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Rep. Saxby Chambliss: Anti-terrorism measures in the U.S.

Rep. Saxby Chambliss is a United States congressman representing Georgia's Eighth District and serving his fourth term. He is currently on the House Committee on Agriculture, and is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. He joined the chat room from Washington, D.C.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today Rep. Saxby Chambliss, and welcome.

REP. CHAMBLISS: It's indeed a pleasure and a privilege to be online with you today, during exciting and difficult times in Washington right now. I look forward to chatting with you all.

CNN: What kinds of actions is the House Subcommittee for Terrorism & Homeland Security considering?

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REP. CHAMBLISS: What we are doing right now is looking at background information with respect to the September 11 incident from the standpoint of why this type of terrorist act would occur inside the United States, and who the perpetrators of the acts were. As we go through this sort of information, (and incidentally, our investigation is not a criminal investigation), we will be making recommendations to the Speaker of the House and the minority leader on any number of issues, ranging from how we gather intelligence to what type of preparation we need to make with respect to any potential terrorist incident. And also with respect to the new Homeland Security Cabinet level position that has been created. So right now, we're not making any legislative recommendations, but I'm sure they will be forthcoming.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What kind of investigation is being done if it is not "criminal" in nature?

REP. CHAMBLISS: It's not the function of Congress to do criminal investigations. That's the function of the FBI, and they're doing a great job, as evidenced by the number of arrests and the tensions you've seen inside the U.S. and around the world. The type of investigation we are doing is with respect to the involvement of our agencies in an intelligence-gathering standpoint, and if there are deficiencies, what we need to do from a Congressional standpoint to provide our agencies with the resources or legislative means of ensuring that they are able to gather information on terrorists.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: As a person from your district and also located near a very large Air Force base, will security be tightened around these areas for the safety of your constituents?

REP. CHAMBLISS: I happen to have been at that Air Force base this weekend and security was extremely tight. Forced protection is a key element in thinking about how prepared we are for terrorist acts. So, we will be on high alert at all of our military bases around the world for some time yet to come.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Congressman, can you inform us a little more on the possibility of a biological attack and do you think America is prepared? If not, what are we as a country doing to prepare for it?

REP. CHAMBLISS: First of all, I don't think that America is truly prepared for a biological or a chemical attack. However, we are moving in the right direction. We have a number of laboratories that are working on immunizations against various viruses, and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta are sort of heading up this operation. They're doing great work.

The good news is that while we know that terrorist groups have chemical and biological weapons available to them, their ability to distribute them on a wholesale basis is still limited. The bad news is, they are getting better, and we have to move in the right direction in a hurry. We think America is doing the right things in that regard.

CNN: How concerned are members of Congress about the potential conflict between civil liberties and public safety, and how were the provisions of the bill crafted to reflect those concerns?

REP. CHAMBLISS: I think all members of Congress are very concerned about the fact that, while we want to see our law enforcement agencies have every means they can possibly have to combat terrorism, we've got to remember that we've had a Constitution in place for 225 years, and it has served us well. We are not going to pass any law that will infringe on the Constitutional rights of any American.

At the same time, I think it is extremely important that we review intelligence-gathering methods that law enforcement agencies have available to them, such as wiretaps, and make sure that our laws have adapted to the modern era of telecommunications. The bill that the administration has put forward I think does that, and for example, we'll have wiretaps on individuals, as opposed to just on a telephone, because of the fact that today people are so mobile.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How can the American people assist Director Tom Ridge of the new Office of Homeland Security?

REP. CHAMBLISS: First of all, pray for him! He's got a big job! I had a long conversation with Governor Ridge on Friday, and he's very enthusiastic about his new job. And we are certainly looking forward to working closely with him as he comes into this newly-created cabinet level position. I would expect that Governor Ridge will be looking for ideas, assistance, input in any number of ways from the American people, and I don't know how that, as a practical matter, will operate right now. But I do know that we'll have to have input from the American people in the intelligence gathering arena in a much greater way than what we've ever asked for before. So I would hope that the governor would come forward with some suggestions of how people can be of assistance in the short term.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What can Americans abroad do to try and protect themselves?

REP. CHAMBLISS: It's very difficult to tell someone how to protect themselves from a terrorist attack, whether it occurs in the U.S. or on foreign soil, particularly when you have terrorists with no concern for human life. The best suggestion I have is to make sure that if you're planning on traveling abroad that you make enquiry through your Congressional office with the State Department about countries where there's a high alert from a potential terrorist perspective.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How will the committee do the risk assessment between real, probable dangers and wide ranging possibilities?

REP. CHAMBLISS: The committee is in the process right now of having a series of public hearings, and in those hearings, we're going to be gathering background information on various groups of terrorists. At the same time, we're conducting classified hearings, where we are receiving information from intelligence-gathering agencies with regard to potential threats, as well as actual threats that may at some point in time be made. We have a duty as an oversight committee to ensure that our law enforcement agencies are acting on any potential threat that may be out there. And while it's not certain that we can stop every act, I do have great confidence in our law enforcement agencies, and their ability to number one, gather intelligence, and second, to prevent another attack like we saw on September 11.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: The United Kingdom is discussing compulsory ID cards. How about this in the USA?

REP. CHAMBLISS: That is an idea that is presently on the table in the United States. Another idea being discussed is for those people who travel on public transportation sources to be fingerprinted when they get on an airplane or train or bus. I think we need to look at all these types of ideas, and if the conclusion is that they're number one necessary, and second that personal rights and freedoms are not infringed from a constitutional standpoint, then you're likely to see some additional safety measures of this type implemented. I can't say at this time what form those measures might take.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If a vote were brought to the house floor on full federalization of airline security, most analysts think it would pass handily. Is anyone blocking such a vote, and if so, why in the world would they? Shouldn't we have government employees on the front lines?

REP. CHAMBLISS: I think it's important that we provide maximum security at every point of embarkation of public transportation. I think it's also important that we ensure that all forms of public transportation have whatever level of security is necessary to avoid terrorists having access to that means of transportation. If that means that the government has to step in from the level of providing all security for public transportation, then we'll do so. However, that's an expensive proposition. If there's a way to partner with the airlines, the railroad transportation companies, bus companies, whoever, then that probably makes more sense than having the government totally federalize security for all public transportation. Again, this is being discussed now, and I expect decisions to be made on this in the near future, whether legislative or otherwise.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

REP. CHAMBLISS: I wish I could tell every American that they are guaranteed that another terrorist attack will never occur inside the United States. Unfortunately, we can't make that promise or guarantee. But I can say that I am confident that law enforcement officials are doing everything they can to make sure no such attack occurs.

The best way we can fight attacks from a day-to-day standpoint is for Americans to truly get back to a normal way of life. Go back to flying, riding trains, or whatever transportation you'd normally use. America is a great country because of the people in America, and we simply cannot afford to let terrorists disrupt our lives.

President Bush is providing excellent and strong leadership, and I hope every American will pray for him every day, and for every member of Congress, where we are working through difficult times. We have lost so many friends and neighbors, and I hope that all Americans will continue to support the president in his efforts to ensure that we wipe out terrorism around the world.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Congressman Chambliss.

REP. CHAMBLISS: Thank you.

Rep. Saxby Chambliss joined the chat room via telephone from Washington. CNN provided a typist for him. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Tuesday, October 02, 2001.


• Rep. Saxby Chambliss: Chair, House Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee

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