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Guests Debate Effectiveness of Homeland Security Office

Aired October 9, 2001 - 18:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've given Tom and the office of homeland security a mission: to design a comprehensive, coordinated national strategy to fight terror here at home.


ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: But is an office of homeland security the best way to fight domestic terrorism? Or is it just another layer of government bureaucracy? As America strikes back, this is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. At the White House yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas swore in the first Director of Homeland Security, a new post created by President Bush as part of the war against terrorism. He is 56-year-old Thomas J. Ridge, who resigned after nearly seven years as the Republican governor of Pennsylvania to take the new job in Washington.

A Vietnam war combat veteran, Ridge also spent 12 years in Congress. He now has the task of coordinating some 40 federal agencies against domestic terrorism, but heads no department of his own. He is a close friend of President Bush and has a White House office near the president.

But does he have the authority for this daunting task? We're asking Paul Light, a former senior Senate staffer who is now director of governmental affairs at the Brookings Institution, and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee --Bill press?

BILL PRESS, HOST: Senator, as a good conservative I'm surprised you like this dumb idea. Look, the reason the terrorists were able to get away with their attacks on September 11 isn't because we don't have enough government agencies in Washington. It's because existing government agencies, mainly the FBI and the CIA, didn't do their job. Isn't it a typical bureaucratic response when two agencies screw up, you create a third one?

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY: That might be a response by some people. And I don't know where this office that the president has created for Tom Ridge will go. I believe we shouldn't create a huge bureaucracy. We have a lot of them, as you pointed out. Secondly, I don't know if he is going to have enough power to do what he needs to do. He has got to deal with over 40 agencies. And you have what I call dukedoms there.

I know Tom Ridge. I have a lot of respect for him. I served with the House with him. I would lean toward giving him some statutory authority. I haven't thought it out, how it would work to give him some power. Without power, the job isn't going to work. Look at the drug czar.

PRESS: I want to get to that excellent point in just a second. But back to this basic premise. You were one of the people most critical of the CIA right after these attacks happened. Wouldn't a more direct answer to September 11 be to fire George Tenet and put somebody in at the CIA who would do a better job of intelligence?

SHELBY: Well, if I had my druthers -- and I'm not the president. I have said all along that we need a powerful person as the director of CIA, that would bring all the agencies under him -- like they should be -- and coordinate them. Do whatever we need to do administratively and legislatively to give them the tools to do the job; someone like Allan Dulles. Someone like John McCone. Someone that has the stature of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz or Powell.

PRESS: That would have been better than what George Bush ended up doing, right?

SHELBY: That would be my judgment, but I'm not the president.

NOVAK: Paul Light, you had a column in today's "USA Today" in which you took issue with the Homeland Security Office created by the president. You are a former Senate staffer. And to all due respect, I perceive the not-invented-here syndrome there. What you are saying is that the president, who has the power, has made Governor Ridge a cabinet member but you are saying that if he were to be made a cabinet member by the Senate, that would magically confer on him power to do this job.

PAUL LIGHT, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I'm basically saying the president could make each one of us at table a cabinet member for all that's worth. Basically what I'm saying is that Governor Ridge doesn't have authorities that would come from statute in order to force agencies to talk to him.

He has no the authority to command budget. He has no authority to command personnel. He doesn't have the stature that comes with Senate confirmation. We have all the symbols of power, including access to the president, but we have none of the reality of the power there. I think that comes from statute, not from executive order.

NOVAK: Mr. Light, I smell a fish. The fish is the bureaucratic fish of people not liking a newcomer coming in. I would like you to listen to something that Governor Ridge said on his swearing in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) THOMAS RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND DEFENSE: We must be task oriented. The only turf we should be worried about protecting is the turf we stand on.


NOVAK: Isn't that the real problem? It's not a problem of whether he confirmed by the Senate, whether he has statutory authority. It's that a lot of people -- and I hope you don't represent them -- in the bureaucracy don't like somebody intruding on their little domains.

LIGHT: I would like to see him in a much stronger position. In fact, I don't understand why the White House don't want to give him even the powers associated with the drug czar. We talk about the drug czar here, but Tom Ridge doesn't even have the minimal authorities that drug czar has.

NOVAK: Which power?

LIGHT: He doesn't have the authority to certify budgets, for example. He doesn't have the authority to control any sticks or carrots that agencies might respond to. He is less czar-like than the drug czar, and actually I would like to see him strengthened.

I think the way you strengthen his position within the hierarchy -- this vast territory of federal agencies that have a long history of not working together -- is to give them a reason to pay attention to Tom Ridge beyond the fact that he is a talented, dedicated public servant. He has got to have some authority with which to reward his friends and punish his adversaries.

PRESS: I want to pick up there with you, Senator. We had a fellow named Paul Bremmer, who is a counterterrorism expert -- there are a lot of them around these days, former ambassador -- he was on CNN Saturday, I think. He said that to be successful, Tom Ridge really needs three tools. Number one, he needs legislative authority so he is respected at both ends of the avenue.

Secondly, he needs political accountability so he can call people up and tell them, "I have the power and this is what you have got to do." The third thing he needs, as Paul just pointed out, the budgetary authority so can he say, "you have got to shift your resources here."

Tom Ridge has not one of those three, Senator. So the way he is constituted, he is a toothless tiger, isn't he?

SHELBY: I wouldn't call Tom Ridge a toothless anything.

PRESS: His job, I'm sorry.

SHELBY: He is a very able person. I think if given the right tools, he will do a tremendous job, because he has demonstrated that in the past. I would like to talk with him, and I think a lot of the people ought to talk with him and see what he needs, candidly, and give it to him. Otherwise the job won't amount to a lot.

PRESS: It may have even gotten more difficult today, because as you know the, president appointed two new people today, General Downing in charge of global terrorism, and Mr. Clark in terms of cyberterrorism. So already today, Senator, there's not now one head of security at the White House -- or counterterrorism authorities -- there are three. Isn't that just making the job all that more complex?

SHELBY: I think it begs the question, what does he need. And if he needs the tools -- and he obviously is going to need some to even deal with the agencies and deal with the issues that my colleague here raised just a minute ago. If we don't give him the tools, he's not going to do the job. What we need to do is work with the White House and see what he needs and give it to him. Otherwise it's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PRESS: If I may, Bob, just to follow that up. I would like you to listen to something from "LARRY KING" last night that Congresswoman Jane Harman from California said in response to Tom Ridge's comments that Bob just played a second ago.


CONGRESSWOMAN JANE HARMAN: Governor Ridge said today in his press conference, "the only turf we should be worried about protecting is the turf we stand on." Lofty ideal, won't happen. He needs tools now, because all the other Cabinet secretaries who have been in place for nine months are protecting their turf this evening. Tomorrow when he shows up for work, he may have less turf than he had today.


PRESS: He's already got less, doesn't he?

SHELBY: I was on the program with Congresswoman Harman last night. She is sponsoring legislation in this regard. My colleague on the intelligence committee, Bob Graham, is. I don't know if legislation is similar or the same, but I do believe we have to have the input from Tom Ridge and the White House on this to give him the tools, to give him the power if he is going to do the job.

NOVAK: Mr. Light, I have been around Washington a long time. Longer than all three of you combined. I have seen a lot of officials with no statutory power, no confirmation, who ran this place. When I first got here, there was a fellow named Sherman Adams in the White House who ran Washington. He had no confirmation, no statutory powers. He made people tremble.

Two people in the Nixon administration: Henry Kissinger. He ran foreign policy. Not confirmed by the Senate, no budgetary power. And somebody even more powerful than him: H.R. Bob Haldeman. He made Cabinet members quake. Do you know why all these people were powerful?

LIGHT: They had access to the president. NOVAK: Exactly.

LIGHT: No doubt about it. But right now, Tom Ridge is coming with a very tough job right ahead of him. He has go access to the president, but the first time he goes to President Bush and says,"Will you please call George Tenet and ask him to return my phone call?" Or, "Will please call the FBI and tell them to send somebody to my meeting?" -- he is done.

He has no power in real terms. And as far as Henry Kissinger goes, Kissinger sat as National Security Adviser underneath the National Security Council, which was created by statute in 1947. He inherited a position that was growing in influence. We hear a lot of talk today that Tom Ridge is going to be like Conde Rice, like the National Security Adviser. But Tom Ridge is stepping into a brand new job. Conde Rice has a big staff. She's got 50 years of history on her side.

And given that she's been around in Washington for a good long time, tell me who was the first National Security Adviser under Harry Truman? Tell me the first National Security Adviser under Dwight Eisenhower? We don't remember who they were because the National Security Adviser didn't become important until 1960 and John Kennedy.

NOVAK: I just want read something to you -- have you ever heard of Andrew Card?

LIGHT: Sure.

NOVAK: He's the chief of staff of the White House. And he's a tough guy. You may not know that.

LIGHT: And he's a powerful guy.

NOVAK: He's a powerful guy. And here's what he said about Tom Ridge: He'll have the staff and the expertise. If there is not cooperation necessary to do the job, the president will make changes in personnel so that he will get cooperation." Do you understand what that says?

LIGHT: Why not give him the fighting chance to begin with? Give him the bulldozer and give him the keys to the bulldozer.

NOVAK: Aren't you being dogmatic about that?

LIGHT: No. I think that he is underpowered for the job and we ought to give him a fighting chance to get it done from the beginning.

SHELBY: Before we do that, I believe that we ought to have the input of Governor Ridge -- because this is his second day down there -- and see what he needs, because he is going to have a perspective on this soon. He might not come up and say, "We need statutory authority." That's what I believe we need today. But we ought to have some input from the man that is going to have to do the job.

PRESS: That would be rare. A man in Washington who says, "I don't want any more power."

LIGHT: You got it.

PRESS: I don't think it's going to happen. We're going to take a break. When we come back, we're going to touch on another sensitive issue: is President Bush correct in wanting to keep members of Congress in the dark about what is going on in Afghanistan? More CROSSFIRE coming up.


Bush: I understand there may be some heartburn on capitol hill, but I suggest if they want to relieve that heartburn that they take their positions very seriously.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. That heartburn in Congress is because President Bush says today that he doesn't trust them. In fact, annoyed at leaks from Capitol Hill, he's cut off all but eight members of Congress from any more intelligence briefings on the war against terrorism. Is this the beginning of war between the White House and Congress?

Debating homeland and global security issues tonight with Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee -- he is one of the eight still in the mix -- and Paul Light, Director of Governmental Studies at the Brookings Institution. Bob.

NOVAK: Mr. Light, before we get into this remarkable act by the president today, I want to just go back a little bit on the functions of the Homeland Security Office.

I was really shocked as I investigated and reported the fact that the FBI clearly had information five years ago about the method of operation of the terrorists hijack airliners, planning to ram them into public and private buildings and never reporting them elsewhere in the government or to local law enforcement. Isn't this something absolutely tailor made for Governor Ridge to do, to get the FBI off its high horse and say, "You must share this information?"

LIGHT: Absolutely. I don't disagree with that at all. But how is he going to do that? How is he going to make the make FBI heel? How is the president going to make the FBI heel? These are agencies that haven't gotten along for dozens of years; actually, agencies that haven't gotten along from the very founding of this republic. How do you get a big bureaucracy like the FBI or the CIA or the Border Patrol to cooperate? I think you have got to have the tools to push them and pull them.

NOVAK: I'm happy to hear you don't take the loony position that my colleague Mr. Press takes when he says you don't even need this office. His position is that it's not necessary.

PRESS: It's redundant. LIGHT: I disagree with that.

PRESS: You are allowed to.

LIGHT: I have to say, we need an office within the executive office of the president -- not within the White House -- that has got a big statutory base. Not a large staff, but some real authority.

NOVAK: I would like to see -- come back later in a very short amount of time and see whether the power of the president can be conveyed to an appointee.

PRESS: Let's touch on this new war here in Washington, Senator. The president is in a snit because he said members of Congress were given an intelligence briefing and some of them went out and talked to the press. And so he's cut off everybody in Congress from any more intelligence briefings except eight members of Congress. You happen to be one of the ones still on the inside. He won't even trust the other members of your intelligence committee, just you and the chairman. Isn't that a gross overreaction on the president's part?

SHELBY: I think it's an overreaction. But I do believe leaks cause problems, cause death, sometimes, but obviously can compromise missions. And right now while we are in operational phase, I can see why the president would be upset. Some people talk too much, and they say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

I do believe that there is too much information that's classified. We have talked about that on this show before. But I believe that the chairman of the armed services committee -- he's not included in this eight -- and the ranking member -- the former chairman John Warner -- they should be included in intelligence briefings. The chairman of the appropriations defense committee, Senator Inouye and Senator Stevens, among others, and there could be more. But some information, we don't need to know. But we do need to know a lot to help and support our president and our troops.

PRESS: Isn't there another basic principle, here, Senator, that the director of the CIA and attorney general and the rest of them, they work for Congress as well as president? They don't work exclusively for the president. You not only have a need, you have a right to know so you can know whether or not they are doing their job.

SHELBY: Well, I believe that at the end of day this will work out and be satisfactory to the president and to the Congress, but it's a work in progress. We have got some very distinguished people that need to know.

NOVAK: Permit me, if I could ask the Senator a question. The report is that what made the president so angry was a report that came out of a briefing to the intelligence committee there was 100 percent chance of a terrorist incident. And I have been trying to figure out how that compromised our operations in Afghanistan. Can you explain that to me?

SHELBY: Well, don't think it had anything to do compromising information. But I think it had to do with the principle of keeping things classified. . When come the out of that meeting and we talk to the press, a lot, I try to always say, "Look, I can't talk to you about the meeting. I will give you judgment on so-and-so." And to believe there would be good chance or a heck of a chance that there is going to be an attack, a reprisal against us, was just common sense.

NOVAK: I don't understand what the president is so excited about.

LIGHT: It's shocking that there are leaks in Washington. And by morning time, we will have the list of the top ten leaks from the Bush administration over the last six months. We leak all the time in this town. It's strategic. It's part of molding policy. It's one of the informal powers that Governor Ridge has, to be honest.

PRESS: To leak?

LIGHT: To leak.

NOVAK: I want to go back to the whole question that we were talking about before. There is something like 650,000 law officers in this country, local law officers. And many of them feel very, very insecure in this period of fear of terrorism because they will not get any information from the FBI. And I had old line intelligence person tell me last week that they shouldn't give local the law enforcement people information that the FBI has because they will leak it. What do you think of that?

LIGHT: It's a tender balance that we try to strike between sharing information that is necessary for the public defense and also containing information that might eventually be useful for an indictment or a prosecution.

NOVAK: I thought the function of all these people was to protect the American people.

LIGHT: That is certainly the point.

SHELBY: But on the other hand, everybody at FBI is not privy to high, classified information. Everybody at other agencies are not either. How you handle this, that's the question. You mentioned leaks. The executive branch leaks more than anybody. Always have, throughout history, and will continue to do so.

PRESS: John F. Kennedy said, "This vessel leaks from the top."

LIGHT: You've got it. I recall this group called the plumbers that was created in the executive office of the president back in the early '70s.

NOVAK: Nixon thought everything was leaking all the time. Thank you very much. Senator Richard Shelby, always a pleasure to have you with us here. And Bill Press with his benighted ideas and I will be back with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PRESS: Bob, I love the fact you conservatives are suddenly in favor of more big government. But you know this thing is a joke. Here's what I want to see. The first time that Tom Ridge calls up Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and says, "You have got to reassign 1,000 people," or "You've got to change your budget." You know what Don Rumsfeld will tell him. You can sum it up in two words: "no power."

NOVAK: That's just silly.

PRESS: No power.

NOVAK: It's silly to think that kind of thing is going to happen. You ought to get your head out of your ideology and your anti-Republican attitude. I'm going to tell you something right now: whether or not Tom Ridge can do this job, in the long run it's going to mean more to the safety of Americans than how many bombs we drop in the wilds of Afghanistan, because we have got to be able to protect American people better. The FBI did a lousy job.

PRESS: Yes, they did.

NOVAK: And this is very important job. Instead of sniping and being your Democratic partisan self, you ought to pray for Tom Ridge.

PRESS: Bob, stop running out the clock. You are not even on point. They made this guy a toothless tiger. They gave him no money, no personnel, no power. It's a joke.

NOVAK: Go tell it to Terry McAuliffe.

PRESS: You tell it to George Bush. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE,




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