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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - The Boston Marathon Attack


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GREGORY: Joining me now NBC News justice correspondent, the man has been leading our coverage all week long, Pete Williams; Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and now an NBC national security analyst, Michael Leiter; Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers; Former Secretary of Homeland Security under President Bush, now chairman and co-founder of the Chertoff Group, Michael Chertoff. In just a few minutes we'll be joined as well by the Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin. But I want to begin here with Pete and Mike Leiter on-- on the latest in terms of what we're tracking. Pete Williams, a big question at this moment is, was there a foreign connection to terrorism? What do we know?

MR. PETE WILLIAMS (NBC News Justice Correspondent): Well, we don't know the answer to that question. The big gap here is what was the older brother doing for six months in Russia last year. He leaves in January. He arrives in July. And the Russians have told the FBI that they were a little worried about him. But what was he doing during all those-- all that time in Russia? His father says he was visiting him, that he went to see his family, that went to renew his Russian passport while he was waiting to get American citizenship. He was here as a lawful permanent resident. But did he, you know, the thing I think that's the biggest question for investigators now is, A, you know, why did he turn this way? But, B, where did he get his expertise in explosives? Where did he practice them? It seems really unlikely that these two bombs successfully were detonated without some practice runs. Where did he learn to do that? Where did he practice? Those are the big questions.

GREGORY: And we look at the pictures of these suspects and some biographical information that we have, Dzhokhar, who is a surviving suspect here. Tsarnaev-- he is the one who is now in custodies in the hospital. Tamerlan, older brother born in Kyrgyzstan comes in 2002. He becomes a U.S. citizen, 9/11/2012. He was a wrestler. He was enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, had a scholarship, so many friends coming out of the-- the (Unintelligible) talking so positively about him. Tamerlan, who was his older brother, is the one who does that travel. He comes later than his younger brother. He was married, had a three-year-old daughter. Had a domestic violence incident. He dropped out of community college. He was a competitive boxer. People speaking very positively about him. But, Chairman Mike Rogers, now we have more information about some evidence of him sort of dropping out of society, as it were, information after he comes back from foreign travel, postings on his YouTube account and other social media indicating that he'd had exposure to jihadist elements whether that's connected to Chechnya and the struggles there against Russia or-- or otherwise. What do you know this morning and what do you want to know?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI, Chairman, Intelligence Committee, Former FBI Agent): Yeah, well, it's important to understand why, in fact, the FBI interviewed him in the first place. So they had information from a foreign intelligence service that they were concerned about his possible radicalization. And so they went from there, the FBI did their due diligence, and did a very thorough job about trying to run that to ground and then asks some more help from that intelligence service to try to get further clarification and, unfortunately, that intelligence service stopped cooperating. So what happens is that case gets closed down. He, we believe, may have actually traveled on an alias to get back to his home country and that seven months-- six and a half months or so becomes extremely important. So you know he had some radicalization before he left. You know that he didn't probably travel on his own name or some variation of his own name. And when he comes back, he has a renewed interest in that radicalization belief process, so he's very devout. We know he was very religious, devout, and very active in the Boston Islamic society and a devout attender of-- of prayers and mosque on Fridays. So you see something happening, and you can see it happening after that travel. And so that six and a half months becomes incredibly important. And it would lead one to believe that that's probably where he got that final radicalization to push him to commit acts of violence and where he may have received training on what we ultimately saw last Monday.

GREGORY: As I-- as I get Mike Leiter and Mike Chertoff into this, we heard from their uncle yesterday on the TODAY program and he talked about a change that he noticed in Tamerlan once he returned from that travel. Let me play a portion of that.

(Videotape, Yesterday TODAY Show)

MR. RUSLAN TSARNI (Uncle of Suspected Boston Marathon Bombing): I saw how-- what happened the last time I spoke with Tamerlan in 2009, and I was shocked when I heard his words, his phrases. When he start talking oh, I mean, every other word he starts sticking in the words of God. Devotion. It wasn't devotion. It was something, as it's called being radicalized.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Important to you, Mike Leiter?

MR. MICHAEL LEITER (Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center/NBC News National Security Analyst): I think very important. A lot of people think this is an atypical story involving people who have lived here for a long time, very stable and then become radicalized and regrettably it isn't. In the Times Square bombing we had a case where someone had lived here for 13 years, had an MBA, had worked for an American company, and then tried to bomb Times Square. The challenge here, David, is that there are lots and lots of people who go through these crises and become more radicalized but very, very few of them actually become mobilized and become terrorists and that's an incredibly hard piece for the FBI and others.

GREGORY: And you're speaking, Mike Chertoff to one of the big elements here this morning and that is did the FBI miss something? They were on him, Tamerlan, that is. They talked to him. They tracked his digital footprint. Chairman Rogers talking about him then traveling on an alias, which I had not heard before. So the red flag is up and then they closed the books on him because after they took a look at him, they determined there's no threat here.

MR. MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Secretary of Homeland Security, 2005-2009/Co-Founder & Chair, The Chertoff Group): I think-- I think that is going to be a big question, David, and I go further than that and say if they had an indication of interest by a foreign service and a connection to an overseas group in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus, you would have wanted to have our foreign intelligence capabilities focused on him. So I think as-- as they look back over this episode, they're going to want to make sure that a ball wasn't dropped either domestically or overseas.

GREGORY: Mike Leiter, you concerned about that?

MR. LEITER: It's not clear to me that the reporting to the FBI actually said he was associated with a terrorist group. That he might have been radicalized but that's really very different and might raise a-- if not maybe yellow flag but I don't think a red flag to the FBI.

GREGORY: Chairman Rogers, you've been-- you've been an FBI agent. You're now chair of the Intelligence Committee-- Committee. Was something missed here?
REP. ROGERS: Well, we looked at and talked about what exactly the FBI did. And it's important to note that that case was closed prior to his travel.


REP. ROGERS: So I don't think they missed anything. If you look at their digital footprint, and they did; if they went through all their database checks and they did, and you did the-- the thorough interviews that you would expect them to do in a case like this, they did. And at some point they asked is there more clarifying information and never received that clarifying information. At some point they have nothing. And so you-- you can't ask them to do something with nothing. I think they prudently said, well, there's we-- nothing to see here at this point. Now, remember, he then left and traveled and came back. Now that's a different place. They had no further information indicating that until, of course, after the event itself.

GREGORY: And it's important to point out…

REP. ROGERS: Now, if you review all that, that's important to do, but I think they were very prudent and very thorough by-- by my review of what happened prior to his travel.

GREGORY: Pete Williams, it's important to underscore what was underscored to me by intelligence officials, the federal officials in the last couple of days. We're talking about what they call American persons. The younger brother is a citizen, the older brother was a legal permanent resident. There are limits to what federal law enforcement intelligence can do with American citizens in terms of tracking them, which leads to this other point. Which is Dzhokhar, now hospitalized, survived. He's an American citizen. Naturalized 9-- 9/11 of last year. Should he be given Miranda Rights? Should he be treated as an enemy combatant? That debate has started. Tell me the facts, first, of what they'll do.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, this-- this administration has made a policy decision here. First, that's-- that's number one. Secondly, he cannot be tried as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal because that law was changed by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that says you can't do that to an American citizen. What some advocates, and Republicans, are saying such as Lindsey Graham are-- don't-- we-- we understand he's-- they say, we understand he's going to be tried in civilian court but start the questioning, treat him as an enemy combatant under the law of war. Question him by intelligence people. Get all the intel you can. Then turn him over to the civilian authorities. That's-- that's what they advocate. That's not going to happen, the administration has decided. He'll be questioned first by this special group that's been set up in the last couple of years in terror cases, called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, FBI, CIA, DOD. They will question him without giving him his Miranda warning. They don't have a long time to do that, probably no more than maybe a day or so. Then he'll be given his Miranda warning and we'll see if he continues to talk. In other terrorism cases, surprisingly, these people do keep talking.

GREGORY: Mike Rogers, chairman, do you have a view about how he should be treated in the criminal justice system or should he be an enemy combatant?

REP. ROGERS: Well, he's a citizen of the United States. I think that-- that brings all of the protections of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Public Safety Exception, however, I do believe that the FBI has a period of time to try to determine what threats are there today. We don't know if there's other devices. We don't know if there's other people. And I think Mirandizing him up front would be a horrible idea. Now, it's my understanding that that's not going to happen. I've had good conversations with the FBI. They are going to do their due diligence on the public safety portion. Here is where the problem is. They're getting pressure from outside groups to actually do-- to do the Mirandizing, which is why we ought to let the FBI do their work. They can do an intelligence based investigation leading up. And remember, Mirandizing is just about making sure that any of that information that they get prior to that Mirandizing that that-- that the-- the subject might give them can't be used in court. I think I-- I could make this case without a confession from this guy. There is a period of time we don't need his confession upfront. We need the information that he has to make sure that America is safe. Now, if we let the FBI do that the way I think they want to do it, that would be the right solution here and the right-- it would be prudent for the safety of-- of Bostonians and around the rest of the country. There's a lot we need to understand about if this was a lone wolf sent back or were there others sent back? That-- that much we just don't know yet.

GREGORY: Can I pull this conversation out a little bit to talk about, as I framed at the beginning, did this change something? Does it change how we think about securing America? Mike Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security, we go through the realities. I've talked to you over the years. This is something that people in your line of work have been expecting for a long time after 9/11 and look at what our recent history shows us. We've prepared this graphically about plots that have not succeeded or somehow been thwarted. You go back to the so-called Shoe Bomber in December of 2001, Richard Reid. And then you had Nazi planning to attack subways before he's arrested back in September of "09. You have the Christmas Day bomber, so-called, tries to blow up a flight but he wasn't able to light the bomb. Then you have a successful plot by Shahzad in Times Square except the bomb doesn't go off. Everything else worked, the bomb didn't go off. So, obviously it was not successful. We know from authorities in New York they've helped to foil 16 plots against this city. The face of terror has changed in some ways and this plot-- this attack in Boston represents that.

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I think we have said for years that we knew that as we elevated our security at the airports and the-- the obvious major high consequence targets, there would be a move towards what we call softer targets. Targets that are harder to protect, maybe fewer people but where you can still kill and maim a lot of people. Now we've seen a lot of efforts. We know that al Qaeda and similar ideological groups try to find Americans or westerners who are capable of moving in our society without being detected. And it was only a matter of time that one of these days when a plot like this would be successful. I don't think it calls for a radical change in our strategy. I think we've built a strategy anticipating this. Resilience is a big part of this and we saw that work very well in Boston. There will be, I think and I hope a review of everything that's gone on to see whether, in fact, there was something that we should have done differently. But I don't think, again, it's a fundamental shift in strategy.

GREGORY: I want to bring in Senator Dick Durbin, the Assistant Majority Leader from Illinois. Of course, he joins us this morning. And Senator, as you think about the political impact of this, the impact of policy and debate on securing the country, the minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said the other day that we have, because of the work of our military and our law enforcement officials, fallen into a place of complacency. Do you agree?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL, Assistant Majority Leader): Not at all. Not at all. And it's-- listen I spoke to the FBI director yesterday, Bob Mueller. And he talked about the extraordinary efforts by our intelligence agencies and law enforcement in the capture of these two individuals. Think about it. Less than a week ago this tragedy occurred and how quickly they mobilized and worked effectively to find these two people. And let me also add this, I understand those of us in political life should comment. That's our responsibility on policy questions, larger policy questions. When it comes down to the basic decisions as to how to go forward to investigate this case and prepare it for trial, remember this, since 9/11, we have had hundreds, literally hundreds of terrorism cases successfully prosecuted through our court system. A handful, six cases have gone through military convict-- commissions. So I can understand where President Bush and President Obama have given to the Department of Justice the authority to move forward with the type of process that we have going on today.

GREGORY: Do you have questions about the FBI's tracking of the older suspect here who is now dead and whether something was missed?

SEN. DURBIN: Of course I do. And I think we should ask those questions. That's our responsibility. But I listened to Mike Rogers and I thought he laid it out as a former FBI agent himself as to what we were faced with when we were asked these hard questions. We've got to make sure as well, let me add David, that we give to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, federal, state, and local, the resources they need to keep America safe. We live in a dangerous world. We live also in a free and open society, which we value very much. In order to keep Americans safe at the marathon, at every other public event, we need to invest the resources that are necessary for law enforcement.

GREGORY: Is that a call in fact for re-examination of whether additional resources are needed to-- to look at homegrown terror and the potential for smaller boar attacks that can only be deterred by the strength of law enforcement and engaged citizenry?

SEN. DURBIN: It is. But let me add one other element. Let me bring it up to date with the agenda of the Senate. I'll return tomorrow for the Senate Judiciary Committee's second hearing on the new immigration reform bill. Let me put it in context. There are four specific provisions in this immigration reform bill that will make America safer. We are going to have a stronger border with Mexico. We are going to have 11 million people come forward and have an opportunity to register with our government, out of the shadows. We're going to have verification of employment in the work place. And we're finally going to have a system where we can track visa holders who visit the United States to make sure that they leave when they're supposed to. So this is part of the ongoing conversation about a safer America and the immigration reform bill moves us closer.

GREGORY: Do you fear an impact similar to what we saw after 9/11 that derailed immigration reform. Already, you've heard Senator Grassley talk about, you know, loopholes in the immigration system, whether, you know, leniencies of student visas. Are there going to be concerns here related to the Boston attacks that you think impact the immigration debate?

SEN. DURBIN: I'll just put it on the line. I've been involved with the eight senators who have put this bill together, Democrats and Republicans. The worst thing we can do is nothing. If we do nothing, leaving 11 million people in the shadows, not making our border safer, not having the information that comes from employment and these visa holders, we will be less safe in America. Immigration reform will make us safer. And I hope that those who are critical of it will just come forward and say what their idea is. We've come up with a sound plan to keep this country safe.

GREGORY: And-- and your response to Senator Graham and McCain and Ayotte and others, who say treat him as an enemy combatant, I want to make sure I nail you down on that point, you-- you oppose that.

SEN. DURBIN: You bet. Well, let me just tell you, history tells us that we're doing the right thing. Hundreds-- literally hundreds of terrorists, those accused of terrorism, have been successfully prosecuted and imprisoned in the United States using the same process that's being used in this case in Boston. The handful, Liz Cheney and others, who are calling for military commissions, have to explain to us why in-- since 9/11 only six times have we used military commissions. I think we are approaching this in the right way following the law as we should. We are gathering the evidence, and I think at the end, the right decision is being made to pursue this.

GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Senator Durbin, thank you very much. Michael Chertoff, Chairman Mike Rogers, thank you. Mike Leiter, thank you for your insight, and Pete Williams for all of your reporting this week, what you do better than anybody else. We appreciate it and appreciate you being here this morning.
Up next, as we get to know more about the suspects and some of the motivations behind the bombings this week, is there now a new sense of vulnerability to the country? A special discussion is coming up. Joining me NBC's Tom Brokaw; Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan; and Bloomberg Views' Jeffrey Goldberg, also of The Atlantic magazine. Plus, it was an emotional week for Boston and for the country as we were all on high alert and as we search for meaning in it all, we'll get the first draft of history through the eyes of the one and only Doris Kearns Goodwin, herself a Bostonian, right after this.

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