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Showdown Iraq: Interview With Bob Graham

Aired November 12, 2002 - 12:28   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now from the U.S. Capitol Hill is Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator Graham, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Tell our viewers why you're so concerned that the FBI may not have done enough over these past 14 months to get ready for a possible terror attack.

GRAHAM: Wolf, I'm concerned, first, the fact that the head of the CIA has said that there is a 75 percent or greater likelihood that there will be terrorist attacks inside the United States at the point that our war against Saddam Hussein puts him into a position that he's about to be toppled from power.

I'm concerned about the fact that we may be ready to initiate that war within 60 days, between now and mid-January.

Third, that since 1999, the FBI has had the responsibility of developing a comprehensive strategic plan on international terrorists inside the U.S. That plan is not yet completed.

I think there's a lack of urgency, there's a lack of focus on the critical nature of this. You've just run film clips showing what several nations in Europe are doing in preparation for the possibility of an escalation of terrorist attacks. We need to be initiating those same kinds of measures here, and particularly a very aggressive effort to identify, determine the number and the capabilities of international terrorist cells in the United States, and roll them up, dismantle them before they can hit us.

BLITZER: This is a shocking indictment, Senator Graham, of the FBI right now. Is Director Mueller to blame? What's going on?

GRAHAM: Well, I believe in the military adage that if the ship hits the rocks, it's the captain of the ship's responsibility. There should be accountability. But right now is not the time to be pointing fingers of blame.

Right now is the time to be initiating the most aggressive actions within the United States to identify terrorist cells and deal with them here by deportation, detention or surveillance, and to begin to attack their headquarters overseas, particularly in the Middle East where they are getting their support, their money, their logistics, their planning, and where the phone call will come from telling them to attack.

BLITZER: When you say, attack their headquarters in the Middle East, could you be more specific, and tell us precisely what you mean? Military action?

GRAHAM: If necessary, absolutely. And let me say, I'm concerned that every time we talk about this, we talk about al Qaeda as being the enemy. Frankly, al Qaeda is not only not the only international terrorist group, it's not the most competent international terrorist group. The most competent is Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is operating training camps in Iran, in Syria, and in the Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon, where they are pouring out the next generation of terrorists.

We learned a lesson in Afghanistan of what it means to let those sanctuaries go un-assaulted. We need to be taking those camps out. We need to be sending a very powerful signal to Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic jihad, as well as al Qaeda, because all of those groups have significant presence inside the United States of trained terrorists waiting for the call to action.

BLITZER: Well, let's get back to the whole issue of the FBI per se. The attorney general, John Ashcroft, the FBI director, Robert Mueller, they insist that they have taken enormous steps over these past 14 months to get the U.S. back on track to try to fight terrorism. But you're saying they haven't done nearly enough.

GRAHAM: Absolutely, and the head of the CIA at the last public hearing we had of our joint inquiry into the tragedy of September 11, said that our state of vulnerability today was as great as, maybe more than it was in the weeks before September 11. So, I would take from that that we haven't made the kind of progress that we need in terms of taking down these international terrorist cells inside the United States and their headquarters abroad that we need for the basic protection of the people of the United States of America.

BLITZER: And one final question, Senator, before I let you go. Would it make any difference if there was a new Department of Homeland Security, which the president, of course, wants?

GRAHAM: No, for two reasons. The FBI is not going to be part of that Department of Homeland Security; nor will the CIA.

And second, I don't think we have the time in the next 60 days to be moving organizational charts around. We need to be in the most aggressive mode to determine where these cells are in the United States, how many there are, what can we do to deport, detain or put under surveillance those individuals. We need to learn by penetrating these cells, what their intentions and what their specific training capabilities are.

And then over there, we need to have our Defense Department initiating attacks against the terrorist groups, in addition to al Qaeda and against al Qaeda outside of Afghanistan that represent the greatest threat to the people of the United States here at home.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Graham, thanks so much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, clearly concerned that if the U.S. takes steps against Iraq in the next 60 days, there could be terrorist strikes against the United States. Senator Graham, thanks very much for joining us.


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