Bob Graham

Intelligent Intelligence

Air Date: August 8, 2015

Senator Bob Graham talks about how to combat terrorism.


I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Not too long American Civil Liberties Union president Susan Herman joined us…and affirmed that in our contemporary national security state, in large measure due to the constant stream of threats against America and her allies, there is “always a balance in rights.”

Today we turn to the beloved former Governor and U.S. Senator from the state of Florida, Bob Graham to help us be intelligent about our national security…the intelligence behind the intelligence, if you will.

The former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Graham was responsible for the creation of the Director of National Intelligence post in the aftermath of 9/11. Since retiring from public office, the Senator has chaired the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center and founded his own Center for Public Service at the University of Florida.

In these roles, Senator Graham is encouraging a civic literate generation to respond with agility to our incredibly complex security challenges…with the goal of streamlining our intelligence apparatus and enacting reforms that will combat the proliferation of terrorism.

Considering the danger lurking evidenced by continued ISIS (AH said ISEL) and Al-Qaeda attacks against journalists, the question for the Honorable Bob Graham is whether newsrooms, and our society as a whole, need to be more calculating. We mustn’t ever muzzle those who speak out, political satire is deeply embedded in our American tradition.

Yet, given the threats our guest knows much more intimately than the average person, can we no longer afford, in certain instances, to offend Muslims without suffering gravely bloodshed at the hands of fundamentalists?

GRAHAM: The answer is we should not give up our values. Our country’s founded on fundamental principles of government respect for its citizens, of transparency and openness. And of our right as individual Americans to, through speech or press, express our opinion.

We do not need to surrender any of those values in order to be effective against the terrorist. However, there are some other things that are well within American values that we should be doing.

HEFFNER: And tell us about those.

GRAHAM: Well, I’m very concerned that the story of 9/11 has not been fully told. Particularly the story of the support network, which made 9/11 happen. Everyone who has seriously studied 9/11 comes to the conclusion that it is highly implausible that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English … most of whom had only been in the United States, if at all, for a very short period of time, could have carried out a plot as complex as 9/11.

Then the question becomes, “Well, if there was a support network, where did it come from, what was its origin?”

My answer to that question is that it’s found in 28 pages of the final report of the Joint Inquiry Committee of the Congress on 9/11 …28 pages which now for … since 2003 have been censured … and removed from the public view.

HEFFNER: When are they scheduled to be de-classified?

GRAHAM: No one knows, other than the President of the United States, who is the person who has the ability to de-classify.

To me the question that demands an answer is, “First, did the 19 highjackers act alone as the official position of the United States government …

HEFFNER: Directed by Al Qaeda leadership …

GRAHAM: Yes, but without external support. Or …

HEFFNER: From foreign governments …

GRAHAM: Or foreign organizations, or domestic groups. Was there a support network of some origin that facilitated the actions of the 19 hijackers. The leadership of the committees which looked deeply at 9/11 have all come to the same conclusion … and that is that it is highly improbable that 19 people, most of whom couldn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before could have carried out a plot as sophisticated as 9/11 on their own.

HEFFNER: And isn’t the reason that those page will probably never be declassified because we do not want to alienate our relationship with the Saudi government?

GRAHAM: That, I think is one of the principle reasons. But I believe that the analysis is incorrect. Here are some facts. The Saudi’s know what they did. The Saudis know that we, the United States of America, knows what they did.

How do you think the Saudis interpret … now almost 13 years of efforts to cover up the Saudi involvement in 9/11?

My own opinion is that they assessed this as an act of impunity. That, the United States failure to take any steps in response to the most heinous domestic attack that we’ve suffered at least since Pearl Harbor says to the Saudis that there are no limits, they can do whatever they want to without sanction. And thus they have continued to support Madrassas, schools that teach the virulent Wahhabism version of Islam. They support mosques where the Imans preach Wahhabism and they have been instrumental in the creation of first Al Qaeda, then Al Qaeda in various regional capacities and now ISIS … I believe …

HEFFNER: But they claim that ISIS or ISIL is enemy number one.

GRAHAM: The people …

HEFFNER: Is it …

GRAHAM: … those who have studied the beginning of ISIS have judged that it was the Saudi support first for the extreme form of Islam that ISIS represents and then financial support to provide the start up funds for ISIS, which allowed it to become the, the behemoth that it is today.

HEFFNER: Mmm. We have not suffered a major terrorist attack since President Obama became Commander in Chief. And I think Democrats are afraid of making this argument. But I wonder from your perspective … if it’s not the combination of soft power … we’re talking about Joe Nye’s work at Harvard with drone attacks on the assailants and folks who are planning these attacks … that combination that has been a recipe for some success since the President took office.

GRAHAM: Yes, and the fact that the terrorists have, for the last decade focused most of their attention, regionally, specifically in the Middle East and for other low hanging fruit targets in adjacent areas, such as the recent attacks in Paris.

I don’t believe that the United States has any form of insurance policy against terrorist attack and we need to continue to be vigilant and we need to continue to be transparent with the American people in order to maintain their confidence and support in the efforts of resisting terrorists.

HEFFNER: I say, are they … I ask you if they’re afraid because soft power to the hawkish wing the Republican Party, and even among Democrats has been laughed at, as a legitimate, realistic way to combat threats that terrorists pose in, in the United States and across the globe.

So in our dealings with Iran now and it’s unclear yet whether the dialogue that Secretary of State John Kerry has begun will bring an fruit. But, are we taking the right approach with Iran right now?

GRAHAM: I think we’re taking the right approach in trying to negotiate. The alternatives to a successful negotiation of Iran’s withdrawal from its aspirations to become a military nuclear power are horrific. A war … an even more unstable Middle East because now we would have not only one nuclear nation in the Middle East, but we’d have two and probably would encourage places like Saudi Arabia and like Turkey and like Egypt to feel that they had to also become a nuclear power.

So I … resolving this matter diplomatically is a very high priority of the United States and apparently we’re making some progress. No … there’s, there’s no sense of assurance that these negotiations will reach a successful conclusion, but they are … but doing that would be so much better than the other alternatives, that in my judgment we should continue to aggressively and smartly pursue this negotiation with Iran.

HEFFNER: As someone who is pouring through, surveying a wealth of data, intelligence and has written about it extensively since leaving office … what are you most concerned about regionally in terms of the underground influence of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan we should probably talk about, too.

GRAHAM: First, my major concern about Saudi Arabia is it is the center of Sunni Islam and it not only promotes that particular branch of Islam, but it promotes a sub-set called Wahhabism and that has been feeding a constant line of new recruits to groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. I think that is the major concern about Saudi Arabia. I believe that Saudi Arabia feels that they can continue to preach this extremism, put up a billboard of recruitment for the organizations that then convert that extreme religion into violent military action without any response from the United States or to date, other Western countries.

I have felt for some time, however, that the most dangerous country in the region is Pakistan. Pakistan is not like Iran, aspiring to be a nuclear power, it is a significant nuclear power today. It also is a country which has had a very unstable government and an unstable relationship between the civilian and the military components of its government. It’s had a long and bitter relationship with its near neighbor, India.

All the elements that could lead to either an intentional or an accidental nuclear outbreak are present in Pakistan. I, I believe that as we have focused so much attention on places like Iraq and Iran we have let Pakistan somewhat dropped off our list of the most important countries in the world.

HEFFNER: Take us through the intelligence gathering process today…

GRAHAM: In my opinion our intelligence services are better today than they were before 9/11. Some of the glaring problems, such as the failure of the FBI and CIA to communicate information which, on a number occasions had that occurred – 9/11 probably would not have occurred.

I think there are still, however, some, some major issues. One of those is how do we assure that we have a continuous flow of people who are trained in the languages and the cultures of the countries that are our greatest threat.

I’ve been impressed with the military’s use of … with the Reserve Officer Corps, where, as an undergraduate a young man or woman can volunteer to participate in military training – if they pursue that for their undergraduate career, they will get not only a diploma at the time of graduation, but a commission into which ever military service they have elected.

That means that the military is able to, to some degree direct the undergraduate curriculum of the students who are participating so that if the military happens to have a need for people who are especially computer literate or if they need people who have a specific scientific background, they can encourage their students to pursue courses that will give them that preparation.

I think that’s the model that the intelligence community should have. We should be encouraging young people to become involved in preparing for service in the intelligence community.

The former head of the National Security Agency, which is the agency that intercepts messages, told me when I was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that it took five years from the time that a bright undergraduate was first employed until he or she was able to be an effective part of the communications intercept system.

And most of that five years was spent in acquiring a level of colloquialism in the languages that were being intercepted. I believe you could substantially shorten that five year period of you would have the young people studying that language while they are still an undergraduate, and only the final piece of their linguistic preparation would have to take place after they became a member of the National Security Agency.

HEFFNER: You’re highlighting that surveillance is key … interception and surveillance of information. Did Edward Snowden compromise our security?

GRAHAM: Well, Edward Snowden violated his own commitment which was a commitment of confidentiality that is common through the intelligence community.

HEFFNER: Because it’s been publicly assessed that these surveillance gathering forces are going to have work anew to collect information in new forms because of the disclosures. In other words, these terrorists are routing their communications differently as a result of his disclosures.

GRAHAM: And that’s an example of the consequence of his violating his, his oath. But he did let the American people know what their own government had not been forthcoming, particularly about the level and specificity of surveillance gathering.

It’ ironic that back, shortly after 9/11, the Defense Department wanted to set up a program which they called “data mining” which is very similar to what NSA apparently has now done.

Once that became known, there was such an outcry that the Defense Department was going to be collecting individual … information on individual telephone calls that that operation was shut down.

Now almost ten years later we have learned that almost the same operation is now in place, but being done through an intelligence agency. I, I have the same concerns today that we did back in 2003 and 2004 and I hope that this Congress will look seriously at our overall surveillance operation and enact the reforms necessary to assure that our individual liberties and privacy are being protected as we try to protect the society through enhanced intelligence.

HEFFNER: So what’s the most critical way to do that?

GRAHAM: Well, one of the things is that I think the access and use of information gathered should be much more of an individual matter, similar to getting a warrant to search your home.

That warrant has to be for a specific address, for specific purposes that can convince a court that there’s a reasonable expectation that whatever the, criminal act has been committed and that that house contains evidence of that.

I think that level of specificity should be required before they can start collecting Alexander’s telephone …

HEFFNER: It’s the same … laughter … thing Sue Herman said, of the ACLU. She doesn’t have a problem with it because she lives in New York, the ACLU is headquartered there. She understands the potential for a nuclear attack in, in the capital of the world, but she wants it all through warrants …


HEFFNER: … and, and that’s really what you’re saying that surveillance is appropriate as long as it’s warranted.

GRAHAM: Yeah. And this goes back to the beginning of the country, the British in the Colonial period had a practice of rummaging through people’s homes or businesses for whatever information they wanted without any judicial oversight or control. It was such a searing issue that the founders of the country in the Bill of Rights wrote in specific requirements of what the government had to do in order to go into a private home and collect information and that now has been extended to collection of information through telephone intercepts or other forms of communication. I think our Founding Fathers were right when they gave the privacy interests of the American people such a high priority. And we should continue that proud tradition.

HEFFNER: Can drone attacks on suspected, proven terrorists through intelligence … can those drone attacks be compatible with diplomacy?

GRAHAM: Yes. The nature of the War on Terror is unlike World War II or World War I … in fact I think the use of the word war which conveys to most people the reality or the films that we saw of the troops in the trenches of Europe and in the Pacific in World War II is a distortion of what the actions against the terrorists are.

The actions against the terrorists are much more targeted than the indiscriminate firing of Howitzer shells against an unknown enemy on the other side of a hill. And I think that the drones are an appropriate means of doing that.

Now sadly, there are going to be some collateral injuries. You cannot conduct either the traditional warfare or the warfare … or the type of activities necessary against terrorists without that occurring. But I believe that it is, as we are doing it, it’s much less likely that innocents will be killed than, for instance, when we bombed Tokyo or Berlin during World War II.

HEFFNER: You were on the scene in Washington, DC when we were hit on 9/11 … shelter in place … there was a panic, but shock … there was a palpable sense of community, of unity, of American camaraderie as a result of, or those attacks,

GRAHAM: I’m concerned about this too…

HEFFNER: You chair and you founded a Center at the University of Florida, Gainesville … that is precisely trying to achieve civic literacy, understanding of domestic and world affairs, so that we don’t lose that pulse.

GRAHAM: Well, and beyond that, I think one of the ways that you quicken the interest of all people, but particularly younger people, is to not just give them a textbook, but give them an opportunity to be directly involved. I believe the principle weakness of our teaching of civics and civic responsibility is not that people don’t know that there are 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. You can go to several sites on your computer and get that information.

What I think is the weakness is that we haven’t given people the skills to actually make a difference. You see a problem in your school, your neighborhood, your state or nation, and you want to solve it, but you don’t know how to start the process of solving it. That, to me, is what young people need.

And I believe once a young person has been engaged and has particularly shown success, they’ve actually changed the way an activity was conducted. That gives them a sense of participation, of being part… not on the sidelines, but on the field of our democracy and makes it more likely that over the course of their lifetime, they will be involved in other areas in which they feel change is required.

HEFFNER: That sounds like a very innovative, clinical approach to civics … what are those skills …

GRAHAM: Well …

HEFFNER: … that you hope the students at your Institute, your Center, will take away.

GRAHAM: Yeah. Well, I wrote a book after having taught a class first at a high school in Miami and then at the Harvard Law … at the Harvard Kennedy School …


GRAHAM: … and then wrote a book called, America … The Owner’s Manuel and it outlines, with case studies, what I think are the essential skills of effective citizenship.

Just to mention a few … one is framing the issue … how you define the problem that you’re trying to solve… has a great influence on your ability to solve the problem and your ability to gain supporters.

As an example, a very successful group today – which started in the late 1970s – is Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That was the way they defined the problem. And they were able, in a dramatically short period of time to fundamentally change the culture of America as it relates to drunk driving. That’s one skill.

Another skill is how do you build coalitions, how do you get other people to share the goal that you have. Another is understanding the decision makers so that when you sit down across the table of a member of the State Legislature or the Mayor of your town, you, not only know what you want to accomplish, you know what that person, what his … his or her hot buttons are. How do you go about presenting your issue in a way that’s most likely to get a positive response. Those are …


GRAHAM: … just a few of the skills for effective citizenship.

HEFFNER: I do want to thank you.


HEFFNER: Thanks for being here, Bob.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much Alexander.

HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time…for a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind.

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