Former Senator Gary Hart DIV ’61 LAW ’64, a Democrat from Colorado, inaugurated the lecture series “Democracy, Security and Justice: Perspectives on the American Future” in Battell Chapel on Tuesday.
Hart and former Senator Warren Rudman co-chaired a commission examining national security that presented an extensive report earlier this year warning of America’s susceptibility to terrorist attacks. Staff Reporter Taryn Williams talked with Hart the morning of his speech.
Yale Daily News: The report [issued by the Hart-Rudman commission] stated “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers” in coming years. A CNN story that aired on January 31, 2001, quoted Lee Hamilton, a member of the Hart-Rudman committee, hypothesizing about an attack on lower Manhattan. In retrospect, the commission seemed eerily prescient. Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead compared you and the commission to Cassandra, the prophet whose warnings are tragically ignored. The last three weeks have been upsetting for all Americans, but can you discuss your personal reactions to the events of September 11th, given your convictions that a terrorist attack was likely?
Senator Hart: We all felt and all said “We will be attacked somehow, sometime.” Now individually, some of us were more Cassandra than others — I felt obviously stunned, shocked, dismayed, grief, all the emotions of everyone else, but I also felt very frustrated.
We couldn’t get people to listen.
The News: You and Senator Rudman wrote in the foreword to Phase Three of the commission’s report that “American power and influence have been decisive factors for democracy and security throughout the last half-century,” and the commission had concluded “that without significant reforms, American power and influence cannot be sustained.” To what extent do you believe American power and influence have been undermined or diminished by the events of September 11th?
Hart: They’ve certainly been thrown into question, not only by our own country but by nations around the world. Everybody is waiting, including Americans, to see how we react. And depending on how we react and how successful it is will determine the outcome of your question.
That is to say, if we are successful at stopping the terrorist attacks not only against us but against other people, if we get to the core of the networks, if we shut off the money supply, if we do what President Bush has said — “smoke them out and chase them down” — then I think our power and prestige go up.
If, however, we are unsuccessful, if further attacks occur — and I think attempts will be made to attack us again — if we can’t prevent that, if Americans continue to die and our nation becomes paralyzed and terrorized, and we fundamentally change our behavior, then I think we lose.
The News: In an essay you wrote this week in Time magazine, you argue the Office of Homeland Security recently created by President Bush must be more powerful than initially proposed. What do you see as the shortcomings of the structure of the new agency, and how do you propose to remedy them?
Hart: It’s a little difficult to critique the President’s proposal because it’s changed at least once. In the speech to Congress, there were just two sentences — an Office of Homeland Security headed by [Pa.] Governor [Tom] Ridge. That was that. About five or six days ago the White House changed that to a Homeland Security Council, which was a fundamentally different thing. They used the analogy of the National Security Council. Let’s take that second iteration; the first one was so vague, it was unclear.
We believe — myself, Senator Rudman and the members of our commission — that that is not going to do the job for the following reasons. The component parts of that council are all going to remain pieces of other government departments … The way to do it, we believe, is to separate those pieces of agencies from their home departments and put them in this new agency — So it’s fundamentally different. It sounds to most citizens like that’s just Washington bureaucracy, but it matters hugely. Hugely.
The News: What should be the relationship between this new Homeland Security Agency and U.S. intelligence agencies?
Hart: There are two things this agency should not be: It should not be another intelligence agency; it shouldn’t subsume the CIA, and it shouldn’t be the CIA. It also should not be a military agency. It shouldn’t be part of the Department of Defense or the Defense Department should not be part of it.
On the other hand, having said that, the new agency should be able to say to the CIA, “Here’s the following checklist of information we need to do our job.” And depending on the authority given by the President, that request can be moved to the top of the CIA’s agenda
The News: How will we know when we have taken all possible measure to secure our country and that we are as safe as we can be?
Hart: I think somebody needs to come up with a standard, if you will [such as] “best possible practices,” “every reasonable prudent step,” or something like that. And even that sounds kind of modest, but even that is a huge step up. Let me tell you why.
Take our borders alone: Every day 1.3 million people cross the border one way or the other; 58,000 shipping containers, mostly sealed, come into 20-30 ports; 340,000 vehicles cross our borders. The Coast Guard estimates that among themselves, the border patrol and customs, one to two percent are inspected. Even then we see pictures of trucks, and containers in ship yards stacked up, awaiting inspection.
It’s a daunting task, and as I said in the Time article, somehow we must increase that inspection without strangling international commerce, and that’s very, very difficult. It’s one thing to say that’s our goal, and another thing to actually do it on the ground — It’s a moving target, and it’s a target that’s getting bigger. We will probably never inspect every shipping container that comes into America — it would shut down commerce — But we will never be perfectly secure. There’s no such thing, given the nature of our society.
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