SHOW: Meet the Press (10:00 AM ET) - NBC
HEADLINE: Senator Saxby Chambliss and Representative Jane Harman discuss the war on terror and U.S.-Saudi relations
REP. JANE HARMAN, (D-CA): (Technical difficulties) security failure, and despite repeated warnings by U.S. intelligence, the Saudis did not take adequate measures, and two out of three compounds were absolutely devastated, and this is personal to me since the Americans who died worked for the Vanel Corporation, associated with Northrop Grumman, which is a very large manufacturer in my district in California. This was wrong and it was preventable.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Al-Jubeir said, Senator, that they believe it was al-Qaeda. One, do you agree with that, and, two, why didn't the Saudis respond to our requests?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R-GA): Well, certainly it has all the earmarkings of an al-Qaeda attack. The car bombings and the magnitude of it, the targets, the way it was done. So I think you have to assume at least at this point that it probably was.
Why they failed to take any action is just beyond me. I mean, we sent high-level Bush administration officials--not low-level, high-level officials--to explain to them the information that we had received; gave them the projected targets that we thought they were going to hit, and still they failed to take any action. And, you know, I listened to Mr. Al-Jubeir there talk about the fact that, since this attack, they now understand that Saudis are under attack. What about the Khobar Towers? I mean, we're talking about years ago. A similar attack occurred within their country, and yet they have taken no action to calm down the radicals and extremists in their country. And I do hope that they now understand that they are subject to attack, just like America is subject to attack.
MR. RUSSERT: Are the Saudis playing a double game?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, you know, when you have 80 percent of their people who support bin Laden, trying to go after a person that's a very popular person, you bet they're playing a double game.
MR. RUSSERT: Congresswoman, Prince Nayef, the minister of the interior, said in today's New York Times that the FBI investigating the murders in Riyadh Monday night are there as observers, not investigators.
REP. HARMAN: Outrageous. As you know, Tim, I served on the Commission on Terrorism in 1999 and 2000. It was chaired by somebody we all now know, Gerry Bremer, who's the civil administrator in Iraq. And two of the participants, Wayne Downing and John Lewis, worked then--had worked for the military and the FBI investigating Khobar Towers. Both of them said--and I believe them--that there was virtually no cooperation there, and we see the pattern repeating. There may be more people on the ground this time, but if they're not going to investigate, if they can just observe, it will be the same result.
MR. RUSSERT: What would you say to the Saudi Arabian government this morning?
REP. HARMAN: "Cut it out. You can't have it two ways anymore. Your kingdom is under attack." A member of the royal family was killed in Monday's attack. As you pointed out in the last segment of this program, they're saying two things, one thing to their street and their schoolkids, and another thing to the world, and it's over. This has to be one mission, and the mission has to be to defeat al-Qaeda and join the world in the war on terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, there had been a lot of discussion about al-Qaeda; the Saudis saying that they (technical difficulties)... It looks like al-Qaeda may be back, organized, perhaps even with new leadership.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: There's no question but what we have disrupted and interrupted their leadership to a certain extent. But what you have in any army--and that's literally what this is; I mean, this is a war and there is an army called al-Qaeda. There are other leaders who simply rise up, and that's what you're seeing happening. The good thing about it is that we have done a good job of disrupting their communication lines and disrupting their ability to plan attacks, because you have not seen in the last 20 months an attack within the United States. You have not seen major attacks against U.S. assets outside. However, we do know that there probably were attacks that were planned for years, that are kind of in the pipeline. That may be what we're seeing here now, that they have regrouped to a certain extent and this new leadership that's come in is giving the orders to carry out these new attacks that had been planned before.
We're still subject to attack in the United States. Let's make no mistake about it. But we're doing a much better job of protecting the hard targets. You're now seeing these soft targets, which are primarily people, housing projects, not military installations, being attacked. And that's a good sign from the standpoint of interrupting and disrupting; just a bad sign from the standpoint that we're likely to see more casualties.
MR. RUSSERT: Al-Qaeda is back.
REP. HARMAN: Al-Qaeda was never gone. We took out part of its top leadership, and that's a great victory to have done that. However, it's a loosely organized horizontal network, and the danger now is that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and all the other terrorist groups will join each other. And by the way, if we don't find the WMD in Iraq, I think that that could get into the wrong hands as well. So I think this is bubbling up much worse. But my comment on the U.S. is a little different from Saxby's. I think there are terrorist cells embedded here. The FBI is still looking for them. They've had some victories, but there's a long way to go. Buffalo was one of the better stories. But nonetheless, LAX, around which my congressional district sits, has been targeted three times by terrorists. They come back to targets they've tried to hit before. Our homeland security effort is still in its beginning stages. We don't have a national vulnerability assessment. We're not putting resources against our biggest threats yet. We spend 10 times as much on airports as ports, etc., and I still think we are ripe for a major attack on our infrastructure, not just our soft targets.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. The headlines in this morning's paper: "Iraq slides into lawlessness, squanders goodwill for U.S." The highly respected Economist magazine: "False start; America's first transition has failed." The man in charge of providing electricity to the people of Iraq said, "Give me security, and I'll give you electricity," senator. His own car was stolen. The splicer to fix electricity was stolen. When the Army chief of staff, Shinseki, said that we needed 200,000 troops to protect the peace of Iraq, he was dismissed by the secretary of Defense, twice, publicly. It now looks as if we have acute need for even more troops in Iraq in order to protect the peace.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, certainly it seems that way, at least initially, Tim, that we are having difficulty in training the Iraqi policemen initially to be able to restore the peace, because there certainly is not peace out there now. But you've got to remember, these people have lived under an iron-fisted ruler in Saddam Hussein. They have not been allowed any freedoms whatsoever, and all of a sudden now they are free, and they're very emotional and they're doing things that are probably not characteristic of the Iraqi people.
However, Ambassador Bremer I think is committed to doing the job that's necessary to restore the peace. If it means more troops, he's going to have more troops there. He's been realistic. He said, "We're not going to get this done in days. We're not going to get it done in weeks. It's going to take months, maybe years." And finally somebody's been willing to step up and say that, and if it takes more troops to do it, then we'll have to commit more troops to make sure it happens. But hopefully, we can see the Iraqi people have electricity restored, have all the water they need, have the food they need. Once we get that done, then I think you'll see a lot of quelling of these uprisings.
MR. RUSSERT: Was the administration prepared to protect the peace?
REP. HARMAN: No. As the mother of a teen-age daughter, I know if you don't set limits around children, they'll test you, and we should have predicted that there would be the looting or at least more looting than we foresaw.
Gerry Bremer's a great guy and very competent, and I think he could do this job if we commit the resources. If we don't, he'll fail. This is our sixth effort at "nation-building," a word that sends the Bush White House into oscillation. But it's our sixth effort in 10 years, and where we've put in the resources, we've been successful, in Kosovo and Bosnia. Where we haven't, in Somalia and Haiti and Afghanistan, we've failed. We should know by now that this is going to take a huge commitment, at a time when we're in spiraling debt and deficits and we've just passed these two, in my view, misguided tax cuts. We're going to have to commit money here, and it's going to further strangle our budget circumstance.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned weapons of mass destruction. The causes belli, the rationale, the reason for the war against Iraq was to disarm Saddam Hussein. Jonathan Tucker of the U.S. Institute of Peace had this comment in The Washington Post this week: "The American public is moving on, but those countries that were skeptical of this war [in Iraq] are going to continue to press on this point. ... The credibility of the administration and the U.S. intelligence community are still on the line. This whole doctrine of preemptive war is predicated on our ability to determine a country's potential threat before the weapons are used."
Senator, if the intelligence community comes forward again and says, "Country X has weapons of mass destruction, we have to have a preemptive strike." Is the world, is America, going to be suspicious?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Tim, what the people in the world, and particularly the American people have to understand is that if President Bush had been able to carry out this attack when he wanted to, which was in December, early January, whatever the time line was, we would have found those weapons of mass destruction much before the time that we're now going to find them. We'll find them eventually, but we may not find them in the next days or next weeks, but we're gong to find them. The problem is that the perception is out there and it's being festered by our critics that this was the soul purpose. What the president said all along was that regime change is one of our reasons for going into Iraq. We have now seen that regime change take place. Saddam does not have the ability to rule his people and torture and kill his people. He does not have the ability to use his weapons of mass destruction that we know he had.
Now, with respect to other countries, other countries like North Korea, for example, we know they've got weapons of mass destruction because they have admitted to it, just like Saddam admitted after the '91 Gulf War he had weapons of mass destruction. So the reasons were right for going in to Iraq. The reasons may be right to go into other countries. Gosh, we hope we don't have to do that. That's why we're pursuing so strong a diplomatic courses with other countries that we know have those weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: Congresswoman, are you convinced that Saddam has, in fact, weapons of mass destruction and that they will be found?
REP. HARMAN: There was a strong intelligence case, Tim, that persuaded me and it was one of the reasons that I voted for the authorization for the use of force. If they are not there, then it was one of the greatest hoaxes in history and a huge miscalculation by Saddam. He lost his kingdom. He may have lost his life, and certainly thousands died. We have to take whatever time it takes--I agree with Saxby--to find those weapons of mass destruction. The current theory is they're buried underground somewhere. We've been led into a bunch of places where we're finding vacuum cleaners but that may have been in place just to thwart the U.N. inspectors. We have to put more resources on the case. And the other reason we have to find them, aside from the fact that our credibility is at stake and they were the moral underpinning for the war, and they were--is that if they are there some new leader of Iraq or some other dangerous person who knows where they are can unearth them in two years, trade them or use them and then we're back in the same box we started from.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn...
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Tim, I think it's important, too--Jane made the point earlier about the fact that we know the weapons were there. Saddam admitted to having those weapons. If we don't find them, the real danger there is the fact that they may have gotten into the hands of people...
REP. HARMAN: Yeah.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: ...who still have the ability to use them against Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Afghanistan and this chilling headline from the Christian Science Monitor: "Taliban appears to be regrouped and well-funded. Today, not only is...the fiery chief justice of the Taliban's Supreme Court, Abdul Salam...back, talking to a foreign reporter for the first time since the Taliban fell a year and a half ago, but he says the Taliban are back as well. Regrouped, rearmed, and well-funded, they are ready to carry on guerrilla war as long as it takes to expel U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Afghanistan. ...It's this confidence that undercuts recent assertions by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that major combat operations in Afghanistan are over, and that the focus will now be on reconstruction."
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: He's giving public interviews.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: I think that's a true fact. I think we've seen that once we pull back from a troop support standpoint, we saw the Taliban begin to regroup. You got to remember, those people over there are very poor. They have no means of going out and generating income. So I think it's only natural that once the pressure was off that you saw these folks regrouping and rearming. We have intelligence within the community there that is trying to disrupt the ability to reorganize, to disrupt the communication lines, supply lines, for arms. We haven't been successful in every case and I think that's a fair statement, that they're regrouping.
MR. RUSSERT: The war in Afghanistan is not over.
REP. HARMAN: No.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: It's not over, and that's why we still have troops committed there.
MR. RUSSERT: Congresswoman, the heroin trade which was wildly successful in Afghanistan for a long time. The Taliban cracked down on it supposedly. It now is by intelligence estimates four, five, some say 20 times more active than it was before we eliminated the Taliban a year and a half ago.
REP. HARMAN: Well, the fact is, Tim, that Hamid Karzai, who seems to be an impressive person and I think capable of being an impressive leader, is the leader of a little piece of Kabul under guard 24/7 by Americans and the rest of Afghanistan is run by the warlords in a kind of Mafia-like system where they get kickbacks and so forth. And, sure, the drug trade would be part of their way of doing business. Afghanistan is modestly better than it was before the war and it makes the point about the commitment of resources to rebuild and secure these nations.
MR. RUSSERT: And the drug trade underwrites terrorism.
REP. HARMAN: Absolutely. The drug trade has done that around the world. There's a connection all over the world. A lot of the funding for al-Qaeda came from the drug trade. And that's another reason we have to crack down on the financing of terrorism. And the Saudis have pledged that they're going to do this. That's one good thing they are doing.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about comments by Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Intelligence Committee--former--now a presidential candidate who says the Bush administration is covering up. We'll be right back after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Let me show you what Bob Graham said: "...a report has been written which provides a very detailed background to the buildup to September the 11th, and then raises policy issues as to how well those lessons have been applied since September the 11th. By continuing to classify that information so that it's not available to the American people, the American people have been denied important information for their own protection. ...Local agencies have been denied information which would help them be more effective. First responders and the American people do no have the information upon which they can hold the administration and responsible agencies accountable. ...I think what they are shooting at is to cover up the failures that occurred before September the 11th; even more so, the failure to utilize the information that we have gained to avoid a future September the 11th." Senator Graham right?
REP. HARMAN: Well, he's right up to the cover-up part. I don't believe that part. I think he was a very impressive chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's a good friend. We're graduates of the same law school. He's a very thoughtful observer and student of all these issues. I think that the problem is bureaucratic delays, and I've had conversations, too many, with high-level CIA officials and I am now assured that by the end of this month there'll be an all-hands meeting to decide exactly what can be classified. The report will then be ready for the joint inquiry to release it or the Senate and the House to release it, however that goes. I think it's important to get it out. It's one of the rare success stories bipartisan, bicameral collaboration, and I think when the public can read it, they'll be impressed by what we did.
MR. RUSSERT: And when they read that information, will it be helpful to them to understand what happened on September 11?
REP. HARMAN: It will be very helpful to them to understand.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, has there been a cover-up to deny the American people the right to see information as to how September 11 occurred, and what we can learn from it?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Absolutely not, Tim. And this report is very detailed, it contains sources and methods, which cannot be given to the American people, not because they ought not to know it, but because it--this is an ongoing war that we're fighting. We have people, our sources, who are out in the field who are named in here. We can't let those names out. Because those folks, their lives will be at risk. We have methods of gathering information in the terrorist community. We can't give out the methods that we use to gather information, otherwise, what we're going to see is a change in the dynamics and a change in the operations. It's already happened once. Al-Qaeda changed the way they did business and we stopped getting some information. Those are the type things that we got to not declassify. Information that's in there in a general nature, absolutely, it needs to go to the people of America.
REP. HARMAN: There's not a disagreement here. I'm not saying the entire report should be released. But an overwhelming majority of it is already cleared to be released and I'm saying whatever the outstanding issues are should be resolved and most of the report should be released. Saxby and I did a...
MR. RUSSERT: And you say it will be by the end of this month?
REP. HARMAN: Well, I hope so. The issues will be resolved. Saxby and I did a report on the House side when he was a lowly House member last time...
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
REP. HARMAN: ...and we were chair and ranking of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and part of it was--remained classified, but the rest was declassified. That's the same process I'm talking about here.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, last Sunday you became famous but maybe you didn't know it. The New York Times Magazine had a profile on Senator Bill Frist. He was in his office on a speaker phone with a reporter talking to an unnamed senator. Let me show you a transcript of what happened.
"Before hanging up, the other senator"--that would be you--"said he had a small favor to ask of [Majority Leader Bill] Frist, too: a major Republican donor was seeking an ambassadorship to some overseas economic development organization. 'I don't even know what the hell it is,' the junior senator said, 'but he wants it.'
Frist thought about it for a moment. 'He has lots of dollar figures down there?'"
Then you say, "'That's exactly right. And he did raise a chunk of money for me.'"
'All right,' Frist said. 'You're a good man.'"
Should you be providing ambassadorships to people who give you lots of money?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, my first question to anybody that calls me know is whether or not we're on the speaker phone.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you upset with Senator Frist for allowing a reporter to eavesdrop on a private conversation?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: We had a conversation about it. But that's over with and done and we've moved on.
MR. RUSSERT: What did you tell him?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, I just asked him why we were on the speaker phone and I didn't know about it. He explained the circumstances.
MR. RUSSERT: What about the bigger issue, though, of rewarding a fund-raiser, contributor with ambassadorship?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Yeah. Well, the important thing about that article is, the article's got me quoted right. There was an interpretation in there that I said this guy's a heavy Republican donor, let's give him something. That's not what I said. I just simply said this guy has asked me to mention to you that he'd like to be considered for an ambassadorship. The guy's qualified for it, as a matter of fact. He just happens to be a donor, which then Senator Frist mentioned the numbers. Now, Tim, every day we're asked to make recommendations for people who enter college, enter med school. Particularly now with the change in the administration I get requests from people sometimes on who I know, sometimes I don't know, to be appointed to various positions. Some of them are donors. If you eliminate the donors, you eliminate an awful lot of qualified people. That's...
MR. RUSSERT: Did he get the job?
SEN. CHAMBLISS: No, he wasn't even recommended.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: So my weight wasn't very heavy there.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Senator Chambliss, Congresswoman Harman, thanks so much. We'll be right back.