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New Terror/Old Terror

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frances Townsend, former Homeland Security Advisor under President George W. Bush, discusses the future of counterterrorism.

She is a participant in a panel discussion "World at Risk? WMDs and the Specter of Future Terror" at NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security tonight.

Guests:

Frances Townsend

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Comments [56]

John from Oakland, NJ

Brian,

Ms. Townsend is repeating the old Bush line--that he protected the US from more Al Qaeda attacks. As usual, a disaster prompts us to do good things and bad things. We tightened airline security that we had been resisting for years,we concentrated more efforts on border security and we asked our security agencies to concentrate more on homeland security. Unfortunately, we did not do a good job on FEMA. But, we also trampled on civil rights and hid more goverment actions from the public.

People seem to think Al Qaeda is dumb. They know that another 9/11 type attack would bring the U.S. on top of them in a minute, along with the rest of the free world. We would attack the tribal areas in Pakistan, with or without Pakistan approval.

Instead Al Qaeda let us do dumb things like invade Iraq and start a militant tribal war.

Jan. 28 2009 05:44 PM
seth from Long Island

Where is the outrage in this country that nearly 8 years after the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden and Zawahiri are still free men?

Frances Townshend should be ashamed of herself for Bush's failure to kill or capture Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Jan. 28 2009 02:01 PM
Edward Helmrich from Larchmont, NY

Because we have taken a turn toward pro-choice (pro-abortion), we have no hope of security, no matter what steps we take.

Jan. 28 2009 01:00 PM
barry from Manhattan

Paulo you are right, it is a balance. These actors should be held accountable but almost never in a public court.
NO simple answer.
Just so we move forward knowing that 5th G warfare is here to stay and that means stay tuned for "dirty bombs"
"Germ Warfare", loose nukes, ect... any of the many "force multipliers" a David uses against Goliath

Jan. 28 2009 12:31 PM
barry from Manhattan

"Trigger pullers" means the CIA or FBI, the guys who actually do the searching and killing.
These groups should have a lot of leeway because the downside is very unsavory.
I mean beyond Obama...

Jan. 28 2009 12:26 PM
Peter from Sunset Park

Robert,

YOU don't care what she thinks. I do. Instead of pretending you speak for the people, why don't you share a specific point.

Your friend,

Peter

Jan. 28 2009 11:47 AM
Paulo from Paterson, NJ

barry, the problem is that power is a fluid. It fills and takes the shape of the space it is given. If you give people more power, they will use it. If you give the government the legal rights based on a worst-case scenario, they you essentially authorize them to do whatever they want whenever they want to do it.

I come from a country where the rules were "loose", where the authorities were given a great degree of latitude, and where there was a real threat of (domestic) terrorists. The result was a network of prisons used to house anybody who criticized the government, torturing of political opponents, and over 10,000 people murdered by their own government. I never assume the government will use its power responsibly.

If you give one man the power to choose who is or is not a terrorist, and then you give them the power to do whatever they feel like to that "terrorist", then you've thrown it all away. Set restrictions. If they encounter the unthinkable, they will do what they have to and the laws be damned. But you cannot set policy based on a hypothetical worst case scenario.

Jan. 28 2009 11:44 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Barry dahling...I think you have your fingers on the wrong keys or you need a spell check real bad! Hate cliche "pull the trigger" let it go already.

Not happy now about what she supports, her opinion is zero to me. She is delusional!

Jan. 28 2009 11:40 AM
barry from Manhattan

Robert, sorry man. You see in this country and this station "all view points" are allowed.
In fact if her view is the minority view, we have even a greater responsibility to give her a platform.
Not the other way around.

Jan. 28 2009 11:35 AM
Paulo from Paterson, NJ


Michael, you raise a good point. Something either is torture or isn't torture. Its definition does not vary based on circumstances. The debate is not "when is it torture?" The real debate is (or should be) "Is torture ever acceptable?"

Jan. 28 2009 11:34 AM
barry from Manhattan

I just think the rules for the "trigger pullers" should be kept very loose, becauese if a dirty bomb/ or a major attack hits the US it will distort US polotics beyong recognition.
Better to make a few mistakes along the way than get caught unawares and lose all our civil rights.

Jan. 28 2009 11:31 AM
Michael from Park Slope

I just DO NOT get the "situation ethics"-style discussion of whether or not waterboarding is torture.

I assume that Gonzales, et al. sit in church on Sunday where the presider says (especially to children) "the ends never justify the means." I guess that depends.

I assume that suspending someone over a vat of boiling oil would be torture--Or does that depend on "context" and secret legal opinions and what results were achieved?

Michael

Jan. 28 2009 11:28 AM
Joy from Brooklyn, NY

Yes, and aren't we acting inn our own interest by invading the countries in order to "reform" their government to better benefit our own greed?

Jan. 28 2009 11:27 AM
Robert from NYC

I tuned out Brian is more irritating than she. How can you give this person a platform to spew her deceptive garbage. Are you trying to put the Bush administration in a better light?! You can't. Bye

Jan. 28 2009 11:27 AM
Norman from NYC

Under a Republican president, the Japanese never attacked Pearl Harbor -- which is more than the Democrats can say.

Jan. 28 2009 11:27 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

speaking of learning on the job....

Jan. 28 2009 11:26 AM
KC from Brooklyn

"We're not going to be safer if more people like us."

Just thought that was worth repeating. Ergo: Hatred of Americans doesn't contribute to terrorism against the West. It doesn't? What does, then, exactly?

Jan. 28 2009 11:26 AM
Pedro Palacios from New Jersey ,United States

Why is your guest, just as Alberto Gonzalez was. so reticent to call waterboarding ingtorture? By now it is well known that it is and that people would say anything to make it stop, so the information gathered that way is unreliable. We should set the example of treat prisoners, otherwise we have no right to complain when our soldiers are treated the same. Torture is torture. Stop dancing around the issue. If Saddam Hussein had used waterboarding we would have cited that as en example of his "evilways."

Jan. 28 2009 11:25 AM
barry from Manhattan

Well you can all rest easy, she supports the Obama's pick!
Feel better now.

Jan. 28 2009 11:25 AM
HC from nyc

We might not have "transparency and sharing" with the international community because of Bush's policies that have alienated the international community. In additon, if Alkaida has actually grown and Townsend says then isn't it also because we have given them so many more allies because we have alienated so much of the world.

The "Freedoms that we cherish" are precisely the freedoms that Bush has attempted to take away! This is sick.

Jan. 28 2009 11:25 AM
Betty Anne from UES

Can you ask her about Bush's relationship with the Saudi government (monarch)? Is it a conflict of interest? We know they fund terrorism.

Jan. 28 2009 11:25 AM
Francis from New YOrk

She's quiblling over the legality of waterboarding - what we need to consider is whether waterboarding is barbaric, immoral and uncivilised - which it was. We have seen how lawyers managed to make torture "legal" in memos - so that is completely disingenuous. Waterboarding is torture - end of discussion.

Jan. 28 2009 11:24 AM
Randy Paul from Jackson Heights

This is the woman who said that the failure to capture Osama bin Laden was not a failure, but a success that hasn't happened yet.

Along those sm lines, the fact that I haven't won the lottery nor have I engaged in a menage a trois with Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie ar not failures; they're just successes that haven't happened yet!

Jan. 28 2009 11:23 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Why is she still using this ignorant "learning on the job" reference?

Jan. 28 2009 11:23 AM
e stone from chappaqua ny

This woman is another apologist for the Bush administration and delusional. Worse, her facts are absurd.
Really, Brian, no appropriate rebuttal???

Jan. 28 2009 11:22 AM
markbnj from www.markbnj.blogspot.com or sos-newdeal.blogspot.com

Ms Townsend:

As the person (as discussed in NSPD-51) Here:
http://markbnj.blogspot.com/2007/05/dictator-bush-lookie-at-latest_24.html

She would have been our new 'dictator' in case of an emergency declaration.

Can she comment on her feelings about NSPD-51??

(national security presidential directive 51 (issued 5/9/07)

Jan. 28 2009 11:22 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

warrantless wire taps, rendidtion, supending haebus corpus, etc...she sounds like a nice woman who cares about america but she ain't the one making decisions

Jan. 28 2009 11:21 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Frances is in love with Bush, shoulda married him since your so pro accentuate the positive!

Jan. 28 2009 11:20 AM
Norman from NYC

Richard, you don't see any elephants rampaging on Broadway, do you?

Jan. 28 2009 11:20 AM
chris

why even have idiots like this on the show? once again Brian and the producers show their naivete in assuming good faith of Rightists like this woman.

because their were Psychologist, Doctors and lawyers who lacked ethics that makes it legal? because office of legal counsel said it was legal that makes it so- to toruture etc.?

I could very well go and find an accountant who would do all kinds of shady things on my tax return- but that doesn't make it legal. anyway John Woo and David addingtonm bascically took the position that if the president does it in a time of war- it's legal.

give me a break!

Jan. 28 2009 11:20 AM
Randy Paul from Jackson Heights

Would Ms. Townsend be willing to be waterboarded to see if it's torture?

Jan. 28 2009 11:20 AM
Robert from NYC

We don't care what she thinks!!

Jan. 28 2009 11:20 AM
ceolaf from brooklyn


Brian,

I think that your first substantive question was somewhat misleading and irresponsible.

While it may be true that there have not been terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11, to ask the question you did is to accept a premise that should be questioned. Particularly, that attacks on U.S. soil should be viewed differently than attack elsewhere.

Bush's War or Terror cost us more American lives an treasure than all the terrorist attacks against the United States in all of history, combined. That they died elsewhere, rather than on U.S. doesn't mean that that they don't count. Those are American lives, too.

Furthermore, this pro-Bush premise assumes that the United States has the moral right to use other countries as battlefields, truly a questionable assumption.

And then we to the fact that the war in Iraq, truly the major element of Bush's War on Terror, truly his main effort done in the name of protecting the homeland, has done nothing to make us safer. In fact, it likely has created and trained far more future terrorists than it eliminated.

Jan. 28 2009 11:19 AM
Paulo from Paterson, NJ


This is the major problem that I see. Townsend just presented the spin. She said that the "result" of the policies is undeniable. While it is certainly undeniable that we haven't been attacked (on US soil) since 9/11, I would seriously challenge whether this reality is a RESULT of policies.

Al Qaeda, in attacking us on 9/11, accomplished its goal: to suck the USA into a war in the Middle East. That it has failed to galvanize the region in the way they had hoped is a result of the failure of their tactics.

The problem is that we paint terrorists as being wholly irrational killing machines that will needlessly expend resources simply for the sake of creating violence. Even as early as the mid-1990s, people in the intel biz knew that the goal of the 1993 bombers was to provoke the US. 9/11 accomplished that goal, so why waste resources with additional attacks?

That's not to say that there haven't been attempts or serious threats since then from AQ or their affiliates, but saying that because we haven't been hit again must mean that George Bush's policies are vindicated is to not look at the data very carefully.

Jan. 28 2009 11:19 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Why don't you all channel your energies towards preventing a future attack rather than taking this wait until next time position just to how the present administration handles the situation.

Jan. 28 2009 11:19 AM
Robert from NYC

Now she's trying to deceive us in the way she has been deceiving and probably continues to deceive herself.
Because one acts on thinking something is legal when it isn't that's ok? As long as I think its' legal I'm free from prosecution if what I do it illegal?

Jan. 28 2009 11:18 AM
HC from nyc

in addition, can we just be clear. the worst terror attacks that have occurred in our history happened on Bushes watch.

Jan. 28 2009 11:17 AM
Jesse from New York

This is the worst type of historical rewrite. The evidence indicates that security services in the country were bloated, full of patronage and ineffective during the Bush years. Look at Katrina. That was the only real test of “homeland security” and it failed. To say that the Bush administration increased our securities capabilities is a bold faced lie.

The reason why there were no terrorist attacks (after 9/11) was because it was not within the terrorists strategic interests to launch an attack on America during the Bush years. Bush did everything the terrorist could have possibly wanted to weaken America. A terrorist attack risked having America call these policies into question. Moreover, terrorists think globally- attacks in Spain and Jordan and Pakistan undermined American security by alienating our allies- the fact that Bush’s Homeland Security advisor does not acknowledge this is an even bigger example of what an inept administration Bush ran.

Jan. 28 2009 11:17 AM
Mike from Bellport

How does the DHS, the largest bureaucracy in the world, help us fight terror or protect our country?

Wasn't the DHS created as a response to the bureaucracy in the FBI and the CIA among others? How does creating more and bigger bureaucracy and an agency which now costs billions of dollars help us?

Jan. 28 2009 11:17 AM
Jesse from New York

This is the worst type of historical rewrite. The evidence indicates that security services in the country were bloated, full of patronage and ineffective during the Bush years. Look at Katrina. That was the only real test of “homeland security” and it failed. To say that the Bush administration increased our securities capabilities is a bold faced lie.

The reason why there were no terrorist attacks (after 9/11) was because it was not within the terrorists strategic interests to launch an attack on America during the Bush years. Bush did everything the terrorist could have possibly wanted to weaken America. A terrorist attack risked having America call these policies into question. Moreover, terrorists think globally- attacks in Spain and Jordan and Pakistan undermined American security by alienating our allies- the fact that Bush’s homeland security advisor does not acknowledge this is an even bigger example of what an inept administration Bush ran.

Jan. 28 2009 11:16 AM
Robert from NYC

She really hasn't a clue. Does she think the Bush policies ARE in fact the law?

Jan. 28 2009 11:16 AM
Sam Mak from NYC

Ms Townsend is soliciting credits for the Bush administration regarding the absence of attacks here at home after 9/11. Perhaps that's claiming credit too aggressively. Any president probably would have beefed up security, if not better, and achieved that result. Does she meant that because we so enthusiastically prosecuted the Iraq invasion the Bush administration earned that credit? By so inconsiderately sending our sons and daughters to die for something that needn't have been? The Bush administration coined it as a "war" in Iraq. We'd rather think it's an invasion because it was a unilateral action taken by us.

Jan. 28 2009 11:16 AM
KC from Brooklyn

"There's no controversy about the results: no attacks."

Really? Then allow me to introduce some: terrorism went up exponentially worldwide under Bush. More people died (including thousands of American servicemen and military contractors) than would have without this bloated, largely redundant government program. The world is exponentially less safe, and it's only a matter of time until that blows back on us in our homeland (rather than just on 4,000+ young soldiers and Marines who wanted to earn some money for college). So, sorry; any thinking person sees a bit of "controversy" there.

Jan. 28 2009 11:15 AM
HC from nyc

Yes, perhaps we have succeeded in preventing a terror attack but only with the failure of upholding the principles of our constitution and at the expense of violating human rights (through torture, illegal war, hiring mercenaries like Black Water with no oversight etc.). So, yes, we have prevented new terror attacks but only by utilizing the techniques of terror. Isn't it then in a sense a complete failure (and act of total cynacism) to admit that we cannot prevent terror attacks without compromising the very democratic basis and human rights that this country was supposedly founded on?

Jan. 28 2009 11:15 AM
a. hammagaadji

Bushies propogation of not being attacked since Sept. 11 as if the bush administration began on Sept. 12. The question should be reframed to accurately reflect the truth. Did America suffer under the worse attack on it's soil since Pearl Harbor? The answer is yes. Did this attack come under the bush administration? Yes. Did bush keep us safe? Hell No!

Jan. 28 2009 11:14 AM
hjs from 11211


no new attack-
maybe they had no plan to attack this soon.
maybe they are sitting in fancy apartments in laughing at us running around like chickens with our heads cut off.
maybe they enjoyed watching cheney-bush ripping up my constitution

Jan. 28 2009 11:14 AM
Norman from NYC

What do you say to those people who say, "We have to be able to torture people. What if somebody had hidden a nuclear bomb in New York City, and the only way to find out where it is and save 8 million lives was to torture his wife and children in front of him until he reveals where it is?"

Jan. 28 2009 11:14 AM
Richard Bonomo from Yonkers

This notion that Bush protected us is a convenient belief. They could as likely take credit for having kept elephants from stampeding down Broadway. Reasonableness is not the same as reality and it doesn't prove cause for an effect.

Jan. 28 2009 11:13 AM
Nick from NYC


We often hear the statement made that various "attacks have been foiled". Can you ask your guest to detail one or two of these that were serious, credible threats, not just some fringe wannabees talking in their living rooms?

Jan. 28 2009 11:13 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

we killed people that didn't need or deserved to be killed...that is what the "War on Terror" (tm) has got us...

Jan. 28 2009 11:12 AM
Tom from Toronto

Can we please stop using the word "Homeland". It sounds like something Adolf Hitler would have used.

Also, I have a question for Frances Townsend.

Q: Are you worried about possibly being prosecuted for violations of law for what you did while in office?

Thank you.

Jan. 28 2009 11:12 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

Hm, that should be "...no attacks (provided one starts the record on September 12, 2001)."

Jan. 28 2009 11:11 AM
Peter from Sunset Park

Barry,

I agree with you. We will not really know for decades, but right now, it looks like the Bush administration did exactly what it said it was going to do - take the fight out of the United States and to the terrorists.

Brian, you asked many questions over the past few weeks regarding Israel’s response to Hamas and the proportionality of it all. It would be only fair to ask Ms. Townsend if the United States has been disproportionate in our response to 9/11. Or, do you only ask such questions about Israel? I guess I am suggesting that you not hold Israel and Jews to a different standard then everyone else – that is what I expect from WNYC.

As always, love the show even when I have strong reservations.

Jan. 28 2009 11:10 AM
Norman from NYC

Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate in economics, told the Wall Street Journal that, with the exception of the World Trade towers, "terrorism is an almost minuscule problem" The number of people who die from terrorist attacks is smaller than the number of people who die in bathtubs. The 3,000 people who died in the Trade Towers is 3 1/2 weeks of automobile fatalities.

Does Miss Townsend agree with Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling?

Terrorism is a problem, but where do we stop spending money and restricting freedoms?

Jan. 28 2009 11:10 AM
barry from Manhattan

Just wait till the next major terror attack happens, It could easily distort the (political) US beyond recognition.
Better to make a few mistakes and keep the rules loose than to have a city "dirty bombed and have all our civil rights taken because we get so freaked out/\

Jan. 28 2009 10:52 AM
Ann Wilensky from Manhattan

She was interviewed on CNN and asked by Ed Henry if not getting Bin Laden was a failure Her response "it wasn't a failure, it's a success that hasn't happened yet". Please ask her what she meant.

Jan. 28 2009 10:21 AM

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