John Brennan; Senators Nelson & Shelby on "State of the Union"

John Brennan; Senators Nelson & Shelby on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - May 9, 2010

CROWLEY: Joining me now is John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. Welcome after a really busy week, I know.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Catch us up to date on the case of Faisal Shahzad. Have you found a link between this alleged Times Square bomber and any terrorist groups? BRENNAN: Well Candy, first of all I want to wish a happy mother's day to all the mothers out there, many of them serving on the front lines in defense of this country. Also, happy mother's day to my wife and mother.

The case is still involving, ongoing investigation. Mr. Shahzad is in custody. He is being cooperative as far as responding to our questions. It looks like he was working on behalf of the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, as the Pakistan Taliban. This is a group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. They have been responsible for a number of attacks in Pakistan against Pakistani targets as well as U.S. targets. But this is something that we're taking very seriously. The investigation is ongoing. We are learning more and more every day.

CROWLEY: Well, this is scary then, because what you are telling me is that the Pakistan Taliban has moved from sort of a regional target, reaching into the United States. What is our counter to that?

BRENNAN: Well the TTP has been training with, operating with, planning attacks with al Qaeda for a number of years. It was formed several years ago. It is dedicated to the same type of agenda that al Qaeda has, which is a murderous one, to kill innocent civilians. They have operated inside of Pakistan. They have pledged to carry out attacks in other areas of the world, including the United States here. So I think what this incident underscores is the serious threat that we face from a very determined enemy. And we have to remain very vigilant. And we have to do everything in our power to prevent them from carrying out successful attacks.

CROWLEY: So far, you know, you could say we have been lucky. We have been talking about the Christmas Day attempted bombing aboard the airline, we're talking about this Times Square. These were people who did not put together effective bombs.

So in that sense, we were lucky. Aren't you dealing now with if there is a 12-person conspiracy and they are running around the United States, you have 12 different shots of getting some kind of information -- if it is one person with a backpack or with a car with explosives in it, how can you prevent all of those from happening? You can't, can you? BRENNAN: It is a very difficult challenge. And because of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas, preventing them from carrying out these attacks, they now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks showing that they have inept capabilities in training. So this is a challenge that every day, we have to remain on our guard. They are trying to find vulnerabilities in our defenses. And we have been very, very successful because of the tremendously courageous and brave work that Americans are doing throughout the world.

CROWLEY: Was Shahzad trained do you think or taught how to put together a bomb in Pakistan? Is it looking like that?

BRENNAN: He has trouble back and forth in Pakistan a number of times over the years. He returned to the United States in February. And it is again looking like the TTP was responsible for this attempt, that he had worked with the TTP over the past number of months when he was in Pakistan. But again, this is an ongoing investigation. We're trying to learn as much as we can. Pakistani authorities have been very cooperative with us. And so we are sharing information with them. But we are determined to uncover all of the different elements of this plot and those who are responsible.

CROWLEY: Are there other Shahzads out there? Are they in the United States? I mean, this was an American citizen that was a naturalized citizen. Are there others like him out there similarly trained with that kind of connection?

BRENNAN: I think over the last six or eight months, we have seen Najibullah Zazi, David Headley, these are individuals who have roots in that region who travel back and forth. And I think it shows at al Qaeda, the TTP and other groups are trying to take advantage of individuals who may have been able to come here to the United States, in some instances like Mr. Shahzad, acquire U.S. citizenship and exploit them for their agendas. This is something we have to remain on guard against and we are doing that every day.

CROWLEY: And how do you do that though? This seems to me so difficult. You are talking about one person who may be an American citizen.

BRENNAN: Yes and that's why we have this redundant security perimeters and capabilities in place. We were able to stop Mr. Shahzad before he was able to leave the country. Tremendous work by FBI, law enforcement, homeland security to identify who was responsible for the attempted act in Times Square, find that individual and stop him before he was able to leave this country in the span of a little over two days.

So this was I think a remarkable illustration of how capable now our system is. After 9/11, there has been some tremendous work done, in the previous administration as well as in this administration. And so what we have put in place is a system where we have the capabilities to stop people overseas. If they are able to come into the United States, also find them. CROWLEY: What about al-Awlaki? Have you been able to find any connection between Shahzad and al-Awlaki? And what can you do about a person who uses the Internet basically to reach out to some of these people and tell them to go ahead and do things like this?

BRENNAN: Well the Internet now is the arena that that terrorist groups are trying to exploit to propagate their message, to reach out, to identify individuals, recruit them, contact them. And so Mr. al- Awlaki has been over the past number of years, spewing a lot of this venom internationally via the Internet. And his messages are resonating with some individuals, unfortunately, who also adhere to this distorted agenda.

CROWLEY: Well he's had exchanged e-mails with at least two of the people that we know of that have made attempts here in the U.S. BRENNAN: We know that there are a number of people who have reached out with Mr. al-Awlaki and Mr. al-Awlaki has been in contact with him.

CROWLEY: How about Shahzad?

BRENNAN: Well, we're still looking at all of the information that is now becoming available to us. But Mr. al-Awlaki has been able to, through his sermons on the Internet, and his rhetoric, to have this appeal to this group of individuals who have unfortunately been attracted to this very distorted and perverse Islamic message that is anything but Islamic. It is just a murderous agenda.

CROWLEY: Other than killing him, there is no way to stop this Internet connection?

BRENNAN: Well, we are working very closely with the Yemeni officials. I returned from Yemen last week. I've been out there about three times since I've come into this position. We are working with them. We are trying to build up their capacity so they can attack this threat that they have within their own borders. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is targeting not just United States but also targeting Yemeni officials, Saudis and others. And this is something that we are very concerned about it. But we are getting good cooperation from the Yemenis.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions in our final moments here. One, motivation, has Shahzad talked about that? Was it indeed drone attacks, the loss of civilian life as they seem to think some of these drones have done?

BRENNAN: What we have been able to understand so far is that he was captured by this murderous rhetoric of al Qaeda and the TTP that looks at the United States as an enemy. And what we are trying to do is to determine now exactly who helped him, who worked with him and making sure that we are able to uncover and then to address successfully these individuals who are trying to carry out other attacks. Making a lot of progress, I'm confident that we are going to make additional progress and uncover those individuals who collaborated with them.

CROWLEY: Do you see more arrests inside the United States? BRENNAN: I see that there's an ongoing investigation that is uncovering information that will help us understand what we faced in Times Square and what else might be out there still.

CROWLEY: And final question, why is there not a kind of Amber Alert? You were out there in a dragnet looking for Shahzad over a very intense period of time. Why is there not something that could alert the ticket tellers at the airport, the train stations. Look, we are looking for a guy with this name and this basic description, instead of asking airlines to update their information every two hours?

BRENNAN: Well, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did push out a lot of information to law enforcement officials throughout the country. This was happening in a very fast-paced environment. We were able to get his name on the no-fly list. And because of the system that's been put in place, we were able to find him, get him, and prevent him from leaving the country. So again, it was a success.

CROWLEY: Right. Just barely, though. Shouldn't there be in place some sort of mechanism that you could immediately alert people? And this was a guy, after all, who paid cash for a one-way ticket to Pakistan in the final minutes.

BRENNAN: Well, that's right, in the final minutes, and so we acted very quickly in those final minutes. And again, we were working on a very compressed time period here, so things were moving very quickly. There were a lot of people involved in this. We didn't know where he was in the United States. Could have moved in any number of directions. So I think what this demonstrates is that the system was able to push information out and take appropriate action.

CROWLEY: John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser and homeland security adviser for the president, thank you so much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: Up next, we will talk about the Times Square bomb plot as well as the latest on the massive oil spill with two Gulf state senators.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "State of the Union," I'm Candy Crowley. Joining me now from his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and from his home state of Alabama, Republican Senator Richard Shelby. Thanks both. I want start with you, Senator Shelby about what we are now learning from the White House. They strongly suspect and believe that the Times Square bomber had ties to the Taliban in Pakistan. This seems to me to be a whole new front in the war on terrorism.

SHELBY: Candy, I believe you are absolutely right. This expands our concern and our challenge, because if Pakistan and a lot of people are safe havens there for training of terrorists and we are finding that out, we've got another big road to go down.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, what does this mean for U.S./Pakistani relations? I mean, if they will not go into these areas where the training is taking place, is the U.S. justified in going in?

NELSON: The Pakistani government is increasingly aggressive on this because they are finally realizing that their whole government is threatened by this. But the underlying problem here is that young men are being radicalized and that's not only young men that live in other countries.

But that now we see young men that live in our own country and that are American citizens. And that's one of the biggest problems that we've got to try to nip in the bud in order to protect ourselves on a constant basis every day.

CROWLEY: Well Senator Shelby, isn't that -- that to me is the problem. It's one thing if you have a grand conspiracy involving 12 people and three planes. It is another thing if you can get a single person and fund them and bring them into the U.S. and send them to a random mall or Times Square or whatever. Isn't it really now down to a matter of luck or is there something in U.S. policy that can change, that will protect against this new threat?

SHELBY: Well I don't know if we can -- we can do everything we can to protect. But there will be some things that will slip up on us no matter what. But you are absolutely right. They're not big groups now that are doing the work, at least not trying to carry out the terrorist attacks as we see. But look at the Christmas Day thing that came into Detroit. He was by himself. We were lucky there. We were very lucky in New York, an individual. So if they keep doing this and they fan out all over the country, we are going to have deep, deep challenges ahead in terrorism work.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, does something need to change in U.S. anti-terrorism policy to confront this new front in the war?

NELSON: Well, it is changing daily. We are continuing to tighten the noose on al Qaeda which is over in Pakistan and being successful. Number three, number four, number five don't have a very long life longevity.

But getting back to this radicalization, we're going to have to have clerics who understand true Islam help us in teaching what is the accurate teachings of the Koran. Because when these guys are told to go blow themselves up and go blow innocent civilians up, that's not what the Koran teaches.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, were you satisfied with the way the entire Times Square event played out in terms of how the administration and local law enforcement responded?

SHELBY: Well basically, we were all lucky, very lucky. But as Ben said before, luck shouldn't be in our policy. We've got to be more diligent. We've got to do more training. We've got to realize that individuals are dangerous by themselves, especially when they have had training. The fact that a lot of people weren't killed on Times Square or in Times Square or also on the plane Christmas Day, we are very fortunate there. But something is going to happen and we are not going to be so fortunate, so we've got to be more diligent. We've got to recognize it's not just big groups or lots of people on one hit day, it's individuals spread out all over the country.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, Senator Nelson, let me pause right here. We have to take a quick break but when we come back, we are going to talk about that oil spill in the Gulf.


CROWLEY: Yesterday, a significant setback in the battle to contain the oil in the Gulf. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had been hopeful about B.P.'s latest effort.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We should know by the end of the weekend whether it is successful or not.


CROWLEY: Thursday night, workers began lowering a concrete and steel box from the deck of the supply boat, Joe Griffin. B.P. describes this as lowering a four-story building a mile down and setting it on the head of a pin.

That, in fact, was accomplished, Friday night. The plan was to then attach a pipe to be used to pump the oil to tankers on the surface, thereby recapturing 85 percent of what's leaking. But in fact, ice-like crystals formed in the containment vessel clogging it up and making it too buoyant. They have now moved the dome away. The oil continues to spew. B.P. said Saturday, it needs 48 hours to study the problem.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I wouldn't say it's failed yet. What I would say is what we attempted to do last night didn't work because these hydrates plugged up the top of the dome.


CROWLEY: We will talk about this with Senators Nelson and Shelby in a moment.


CROWLEY: We are back with Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Alabama Senator Richard Shelby. First to you, Senator Nelson. We are looking at this -- it's not even an oil spill in the Gulf, it is an oil gusher in the Gulf which keeps going and creating this huge spill that's coming toward the Gulf Coast and may eventually hit Florida.

What I'm wondering is and what I want to play for you first, talking about the damage that might be done and who might be responsible for it. This is an interview with our David Mattingly and the CEO of B.P.


TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BRITISH PETROLEUM: We are the responsible party. We are going to clean this up, fully and completely. And we have said very clearly where there are legitimate claims for business interruption, then we will be good for them.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Legitimate claims for long- term, short-term.

HAYWARD: Legitimate claims.

MATTINGLY: How many years are you prepared to pay fishermen for a bad catch?

HAYWARD: I said legitimate claims.


CROWLEY: So does that reassure you whatever damage might come to Florida in terms of tourism or fishing will be covered by B.P.?

NELSON: No. If they get this thing contained in the next few days, that's one thing. And maybe what he said would be true. But if this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida.

And you are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the Gulf of Mexico. And so when I pressed the B.P. CEO on that statement that you just played, his response was above his limited liability of $75 million, which is the statute, he says, well, we will have to work that out.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, there is a move in part from Senator Nelson to kind of raise the limit of liability that B.P. would have for this. It's now at $75 million. So is that doable in the law? It sounds to me likes ex post facto, like changing the law in the middle of something happening.

SHELBY: Well you raise that point and that's a good one. On the other hand, B.P. is responsible for this. And responsibility covers everything, not just a limit on it like the law says today. I'm sure there are ways to get around this. A lot of this could have been prevented. I don't know where the regulators were on this. They certainly were asleep.

Secondly, where is B.P.? Were they trying to do this on the cheap? This reminds me in a sense like a big truck on the Los Angeles freeway with no brakes. In other words, no safety. You know if you don't have this backup safety, one, two, three, whatever it is, sooner or later, there could be a gusher as you say, oil all over the Gulf. It's still pumping every day by the thousands of barrels. This is going to do irreparable damage to our marine life and our beaches and our way of life. And if we don't stop it, let's hope and pray that this dome works. If it doesn't work, I don't know where we go.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, let me ask you -- I'm going to put this to both of you. First, to Senator Shelby, since you brought it up. It always gets down to this. Whether it is Wall Street or oil companies, Capitol Hill says, where were the regulators and why wasn't there a regulation? But you all are in charge of the regulators, aren't you? So can't we ask, where was the U.S. Senate, where was the House of Representatives? Why didn't they see this coming?

SHELBY: Well, we are not in charge of the regulators. We have oversight of the regulators. The Executive Branch is in charge of the regulators.

CROWLEY: But, you know, it doesn't take much to see that it is possible that oil could leak when you've got an oil rig in the ocean. Couldn't there have been hearings saying well exactly what sort of safety measures do you have? How do you know they are working? I mean, there weren't those kind of hearings? Now we have 12 hearings coming up. But it is after the fact.

SHELBY: Candy, you make a good point. This should have been done long ago, every step. We get about 30 percent of our oil now out of the Gulf. We have hundreds of drilling platforms now. There will probably be more. But we should never sacrifice safety, safety of our marine life, safety of our people, safety of everything to something on the cheap. This was probably done to save money and look where we are today.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, the same question to you. Where was the U.S. Congress on this?

NELSON: Well you are exactly right, Candy. Big oil wants its way. They have been trying to bully their way to drill off the coast of Florida, had the Florida legislature going to let them drill three miles off the coast of Florida in state waters.

Big oil has had its way among the regulators. There has been a cozy relationship between the regulators and MMS. You remember all those stories back in the mid part of this past decade. Sex parties, all kinds of trips.

CROWLEY: But shouldn't Congress have some responsibility?

CROWLEY: That's what I'm getting at--

NELSON: You are doggone right, Candy. You are doggone right. That's exactly right. And that's what a number of us have been calling for. And we could never get to first base, because big oil would flex its muscle and call in its votes, and we could never get anything done. And tragically, it is going to take this disastrous oil spill to finally clamp down on them.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, last one to you. Has big oil bought its way into easy regulations?

SHELBY: Well, it's a good point that you make. I hope not, but big oil is there, and we should never, ever drill anywhere where there is not backup of safety many times. And this could have been prevented in the Gulf.

CROWLEY: Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, Florida Senator Bill Nelson, I thank you both for being here. Have a good weekend.

NELSON: Thanks, Candy.


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