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The Next Attack

The Next Attack

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CIA headquarters. Source: Getty Images hide caption

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According to Ronald Kessler, author of The Terrorist Watch: Inside The Desperate Race To Stop The Next Attack, it is remarkable that there hasn't been another major terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11. In his new book, Kessler focuses on how the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Counterterrorism Center have averted bombings, bioterrorism, and more. He'll join us in the second hour. What questions do you have about the intelligence community? Do you wonder how it has changed since Sept. 11?



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When we give-up our humanity by torturing - when we give up our laws of habeus corpus - when we become as ruthless as our enemies - what is ther left to protect of our "way-of-life"?

Sent by Jerry | 3:51 PM | 12-12-2007

I am sick and tired of hearing people like your guest that torture has helped the US thwart terrorism. NOne of these spokespersons ever gives a specific example that is backed up with real evidence of this. they always refer to "secret" info that only they can know. Every time they are asked for a single specific people like your guest say it is top secret. Or the evidence has been destroyed as we saw again this week. it is time to put a stop to the brutality and secretiveness of this administration and its defenders committeed in the name of the US.

There IS evidence that traditional interrogation HAS stopped terrorism. There is nothing to prove that Water boarding is any better.

Sent by john in ohio | 3:54 PM | 12-12-2007

I'd be curious to know how much of the information gathered using torture is genuine and viable. Torture has been applied for hundreds of years, the Inqusition, the Salem witch trials, etc. and there is much evidence to suggest that much of the information gathered was invalid. It seems that people will say anything just to make it stop.

Sent by Alissa McCarthy | 3:54 PM | 12-12-2007


So the world media just has the wrong idea because of bad press?

So nothing ever happened in Central America?
There was no CIA involvement?
There was no torture?

And Central America was the only place?
This was somehow some different CIA?
The world should call that a different game and forget the CIA that they know all too well?

Very interesting world view Mr Kessler.
It makes me doubt your motives.

Sent by Donald L Macleay | 3:57 PM | 12-12-2007

Does anyone see the twisted logic here? We prepare our troops for torture by torturing them so it isn't torture if we do it to the enemy. Talk about double-speak!

Sent by mary | 3:58 PM | 12-12-2007

You are giving this Mr. Kessler a free pass.
He has repeated the lie that terror has not hit the US because of our torture policy. There is no evidence of this, he knows it and you do too.
Seems like you are taking sides?

Sent by john | 3:59 PM | 12-12-2007

I find Mr. Kessler and his views despicable. If everyone believes as he does the terrorists have already won. Only we can bring down America - the citizens. When we sacrifice our principles, beliefs, and freedoms to "protect" ourselves against these people then they've suceeded in bringing down America.

We can fight terrorists with legal means and without lowering ourselves to their level. We have been cowered by fear into giving up our liberties/freedoms for supposed security.

And someone being tortured will tell you anything you want to here.

I have no intention of reading this drivel. If I wanted to hear this right wing pandering I could tune into Hannity or Limbaugh.

Sent by Dennis Wolfe | 4:00 PM | 12-12-2007

It would be nice if unsubstaniated claims would get at least some challenge. A right wing "journalist" comes out with another book claiming that all of the criticism directed towards the government's campaign of torture and abuse of civil liberties is the fault of the media. If we did not know the government tortured than the government, ipso facto, did not torture. And even if they did, well we have not been attacked again so the torture that is not torture must be working. And then this "journalist" decides to constantly use the N word (Nuclear) to make sure to scare anyone into accepting his faulty logic. Lets see this "journalist" prove that without torture and suspension of civil liberties we would have been attacked by a nuclear bomb. When fear mongering and Orwellian double speak take the place of real journalism it would be nice to see some kind of challenge.

Sent by George from Oregon | 4:03 PM | 12-12-2007

It was infuriating to listen to this guest repeat again and again that water boarding was acceptable because U.S. Special Forces personnel experienced it during their training. If it is NOT torture, then why are Special Forces personnel exposed to it? One can reasonably assume that these individuals are being prepared for the possibility that when they are captured, they may be subject to all forms of torture and abuse, and therefore, must be trained to resist. So, if we accept this premise, then why is water boarding no longer a form of torture when foreign captives and terrorism suspects undergo the procedure?

Sent by Edward Hashima | 4:03 PM | 12-12-2007

I only heard part of this person's interview but what I heard infuriated me. The notion that the ends justify the means - his contention that since several potential terrorist activities may have been stopped because of CIA torture of detainees - is complete anathema to everything the United States is supposed to represent. Any time a country that is supposed to be a country of freedoms governed by laws stoops to the tactics of our enemies, we have failed and become less than them.

Sent by David Yohn | 4:04 PM | 12-12-2007

This is who you invited on your show as an expert?

What the heck is going on at NPR?

The guy is no expert.

How about some quality programing , Niel.

Summary: On The O'Reilly Factor, chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler falsely claimed that Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton "voted to give Osama bin Laden the same rights that Americans have when it comes to intercepting his calls, even if he made calls within Pakistan, to Pakistan. They voted in August to not revise the FISA act." In fact, Obama and Clinton both voted for legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin that would have amended FISA to allow warrantless wiretapping of foreign-to-foreign calls, regardless of whether they are transmitted through the United States.

Sent by john | 4:04 PM | 12-12-2007

To me the single bigest reason why we have not been attack has to do with "how" the terrorist choose to attack us. By all indications they are looking to attack our institutions and symbols. The day they decide it is better to shoot up libaries, malls, or schools with automated or semi-automated weapons instead of blowing up airports we will understand this. If we cannot stop trouble youths or mentally desturbed persons who are successful with little planning, imagine what a 4 member cell can do!!!

Sent by Monroe Taylor | 4:04 PM | 12-12-2007

People in the CIA have a tendency to believe everyone is a spy and overblow there importance. If you work for them your trained to see a spook around every corner. If so many terrorist plots have been stopped, why is it that there has been no convictions or trials?

Because the majority of everyything the CIA is chasing is overblown so as to make the American People live in fear.

Sent by Stan | 4:05 PM | 12-12-2007

There was recently a very experienced U.S. intelligence agent on NPR -- I believe he was on Fresh Air. He said that torture simply DOES NOT WORK, and outlined the efforts that do, which, in summary, seemed to be small bribes such as food, cigarettes, phone calls to loved ones, etc. -- in other words, rewards. Psychological research into motivation supports his experience. On a second front, just because police experience what pepper spray feels like in their eyes does not justify them using it on someone who is only a SUSPECT, not an immediate physical threat. So having our secret forces experience waterboarding does not justify their using it on SUSPECTS. Besides, as pointed out by the intelligent agent, it DOES NOT WORK. Why bother using it if it leads to only desperate, unreliable stories, while destroying our reputation as a civil country?

Sent by Terri | 4:06 PM | 12-12-2007

mr mc carthy proclaimed that he was protecting us from the communist threat in the fifties much as your guest relates how the intelligence community is currently protecting us from terrorist attacks. Is there any concrete evidence to believe that the threat from the latter is any more real than that from the former? 9/11 may be an isolated event.

Sent by Lawrence Maldonado | 4:06 PM | 12-12-2007

I wish the host would ask the author if he would be willing to be water boarded.
From the descriptions of the practice, I believe he could be convinced to change his mind on the question of whether water boarding is torture.
In fact, I believe he could be made to say anything the interrogator wanted.

Water boarding is torture. Torture in the pursuit of life saving intelligence is inevitable.It should not be considered lawful.
If an interrogator is willing to sacrifice the well being of an ALLEGED terrorist to save lives, he should be equally willing to chance his own incarceration.
Power with out oversight is all ways corrupting. A war without end offers endless justification for misdeeds.
If the government isn't doing any thing wrong, it should be OK with the peoples representatives watching over their shoulder. After all isn't that the crux of the argument for invasion of our personal privacy?

Sent by William | 4:25 PM | 12-12-2007

Such a dainty interview. Mr. Kessler spews the usual talking points, many distortions and a bizarre sense of reasoning that's shared with other proponents or torture. Neal Conan allows Mr. Kessler to prattle on without any serious, or thoughtful questions. Perhaps Mr. Conan is looking to be the Larry King of NPR. His show is becoming more of a friendly chitchat session where guest can promote their issues and themselves in a cheery setting. Please Mr. Conan, ask tough questions of your guest. Your audience expects it.

Sent by bradley | 5:24 PM | 12-12-2007

First, let me say that I concur with the other comments here that torture is wrong. I regard the use of torture as a radical departure from "the American way" of conducting social policy. To surrender the normative fiber of our society, I feel that the risks of loss posed by threat of terror must be commensurate with the changes the use of torture entails. Has anyone, Mr. Kessler included, suggested that the the US is as weak as the enemies we currently face? Would the use of torture reduce the risks associated with the terrorist threats of any of our enemies? Specifically, could Al Quaida overthrow our government if we didn't use torture against them? Could Iran conquer us and impose their religion on us? Could Korea convert us to a communist puppet state?

To weaken and undermine the fabric of our society's morality for such meager returns seems a rather foolish trade.

Sent by David | 6:49 PM | 12-12-2007

I am an avid listener and usually find Talk of the Nation programming, insightful, intelligent, noteworthy and unbiased. Often I am invigorated by the subject matter and do my own follow up "research" with delight. Today, your guest, Mr. Kessler drove me to research out of incredulity. Much of what was presented did not ring true. Judging from all the comments of fellow listeners, I am not alone, in this belief.

Sent by George in Cincinnati | 10:23 PM | 12-12-2007

It never ceases to amaze me how in the horrifying face of imminent nuclear terrorism, some Americans still divert the discussion away from the realities of stopping such a devastating event toward the most benign points of "moral high-ground", "global popularity" and "public perception". Has America forgotten, or are we naive to the realities of what just one nuclear detonation in one city would mean? Do we not realize that even the smallest nuclear device would destroy thousands of lives, devastate the environment and cause economic and cultural damage that would take decades to repair? Why isn't this discussed in a more matter of fact way, and couldn't a reasonable focus help us to be more proactive in prevention and preparation?

Sent by Jason Barber | 10:35 PM | 12-12-2007

I love "Talk of the Nation" and listen to it whenever I have the chance--but in yesterday's installment I was dismayed by what I heard. You interviewed a CIA representative who was given virtually a free rein to shamelessly regurgitate the Bush Administration's spin on the torture issue, and in so doing, filled the airwaves with a series of distortions, half-truths, dissembling and falsifications. One of his the more blatant untruths concerned his insistence that congress and the judiciary had approved these "enhanced" interrogations. It has been much the opposite. The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan that the Geneva prohibitions on cruel and degrading treatment DID apply to enemy combatants. And Congress passed the Anti-Torture Bill in 2005. Your guest would undoubtedly try to argue that since the treaty and bill does not specifically mention water-boarding (WB), it was, ex post facto, approving its use. Of course, that's much like saying that a law prohibiting murder that fails to mention some specific method of murder actually approves of the these exotic homicides. And then there was his disingenuous insistence that since our military actually uses water-boarding in some training exercises on our own troops, and that since it does no long-term harm, it can't, therefore, be torture. Of course, when we subject our troops to it, he neglected to mention that its an exercise in helping our elite soldiers withstand torture by the enemy, and that there is a profound difference between being subjected to this treatment by friends as opposed to an enemy. Even so, ask the Americans who have actually been WB by their own if the technique is torture. Everyone I've heard speak about it states without ambivalence that it IS in fact torture--even when conducted by your own. And finally, your guest seemed remarkably ignorant of the psychological ramifications of being tortured in this fashion--or indeed any fashion. But a grotesque lack of psychological insight is a hallmark of this entire Administration, as is any fealty to truth.

This Bush mouthpiece might have been challenged on his statements in so many ways--for instance, why is it that virtually to a man, all of the senior interrogators in the military and CIA--not to mention the JAGs--were against using torture. It's because they were wanting to elicit usable, reliable information--as well as wishing to follow international and domestic laws. They also were aware of what WB and other harsh techniques were really for. Much of the torture used by our forces actually originated with the N. Koreans who used it to elicit false confessions for propaganda purposes. It was never meant to obtain useful information. Why? Because torture will always succeed in getting the individual to talk, but the information is highly unreliable. Study after study has shown this. Recall those "orange" alerts we were subjected to in 2002? Most were the result of information obtained from a prisoner Abu Zubaydah--who knew virtually nothing, but supplied fanciful ideas about various plots, which the US acted upon, to get the torture to stop. How Al Qaeda must have laughed. Of course, Mr. Kessler might have been challenged on the vague assurances that these techniques have supplied valuable information--something we've heard over and over--but are never given any proof. Meanwhile, the undoubted tons of false information obtained through torture that has sent our agents scurrying in circles chasing false leads is never mentioned.

And then there was the old tried and true "what if . . ."--but what if we had a terrorist who knew the details of a plot to set off a nuclear device. What is the likelihood that this particular scenario will ever come to pass? And in such an eventuality, isn't it reasonable to assume that in such a high-stakes gambit, the captured terrorist would have memorized likely sounding details of the plot to send our investigators in the wrong direction? complete with planted false leads? Kessler talks about "survival," but if we reduce what that means to only our physical survival, while jettisoning our most cherished principles, the question then becomes, what has survived?

In short, your guest came off as being a Bush apparatchik, towing the party line with only misinformation to contribute--misinformation that was pointedly left unchallenged. Not one of the high points in the history of "Talk of the Nation" I fear.

Thomas W. Muther (MEEW-thir), Jr.
Topeka, KS

Sent by Thomas W. Muther, Jr. | 5:14 AM | 12-13-2007

Really, Mr. Conan. If I wanted to hear such piffle, I would watch Bill O'Reilly. What has happened to Talk of the Nation recently. The lack of balance has been overt. Once a daily listener, I have become more and more dismayed by the content. Last week Mr. Berkus, this week Mr. Kessler. Sorry, Mr. Kessler, I don't believe in "we know what's legal and best for the country...everyone else is wrong".

Sent by JKB | 10:35 AM | 12-13-2007

How to describe Kessler? Ann Coulter without the chutzpah?

Sent by Geo | 10:41 AM | 12-13-2007

"With all due respect" doesn't apply in this case. I was disgusted by your guest, Ronald Kessler.

He lied and spewed talking points during the entire interview. Many have been documented above. Here's another: he claimed that the NYT only reported the capture of some people planning an attack on JFK airport on page A-37. This is a flat-out lie, and Kessler is a flat-out liar. See here for a picture of the front page.

Why didn't Mr. Conan list Kessler's dubious qualifications? He's Washington editor for Newsmax. He's written a fawning biography of Bush. He has ZERO credibility.

Sent by Dan Henry | 12:32 PM | 12-13-2007

I have to give NPR and Neal Conan a lot of credit for conducting this interview. It was refreshing to hear from someone who actually knows something about the subject instead of the usual tongue clicking and hand wringing from TOTN guests and host.

Ronald Kessler provided concrete, irrefutable evidence and background that completely destroys the
liberal, anti-US, meme promulgated by biased news media outlets, including NPR.

Sent by Robert Frick | 12:34 PM | 12-13-2007

I would like Robert Frick to provide a single example of "irrefutable evidence" given by Kessler.

I provided irrefutable evidence that Kessler is a liar (a picture of the cover of the NYT, showing the story covered on Page 1).

Care to back up your statement?

Sent by Dan Henry | 1:03 PM | 12-13-2007

I think that Neal should have challenged Kessler more. I wonder if there were some prior agreements on the content or format of the interview. What do you say on that one, NPR?

Why did Kessler get "unprecedented access"? I notice that the covers of his books on Laura Bush and George Bush seem to show them in a glowing light. He works for which appears to be "Fox-like". Is his slant on politics what assures the administration about him and gives him his unprecedented access? Is his information accurate or just how he makes his living?

Is it really true that the "roll-ups" of terrorists are most often relegated to the back pages of newspapers? (This is scary if true.)

I counted "nuclear attack" mentioned 3 times in the 16 minute interview. Would have been nice to hear why Kessler framed attack scenarios in this way rather than some other.

I do think that a nuclear attack is possible and would be a highly preferred effort by Al Quaeda. This concerns me because of the lax control the Russians have over nuclear materials and the corruption present there. Let's not forget the nuclear-armed and questionable governments of Pakistan and North Korea and the various independent players that can exist within each.

I think that such an attack would have a huge psychological impact both in the US and worldwide, besides being physically destructive. If you think that consumer confidence is down now -- I don't even want to think about where it might be after a nuclear attack.

Sent by Garry near Syracuse, NY | 1:48 PM | 12-13-2007

Care to read the book before sticking your foot further in your mouth? Citations are in the back.

Sent by Robert Frick | 1:51 PM | 12-13-2007

That screen shot shows a below the fold teaser. The story itself starts on page 37. What Kessler said was correct.

Sent by Robert Frick | 2:33 PM | 12-13-2007

Another biased myopic ahistorical look at the world. Nowhere was Ronald Kessler identified as a right-wing journalist. No counter to his ahistorical harangue was presented, while Neil Conan ACTED like he was presenting the other side. But he didn't. I am so sick of NPR, it is so sickening these days. This is the lowest point of all recently. When you know the history Kessler distorts, it's so hard to take it. The logic is so twisted, and so easily disputed, should NPR have cared to do so. This country is moving slowly beyond Orwellian, to Kafka-esque.

Sent by Rosemary Feurer | 8:09 PM | 12-13-2007

Mr. Frick, in regards this controversy about whether the NYT gave first page coverage to the JFK plot--the truth seems clearly to lie somewhere in the middle. Having a small blurb on the front page clearly does not equate with full-front page coverage, but nonetheless, the subject was addressed on the front page (and O'Reily showing only the top-most portion of the paper was disingenuous). But Mr. Kessler's untempered support for all things Bush contained numerous other distortions of fact; for instance, as I noted above, his curious insistence that both Congress and the Judiciary have supported "enhanced" interrogations. There is nothing in that claim that remotely resembles truth. It is true that some lower courts deferred to this administration's policies without specifically endorsing any particular method of interrogation (rather, they were bowing to the claim that secrecy in the name of National Security trumped everything else), but the Supreme Court, in "Hamdan" clearly and unequivocally, stated that the Geneva Conventions' guarantee of fundamental human rights (including the right not to be tortured) did apply to "enemy combatants." All previous rulings made by lower courts were swept away by this decision. And certainly Congress never endorsed waterboarding (WB). The fact that the McCain Torture Ban, passed by the legislature and signed by the president (only because it was clear that both houses would override a veto), did not specifically mention WB cannot be considered an endorsement, just as the fact that it failed to mention severing arms or plucking out eyes could be considered an endorsement of these activities. Then there was his illogical claim that WB wasn't torture because, well, "Mary" above put it best: "Does anyone see the twisted logic here? We prepare our troops for torture by torturing them [therefore] it isn't torture if we do it to the enemy. Talk about double-speak!" And as I noted before, every American I've heard who has been subjected to this torturous process has stated without qualification that waterboarding IS torture (including Daniel Levin, who as acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel, decided to find out for himself if WB was torture and so had himself subjected to the process--of course, Bush & Co. fired him for his troubles). And this in spite of the fact that each individual was subjected to the process by friends--how much more terrifying the experience must be when one is surrounded by ones enemies?

When one considers these and other distortions which were rife throughout the interview, along with Kessler's immoderate cheerleading for this administration's policies (unattenuated by the merest hint of objectivity), I cannot imagine why one would wish to read his tome'except as a window into the distorted rationalizations of the Bush/Cheney cabal.

And incidentally, challenging this Administration's policies does not equate to being "anti-US" Quite the contrary, it equates to standing up to the fear-mongering, proto-fascist, anti-Constitution beliefs of this presidency, and in support of the basic tenets of a free society--tenets which have been slowly evolving since the Enlightenment--and quickly eroding since the elections of 2000. Ideas such as "The Rule of Law" the "Presumption of Innocence" the right of all persons to free of "cruel treatment, torture, outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment [Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions]," etc.--principles which are anathema to Bush and his cohorts. Anti-Bush does not equal anti-US. In my view, it is a pro-Bush stance which is "anti-US."

Sent by Thomas W. Muther, Jr. | 8:54 PM | 12-13-2007

@Jason Barber 10:35 PM ET

Re the "imminent nuclear terrorism" awaiting us, it is helpful to read balanced views on the subject. Also helpful is that they come from nuclear experts rather more often than journalists.

One expert called suitcase nukes "so highly unlikely as to be approaching fantasy." (Charles Thornton at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland.)

Another says there is "no evidence any scientist has been able to create a suitcase-contained nuclear device". (Nikolai Sokov of the Center for Non-proliferation Studies.)

Most experts, including the Israeli's, agree that Iran is not going to give nuclear technology to terrorists. No country is that stupid.

The best way to be proactive against nuclear terrorism threats is to be aware of our own government's activities and advocate for global non-proliferation. No nukes are good nukes.

Sent by carole | 4:21 AM | 12-14-2007