Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
After the 9/11 attacks, the government re-organized dozens of federal agencies and spent almost a trillion dollars to protect the country from terrorism. In the last 15 years, the overall FBI budget nearly tripled to fund counter-terrorism efforts. Intelligence sharing among federal agencies improved. And airport security was strengthened. But are we safer? With emerging threats of lone-wolf killers inspired by the Islamic State, national security and intelligence experts warn we will never be completely safe. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of homeland security and counter-terrorism today.
- Steven Brill Journalist; author, "America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System;" founder, The American Lawyer
- Paul Pillar Non-resident senior fellow, Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University; former CIA National Intelligence officer
- Faiza Patel Co-director, liberty & national security program, Brennan Center For Justice, New York University School of Law
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the 15 years since 9/11, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to make America safer. Journalist Steven Brill carried out a yearlong investigation for The Atlantic, looking at security in the U.S. since the attacks. He says, we may never be completely safe, particularly because of the growing threat of lone wolf terrorists. Brill joins me in the studio to talk about his cover story.
MS. DIANE REHMAlso, counterterrorism expert, Paul Pillar of Georgetown and joining us from a studio in New York, Faiza Patel with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. I do invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. STEVEN BRILLThank you.
MR. PAUL PILLARThank you, Diane.
BRILLThank you, Diane.
MS. FAIZA PATELThanks.
REHMAnd Steven Brill, I know you worked on this cover story in The Atlantic magazine for more than a year. You talked to dozens of security people. Are we safer?
BRILLWell, the government's done a lot to make us safer. We're a lot safer than we would've been if people like Paul and a lot of his colleagues hadn't done the work they did immediately after 9/11 and continue to do. Having said that, all the different forces unleashed around the world, particularly forces unleashed as a result of our going into the Iraq War, have multiplied the kinds of threats we face, including these -- you mentioned in your introduction, the lone wolves who are inspired by ISIS to carry out acts, even if they haven't trained overseas or done anything other than go online.
BRILLThey can still, you know, walk into a gun store in this country and buy a military attack weapon and shoot up a shopping mall. If they yell out a phrase in Arabic, that becomes another terrorist attack that someone like a Donald Trump can exploit and promise that he's going to end if he becomes the president.
REHMAt the same time, you've got ISIS itself saying to people around the world, if you support what we do, take action.
REHMDo it on your own. So it would seem that that kind of individual behavior could make us far less safe.
BRILLWell, it does. But there are two kinds of threats. There's that kind of threat and then there's the orchestrated plan sort of, you know, mass attack of the kind that we did see on September 11. And if we worry only about the lone wolves, we will take our eye of the ball against the possibility of that kind of more concerted attack. And as I explained in the article, there are lots of threats out there that we have not sufficiently addressed, particularly in the spheres of the anthrax kind of attack that we saw right after 9/11.
BRILLThat kind of bio-terror, if anything, that threat has been enhance by advances in science over the last 15 years that make that kind of weaponized attack much easier. And then, there's the thing I spend a lot of time on in the article, the dirty bomb threat. We don't secure radiological materials in this country that are used at hospitals and in all kinds of other industries, logging, drilling for oil. That stuff is relatively unsecure and if you mix a little of that with a conventional explosive, you can produce a bomb that is really scary because it produces high levels of radiation.
BRILLBut it's more scary than it is actually a threat to life, as I explained in some detail in the article.
REHMIt could mean cancer develops in an individual over time.
BRILLWell, right. Right. If one of those bombs, for example, went off in the Washington D.C. area, you might get radiation measures such that the experts would say that in the Washington, you know, downtown area, an extra 1 in 10,000 people will die of cancer over the next 5 or 10 years. That sounds terrible until you realize that that means in a population of a half a million, that's an extra 50 deaths and if you want to prevent the 50 cancer deaths, you could walk into an office building in Washington and get people to quit smoking.
REHMIndeed. Paul Pillar, do you agree with Steven Brill?
PILLARI do. And I think, to put it in a larger perspective, insofar as we're talking about defensive security countermeasures, which is the focus of what Steve wrote about, then we are safer. There are visible things, aviation security, what TSA does, and all the fences, the bollards, the guards, the -- all that sort of stuff. But that's only one major component of what determines whether we are under greater or lesser threat from terrorism. Let me sort of mention two others.
PILLAROne is everything else that we do of the more offensive sort in counterterrorism, the diplomacy, the financial controls, the intelligence and military action as well. And there, I think, the record is a lot more mixed. And we could talk about the drone strikes, for example, where on the one hand, bad guys have been taken out of commission, on the other hand, we've inflamed emotions and perhaps, you know, bred even more potential terrorists because of the anger for civilian casualties and so on.
PILLARAnd then, a final sort of major dimension is everything we do, including a lot of our foreign security policy that may not have the counterterrorist label, but it also affects the propensity of people to take the extreme measure of doing terrorism. And here, I'd have to say, the balance sheet is probably negative with the biggest item on the balance sheet being the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one of the direct results of which was the formation and emergence of the group that we now know as ISIS, which is the group we seem to worry about most. It didn't exist before that invasion.
REHMFaiza Patel, what do you think of Steve's conclusions?
PATELSo I tend to agree also with what Steve and Paul just said, which is when you look at, you know, sort of the idea of a large plot involving a lot of actors, yes, we've taken a lot of measures against it and at the same time, we do remain vulnerable to terrorism in the name of a number of ideologies. And I think that's a point that's worth making, which is it's not just ISIS that inspires domestic terrorism. We've seen also domestic terrorism which is inspired by groups like, you know, sovereign citizen or other right wing extremist ideologies.
PATELAnd I think, you know, in the name of being holistic about how we look at the threats facing us as a nation, it's also important to recognize that there is this other entire set of threats, which really doesn't get the kind of attention that even the most, you know, tangentially linked to ISIS plot does in our press.
REHMAre we spending enough money, do you believe, to prevent terrorist attacks in this country?
PATELWell, I'm not sure it's a question of money so much. I feel like we're spending a lot of money. It's a question of whether or not what we're doing is actually effective in preventing terrorism. And I think, you know, Steve does a wonderful job of looking at the huge amounts of money that have been spent in sort of hardening targets and infrastructure development and pointing out the waste and potential abuse and that -- but at the same time, the question remains in my mind as to whether the tactics that are being used by law enforcement, whether the FBI or local police departments in countering terrorism are actually really effective.
PATELI have to say, I have a big question mark about -- in my mind about that. You know, as Paul pointed out, you know, when you do take very repressive measures, and he noted drone strikes, you also run the risk of alienating large swaths of the population. And we've certainly seen that with the way that American Muslim communities have been treated by the FBI in the post-9/11 world.
BRILLWell, to pick up on your point, it is not a matter of whether we're spending enough money. I mean, it's -- the question is how we spend it. As I point out in the article, we are now spending $800 million a year on the air marshals program, you know. We put these undercover cops, which is basically what they are, onto airliners. They're on maybe 2 or 3 percent of the planes maximum.
REHM2 or 3 percent.
BRILLPercent, yeah. And they typically fly in pairs in first class. We put them on because what happened on 9/11 was these people got on the planes with knives. The cockpit doors were not secure. They killed the pilots and they took over the planes and flew the planes. Well, we now have all the cockpit doors -- they're completely secure. We check people much more thoroughly at the checkpoints at the airport so they're not likely to get on with weapons. Many of the pilots themselves are armed.
BRILLLong story short, the threat that the air marshals address, which is can someone hijack a plane, is not there anymore, but we're spending $800 million on that, which is a fourth of the entire Secret Service budget, just on those air marshals.
REHMSteven Brill, he's a journalist and author of "Are We Any Safer?" the new cover story in the September issue of The Atlantic. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Steven Brill is here in the studio with me. He's a journalist and author of the article titled "Are We Any Safer?" It's the new cover story in the September issue of The Atlantic magazine. Paul Pillar is here. He's a fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, a former CIA intelligence officer. And joining us from an NPR studio in New York City, Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center For Justice at New York University School of Law.
REHMSteven Brill, you were talking about the measures that the airlines have gone to to secure the planes themselves, but many, many people are complaining about long lines to get through security. Are we checking more carefully? Is the equipment we're using better able to catch violations like for example the shoe bomber?
BRILLWell we are checking people more carefully, and this is the dilemma that anyone in Homeland Security faces, which is if you're too careful, everybody complains that you're bureaucratic, and you're stupid, and you're slow, and then if you ease things up a little bit, they complain that you weren't careful enough. Just to shift the question a little bit, you can imagine what the criticism will be like if somebody blows up a ferry boat, which has more passengers on it than the typical airliner, the large ferries that we see, there's really no security measures done there. Why don't we check people getting on ferries?
BRILLThe answer is that al-Qaeda used airlines, and we tend to really batten down the hatches based on what happened yesterday, not necessarily on what's likely to happen the day after tomorrow.
REHMDo you agree with that, Paul?
PILLARPartly, but airlines always have been and will always be a juicy target, an attractive target for terrorists because of their particular physical qualities. You've got, you know, maybe a couple hundred people in what amounts to a pressurized aluminum can, you know, up at 30,000 feet, and that has a number of implications. You can fly it someplace else, either yourself like 9/11 or with a pilot under duress, or because of these conditions, a relatively small explosive, because of -- it's a pressurized aluminum can, can take out the whole plane and kill a couple hundred people.
PILLARYou know, the bomb that took down Pan Am 103 was a very small one, you know, hidden in a battery of a radio, basically, something that would not have caused anywhere near the death and destruction on the ground, but because it can, you know, puncture the skin and bring the plane down, you kill over 200 people. So there is something a little bit different about airplanes, although I would agree with Steve that the idea of fighting the last war or fighting against the last terrorist tactic is part of it, as well.
REHMWhat about terror watch lists? Have we been able to do enough there, Steve?
BRILLWell, we have lots and lots of people, thousands of people on different kinds of watch lists. One of the things we've done since 9/11 is we've connected the dots, which is most of the agencies involved in some way or another in homeland security and national security either use the same lists or compare lists with each other so that you don't have what happened on September 10, which is the CIA knew that as it turns out that two of the hijackers, they were watching two of the hijackers and knew they had come to the United States, but they never told the FBI, let alone the FAA.
REHMThat's a matter of...
BRILLAnd in fact on September 11, the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, which was at the time responsible for airline security, had a watch list of 12 or 13 people, whereas, you know, the FBI and the CIA had multiple lists, and they were about to expand the FBI's list with the FAA's list and combine it, but there was a three-month-long fight over whose letterhead would be listed on the new list when it was sent to the airlines. So it was sitting in some guy's inbox at the FAA on the morning of September 11, and two of the hijackers were on that list.
REHMSo Faiza, you believe, I gather, that the watch list has grown too large.
PATELWell, I think first of all there's a number of watch lists, right, so you have to be clear about, you know, which one you're talking about. You know, there's sort of the large one, and there's a smaller no-fly list, but in some of these, you know, we -- estimates are that, you know, the big list has, like, over a million people on it. And I think at some point you start to question, you know, the utility of watch lists that are so large, and we've certainly seen instances where people, American citizens, have been placed on these watch lists and have been prevented from flying home.
PATELThe redress procedures that are available to Americans to get off these watch lists are notoriously inadequate, and we've seen that, you know, sometimes the watch lists don't even prevent people. So for example Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on one of these watch lists, and, you know, the alarm bells didn't go off. So one has to be really careful when expanding watch lists to make sure that they're being expanded on a basis that's rational and defensible and to ensure that there is due process for Americans who want to get off those watch lists so that they can actually fly and go visit families overseas if they need to.
REHMBut if you've got, Paul, too large a watch list, how can anybody keep track of all those people?
PILLAROutstanding question, and it relates to the whole metaphor about connecting the dots. I mean, let me put that in perspective. It's not like the children's puzzles because there are no numbers on the dots, and there's not a nice clean, white background. I mean, what the people in the intelligence, law enforcement and security community have to do is deal with all kinds of dots and marks, tremendous numbers of them, most of which are not significant, and they're trying to find the ones that are significant. And also they don't have any numbers because the dots can be connected in countless ways, most of which are wrong.
PILLARAnd when you have the large numbers of names on the watch list, to get right to your question, essentially you've got this huge number of dots that can be connected in countless ways, most of which are wrong. So your question is quite pertinent. We are inundated by, you know, potential leads that after an event, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say oh, you should have focused on that person. But if it's that person along with a million others, that's not reasonable to expect.
REHMAnd that's what happened in 9/11.
BRILLWell that's what happened, and the other dynamic is sort of the opposite dynamic happens, which is no one ever got fired for putting someone on a list, but you could probably get in trouble if you didn't put a bad guy on the list. If you thought someone was a bad guy, you figure what the heck, I might as well put him on just in case. It's not a very good due process way to conduct the government.
REHMBut Steven now you're also writing about these so-called fusion centers. Explain what they are.
BRILLWell, there are two kinds of coordination efforts between federal and local that happened after 9/11. One are these joint terrorism task forces, which are law enforcement people at the federal, state and local level, who all, you know, literally sit in one office in New York and Boston, San Francisco, you know, most major cities, and they actually, you know, do talk to each other, and they do coordinate and exchange intelligence and do joint investigations. And that's, you know, that's a good thing.
BRILLThere are still a lot of tensions, depending on which JTTF you're talking about, but that's a good thing. The second version of that are the fusion centers, where they combine law enforcement people with health officials, emergency response officials, all the people you'd want at a local, state and federal level in a given area who would deal with any kind of an emergency. So for example in Boston, after the marathon bombing, they had a pretty good setup with the fusion centers, the JTTFs, and they had done drills that the Department of Homeland Security had paid for in which they rehearsed how in the event of a major catastrophe, for example, how they were going to figure out where to send which ambulances to which emergency rooms.
BRILLThey had rehearsed that, and that really paid off in spades when that bomb went off.
REHMBut why did they miss the bomb?
BRILLBecause that's -- that's the hard part. There you have, you know, two people pretty much acting alone, I guess we now know, and they buy, you know, common chemicals to make an easily made bomb, and short of, you know, surveilling every citizen in the United States, you're really not going to be able to prevent that.
REHMAnd that's where some criticism of these fusion centers has come in, Faiza.
PATELSo I think in terms of fusion centers, they were basically set up as a counterterrorism measure. The idea was that we have all of these state and local police officers who are on the front lines, and they're getting information every day, which should be fed back into the federal government so that we can actually have dots to connect, if you will. And the problem is that, you know, every review of these fusion centers' intelligence collection mission, which is the reason they were set up, has shown that they have basically violated people's rights, they have collected information about innocuous political activity, including, you know, Girl Scouts, voting drives, things of that nature, and put this -- all of this information into government databases and at the same time have not actually fulfilled their function, which is to prevent terrorist plots.
PATELSo a review by Senator Coburn a few years ago found that these fusion centers and the kind of intelligence databases that they had set up had actually not been very productive. And as -- and partly, and we're fortunate, right, I mean, we talk about terrorism a lot, but it is actually a very, very rare event. And so these fusion centers, which have been set up as counterterrorism devices, have become an all-threats kind of situation where they become much more effective in a situation after there has been any kind of an event, whether a natural even or a manmade attack.
PATELSo their function has changed, yet their counterterrorism intelligence collection mission remains and is quite problematic, from my point of view.
BRILLWell, I agree with you about the, you know, the Girl Scout intelligence. Obviously that's absurd, and that depends on the fusion center you're talking about. But if you've read Senator Coburn's report, as I know you did, you would know that his principal complaint about the whole Department of Homeland Security, the whole everything, is that this doesn't seem like it was worth the money because the fusion centers in this case, though he talks about air marshals, he talks about active shooter drills, didn't prevent acts of terrorism, and the way he explains the notion of not preventing an act of terrorism is that the terrorism didn't happen.
BRILLNow that could be because there was deterrence, that could be because people were arrested, but it is -- I mean, it is an absurd argument against any law enforcement expense to say that the expense was a waste of money because the crime that it's aimed at didn't happen. There are a lot of ways we're wasting money in homeland security, but the way to decide whether we're wasting money is not to say, well, there hasn't been a terrorist attack, so we're obviously wasting all this money, which is what he said about the fusion centers.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Can you weigh in on the fusion centers, Paul?
PILLARWell certainly any mechanism for the kind of coordination or communication we're talking about between federal agencies and local and state one is to the good in general. The aspect I would emphasize, Diane, in all this is to recognize the limits of what can be done with organization. You know, we have a habit, especially here in Washington, of responding to a problem or a crisis by reorganizing, and this has been reflected not only at the state and local level with these fusion centers and joint terrorism task forces, as Steve described, but of course the big intelligence community reorganization, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and so on.
PILLARMuch of this makes sense, but we place too much faith in the idea of organization. There actually was -- or reorganization. There actually was more communication among the federal agencies before 9/11 than is commonly supposed. I mean, that failure to place the two guys on the watch list, it wasn't because there wasn't a watch list, there was. It was just a failure that, you know, the couple reports wound up in someone's inbox, and they didn't get over there.
PILLARThe CIA and FBI were talking to each other. You know, when I was deputy chief of the Counterterror Center at CIA earlier in the 1990s, I was just one of two deputy chiefs. The other one, in the office right next to mine, was a senior FBI special agent. And then he had a corresponding person, a senior CIA operations officer who was the number two guy in the FBI counterterrorism apparatus, and there was a lot more integration at lower levels, as well.
PILLARSo reorganization and wiring diagrams, in my view, generally get overstated either for good or for ill.
REHMWhat about the overhaul of the FBI? How much good has that done?
PILLARWell, I think former director Mueller did a lot of good in taking what has been a law enforcement agency and the ethos of which is primarily law enforcement, you know, catching bank robbers has been sort of the prototypical thing the FBI has done, and turn it into more of an internal security and counterterrorist organization.
PILLAROne of the things we need to bear in mind is the United States is exceptionable -- exceptional among advanced democracies in not having a separate internal security service like MI5 in Britain. So we call on the FBI to in effect fill much of that roll. It's been a difficult task for directors of the FBI to straddle both the traditional law enforcement role and this intelligence collection-internal security role, but I think directors like Mr. Mueller and Mr. Freeh and the current on, James Comey, have done as good a job as one can expect.
REHMSo does that mean we need yet another organization?
BRILLNo, I think -- I think what you're saying is we need less of it.
PILLARWell, what I would say, let's not have another reorganization. You know, let's let these people do their job and stay out of their hair and not have to figure out where they are on the new organization chart.
BRILLThere is something, you know, when I set out to do this article, I hadn't really looked at this stuff since I wrote a book about it in 2003. And if you look at the organization chart of the Department of Homeland Security, it is -- it is really bewildering. I mean, they have units and divisions, and as someone who doesn't live in Washington and has an aversion to acronyms, you could really put yourself in a mental institution trying to figure out that organization chart and figure out what all the acronyms are.
REHMHow many people are in the Department of Homeland Security?
BRILLWell, it's 240,000 now. It's a lot of people.
BRILLI'm sorry, was it 140 or...
PILLARI can't remember.
BRILLIt's 240, yeah.
PILLAR240 sounds about right.
REHMTwo hundred and 40.
BRILLYou know, but that includes, you know, 45,000 people at TSA, it includes -- you know, we tripled the number of people who were on the borders, you know, guarding the southern border.
REHMAll right, we'll have to leave it there, and when we come back, your emails, your phone calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Lots of emails, lots of phone calls for our guests. Steven Brill, a journalist who's written a new cover story in the September issue of the Atlantic Magazine titled, "Are We Any Safer?" Paul Pillar is at Georgetown University. He's a former CIA Intelligence Officer. And Faiza Patel is at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. And Faiza, here's an email from Berkeley, which says, the 9/11 attacks and subsequent lone wolf attacks have terrified the nation and created a new realm of security crackdowns.
REHMWe, as Americans, have increasingly lost freedom, autonomy and safety. Do you think this means the terrorists are winning?
PATELSo, I don't think the terrorists are winning. I think, you know, one of the things that Steve points out in his article is President Obama's sort of effort to make us, as a society, more resilient towards terrorism and to understand the difference between mass attacks such as we faced on 9/11 and the trauma of those kinds of attacks. And the sort of lower level, still very infrequent attacks that we have in this country, and I think that's a very important thing, a lesson for us as a nation to learn, which is that we should not be overreacting to these kinds of incidents.
PATELAnd should be keeping our head and being cool about it and being rational in our response. And in this regard, there's one thing that I did want to point out. Which relates to the use of sting operations by the FBI and there's definitely a controversy about these operations. We know, for example, from the New York Times, that two thirds of recent cases are in fact sting operations. And, you know, many of these cases involved individuals who do not seem like they actually pose a threat to the United States.
PATELAnd the question is whether or not these sting operations make us safer. Just recently, a D.C. Metro cop was arrested after a six year investigation and sting operation. And the haul was that he had given like 250 dollars worth of calling card codes to somebody in Syria. And you really have to question whether or not that's actually making us safer in an actual sense. But the other piece of it, and I think this is really important, is that when we equate these kinds of sting operations with a real terrorist attack, and everything kind of gets mushed into one bucket of ISIS inspired terrorism, we actually create a perception of threat that may be larger than it actually is.
PATELIt is a serious threat, but we do need to distinguish between these kinds of, you know, low level, small scale, non-violent situations and the kind of the Orlando massacre situation that we have.
BRILLWell, I was very interested in the whole issue of entrapment and I asked Director Comey about it and his response, I thought, was actually quite persuasive. Which is, if they get a tip that someone's been overheard in a bar or a restaurant or has told a friend at work that -- that he's sympathetic to the terrorist cause or would like to do X, Y or Z in the name of ISIS. You know, what are they supposed to do? You know, we can't just have an FBI agent, you know, show up with a badge and say, you know, what are your feelings about terrorism?
BRILLBecause the guy's not going to say, oh, I actually, you know, I'm planning an attack next Sunday. So they have to engage, you know, with an informant or an undercover agent to see if the person is real. I read everything there was to read, the court documents about most of the cases that the New York Times report looked at. And I'm a card carrying member of the ACLU and I think in all the cases where entrapment defense was made, a judge or a jury did not buy the defense. And I agree with the judge or the juries in those cases, at least in so far as the ones I've read. And I think that the FBI is getting a little bit of a bum rap there.
PATELSo, I think that Director Comey's comments would be right if that's all that the FBI was doing, right, but in fact, what we know from lots of Freedom of Information Law litigation is that the FBI and the NYPD are actually sending agents and undercovers into communities to listen in and to hear what people are saying, and in many cases, to provoke them to go further. So, for example, just recently, it was reported that the two men who attacked the draw prophet Muhammad cartoon were actually in touch with an FBI informant, who was instructing them, via text, to tear up Texas.
PATELNow, you know, that's not quite the same thing as saying, you know, we're going to get a tip and then we're going to go and sort of feel this person out. That's actually encouraging people and provoking them. And I think, in a lot of cases, they go a little too far.
PILLARWell, I think my colleagues have covered both sides of the sting operation issue well, but to go back to the listener's original question about, you know, are the terrorists winning? I think we do have much more lessons to learn about resilience and I'm not confident that the American public has gotten over its pattern of, you know, overreacting to major events that occur and then pushing out of their consciousness the whole terrorism issue if time goes by without an incident. We're still going to have this pendulum of overreaction and under reaction and I don't think we've gotten out of that yet.
BRILLLet me just add that we're not helped in that process of being resilient by having, you know, one of our Presidential candidates be the over reactor in chief. You know, turning any attack or non-attack into, you know, an apocalyptic event that only he, Donald Trump, can save us from this January.
PILLARAnd I would add, Faiza's quite correct that the incumbent President has done what he can to try to put the whole terrorist issue in perspective. And discourage people from over reacting. Unfortunately, when a leader tries to do this, it's a political vulnerability and he or she gets criticized for not taking terrorism seriously, for not seeing it as a war. So on and so forth.
REHM...well, and, you know, you mention Donald Trump, and of course, the media is going nuts with the kinds of comments he made yesterday, raising the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands, dot, dot, dot, as far as Hillary was concerned.
PILLARI would commend today's column in the New York Times by Tom Freeman, who refers back to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
PILLARAnd how we had this terrible pattern of many -- much vile rhetoric, very similar to what we've heard, unfortunately, at some rallies, political rallies here in the United States. And that provided an atmosphere that enabled the person who turned out to be his assassination to think that he had legitimacy and support in doing what he did.
BRILLThat's right. And there's another aspect to this, you know, beyond the, you know, yesterday's, you know, stupid comment of the day from Trump.
REHMI wish I could simply regard it as stupid, Steve.
BRILLOkay, outrageous comment of the day.
REHMOutrageous and indeed inflammatory.
BRILLOkay, you're right. I stand corrected. Right, it probably wasn't stupid. It was more inflammatory and outrageous than it was stupid. But if you step back and think about it, one of the things that I talk about toward the end of the article, if you can get that far, is that what's really scary is that it is clear to anyone who thinks about this that the best kind of President of the United States, for ISIS, would be someone like a Donald Trump. Because Donald Trump, unlike President Bush, has said this is a war against Islam.
BRILLAnd President Bush never took that bait and President Obama has refused to take that bait. And that's what the terrorists want this to be. So, if you're ISIS, and you would love for Trump to be President, then you have an incentive to try to figure out some kind of an October attack that he can use to his advantage to upset the American people and scare the American people. And I really worry about that.
REHMDo you worry...
PILLARI absolutely agree. Steve put it very well. Donald Trump would be a God send for ISIS.
PILLARAnd, and, and the idea of an October surprise, and I have no doubt that there are calculations going on in Raqqa, Syria, exactly along the lines that Steve mentioned, to see how they can work this to their advantage.
REHM...Faiza, do you want to comment?
PATELI mean, I think he's already been a boon for ISIS, right? One of the big things that ISIS is sort of destroying what they call the grey zone. Which is this idea that Muslims and non-Muslims can live together peacefully as they do in many, many countries around the world, but every time, you know, they are able to, to inspire or to actually organize an attack as they did, for example, in Paris, and sort of trigger the kind of over-reaction and the targeting of entire communities, then, then you see exactly the kind of dynamic that ISIS want playing out.
REHMSteve, you also argue we are not prepared for a bio-terror attack. Tom Ridge, the founding Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security told you that the report that had been issued about bio-terrorism was supposed to be a wake-up call, but pretty much got ignored.
BRILLNo, but nobody woke up. Well, you know, this is one of the things that we were talking about earlier, which is we deal with terrorism as sort of a rollercoaster of events. So, if you remember, right after 9/11, the anthrax attacks came.
PATELI remember that very well.
BRILLWhere, you know, certain people, media people, a couple of Senate offices got these anthrax packages, several people died, many more got sick. And at the same time, Judy Miller of the New York Times, and two of her colleagues, came out with a book called, "Germs," which was all about a bio-terror attack and the threat. Which shot to the top of the best seller list instantly. You could not go to a conference and get a seat, you know, anywhere in Washington.
BRILLThere were conferences, you know, about bio-terror. Everybody was geared up. It was the threat of the day. Now, nothing's happened since to ease that threat. If anything, as I said before, it's easier to mount that kind of an attack, but that has gone way down the totem pole in terms of, you know, what our priorities are. We disperse these bio-censors in Washington and New York, at Grand Central Station. You know, various places all around the country that was supposed to take samples of the air and if a threat was detected in those samples, people would be alerted.
BRILLWell, the problem is that the censors really don't work and even if they did work, it takes them 36 hours to discover a threat, you know, by which time, if you're walking through Union Station, you're already wherever you were going to go. And in 15 years, we've done nothing to improve that technology. We're spending 80 million dollars a year, to this day, maintain the stuff that doesn't work and collecting the samples. Which now amounts to over a billion dollars and we haven't gotten the new technology yet.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Paul Pillar, why is that?
PILLARWell, I'm actually less worried about the unconventional forms of terrorist tactics, which because of their kind of intriguing, sci-fi nature, have actually gotten more attention in public and among the politicians than they seem to get from the terrorists. And it certainly has outstripped what the terrorists had done so far. I think with something like a mass casualty bio-attack, and I don't want to downplay the possibility of it, but it's a lot harder, a lot harder for even a sophisticated group to do something than is commonly supposed.
PILLARAnd I think the case in point is (unintelligible) , you know, which tried to do things with biological as well as chemical agents over 20 years ago in Japan. And on the biological side, they failed pretty miserably.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones, going to Joshua in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You're on the air.
JOSHUAHi. I love your show so much, Diane.
JOSHUAI was wondering about the TSA and they've done many studies and started seeing the luggage that is coming through onto planes and everything. And in general, they fail, I think like 90 or something percent of the time. So I was wondering like, can you talk about that or comment? I know they've done multiple studies that show that. Especially one in 2015 that showed about 90 percent of the packages fail to go through the TSA.
BRILLWell, it's not multiple studies. It's that study, in particular. And that was a study carried out by the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security. Where these special teams tried to sneak weapons, you know, through the security checkpoints and succeeded like 85, 90 percent of the time. That's what I was talking about, because at the time that was done, the lines were moving really fast and everybody was happy. Because it was no longer such a hassle to go through an airport.
BRILLThey were putting people in the pre-check lines, which, as you know, is the membership for people who had been pre-screened. They were taking thousands of people at random and putting them in the pre-check lines, which were making everything move fast. So once that Inspector General's report came out, they went, of course, in the opposite direction.
BRILLWhich is where they are now.
BRILLAnd that's why things have slowed down. It is, you know, a much maligned agency, often deservedly so, but in the last year, they have a new leader, who by all the accounts and all the reporting I've done, has actually done a good job beginning a re-training process, a re-staffing process. And it's hard, but what I try to do in this article is to, you know, is to find the fault, where the faults are, but also we need to recognize that there are tens of thousands of people at the Department of Homeland Security, at TSA, at the FBI, at the CIA, waking up every morning and worrying about our safety. And most of them do a good job and they all care.
REHMAnd finally, an email from Greta in Arlington, Virginia. We simply have to recognize that 100 percent safety does not exist. An idea that Americans are not yet accustomed to. Our leaders need to make the point and adopt an attitude of resilience. Would you agree with that, Paul?
BRILLWell, that's the conclusion of my article.
PILLARAnd Greta, and Greta states it very well, both with regard to the need for resilience, but also the fact that we've got these trade off all time, between efficiency and security in the case of the TSA. Between resources and security and between personal privacy and political liberties and security.
REHMAll right, we'll have to leave it at that. I want to thank you all. Steven Brill, whose article appears in the September issue of the Atlantic Magazine. It's the cover story, titled, "Are We Any Safer?" Paul Pillar is at Georgetown University. Faiza Patel is at the New York University School of Law. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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