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Small Aircraft Causes Big Scare

Aired May 11, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Donna Brazile. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE. Fear in the nation's capital. People ordered to evacuate the White House, the Capital and the Supreme Court. Military jets scrambled in disguise over Washington. A quick all- clear after a small plane flies into restricted air space. Is it proof that Homeland Security has the job in hand one day after the former secretary of the department disclosed differences inside the government over when to raise the alert level?

Today on CROSSFIRE. Live from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Robert Novak.


ROBERT NOVAK, CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Washington went on red alert today when an unidentified aircraft flew into restricted airspace. A resulting alert quickly put military aircraft into the skies over the Capital city. People were ordered out of the White House, the Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court.

DONNA BRAZILE, CROSSFIRE GUEST-HOST: The all clear came in about 15 minutes. Security forces took quick action to protect our government. But is it enough being done to protect other Americans in this age of terror?

Before we look into that? Here's our political CROSSFIRE alert.

NOVAK: The Senate has given final approval to $82 billion emergency appropriations bill to fund the war in Iraq. The vote was 100-0, unanimous. Senator John Kerry voted aye, but then he attacked the bill. So, he might repeat his stunt last year as Democratic presidential nominee. Last year he put himself on both sides of an $87 billion war bill. He voted no against funding the troops, but then said this to a political rally, quote, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" unquote. Now that he's running for president again, can we count on a Kerry balancing no vote in the immediate future?

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, first of all Senator Kerry did the absolute right thing to voting yes. We need the money, the troops need it. We need to ensure that they can get home adequately and have what they need to finish the job. So, I think Senator Kerry will stand up for our troops. NOVAK: Well, you may not have read what he said to the Senate. He said, what a bad bill it was. All the bad things. And he'll probably -- if he runs again -- say well, I voted no. But before I voted yes, before I voted no. I said it was a bad bill.

BRAZILE: He didn't like all the pork in the bill. There's money in the bill that would provide resources in areas that will not go to help our troops in Iraq. So, I think Senator Kerry was absolutely right to put that on the record.

Halliburton's contract with the U.S. government, it's a gift that just keeps on giving. In a truly outrageous move, the U.S. Army's awarding the Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown and Root over $72 million in bonuses. Why you ask? Does Dick Cheney's old company deserve this enormous check? The Army says it's for the excellent job Halliburton has done providing logistic support in Iraq.

How does overcharging the government, among other questionable practices, translate into an excellent job? This is a slap in the face to all the U.S. taxpayers, especially in a time of budget crisis. We are all being asked to tighten our belt, but no, it's time that we tighten the belt of Halliburton and keep our troops secure. This company continues to overcharge the United States government, handing out millions in bonus money. You know what Bob, it's downright shameful.

NOVAK: You know what. Halliburton is on the talking points of Democrats. Donna, you tried that in the last campaign it didn't work. People don't care about Halliburton. Halliburton, you may not know, is the only company who can do these jobs. They do a very good job of it. It is expensive. But it's a very hazardous duty. And I say thank goodness we have got big companies like that out there to do the job no one else wants to do.

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, how will we know? Because this is a sole- source contract -- they've received over $7 billion. This is like giving bonuses to bad employees.

NOVAK: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader of the Senate, goes to the White House today. No wonder his aides and colleagues are holding their breath for fear of what he might say or do there. The senator's been on a tear lately. He has referred to the great Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as an embarrassment. He reviled the revered federal reserve chairman Alan Greenspan as a hack. And talking to high school students the other day, he said this of the president of the United States "I think this guy is a loser."

The sad part is Democratic politicians like this kind of nasty talk. But I'll guarantee you the American people hate it.

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, now that we know the president -- look, President Bush has rhythm. We have seen that the other day when he was over in Georgia. Now that we know he has rhythm, perhaps he'll dance with Senator Reid and Senator Reid won't have to fight as hard.

NOVAK: I understand there's a Republican ad coming out that shows Harry Reid dancing in a tutu.

BRAZILE: I have no idea.

NOVAK: Have you heard that?

BRAZILE: Well, you remember, what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.


BRAZILE: Well, for months he's been trying to get Democrats out of his church. Now he's getting out instead. Chan Chandler, the pastor of a Baptist Church in East Waynesville, North Carolina has resigned. He infuriated many church members last fall when he endorsed President Bush from the pulpit and told them anyone that voted for John Kerry needed to repent or resign.

Chandler didn't apologize when he resigned yesterday. He said he was stepping aside, because the controversy was hurting the church. Of course the controversy was his fault in the first place.

We have got separation of church and state for a reason. And Reverend Chandler, for got that separation should be arm's length wide and a mile long. But too many evangelical churches are just not P.C. anymore. They are downright political and are teaching hate instead of tolerance.

NOVAK: You know, Donna, you didn't even get the worst part of the story. This guy not only told them they had to vote for Bush, if they didn't he'd kick them out of the church. That was the worst part of it.

But I tell you this, how hypocritical you are in talking about separation of church and state. I have been -- I haven't been to as many as you have, but I have been in a lot of black churches and you know well where the preacher is saying vote for George McGovern, vote for Bobby Kennedy vote for Bill Clinton. Don't give me that baloney about separation of church and state.

BRAZILE: The difference is that they may say vote your conscience, but they won't say you are going to hell and kick you out.

NOVAK: The hell they don't. They say vote for Bill Clinton.

A potential threat was identified and authorities in Washington responded. Next, we'll debate the state of the U.S. war on terror. And Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich together again.



BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

There was a big scare in D.C. Today. A pilot flew his small plane into restricted airspace getting to within three miles of the White House. People were evacuated from there and from the Capitol. The plane was forced down and the pilot taken into custody. Is the homeland secure enough? Today in the CROSSFIRE Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. And P.J. Crowley, senior fellow from the Center for America Progress and a former spokesman for the National Security Council. Welcome, gentlemen.



NOVAK: Let me summarize what happened. You have a little plane, tiny little private plane with a student pilot and an instructor. Still pretty far from the White House. It is intercepted by two 2 F- 16s. At the time they have apprehended it, the people are pouring out of the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court. That's the picture. P.J. Crowley -- and I'm going to ask you later -- give me your assessment of how this operated?

P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think by and large the system did work. It certainly worked today butter than it did a year ago when a plane with Ernie Fletcher, the governor of Kentucky, was coming in for Reagan's funeral and they couldn't intercept it in time. So, I'm hard pressed to criticize that.

I think the system did work. Generally aviation -- it's very big question mark in terms of homeland security. We haven't really done a lot on it. But it remains a significant danger.

CLIFF MAY, CENTER FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: You are old enough to remember you guys probably aren't when a plane actually landed on the lawn of the White House when Clinton was there. In fact, it was said to be Jim Woolsey, the CIA director trying to get an appointment. Do you recall this, right?

You know the joke, too, right.

NOVAK: Joking aside. How do you think....

BRAZILE: Well, it's 4:00 in the morning, I'm sure Bill Clinton wasn't there. It's too early for him to be home.

MAY: That must be his joke.

BRAZILE: Well, he was out working.

MAY: Oh, I got it.

NOVAK: How do you think it worked?

MAY: I agree with my friend P.J., overall it wasn't bad. You don't want things like this to happen. As an exercise it went fairly well. There are still things wrong.

NOVAK: Not an overreaction, gentlemen?

CROWLEY: No. NOVAK: Gee, a little tiny plane. Isn't there any judgment.

MAY: P.J. knows this better than I. Very quickly, the pilots who track the plane realized this is a two seater. It doesn't have much on it. They couldn't hold much more than fuel. This is not a great danger. That's not an easy thing to recognize without good experience in the air. And you know this.

NOVAK: So it didn't work so well then.

MAY: Figure it out. They didn't even shoot it -- if they shot it down I wouldn't be laughing so much.

BRAZILE: First of all, I agrees with Cliff and P.J., that this was a danger and they did the right thing in evacuating the Capitol and of course the White House and the Supreme Court. But what about all these other federal agencies. And all of the federal workers and the people. I mean, no one alerted us. I'm worried about a system that red must mean members of Congress and the president and the rest of us, well, you know.

MAY: As usual I think have you a point. I think as a fire drill, this went pretty well. But what you just mentioned is something to learn from this. So we can do better. Our homeland security has a long way to go yet.

NOVAK: You want to evacuate the whole city?


MAY: No. But I think well...

BRAZILE: Yeah. No. We got our information from CNN.

CROWLEY: No, I think that -- I think that the 9/11 commission talked about national preparedness. And building by building, block by block, each of the facilities in and around the White House -- I was two blocks away -- you know, need to have a plan in case some of these things happen.

But the odd thing here is -- let me tell you one other thing -- what else is happening in the District of Columbia right now is the Department of Homeland Security has taken the District of Columbia to court. The District of Columbia wants to prevent hazardous material cars from flowing right through the Capital -- or right through Washington, right next to Capital. Today, for example, had a HAZMAT car been traveling through the District, airplane comes in, takes that HAZMAT car out, we have 100,000 people killed in 30 minutes.

And so what is the Bush administration doing? They're taking D.C. to court, because they say we're going to protect business as usual. We don't want to disturb the way the CSX operates.

So, this is one thing. But taken as a whole, we really are squandering this period of time where we need to be making our critical infrastructure more say. NOVAK: I'm going from a different direction. I mean, I think the overreaction is palpable. I -- one half hour after they announced all clear, the police on Capitol Hill were still blocking the streets. Why were they blocking the streets on Capitol Hill creating a huge traffic jam. And you say, well it's tough to have a traffic jam. But it's unnecessary.

MAY: This is not an easy thing to settle, because what you're talking about -- both of you -- is how much risk do we want? How popular is it?

NOVAK: Risk. There's no risk!

MAY: No. When he talks about somebody going through the Capital in a plane hitting that particular truck just as it passes the White House or Congress. You're talking about -- somebody can calculate that risk at one in 10 million or whatever it is. We need to figure out what -- do we need to evacuate the entire city or just the Capitol?

NOVAK: For a little plane?

MAY: But here's the good news, Michael Chertoff, who is the new director of Homeland Security, he is doing this not in the impressionistic way. He's doing it in a scientific way. He has statisticians and mathematicians, and they are figuring out what are the odds and then they are going to do it in a very rational way.

Let me also, if I can, just point out to you two Sunday ago, Washington Post, not a conservative paper, progress on the home front, U.S. sees drop in terrorist threats. That shows we're making progress. It shows we've got the terrorists tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places.

BRAZILE: We are -- how would you grade Homeland Security?

CROWLEY: I think it's the forgotten dimension of national security. For example, yesterday we passed an $82 billion supplemental for the war on terror. $76 billion goes to the military. I don't begrudge that. $794 million, less than 1 percent, goes to the Department of Homeland Security. We're not treating Homeland Security anywhere near we are the urgency that we are with Iraq and Afghanistan.

And here's the problem, you know, the president says we're battling terrorists in Baghdad so we don't have to face them here. We do have to face them here. And the question is, we can't stay on the offensive forever. At some point our troop will come home. And when they do, we're going to have to take a pause. And when we do that, we need to have done a lot more than we currently done to protect our economy, protect our society, protect our people.


MAY: I would just argue that what we have to do is stay on the offensive. The best thing we did for national security and homeland security was capture Abu Faraj al Libbi who was the operations officer of al Qaeda. It's not so easy for Osama bin Laden to put a want ad out and get another good operations officer to take care of his terrorists all around the world.


NOVAK: All right. We're going to take a break. And when we come back, does the color coded terrorist alert system work? And what did actor Macaulay Culkin have to say about Michael Jackson today? I bet you'll want to know that. Wolf Blitzer has the latest just ahead.




WOLF BLITZER, HOST "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, red alert over the White House and the U.S. Capitol and it resulted in an evacuation after a small plane flies into restricted airspace.

We'll have the complete update. That's coming up on the investigation.

United Airlines will default on its pension plans: what that means for United workers and for every American who counts on a pension.

And the former child actor Macaulay Culkin takes the stand in the Michael Jackson trial. We'll tell you what he said. All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now, back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The response to today's alert in the skies over Washington was quick enough to avoid any damage or injuries, but was there overreaction? And is there a way to avoid these false alarms? Still in the CROSSFIRE, P.J. Crowley, former National Security Counsel spokesman, and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, still on.

BRAZILE: Since leaving the government, former Homeland Security Secretary Ridge has basically come out against the color-coded systems. You all believe it's dysfunctional and should it be replaces? And if so, what system would be adequate?

MAY: Basically, I'd say it's not a great system, but it's probably better than nothing. But -- and I haven't heard anybody, and maybe P.J. can come up with a better idea.

CROWLEY: Well, I think it needs to be a simpler system. Obviously, we haven't had...

MAY: What colors? How much simpler can we get?


CROWLEY: Well, today's example of how the system worked. It was very localized. Now, the other thing that Secretary Ridge said was, that, in some cases, he didn't want to change the alert system last year but he was told to by the White House, which means one of two things. One is they were covering their ass, which they were doing before the election. Second, they were manipulating the fear factor to help gain in the election. I think they were doing both.


NOVAK: Let me -- let me ask you this. (INAUDIBLE) I grew up and used to have policeman, in a very calm voice, when there was trouble saying, walk, do not run. We had today, policeman, sounding hysterical, yelling, get out of here, get out of here, and saying run, run, run. Isn't there a possibility, with more people, when you have an evacuation -- I have never heard of that, telling people to run. You could have some serious damage, some -- a stampede and people very badly hurt.

CROWLEY: Certainly, and I think we do definitely need to do a better job of national preparedness, helping people understand where there's a threat and knowing in advance, what do you do when the threat occurs? But part of that is going to be resources. Right now, 88 percent of what we spend on national security is for military affairs. They are always the first option. Homeland security has been the last option. We're simply not devoting enough resources to make ourselves better prepared to deal with these kind of situations.

MAY: Here's what I'd hope they do. After a -- don't worry you had a false alarm today. As we've said, as I think we've agreed, it's probably a good thing in a certain way. Now, have a, what they call, a post-action review. Now, take a look at all the film that was done -- as you say, there's film all over the city...

NOVAK: Find out where they're running.

MAY: ...and let's critique everybody.

NOVAK: What do you think of telling the people to run? What do you think of that?

MAY: That sounds like something you probably don't want to be doing. You're right. You don't say -- you would say, walk, don't run. Don't run with scissors.

BRAZILE: Or run to the nearest CNN station, because that's what many members of Congress had to run to find a TV and learn from CNN what was happening.

Cliff, there are over 7 million Americans who live in this so- called no fly zone. Should it be enlarged to perhaps give those of us who live in the central city better time to evacuate or make preparations?

NOVAK: Oh, jeez.

MAY: I think -- Look, I think Bob's is right. I think the system worked today. The plane didn't land on the Capitol. It didn't go over the White House. You had planes in the air to escort it down. I think what we found out today is at least that part of it worked well. Let's figure out what doesn't. I don't think we need to go crazy. I think what we need to do is take prudent precautions, not just do everything.

NOVAK: Let me ask you, you gentlemen are both experts in foreign policy as well as other things. What does it look like for a great nation, the most powerful nation in the world, evacuating everybody, the House Democratic leader lost her shoes I understood. I mean, what -- because a little plane flew -- got -- cut a corner in this no-fly zone. How does it look to the rest of the world?

RAY: Well, Robert, I think the key is that we've really forgotten that there is still a risk here, and obviously we're rusty a little bit today, and we need to learn from it. We need to do better, but we also need to devote more attention and resource than what the Bush administration is doing.

RAY: The rumor that Nancy Pelosi's shoe was returned by a prince is not true. I want to get that out of the way, right now.

NOVAK: Out of the way!

BRAZILE: Well, I heard Tom DeLay was going to buy her a new pair of shoes with some more fees from lobbyists.

RAY: Look, I think -- we live in Washington, D.C. This is dangerous place to live. A lot of people feel that way. We need prudent precautions. I think you make a good point, you can go overboard.


CROWLEY: Avoid the nuclear option.

NOVAK: (INAUDIBLE) ...Crowley.

From political enemies to political allies, find out why Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich face the cameras together. Oh, they were so together today.


NOVAK: Remember the political feud when Hillary Clinton was first lady and trying to socialize American medicine? Republicans in Congress led by then-speaker Newt Gingrich fought against that proposal and defeated it. So, why was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich together on Capitol Hill this morning? They claim to be part of a nonpartisan effort to reform healthcare for the 21st century. In fact, Gingrich says this about his so-called nonpartisan partner, quote, "Hillary has become one of the very few people who know what to do about healthcare," end quote. Shakespeare was right about strange bedfellows, especially when politics are involved.

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, look, if this helps bring 44 million people closer getting health insurance, I'm all for it. Kum bah yah (ph), Hillary and Newt.

NOVAK: I smell -- I think you're a very evil Democratic operative and you want Newt as the sacrificial Republican candidate in '08 and Hillary will just chew him up.

BRAZILE: Oh, Newt Gingrich did a great job, joining Hillary.

From the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: On the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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