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CNN Sunday Morning

Threats of Terror Attacks Cast Shadow Over Holiday Weekend

Aired May 26, 2002 - 07:14   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: For many Americans, this Memorial Day weekend is a time to relax and unwind, but the recent flurry of warnings about possible terrorist attacks have cast a shadow of caution over this holiday. CNN's Kathleen Koch has the latest on the alerts and how the country is responding.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Americans kicked back, security tightened up. On the National Mall for a Memorial weekend concert. In the Atlanta subway.

CHIEF GENE WILSON, ATLANTA TRANSIT POLICE: We felt that we needed to ratchet up what we had been doing.

KOCH: In New York City.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Every step that can be taken is being taken.

KOCH: The latest warnings for nuclear power plants, and to be on guard for terrorist's who might use small planes for suicide attacks. A private pilot's organization put the warning on its Web site. And the government urged caution.

MARION BLAKEY, NTSB CHAIR: You know, it's a very diffuse threat at this point. It does seem to be something that in all modes of transportation right now, we're going to have to be on high alert.

KOCH: A new focus on ports, after FBI warnings of possible threats from scuba divers. The potential targets are many, and hard to protect.

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Either for an ecological attack, where you could lose petroleum products, et cetera, into the sea. Also, bridges. I mean, you can attack bridges structurally from the water because that's where the pylons are, et cetera. So, it opens up a whole different target area.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: It's a big sea out there. We have the Atlantic, we have the Pacific coast, and we have the Gulf Coast. And we have to take -- I think -- even greater precautions on the ground in our ports. KOCH: But are the warnings working? A new CNN poll of more than 1,000 Americans found while the same number pay a great deal or some attention to the warnings, one quarter pay little or no attention at all.

(on camera): And concerns remain that the alerts may be designed to give the government political cover if attacks do occur. Still, some are willing to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We live in a dangerous world. They perceive dangers that even Congress has not been alerted to, and they're trying to alert the American people. Let's accept that at face value.

KOCH (voice-over): So Americans this holiday weekend hitting the beach, the mountains, or the mall, have a mixed mission. To relax, but remain vigilant.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: And joining us to talk more about how the country is responding to the latest terror alerts, Mike Brooks. He worked at the FBI's Terrorism Task Force from 1993 to 1999 and he's also a former Washington D.C. police officer.

Good morning, Mike.


PHILLIPS: Well, first reaction, I guess -- is the U.S. overcompensating here because of all the controversy surrounding 9/11 and possibly the government not letting us know about the warnings they did receive?

BROOKS: Well, some people said that we were not getting enough information. Now, people are saying we're getting too much information. You know, where do you draw that happy medium. It's hard to -- if something happens, you know, and the people weren't alerted, they'd say then the government is being remiss and not letting them know. So I think we're kind of a full disclosure mode now by the Office of Homeland Security and also by the FBI and the Attorney General's Office.

PHILLIPS: Well, that's not a way we want to live. We don't want to live in fear the rest of our lives either. Doesn't there come a point where -- I mean a lot of people get stressed out about this.

BROOKS: Well, you know, you got to take it all in stride, you know. In Europe, you know the Brits have lived this way for years because of attacks over the years by the -- by the IRA. And it's like this in other European countries and other countries in Israel, for instance. But you've got to take it in stride. You know you have to -- you can't walk around with blinders on. I think that's what Americans sometimes do. They walk around with blinders on and after something happens, then they're at a heightened sense of awareness.

But after six months, a year, down the road and nothing happens, they'll say, well, I don't think it's going to happen. You know, I don't want to know about this. You don't have to keep telling me. But I think sometimes it's good to let the Americans know so they don't get complacent.

PHILLIPS: Well, the warnings -- apartment complexes, small planes -- I thought terrorists think of things on a much larger scale than this. Is this unusual?

BROOKS: Well, when it -- if a -- if I were terrorist and you really wanted to strike at the heart of America, you would want to do something that's going to create a lot of impact, such as the World Trade Center. No one would have ever thought that anything of -- something would happen of that magnitude.

But you talk about seaports, you talk about railways, land transportation, subways, all those -- they are vulnerable, yes. And I think it's a good reminder over the holiday season -- if someone sees something to let someone know about it.

With the apartment buildings, I think that was some information that was coming from the detainees. And you have to be careful about the information that we're getting too. It -- has that information been vetted? I think they should -- maybe should vet the information and find out where that information is coming from. You know, the detainees know how to push the buttons of the American people. And I think...

PHILLIPS: They're trying to create the fear. Obviously, they're going to...

BROOKS: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: ... say anything to do that. You talk about vetted. How does that -- how does the FBI do that? How do you know what to take seriously and what not to take seriously?

BROOKS: Well, the FBI works with other intelligence agencies. They received intelligence through human sources, you know, from having sources out on the street, sometimes even pay sources, from single's intelligence, from satellite communication uplinks, legal wire taps and also from exploitation of documents.

They've been doing some of the raids in Afghanistan. They've been getting videotapes and papers about possible things that have happened that here -- will happen here in the United States. Then, you take that information and you go back to some of the interviews they're having with the detainees and you try to see if there's any link between the -- between this information. And you know that's the job of the intelligence analysts, to try to see if there's any link at all because you've got this big puzzle. I've said if before -- about a big puzzle outlook, but try to -- you've got all these -- you've got a 500,000 piece puzzle. You're trying to put all these pieces together and sometimes it takes a long time. It can't happen overnight.

PHILLIPS: Lie detector tests, I'm thinking about this. Say for example, the detainees at GETMO, can -- legally, can the government do that?

BROOKS: Well, that -- I'll leave that up to the attorneys. They -- some of them have...

PHILLIPS: So it would be a legal fight.

BROOKS: Absolutely. Some of them have been polygraphed. Other folks besides the detainees, other people that they've talked about and that they will bring in, walk-ins. You know, you talk about walk- ions to embassies in overseas, U.S. embassies overseas that walk in and say, "I have information that something's going to happen in the United States." Then, you kind of look at that person's background and they may want to polygraph. And they'll ask them to voluntarily take a polygraph and many of these people to do with the walk-ins, as we call them, will take a polygraph. And sometimes we find that they're not being so forthcoming.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about this article from the "Washington Post," CIA stepping in to help the FBI shift focus specifically with regard to the counterterrorism aspect of the FBI. What do you think about this?

BROOKS: I - you know I - the CIA and the FBI have been working together. They talk about this - the Cold War mentality. We've been out of the Cold War mentality for quite some time. CIA analysts have been at FBI headquarters and also at some of the field offices. And FBI people have also been out at Langley at CIA for quite some time.

Has there always been a great relationship back and forth with information sharing? I think it could have been better. It has gotten a little bit better, I think, since after the World Trade Center. And you know, working on - they talk about the criminal cases and the CIA and the information they have given that to the FBI so they can prosecute the criminal cases. And I think that is needed. We looked - after the embassy bombing, there was a good relationship then, information sharing on things that they had prior to the embassy bombing in 1998. I think they could be doing a better job.

One of the problems, I think, at FBI headquarters and having worked with them for almost six years and hear...

PHILLIPS: High turnover.

BROOKS: ... high turnover of the supervisory personnel in the counterterrorism division. We're talking about the people that man the desks that get the information from the field divisions. And they're the ones that take a look at it. They're there for at least 18 months and possibly two years. Then, they go back out to a desk out in the field, you know maybe a counterterrorism desk, maybe back to a violent crimes desk, maybe a white collar crime desk to work in fraud, bank fraud, those kinds of things.

PHILLIPS: You need longevity though in those jobs.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: You've got to establish patterns and people and sources.

BROOKS: You do. And the kind of the glue that holds that together are the analysts at FBI headquarters. They are some of the best in the world. Working with these people -- again, there's some analysts in the National Security Division that know more about bin Laden than I think than most of the people that maybe his own family does. It's amazing. I mean their institutional knowledge is so - it's overwhelming.

And those are the people they need to keep there and maybe to increase the number of analysts there because they're the ones that are there all the time and in those divisions and they're not going back out into the field.

PHILLIPS: Mike Brooks, thanks for analyzing things for us.

BROOKS: All righty.

PHILLIPS: You're a pro at it. All right.

BROOKS: Thanks.