Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Is America Any Safer After 9/11?; Can Government Put Price Tag on Human Life?

Aired March 11, 2002 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, six months after 9/11 is America any safer? And can the Big Apple prevent the next terrorist attack.

Then for victims, is it need or greed? Can the government put a price tag on human life?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and later, Susan Herman, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, and George Mason University law professor Michael Krauss.

NOVAK: Good evening, welcome to Crossfire. Today marked the passage of six months since the terrorist attack on America. And in ceremonies in New York, Washington and elsewhere, there was remembered the heroism and the outrage.

In Washington, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge promised a new and more rational system of terrorism alerts. But tough questions persist. Are we really any safer than we were six months ago? Is New York better protected now than it was then or have Americans just been given a lot of soft soap? We're asking Raymond W. Kelly, newly installed in his second hitch as Police Commissioner of the City of New York. Often referred to as a cop's cop, Ray Kelly served 31 years on the City's police force, first becoming commissioner in 1992. He headed the U.S. customs service during the Clinton administration -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Commissioner Kelly, good evening.


PRESS: I want to tell you, as we begin our conversation this evening, we're going to show from time to time here during our Crossfire tonight the live pictures from New York that show those towers of the light, that fantastic new memorial representing the World Trade Center Towers that were lit for the first time tonight.

So, Commissioner, let me ask you since 9/11, you know, we've been told we're all alert. We're all on guard. We're all working together to prevent against future terrorist attacks. But we've also learned that last October the FBI got some information that there was going to be a nuclear attack on the city of New York, last October. They didn't tell you about it did they, Commissioner?

KELLY: Well I wasn't in office then. But I think we're doing a much better job of communicating now. I think we are safer; of course, there's no guarantees. I think the national intelligence gathering entities are doing a much better job, particularly resulting from our operations in Afghanistan. We are working more closely with the Federal authorities, no question about it. We're communicating on a daily basis. We're training our officers to do a better job of responding to another terrorist attack, if God forbid one happens.

PRESS: Well I don't know how you can say that, Commissioner. I mean, there's this -- if you weren't in office then, but there was this -- they said -- the FBI again, they say there was a nuclear attack planned on the city of New York. They didn't notify the New York Police Department. Did not notify the governor. Did not notify the mayor. Did not notify the state police. Did not notify the U.S. Senators. So nothing has changed. They're still not communicating.

KELLY: Well, they are communicating. I think actually there was some confusion about that event. Again, I'm hearing conflicting ...

PRESS: But they didn't tell anybody, commissioner. All the people from New York have said, even Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he should have been told. Governor Pataki said he should have been told.

KELLY: Well let's accept that. I think it's changed. And clearly we're communicating now on a much better basis and I've met with Director Mueller. I've met with the new FBI assistant director who's taking over in New York. We have an excellent relationship. We have a strengthened joint terrorist taskforce, which is made up of FBI agents and New York City detectives. It now reports essentially directly to me through a retired marine corps, Lieutenant General Frank Laboti (ph), that we've brought on board to address our kind of terrorism issues.

So let's assume you're position is correct that there was a lack of communication in October. It's much better today.

NOVAK: Ray Kelly, a recent CNN/USA Today Gallup Poll asked the question of Americans whether they think terrorism is likely in the U.S. in the next few weeks? In September, after the terrorist attacks, 66 percent thought it was likely. Today 52 -- only 52 percent think it's likely, in other words, a 50/50 proposition. Is that realistic? Is it too optimistic or is it too pessimistic?

KELLY: Well to the extent that shows people starting to forget about September 11th, which I can understand may happen in some quarters of the country away from New York. I think it shows cause for concern. We're at war. I think we're going to be at war for a long time. So I would be concerned if people think that somehow the threat has lessened and if we're very successful in Afghanistan, I still think there's an awful lot of people out there that want to do us harm. So I'm concerned if that poll indicates that people think for some reason that the threat is lessening.

NOVAK: But commissioner, you're a sophisticated public servant. You've held high public office. Surely the American people cannot be kept on this high state of anxiety, particularly when they get so many false alarms from the government when the attorney general says we're going to have an alert and then nothing happens and they don't tell exactly what the alert is. Isn't it impossible to keep the American people all that revved up and worried about the terrorists coming over the hill next week?

KELLY: Well, I think we have to do a better job of handling these alerts and Governor Ridge, I think is in the process of doing that. We need some sort of qualitative assessment on these risks -- these risk alerts. You simply just can't put them out there. And that's the, I think, the announcement that's going to be made officially tomorrow by Governor Ridge and the president. But you're right. I mean it is, again, another cause for concern. We can't simply say be on the alert at high state of readiness without any more specific information than we've been given.

PRESS: Well, commissioner, I'm going to ask you about that system because Governor Ridge has actually been talking about it for some type. And it's going to be, as we understand, officially announced tomorrow, there'll be five different levels. You start at the lowest, green, then go up to blue, then to yellow, then to orange and then to red. Governor Ridge spoke to the national league of cities today and here's how he explained what that means. Let's listen to him, please, Governor Ridge.


TOM RIDGE, GOVERNOR, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Credible information we will share. It can be shared in the context of a national framework, national language that says if we, based on information, based on our information this is the level of threat, then you should be prepared in a corresponding way to respond to that level.


PRESS: Now, I'm not really sure what he says there but you can tell me and the American people how we should react differently between a blue alert and an orange alert?

KELLY: Well, we're going to have to work on that ourselves, that is, local government. We're going to have to get, I guess, a clearer definition from the governor in his announcement tomorrow. But then we're going have to just develop a plan where we respond.

One of the issues with local law enforcement is we have limited resources so we have to know when and where and what the credibility of the threat is before we use these limited resources. We need more specific information. Hopefully this system will give us that. But we're going to have to make an assessment ourselves. Let's see what tomorrow's announcement brings.

NOVAK: Ray Kelly, the New York cops and the FBI have been fighting with each other for ages. You know that. And you people claim you don't get information from Washington. You say things have improved but my sources say they've got a long way to go when you're really going to get a good, steady flow of information from Washington. Do you agree with that?

KELLY: No. I think we are getting good information now. I think it will improve. Again, I've talked to Director Mueller. I think the real issue is getting information in the first place. I think our intelligence gathering community has to do a more effective job of providing that information. I believe that the FBI and the Justice Department are certainly now willing to share that information. We have to work on the channels. We have to streamline it a little bit. But the real challenge is getting that information in the first place.

PRESS: All right, Commissioner Kelly thank you so much for joining us. Good luck keeping the people in New York safe in your new job -- your second turn at this job.

And next up we're going to follow the money. Should the government be in the business of compensating victims of terrorism? And if so, why New York City and not Oklahoma City?


PRESS: Crossfire. For six months it's been a real tug-a-war between families of the victims of 9/11 and the government over gets how much from the victims compensation fund. But that begs the question, should the Federal Government even be in the business of compensating victims and how can they justify, for example, offering the minimum $250,000 to families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and nothing to families of those killed in Oklahoma City or nothing to families of servicemen killed in Afghanistan fighting the war on terror? Good questions. As we look again at that newly lit memorial in New York City, let's get some answers -- Bob.

NOVAK: Susan Herman, I was shocked this morning watching CNN on how far this compensation thing is going, when former New York City Fire Commissioner Von Essen revealed, I don't think anybody heard this before, that there are families of firefighters, they're getting their money from the fire fund, they're getting all kind of compensation, who have brought suit against the fire chief for ordering firemen into the buildings where they then died. Isn't that what they were paid to do and isn't that this whole compensation question run amok?

SUSAN HERMAN, NATIONAL CENTER FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: You know, I have to say I'm not familiar with that lawsuit. But I think this compensation debate that we're hearing in this country has gotten a little bit confused about why the public may be angry and why victims may be angry. There are different reasons why people feel that the compensation that victims are getting is appropriate and it has to be seen in the context of how this fund was created.

This fund was created as part of an airline bailout. Victims who access this fund, the particular September 11th compensation fund, are asked to give up their right to sue, which is really something we have hardly ever done in the history of this country when we offer victims a government benefit. We hardly have ever said you have to give up your right to sue to access a government benefit. And for those who are suing, they've capped the liability of the airlines and many other parties.

NOVAK: But with all due respect, Miss Herman, I don't know whether that was a lawyers' answer or a bureaucrats' answer and maybe it was a bureaucratic lawyers' answer but isn't this just a question of a kind of a malady of people who they've lost their lives but going and demanding more. Bill even mentioned the families of servicemen in Afghanistan, should they get compensation? These guys signed up to be soldiers. I mean soldiers die in wars. I can't understand what's going on.

HERMAN: Well, you know, if you look at the victims of September 11th. There are many individuals and you look at victims of crime generally and you look at what we do as a country for victims of crime generally, it's really very little. And as a country, as communities, as families, as a country as a whole, we pay an enormous price for not helping victims of crime rebuild their lives. Victims of crime who have been traumatized tend to suffer increased alcohol and drug abuse, decreased work performance, work -can't function on the job, can't function in school, often are more suicidal or depressed than the general public. We are paying a price for not helping victims and we should be helping them.

PRESS: Let me jump in here, Michael Krauss. And you've written in the Wall Street Journal about this but I want to get back to 9/11. I mean we have heard over and over today, and I think it's true, that the world is different since 9/11. We will never be the same since 9/11. We did not hear that after Oklahoma City. We did not hear that after 1993 and the World Trade Center. I mean, I think most Americans accept this as a uniquely horrible event in our history. Doesn't that argue for a unique form of compensation to these victims alone?

MICHAEL KRAUSS, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: No, I don't think it does. I don't think it's actually seen as a unique event as far as compensation is concerned. In today's Wall Street Journal, there's an article I think in the second section about victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, about somebody who was shot by terrorists crossing the Brooklyn Bridge ten years ago who feels he's just as deserving of compensation as the folks who were killed on 9/11. As far as compensation is concerned, it seems to me that there are two types of compensation that a free country provides. One is through insurance, through contracts that you can purchase. The others through tort law and it's the bad guy who pays, not the government who pays.

PRESS: So my understanding, your position is zero compensation from the government for the victims of 9/11. Correct?

KRAUSS: Unless the government is proven to be at fault.

PRESS: Well that's my point. I mean when you look at this. These terrorists were in this country illegally; government agencies let them in, got on the planes legally. Government agents let them on the plane. They're on the FBI wanted list. The FBI didn't nab them. So see, there is, it seems, the argument could be made some negligence on the part of government, therefore, some responsibility is to compensate, correct?

KRAUSS: You've got to distinguish between policy and the execution of policy.

PRESS: Well, see, I'm talking about execution.

KRAUSS: Well part of this was policy. Some of these people were in the country; maybe there weren't enough border guards. Maybe there wasn't enough checking at the Visa station. That's policy and that's covered by sovereign immunity. If an agent was negligent, yes, there should be payment through tort. But when there's payment through tort, you don't deduct the pension plans. You don't deduct the life insurance. That's what they're doing now. Their plans a mish-mosh. It makes no sense like philosophically at all.

NOVAK: I want to -- speaking of philosophy, Susan Herman, I want to read to you, and we're going to put it up on the screen, something that Governor Frank Keating (ph) of Oklahoma who got a lot of credit for the way he handled the Oklahoma City bombing, something he said the other day. He said, "it seems unreal that an arm of the federal government would unwittingly embrace the anti-American sentiment of placing price tags on life." Isn't that what you're doing?

HERMAN: It has absolutely nothing to do with placing a price tag on human life. This compensation fund is about reimbursing victims for specific financial losses. It has nothing to do with valuing a human life. There are economic losses and they're delineated and there are non-economic losses and they're delineated. It has nothing to do with saying what is a whole life worth. Nobody is using that language. No victim is saying this is what my husband or my wife was worth. They're talking about reimbursement for specific, specific things that they are outlined in this fund and in any other compensation fund that we have.

NOVAK: But isn't it true that you want every victim of crime so compensated? If one of us were to go out in this very tough neighborhood around the CNN studios and get murdered, you want somehow or another the government to pay -- pay -- I mean, that's tough luck but, you know, life is unfair as John F. Kennedy said...

HERMAN: You know what? You know what? Right now -- right now we have a state compensation funds all over the country, all 50 states have victim compensation fund. The average reward for a homicide survivor right now is less than $4,000. Is that really what we want when we've seen how they suffer? I don't think so.

PRESS: Michael, we're almost out of time. Just a quick question. Isn't what happened here -- there are some 3,000 victims. There will probably be 6,000 and some lawsuits out of this, if we didn't do something like this. I mean what the federal government has said we want to do away with all these lawsuits against the New York City Police Department or the airport security or whatever; therefore, we're going to compensate in return for no lawsuits. It's a pragmatic approach to a problem.

KRAUSS: Eliminate, no, wrong. Eliminating frivolous lawsuits, fine, let's do it. There's no reason to add compensation that's not due from the government. Compensations due from other parties, the bad guys, private insurance companies. There were $2 billion -- over $2 billion given by Americans for the goodness of their hearts. There's lots of ways to give other than taking away money from taxpayers.

NOVAK: I'm afraid -- I'm afraid that has to be the last word. Mike Krauss thank you. Susan Herman thank you.

Next, CROSSFIRE "News Alert", the fascinating news beneath the news.


NOVAK: CROSSFIRE "News Alert", where we report fascinating little stories you probably never even imagined. Saturday night was the white tie gridiron dinner in Washington, where the press and the politicians try to be funny. Stealing the scene was Vice President Dick Cheney who emerged from his undisclosed location to appear on the stage as to do the Rumba (ph), as the gridiron players sang "There is a dark secluded place. A veep can sleep without a trace, and no one ever sees his face, Dick Cheney's hideaway." Is show business in the vice president's future?

PRESS: It may be in his future but it's not in yours. All right now, looking for a bargain vacation? In New Bedford, Mass you can get a room, bed and three meals a day for only five bucks. The problem is you have to commit a crime to qualify. That's what Sheriff Tom Hodges (ph) says he's going to start charging prisoners in the county jail, $35 a week, this in addition to charging them for hair cuts, medical care and transportation. In New Bedford, crime does not pay, criminals do.

NOVAK: That's really tough for our bleeding heart...

PRESS: I know. Five bucks? Whoa!

NOVAK: And this vital gripping news you probably haven't heard until now. David Letterman is staying with CBS! Yes, he really is. Announcing it during the taping of tonight's program. Tough luck ABC. And we can all hope it will make Dave happier, no longer having to make do on just $30 million a year.

PRESS: Question is will Ted Koppel stay at ABC? Well, we'll find out.

Finally, after years of protesting teams with names like the Braves or the Redskins, one group of Native Americans says he's decided to get even, so American Indian students at the University of Northern Colorado have named their intramural basketball team the Fighting Whities. They've even adopted a white man as a mascot and they wear jerseys with the slogan, Everything's Going To Be All White. No word yet whether the National Association of White People will smoke the peace pipe or hit the warpath. Bob, you probably like the Redskins. NOVAK: I love the Redskins. I've been a Redskin fan for 30 years. It's not only that, but I love Chief Alonowit (ph) dancing his way from my University of Illinois Illini as they go into the NCAA tournament. May Chief Alonowit (ph) and the Redskins fight. You know what I'll tell you something else ...

PRESS: Now come on, Bob, rename them.

NOVAK: I'll tell you something else, ordinary rank-and-file Indians love it. It's just the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who don't.

PRESS: Rename them the Fighting Whities.

All right. That's it for now, folks. Love to hear from your e- mail -- here from you with e-mail to for me, Bob and Tucker. That's it for tonight. And we'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Bill Press. Good night.

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


Tag on Human Life?>



Back to the top