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John Brennan, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden on "Meet the Press"

John Brennan, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden on "Meet the Press"

By Meet the Press - January 3, 2010

MR. GREGORY: We are joined now live by the president's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan.

Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY: This security threat, the reason to close the embassy, is it because of specific intelligence that says an attack is coming?

MR. BRENNAN: Yes, there are indications that al-Qaeda's planning to carry out an attack in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. I spoke with our ambassador down there, Ambassador Seche, this morning, as well as last night. Both the U.S. and the British embassies have been closed to give the Yemeni government an opportunity to thwart that threat and the plans that are afoot right now from al-Qaeda.

MR. GREGORY: A threat against our embassy?

MR. BRENNAN: It's a threat--they--we know that they have been targeting our embassy, our embassy personnel, and we want to make sure that we do everything possible to safeguard our diplomats and others that are down there. So that was the prudent step to take.

MR. GREGORY: The president talking about al-Qaeda in Yemen. Is Yemen a new front in this battle against al-Qaeda?

MR. BRENNAN: No, it's not a new front. We've known about it for quite some time; and that's why from the very first day of this administration, and even in the last administration, there has been tremendous focus on Yemen. I traveled out to Yemen twice over the past several months, I spoke with President Saleh. I spoke with President Saleh this week. We have been focused on this issue. We need to make sure that we continue to provide the training, the support that Yemen needs to counter this very serious threat. There are several hundred al-Qaeda members right now inside of Yemen, and the fight is being taken to them. Events during the last month demonstrated the Yemeni government resolve, and there are a number of operatives and leaders of al-Qaeda in Yemen that are no longer with us today because of those actions.

MR. GREGORY: Is the U.S. providing fire power to the, the Yemen government?

MR. BRENNAN: The U.S. is providing a range of support that includes security, intelligence, and military support to the Yemeni government. We're doing this in close cooperation with the Yemenis, we're doing it the right way, and we've been able to make some progress.

MR. GREGORY: The president said that those behind the Christmas Day plot will be held accountable, will be held accountable. Should the American people expect military action by the United States in Yemen?

MR. BRENNAN: I think the American people should expect that its government is going to do everything, in fact, to hold those individuals accountable whether they're in Yemen, whether they're in other places. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a serious threat. They have attacked our embassy before, they've carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia against Saudi targets, and now it's very clear that they're trying to bring those attacks to the homeland. We're not going to let them do that. We're going to take strong action against them.

MR. GREGORY: So military action is possible in Yemen?

MR. BRENNAN: Everything is possible as far as our cooperation with the Yemeni government. We want to make sure that the Yemenis have what they need to thwart these threats.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk more about the Christmas Day plot. Last week the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, said the system worked. Do you agree?

MR. BRENNAN: Clearly the system didn't work on that day because Abdulmutallab should never have gotten onto that plane with those explosives. You know, every other day the system has worked so far this year. We've been able to thwart attempts by Mr. Najibullah Zazi, David Headley, and others. But clearly what the president is--wants to do is to make sure that we strengthen the system. It's not that the system is broken, but clearly there are ways to improve the system, strengthen it, to make sure that we can put together the various bits and pieces of information in a way that allows us to stop every single terrorist out there.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me get to that, because this seems to be a big issue in terms of how could certain things have happened. You know, a lot of Americans remember the way the Unibomber was brought to justice was the fact that his brother turned him in. When a family member says, "I'm worried," that should be a big red flag. And, in fact, Abdulmutallab's father, a Nigerian businessman, a prominent figure in Nigeria, goes to the U.S. embassy and says, "My son went to Yemen. He's become a radical. I'm worried." And yet somehow that doesn't shoot to the top of warning signs for U.S. intelligence. Why not?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, you--well, you know, every day there are people who bring to our attention concerns that they have about either family members or others who are--have joined the ranks of extremists. The five guys from northern Virginia, those that actually went out to Pakistan, it was because their families brought it to the attention of the authorities. We took very strong action and the Pakistanis were able to put them into custody. In the case of Abdulmutallab, his father did express concerns to us about that he was consorting with extremists in Yemen. The failure within the system was that we didn't take that information and connect it to the other bits and pieces of information that came through the intelligence collection systems. It's a, a requirement that we are able to bring to bear all those disparate bits and pieces in a way that allows us to identify the individuals. We had some information in intelligence channels that didn't give us the clarity we needed to know who the individual was that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was using. What we need to do is to make sure that this never happens again.

MR. GREGORY: Well, you're an experienced intelligence official here. Were these knowable red flags? Should they have been caught and put together?

MR. BRENNAN: Yes, they should have been. And that's what we need to do is to make sure that this never happens again.

MR. GREGORY: Where's the accountability? Does somebody need to lose their job?

MR. BRENNAN: As the president said, there's going to be accountability at all levels, and he has to take a look at it. But let me say a couple of things on this. First of all, Janet Napolitano has done a tremendous job over the past year. I've worked very closely with her, and I know there were a number of criticisms about her comments about "the system worked." What she was referring to, and she's clarified her remarks, the system worked after the incident. What the president wants to do is to make sure that we're able to take the corrective steps necessary to prevent this from happening again. But he needs to hold everybody accountable, including me.

MR. GREGORY: Newsweek magazine has a cover story that's on newsstands coming out this week about the children of bin Laden; that's the cover story. And in it there's reporting about specific information that you received before the Christmas Day plot, in terror warnings about the use of explosives being hidden in underwear to get through airport security and other specific information prior to the act about the, the potential for a plot that would be based out of Yemen on a U.S. airliner. What did you know prior to this incident?

MR. BRENNAN: I think what you're referring to is the attempted assassination against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Saudi Arabia by, in fact, an individual who had concealed on his person PETN, the same explosive used by Mr. Abdulmutallab. Right after that attack, I went out, I met with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. I, in fact, saw the room where the attempted assassination took place. That information was provided to us by the Saudi government; we disseminated that information broadly. There was no indication, though, that al-Qaeda was trying to use that type of attack and that modus operandi against aircraft. We're very concerned about it from an assassination standpoint, and we continue to look at all the evidence that is out there so we can take the steps necessary to prevent any types of attacks from taking place.

MR. GREGORY: Are we safer than we were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11?

MR. BRENNAN: I think the U.S. government has done tremendous work over the last eight years, nine years, to strengthen our system, strengthen our security perimeters. We have now a system in place that the FBI and CIA, NSA, Department of Homeland Security and others are working very collaboratively together; and what we need to do is to make sure that we're able to leverage that system every day, making sure that it's 1,000 percent perfect so that we don't have another person like Abdulmutallab come in. So, yes, I think the American people can take comfort in knowing that the government has worked hard since 9/11 and has made steady progress not just in terms of helping to secure the country, but also degrading, disrupting, and we're ultimately going to defeat al-Qaeda.

MR. GREGORY: But, but I guess what a lot of people should be concerned about is that, that sense of, you know, how does this kind of thing happen where you have multiple inpoints into the system, inputs into the system, where there's information that looks a lot clearer in hindsight, obviously, but nevertheless, for trained professionals to look at and say, "Ah, this has to go--this have to--has to be blinking bright red. It has to go to the top of the system." How do we get from where we apparently are to that place?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, as I said, I think that we have been to that place many times with the disruption of plots that are taking place every day, whether it's overseas or here. Mr. Zazi, Mr. Headley, others, those dots did come to the surface. What we need to do, though, is to be able to do that every day. But the system is working; it's just not working as well as it needs to constantly.

MR. GREGORY: The, the question of airline travel, what needs to be done to make airline travel safer?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, one of the reviews that President Obama has asked for is for Secretary Napolitano to lead that review as far as looking at the technologies that are in place at airports, screening practices, the procedures, the criteria that are used right now for the different watch lists, the no-fly and selectee. There's no single silver bullet that's going to be able to allow us to have that type of assurance that we're going to be able to stop individuals from coming aboard planes. It's--has to be a package of things. It has to be technology, it has to be expertise, it has to be intelligence, it has to be cooperation with our international partners. And so all this has to come together seamlessly, and it has to be done on a daily basis.

MR. GREGORY: But do we have to compromise some additional privacy, like with full-body scanners at the airports, in order to keep up with the terrorists?

MR. BRENNAN: I think there's a way to make sure that we maintain the type of privacy that is expected by American public, but also provide the security that is needed. What we're trying to do now is strike that balance, looking at the technologies available, looking at the practices that we use. But there has to be this very healthy balance. We maintain that privacy standard but, at the same time, do everything possible to prevent attacks.

MR. GREGORY: So body scanners, do you think they should be deployed more widely at the airports?

MR. BRENNAN: I think it's, I think it's certainly something that needs to be considered and looked at, and we're looking at it very carefully. In fact, at the Amsterdam airport there were full-body scanners in place. They had--they weren't used, in fact, for the airline that was going to be coming here to the United States. But I think those full-body scanners, as well as other things, needs to be part of this package.

MR. GREGORY: Would those scanners have detected the level of PETN that Abdulmutallab was carrying?

MR. BRENNAN: I think it's unknown. But I think it would have enhanced our, our potential for actually identifying it.

MR. GREGORY: Why isn't he be treat--being treated as an enemy combatant instead of a criminal?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, because, first of all, we're a country of laws, and what we're going to do is to make sure that we treat each individual case appropriately. In the past Richard Reid, the former shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Jose Padilla; Iyman Faris; all of them were charged in criminal court, were sentenced some in--in some cases to life imprisonment. We have these tools available, whether it's an enemy combatant avenue or to charge them criminally. We look at the cases, and in this case we decided it was best, in fact, to charge him criminally.

MR. GREGORY: Would there be additional intelligence that could be gleaned by making him an enemy combatant? And do you believe that whatever you're learning from him, was the Christmas Day plot part of something larger from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, first of all, we have different ways of obtaining information from individuals according to that criminal process. A lot of people, as they understand what they're facing and their lawyers recognize that there is advantage to talking to us in terms of plea agreements, we're going to pursue that. So--and we are continuing to look at ways that we can extract that information from him.

As far as a broader plot, that's one of the things that the intelligence community is working 24/7 right now to see if we can uncover. Was he a singleton? Are there other individuals out there? And we're doing everything possible to identify somebody before they even get near an aircraft.

MR. GREGORY: What does the intelligence tell you now? Can you draw conclusions?

MR. BRENNAN: I think we have to assume that there are others out there. But what we're doing is making sure that we are working with our partners, working with others to stop that person before they actually are able to get aboard an aircraft.

MR. GREGORY: What about the issue of Guantanamo Bay? So many of the prisoners there come from Yemen, have been returned to Yemen in the previous administration and in this administration as well. The Democrat who runs the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, says we should stop, stop sending them back there. What's the president's position?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, first of all, we have undertaken a very methodical process as far as looking at all the individuals at Guantanamo Bay. The last administration transferred over 530 Guantanamo detainees abroad. In this administration, we have transferred about 42. What we've tried to do is look at each individual case, make decisions about whether they should be prosecuted either under Article III court or military court, or transfer them abroad, repatriate them to their countries of, of origin or to another country. In the case of Yemen, we have, in fact, sent back seven individuals. Previous administration sent back 13 to Yemen. Of the recent batch that we sent back, about six, many of them are in custody within the Yemeni system right now. We are looking at it every day. We're not going to make any decisions that are going to put people at risk. We will decide and determine when, when we should send additional people back. But we're going to do it in the right way, because Guantanamo should be closed. It was used as a propaganda tool by al-Qaeda, and the president is still committed to it.

MR. GREGORY: Well, they use a lot of things as, as propaganda tools. Is this really the way to keep America safe, by sending back prisoners to Yemen who might turn around and become part of an organization that's becoming more robust there?

MR. BRENNAN: We're just going to make sure that we don't do anything that puts American security at risk, whether it's Americans who are in Yemen or here in the United States. But we need to make sure that we are a country of laws and we maintain that standard so that we are able to treat these individuals the way they should be treated, prosecute them if we have the information available to us, transfer them back. But make sure that if they're transferred back, the countries that receive them take the appropriate steps to safeguard us and them.

MR. GREGORY: Republicans have been very critical of this president and accuse him of returning to a pre-9/11 mentality, of becoming lax in the face of terror, of essentially letting America's guard down. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said this to Politico this past week. Let me put his comment up on the screen. "As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. ... He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of September 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al-Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, `war on terror,' we won't be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe." How do you respond to that?

MR. BRENNAN: I'm very disappointed in the vice president's comments. I'm neither Republican nor Democrat. I've worked for the past five administrations. And either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position, both in terms of the language he uses and the actions he taken--he's taken, or he's ignorant of the facts. And in either case, it doesn't speak well of what the vice president's doing. The clear evidence is that this president has been very, very strong. In his inaugural address, he said, "We're at war with this international network of terrorists." We continue to say that we're at war with al-Qaeda. We're trying to give it some clarity. And we have taken the fight to them. We've continued, in fact, many of the, of the activities of the previous administration. I would not have come back into this government if I felt that this president was not committed to prosecuting this war against al-Qaeda. And every day I see it in the president's face, I see it in the actions he's taken, and so I'm confident that this country is, in fact, protected by this president's position on al-Qaeda and against terrorist activities. We're going to continue to do this, we're going to do it hard, we're going to do it constantly.

MR. GREGORY: Is it anything less than a failure that eight years after 9/11 Osama bin Laden has still not been captured?

MR. BRENNAN: This is something that has bedeviled this government for many, many years. We're going to continue to hunt him down. Ultimately, we're going to get him. We're going to get bin Laden, we're going to get Zawahiri, we're going to get the others. There's been a very strong track record over this past year and, in fact, over the past number of years in terms of finding these operatives, finding these commanders and either capturing or killing them. It's going to happen with bin Laden. Every day we get one day closer, and hopefully it's going to be very soon.

MR. GREGORY: When's the last time he was pinned down by the U.S. or its allies, or close to being killed?

MR. BRENNAN: Well, I think, you know, the, the evidence is that Tora Bora we came very close, in fact, to finding him, getting him, and capturing him. Intelligence is working every day on this, and I'm not going to go into that. But there are some dedicated men and women, and I think just the, the events this past week, the tragic death of seven CIA officers, underscores just the bravery and the risks that these courageous men and women who put their lives on the line every day on behalf of their fellow Americans. And we have that throughout the intelligence community. And I think we have to remember who the enemy here is. The enemy is al-Qaeda. And as this finger-pointing is going on in Washington here, these partisan politics and agendas, quite frankly, I find it very disappointing that people would use this issue, issue of tremendous import of national security and forget that it is al-Qaeda that is killing our citizens.

MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Mr. Brennan, thank you very much.

MR. BRENNAN: Thank you very much, David.

MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.

We're joined now by two members of the Bush administration's national security team, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Director of the CIA Michael Hayden.

Welcome to both of you.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.): Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY: General Hayden, let me begin with you. Reaction to what you've heard here from Mr. Brennan, specifically on new threats being posed by Yemen and al-Qaeda in Yemen?

GEN. HAYDEN: No, I, I agree totally with what John pointed out. We've been watching Yemen for some time. In fact, as pressure's increased on al-Qaeda in the tribal region of Pakistan, we always look to Yemen and Somalia as a place where the senior leadership could flee to. Now, the senior leadership has not gone there, but we have seen a steady growth in al-Qaeda in Yemen since about 2006. If you recall then, David, there was a massive jailbreak in Yemen, about two dozen al-Qaeda members that were incarcerated there escaped. And from that point on, where--we've seen a steady growth of al-Qaeda and their use of Yemen as a safe haven.

MR. GREGORY: Should there be some accountability on the part of Bush national security officials like yourself, at a time when there were detainees from Guantanamo released back to Yemen, at a time when Yemen and al-Qaeda there was becoming more robust, that the administration did not do more to specifically target the al-Qaeda threat?

GEN. HAYDEN: No, we worked very hard on it. As John pointed out, there's a, there's a continuum of action between President Bush's administration and President Obama's administration with regard to these national security threats. Now, true to be said that we did release some folks from Guantanamo, despite our best efforts making this threat assessment, that actually returned to the battlefield, to, to return to terrorism; and certainly we bear responsibility for that.

MR. GREGORY: Is this a new front in the war on terror, as you see it, Yemen?

GEN. HAYDEN: It is a growing front. It is, it is, as John pointed out, it's not all that new. We've seen it coming for some time. It's always been unsettled. And since, again, since about 2006, we've seen it take a more prominent role in al-Qaeda's safe havens in ungoverned areas in the world.

MR. GREGORY: Are you concerned if the administration decides to release any additional prisoners from Guantanamo to Yemen?

GEN. HAYDEN: This is a very difficult question. Each of these have to be decided individually. The only counsel I would offer, as we recognize how difficult this is, we made some mistakes, and I would not be governed by any artificial timeline. I'd take my time with this and be careful.

MR. GREGORY: The mistakes being the, the release of the prisoners, is that what you're referring to?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

GEN. HAYDEN: That some people that we decided to release, with our best judgment at the time, have returned to the fight. That should be a cautionary tale for President Obama's administration.

MR. GREGORY: So don't close Guantanamo, is your point?

GEN. HAYDEN: I would not be in a rush to close Guantanamo. But, David, to be fair, we were trying to reduce the population at Guantanamo as quickly and as carefully as we could in the Bush administration.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, so much has been made of failures on the part of this administration. Is the other way to look at this that it has become enormously difficult to pull off an attack against the United States, that what we're seeing are low-level, incompetent people who can't quite pull it off? Is that not a positive sign for U.S. intelligence, for U.S. security?

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I, I think that's exactly right, David, and I think, as John points out first, to put it in perspective, as troubling as this incident is, we have seen occasion after occasion where we have disrupted plots, and we've batted almost 100 percent. And I think this plot also demonstrates, because of the complexity and the fact that they had to use a new operative, that they are actually being forced to work under a great deal of pressure and are handicapped in carrying out these plots, precisely because we have made it difficult, although not impossible, to smuggle explosives onto airplanes.

MR. GREGORY: What went wrong here?

MR. CHERTOFF: I think that the, the review that John's going to undertake is going to be very specific about that. It strikes me that what we're going to look at are two possible areas. One is was there a failure not to connect the dots in the sense of bringing them together, but to understand the significance of what those dots were. And I think that's an important part of the inquiry. The second piece is, as John pointed out, is there were scanners in the airport in Amsterdam that were not used. Why were they not used? European--the European Union has banned the use of these devices because of privacy issues. And I think that's going to cause another debate about where we strike the balance between privacy on the one hand and the right to life that every air traveler has when they get on an airplane.

MR. GREGORY: I want to come back to this body scanner issue in just a minute, but I want to, I want to press you on this point about both the gathering of intelligence, the sharing of intelligence. Again, the accountability question for Bush administration officials like yourself. The Bush administration created these extra layers of intelligence gathering and dissemination and yet left office before they were proven to be effective, clearly. We have so many ways to gather intelligence and to look at this intelligence, and yet the government's still not talking to each other.

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, first, I have to say, David, I mean, it was obviously effective during the seven years that we had after 2001 because we did not have an attack or anything even approaching a successful attack. And, frankly, it was successful through most of this year because of the number of plots you've seen disrupted, including Headley, Zazi, the five jihadis who went over to Pakistan who've been apprehended. So, actually, the real story is the enormous amount of success we have had. But it's not perfect, and I think that this is an occasion to look and see what do we need to do to improve the system, even though I think the architecture's basically sound and has served us well over eight years.

MR. GREGORY: Let me return to the, the body scanner issue. As you have pointed out numerous times, and we've talked about before, you are a consultant for a company that makes the type of body scanners that you advocate, although it's something that you advocated as homeland security secretary as well. Would they have done the job? Would they have detected the amount of PT--PETN that he had on board?

MR. CHERTOFF: I believe the answer to that is yes. Of course, no technology is perfect, but this would dramatically increase the ability to detect things that are concealed underneath people's clothing, on their bodies. We've known about this problem for years. In 2005 I testified about this before Congress. I said, "We have got to deploy these kinds of capabilities, otherwise people are gong to smuggle in explosives or weapons hidden on parts of their body." I have been through the machine myself; I have looked at the image. I think we have taken steps in the deployments that we have undertaken to protect privacy. At the end of the day, no one has come up with a better solution, and keeping your fingers crossed that the enemy won't figure out this vulnerability is a very foolish way to manage security.

MR. GREGORY: General Hayden, same question I asked John Brennan, which is are we safer as a country since the immediate aftermath of 9/11?

GEN. HAYDEN: Absolutely. I mean, as John pointed out, it's not that--a question that the system broke down, it's a--it's a question that the system needs to be improved. We, we are facing a learning enemy. This is an enemy that adapts, and we have to adapt with that, with that enemy. One case in point. One of the--some of the early stories that came out were--was that the information was not shared, which was the belief that what happened prior to the attacks on September 11th, 2001. That is simply not the case in this incident. This information was shared, it was available. What it was not was, was, was not highlighted, it was not connected. And that's a human activity, and that's a very difficult task. And, as you pointed out, this becomes easier only in retrospect. In, in, in prospect, these are very difficult things to do.

MR. GREGORY: It's interesting. Secretary Chertoff, you were on this program back in 2006, and you touted the government's ability at that time to look for vulnerabilities, to come together as a group and try to outthink the terrorists. And yet this is what the former inspector general of homeland security had to say in an op/ed in The New York Times this past week. He said, "Perhaps the biggest lesson for airline security from the recent incident is that we must overcome our tendency to be reactive. We always seem to be at least one step behind the terrorists." Is that the case?

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I don't think that's true, and I think, as I say, this was a problem we anticipated, the notion of someone concealing explosives. I also have to point out that the screening failure took place overseas, and that, that does reflect some issues we have with sharing of information, where the Europeans are reluctant because of privacy. I think the problem has been not so much the recognition but the implementation. There has been an enormous amount of resistance, and not just in the issue of technology but in the issue of secure documentation and other things that we've done, by groups that simply don't believe that we ought to have these security measures. It took us years to get the Western Hemisphere document requirements in place because we had a tremendous amount of political resistance. So I think this is an opportunity to reinvigorate the willpower.

MR. GREGORY: General Hayden, are we effectively ethnically profiling potential suspects who want to hurt the United States?

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I, I'm not quite sure of the context in which you're asking the question, David, about ethnically profiling. But with regard to intelligence...

MR. GREGORY: Well, isn't there a profile of who we think the terrorists are?

GEN. HAYDEN: Of, of, of, of, of course there is.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

GEN. HAYDEN: But it's based more on behavior. I mean, for example, the individual in question here, Abdulmutallab. I mean, he would not have automatically fit a profile if you were standing next to him in the visa line at Dulles, for example. So it's the behavior that we're attempting to profile. And it's the behavior, these little bits and pieces of information that were in the databases, that we didn't quite stitch together at this point in time. But it wasn't question of ethnicity or, or religion. Those, those are contributing factors. But it's what people do that we should be paying attention to.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but I, but I want to press Secretary Chertoff on this point whether--because I've spoken to counterterror officials who'll say it's more than a contributing factor. We know who 90 percent of these terrorists are. There may be other examples of women being used and the what--and whatnot. But Islamic males between the age of 20 and 30 make up roughly 90 percent of that profile. Is that an inappropriate or appropriate way for law enforcement to be targeting individuals?

MR. CHERTOFF: I think relying on, on preconceptions of stereotypes is, is actually kind of misleading and arguably dangerous. Obviously, you want to...

MR. GREGORY: So that's wrong? That profile's wrong?

MR. CHERTOFF: Correct.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

MR. CHERTOFF: While I--now, what I would say is you want to look at things like where has a person traveled to, where have they spent time, what has their behavior been. But recognize, one of the things al-Qaeda's done is deliberately tried to recruit people who don't fit the stereotype, who are Western in background or appearance. Look at a--like a guy like an Adam Gadahn, who grew up in California, who's one of the senior level al-Qaeda operatives but does not fit the normal prejudice about what a--an extremist looks like.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about politics. I read the comments by the former vice president, General Hayden. Do you think that it is responsible for the vice president to criticize President Obama as letting America's guard down by failing to treat this fight as a war on terror?

GEN. HAYDEN: I'm, I'm not going to comment on, on the current president or the former vice, vice, vice president, David. I do know that this is an important national issue. It does become part of the political debate. But I will offer you a professional's view on the current atmosphere, the highly-charged atmosphere in Washington. I would ask, on behalf of the community of which I used to be a part, for everyone to kind of calm down a little bit, stop hyperventilating, let John take this study, look at this in detail to learn what we can learn from it without a sense of, of, of attribution or accusation. I mean, these are tough challenges.

MR. GREGORY: But that would apply, that would apply to Bush administration officials as well. Because I seem to remember covering the White House when Bush administration officials thought it was counterproductive and, indeed, hurtful and harmful to the country to have Democrats questioning, whether it was the patriotism or, or the overall wisdom of some of these national security activities.

GEN. HAYDEN: David, there are broad policy issues here that deserve intense political debate. We should let the American system handle that. But the secretary brought up an interesting one. What's the balance the American people want between their privacy and their security? You can't just keep coming back to the intel guys after bad things happen and expect them to perform miracles 100 percent of the time if we don't address these more serious fundamental questions as a nation. That's part of the political process. And the intel community needs to be a customer of those decisions.

MR. GREGORY: But your message is, left or right, Republican, Democrat, don't politicize this battle. Is that your point?

GEN. HAYDEN: There are policy questions that need to be resolved through our political process.

MR. GREGORY: Do you believe the president is adequately confronting this threat of terrorism?

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I, I am heartened by the fact that the president consistently says, "We are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates."

MR. GREGORY: So my question is do you believe he's adequately prosecuting this war against al-Qaeda and terrorists?

GEN. HAYDEN: There are honest differences. Clearly, this past summer with regard to some CIA activity, interrogation memos from the office of legal counsel, the CIIG report, the question of a special prosecutor, I actually think that's harmed our overall effort, all right? But that's a personal view. That's the decision the president has to make. We should not overly politicize things that are essentially security in nature. But we do need political guidance that will be the product of our political process.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, you told NBC's Pete Williams, our justice correspondent, this past week you were concerned that there was a return in this government to a pre-9/11 mentality. Explain that.

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I'm concerned that we don't use all the tools on the table, and I--here I have to say I agree with Mike and I agree with John. I think the president has repeatedly articulated his belief we're at war. Nevertheless, there are elements of the strategy we have to ask questions about. Is it sensible, for example, to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York out of a foreign area in order to try him there? I, I think that's a fateful decision and one that I hope that, that the attorney general has carefully thought through. There are other elements, and some of which Mike Hayden's mentioned, which I think maybe send a little bit of a conflicting message. So this is a great opportunity for the administration to make sure that they are not leaving anything on the table that could be used to defend the American people.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, do you have confidence in your successor...

MR. CHERTOFF: I do.

MR. GREGORY: ...Secretary Napolitano?

MR. CHERTOFF: I, I do. I've known, I've known her for a long time. She's got a good skill set, she's got great experience, her heart's in the right place, and I, I heartily endorse her.

MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Thank you both very much for being here.

GEN. HAYDEN: Thank you.

 

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