- all the Congresspeople have had gas masks for a year. Why do they have gas masks and the average person does not have access?
FUND: To put it...
WEISS: And I assume they have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as well.
FUND: To put it very bluntly, because the U.S. Capitol Building is a far greater target than your average supermarket where the poor person might be shopping next week. Let's be honest.
WEISS: But the people who live in New York City, they all feel like targets.
FUND: The U.S. Capitol is a major terrorist target.
BATTISTA: Let me go to Brenda in the audience here. Brenda, go ahead.
BRENDA: There are some antibiotics that actually can be harmful to you if you go ahead and take them when you don't need them. So for patients to go out and get antibiotics is not a good thing, and doctors are going to take care of ill patients when they're ill just like they did in New York.
I'm a mother of five. I have a history in law enforcement, and I've always been a cautious person. I'll continue to be cautious.
But I refuse to let the Taliban win by losing our freedoms in America.
BATTISTA: On the other hand, though, Dennis next to you, who's a doctor, said that you really weren't terribly well-prepared for this. You would not even necessarily recognize it if someone came into your office and had been a victim.
DENNIS: Well, it's a community panic basically if you see someone in the office, say, well, you may have the flu or you may have early small pox. I mean, it should be handled very cautiously, and I don't know that we're prepared to do that.
BATTISTA: Well, it seems like we have to start developing from, more from, as you were saying, the community route on this.
WEISS: Well, there are things that can be done, Bobbie. It's not really that difficult to.
I was inoculated against smallpox. I'm 42 years old. When I was a child, they inoculated everybody against small pox. They can do that again.
And as far as the money is concerned, there's a lot of money this government has spent. Right now, they're debating $171 billion farm aid bill. They don't need to bail out the farmers for $171 billion. Let them take some of that or all of that this $171 billion and put it into civil defense. That really makes a lot more sense. They should do that before they go over to Afghanistan and start bombing people. They should do that before anything else, because that is the function of government.
FUND: One of the things that we learned from the Cold War era, when there was a threat of nuclear holocaust, is there were precautions that we could have taken and there were things that we should have done. But having those fallout shelters was way down the list of priorities because they ultimately wouldn't have saved many people.
One of the things we did do in the Cold War is we had a firm stance against the Soviet Union and against its expansionary policies. We eventually won the Cold War without firing a shot. Rather than cower in our bunkers, I think we have to take the war to the terrorists. That's the best way to keep Americans safe.
WEISS: You can fight the Cold War all you want, John, and a lot of people...
FUND: Did we win or did we not?
Did we win or did we not?
WEISS: You won the Cold War...
FUND: You won't answer the question.
WEISS: ... and you won it in the past. You did win. It's in the past. It's over. Congratulations. Pat yourself on the back.
Now you're fighting another war, and this war will require civil defense. That's the first line of defense in this war, and that's what should be done.
There's really no reason why you can't have small pox vaccine. All the children were inoculated. I bet you had the smallpox inoculation when you were a child.
FUND: Children are still in -- children are still protected against all...
BATTISTA: Well, the thing is we're not, though. We're not. Even if we had -- even if we had a small pox vaccine 40-odd years ago, it's not -- it's not good. It's no good, Robert.
WEISS: You need a booster.
BATTISTA: That's right, you need a booster.
WEISS: But you're right, Bobbie, but why can't we get a booster?
BATTISTA: Well, I think they are working on that. WEISS: Why can't the federal government say, we'll let them work on it, let them take the money out of the Cold War and put it into...
BATTISTA: There's -- remember, they stopped making the vaccine because small pox was eradicated. So they are remaking it now, but it's going to take three years.
WEISS: It should not take three years. With the intelligence, with the companies that we have in this country, the universities we have in this country, if we put together a Manhattan Project, which was the project that developed the atomic bomb in World War II, to protect our citizenry against terrorism, we would be able to do it quickly.
There's no reason that should take three years. We have the best scientists in the world in this country. That should be done much quicker. If we put the money...
BATTISTA: Well, people would probably be happier if it was. You're right.
FUND: Bobbie, the most important thing we can do is to be alert, and if somebody is acting suspiciously, whether it's in a subway or whether it's a supermarket, we certainly should take that into heed. But we cannot be alarmist, because the terrorists win if we become alarmist.
WEISS: Why is it alarmist to have a booster for smallpox?
BATTISTA: But we also create -- we also create perhaps undue panic, which is never good.
Let me go to Michelle in the audience here, quickly, though.
MICHELLE: Yes. We need to take a chunk of our health care dollars and the dollars that's against this war and put it into our public health system.
WEISS: I agree.
MICHELLE: We haves clinic right now that don't have tetanus, and so we need to take the money. And maybe instead of just relying on pharmaceutical companies have the government start issuing some of these vaccinations for all of the people all over. Public health.
BATTISTA: I've got to take -- I've got to take a quick break here. We will check the TALKBACK LIVE online viewer vote in just a few minutes. So go put your opinion online now. We'll be back.
BATTISTA: E-mails here. Mourning in Oklahoma says: "Biochemical attacks are a definite threat. Cities, states nor our government are ready for this kind of terror. I think the government should provide protective gear to the U.S. so we may at least survive." Jay in Maryland says, though: "One cannot seriously expect to buy a gas mask and have any sense of security. There is always the issue of being alerted of biological or chemical attacks to make the equipment useful."
Thea in the audience, go ahead.
THEA: I'm a molecular biologist, and I think that what we're taking for granted, or what this attorney is taking for granted, is that any vaccines that we have created currently and are currently available will act against genetically altered bacteria or viruses. To think that our government isn't aware of this is absolutely incorrect.
Our government is aware of what's going on with biological warfare. They are preparing different test techniques to test for these genetically viruses and bacteria. Any vaccine that you get now, there's no guarantee it's going to stop.
WEISS: I understand that, and that's a very good point. And that's one of the reasons why we have to put focus, money, energy and attention on this. Obviously, they're going to genetically engineer these vaccines -- these bugs around our vaccines. So it's a constant chess game between our vaccines and their bugs. And that's been going on between the United States and Russia for a long time.
However, they have not brought this down to where it belongs, to the level of the citizens. The citizens who make up this country is where the primary responsibility is.
And let me also address a point that John made earlier. We -- I'm not saying cow in the shadows. I'm just saying take the money out of a bunch of farm bills or some of the defense money on weapons systems that's useless now and put it into public health. There's no reason that we can't all get boosters. There's no reason that we can't all be vaccinated against anthrax.
This is a great country. We can do this. There's no reason to take three years. It shouldn't take three years.
BATTISTA: Elaine on the phone in Washington, go ahead.
ELAINE: Yes, Bobbie, thank you. I'm really distressed about the unavailability of the smallpox vaccine. I called my public health system today, and they said that nothing is available for the public and it will not for approximately one year.
Smallpox is the one that's most contagious. One person can get it. It can infect a roomful of people, and so on and so on. And it's the -- poses the most imminent threat to us.
BATTISTA: Yeah, Alice, one of the things, though, that we may have to stress here so that we don't keep pushing the panic button is that it logistically it is not easy to carry out a biological or chemical attack. Correct? PARK: No, it's not, and there are two points that I want to make here with respect to the smallpox vaccine. The reason why it's not so easy to give everyone a booster or to start vaccinating an entire population is that in 1980 the World Health Organization decided to eradicate smallpox, which means people will no longer be suffering from this disease. And the reason why they could do that is because animals are not a natural reservoir for the smallpox virus.
So this is a condition, a disease that only affects human beings, and that's why they got the idea that they could eradicate this disease.
So by vaccinating people, because the vaccine is based on a weakened form of the virus, in a certain percentage of cases you will be bringing back a very mild form of the disease. So, that's something that I'm sure federal authorities are also balancing when they're considering all of this.
FUND: Bobbie, the most likely thing that we have to fear is something like the Japanese subway terror, where very few people died because the mechanism transmitting the biological infestation was very limited. But it shut down the entire subway system in Tokyo. It spread terror. It hurt our economy.
Yes, we have to worry about loss of live, but we also have to worry that what the people who after us may be wanting to do is simply to disrupt our economy rather than being able to kill a lot of people.
That's going to be very difficult under the current technology that they probably have.
BATTISTA: Barbara in the audience, go ahead.
BARBARA: Well, I believe that the federal government has the know-how of getting vaccines made quickly. I really think they owe the public that. But I also feel that one of our greatest defenses is to be more aware of what's going on around us, not be so complacent, and have sharp eyes. Don't be hysterical about it, but take notice of what's happening around you and question it.
MICHAEL: Yes. I personally believe that there really isn't a next threat. The terrorists caught us offguard, and we knew for years that the airlines were unsafe. There were TV reports about people getting on the planes, sneaking on, and I trust that the government, if there is a threat like in a biological way, that they'll let us know about it.
WEISS: Well, let me address that point, because there's no doubt in anybody's mind that Saddam Hussein has these biological weapons. We went and bombed him because he refused to turn over the information to U.N. inspectors. He's got the biological and chemical weapons.
This, in my opinion, is a clear and present danger. And I don't think it's -- particularly right now, when you look at the budget 0-- the $344 million budget. Compare it with the defense budget and the Cold War mindset. Citizens like us have to be very vocal and put political pressure on the government to make sure that they really are prepared for this threat.
You can't just say, well, it's the government, they'll be prepared for the threat. They were caught off guard unbelievably. And I'm not going to criticize President Bush, as John knows I've done in the past, because it's not the right thing to do, and Clinton was responsible and Bush the elder was responsible.
But our national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was completely offguard. She had no clue. So you can't assume that the government is going to do this just because they're the government.
We need a citizenry that's going to put political pressure on the government to do the right thing. The first thing they need to do is to make sure we're all protected.
BATTISTA: Elaine on the phone from New York. Elaine? I mean, I'm sorry. Patricia, go ahead.
PATRICIA: Hi. I just wanted to know, I'm a mother of a toddler. And children now today go in routinely for vaccinations. If the event does arise when we have to get vaccinated, if this really does become a serious threat, what will be the procedure for us getting our children vaccinated or getting ourselves vaccinated? Do we just walk into our doctor's office one day and say, I want to be vaccinated against smallpox or against anthrax?
PARK: If there is a threat and there is evidence that cases are showing up, then there will be probably some form of coordination with local health care authorities to inform people that a vaccination makes sense.
BATTISTA: You know, here we are...
PARK: But until that happens, it's really hard to predict. How many cases that would take, I don't think we have any idea at this point.
BATTISTA: Here we are talking about the threat of a biological or chemical attack, and we can't even get people back on planes yet. Robert in Massachusetts says: "The president wants us to fly and get back to normal. Yet, Ashcroft is warning us that there could be more attacks. Are we supposed to have no fear with the warnings that we heard this weekend?" -- John.
FUND: Actually, I believe that there is much less reason for people to fear flying than there was a few weeks ago, because people are alert, as the caller mentioned.
In addition, terrorists seldom strike using exactly the same methods, and I think we do have to worry about some of these other threats. That's why we're taking steps as precautions.
But we also have to recognize that the best way to solve the terrorism problem is to go and wipe them out, and one of the problems is our defense budget is 40 percent less than it was in real terms 10 years ago. Some of that is a good thing, but some of that cut into muscle. Some of that cut into the kinds of special forces that we need to conduct this kind of operation.
We have to do all of these things, but one of the things we have to do is to wipe out the terrorist cells, because that is our first line of defense. A good defense is a good offense as well.
WEISS: Well, I would agree with John, and I think that the defense budget has to be looked at. There are certain things, like the special forces, that do have to be beefed up.
But you're talking about, I mean, hundreds of billions of dollars were spent, John, fighting the last war, the Cold War, which you won.
BATTISTA: I got to -- you guys, I've got to let that be the last word. I'm sorry. Robert Weiss, John Fund and Alice Park, thank you all very much for joining us. It won't be the last discussion we have on this, for sure.
Are you doing anything to protect yourself from another terrorist attack? That was our question today. Let's check the TALKBACK LIVE online viewer vote. And 78 percent of you are not; 22 percent of you saying that you are. Most people probably aren't sure what to do.
Thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you again tomorrow for more TALKBACK LIVE.
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