Thursday, Sept. 11, 2002
(Interview with Chris Core, WMAL Radio)
Q: Our coverage continues here on WMAL. We're honored to have the Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke on the line with us from her office in the Pentagon. We were there today for the ceremony and it was just beautiful. I have to tell you, I think your boss Donald Rumsfeld gave just an excellent speech. It was terrific.
Clarke: You're nice to say so. It's an amazing day for all the reasons that you all have been talking about on your show today and I know it meant a lot to the Secretary and I know in particular, I don't know how much you got to see of it, but after the formal ceremony was over he went and spent a lot of time with the families -- to see how they're doing and to make sure they understood just how important it was that we were commemorating this in a way that was meaningful to them. It meant a lot to the Secretary.
Q: Tell me where we are in the status of this level "Orange" in terms of the terrorist warning. It was very frightening yesterday with all of the emotions we were carrying around with us then to have that ratcheted up another notch. I assume we're still there. Any idea of how long we're going to be there? Have we thwarted any attempted attacks against us? Do you know anything?
Clarke: I don't know how long it will last, but two things:
One, it is a recognition. It's not exactly a great thing, but it is a recognition of the very different world in which we find ourselves these days. It is such an understatement to say we live in a very different environment than we did last year or five years or ten years ago. And two, the government has to make tough choices every day. What kind of threat alerts are we going to put out there? What kind of conditions do we want to have? They base those tough decisions on a variety of sources. The information isn't always specific. That's just the nature of the beast we're dealing with here. But if it's credible enough and they say we think it's important to take these extra precautions, that's what they do.
Q: Do we know if anything was attempted today that we were able to thwart, or --
Clarke: I'll be honest with you. We have been so busy here today I have not been able to keep up on every piece of information.
Q: There is one story, and I don't know whether you can comment on this or not but it's been spread by the Associated Press now, we were tipped earlier in the day, that a ship was detained off the port of Newark and because the Coast Guard picked up radioactivity aboard the ship, the ship was taken out several miles away from the coast and as best we've found it's still out there and they're searching trying to figure out what's going on. Do you know anything about that?
Clarke: The last time I checked on that one, Chris, there was not DoD involvement. But it's an interesting question. Have we thwarted anything, have we stopped anything, where are we one year later? There have been some very clear instances where by piecing together information, information we get from detainees, information we pick up from the battlefields in Afghanistan, actual attacks against U.S. personnel, for instance Singapore, has been thwarted and there have been instances in other places and there have been many other countries who have arrested people who had clear intent to do harm to us and to our friends and allies around the world.
So progress is being made. But when you're talking about shifting into a very, very different national security environment, a very different context, it takes time for people to recognize those things.
Q: I was struck today when I was at the Pentagon by the fact that the planes from National Airport were flying what seemed to be their normal patterns virtually over the Pentagon. I guess I was led to believe that during the ceremonies there that the skies would be cleared and they weren't. Was I just misinformed on that, or was a change made?
Clarke: I hope nobody deliberately misinformed you. My understanding was that they actually were different patterns and certain runways weren't used, those sorts of things, to try to keep the flights at a certain distance away from the Pentagon.
Q: You can't tell that from the ground obviously.
Q: There is a story today in the, I think it comes from one of the Boston papers, the Boston Globe, talking about that the hawks within the Administration have bold plans that go beyond even a possible invasion of Iraq, possibly reshaping the entire Middle East. Is there an element in the Administration that says look, we're going to start over with the Middle East and that perhaps in a generation it will look entirely different than it does now?
Clarke: You know, there's an expression around here that is very true and that is certain things are above my pay grade. Where we go next and specifically what we do next, say in the war on terrorism, on a broad foreign policy matter like that are certainly above my pay grade.
But two things for certain, and I think the President has made this so clear. The danger and destruction of weapons of mass destruction, and that's a very big threat, a very real and growing threat we face today, are so great that the one thing we know we can't do is nothing. We have to take some course of action to prevent future attacks the likes of which we saw on 9/11. You think about the terrible, terrible tragedy and the lives that were devastated as a result of a few airplanes flying into the sides of buildings, the kind of devastation that can be caused by a chemical or biological weapon could be far greater.
So the one course of action of which we are certain is that we will not do nothing.
In terms of how we decide what the appropriate course of action is going forward, the President has also made it very, very clear it's going to be a deliberative process, it's going to be one that involves a lot of consultation and coordination with our allies. I think a lot of people are appropriately looking forward to his remarks tomorrow at the United Nations. It will involve a lot of consultation and work with the United States Congress and providing information to them, to the American people.
So we can all be, as Secretary Rumsfeld likes to say, operating off the same sheet of music. We can all be operating off the same set of facts, if you will, and the same level of understanding and we can make the tough decisions, weigh the risks of what's appropriate and what's not.
So two things we know for certain: We can't do nothing. The risks are just too greater. The devastation will be too likely and too huge. And we're going to have a very deliberate and appropriate process.
Q: I'm about to ask my listeners in the next hour, tomorrow's September 12th. Now what? Where do we go from here? And part of that tone will be set by President Bush tonight in the speech at Ellis Island here in about two hours. I don't know what he's going to say. I have an idea what he's going to say. And then of course the speech you just mentioned, the one tomorrow morning at the United Nations. It seems like just as we finish this year and the closure that we feel after marking an anniversary and now September 12th is kind of like a fresh start, that the President is going to be calling upon us to gird ourselves for some pretty tough stuff. Can we expect that tomorrow at the United Nations? Is this tough talk to the United States and to the world from President Bush tomorrow?
Clarke: It really isn't appropriate for me to preview the President's remarks tomorrow, but I don't think it should be lost on people the amount of time and attention he has taken and his Administration has taken to try to go through the deliberative process, the consultative process that I was talking about. It is so important that we are all recognizing and dealing with the same circumstances and saying okay, we wish it were otherwise but we are facing some very, very different circumstances in this world and ask ourselves the tough questions. How are we going to handle those? How are we going to prevent more 9/11s?
One other thing I do think you will see reflected. I'm sure you'll see it reflected tonight and it's something we have all thought about over the last few days and weeks around here. You can never get into the mind of somebody with the al Qaeda and who wants to? But we all know for certain that the 9/11 attacks last year were designed, perhaps primarily, to demoralize the United States. To frighten us, it so knocked us off our feet that we might never recover. But really to demoralize us and set us back and it has had the exact opposite effect. Sure, people these days aren't waking up and thinking about 9/11 as much as they did last October, November, December, but still the unity and the sense of purpose that it has brought to so many Americans, makes people like us go okay, it was terrible what happened last year and we never want that to happen again, but to see the kind of patriotism and dedication and sense of purpose that we've seen across the country over the last year has been pretty remarkable.
Q: Let me just close our conversation with Torie Clarke at the Pentagon with what your boss said today. His speech, as I said, was very impressive. He said, "We will win this war on terror. We will win no matter how long or how hard or how difficult or how costly it is. One day our grandchildren will look back on this time and ask how was the war on terror won, and we will tell them about the brave men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom. We remember them today and to their families, many of whom are here, we know that we have not forgotten but let us do more than remember. The greatest honor we can bestow upon them, the best memorial we can fashion for them is to protect our liberty and secure it for generations to come. That is our charge. That is our responsibility."
Secretary Rumsfeld made it very clear.
Clarke: He did that.
Q: He did that.
Thank you for coming on the program.
Clarke: Chris, thank you very much.
Q: We're delighted to have you on.
Victoria Clarke, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs joining us here on WMAL.