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Interview with Paul Brennen, Tom Ridge

Aired October 30, 2004 - 15:57   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. The release of that recent videotape of Osama bin Laden has raised some question as to whether the nation should raise its terror alert level. Well, just moments ago our Jeanne Meserve talked with Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, about that very question and others, let's listen in now.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the years ahead, so I think that's important to note. Clearly, we are safer today than we were six months ago, and it is because of the collaborative effort, not just the administration wide within the federal government, but down to the state and local level because we have engaged our partners in those jurisdictions, as well.

I think it's important to also note that we are not here this afternoon to tell you we're going to raise the threat level. Again, we have significantly enhanced the protective measures that we have taken. Clearly, if the information warranted, we reserve the right. Again, we remind everyone that the analysis of intelligence and information is a 24 hour a day, seven-day a week -- seven-day a week proposition. We're not here to raise it to orange. But we don't have to go to orange to take action in response either to these tapes or just general action to improve security around the country.

For example, last night the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent out an informational bulletin to the state and local -- our state and local part -- law enforcement partners. That's something we have done probably 150 times over the past year or so with bulletins and advisories, so we are connected quite well with them. The FBI is going to take excerpts from the Azzam -- the American tape, put it on its website and we're going to ask Americans to take a look at the website, if there's any information that you have that could help identify the individual on the tape, the FBI -- the FBI would like to hear about it.

Earlier today, I had an extraordinary conference call with about 350 individuals around the country, Homeland Security advisers from the states and major cities, chiefs of police. Again, bringing them up to date as to what we have done. What we can continue to do together. So we don't have to go to orange to add additional security measures around the country and in the hours and the days ahead, we'll increase your Coast Guard patrols of the harbors, we'll change some of the inspection protocols at our land -- our ports of entry and our airports. We will work with our cities to reroute, as we've done from time to time in the past, hazardous material, be it in truck or railroads around some of our major urban areas. We've already been in contact with the advisory groups we've set up with the private sector.

So what we're telling everyone is that we understand the tapes are new. The threat is not. Our effort, nationwide down to the local level, to enhance security is ongoing. We are far safer today than we've ever been before and we'll continue to work with our partners at all levels of government and the private sector to continue to add security so that we can enjoy the America, living in the greatest country on the face of the Earth and in the days and months and years ahead -- John.

JOHN BRENNAN, TERRORIST THREAT INTEGRATION CENTER: Thank you Secretary. Obviously, the intelligence community is treating both of the videotapes that have been released over the past week, very seriously. And we are carefully looking at both the videotape that was broadcast from Osama bin Laden, as well as Azzam American. We are looking very carefully at them to see, in fact, whether there's a correlation and to look at the themes that come out from it, the content. And clearly it's repetition of many of the themes that we've heard before from al-Qaeda in terms of the criticism of U.S. policy and their intent to carry out additional attacks like they did on 9/11.

I think it's important, though, to put these tapes -- these two tapes into the broader context and into the broader body of strategic intelligence that we have about al-Qaeda's plans to carry out attacks and its attempts to carry out attacks here in the homeland. And so, what we're trying to do is to look at these tapes in the context of the other intelligence that we have. And I don't think the intelligence community needed a videotape from bin Laden to tell us, in fact, that he is determined to carry out attacks here. I don't think the American public needed that either. But what we're trying to do, with -- from the intelligence perspective, is to analyze these tapes and make sure we understand what they mean, what their significance is in the broader context of the of the intelligence we have and then insure that we are able provide that information to the Department of Homeland Security, to the FBI and others so that they can act upon that intelligence.

So, this has been a constant process over the past 24 hours, in particular because of the bin Laden tape, but we're continue this effort in working very closely with Secretary Ridge and others.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, here we are just days away from the election.

RIDGE: Right.

QUESTION: First of all, are you asking for any particular precautions or advise anything particular...

RIDGE: Um-hum.

QUESTION: ...cautions around Election Day?

RIDGE: Um-hum.

QUESTION: And second, did the politics of the presidential election...

RIDGE: Um-hum.

QUESTION: ...have anything to do with how your department is handling this latest tape?

RIDGE: Well, the -- first of all, I think those men and women, those volunteers who go and report on Election Day to help us with this very important process and those who vote ought to feel safe and be comforted by the fact that through the good work of the National Governor's Association and the National Association of Secretaries of State and other state and local organizations, they've had their eye on protectioning, taking care of the polling places on Election Day for quite some time now. And so, I'm -- first of all, we want to make sure that people feel safe and comfortable about going to vote. I mean it's a critically important day, and people should feel safe about going and exercising their right.

With regard to what Homeland Security is doing, it's just the juxposition of the tapes that give us reason to come out and have this discussion -- the public discussion with you and the context of the analysis from the intelligence community to remind Americans that every single day the Department of Homeland Security, with its federal partners and those are agencies across the administration, as well as with our state and local partners, as well as with the private sector, look to increase security. We've done it with a certain intensity over the past six months. Most of these are permanent. They are sustainable and they'll go and exist long, long beyond Election Day.

QUESTION: But were you reluctant to raise the threat level...


QUESTION: ...because the election is only days away?

RIDGE: We will raise the -- first of all, we reserve the right to raise it. Secondly, we don't have to raise it to enhance security in certain areas, and we will always be dictated by the specific intelligence and its credibility, and, as I said before, today, as we speak, we are at yellow. Depending on, again, on the process that is ongoing over the next day or two or week or two, we certainly reserve the right to go up, if the information warrants us going to orange.

QUESTION: If I could follow up...

RIDGE: It's driven by the intelligence. It's driven by the information.

QUESTION: If I could follow on that. Are you concerned, because of these tapes, specifically about the election or are you looking at other events this weekend, say the NFL football games, the Marine Corps marathon or are you looking past that?

RIDGE: Well, I think, first of all, Americans should take some comfort that these major public events and those who sponsor those events have a good working relationship with the Homeland Security, with the FBI, with the Secret Service. I mean they're -- again, since 9/11, there are security enhancements at these public events that many Americans aren't even -- probably aren't aware of.

QUESTION: Will people start seeing things when they go to gathering now, like football games...

RIDGE: No, it is business as -- this is business as usual means that there is more security and more protection and prevention at these kinds of public events than there's ever been before. So they ought to take some comfort in that. We have held, not only seminars with the sponsoring organizations, but we have frequent contact. We do, FBI does, Secret Service. I mean, we are locked up pretty tight with the sponsoring organizations around the country to add security to these major public events. And we have been doing it and we'll continue to do it.

QUESTION: The initial assessment of what you think the goal Osama bin Laden was issuing in this particular tape and using those words to direct the American people?

BRENNAN: Well, I think it's clearly directed to the American people. He says that up front and what he's trying to do is to explain his action over the past number of years, pointing out U.S. policies that he objects to. And also, I think he's trying to say that even though he's not been able to carry out an attack he has been successful in certain areas. There's no specific threat information in there. It's -- could be part of a campaign in terms of trying to get out a message to the American people following on the heels of the Azzam tape. So, what we're trying to do is to really understand its significance, its meaning and then put it into that context.

RIDGE: Yeah, I think it's important to note, however, and John can confirm this, there is no specific intelligence that targets Election Day, polling places and the like. The threat has always been directed it to the American homeland, and we need to understand that.

But because of that, we've also engaged the governors and mayors and state and local law enforcement community for the past 45 to 60 days, since it's their responsibility to provide security to just take whatever steps they need to make sure that we have a -- the right balance between security and an open and accessible electoral process, and that's exactly what's going on and people ought to feel good about that and comfortable going to vote.z

QUESTION: Director Brennan, as an experienced intelligence analyst, I know -- I'm wondering if you can answer this question. I know there have been schools of thought in the intelligence community that have said tapes are followed within 50, 60-day window by an attack. And then there's another school that says there are so many tapes, there are so many attacks, you can almost always find a correlation. I'm wondering what you yourself, as the director of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) think about that correlation between message like this and potential attacks.

BRENNAN: Well, I think if you look back and the facts tend to speak for themselves, there have been a number of broadcasts from al Qaeda, videotapes, audiotapes from bin Laden, from Zawahiri that have not been followed by such attacks. And so, what we try to do is to put it again into this context of what could be a significant -- what is its meaning? What's the relevance of the timing? Why was it broadcast now? What are they trying to accomplish by it?

And the fact that it's coming several days before the election and directed to the American people, it seems like it's a message to the American people. Now, are there other aspects of it that we have to better understand? That's what we're trying to do right now.

But again, looking at over the past several years, there have been a lot of broadcasts that have used old footage of bin Laden, but have included in fact, new audio messages from him that have not, in fact, been accompany or followed by those types of attacks.

Secretary Ridge, to some degree, were you expecting something before the election to come from al Qaeda?

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I would defer to my friend who has got life experience in the intelligence community. One thing we've learned is to expect the unexpected, but not to be surprised that bin Laden would appear again publicly and direct a general threat to the American public. It is -- the news of the two tapes, it's not news that we are the primary target of his hatred and his evil.

QUESTION: Director Brennan, I wonder if you can speak further as an experienced analyst. In terms of the content, what are maybe the five things that have jumped out at you as the most interesting elements of this tape? And especially if you can talk about the whole 18 minutes. The American public has only seen a few.

BRENNAN: Well, there are a couple of things that strike me. Bin Laden tries to give a historical context for his desire to strike out against the United States. He harkens back to Lebanon in the early 1980s. There are a number of references to how he and al Qaeda have been able to follow on 9/11 with additional types of efforts that have, in fact, caused harm to the United States.

I think what he's trying to do is to show, or to try to demonstrate that al Qaeda as an organization is still effective, even though they have not, in fact, been able to do something here the States.

So, there are a number of themes. And again, it's consistent with what we've heard earlier. He has directed some of these same themes against the European nations, for their policies. He's directed them previously against the United States. So the content in there is sort of suggestive of a person who is looking for a way to justify the organization's continued existence and that there is still something there. And so it's clearly again, a message to the American people.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. You are looking at an interview that was taped moments ago with the Terrorist Threat Integration Center Chief John Brennan, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Talking to reporters.


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