Conversations with Daschle: Lee Hamilton on 9/11 and the Current State of Homeland Security
Webcast and transcript of our live townhall panel.
Chats, Nov. 29, 2006
On Wednesday, November 29, 2006, Campus Progress and the Center for American Progress hosted the next program in our “Conversations with Daschle” series.
Co-sponsored by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, the event was held at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and broadcast live over the internet.
Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, and his special guest, Rep. Lee Hamilton, former Congressman and Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, discussed the current state of our homeland security and answered questions both from a live audience and from internet webcast viewers across the country.
Watch the entire event in streaming video here!
(You may also click here to download a .WMV file of the event)
A complete transcript of the event is also provided below.
MS. MELODY BARNES: (Inaudible) – so it’s important to have you here. As I said, conversation is incredibly important to us and Campus Progress, which is the partner with Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute in these conversations, is really a critical component in bringing student voices into the national conversation. And we do that in a number of ways: with our blog, with the work that we do on campuses around the country, the student publications that we support, the events we support. And, in fact, those of you who are students who have participated with us have added your voice to issues like climate change, issues around Hurricane Katrina, and tonight you’re going to have an opportunity to engage with two of the foremost experts in this particular area on national security, homeland security, and the issues that are related to 9/11.
So I think that this is an incredible opportunity for you, and we’re glad that you can be here on what is the last of this year’s series in conversations with Senator Daschle. And joining Senator Daschle tonight will be Lee Hamilton, who as you know has been a really, really important voice on these issues for many years. I’m going to turn this over to Senator Daschle in a second, but I’d like to just briefly remind you of what an important role he’s played in the national and international community.
Senator Daschle was in fact an intelligence officer in the Air Force. After that, he became the congressman from South Dakota, and then senator from South Dakota serving as both minority and majority leaders in the Senate. Excuse me. He is now a distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and he also, as Judy mentioned, and is very proud of, serves as a professor at Georgetown, and he’s also of counsel – a partner at Alston and Bird, where he also continues the public policy work that he does. So I’m going to turn the microphone over to Senator Daschle so that the conversation can begin. I hope that you’ll enjoy it, and please feel free to engage. Thank you very much.
SENATOR TOM DASCHLE: Thank you very much, Melody, for your generous introduction and thank you also for the extraordinary leadership that you provide here at the Center for American Progress. I’ve had the good fortune to work with Melody for many years in other capacities as well as this one, and we’re very, very fortunate to have the strength of her leadership each and every day here at the Center. Let me join both Judy and Melody in welcoming all of you to this fifth conversation. Our concept, as they’ve already described, is really pretty simple: to take tomorrow’s decision-makers, join them, bring them together with today’s decision-makers to confront – to consider some of the most important issues facing our country today.
Tonight we’re going to talk about national security, homeland security, the 9/11 Report and the Commission, and all of its work and recommendations that have come from it. Before I get into that, let me just simply thank the Center for American Progress, John Podesta; our college arm, Campus Progress, for the great job that they do not only tonight, but throughout the year in so many other venues, and we’re very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to work as closely as we do with them. I want to thank Georgetown as well for giving me the opportunity to hold these conversations. I’ve enjoyed each one of them and I know tonight will be a very special evening as well.
I want to especially thank Judy Feder. Judy, as some of you may know, just recently ran for Congress in Virginia, and I think just did a phenomenal job. I’d like to think that everyone who’s associated with the Institute for Public Policy would move directly to Congress, to graduate to Congress, and that just about happened in Judy’s case, but Virginia’s loss is certainly our gain. I’ve admired her immensely, and I will predict that if she ever decides she wants to try this again, that next time she will be victorious as well. But I am honored to have the occasion to work with her in this capacity and I’m delighted that she’s back and it’s a thrill to see her again.
Most importantly tonight, I want to thank my colleague to my right, Lee Hamilton. I was elected to Congress in 1978, and when I was elected, I was elected by 14 votes initially, which in South Dakota is about 60 percent – (laughter) – but one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to seek out Lee Hamilton. Lee already, at that point, 1978, was serving in his 8 th term in Congress, and he was known as the resident authority in our caucus and in the Congress with regard to foreign policy. He has had a wide range of responsibilities in Congress, but I think he’s best known for the extraordinary leadership he has provided in Congress and now as director of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Lee and I have not only worked together, but four years ago I sought him out again as we ended a very bitterly fought debate on the Senate and House floor with regard to the creation of the 9/11 Commission.
I asked Lee if he would be willing to be one of the co-chairs of this commission, and with very little hesitation he agreed once again to come to the aid of his country. And I vividly remember the conversation we had in my office shortly after that phone call. We talked about the families in particular, and the extraordinary emotional problems that they expressed about the experience and about the direction our country was taking, and I indicated to Lee that it was my view that the families would be one of the significant arbiters of credibility as the 9/11 Commission’s work was analyzed and evaluated. And it was a suggestion of the part of many in our caucus that we reach out to the families, and I asked Lee if he would do that, and he agreed to do exactly that. But then on his own he said, “Not only will I do that, but” he said, “I’ve served on other commissions and I know how easy it is for all the recommendations just to sit up on a shelf and gather dust and never really go anywhere.” He said, “Not only is important to come up with recommendations, but hopefully is just as important to enact them.”
Well, Lee Hamilton kept his promise. I would say both promises. He reached out from the very beginning to the families and made meeting the families a very high priority, working and talking with them throughout the process. But even more importantly perhaps in terms of our country’s long-term disposition, Lee made sure that the recommendations got their fair review in Congress. And I’m proud to say two years ago we passed one of the most sweeping changes in national security law that our country has passed in its history, but certainly since 1948. Not all the recommendations were enacted. We’ll talk a little bit about that tonight, but were it not for the extraordinary leadership of this man, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Since that time, of course, he’s made a lot of news in other areas as well. The president and the Congress asked if he would be again willing to subject himself to yet another commission and help lead the so-called Baker-Hamilton Commission on Iran, to evaluate our circumstances and come up with recommendations for our country with regard to what we do in that very troubled part of the world.
Unfortunately, that work is still not complete, and because he and I have talked about doing this evening’s program for many months, we’re going to limit our conversations tonight on the 9/11 Report and on homeland security and not discuss Iran, because we simply aren’t in a position to do so. With any luck, I’m going to persuade him to come back to have a conversation like that as well, so I would ask you to limit your questions to homeland security and the 9/11 Commission, and we’ll come back to Iran at a later date when he’s in a much better position to talk about it.
But the 9/11 Report is really a fantastic case study for anyone interested in considering public policy. They really address some of the fundamental questions we face as we formulate public policy regardless of the topic: how well is our government working? How can we make it work better? What are the kinds of consensus issues required to accommodate those goals? What can we do, in the context of homeland security in particular, to see that we are better prepared for crisis as we faced on 9/11 of 2001?
Obviously, we now know that we weren’t as well prepared as we should have been prior to 9/11. Local authorities didn’t have all of the information they could have used to be able to cope more effectively. They didn’t have the equipment. Intelligence agencies were not communicating effectively among and between themselves, and we didn’t follow through with suspected terrorists and their activities within the United States. Those and many other issues are ones that obviously the 9/11 Commission grappled with a great deal as they assessed the circumstances and came up with their recommendations.
We have now passed the Department of Homeland Security. We now have the good fortune of having the benefit of tremendous work done by the 9/11 Commission, and I know I speak for everyone in this room and I speak for all of those who have expressed concern about the circumstances as we now face them regarding our threats abroad and here at home as we thank Lee Hamilton for his dedication to his country and Congress and as he has played the many roles that he has with the commissions since then. I may have missed – I don’t if I said Iraq before, but I hope I said that obviously the Baker-Hamilton Commission is doing its work on Iraq, and we will hear about that at a later date.
With that, let me again welcome my colleague, my friend, Lee Hamilton. I am delighted he’s here, for any opening comments that he might have, and then we’ll open it up to you for discussion.
REP. LEE HAMILTON: Well, thank you. Speak into this. Thank you very much, Tom Daschle. I remember that phone call. Tom was then the majority leader in the Senate, and he asked me to serve as co-chairman on the 9/11 Commission. Tom, what I especially remember about it is I put the phone down after I’d talked to you and I said to myself – what in the world do I do next? When you’re in the Congress, you have a lot of support staff all over the place, and all you got to do is call in the chief of staff and tell him to go to work, that’s pretty easy. When you’re not in the Congress, I literally did not know what to do to rent an office, to hire people, to get a phone connected, to find a room where we could discuss top secret matters and all the rest. Tom’s staff was a huge help in getting started on 9/11.
One of these days I’m going to get around to setting up a public official Hall of Fame. We have them for baseball players and guitar players; we ought to have them for public officials. And Tom Daschle is going to go into that Hall of Fame on the very first ballot – I can assure you of that – because he’s a remarkable leader. One of the joys of politics is as you develop seniority you see new people come into the Congress. Tom was one of many, but he was certainly one of the outstanding one, who had natural ability with that overwhelming vote you achieved in South Dakota – 14 vote margin or whatever. But to see him progress through the House, through the Senate, to majority leader was a great joy for me, and of course he served with extraordinary distinction there.
Let me say a word or two about homeland security to get us started here. We made 41 recommendations in the 9/11 Commission report. Roughly half of them had been enacted into law, but I don’t want to talk so much about those recommendations as I do what steps I think we need to take at this point. And I’m going to make some very quick, broad statements that obviously may need some filling out.
First of all, with regard to homeland security there are a lot of very simple, commonsense things that we ought to be doing right now. We ought to distribute homeland security funds on the basis of vulnerability and risk, not on the basis of politics. That’s a no-brainer. That money ought not to buy air conditioned garbage trucks, as it has; it ought to buy better protection for the American people.
We ought to dedicate part of the radio spectrum to the fist responders. We lost lives on 9/11 because police and fire and public health officials couldn’t talk to one another. That’s a no-brainer. Our first responders have to be able to talk to one another at the scene of a disaster. In some communities they can do that now; in many they cannot.
We felt that there should be at the scene a unified command. That’s a no-brainer. Somebody has to be in charge. When a disaster strikes, you have to make hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions very quickly. You’re going to make some of those decisions wrong, but somebody has to be in charge. We lost lives in Katrina; we lost lives in New York because there was confusion in the chain of command. So you can go down and see a number of what we on the Commission felt were very, very simple steps, very commonsense steps, and it is a source of enormous frustration to me and to every other member of the Commission that these have not yet been enacted in the law. Incidentally, Tom, many of them were pending in conference committee right now, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. I hope some of them at least will be enacted before the month of December is through. If not, we have to start all over, obviously. Okay.
The first point is you got a number of steps – simple steps, commonsense steps – that we should take to make the American people safer. The second point Tom dwelled on – I’ll make it very brief – intelligence. The thrust of the 9/11 Commission report was very simple: we’ve got to share intelligence better. We had all of these 13, 14, 15 agencies of the intelligence community, highly good technical people, well trained, very professional, very patriotic people, but they stove-piped the information. They did not share it across agency lines. As a result of that, the CIA didn’t know what the FBI was doing. The FBI didn’t know what the FBI was doing.
There was confusion vertically within an organization, and horizontally across the agencies. So we made this suggestion of sharing the information, and that’s the key to the legislation that Tom referred to. But the laws have been enacted, Tom. That’s good, but you all know that laws are not self implementing. And what you now have is the very difficult process going on in the federal government of trying to make these mechanisms – these organizations that we set up – work and share the information properly, break down those barriers that exist to keep the information to yourself and share it so that you get information.
We knew about that fellow Moussaoui out there in Minneapolis. We knew he was in a flight training school. We knew he was asking questions about how to fly the airplane, but had no interest in learning how to take it off or land it. You know who did not know it? The head of the FBI didn’t know it. You know who did know it? The head of the CIA knew it, but he didn’t share it with the FBI. We asked the CIA director, why didn’t you share it with the FBI? He said, “It wasn’t any of my business.” Technically he’s correct. His business is foreign intelligence, not domestic intelligence. No sharing of information. So intelligence – now the law’s in place, the structure is in place. You got to make it work; that’s implementation. And a lot of things are going on there – some good, some bad – to make it work better.
A third point I want to make relates to oversight. Tom, I don’t want to get too sensitive for you here, but there’re two points here on oversight: the Congress does not do a good job on intelligence oversight. I interviewed practically every member of the Senate and the House in the intelligence communities personally. The word I kept hearing over and over and over again from the members of the authorizing committees, the intelligence committees was dysfunctional. That’s what we wrote in the report. The congressional oversight committees were dysfunctional. I can go into that in more detail, but they’re not working as well as they should.
That’s critically important, because the only place you have independent oversight of the executive branch on intelligence – the only place – is in the Congress of the United States. The media cannot do it, they don’t have access to the information; Georgetown University cannot do it, they don’t have the access, and it has to be done in the Congress. It’s not being done well.
A second point on oversight is this business of civil liberties. We all know that American presidents, wartime presidents – Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt – restricted civil liberties. We also know that at the end of those wars, the pendulum swung back, and the civil liberties were restored. The problems, as you all recognize, is in the war on terror, we don’t know when it ends. So we have seen more and more intrusive actions by the government restricting our liberties, and we are only now beginning to see some pushback from executive action here by the Congress – a little bit of pushback; the Anti-torture Amendment for example – and a little bit of pushback in the courts. I’d like to see more of that push back coming along personally, but the oversight of civil liberties is hugely important in the war on terror because we don’t want to lose our core values here.
Another point I want to make here is with regard to foreign policy. I don’t want to take too long here, but one of the things that really bothers me with regard to homeland security is what’s happening in the world. And what’s happening in the world at this point is the radicalization of Islam. You’re seeing more and more of these very young people who for whatever reason – upset by policy, upset by modernity, upset by globalization, upset by whatever; lack of opportunity, repressive governments whatever it may be turn – to radical Islam. We’re not going to win the war on terror, unless we deal with this problem of the radicalization of Islam. It is a huge challenge to American foreign policy; 1.3 billion Muslims from Spain, London to Jakarta. And we’re losing this war because more and more of these young people are turning to a radicalized view of Islam and we have to develop a foreign policy – I’ll speak to this more if you want me to – of how to help those people – how to decrease, if you will, or reduce the radicalization of Islam.
The final point I’ll make here is that all of us on the 9/11 Commission agreed with regard to homeland security that there is one problem that looms just higher than anything else. It is not the most likely; it is certainly the most consequential, and that’s a problem of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists. It’s not easy for them to develop a nuclear weapon; easier probably for them to steal nuclear materials. Not easy there, but easier than developing the bomb from scratch, so it’s not an easy thing. But we know their intent here, we know they want to get hold of this stuff. We know they have tried to get hold of this stuff. What we don’t know at any given time is their capability.
This is by all odds the most fearsome problem in homeland security. We estimated that if the bomb goes off in Grand Central Station, 500,000 people dead. Now, just let your mind play on that a little bit. We lost 3,000 people on 9/11. Look what it did to the country, look at the consequences that have flowed. Think how traumatic that event was for all of us, particularly the families, but for all of the country. Five hundred thousand killed – not injured, killed – with to a nuclear weapon going of in New York. Therefore, we felt that this problem has to be given utmost urgency, top level urgency, paramount urgency to deal with it because the consequences are so severe.
Tom, that may be enough to start us off.
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Lee.
REP. HAMILTON: Yes.
SEN. DASCHLE: That’s just an excellent review of our current circumstances. Let me ask you to start out the night – I’ll invite questions in just a moment. Let me ask a question that I’m often asked as I’m before cameras or interviewed by journalists: how would you describe our current state of security – homeland security? Are we better off today? Are we stronger? Are we more prepared?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, I think the answer to that is yes. But of course not well enough prepared. We spent a huge amount of money. We’ve trained an awful lot of people, we’ve created all kinds of new departments of government. We check you more carefully when you get on the airplane. We do many, many things that we did not do before 9/11. Has that made us safer? Yes, I think it probably has.
Now, you can’t prove that. You can’t disprove it, but in all likelihood it’s made us safer. But of course, what strikes all of us who have worked closely in this field is that while we may be somewhat safer, we’re not nearly safe enough, and we certainly have not done all of the things that reasonable people would do to make ourselves safer, and I identified some of them.
So the most important event by far since 9/11 with regard to terrorism – by far – is that we’ve not been attacked on our soil. That’s hugely important and we’re very, very grateful for it. Why is that the case? Well, the answer is we don’t know. We can speculate. I can speculate. You can speculate. We may or may not be right, but it’s speculation. It may be good luck. It may be because we‘ve put the monitors in the airports. It may be because we’re checking the cargos a little more carefully. It may be because we got these rules that don’t let you carry liquids on the airplane. We don’t know. But are we safer? Yes. Not safe enough.
And what underlies all of it for me is a lack of a sense of urgency – a lack of sense of urgency in the executive branch and in the Congress on making the people safer. Now, look, I know there’re a lot of priorities the government wrestles with and it’s the toughest problem at government what to do with all of the priorities pressing upon you. But what priority can possibly be higher than doing all you can to protect the American people?
SEN. DASCHLE: You provided an evaluation of our current state of readiness and of security in a format that a lot of our audience understands very well; that is, you used grades. How would you grade us today? Would you change any of the grades that you initially offered as you provided that critical evaluation?
REP. HAMILTON: I don’t think I’d change very many of them. If Congress does what I hope they’ll do in the next few days, and they say we’re going to allocate money on the basis of risk, we’re going to provide the part of the radio spectrum for the first responders, we’re going to have an unified command – if they do those things, then I’m going to up those grades from D to B, or maybe even an A. But if they don’t do them, I’m a tough grader here. (Laughter.) And that grade’s going to stay pretty low. My patience is worn out here. I don’t have much patience on these things. I just think it’s outrageous that we have not acted as a government in many of these very simple areas.
SEN. DASCHLE: I’m going to open it up to the audience if there are questions. What I would ask if you would is to identify yourself, and if you are of course associated with the university, tell us how. There is a hand up back here.
Q: I’m disappointed the 9/11 Commission didn’t deal with the anthrax problem. I know Senator Daschle was one of the two elected officials who received the weaponized anthrax in the mail, and no Republicans did, and that seems to be good place to begin to look. The backers of the U.S.A. Patriot Act to people, who sponsored it, are likely to be a good place to look. It was sent right at the moment that you were standing against the first passage of the Patriot Act.
SEN. DASCHLE: Would you mind identifying yourself?
Q: I’m David Schlesinger. My website’s 911courage.org.
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you. Lee, do you want comment on that?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, Tom, you probably know about the anthrax problem a lot better than I do, because you confronted it head on, and you probably want to comment on this. Well, we did mention it of course, and we do feel that a lot more research has to be done in this area and a lot of implementation of that research, but it was not a central recommendation, you’re correct.
SEN. DASCHLE: Obviously, we were very concerned about the safety of the working circumstances our staff was subjected to. Twenty-eight staff and Capitol police were affected. This was a lethal dose – 3,000 times the dose required for mortal effect, so it was very, very serious. Fortunately all of the staff and those who were adversely exposed are healthy today and doing well. I’m disappointed, frankly, that the FBI investigation has not produced more information and that to a large extent those of us who were directly affected have not been more in the loop to understand just what the progress may be. I haven’t been briefed now for a couple of years, and I think it would be helpful. But, nonetheless, we hope that the FBI is of a mind that this ought to retain the priority that it deserves. Obviously this could happen again, and there’s a lot we can learn from the experience and hopefully from the investigation that has happened since. Yes?
Q: I’m with Gannett New Service. As you know, the Democrats have made implementing the rest of the 9/11 recommendations a priority in their first hundred hours. Are you optimistic? Do you think a Democrat-led Congress will have any better luck than the Republican-led Congress did in finishing the job?
REP. HAMILTON: I think Tom Kean and I are both very pleased to see the statement by the future speaker, Nancy Pelosi, when she indicated that this was going to be one of the high priorities of the Democratic Congress. I haven’t actually seen specifically what kind of legislation they’re going to propose. It will depend in part what happens in the next few weeks, but I’m very pleased with that initiative on their part. I might say that going back almost from the date we issued the report that the then Minority Leader Pelosi was extremely supportive, and said that that was one her objective, so she’s holding to what she said she would do.
Some of the things we recommended I recognize are difficult to achieve. I talked a little bit about the Congress and its oversight of the intelligence community. Tom knows this better than I do, but that’s a very, very difficult thing to achieve internally because you’re shifting power around within the Congress and jurisdictions and all of the rest of it. But I overall I’m very pleased that they put this as a high priority. I wish them success on it.
SEN. DASCHLE: Lee, let me – I’m going to try to alternate a little bit. We have, as you know, campuses around the country who are participating in this conversation through podcasts, and I will read the first question from Joshua Chasen (sp) from the University of Southern Maine. And Joshua asks: many countries believe that the U.S. does not take international bodies like the UN seriously and it reinterprets the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions in the way it may best fit our needs. How does this affect our relationship and credibility with other countries?
REP. HAMILTON: I think when we bypass the United Nations in whatever way or matter, we create problems for ourselves in many countries around the world. The United Nations has the power to bestow legitimacy; not necessarily in our eyes in the United States, but certainly across the world, and we have to take that very, very seriously. Now, the United Nations is an organization – I consider myself a supporter, and a strong supporter of the United Nations, but I also recognize that it has its problems. I once described, and I think I probably still would describe the Unites Nations as an indispensable mess. And it’s an institution that frustrates us all and anybody who has walked through the halls the United Nations gets a sense of what I mean, but it is also an absolutely indispensable organization.
And if you look at the problems that you and I are concerned about – I mentioned one on nuclear proliferation, immigration, HIV/AIDS, economic development, trade – you go down all of these problems and what strikes you is we can’t solve any of them. We cannot solve a single one of those problems by ourselves. As smart as we are, as rich as we are, we can’t do it. We have to have help.
The question then becomes, how do you get that help? One way you get that help is working through international organizations. That has its frustrations. And believe you me, working in the United Nations has its frustrations, but it’s very important that we try to do it. One of the great things that American foreign policy accomplished after World War II was that we asserted the American national interest in a way which we engaged and supported the national interests of a lot of other countries as well, and we put together a lot of the institutions that characterize the post-World War II period, including the United Nations, including not the WTO, but the WTO is a successor to some of the organization – the World Bank, the IMF, NATO and many, many other multilateral organizations. That was a period of great flowering and even genius in American diplomacy.
We have to get back to that and we have to recognize the importance of international institutions to achieve the American national interest. We don’t join international institutions just for the heck of it. We join international institutions in order to advance the American national interest, and that’s the way to do it rather to do it unilaterally. We’ve had a good deal of experience in recent years with unilateral approaches, and I am mildly encouraged that we are now coming back to a more multilateral point of view and I hope we are.
SEN. DASCHLE: I would just add, I agree completely with what Lee said, and I would say to Joshua that I think that is not only what we do, but is the attitude we take as we do it. And my concern has been that we’ve been too arrogant in our foreign policy and too unilateral, not nearly as willing to reach out. I also think that due process matters and we send incredible message if we’re willing to short-circuit the due process whether it Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, and I think we have to be very, very careful about the messages we send first by the attitude and secondly by our willingness to cut corners when it comes to things as important as due process.
REP. HAMILTON: Tom, let me interject another comment.
SEN. DASCHLE: Yes, please.
REP. HAMILTON: The first visit the president made after he was elected at second term was to Latin America. He met with a group of presidents of Latin America, went down there, sat around a big table with all of the other presidents and said: look, folks, we’ve got big problem. The big problem is terrorism. We need your help. The other presidents all nodded their head and said: yes, sir, mister president, we know you got a big problem, we know a lot about terrorism, we’ll help you out. The president said, thank you very much – came home. Hu was the next visitor to that group – President Hu. What did President Hu do? He sat down at the same table and he said this: I want to help you on economic development, which was their interest. You see what I mean? We must be sensitive to the agenda of other nations. Are we right to be concerned about terrorism? Of course we are. Is it a big problem for us? You bet it is. Should we have on the agenda? Yes indeed. But it ought not be the only item on the agenda. We have to be sensitive to other countries’ interests and our diplomacy has to reflect that.
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Lee. A question right here.
Q: Hello, I’m Erin Farris (ph). I’m a prospective student for Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute, and I was also a student at Drew University when Tom Kean was president there, so it’s a privilege to attend 9/11 hearings and the bipartisan leadership and the success of the completion of the 9/11 Commission’s report was tremendous. And I was hoping that you could speak to you the future that you visualize for bipartisan leadership in national crises and national disasters because it seems to be something that you were able to do so successfully, and it will probably be needed again in the future.
REP. HAMILTON: Well, thank you for your question. I think one of the things that impressed all of us on the commission was how important it was to the country that we were able to come together, five Republicans and five Democrats, all of us kind of washed-up politicians in a way – (laughter) – had very strong views – liberals, conservatives, moderates – and people were impressed that we were able to come together with public policy recommendations on very controversial topics.
How did it happen? Well, let me tell you, building a consensus is the toughest part of politics. I think it’s very easy to walk into a room and blow it apart. I know because I’ve done it a few times. Anybody can do it – anybody. That is not political skill. I can go in and give a speech anytime to anyplace anywhere and get that crowd riled up in anger. All you do then is make it more difficult to solve the problem.
How do you reach consensus? Well, when you find out, you let me know, would you? (Laughter.) There’s only one way I know – only one way. There may be other ways, I just know one, and that’s to talk and to talk and to talk. I can remember driving home at 3:00 in the morning one day after we’d spent 18 hours I think, maybe 15 hours, talking, totally discouraged. And I said, we’re never going to get together. And fortunately we had a very a patient leader, Tom Kean – not Lee Hamilton, Tom Kean. I’m not that patient. (Laughs.) And Tom held us together and we reached an agreement, so consensus building is tough. I often think about this. I was in 34 elections, I had every question put to me that any constituent can ever remember or think of. I cannot remember a single question about my ability to build consensus. And it is the most important quality needed in political life today. Can this person build consensus?
Now, look, I’m not naïve. Democrats are Democrats, Republicans are Republicans, they hold their position strongly; they should. I shouldn’t fall out of my chair if somebody disagrees with me. I shouldn’t get angry at them. I shouldn’t blow my top, but this has to be done patiently and deliberately and all I know to do is to try to talk it through.
Now, one secret here is to try to get an agreement on the facts. It is amazing how much time we spend in this city arguing about facts. Facts are facts. They’re not Republican; they’re not Democrat. Facts are facts. So it became a joke for Tom and me. We turned to the staff and say okay what are the facts; we must have asked that question a thousand times. And the staff would groan every time we’d say it. But if you can agree on the facts, it doesn’t necessarily mean you agree on the solutions, but it makes it easier to agree on the solutions.
Now one other thing: Congress. Congress has an enormously difficult problem here for a lot of reasons, but I’ll just mention one. We were focused on a single problem. What do you do about 9/11? The Congress is faced with dozens of dozens of problems and the problems come at them with such rapidity and in such complexity they simply do not have the time to develop consensus.
Now let me make one further comment. They don’t work hard enough either. Congress does not work hard enough at legislating. You have to take time – look, in the House, Tom – I’ll choose the House because you’re sensitive to the Senate. (Laughter.) Look at the House schedule. Tuesday afternoon they come in to town. The West Coast fellows want to get in at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, they vote on post office naming for a few bills Tuesday night. They go to work Wednesday. They go to work Thursday morning and they want to get out of there Thursday afternoon. And the speaker will tell you every time everybody is asking me to shut this place down Thursday night or even Thursday afternoon so they can catch the last airplanes out to the West Coast. They don’t work hard enough. Now, do they work hard? You bet they do? Members of Congress work very hard, but they don’t work hard enough at legislating.
SEN. DASCHLE: I can’t say it any better than that. I would just add one thing to what Lee just said, which is that they don’t work hard enough at legislating because money and politics have taken so much more a critical part of a politician’s life today than when Lee and I started. It’s too bad, but the money chase is so horrendous today and it really ultimately determines your ability to compete oftentimes. And the money chase and airplanes sort of accelerate the life of a congressman or a congresswoman to the extent that they are gone chasing money and making sure that they have the political standing that they feel they have to have. Unless we change that, I don’t think we’re going to change this work ethic as Lee has described.
You also need fantastic leadership. And I think the reason why the 9/11 Commission succeeded is because you did have a Tom Kean and a Lee Hamilton who projected the kind of civility and the kind of dedication to a bipartisan work ethic that really filtered all the way through the commission itself.
Q: (Off mike.) I can’t help but try to ask if you believe you will reach that same degree of magical consensus on any of the tough issues in the Iraq Study Group?
REP. HAMILTON: Let me say two things about the Iraq Study Group. Number one, early this afternoon we reached a consensus. And number two, we will announce that on December 6 th. That’s all I can say.
SEN. DASCHLE: Hand up right here.
Q: Following up on what she said and also what was said earlier.
SEN. DASCHLE: Sorry, could you identify yourself?
Q: I’m sorry, I’m Edward Roeder from Sunshine Press. What was said earlier about how it’s important for this group of students to recognize good governance – I wonder if you could discuss conflicts of interest among commissions such as the Iraq Study Group and the 9/11 Commission where essentially the government finding itself incapable of investigating an issue farms it out to a private commission. And I wonder if you could discuss the extent to which those commissioners may have and have to overcome conflicts of interest, the extent to which they ought to be required to disclose their interests somewhere, and how that might lead to different outcomes such as the Iran-Contra inquiry that you headed or co-chaired for Congress that most people think was a fiasco. And basically between agreeing not to investigate any Israelis and agreeing to give Ollie North and Poindexter immunity it basically blew the inquiry.
And the 9/11 Commission that you co-chaired almost everybody believes went wonderfully and produced a useful report. Could you comment on that?
REP HAMILTON: You think we screwed up on Iran-Contra? (Laughter.) You raise some very good questions. I think Congress is turning more and more to commissions partly because they’re very, very busy on their schedule. They simply are not able to devote the time. We devoted hundreds and hundreds of hours to 9/11. It’s hard for me to imagine any congressional committee doing that. We had a separate staff of about 80 people. So I think the commission model is built into our government’s system today. You called them private commissions; the 9/11 Commission was a statutory commission. It was funded by the United States government. The Iraq Study Group is funded by the United State’s government – a million dollars – but it is not statutory based. It was kind of an ad-hoc group of members of Congress who suggested it through and worked through think-tanks here in town, so it’s unlike the 9/11 Commission at that point.
The conflict of interests question is a genuine one, and certainly commission members should be required to disclose. Tom ran in to this, incidentally, with the 9/11 Commission. You will remember that Tom Kean and I were pinch-hitters. The original chair and co-chair were Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell, both highly esteemed Americans, and each of them had to step down for conflict of interest reasons. So full disclosure is important so if I’m going a certain way on a given commission and I have a financial interest you ought to know that it seems to me. So let the sunshine in there.
I don’t agree incidentally on Iran-Contra. I’ll make a little defense of that quickly. That’s so old people in this audience can’t even remember it. The reason it’s usually considered unsuccessful is people from the left who felt that we should have impeached Ronald Reagan, and the reason we did not is because we simply didn’t have the evidence to do it. And if you don’t have the evidence, you better not try to impeach somebody, particularly a president of the United States.
What we eventually concluded was that he did not faithfully execute the laws of the land, which I think we could prove and did prove. The Iran-Contra, I believe, saved this country from an enormously difficult period. The Reagan presidency was teetering. It was about ready to collapse. The Iran-Contra investigations came along and we righted the ship of state. I believe, that’s my view of it. We did not impeach – I remember one of our prominent newspaper columnists coming up to me after we announced our decision – just excoriated me for not impeaching Ronald Reagan, but the evidence simply was not there to do it. You don’t take an impeachment case to the Senate of the United States or to the House without facts – very strong, very compelling facts and we didn’t have them.
SEN. DASCHLE: There’s a question here from –
REP. HAMILTON: I’m a little defensive I guess about this statement. (Laughter.)
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Lee, for that answer. The question you’re your alma mater. Douglas Stratman (ph) from DePauw Progressive Network, from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana: it seems that the overwhelming majority response to 9/11 has been in the form of military offensive action or defensive action within the U.S. What measures are being taken to improve the global image of America, especially within Islamic extremist groups that you mentioned? Why are we more focused on physically preventing attacks than eliminating the motives behind these attacks?
REP. HAMILTON: Well it’s a very perceptive question. The key to counterterrorism policy is integration. You have to integrate a lot of tools of American foreign policy. We do get hung up on the military side. There isn’t any doubt about it. Is the military an important tool in dealing with counterterrorism? You bet it is. Is covert action important? You bet it is. But you got Treasury action to dry up the funding, you’ve got public diplomacy, you have diplomacy, you have economic aid, you have trade, you have all kinds of tools. And the question is how to integrate these tools to deal with the terrorist threat. That’s not easy to do particularly in our kind of a government where we you got a Defense Department here, Justice Department here or State Department here. We think in terms of these departments and they’re not – the integrated mechanisms in the United States government are not very good to be blunt about it.
Now let me get another question of foreign policy. Tom I’m going to make a political analogy here, I think you’ll agree to it. It’s a simplistic analogy, but I think it fits. Any American politician today is asked by a constituent almost on a daily basis to do something that is totally impossible to do. You can’t possibly do it. I do not know a single successful politician who says to that person I can’t help you. You know what you say? “I’m on your side,” or in the words of a successful politician, “I feel your pain.”
I think the same thing has to apply to American foreign policy. We have to show these 1.3 billion Muslims that we’re on their side. We want for them exactly the same things we want for ourselves. We want them to have a good education. We want them to be able to grow up and marry the person of their choice. We want them to have a job. We want them to have healthcare. We are on their side. We are sensitive to what they’re trying to do and want in this world. They don’t want things that are any different from what you and I want. They just want a decent life and life has given them a bad deal.
Now, we can’t solve their problems. We don’t have enough money. We don’t understand it well enough, but like the American politician we can say, “Look, we want to try to help you.” Now, what do I mean by that? We’ve got so many million dollars – I can’t remember the figure – to help alternative school systems in Pakistan to the madrassa schools. Anybody who has been to Pakistan knows that if we put $10, $20, $30, $40, $50 million in there, it’s a mere drop in the bucket. But symbolically it is hugely important, I think, and therefore I support it strongly. We are on your side. We want you to have a better education. We want this young child here to be able to go to a school where they don’t learn anti-Americanism and hatred of you, rather they learn the basic principles of education.
So American foreign policy has to develop a much more sensitive feeling, we want other nations to know we want them to have an agenda of opportunity and we want to do the best. Now, at the end of the day their countries have to solve these problems. We can’t do it for them, but we want to try to help them.
SEN. DASCHLE: Yes, front row here.
Q: Good evening, my name is Kevin (Thomas ?). I’m a student at Georgetown University. Thank you. My question is following up on your comments about foreign policy and building good will abroad. It seems that probably one of the most symbolic if not most successful thing that we did during the Cold War was that we also had strong U.S. aid programs for bringing foreigners to America to study or to work in various government agencies. And we sent Peace Corps volunteers abroad which we’re still doing. But do you see a role for American universities to play in building this good will or do you have suggestions? I didn’t read the 9/11 Commission report, but do you have suggestions for the role the universities can play in increasing good will abroad for America and also bringing leaders and other foreigners to America to learn and see directly what this country is about?
REP. HAMILTON: Of course I do and I know Tom does, too. I don’t know that you spend any foreign policy money more effectively than on exchange programs. It’s not an immediate benefit, but it is certainly a benefit to the United States. I have been in dozens and dozens of meetings with foreign leaders and one of the things I have noticed over the years is that invariably if that foreign leader had education in the United States, they had an understanding of this country and a sympathy for it and an appreciation of its ideas and ideals and an appreciation of our flaws better than leaders that did not have that experience.
I am strongly supportive of these programs for exchange of students and academicians but not just them of course; farmers and professional people of all kinds and descriptions. And I think it’s one of the most important, most effective, most beneficial things we do in American foreign policy.
It worries me – the last figure I saw, it may be out of date here, there are 60,000 Chinese students studying in this country. I don’t know how many we’ve got in China, but it’s a pittance compared to that. That really worries me. How many American students are going abroad to learn Arabic? I asked the president of Indiana University not long ago, “How many fluent Arabic speakers do you have in this graduating class?” He did not know the answer. I kept asking and I think maybe there were a handful out of 4,000 or 5,000 people graduating. So we’ve got a long way to go here and I thank you for your question. I think it’s hugely important.
SEN. DASCHLE: I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had the same exact experience that Lee has had as you travel abroad and meet with foreign leaders. I have remarked to others the degree to which people have volunteered that they went to school in the United States. And they went to school at your age in many cases and that means for an entire lifetime of public works and public leadership you’d have the advantage of an insight and a relationship and a networking that simply can’t be replicated in any other way.
I’m troubled by the difficulty now that many students have to come into this country or to go abroad and I think it’s an impediment to better understanding and better cooperation and stronger relationships that has to be addressed. So I think Lee has eloquently addressed the problem and I hope we can address it more effectively in public policy.
Another question? Yes.
Q: Thank you. My name is Mark Gaber (ph). You spoke about the radicalization of Islam. I’m wondering what you think the message is that we send to moderate Islamic nations when back in I think February we blocked the Dubai Ports World from taking over operations of several ports in the U.S. and whether or not you believe that that was based on a legitimate security concern or if it was more of a political reaction based on the political nature of that attack.
REP. HAMILTON: I was disappointed in the reaction in Congress on that matter. Look, we’re running up huge debts in this country. We’ve got to have investment. That investment now has to come from abroad. We don’t have the money here for it. The tremendous deficits that we have are eating away at the vitality of our economy. We cannot put great restrictions and limits on foreign investment in this country. If we do, we’re going to cut our own throats. We need the money. We got to have it.
Now, there was a time, and it’s not all that long ago, where we had all the money. That’s no longer the case. Our economic policy today – our foreign policy is profoundly impacted because the Chinese hold all the debt. They’re buying all our bonds – they and the Japanese – and that limits our maneuvering room in an economic sense. Now, we’ve been lucky so far that that hasn’t causes us great problems in this economy, but if a decision is made in Beijing tonight to say, the dollar has shrunk, we’re not going to invest in those American bonds anymore, they’re not a good investment, you and I would be in a huge amount of trouble immediately. I don’t think that decision is going to be made, but it could be made sometimes down the road.
So, look, foreign investment raises a lot of problems. I don’t mean to dismiss them casually. You do have to have checks on it. You don’t want foreign countries controlling our communications network and you don’t want them controlling a lot of vital industries, so you do have to be careful. I don’t want to make light of it, but this kind of instinctive nativistic reaction, “by God, it’s foreign investment and therefore we don’t want it in this country; we don’t want that dirty money,” we’d better get over that because we need it.
SEN. DASCHLE: We have a Hoosier who has written in. He’s a student at Indiana University. His name is Mike Quick (sp). “How is it possible to uphold the ideals of democracy and power of the people with the quiet increase of domestic spying policies since the lack of transparency or debate, such as a congressional hearing, impede on the rights of citizens in this regard?”
REP. HAMILTON: Well, I think we’ve got a big problem here, and he puts his finger on it very nicely. Look, I understand that when you have a terrorist threat, as we surely do, the government has to take some actions that it might not otherwise take. I also understand that with the sophisticated technology we have today that there are new systems in developing information that are hugely important – data mining, the accumulation of massive amounts of data, which many of you know a lot more about than I do, but are in fact very important tools in intelligence today. Okay, that’s the world we live in, and if we deny ourselves the use of those tools, then we deny ourselves a very important tool to find out what the adversary is doing.
Now, what bothers me about what we have done is that these decisions have been made by the president unilaterally and not in consultation with the Congress. What the president should have done in this case, in my view – we had similar cases to this when I chaired the Intelligence Committee. The president would call us in and say, “Look, we’ve got to heck of a problem here. We need your help. I can’t talk about this publicly, but we’ve got to have a law put into place that gives us the framework for dealing with these special kinds of problems that arise in intelligence today.”
The president chose not to do that. The president said, “I’m not going to talk to those fellows up on the Hill. I don’t trust them and I’m going to do it unilaterally.” Now, my problem with that is I do not trust anybody with absolute power – anybody. President Reagan put it a little more diplomatically than I just did: trust, but verify. That’s the better way to put it. But verification is terribly important. No one in our government should have the power to institute these kinds of intrusions on the civil liberties of American by themselves. The Congress shouldn’t have the power; the president shouldn’t have the power.
We have a Constitution that provides for shared powers, coequal branches of government, and when you’re dealing with the most sensitive questions – American civil liberties – then that ought to be a shared decision and the president and the Congress should sit down – and you can’t do the whole Congress, the president and the leaders of the Congress in the area of intelligence should have sat down and worked out the way to handle this problem.
And it is not an impossible problem to solve. There are mechanisms that can be put together that can do it. I am very, very skeptical of unaccountable power – very skeptical of it. I don’t like it anywhere.
SEN. DASCHLE: Let’s take a question in the far section of the room. Yes?
Q: Thank you very much. I’d like to follow up on some of the earlier questions.
SEN. DASCHLE: (Inaudible.)
Q: I’m Dr. Diane Perlman (sp) and I’m a political psychologist and I work on psychology of dynamics of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. And it seems to me – this relates to the 9/11 Commission and also the Iraq Study Group – that is seems to me a lot of the – there’s big emphasis on counterterrorism, which deals a lot with the symptom of stopping terrorism – you know, inspections and intelligence – but doesn’t – as far as I can tell, doesn’t address the desire to take revenge or some of the forces that drive radicalism and escalate cycles of violence like fear, trauma, despair, envy, humiliation. This also relates to policy, but I’m wondering – also there are bodies of knowledge from the field of conflict studies and social sciences with methods on how to reduce tension and reduce cycles of violence. I think terrorism cannot be defeated, but it can be drastically reduced by dealing with the desires for revenge; also, asymmetrical power is a big one.
So are you taking into account any of these – any experts in these areas in reducing the desire for – you know, terrorism has tripled since we’ve been doing counterterrorism, so it doesn’t affect – have the opposite effect on incidence?
REP. HAMILTON: We did hear from people like that and I want to say positively that the amount of work being done in our universities today on mediation, conflict resolution, peacemaking, peacekeeping – I am hugely encouraged by, and that’s because of people like yourself who understand these things very well. When I went to college, I never heard of a course in conflict resolution and if they’d had one, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But I’m amazed at the number of students today who’ve gone through your courses and I think that’s a wonderfully positive thing about the future to look at those things. I hope that continues in our universities.
Did we hear from people like that? Yes, we did. It’s very commonly said, for example, that you can’t kill all the terrorists. Well, that’s exactly right, isn’t it? I mean, we surely have learned that. Look how many leaders of al Qaeda we’ve killed. We can bring out a long list of all these al Qaeda leaders we’ve gotten and we’ve killed and what happens? They just keep coming: the suicide bombers. So you can’t kill them all, and at some point, we’ll begin to recognize that more fully than we do today and we’ll have to begin to use the knowledge that you and others have to deal with conflict resolution.
Now, I don’t want to be too namby-pamby about this. I mean, there are times when the American national interest has to be forcefully used and defended. So it’s not an easy question, but we have to be more sensitive to the claims and knowledge and expertise in people like yourself.
SEN. DASCHLE: A question in the back. Yes?
Q: Hi, my name is Cecilia Larson (sp). I’m a Master of Foreign Service student at Georgetown University. I’m also from Norway, so I’m one of those international students who have come to learn about American politics here. Thank you.
I have a question concerning Iraq in fixing the problem of Iraq – or “fixing Iraq,” quote, unquote. A lot of the discussions since I’ve come here is: should we increase the number of troops or decrease or pull out? And this is a very high power focus approach obviously and you need high power to solve problems of civil war and kidnapping and insurgencies. But also as you mentioned, you have problems of poverty, unemployment, and if a young man who is unemployed faced with opportunity of staying at home or taking up a rifle and getting money for it, he’ll probably take it up.
So why is there so little discussion on development, and you’d mentioned that development aid and programs in Iraq to deal with these problems in addition, obviously, to the high power approaches? Thank you.
REP. HAMILTON: I have to apologize to you. I just cannot at this point make any comments about Iraq. I know you’ll be disappointed by that. Tom said he’d give me a second chance here to come back and talk about it; I will. But I really cannot at this point. We’ve just completed the work on our Iraq Study Group. We’re making recommendations. They’re sensitive at this point and any comment I have as a member of that group would have a lot of implications at this point, and I just cannot respond. I’m sorry.
SEN. DASCHLE: We’ll take a couple of questions in the room again, but let me turn to Dean Campbell who asked the question: “To what extent do you believe the intelligence agencies have responded adequately to the recommendations made by the Commission?”
REP. HAMILTON: I think it’s a work in progress. The institutional structures are there now – the