Richard A. Clarke: Steps the Next President Can Take to Reduce the Threat of Terrorism
The following are excerpts from a series of interviews with some of the country’s top terrorism experts conducted by Trudy Rubin, Worldview columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer in conjunction with the July 2008 volume of The Annals,Terrorism: What the Next President Will Face.” This interview is with Richard Clarke, national coordinator for security and counterterrorism for Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and author of Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, and Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters.
Trudy Rubin: You write in The Annals about the need to diagnose the problem of terrorism correctly. Let me go back in history for a moment to your pre-9/11 diagnosis of the problem. You famously wrote about the failure to get it right before 9/11. Can you tell us a little bit about why the Bush administration was unable to appreciate the seriousness of the potential threat?
RC: The leadership of the Bush Administration came into office in early 2001 having been out of office for eight years. These were all people, experienced people, who had been in the government before and they knew intellectually, what had happened in the intervening eight years. The Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union as the major threat had gone away. They, however, still thought about major threats purely in the nation-state mode. In other words, they were somewhat preserved in amber from the Cold War. They had left the White House and defense department eight years earlier, after working on the Cold War, working on threats from the Soviet Union. They came back and picked up where they had left off. They wanted to talk about Star Wars, about the antiballistic missile system, they wanted to negotiate in Moscow; they picked up where they had left off but the world had changed and the world had passed them by. The world was now on where the greatest threats to the United States, active threats, were from individuals and non-state actors. And the Bush leadership could not get their head around that.
TR: You tried to warn about that almost from the moment that President Bush took office. What kind of reaction did you get when you tried to make that threat apparent?
RC: The first reaction I received from the National Security Advisor, Condi Rice, was, this is very strange. She actually said something like, “We did not do this kind of thing when I worked on the National Security Council. Your office did not exist when I worked on the National Security Council.” And it was more of a curiosity to her that the office now did exist and was the largest office in the National Security Council. I think she truly heard me, as did the Vice President and the President, but they did not understand the importance of what we were saying.
TR: If we fast-forward to the present, the startling position that you take in your latest book is that not that much has changed in terms of U.S. preparedness for the current threat, and that the current threat remains much the same. Could you first of all define, diagnose, what is the current threat?
RC: I think the current threat continues, unfortunately, to be in general from fundamentalist, violent, extremist Islamists. And specifically from an organization, a network of organizations, known under the name al Qaeda, in Arabic “The Base.” Remarkably, seven years after 9/11, ten years after the United States government started seriously trying to combat al Qaeda, al Qaeda is still there. And according to the CIA director, it is still as powerful as it was six years ago, still capable of training people from around the world in a sanctuary in south Asia, and then sending them off around the world to stage attacks, and that includes the possibility of being able to send them, again, to the United States to stage attacks. And it is not just me saying that, that is the message from all the counter-terrorism experts in The Annals, and it is clearly the message from the CIA director and the latest national intelligence estimate.
TR: Some experts have claimed that the al Qaeda threat is no longer as potent as it once was. They have said that the threat is more with unconnected grassroots networks, that there is criticism within al Qaeda leadership, including some who are in prison. Is the threat less, are we overestimating the danger of al Qaeda or not?
RC: I do not think it is any significantly less. I do not think we can grade it with that kind of precision, that we could see whether it was a little bit more or a little bit less. It is about the same. Now, are there individuals who are not members of al Qaeda who nonetheless occasionally go to arms, attack things, build bombs on their own, perhaps spontaneously generate cells? Yes, that happens. But even those people are intellectually and ideologically inspired by the al Qaeda movement. The people who spontaneously create cells and bomb things have read all of the al Qaeda propaganda on the web. And the internet and these websites, these Arabic language websites with video and audio, are very, very persuasive to a certain kind of person. Very well done, very influential. And so if someone sitting in England, or sitting in Germany, who has never been to an al Qaeda meeting, nonetheless reads that kind of propaganda on the internet and becomes inspired and then goes off and commits an act on their own, without being directed specifically to do that, are they al Qaeda or are they an individual actor? I do not think it makes much difference.
TR: So it is important, both symbolically and also important in terms of inspiration and, in some cases, training?
RC: It is both. An ideological, inspirational movement. Bin Laden, especially because he still has not been captured, is an inspirational figure but he would be even if he had been captured and killed. And in addition to that, it is still a real terrorist organization with bombs and guns and training programs and running attacks.
TR: So how is it possible, with all the resources that have been expended in the last seven years, that the terrorism threat is still as great as it is today, and that al Qaeda is regenerating itself?
RC: Part of the reason is that we have spent most of the resources in the wrong way. We have spent about a trillion dollars in Iraq and, putting aside the partisan political discussion, Iraq really, at the time of 9/11 and for many years prior to that, had not been involved in terrorism directed at the United States and did not really harbor or give sanctuary to people engaged in terrorism against the United States. So we have spent a trillion dollars stopping terrorism frankly that did not exist in Iraq, it existed only after we went in. We should have been spending the money in places like Afghanistan, in places like Pakistan, and frankly in places like Jordan and Morocco and elsewhere. There are two kinds of expenditure we should have made. One, to strengthen local security organizations so that they would know how to combat terrorism in ways other than repressive, heavy-handed tactics, because the repressive tactics, we now know statistically, anecdotally, and every other way, the repressive tactics actually increase support from the terrorists. And we should have been spending the resources in some cases, in places like Morocco and Jordan, on economic development, on education, to remove some of the root causes of terrorism. Sometimes terrorism is caused by ideology alone, sometimes it is caused by a combination of ideology and horrendous economic circumstances.
TR: Talk a little bit more about the impact of the Iraq invasion on the fight against Islamist terrorists. To begin with, was there ever any connection to the war on terror from Saddam? I believe, in your book, that President Bush said only a year ago “We are fighting in Iraq the people who attacked us on 9/11.” Was there ever any link?
RC: The 9/11 Commission looked into this in detail, and their staff, and they came back and said there was never any operational collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. Now, that sounds like a very narrow phrase, “No operational collaboration.” They could not say there was never any contact, because, of course, people in the Iraqi intelligence service wanted to know what al Qaeda was doing, and al Qaeda wanted to operate in areas where the Iraqis had intelligence agents. So, did they ever bump into each other? Sure. But was there any money flow back and forth, any training, any equipment, any joint operations? No, no, no, and no. So the administration has said on different occasions that they recognize this and they accept the verdict of the 9/11 Commission, and yet on other occasions they revert to saying muddled things that leave the impression that Iraq somehow blew up the World Trade Center.
TR: There was a Pentagon review in March 2008, wasn’t there, that seemed to be the final word on this?
RC: Yes, in case the 9/11 Commission had not been enough for you, the Defense Department professional staff went back and looked at all of their records, all of their intelligence, all the information they had been able to gather in Iraq, and there are reams of documents, billions of pages of documents that they found in Iraq after they invaded, and their conclusion is the same as the 9/11 Commission. There was no linkage between al Qaeda on the one hand, Iraq on the other. No linkage between the 9/11 attacks and the country we invaded.
TR: Did the Iraq War actually help in the regeneration of al Qaeda?
RC: I think the Iraq War helped a great deal in the regeneration of al Qaeda. For one thing, it helped in the ideological support for al Qaeda. Bin Laden and al Qaeda had been saying for years the United States wants to invade and occupy oil-rich Arab countries, steal their oil, destroy the countries, debase the Arab people, and there was no evidence for that. And then we did exactly what al Qaeda said we would do. And there was a somewhat universal negative reaction throughout not only the Arab world but the larger Islamic world, that the United States was punishing Islam, that the United States had gone to war with Islam because of 9/11, and had just reached out somewhat randomly and picked a country to invade. So the support for al Qaeda, the financial support, came back. Some of the recruits came back. And then a small terrorist organization that had been in Iraq in areas beyond the control of Saddam Hussein renamed itself al Qaeda in the land between two rivers, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and because it now had the name al Qaeda it was able to attract more recruits. And even though it was a small number of people they were highly effective in killing both Americans and other foreigners such as the United Nations personnel.
TR: The administration has said, and I believe still says, and I think Senator McCain also says that Iraq is still the central front in the war against terrorism and that al Qaeda itself says this. What is Iraq in the war against terrorism?
RC: I think Iraq has been a destructive diversion that allowed al Qaeda to regenerate. First it allowed al Qaeda to regenerate this sort of new branch of it in Iraq and kill many Americans. And at the same time it is a diversion that allowed the original al Qaeda back in Afghanistan and Pakistan to regenerate, because our intelligence apparatus and our military apparatus were focused elsewhere. And so instead of extinguishing al Qaeda, the al Qaeda that attacked us, the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we literally pulled units, Special Forces units, intelligence units, and equipment out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq. And Iraq has never been the central front in the war on terrorism. The central front has always been al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is again today and all we did by going into Iraq was to create a diversion where we diverted ourselves to give al Qaeda another place to operate against us and time and resources to regenerate.
TR: You talk of al Qaeda 2.0 at a time when people thought the organization was getting weaker, the second variant after its full force of 1.0. And then you talk about al Qaeda 3.0, a regenerating organization. How has al Qaeda been able to get to 3.0 in that border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
RC: Al Qaeda number one was the group that grew up in Afghanistan and attacked us on 9/11. Al Qaeda 2.0 was a series of regional organizations throughout the Islamic world, in Indonesia, the Philippines, in Morocco, that were related to al Qaeda. They had gotten money from al Qaeda, they had gotten training from al Qaeda. You could best think about them as regional al Qaeda franchises. They took leadership from al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but when the United States went into Afghanistan in late 2001, that communications link was cut off and so these regional franchises began to operate autonomously and began to do attacks in 2002 and 2003. Now, when I say al Qaeda 3.0, I am referring to the original group that had been in Afghanistan, they have now moved across the border a few hundred miles, they did this in late 2001, but they were spread out, they were hunted down, they were not able to do much for several years. Now, the Pakistani government has struck a deal with people in northwest Pakistan and essentially said, “We are not going to send the army and we are not going to send the police up there. You take care of that region yourself.” And that has created a sanctuary for al Qaeda to come out of hiding, to establish little camps. They are not the big, enormous military camps that we saw in Afghanistan, because they learned. They learned that we can see those big, enormous military camps on our satellites and we can blow them up from airplanes and from cruise missiles. So they are much smaller facilities, townhouses, villas, small compounds, scattered around in villages, but nonetheless they are there. And al Qaeda is now able to recruit again, now able once again to bring people in to those training facilities from around the world, train them and send them back. The CIA director said a few months ago that you could be standing in the line at Washington’s Dulles Airport and some of these people who had been trained in the camps in Afghanistan could be standing next to you in the line, and you would not notice, they would just blend into the crowd. Which means they are bringing in people from Germany and elsewhere, Europeans who believe in the fundamentalist Islamist extremist violence and training them. So I think it is only a matter of time until this new kind of sanctuary in Pakistan is a place from which they launch attacks.
TR: And are there also trained foreign fighters coming back from Iraq? Both moving into the Pakistan sanctuary and back to their home countries?
RC: There are small numbers of people, probably in the hundreds or low thousands, who have fought or experienced jihad, as they like to call it, in Iraq and then either gone to Afghanistan or gone back to Germany, France, and elsewhere. We have clear evidence that some of the attack techniques and some of the weapons that were tried and found useful in Iraq are now showing up in Afghanistan. There is clear evidence of cross pollination between these two wars.
TR: Talk about what the next president has to do to dry up support for al Qaeda. And I know there are several different aspects to this, and maybe you can break it down and talk about the most important steps that he will have to take in the short run, because there will not be much of a honeymoon.
RC: We have several of the best academic writers on this subject who have contributed to The Annals of the American Academy and they have a lot of detailed proposals. But it comes down to three or four things. One, the new president has to make clear to the Islamic world that we are not at war with the Islamic world, and that we have nothing against the Muslim religion, nothing against the Muslim people, and we do not want to be at war with them. That is an important message which, if believed, if the new president says it and is believed, will move us a long way to where we need to be. The second thing the new president has to do is reestablish the American standard, reestablish the American values. People around the world may have disagreed with us about one thing or another, but they always admired us for our adherence to civil rights and human rights, our willingness to have a system of justice and laws that applied even to the government. And a lot of that has been destroyed by the images of the Abu Ghraib prison torture, by the other things that have been done by the United States in the name of this so-called war on terrorism. We need to be able to say the Constitution is still in effect, the Bill of Rights is still in effect, the United States still adheres to the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, we are still going to uphold the anti-torture convention that we signed. And we are going to be once again a country in the international system that obeys international law, and that we stand for those things, we stand for something. That is an important message, both for our allies and for the people in the Islamic world to know that the United States is not lying, does not have a double standard. The third thing we need to do is to heighten the capability of local governments to find the potential terrorists. And that means working with local governments’ intelligence services and police services, but not in that heavy-handed, repressive way that many of those governments have tended in the past to operate. Because that just increases support oftentimes for the terrorists. We need to train local intelligence and local law enforcement in smart community policing techniques, in effect.
TR: In key countries?
RC: In places like Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, certainly in Pakistan.
TR: Let me just come back to the values issue for a moment. There are those who claim that in the balance between hewing to our values and needing to fight the threat of terrorists perhaps with WMD we have to give way on the values side. You have worked on this issue for thirty years; how do you answer those who say we cannot afford to be soft on terrorists, that American values have to be adjusted because this is an emergency?
RC: They are right, we cannot afford to be soft on terrorists. That does not mean that we need to break the law, either U.S. law or international law. There was an attitude after 9/11 in the Bush administration that we just had to throw out all the rules to prove how macho we were and that the best response to this shock of 9/11 was to throw out all the rules, break all the rules as though this were the worst experience that the United States had ever had. We had been dealing with terrorists successfully in the past within the boundaries of the law. When we found terrorists abroad we indicted them, we captured them, we flew them back to the United States, we gave them lawyers and we gave them their Miranda rights and we gave them a fair trial and we convicted every one of them. Contrast that record of 100 percent success in criminally prosecuting terrorists with the disastrous record of the Bush administration, where only 29 percent of the terrorists that they have indicted and brought to trial, only 29 percent, not 100 percent, 29 percent have been successfully convicted of terrorist offenses. And then there are the hundreds of people that they hold in places like Guantanamo, where they have so botched the process that they may never successfully be able to do any prosecution with them, either in normal courts or in the military commissions.
TR: So, is this mainly a law and order issue, as some claim, the terrorism problem, or is it a war? Or is it some mix of both?
RC: The jargon is it is a global war on terrorism, and that is very misleading. This is what I mean by diagnosing the problem. If you do not understand what the problem is, then your solution is not going to work. If you do not know the patient’s illness, then you will not know what drugs and treatment to give them. It is not global. It is largely within the Islamic world and a little bit of Europe. It is not a war, with a few exceptions. Clearly there is a war going on in Afghanistan and we started one in Iraq, but in most of the places in the world where we have to combat al Qaeda there is not a war going on, in the sense that military forces are fighting each other. And it is really not “on terrorism.” Terrorism is a tactic. It is one of the many tactics that al Qaeda and the fundamentalist, violent Islamists use. So, if it is not a global war on terrorism, what is it? It is a struggle against a small, deviant minority strain in Islam that wants to overthrow existing governments in the Islamic world, what they believe are apostate governments, and put in their place fundamentalist regimes that are best thought of as what the Taliban were like in Afghanistan when they were running the show there. And they need to be combated with an ideological counterweight as well as with police and law enforcement and intelligence operations. And, in some cases they need to be combated with economic development assistance. You see these incredible slums in Morocco and refugee camps in Lebanon and in Jordan and now in Syria. Those people have no hope for the future, and someone comes along and says, “Well, here is my interpretation of Islam, it is the true interpretation, and it offers you a better hope for the future.” Many people are at least interested; some people join up. And if there is no counterweight that says, “Go to school, learn a skill and you will get a job,” that there has been economic development and that a job exists, if there is no other credible path, in many circumstances people will turn to supporting the terrorist groups. So, in some places it is a matter purely of ideology, in some places it is a matter of ideology and deprivation.
TR: Is this country capable of mobilizing to fight such a complex struggle without calling it a war?
RC: We like to call so many things wars. Richard Nixon, when he was president, announced a war on cancer. We had, according to the first President Bush, a war on drugs, or at least illicit narcotics. And apparently they thought if you call these things wars that the Congress is more willing to come up with money. I do not think the American people are so simple-minded that we have to give them propaganda for them to understand what is going on here.
TR: You have talked about definitions, you have talked about the need to make clear our values and reach out to the Muslim world and make clear they are not our enemy. Let me just ask you one more question about Iraq. In your writings you have talked about the need to withdraw from Iraq as a crucial piece of this, to get resources back for the broader problem, to fight the broader struggle. I wonder the following: If we withdraw from Iraq, will al Qaeda be able to claim this as a victory the way they did when the Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon and withdrew from Gaza? Is there a way to avoid a propaganda victory while pulling troops back?
RC: I think the question really has to be asked in a slightly different way. If you are doing something that hurts yourself, do you continue to do that because if you stop doing that someone will make fun of you or someone will claim credit for the fact that you stopped doing what you were doing? I do not think so. Sure, absolutely al Qaeda will claim credit if the United States pulls out of Iraq, whenever that is, whether we do it in 2008, 2009, or 2050, if there is still an al Qaeda around then they will claim credit for it. The fact that they are going to claim credit for it is not a reason for us to continue to hurt ourselves by being in Iraq. I do not think the fact that bin Laden may give a speech or an interview saying, “Look, the Americans left Iraq;” to prevent that interview I do not think we should sacrifice one American life. I do not think we should sacrifice one Iraqi life to prevent that interview and to allow them a little minor propaganda victory.
TR: Do you think that at this point if the U.S. pulled all or most troops out, al Qaeda would reconstitute in Iraq in some form? Or do you think the focus has wholly shifted to the Pakistan-Afghan border?
RC: The organization that was in Iraq that called itself al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, al Qaeda between the two rivers, has largely been eliminated. It has been eliminated not only by the United States Army, but by Iraqis. Both Sunnis, who eventually figured out that they did not like them, and largely by the Shia, the predominant group in Iraq, who have always hated al Qaeda. I think if al Qaeda somehow reconstituted itself or tried to reconstitute itself, if a small group of Sunnis got together in Iraq and called themselves al Qaeda again, or if people from outside of Iraq went there and called themselves al Qaeda, they would be attacked from so many corners that they would not know what was going on. I think the chances of al Qaeda having any sort of cell of significance in Iraq are almost zero. If, however, after the United States military left Iraq, major combat units left, if somehow despite all of the forces against it, something calling itself al Qaeda built a base, a camp, a cell, in Iraq, then I think the United States goes in and surgically eliminates it.
TR: With Special Forces?
RC: With Special Forces, with intelligence forces, with aircraft, whatever the right combination is to do it. There is absolutely no reason to believe just because a President of the United States pulls major combat units out of Iraq that it therefore follows that that same President, whoever it is, when told, “Hey, there is an al Qaeda camp north of Baghdad,” would say, “Oh, well I don’t care.” That logic has always escaped me. Any President of the United States told that there was an al Qaeda camp in Iraq is going to get rid of it, one way or the other.
TR: I have talked at length with another author in The Annals volume, Bruce Riedel, about how to deal with the problem along the Pakistan border, but let me just ask you one question on that. There has been talk of the following: That if the Pakistanis do not deal with that problem sufficiently, if the U.S. has information that there is a person of interest across the border or some planning going on, that the U.S. should send forces in from Afghanistan across the border. Do you think that would be wise?
RC: Either he acts using American forces, probably a missile strike, or he allows bin Laden and Zawahiri to continue to live. I do not think there is a choice there for an American president. I think an American president who did not act under those circumstances would probably be impeached after the information came out. And apparently George Bush agrees with me, because four times in 2008 he has authorized cross-border missile strikes when told that Zawahiri might be in this or that village. That is one scenario. The other very different issue is should the United States infantry pour across the Pakistani border to go after the Taliban and the sanctuary inside Pakistan. I think the answer to that is probably no, that we want to do a bargain with the Pakistanis that gets them to yes, and we have not done that yet. We have given them $6 billion in military aid, largely wasted on building weapons to defend them from India. We have not given them a lot of economic development assistance particularly targeted for the sanctuary area or in general. And I think we have to sit down with the new Pakistani leadership, not the general, the new elected Pakistani leadership, and say, “Look, you have to understand it is unacceptable to have people inside Pakistan who walk across the border and kill Americans in Afghanistan. You know we cannot live with that and it is not in your interest, either, to have that kind of instability because if they are allowed to stay up there, they are going to turn on you. So what do you need politically inside Pakistan, and what do you need from a security assistance perspective, and what do you need from an economic development assistance perspective, to do what has to be done up there?” And I think that we can do that. I think the Pakistani leadership, the elected leadership, knows that their heads are literally going to be in the noose someday from these people up in the northwest territories unless they are taken care of. That is a far better approach, striking a grand bargain with the Pakistani leaders, the elected leaders, than sending a U.S. infantry division across the border.
TR: And presumably the companion to that is focusing on Afghanistan in a way that we have not done until now?
RC: Precisely. We need both more in the way of security resources for Afghanistan and, vitally, more in terms of economic development aid. If we are going to defeat the Taliban and eradicate them, the Afghan people have to be invested in an alternative that is demonstrable and not some hope about some future day. They need to see roads, they need to see schools, they need to see hospitals, they need to see jobs other than making narcotics. And despite the seven years we have been there, we have not delivered.
TR: You have talked about what has not been done in terms of the necessary focus on Afghanistan, the necessary focus on Pakistan, relieving ourselves of too much focus on Iraq, and reaching out to the Muslim world. One of the things in your book that was the most striking to me is the need for a totally different kind of focus on homeland security. What you write about what has not been done in that regard is extremely shocking, and it starts with your feeling that creation of the homeland security department was a big mistake.
RC: I think President Bush thought it was a big mistake. Nonetheless, he did it. President Bush had, for over a year, opposed the idea of creating a Department of Homeland Security. And then he was told it was going to happen anyway, the Congress is going to do it. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats in Congress are going to pass a bill introduced by Al Gore’s running mate, Joe Lieberman. And on a dime, the Bush administration went from publicly opposing the idea of creating a homeland security department to announcing that they had just had this brilliant idea on their own of creating a homeland security department. They did not want to do it, they did not do a very good job of it. They have created a monstrous bureaucracy that is filled with political appointees, a higher percentage of political appointees than in any other department. He might have done the opposite, he might have said, “This is an important security thing we are doing in the wake of 9/11, we are going to keep politics out of it and we are going to ban political appointees, or have the smallest number of any department.” They went the other direction and had the largest number by percentage of any department. And then they started handing out money to counties and cities and towns and states under the guise of homeland security, wasting billions of dollars, sending money where it was not needed and spending it on ways that were uncoordinated, so that we really have not made ourselves a lot safer than we were on 9/11.
TR: You say in your book that airline screening is really not much better than it was back before 9/11, not to mention screening of cargo at airports or ports.
RC: Yes. Passenger screening is better, but it is still something that a determined terrorist could defeat. Cargo screening at airports, and certainly at seaports, is still, even though Congress has demanded 100 percent screening, the homeland security department has opposed that and though Congress wrote it into law, the homeland security department is dragging its feet implementing it. So there are some things clearly that are a little bit better than they were on 9/11, but if you look at the net situation–by that I mean how has the threat increased and how has our vulnerability been affected– vulnerability is in many ways about the same, some places a little bit better. But the threat, I think, has increased. Now, the logical question is, “Well why, then, hasn’t there been another attack?” Any day there could be, because we have not eliminated those who would attack us. In fact, while they were suppressed for a while they have come back. So the vulnerabilities are still there, the people who would use those vulnerabilities against us are still there, so an attack could take place at any moment; has not taken place in the recent past, a) because we did break up for a time al Qaeda, when we invaded Afghanistan, now they have regrouped; b) because by invading Iraq we gave them a place where it was easy to go kill Americans and they did, and they killed four thousand Americans, more than the number that died on 9/11. And they also wounded twenty-five thousand, very grievously wounded. So since we had delivered to them this other place where they could easily go and kill Americans, why should they have come here? I think the day when the United States can lower the threat level and say, “Because we have reduced our vulnerabilities, because we have destroyed the enemy, we are now safer” that day is many, many years away.
TR: So you would advocate breaking up the Department of Homeland Security to make it more effective?
RC: I think it has to have much more clearly defined missions, and right now we have given it a lot of missions: hurricanes, anti-narcotics, customs, passports. I would say take the FEMA component of it and break it off altogether; we are now in this sort of it is half-in, half-out mode; break it off, put it back where it was, independent agency, take political appointees out of it, strengthen it, make it a professional organization again. Take the people who worry about the borders and about screening things, screening things at airports, screening things at ports, screening things at borders, and make them a department of border and transportation security; clearly defined mission, still a big organization, but one that would understand what it was supposed to do and we could monitor with matrices of performance. And then the other little pieces that are left can be distributed into other organizations that already exist.
TR: One last thing I would like to ask you, which is a fascinating and dangerous problem that I think most Americans have no idea is really out there, and that is the issue of cyberspace. We seem to have an inability to adapt to new threats until they hit us between the eyes. Could you briefly just talk about the essence of this problem, the risk of it, and has there been any recognition by this administration up until now of the real danger that it poses?
RC: We use the phrase “cyber-terrorism” sometimes and that confuses people because they imagine bin Laden on a keyboard in a cyber-café somewhere trying to attack us that way, and that is not what we are talking about. There are countries like China and individuals and organizations that are using their ability to hack into computer networks to do us harm. We spend billions of dollars on research and development coming up with new weapons or coming up with new pharmaceuticals or new electronics, and some other country comes along, hacks into our network, steals all of that intellectual property, steals the formulas, steals the diagrams, and they go off and they make the same product or something very similar, without having spent a cent on research and development. So that means that our national security is at risk because they know how our weapons work and how they can be defeated, because they now have weapons very similar to ours, because they have copied ours, and our economic competitiveness is damaged because they are selling products that look a lot like ours.
TR: But can they actually hack into the Pentagon and shut down systems?
RC: They have hacked into the Pentagon. The Pentagon announced last year that the Secretary of Defense’s office was hacked by people from China, maybe the Chinese government, and we know that that has happened on a very large scale where terabytes, petabytes of information have been stolen from the Defense Department, from our nuclear laboratories, from defense contractors, and ex-filtrated over the networks out of the United States. It is a big threat to our national security, to our economic competitiveness and, on an individual basis, when criminals are doing it, it is a big threat to your privacy, it is a big threat to your credit rating, and it can cost banks and individuals a lot of money. So it is both a problem for us as consumers and it is a problem for us as a nation. The Bush administration said in 2003 that they would do something about it, then they pretty much destroyed and dissolved the program that had existed. They have now said again in 2008 that they are going to do something about it, at least to protect the government networks, but they do not have a comprehensive plan to take our cyberspace, all our interconnected computer networks that run the banks and the electric power system and everything else, and really make sure that they cannot be attacked, and if they are somehow attacked that they can be resilient and come back up quickly.
TR: So the next president comes in and in the first months all of these issues that you mentioned that have not been addressed toughly enough and with enough focus in the last seven years, what does the next president need to take on first?
RC: I think the next president needs to take on first dealing with the people who attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda, and they are in Afghanistan and they are in Pakistan. And we have to have enough economic resources, intelligence resources, and military resources there. To do that, we need to get most of those resources from Iraq, we need to accelerate the rate of change in Iraq, accelerate the withdrawal. And I think probably within a year and a half, certainly no more than two years, the United States could get all of its major military units out of Iraq; some small number of them will have to go to Afghanistan.