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Lester Holt Live - Interview

Location: Unknown


BYLINE: Lester Holt; Pete Williams; Andrea Mitchell; Michael Williams; Ashleigh Banfield; Jim Avila; Hanson Hosein; Tim Minton; Mark Potter; Christy Musumeci

GUESTS: Saxby Chambliss; Jim Turner; James Fallows

The national threat level has been raised to orange. A Pentagon plan to catch suspected terrorists using a super computer is now being considered by Congress. Saudi Arabia has set up checkpoints around the capital of Riyadh, increasing security across the kingdom. Where is Saddam Hussein? Who shot Mohammed al-Dura? Racist groups are using video games to recruit. Annika Sorenstam will be make golfing history becoming the first woman to play in the men's PGA tournament in nearly 60 years.

HOLT: Joining us now to talk about all this, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. Senator Chambliss is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Democratic Congressman Jim Turner who sits on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for taking the time to join us tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Glad to be here.

HOLT: Senator Chambliss, let me begin with you. You have a better look at all this intelligence and the chatter than any of us will ever get a look at. Are you worried?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: Well certainly there's a lot going on out there. Anytime you see an increase in chatter with respect to the potential for an act of terrorism to occur, you get concerned, particularly when it's been substantiated through interrogation of the detainees. So, there's reason to raise the threat level, but you know, our law enforcement folks do a great job. So, we got to continue with our normal activities.

HOLT: Have you seen anything specific with -- even in terms of a timeframe?

CHAMBLISS: No, Lester, it -- there is no specifics about the who, what, when, where. We don't even know that it might occur in the United States. It could be against U.S. assets abroad or may not even be directed at U.S. assets. But, there is a lot of conversation going on.

HOLT: Congressman Turner, let me turn to you. The attacks in both Saudi Arabia and Morocco were ultimately with explosives, traditional explosives. We've spent a lot of time in the last 20 months talking about dirty radioactive bombs, chemicals and bio-weapons. Is it possible our defenses are aimed too much in the direction of non-conventional weapons and not enough in the direction of conventional weapons?

REP. JIM TURNER (D-TX), HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE.: Well I think the clear truth is that we've got to be prepared for all of it. We are in a posture where we know that traditional explosives are likely to be used. They were used, as we saw, in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, but we also know that al Qaeda is a sophisticated organization capable of carrying out attacks like we saw on September 11 of 2001, so we have to be ready for all of it.

HOLT: Congressman, are you worried about alert fatigue? I mean, I guess how long -- how many times can you ring the alarm bell before we start to let our guard down or not take it as seriously as we should?

TURNER: Well that is a concern. These alert levels could wear thin on the American people. The truth of the matter is that we probably need to refine this alert system. It would be helpful, I think, to law enforcement to know a little more specifics and part of what I think we face today is trying to get our new Department of Homeland Security in a position where it can do the kind of analysis on the intelligence data that will give some direction to law enforcement so that we won't be in a position as we are so often in of just simply saying, get ready. But they want to know what for and what is the specific information that we have.

HOLT: Senator Chambliss, the U.S. and Pakistanis and other allies have made some impressive arrests over the last several months with regard to al Qaeda. Has there been a tendency to overestimate the success of the war on terror? In other words, is what you're seeing and hearing now to some extent taking the U.S. off guard?

CHAMBLISS: Well we do know that we have interrupted, disrupted their lines of communication because we have -- we've simply cut those lines off. And also by taking out a number of the top lieutenants of bin Laden, we have made sure that those folks are not giving orders to carry out acts of terrorism. The problem is that there's another level of leadership that is rising within al Qaeda and it just makes us continue to have cause for concern with respect to that organization, which is very, very dangerous right on.

They haven't gone away by any means. And we also think that they're probably a number of these attacks that have been planned and put in the pipeline, and we have these so-called sleeper cells that may be inside the United States or outside the United States simply awaiting a signal or some type of indication to carry out an attack that's been previously planned.

HOLT: And Congressman Turner, we're all reminded of the Freddy Kruger of terror, Osama bin Laden, again, apparently alive and well. Do you think we will ever get him and getting him will that end this war, as we know it?

TURNER: Well I think eventually we will get him. I think it is troublesome that we have yet to do so. I think what it shows us that in the war on terror we've got to move faster and we've got to be stronger in the battle.

HOLT: We've got to end the conversation there. But Senator Chambliss, Representative Turner, thank you so much for coming on tonight.

TURNER: Thank you very much.

CHAMBLISS: Thank you. My pleasure Lester. Good to see you Jim.

TURNER: Thank you Saxby.

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