CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Hamid Karzai, Tom Ridge
Aired January 9, 2002 - 21:00 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.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, can he bring stability to a shattered land? From Kabul the chairman of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai.
From Muscat, Oman, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, a member of the first congressional delegation to visit Afghanistan since the war. He has already met with Karzai.
In Jerusalem, GOP Congressman Christopher Shays, chairman of the subcommittee on national security.
And then, from Salt Lake City, the director of homeland security, Tom Ridge.
Plus, straight talk about risk and safety from Gavon Debecker author of "Fear Less." And former secret service agent Chuck Vance, CEO of Vance International. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. We begin tonight with a wonderful announcement, and we're the first to bring you the great news. Lisa Beamer who has become a good friend of the show and whose husband Todd Beamer became one of the heroes of flight 93 on September 11 gave birth to a healthy baby girl this afternoon. Morgan Kay Beamer is her name. She is 7 pounds and 21 inches long. When we talked with Lisa on Christmas Eve, I asked her if she and Todd had discussed any names.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA BEAMER, WIDOW OF FLIGHT 93 VICTIM: We had talked about names, but we hadn't really arrived at any, so I'm just going to wait and see if it's a boy or girl and then see what seems right at the time.
KING: If it's a boy, would you consider Todd?
BEAMER: Actually, Drew's middle name is Todd. So I don't know if I'll reuse that or not. Todd's middle game is Morgan, which is a boy name or a girl name. So we might use that on either a boy or girl. I'm just going to see what happens when it comes and what seems like the right name when I look at that little baby's face.
KING: Lisa asked us to let everyone know, that she is so blessed to have everything she needs for her little girl. But if anyone wants to send anything to, please in lieu of baby gifts, send a donation to the Todd Beamer foundation at www.beamerfoundation.org. The proceeds will benefit all the children affected by 9/11. You can make a donation as well to a children's charity in honor of little Morgan Kay Beamer.
Joining us now from Kabul, Afghanistan, is Hamid Karzai, he's the chairman of the Afghan interim government. He gave his first television address address to the nation. That government will be in place six months. Is that enough time, Mr. Chairman, six months?
HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN INTERIM GOVT. CHMN.: Well, it's enough for us to do what we are primarily to do. That's to arrange an Afghan loya jurga, a body of Afghan people to decide the future of the country.
KING: How well is -- we hear reports about the disarmament, the idea to get all those arms out of Kabul. How well is that going?
KARZAI: We had a major meeting about this the day before yesterday in the cabinet, and security for the Afghan people was the primary and the only item. We decided to remove armed people from the streets of Kabul and to provide security to the Afghan people on the highways. That's a very serious concern, and we will do it.
KING: What, Mr. Chairman, is the current military situation in your city?
KARZAI: Well, all over Afghanistan there's no fighting any more, for almost two, three weeks now. The country is generally very, very peaceful. There are some instances of lawlessness on the highways and one or two incidents in the cities. That's it, but we should try and improve it further. We should have absolute security for people to travel around the country and for them to be safe at homes.
KING: We know you met with senators from the United States including Senator Lieberman, who will be with us following your segment. How did that go?
KARZAI: It went very well. I was very glad to meet with the honorable senators from the United States, Senator Lieberman, Senator McCain, their colleagues. I liked it very much, and I'm looking forward to meeting with them in the United States. They were good people.
KING: When, by the way, are you coming to the United States?
KARZAI: In some time. Not immediately, in some time, I hope maybe in a month or less than that.
KING: You will definitely -- will you definitely meet with President Bush?
KARZAI: Very much hope so.
KING: You also met with Prime Minister Blair. Did that go well?
KARZAI: Yes. Both the meetings were the same evening. That also went very well, Mrs. Blair was with him, and we had a nice little chat, you may say. He assured us of Britain's commitment to Afghanistan, to help reconstruct, to help it stabilize. That was good. The same was said by the honorable senators of the United States. So that was encouragement.
KING: Mr. Chairman, do you have any further information on that United States Marine plane that went down today? We have seven Marines feared dead. Anything further you could tell us?
KARZAI: Nothing further on that, sir. I'm sorry for that, but nothing further. Very sorry.
KING: Any news on the hunt for bin Laden or more Mullah Omar?
KARZAI: Well, that hunt is going on. That hunt is going on very strongly. We had information about last week that Mullah Omar was somewhere in western Afghanistan, in a district there, in a mountainous area. We sent people to look for him, we could not find him, but we will keep looking for both these persons. And they will be arrested. They will be taken. It's just a question of time.
KING: Today, your foreign ministry spokesman said that seven top Taliban officials who surrendered during the last 48 hours, including the ex-justice minister, were allowed to go back to their villages. Why?
Mr. Chairman, did you hear that question? Are we having a problem in communicating? I guess we are having a problem in communicating. Sorry we lost that.
When we come back, we'll talk with Senator Joseph Lieberman.
He is in Muscat, Oman. I'm Larry King. Don't go away.
KING: We apologize for losing that break there with Chairman Karzai. He will be on, hopefully, many other times during the next six months, as he takes on this tough job of chairmaning this interim government.
Joining us now from Muscat, Oman is Senator Joseph Lieberman, member of the Senate delegation that visited Afghanistan and met with Chairman Karzai. He, of course, a Democrat of Connecticut, former candidate for vice president of his party and chairman of the governmental affairs committee and a member of armed services. How's the trip going?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: It's been a very exciting, moving, educational trip. I suppose exciting most of all, because of the times, Larry, that the nine senators on this trip met with the U.S. service personnel over hear, who's morale is very high, and who feel a real sense of purpose. And of course all of us told them how united our country is behind what they're doing and how grateful we are for what they're doing. Of course, we saw in the explosion on the tanker plane just a few hours ago, the constant risk that our soldiers take in being involved here. But it's a noble purpose and they're doing it brilliantly.
KING: The chairman could offer nothing further on that. Do you have anything further on that crash?
LIEBERMAN: We don't, Larry. About -- this is -- we're nine hours ahead of you, so it's early morning here in Muscat, Oman. But five or six of us from the Senate were at dinner last night in our hotel after a meeting with the sultan and our military escort came over and told us that a plane was down. And it just stopped us cold because we had spent the day with, you know, the 5,000 folks aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier. And each of us were thinking of the young men and women we had seen, the enthusiasm, the commitment and their lives ahead of them. And, of course, for these seven, tragedy struck. So our hearts go out to them. But we don't know any more than you've been reporting.
KING: What were your impressions of Chairman Karzai?
LIEBERMAN: Of course, this delegation is headed by John McCain and me and there are seven others. I think I can speak for all nine of us across party lines in saying that we were very impressed by Chairman Karzai. I mean, this country has been racked with a trauma over a considerable number of years. Bin Laden and al Qaeda overreach horrifically, strike the United States. The full power of the mightiest nation in the world strikes back. And you have the nation liberated.
And history provides a man, Karzai, who is a very fine man, a statesman, has strength. He's put together a very balanced cabinet. We were all very impressed. But they have a big job to do because the country has been without freedom and without national governance. And they need the world's help first in just getting food and health care to their people, and, second, in creating the institutions of a government, including a national army. And that means dealing with the strong regional leaders who, in the vacuum in Kabul, in the capital, have taken on enormous power which they're going to have to yield in the interest of the nation. So there's a lot of work to do, but these are very good people and very idealistic people, in my opinion.
KING: We didn't get a chance to hear his answer to the question of the released seven Taliban officials today. What do you make of that?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I was shocked by it. I have just heard it over CNN in my hotel room before coming over here. I don't know how this happened. I gather the foreign ministry spokesperson said that they are going to investigate. I'm afraid it shows how far the Afghan government has to go, that the institutions have not been created. But, you know, the Taliban were zealots who essentially enslaved the people and they gave bin Laden the sanctuary from which he planned and struck at us and killed 3,000 fellow Americans.
And there's just no reason to have let anyone associated with the Taliban government to leave. They should be held accountable, as the president said, right at the outset. We should bring justice to our enemies or our enemies to justice. And these people should have been brought to justice. I hope they can be recaptured.
KING: That aside, to this point, what has surprised you the most?
LIEBERMAN: Well, there's nothing like being here and talking to the leaders. We visited Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now we finished with a very encouraging visit with the Sultan of Oman.
And I think the important lessons apart from our excitement at seeing the American military personnel and our gratitude to them is that the form of extremist, aggressive, inhumane behavior that bin Laden and al Qaeda justified as Islam simply doesn't reflect the Islam that is practiced, believed in and lived by millions of people in this part of the world. And that bin Laden was an imposition on what was here. And now that we have led an international coalition, getting rid of the Taliban, putting bin Laden and al Qaeda on the run, I think the leaders here and the people -- but the leaders are going to reassert themselves. We've empowered the and they're going to reassert themselves in the name of an Islam that leads to good values and tolerance and what we hope of every faith. So, to me, that's the most optimistic.
The second is that they really all want the United States to be here. And it's not just, you know, for financial support or military protection. They want us to be here because we represent the future, the modern world, and we also provide a kind of security shield here from local nations that might otherwise be aggressors. In much the way we did after the -- during periods of history in Europe and that we've done for quite a while in the Pacific.
So this is a very important part of the world for us to be in. And we're not going to do it alone, but we're the leader of the world and we ought to play our fair share in making sure that the conditions of poverty and tyranny and zealotry that gave birth to al Qaeda and bin Laden never happen again here. And this is a very important geopolitical part of the world. It has enormous resources including energy resources. It can be very valuable for us to be here as well now.
KING: So unlike in the past, we are committed long range?
LIEBERMAN: I hope so. I certainly take that to be the intention of President Bush. It's the strongly held belief of the nine-member bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators that is finishing up its trip here today.
KING: We'll take a break and when we come back, Senator Lieberman will remain with us and we'll be joined by Congressman Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, from Jerusalem. Don't go away.
KING: Welcome back. Senator Joseph Lieberman remains with us from Muscat, Oman. And joining us from Jerusalem, Congressman Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, chairman of the National Security, the Veterans' Affairs, and the International Relations Subcommittee.
Any update on the tension in the bailiwick of the world you're at, Congressman Shays, between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Anything new?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R-CT), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE: Nothing new. I mean, it's a work in process. But I'm here just as I was in Turkey because they're our best allies. They've dealt with terrorist issues for years. And they are ahead of us. I mean, as Tom Ridge knows, we need to develop a proper assessment of the terrorist threat. We need to develop the strategy to fight the terrorism and we need to organize our government the be more effective. And the Turks and the Israelis are a bit ahead of us in this effort.
KING: Do you find Jerusalem almost so inured with it, that they've had it for so long, that it becomes part of life?
SHAYS: Well, it is part of life. And they stress to us as strongly as they can that you can't allow terrorists to win. When there's a bombing you clean it up and you get right back to business. You don't shut it down. You don't have it be a monument to terrorists.
KING: Senator Lieberman, isn't that hard, though, when things sort of return to normal, that we fall into a pattern?
LIEBERMAN: Well, it can be hard. Obviously for the people who are friends or relatives of those who have been struck. But, you know, there's no alternative. You have to keep going forward. A nation can't yield to fear. I mean, -- of course, we've proven that in the U.S. since September 11. In some ways we have We've been stronger and more confident than we ever have been in my lifetime before. Because we saw what can happen when evil strikes. We're not going to yield to that. I think that's the feeling that Chris is describing as well.
Of course, what you want, alongside that natural emotional reaction is to make sure that your government's doing everything it can to protect you and we're all working together across party lines, Chris and Governor Ridge and I and a lot of others to make sure that's true in the USA.
KING: By the way, Governor Ridge will follow our guests on this program. Congressman Shays, did you or did you not talk with Turkish and Israeli officials about Saddam Hussein and his quest for nuclear weapons and what might be the position toward Iraq?
SHAYS: Absolutely. I mean, Saddam is like a snake in the bedroom. We didn't chop off his head and he's around. He's developing weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological. We know that. And we know that within three to five years he'll have nuclear weapons. So we're dealing with al Qaeda. We're shutting down the international university on terrorism in Afghanistan. We'll go and perhaps into the Sudan and Somalia and Yemen and others to deal with that. But deal with the low hanging fruit. But ultimately, Iraq has to be dealt with. Let me just say the Turks have told us, as others have told us, that we have to know the consequences. We have to recognize the impact on the Turkish economy, tourism and their trade, and we have to be willing to carry it out and do it quickly and then not see Iraq divided up. It can't be a divided nation.
KING: Senator Lieberman, what's the definition of ultimately?
LIEBERMAN: In regard to Saddam?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I hate to give you an inadequate answer, but I'd say time will tell. I do think the important point here -- sorry. I do think the important point here is to just say exactly what my buddy Chris Shays has just said. This is a war on terrorism and against terrorists. If you look around the world, Saddam Hussein just stands out, both because of the weapons of mass destruction he has and has used and his clear evil intentions toward the United States.
So the when and the how is up to the commander in chief and our military. But whether ought not to be in doubt. I do think in the mean time, we've got to focus on finishing what we've done -- what our soldiers and allies have done so brilliantly in Afghanistan, and that is to get Osama bin Laden and Omar and to deprive the al Qaeda network of re-establishing anywhere else in the world, Somalia, Sudan or wherever else.
What Chris has just said is quite true. We spoke with the leadership of the Turkish government, our delegation did, Prime Minister, Ecevit, and he had a very interesting formulation on Iraq. He said that the leadership -- who leads Iraq is not up to them. Their concern is that the territorial integrity of Iraq be maintained. And of course, eliminating or changing this regime in Baghdad doesn't mean breaking up Iraq.
I think so long as we give that commitment, we will have a lot of our allies with us. And it will be good for the people of Iraq. It will also be good for their neighbors like Turkey, because a stable Democratic Iraq will be able to trade with them and have tourism much more productively, let alone bringing more security to the people of the region. So this is unfinished business. It's going to happen ultimately.
KING: Congressman Shays, when you visit an area like that, which has so many problems and has been the cause of world attention for so long, are you encouraged or discouraged?
SHAYS: I'm very encouraged. I mean, the bottom line is, the United States didn't know we had been at war with terrorists for years. The terrorists knew. We just never responded. But we can learn from Turkey. We can learn from Israel. They're very hopeful, and so am I. I think that Jordan will be supportive of our efforts. We need to build on our successes. They just need to know the United States is determined to carry out this war against terrorism. Drain the swamp and make this a more peaceful world.
KING: Do you both think with Tom Ridge coming up, Senator Lieberman, do you think that Tom Ridge's position should be cabinet level?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I do. I think Tom Ridge is off to a good start. He's got -- he was handed the biggest, toughest job in government right now, to protect Americans at home after September 11 attacks. My own feeling is it's so big a job that he ought to have at least as much power as he had when he was governor of Pennsylvania.
And Senator Arlen Specter, Tom's own senator, one of his two, Republican colleague and I have a bill in to do just that. And I hope as time goes on, we can have a meeting of the minds on that point with Governor Ridge and the administration. We need strength in that position. We need accountability. We need Tom to be able to say, when he wants somebody to do something, I'm going to go to the president. And he wants you to do it. We've got to have Secretary Tom Ridge be able to say, do it right now, no excuses I hope Congress will adopt that legislation because...
KING: We'll ask him about that. Congressman Shays, do you agree with Senator Lieberman?
SHAYS: I think the president did it the right way. He established someone right next door to him. He has cabinet level status. Ultimately, I think Tom is going to develop the assessment threat, the strategy, and I think he's going to recommend that we reorganize, where we'll have a Tom Ridge and a Department of Homeland Security of some kind. That's what I suspect.
KING: Thank you both very much, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Muscot Oman, Congressman Christopher Shays in Jerusalem. Safe trip home, gentlemen.
When we come back, Tom Ridge joins us from Salt Lake City, Utah. Next month that will be the most famous city in the world. We'll talk about what's gonna happen there right after this.
KING: Joining us now from Salt Lake City, Utah, Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, decorated Vietnam veteran, the first enlisted Vietnam combat veteran elected to the United States House back in '82 and director of course of the Office of Homeland Security. It's obvious why he's in Salt Lake. The subject is Olympic security.
How secure are you about Olympic security?
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Larry, I'm absolutely convinced that probably one of the safest places on the face of the earth from February 8 through February 24 will be the Olympic venues in this beautiful city of Salt Lake. Absolutely. They've been working on it for 2 1/2 years.
KING: They've been working on it long before September 11. But September 11 had to affect their thinking, didn't it?
RIDGE: Well, I think it's absolutely correct, Larry. But I think enormous amount of credit goes to the governor here, and the Utah public safety structure that they put together who had been working since August of 1999, almost two and a half years ago, with the FBI, with the Federal Emergence Management Agency, and with the Secret Service to bring in not only some traditional means of providing security, but some new technology and some new approaches, two-and-a-half years worth of collaboration between 60 federal, state and local agencies. A great seamless network from the federal government through Governor Levitt's office down to the local government.
They're wrapped up. They're buttoned up. They're ready to welcome over 1 million visitors and, I think, 3,500 athletes and trainers from over 80 countries. It's going to be quite a celebration in Salt Lake City, Utah. It's going to be a celebration of the Olympics. It's also going to be a celebration of America. The president says, we got to keep going ahead. We promised we were going to host the Olympics. And we're going to do it in fine fashion.
KING: And, encouraging, I understand there's almost no tickets left.
RIDGE: I was talking to Governor Levitt earlier today and some of the others involved. Mitt Romney is a pretty happy fellow. The Olympic Organizing Committee, the communities are ready. There aren't too many tickets left. And surprisingly, one of the...
KING: How about -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
RIDGE: One of the more interesting things that happened, you had so many people purchase these tickets prior to September 11. Very few people asked for refunds, Larry. They're absolutely convinced that this is the place to be. America had promised to host a grand Winter Olympics. The Olympic Committee had learned for the past 30 years from the horrible experience in Munich in '72 through 1996 in Atlanta. They've got 30 years of work, 30 years of preparation. And I think America and visitors realize this is a special place, a special time. The Olympics are an extraordinary international event. We're ready to not only make people feel safe visually, they're going to see a lot of things around that should make them feel safe, but they should be assured there a lot of things they're not going to see that are involved in security of these venues as well.
KING: Governor, do other nations have a say in that security for their athletes?
RIDGE: I believe that each individual nation has an opportunity to work with the Secret Service. I know they're all working and collaborating together on sharing intelligence information in making sure that the Olympic village meets the -- not only the individual needs of the individual athletes, but the security concerns of the respective countries. So the collaboration that I'm talking about is not just unique between governments here in the United States, the federal government and the state, but through about, I think it's 83 countries.
KING: So you are very -- I don't want to put words in your mouth, but obviously very confident?
RIDGE: I feel very good about the extraordinary effort that's been undertaken, Larry. I feel very good. I want to put it in a comparison for you. Lake Placid, I think they had -- and that's a beautiful little community in New York, about 3,000 people. And I think they had 1,000 or so federal, state and local employees and law enforcement officials and security personnel.
And now we've got this beautiful city of Salt Lake City. Venues -- it's got nearly 1.5 million people that we want to make secure. We have got 900 square miles. And I think you're going to see in excess of 10,000 security personnel. Where we need people to provide security, you're going to see the people. Where we need technology, you'll see it. And in many places, we're going to put the two together.
So I feel very confident that everything that could be humanly done, that could be done in terms of technology has been applied here. And they did make some adjustments after September 11, but before then, they had expended nearly $200 million in preparation. And by the time it's all said and done it will be nearly a quarter of a billion dollars used to provide people and technology to make this perhaps the safest sporting event in the history of athletics.
KING: Touch some other bases. You were sworn in three months ago yesterday. Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligent Subcommittee on Terrorism said that you have not been able to organize the homeland security effort to speak authoritatively on a variety of subjects and to give the public confidence we know what we're doing. The executive order creating your office didn't give you sufficient tools.
RIDGE: I think the congresswoman and I have had a couple very good conversations about the legal and budgetary authority that my office has. And I think when she takes a look at the budget, she'll see that I have been able to put a homeland security imprint on the budget as we deal with issues involving intelligence fusion, bioterrorism, upgrading of public health. And I think as the weeks and months evolve, she will also see first hand that once we put together our staff and begin to realign some of the responsibilities within the federal government and develop a forward looking strategic plan, that the kind of authority that the president has vested in me is sufficient to get the job done.
KING: Also, it is possible, is it not, with a thing like this and security and secrecy, that a lot has happened we'll not know about?
RIDGE: I think that's a fairly accurate statement. It is very similar to what I just shared with you about the Olympics. There's a lot of visible security that the athletes and their trainers and the sponsors and the visitors will see. There's a lot of security that you won't see. There will be a lot of intelligence information that we can share. Some of it we cannot.
But one of the things we've stepped forward during the past couple weeks and have begun to engage not only the federal agencies, Larry, but also state law enforcement agencies across this country. We really wanted to devise a language of alert so that when we get some specific information and we can share it either with states, localities, regions or perhaps the country as a whole, that we can put it in some context. And we're working very hard on that initiative. And, hopefully, in the weeks ahead, we can come up with something that will be a national alert system.
KING: I'm sure you heard Senator Lieberman praise you and also say that your job should be cabinet job. Should it?
RIDGE: Right. Well, I don't think so, Larry. I think that regardless of the kind of alignment, and I suspect that in the months ahead, I would recommend to the Congress that this crazy matrix of responsibilities among like 15 agencies and I think there are 40 or 45 different departments that have some kind of homeland security responsibility. We'll probably ask Congress to help us realign some of those.
And as part of that realignment structure, there may be a separate or a larger agency, or maybe a realignment under the existing cabinet positions and we will need Senator Lieberman's help to get that done. But regardless of how we put together some of these different agencies, I believe that future presidents will be well served by following President Bush's lead and have a homeland security adviser. And it's set up very similar to Dr. Rice's office in the National Security Council. You're going to have multiple agencies and literally hundreds of thousands of people dealing with homeland security issues from intelligence gathering to Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders and a variety of things in between. There will have to be somebody close to the president to help oversee and coordinate that activity.
So I appreciate the senator's kind words. I don't think I need that responsibility. I will need his help as we go, I think, down the road and to his point, this has been a bipartisan effort. You know, Washington, D.C. can be a pretty tough town and it can get real partisan. But right now, this is one of the few offices in Washington, maybe historically, that everybody wants to see this homeland security office succeed.
KING: We'll take a break. And when we come back, more with Governor Tom Ridge. In a little while, Gavin de Becker, one of the leading experts on violent behavior and threat assessment will be with us along with Chuck Vance, former special agent and supervisor, U.S. Secret Service. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Governor Ridge. On Saturday, one of the most powerful members of the United States house, John Dingell, was strip searched at the airport. He had had artificial hip surgery and that kept setting off security alarms. A Dingell spokesman said today that they've been getting tremendous amount of calls from people saying they're now not afraid to fly any more because if they're strip searching congressmen, the skies must be safe. We all know John Dingell, who is not exactly a wall flower.
RIDGE: That's quite a standard for safety.
KING: What did you make of that incident, and in fact, was it a good idea?
RIDGE: Well, I think first of all, that the good humor and the approach that Congressman Dingell brought to it obviously was a very inconvenient and some might even argue an embarrassing moment, really resonates around the country that everyone trying to do their job may inconvenience you from time to time. But we want to maximize our effort to bring security to our airports and to our airplanes. And I just think the wonderful way he handled the whole incident says to everybody, don't be perturbed if you're inconvenienced somewhat. Better we be inconvenienced and safe than anything else.
KING: Santa Barbara -- let's take a call for Governor Ridge -- hello.
CALLER: Yes. Governor Ridge, I'm listening and watching other shows tonight. They're talking about our vulnerability, the gas lines, the nuclear plants, this particular program went on for a long time. My wife was sitting here crying. I mean, is the media blowing it out of proportion? Are we vulnerable here? What's going on?
RIDGE: Well, sir, that's a great question because in the United States, with the diverse economy that we have and the fact that we are probably the most open and welcoming country, you can always play out a worst-case scenario and raise everybody's concern and everybody's fear to a maximum level.
But I would tell you that even before September 11, not only were there people in government working on making this country safer and more secure, but people involved in the energy industry, people involved in the water industry, people involved in the chemical industry have been working very hard to make sure that they take the necessary precautions. We are never going to have a fail-safe system, but I would assure your wife that every day that I have been in the job in the White House, that I can honestly say to her that at the end of that day, America was safer and it was better and it was stronger.
And one of the things that we look to do in the office of homeland security is not only make sure that every single day we are more secure, but turn this -- the negative horror of September 11 into a positive agent so that we not only change and make ourselves more secure, but make ourselves better. We are going to invest -- there's a legitimate concern about bioterrorism. We should be concerned about infectious diseases. But the kind of money that Congress is going to spend and the president has talked about building up our public health community. We will build it up to deal with terrorism where we're going to build it up to deal with infectious disease.
So will we be more secure? Oh, yes we will. But we'll be a better country because of it. And I think that's the approach the president is taking. So I would assure your wife that in spite of that horror, in spite of that terror, every single day we're getting stronger and better and more secure.
KING: Does the media overplay it?
RIDGE: Well, I think there's a tendency right now to focus on a worst-case scenario. There was a lot of notoriety and a lot of concern about a 15-year-old who got into a Cessna on Saturday. You reported it. You had people talking about it. And everybody talks about risk assessments and everybody talks about vulnerability. But as you go about trying to make these kinds of risk assessments and think about potential vulnerabilities, I'm not sure that you would put a 15-year-old trainee, obviously a very, very troubled young man, you would list him in the category of bin Laden sympathizers. And I don't think anybody really thinks he was a bin Laden sympathizer. I don't think anybody really thinks that he had any contact with al Qaeda. But because he left that note, then suddenly there's all kinds of questions. And I think we have to be fairly realistic as we look at these incidents on a case-by-case basis.
KING: Are you going to have input into the state of the union address?
RIDGE: The president engages his entire team talking about homeland security and the issues involving his state of the union. But at the end of the day, we give input, but the president makes the final decision based on not just the input we give him, Larry, but I'll tell you, we meet -- the Homeland Security Council meets a couple times every week. I also have occasional conversations with the president privately. He is as engaged in dealing with the specifics of homeland security as he is with the specifics of combating the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. So the speech will be -- the speech will be based on his experiences and intuition. He'll paint his vision. I'm anxious to hear it myself.
KING: Duncan, Oklahoma, another call for the governor. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, I would like to know if we were under imminent attack or if there was a natural phenomenon, catastrophe about to happen or if they had some warnings, would they tell the American people?
RIDGE: The president has said that if we have specific information about a specific attack, that we would make sure that America would know. And one of the things that we are trying to do as we develop a different kind of language of alerting local law enforcement and governors and there may come a time where there has to be a specific alert with regard to the nation as a whole, that that information, the president has said himself would be shared with America. The greatest fear in combating terrorism, I think, is the fear of the unknown. Americans are pretty resilient group of people. We've shown that since September 11. And 285 million people strong, we're going to combat terrorism. We're going to win this war against terrorism and armed with information and armed with knowledge is one of the first and most important steps to win that battle.
KING: Governor, do you know if the president is going to the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake?
RIDGE: I do a lot of things, Larry, but I'm not involved too much in his scheduling. I think they are looking at it at some point in time, but I can't tell you for sure one way or the other.
KING: And will you go to any events?
RIDGE: Well, I hope I get a chance to come out here. I have had the opportunity to deal and talk to some of the folks involved in the planning. And if my schedule permits and I get a little personal time, maybe I'll get a chance to see out here.
KING: Always good seeing you, Governor. Thank you so much.
RIDGE: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Governor Tom Ridge from Salt Lake City, director of the Office of Homeland Security. When we come back, two security experts, Gavin de Becker and Chuck Vance. Don't go away.
KING: Joining us now in New York is Gavin De Becker, one of the top experts on violent behavior and threat assessment. His new book is "Fear Less." His share of profits from this book, they had a full page ad in the "New York Times" for it today, will be donated to victory over violence. He's CEO of Gavin De Becker & Associates.
And in Washington, Chuck Vance, former special agent and supervisor, U.S. Secret Service, president and CEO of Vance International.
What do you mean, Gavin, by "Fear Less?"
GAVIN DE BECKER, AUTHOR, "FEAR LESS": Well, I mean it's really time to put ourselves in an empowering place and it's to recognize it's we, Americans, not just government, who protect us. It is ironic that government talks about protecting us, when if fact all the recent incidents American citizens have protected government; from Flight 93 to the American Airlines case where somebody broke into the cockpit, to the case where with the guy trying to light the bomb on the plane, all of these involved regular citizens who intervened to prevent terroristic action from succeeding.
That's the direction I mean, is to go into a position of empowerment, and not come from a place of victims-in-waiting, which is how we've been portrayed in the media. KING: In essence, Chuck Vance, do you agree with that?
CHUCK VANCE, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: I do, Larry. I think what it is is, we've said before that this country has to have an attitude more like the Israelis and some of the people who have been dealing with terrorism for years now. So I think we've done that.
Our people have -- we no longer are going to be pacifists, we are going to be strong in the face of threats. And that is where w need to be.
KING: Gavin, frankly, has this been a boom time for your business?
DE BECKER: I wouldn't call it a boon time. We were busy before. My company has been around for a long time. Certainly with regard to writing this book, I took six weeks out and I made it my priority, my contribution to the national security, to urgently help people to get fully through this fear.
Because unless you get fully through it, it's always there lingering and it affects everything. People aren't flying, people aren't making plans. So my real priority has been to help people understand terrorism in a way that lets them be not afraid.
KING: Shouldn't we assume, Chuck, that we are more safe since September 11?
VANCE: I think we definitely are, Larry. I think we have a good ways to go, but certainly we've done across the board we've taken the gloves off our CIA and our FBI. We've gone and established a transportation security agency, which is headed incidentally by a former director of both the CIA and the Secret Service and ATF.
We've looked at our ports. We've looked at our borders. We've even looked at our corporations. I think from the ground up, we've raised our security profile, so consequently we're where we should have been or getting to where we should have been ten years ago in this country.
KING: Gavin, you were making a lot of recommendations in your book about safety in the cockpit, right?
DE BECKER: I am. The main point I'm making is that I think it is time to recognize that air security does not happen on the ground at the airport. It happens in the air. And all the taking away of cuticle scissors and tweezers is not relevant to stopping people from getting into the cockpit. All the suicide hijackings, and I detailed about 11 of them in "Fear Less," all of them would have been prevented, including September 11 by having proper entry resistant doors into the cockpit just like every taxicab in New York City has, just like subways have.
That's where our attention needs to go, to making them real. Not the temporary fixes, but the real ones.
KING: And you were saying this before September 11?
DE BECKER: I was. This is something that goes back to 1970. There was an Eastern Airlines flight where a man got in and shot the pilot and the co-pilot. He wanted to have a suicide that way. We had one in 1986 in California where a man crashed a PSA flight after killing the pilot and the co-pilot as a way to commit suicide. We've had quite few of them over the years and all of them would have been prevented by the cockpits being made entry resistant.
KING: Chuck, as a former Secret Service agent what are your thoughts on that armed Arab American agent who was banned from a flight?
VANCE: Well, what -- my take on it is you had two men working on Christmas Day; the pilot who was trying to get his aircraft off the ground, the agent who was trying to get to work in Crawford, Texas. The pilot, who of course is concerned because everybody's on high alert and worried about when the second shoe is gonna drop, starts questioning the agent. I suspect that the agent, after being taken off one airplane and then being questioned was getting frustrated.
Bottom line is, that the agent got taken off the aircraft not so much I think because he was an Arab American, but more that he was a man with a gun who the pilot wasn't sure exactly who he was. And the problem there is that the pilot really isn't qualified to determine if that is a Secret Service agent. That's part of the issue.
KING: So you don't think it was racial profiling?
VANCE: No, I don't, Larry. I think again, I think if the agent had to do it all over again he probably wouldn't have made -- he would have fought a different battle. Because I think under the circumstances, under the conditions, the pilot was justified in doing what he did.
KING: Gavin, have you apologized to the city of Detroit? You said it's still safer to fly into Cairo than it is to stay in Detroit. You angered the mayor.
DE BECKER: I did. The mayor called me an idiot, in fact. And I have talked to many people there in the mayor's office and also did a whole bunch of interviews in Detroit. My point however, stands. And that is that Americans make their risk predictions in odd ways. They cancel a trip to Cairo where they want to go see the pyramids for fear of being killed in Cairo, and they stay home in an American city where the risk is 22 times higher.
So I think it -- is the point stands. I could have chosen Detroit, New York, Los Angeles or anywhere else. I know Detroit is sensitive about that because they're working on their own violence problem. And I support them, and yes, I did apologize.
KING: What do you make of Governor Ridge, Chuck Vance?
VANCE: I think he's doing a good job considering he's got a tremendous job in front of him. And he hasn't been given a lot of power to do it with. I think his power of getting people to work together, his power of persuasion, his closeness, of course, with the president, all that has taken into account.
I think he's made good strides and I think that the future bodes well for what he's trying to do.
KING: Gavin, what do you think?
DE BECKER: I like him, also. I think he was perhaps more diplomatic than I would be when a caller asked the question, has the media overreacted? Larry, if a friend treated you the way the television news treats all of us and called you every 15 minutes and said, oh, my God, did you hear what happened? Did you hear what is going to happen, did you hear -- this constant preliving of every tragedy is so overboard right now that the American public is being terrorized by Americans, not by middle easterners by Americans in TV news rooms.
KING: Gavin De Becker, his new book is "Fear Less." Chuck Vance, president and CEO of Vance International. Thank you both very much.
DE BECKER: Thanks, Larry.
KING: We end tonight's show wishing a very pleasant night's rest to Lisa Beamer and her new baby, Morgan Kay Beamer, born today at a hospital in New Jersey. As we told you earlier, Lisa, whose husband Todd Beamer, was one of the heroes of Flight 93, gave birth to a healthy baby girl this afternoon, Morgan Kay, 7 pounds, 21 inches long.
We also want to remind you that Lisa asked us to let everyone know that she's so blessed to have everything she needs for her little girl, that if anyone wants to send anything, to please, in lieu of baby gifts, send a donation to the Todd M. Beamer foundation at www.beamerfoundation.org.
Proceeds from that organization will benefit all the children affected by September 11. Or you can make a donation to a children's charity in your area. We send our best wishes and congratulations to Lisa and her family. We'll tell you about tomorrow night right after these words.
KING: Tomorrow night we'll have major debate on whether a terrorism trial should be televised. NEWSNIGHT is next with Aaron Brown in New York. Aaron's going to be in Los Angeles. We look forward to seeing him next week. And tomorrow he is going to be down in Tampa for an exclusive interview with Tommy Frank, who has had a tough job and has done an amazing job in Afghanistan. Aaron Brown NEWSNIGHT in New York, next -- Aaron.
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