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David Ensor: Terrorism Report
David Ensor is CNNís national security correspondent, and is based in Washington, D.C.
CNN Moderator: What are some of the key points of the Terrorism Report released today by the Commission on National Security in the 21st Century?
David Ensor: Well the report says that although the U.S. thinks of itself as a pretty secure great power, the fact is that the U.S. faces extraordinary dangers for which it is not prepared. The biggest one is the likelihood of a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil using a weapon of mass destruction. I can go into the reportís recommendations to address that issue in a second.
Two additional threats identified in the report are America's education system and declining research. Our research has fallen behind so badly that the technological edge, which has always been this countryís most important source of national security, will be lost soon. The report also calls for a revamping of the whole national security part of the government, which it says is sort of an out-of-date Cold War structure.
CNN Moderator: Now that the report has been released, what are the next steps?
David Ensor: The report makes specific recommendations to the president and Congress. Commissioners will be briefing the President and Congress and basically lobbying them to do something. Perhaps the most dramatic thing the commission is asking for is a new cabinet-level agency to deal with the threat of terrorism.
Bush Administration officials tell me they will look seriously at this idea, but I must tell you it is also controversial. Every time you break bureaucratic crockery in this town, there are people who oppose that. Some of the recently departed Clinton people agree about the problem, the threat of terrorism, but do not agree with this solution.
Question from chat room: Is the report available for the public to read?
David Ensor: Yes. It is on the web at www.nssg.gov. It is the Hart-Rudman Commission.
CNN Moderator: The Defense Department commissioned this study several years ago. Why has it taken so long to complete the report?
David Ensor: It is actually the third and final part of the report. The first two parts assess the problem; this part offers specific solutions or recommendations. They just put a lot of staff time into this.
CNN Moderator: Is it likely that the commission will face opposition to its finding and by whom?
David Ensor: Yes, it is likely. For example, the Justice Department probably doesn't want to give up the boarder patrol, and I don't suppose the Treasury Secretary wants to give up the Custom service. I was talking yesterday to Jim Steinberg, who was Mr. Clinton's Deputy National Security Advisor. He agrees the threat of major terrorism in this country is high, but he doesn't think another new agency is the way to respond to it.
CNN Moderator: Can you tell us a little more about the educational portion of the recommendations?
David Ensor: The guy who is really is pushing this side of the thing is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. At a news conference today, he read this from the report: , " The inadequacies of our systems in research and education pose a greater threat to the United States national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine."
The report says we desperately need more Americans to acquire degrees in math, science or engineering. It goes on to recommend that the U.S. government should offer scholarships to anyone willing to major in those subjects and should forgive the loans entirely for anyone willing to work for the U.S. government for a couple of years after graduation. Former Senator Rudman, who is the commission co-chairman, told me the statistics they saw show that most of the students in American graduate schools who are studying math, science or engineering are foreigners who will go back to their countries.
Question from chat room: How likely is it that Congress will actively address some of these concerns?
David Ensor: Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Arm Services Sub-Committee on emerging threats, has already said he wants to hold hearings on this. He likes the ideas in the report. I think it will be influential, though some of these recommendations are quite controversial and unlikely.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
David Ensor: I just want to underscore what the commission said: Americans may not realize how fast the world is changing in terms of weapons like biological terrorism weapons. Throughout most of our history, we have felt very safe between two large oceans; Iím afraid this is about to end. This commission predicts terrorism causing large numbers of casualties in the heartland in the coming years. It says we are already vulnerable to that. I guess I will just leave you with the fact that this is a rather chilling thought.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.
David Ensor: Well thank you.
David Ensor joined the chat room via telephone from Washington, DC and CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Wednesday, January 31, 2001.
Panel recommends sweeping national security changes
U.S. Commission on National Security
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