Exploring 'The Price of Security' Ted Koppel, senior news analyst, discusses his upcoming documentary The Price of Security. The project explores the rights and freedoms Americans have sacrificed in the five years since the Sept. 11 attacks. It airs Sunday on the Discovery Channel.
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Exploring 'The Price of Security'

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Exploring 'The Price of Security'

Exploring 'The Price of Security'

Exploring 'The Price of Security'

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Ted Koppel, senior news analyst, discusses his upcoming documentary The Price of Security. The project explores the rights and freedoms Americans have sacrificed in the five years since the Sept. 11 attacks. It airs Sunday on the Discovery Channel.


Tomorrow the Discovery Channel will air a documentary that explores how this country has changed since 9/11. The program is called The Price of Security.

(Soundbite of The Price of Security)

Unidentified Man: A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties.

As of today we're changing the laws governing information sharing.

WERTHEIMER: The documentary is hosted and reported by NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel, and he joins us now to talk about it. Welcome, Ted.

TED KOPPEL: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Your documentary is about the choices this country's leaders have made over the last five years in what they say is an effort to protect us all from future terrorist attacks, and it's about balancing those choices. Is that the price of security?

KOPPEL: It is the price of security, but while most of us have tended to focus on what is visible - that is, having to take your shoes off at the airport and the fact that you can't take liquids and gels through anymore - beneath the radar, all kinds of things have been going on.

Data mining used for intelligence purposes. The fact that if you are accused of something related to terrorism, the entire paradigm of you're innocent until convicted is turned on its head. There have been some major changes in this country.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the president talked about - right after the event, 9/11 - about finding those responsible and bringing them to justice. And then you point out that privately he said the to the attorney general, who was at that point John Ashcroft, that he wanted him to prevent it from ever happening again.

And you quote an administration official as saying that what that meant was proactive, preemptive efforts to disrupt future attacks. Now, here's a short excerpt from the documentary. You'll hear Ted Koppel, of course, and then Assistant Attorney General Viet Din, who was involved in developing the response to 9/11.

(Soundbite of The Price of Security)

KOPPEL: Did anybody, Mr. Din, at some point or another, say, whoa, this is a - when you talk about a paradigm shift, it really is. This is huge. You're changing the way that America has done business with regard to criminal behavior.

Mr. VIET DIN (Assistant Attorney General): No question about it. Because once we think about looking at preventive prosecution, we start recognizing the potential danger of infringing on core values like civil liberties or privacy.

WERTHEIMER: Paradigm shift, preventive prosecution - what does all that mean?

KOPPEL: What it all means is that the - when the president talked about this criminal act, it was really the first and last time that he referred to it in that context. Thereafter, he began to refer to it as an act of war and that the United States is in a posture of fighting a war.

The obvious statement that the administration has made many times - when I say it's obvious, it is obviously correct - is in one sense you cannot wait until after the crime has been committed if the crime potentially is the use by terrorists of a weapon of mass destruction against a major American city. You've got to do everything you can to prevent that from happening in the first place.

Do you believe that that is the threat? Well, many do, some don't. But clearly the administration does. And with that in mind, Viet Din and John Ashcroft and all the others were set the task of making sure it doesn't happen.

WERTHEIMER: Former White House Counsel Brad Berenson talks about the decision to treat 9/11 as an act of war rather than a crime in your documentary. And he says the fear that animates the Bush administration is in a nuclear attack on a city like, you know, like this city or London...

KOPPEL: Exactly.

WERTHEIMER: ...or Brussels or Chicago.

(Soundbite of The Price of Security)

Mr. BRAD BERENSON (Former White House Counsel): And so the people who are fighting this war see themselves, I think rightly, as being in an existential struggle for our way of life and for the values that everybody in the United States, from the furthest left to the furthest right, really shares and holds dear.

WERTHEIMER: It's such an interesting kind of way that he sort of flips over the idea of rights and values.

KOPPEL: Well, in a sense, I mean it's almost an echo of what that famous colonel said during the Vietnam War. We had to destroy the village to save it. What he is saying is that we have to inhibit certain American rights, which we recognize as being Constitutional rights - certain liberties, certain privacies - in order to protect the larger rights that we all hold dear.

Now, if you buy the notion that you can do that, that you can just sort of tweak rights - you have slightly fewer rights than you had before, but don't worry about, we won't take any more away from you - that makes perfectly good sense. The danger is, you may be on a slippery slope, and once you start taking rights away, where do you draw the line?

WERTHEIMER: You studied the questions that you raised in this documentary for months and worked on it for a long time. Do you think America is safer than she was five years ago?

KOPPEL: I don't think you can look around the world and say that we are safer. Five years ago, we were dealing with 19 terrorists who worked for an organization which our intelligence agencies estimated at no more than a couple of thousand men for the most part.

I think we have in one sense, we have raised Osama bin Laden to the level of an international superstar. And we have turned al-Qaida into the most successful franchise operation since McDonald's. I can't see that terrorism has been diminished or that the number of terrorists have been diminished. We are clearly no better off today in Iraq than we were a few years - I mean quite clearly that optimistic banner that was unfurled behind the president on the aircraft carrier of mission accomplished was drastically and tragically overly optimistic.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much for talking to us about this project.

KOPPEL: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel. His documentary, The Price of Security, airs tomorrow on the Discovery Channel. NPR will simulcast a town meeting on many NPR stations and it will accompany the documentary. Our coverage will be hosted by NPR's Neal Conan beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Ted Koppel: 'The Price of Security'

Hear a Town Meeting on Civil Liberties vs. Security

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Ted Koppel, right, hosts a Discovery Channel town meeting in Silver Spring, Md., Sept. 10, 2006. Discovery Channel hide caption

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Discovery Channel

From left, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul McNulty, Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Sept. 11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni and Ted Koppel during the taping of a Discovery Channel town meeting in Silver Spring, Md., Sept. 10, 2006.

Discovery Channel



Hear highlights of the town meeting:

Paul McNulty, deputy U.S. attorney general: 'You don't lose a right more than being killed by a terrorist.'

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Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented Guantanamo detainees, on torture: 'It's illegal, it's immoral, and a lot of the time, it doesn't work.'

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Brad Berenson, former White House associate counsel under President Bush, on the terrorists' goals: 'What they want is to destroy this country.'

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Marilynn Rosenthal, the mother of a Sept. 11 victim: 'My greatest concern now is how issues are being framed and how the American language is being used.'

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Viet Dinh, former assistant attorney general for legal policy, on the separation of powers during wartime: 'This is the Constitution at work and not some sort of crisis or diminution in democracy...'

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Alberto Mora, former general counsel of the U.S. Navy: 'America will cease to be America if we accept the application of cruel and human and degrading treatment, or torture, as one of our tools in the war against terror.'

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In The Price of Security, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes the fears that terrorists would attack the United States with a nuclear device. Discovery Channel hide caption

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Discovery Channel

Watch video highlights from Ted Koppel's Discovery Channel documentary:

Ted Koppel reports from Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. military's detention facility was used temporarily to house detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks. Discovery Channel hide caption

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Discovery Channel

Ted Koppel reports from Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. military's detention facility was used temporarily to house detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Discovery Channel

From 'Weekend Edition'

Ted Koppel Discusses the Program with Linda Wertheimer

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Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress has passed new laws to combat terrorism. The Bush administration is pushing the limits on intelligence-gathering. Thousands of suspects have been detained at home and abroad. But many people wonder whether the balance has shifted too far away from freedom in favor of security.

NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel has prepared a documentary,The Price of Security, premiering on the Discovery Channel on Sept. 10. He also hosts a town meeting (audio), where he discusses these issues with current and former members of the Bush administration, military experts and policy analysts.

Koppel discussed the documentary with Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

Neal Conan: At the beginning and then at the end of this documentary, you focus on the fear that was manifest on 9/11 and the hours and days that followed, and the conviction of key administration officials that what we saw was not a criminal act but an act of war.

Ted Koppel: Initially, Neal, on the very first day — on 9/11 itself — when the president came on, he spoke of it as being a criminal act. He referred to bringing the perpetrators to justice. But that focus of what happened on 9/11 as being a criminal act which the police or the FBI would have to pursue and then bringing people to justice — in other words, into our court system — that lasted less than a day.

By the next day, he was already speaking of this as being an act of war. And from that day forth, the Bush administration has treated what happened on 9/11 and what they fear might happen at some point in the future as being an ongoing war.

Conan: Not a single act, not an incident, but the first act in a campaign. The first act in a war.

Koppel: But certainly not a criminal act in the sense that if you find someone in the commission of a criminal act, you almost have to wait until they've done it. Only then can you send the police after them, and then you have to read them their rights and give them access to a lawyer. The difference in a war, of course, is that as one former associate White House counsel put it, sometimes the application of justice is as slight as the application of the pressure of an 18 year old's finger on a trigger.

Conan: The thinking that led to these new security policies comes out of an unprecedented sense of urgency. You talked with current and former administration officials who were at the White House and were involved in the decision-making those days.

Koppel: In a senseā€¦ the White House believed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and believes to this day that there is the possibility not of another 9/11, but of something infinitely worse, of the weapons in the hands of terrorists being weapons of mass destruction — be it a chemical weapon, a biological weapon or a nuclear weapon. And if that were to happen, it would undermine everything that we stand for. Therefore, we are able to turn certain American laws and certain American legal preconceptions on their head because we have to.

Conan: Less than a month after the events of Sept. 11, the U.S. military began a military campaign in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom. One of the most controversial issues since Sept. 11 is how the United States has dealt with alleged terrorists, alleged enemy combatants that were picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan — some turned over war lords, some found out in Pakistan, and many of them who found their way to Guantanamo Bay.

Koppel: And it's key that they not be called prisoners of war. Because even though we are in a war and the administration uses the paradigm of war at all times, these men are very pointedly referred to as detainees. And the question of how long they are to be detained is really an open one, which is essentially true in any war. A prisoner of war is always held until the war is over. The difference with this one is no one really expects this war to be over not only anytime soon, but probably not even within some of our lifetimes.

Conan: A lot of people have a hard time even defining victory in the war.

Koppel: Exactly. I mean, it is an ongoing process. But it has been one that has caused some legal and ethical nightmares for the people who've had to handle these detainees.

Conan: As the documentary stresses, in the days after some of these people were picked up — and some of them were al-Qaida members, some high-ranking al-Qaida members — the administration, based on this fear of the existential threat, felt that we needed to find information. Whatever information they had needed to be extracted and thus begins the — well, you'll excuse me — but the torturous process of ending up quite near torture.

Koppel: Yes. And the question of where, for example, strenuous interrogation ends and torture begins is one that the administration actually tried to define. There is a young man who worked for the Justice Department at the time by the name of John Yoo who wrote a now infamous 50 page memorandum in which he rather painfully — again, no pun intended — but rather painfully tried to define in the course of that memorandum where appropriate interrogation techniques ended and torture began. It's a very, very difficult thing to do.

Conan: You interviewed Alberto Mora — the Navy's most senior lawyer at that time — who raised questions about torture after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the use of dogs, stress positions which you were just talking about, and non-injurious physical contact on detainees. After reading memos and documents about this, Mora was surprisedā€¦ [He] told you that he thinks U.S. law should criminalize the application of cruelty, but he also said there were circumstances under which he himself might apply cruelty.

Koppel: He went actually further than that, Neal. He said there were circumstances under which he would apply torture. And what he was saying and the distinction he was drawing — and it's a really interesting and I think important distinction. He said, let's assume for the sake of argument that we had our hands on someone who knew about a ticking bomb, a nuclear device that was going to go off in an American city. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives at stake.

He said under those circumstances, I might apply torture to that person in order to prevent that from happening. But, he said, it should only be done in the context of a legal system in which I applied torture knowing that I would then be subject to legal action being taken against me for having broken the law. And the distinction that he was making is that the Bush administration tried to redefine it so that interrogators who actually were using certainly inhumane treatment and possibly torture had been told before the fact, don't worry about it. You're covered. You will not be prosecuted.

That — as I think he correctly points out and others on the program correctly point out — leads to a downward slide where inhumane treatment quickly becomes cruel treatment, quickly becomes torture if people are under the impression that they're not going to be prosecuted for it. So I respect him for the honesty of his response. That he says look, I would do it. But I want to do it only in the context of knowing that I could be prosecuted for having done it afterwards.

Conan: And administration officials, Secretary Rumsfeld, have said look, there were abuses, but they were very few. It was not systematic. These were rogues, situations happening in the night, according to the investigation of Abu Ghraib.

Koppel: Well, I mean, that is — I think Secretary Rumsfeld was being a little bit disingenuous in saying that, just as he was when he said as soon as we found out we put a stop to the practice. Mora had been trying to bring it to Rumsfeld's attention for about six weeks, and it was only after he, Mora, said I'm going to put this down in writing. And there will be a memorandum to the file from the general counsel saying the United States government is doing this. When he said that, all of a sudden that day, it ended.

Conan: Your documentary also covers an aspect of the balance between security and civil liberties that may affect us all, and that's the gathering of electronic surveillance. There's an extraordinary moment in the documentary where you describe the president, the White House, putting out a memo to all its various intelligence agencies and saying what do you need? What do you need to really do the job now after 9/11?

Koppel: Actually, primarily being put out to the National Security Agency. And they come back and they say well, you know, we'd like to be able to tap into people's phones if we could.

Koppel: As a reporter for The Washington Post whose beat this is told us, they really didn't expect the president to come back and say yes. But he did.

Conan: And this has gone on since then in a series of presidential authorizations. I think it's every 30 days or so the president re authorizes this. Which went on, nobody knowing about it, until The New York Times disclosed it.

Koppel: The New York Times disclosed it. A federal court has now said it is unconstitutional. But it is still in practice because the administration is appealing that federal court's finding. And very likely, the federal court decision will be overturned. So it will continue to happen.

Conan: Ted, as you evaluate this, they have access to all kinds of intelligence that you and I simply don't have access to. The American people don't have access to. Is there any way to know whether the threat justifies these actions?

Koppel: No. Because what they say is absolutely true. We — that is, those who are protecting the United States — have to be successful 100 percent of the time. They — that is to say, the terrorists, or those who wish harm to the United States — only have to be successful once.

Now when you're dealing with that kind of an equation, there is nothing you can do. I mean, I haven't said it in the program, but I'll say it here. You want absolutely security? You want to be totally protected against terrorism? I have a proposal for you: A one way ticket to Panmunjom in North Korea. Guarantee you, they have absolute security. You will have absolute protection against terrorism. There is no terrorism in North Korea except the terrorism, of course, that is wielded by the state itself. Because there is no privacy, there are no constitutional rights, there is no freedom. But you've got security.

So at some point or another, this is all a calibration between how much security and how much freedom.