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Good evening I am Brian Ross from ABC News. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I would like to remind the audience first that this meeting on the record excellent participants around the nation and the world are viewing this by our live web cast on the council's website which is www.cfr.org. If you could please turnoff all your cell phones Modeling the behavior? - BlackBerry BlackBerries, other wireless devices and I am pleased to be here and I want to tell you that Stephen Flynn has written a remarkable book, once again. He is the Jean J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security council security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and this book, "Edge of Disaster," follows a previous best seller, "America the Vulnerable." At the council, Dr. Flynn has served as working group director and co-author of the council's special report, "Neglected Defense-Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Homeland Security." He is without a doubt one of the country's preeminent experts on the issue of this, and this book, Steve, I would say, is at the same time both scary and reassuring; scary because of the credible way you have described the vulnerabilities that still exist in this country long after 9/11, and reassuring because you talk, I think, very eloquently of the resilience of the American spirit and the ability of America to bounce back and to do what's right. Give me a sense, to start with, of what you see as the vulnerabilities. And in your book - it's extremely well written the first chapter describes a very troubling scenario. Yeah. I spent some time talking about these vulnerabilities, because we've been hearing for pretty much the last five years that everything that can be done is being done to make us safe and secure. And our government largely has been saying, "We can't tell you much about what we've been doing because we'll give bad guys ideas or we'll spook you and you will be uncomfortable. So you shop and travel and we'll go ahead and keep doing what we're doing." And in this disconnect here, one of the things I think you need to talk about five years after the math is to point out to folks that in fact we are lots of sort of places out there that are soft potential targets. But more importantly and this is the thing that I've really pulled away from the work we're doing here at the council a colleague of mine, Larry Garrett, who focuses on global disease whenever I feel like I'm going to be nervous about something, I go talk to Larry. I go, "That's the real scary stuff." But it really was sort of an epiphany for me you know, when you work in the national security field and granted, I think I've been a little bit on the fringes - I'm a retired Coast Guard officer and then also involved with the National Security Council under Richard Clarke, dealing with, you know, this threat when few people were paying much attention to it but the notion that national security isn't the primary - doesn't deserve absolute primacy in the things that government should truly worry about the things that are defined as national security don't deserve that primacy. That's something I never really challenged. What I was working on challenging was that we're picking the wrong set of threats as what deserve that primacy. And I think a bit of the epiphany before Katrina was this realization as can you really work your way through avian flu as a pandemic if it makes an evolutionary leap to be basically human-to-human contagious, I can't come up with any military scenario short of the United States and Russia unleashing what is left of our nuclear weapons at each other that gets you near the loss of life or near the economic disruption that would come from that outbreak. And this is just microbes going nuts. And then watching Katrina was really this other very disturbing tale. I can't come up with any terrorism scenario that gets close to that level of destruction. I mean, we're talking, with Katrina, 300,000 homes destroyed and an area of about 65,000 miles laid waste. And then Rita followed on with a counterpunch there less houses because it didn't hit as densely populated an area, a la New Orleans, but it was about another 65,000 houses, and almost an equivalent amount of square miles. So in this context of vulnerabilities, I find myself sort of three-tiers. One is we're most vulnerable to natural disasters. I mean, it's something we've always had to deal with. It's a beautiful continent, North America, but it's actually a pretty rough place to live in most of the spots. We have hurricanes on the eastern gulf coasts; we have this little seismic activity that goes along in the west coast; we have flooding in the center of the country; we have droughts; we have all sorts of winds that gets spun up in twisters and so forth that blow through. And it turns out - it's an amazing number nine out of 10 of us 90 percent of Americans live in a place with a moderate or high-risk of a major natural disaster. Now that's basically where we demographically have moved, which is increasingly decamped in the center of the country and gone to the coasts this lovely place down in Florida, but that's a very vulnerable area. Again, a lot of folks now living in the West Coast another vulnerable area. And we're crammed into urban areas a great deal, obviously, more than we were before. And we added another 100 million people over the last 30 years and squeezed it into the same space, basically, and the infrastructure largely has been untouched. So basically in framing this, the vulnerabilities are the acts of God; the second is the foundations that we rely on for modernity basically made us an advanced society themselves are becoming very frail. These essentially are our grandparents and great- grandparents' work, and we're like the generation whose inherited a mansion and decided we're just not going to do any upkeep. You know nice mansion, got a great facade in the front - we're just not going to worry about the wiring or the plumbing or any of that other non-sexy stuff, because we're going to get on with life. And the fact is, this infrastructure is in fact aging and looking quite frail. And then we bring it to obviously the issue of the national security threat, which is the terrorism threat. And the more brittle we are, the more terrorism becomes appealing because you get a big bang for you buck the cascading effects that flow from it here. And so when you look at the overarching things, I start with a scenario that looks at a refinery in South Philadelphia. Anybody who has taken the Amtrak train can wave at as you go by this is a -- turns out to be the plant in the most congested part of an urban population. And the real problem there is not the refinery, per se, it is that it uses a particular chemical called hydrogen fluoride as a part of the process of making high octane gas, and this is one of the most nasty chemicals that are out there. Not everybody uses it because it's one of the nasty chemicals out there. In fact, two-thirds of the refineries in the country don't. But this one does because it would be about $20 million $30 million to convert it. Now hydrogen fluoride's basic problem is it's stored under pressure, and at 69 degrees it turns into a vapor, but it's heavier than air, so it crawls across the ground. So if we had an explosion on there as a result of a tank truck attack, which is what I used the same kind of attack, by the way, that happened yesterday in Baghdad 12 miles north with a chlorine truck, so this is not like these things are it requires a lot of science fiction or other sort of suspense novel writing this is taking real-world stuff, bringing it here we have this explosion. Basically it rocks the fittings. It bursts the tanks. The tanks come out and they find air, find it's warmer than it is, and it crawls around the ground and it will kill everybody five miles downstream of the bloom - very, very nasty. So you would think we would be converting this, which is really the message. We can't prevent every one of these. What we can do is make that a less attractive target by moving in the direction of finding a safer chemical. But that in fact is not happening. So the basic style of the book is really to lay out that there are vulnerabilities that aren't just acts that aren't just bad guys up to bad things, but are in fact that we are facing natural disasters; we're facing ailing foundations that are likely to fail us, and bad guys we're going to have to keep coping with, too. And what is five miles downstream from that refinery? Five miles well, two miles away is Citizens Park of course, they have the winds coming the right direction. You know, this is a low probability, but obviously high consequence scenario. The winds are blowing out of the west, two miles away is Citizens Park. As the scenario plays out, it's a June evening, there are 40,000 people packed into the stadium. Certainly the Mets are there so we've got lots of New Yorkers, as well, that are there. And the parking lot is filled up, the highway is already congested because it's a Friday evening, schools are out that day I added all the pieces. But it really was just to say that when this thing happens, you've got five-mile-per-hour wind, you've got well, you know, not much response time there if you do the arithmetic. And as people would end up trying to get to their cars, there's no place to go. And if you start breathing this, it literally just burns most of everything that we need to survive and if you get it in the lungs, you're pretty much done. And this is not something you would want around a major urban area. Five years after 9/11, though five years after 9/11, we have not got a point where we know what the chemical plants are around our country, what they're doing for security. That legislation was just tacked to an appropriation bill tied to the Department of Homeland Security's funding for this year in September and gave the department a whopping $15 million to now execute a brand new mission that our government can't do, which is actually go out and police up to 15,000 facilities that have highly deadly substances with it there. I mean, try spending that all in once place. And putting that into a sort of a more macro context in thinking about our security, since we've invaded Iraq, we've been spending $250 million a day in the war in Iraq. Now that works out therefore to be we're spending willing to spend about 90 minutes worth of Iraq on providing the Department of Homeland Security with resources to police the chemical infrastructure across our country. This is a country that obviously has not been willing to think about its vulnerabilities and certainly not willing to make it a priority to address it. You say we're at the edge of disaster because of essentially our own negligence. Yeah. I say, "Our own." Whose negligence? It really - I mean, it's a collective negligence. Not surprisingly, we the people, ultimately as a democracy share the burden here of anything that's not going well in our society. But really I'm hovering on - you know, the subtitle of the book is about rebuilding a resilient nation. I'm arguing we were resilient once - we just seem to be losing our way on this score. And maybe it would help to define a little bit this "resiliency" word means. And it basically - resiliency is three parts. It's first being able to anticipate likely bad things that may happen. The second piece is being able to - having a plan in advance to try to mitigate the consequences - lower your exposure to something bad happening, and when it does happen, being able to respond quickly and restore. And the idea, though, about resiliency is that you can't stop everything that happens. What you can do is contain it from being truly disastrous. Disasters are a given. Catastrophes essentially are manmade by our acts of omission and commission - the things we fail to do up front; the things we fail to prepare to do in the aftermath turn something into a true catastrophe. Of course, Katrina represented - it was a hurricane. The real thing, though, that made it a catastrophe was the failure of a flood control system that nobody really decided was important to actually invest properly amounts into here. So the bottom-line is that we're very much in need of recognizing this vulnerability collectively and thinking about it rather than as security, which tends often to be thought of in gates, guards and guns terms, or it's thought of as something that - in absolutist terms - "We're either 100 percent secure or we fail." Often the Secretary of Homeland Security says - time and again Michael Chertoff uses the, "The terrorists have to be right only once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time." And it gets you into this, "We have to be right - we have to do whatever it takes to be right 100 percent of the time." You don't buy that. I think it's just not realistic, all right; we're not going to be right 100 percent of the time, for lots of very complicated reasons. But what we really need to step back and think about is why is terrorism attractive to our adversaries? Terrorism is attractive if they can get cascading consequences that really hurt us. But those turn out to be largely things that we inflict on ourselves. They're not actually things that terrorists can do. Most acts of terror are local disasters in terms of the physical damage that's done, the loss of life. Again, that doesn't get to the scale often of what Mother Nature can dole out to you. But what really can be a bang for your buck from an adversary's standpoint is if in fact we overreact in that we impose all these silly things afterwards in terms of ways to cure the problem, or we close down our borders and try to sort things out that way, or we retreat on our civil liberties. There's a whole series of things we can do that really can be painful that are worthwhile for an adversary to advance. Those things we need to protect ourselves from - ourselves. We need to basically - the best resilience is preventing ourselves from - the making sure that when something bad happens that we don't overreact, so therefore our adversaries find it less attractive to do it. The best defense, it turns out to be, perhaps, is a good defense. Would you argue, though, that the U.S. is spooked today by terrorism? You know, fear - I would argue basically - we're definitely in this - a little bit of a no man's land. Fear is always - requires two pieces. The first is an awareness of a vulnerability. When we say our child is fearless, usually it's because they don't know if they put their hand on the stove it's going to hurt, all right? So it's an awareness of vulnerability the second part, and this is the critical second part, is a powerlessness to deal with that vulnerability. And I think to some extent that yeah, we are. I think I describe it in the book as a bit like our government has said - largely the federal government has said to virtually all of us - the equivalent of you going to your cardiologist who then looks you over and says, "You know, you're at extremely high-risk for heart disease. Have a nice day." And what do you do with that, right? You're either - one, you go out and write your last will and testament because you're convinced doom is impending, or the other is you grab another Big Mac going, "Well, this is hopeless, so what can I do?" You know - but it's dysfunctional. What we need is change of diet, change of exercise. And then actually when you do those things, you don't end up being a worse person for it, many times. I mean, it's a traumatic thing to find out that this may be in your family history and you've got some things not going your right way, but the corrective actions you often take are things that are going to make your life more fruitful. And I think any of us who've had a traumatic medical kind of experience here often come to that realization, that in fact it's not all bad after you get that initial drop. It's bad if you don't think you can control it or if it is and turns out to be an uncontrollable event. In a similar fashion, Americans have been essentially left out of the equation of what we can do with - as individuals, as people, as businesses, as a civil society - what can we do to deal with our vulnerabilities and the threat that terrorism presents? We've been advised to get duct tape. Yes uh-huh. But there's more to it than that, obviously. Well, what I'm really sort of pushing hard on is first, let's think about preparing for this homeland security mission that we've now sort of embraced. Let's think instead about national security - the way to advance a national security goal of trying to make our society more resilient is to prepare for the more probable and inevitable events, which are natural disasters. Let's take the terrorism picture out of this for a while and sit back and say, "All right, there's 90 percent of us going to be affected by this other stuff. What skill sets does it take to actually manage those events?" Are you saying, though, that we sort of just have to be - let ourselves get hit if there's another terror attack? The most missing piece here is that I think overall it's been the lack of leadership that's really not been there both with 9/11 and Katrina, to essentially say what needs to be said, which is that we are a vulnerable society, but there are things that we can do and must do to make ourselves - reduce this exposure to these kinds of events. You know, it's really the lesson we should have taken from 9/11. I would argue that we missed a very important lesson that day, which was resiliency really mattered. In the case of particularly the World Trade Center towers, because of the first attack on - in 1993 with the truck bomb in the basement of the North Tower, the Port Authority invested $250 million in not-very-sexy things to make that building safer for the occupants in it. Not-sexy things like photo-luminescent paint on treads of steps and handles. Now why would you think you would want to make that investment? Because when the lights go out, people can see the stairs. And this really would have been - as tragic as the day was, it would have been a lot more tragic if it was 1993 and there was still 10,000 more people in the building when the building came down. The egress worked because a prudent investment was made in thinking through this "what if" driven our enemy obviously by the '93 event, but not saying we've got to run around the world and hunt and destroy every terrorist and forget about buying photo-luminescent paint. You work on that part of it. I would argue offense should be the complement to building this defensive capability. And what we can do is - in other things, backup emergency centers. I mean, Rudy Giuliani got beat up pretty hard about basically gold-plated emergency management. Nobody was beating him up after 9/11. It requires investment around things that don't look like silver bullets that often do make you more resilient. And then really - and I talk about this in the book leading up to one of my scary scenario chapters, but I think this is such an important issue, and it's - real good work, Brian - in part has been a very much and I think helps drive us in the right direction. And the biggest demonstration of resiliency - what we should have taken away from 9/11 was the experience of United 93. Of the four planes that were out there, of course, this was the one that was heading for, almost certainly, our seat of government - for the Capitol, and maybe the White House. So let's think about this. We have constituted our government to provide for the common defense, so we put these folks on Capitol Hill and their job is to figure out how to protect us. The only thing that protected them that morning on September 11 - the only thing - was informed citizens - citizens who knew on that plane, unlike the people on the other three planes, that a plane could be used as a missile. The Air Force didn't know the plane was up there. The Northern - NORAD at the time here hadn't identified it as in fact as being hijacked and heading into - heading towards Washington. There were no air marshals. Nobody checked people for their three-ounces plus liquids and so forth here. What was going on there was they knew something the other three planes didn't know, which was that a plane could be used as a missile. You know, it's a very sobering thing for all of us and what would we do in that position? But I think it's extraordinary that that day it turned out to be our greatest strength were our citizens who understood the threat and acted and took actions in their own right. We have a second-to-none military, and I think we need to keep it that way, but we've lost sight of what the greatest strength really is, which is the which is that capacity. But that requires playing it straight with the American public. Oh, it really does. But that also means you are essentially playing straight with terrorists in the audience. They hear the same thing. If you reveal that the security at the airport is weak or that the ports can't detect nuclear weapons, aren't you giving a roadmap to terrorists? This is really of course what we basically have used at the federal government level as the reason for not pushing this envelope at all here. We don't want to give the bad guys ideas. I think this is nonsense overall. I mean, we're not talking about wiring diagrams. We're talking about identifying vulnerabilities and change behaviors we have to - to deal with that vulnerability What if, I argue, in August 2001 - the director of the FBI, the director of the CIA and the secretary of Transportation and stood up in front of microphones and said, "It's not great intelligence, but we've got some information that troubles us that there are folks out there who may be interested in taking planes and turning them into missiles, and this is something you need to know." Because every one of us was conditioned before then to thinking that when your plane was taken, your job was to sit passively, land on a tarmac somewhere and the pros would come in and negotiate your way out of this." And this really clicked for me when I heard Mohamed Atta, who of course captured the American airliner, when he says very calmly, "Everybody stay in your seats" - he keyed the wrong mike - "Everybody stay in your seats; we're going to be returning to Boston." So you're like, "Okay, I'll stay in my seat." Now that wouldn't happen - in fact, the 9/11 commission didn't even - they - the 9/11 commission focused on the issue - there were some parts of the U.S. government that knew that this issue was there, and other parts didn't know, and basically beat up the U.S. government for not sharing information. But they never said, "Why weren't we sharing this with the American people?" I would argue as well, this is not Soviet Union. This is not espionage of some high caliber. Terrorists have a very low tolerance for failure. Now good news five-plus years in, the footprint is quite small here in the United States. To put together a 9/11-scale attack would take you about three years or so. I mean some of the folks I've run into in the Department of Defense and in the national security group, you know, talked to me, push back and say, you know, "You can't deter these people. They're suicidal. They're tied to some ideology, you know, tethered into certainly a realm that we can't understand. Bottom line is, we're too open, we're too vulnerable, and these folks can't be deterred. The only thing we can do is take the battle to the enemy." And I've pushed back on this, all right. First - all right yes, suicidal bombers. Somebody in that act it's a bit like saying I can't deter around that's left a 9-millimeter gun. But let's step back and look at this here. How does somebody become suicidal? It's about a two-year socialization process or radicalization process they have to put you through. Well, somebody had to provide that process. Secondly, they're probably not a natural-born bomb maker. Somebody actually had to make bombs without blowing themselves up - that's a skill and be able to match this up. Thirdly, the suicide bomber wants to be able to actually have some effect. In order to do that, they've got to know what to hit. Well, that requires somebody doing surveillance. You only do it once, so you've got to do a dry run. All this is taking time. People need a place to live, and they've got to do it without being observed. If you try to recruit Americans into this process, which one could potentially do here, it's a real challenging operational security challenge because the person may be all for it until he learns that Aunt Tillie's neighborhood is actually next door to the thing you want to blow up. Or there are also our friends and neighbors who are sort of seeing this changed behavior and may also sort of clue folks in. So you have to be very, very careful about who you draw in; you've got to compartmentalize the information you provide. And all this, I would argue starts to bound the problem. It's not like they can willy-nilly hit everything, because if they hit something, it's going to be three years before you're reconstituted again. So you want to hit the bigger thing with the cascading effects. But if we start chipping away at that, both what are really vulnerable that you don't get your loss of life or disruption but also that as you chip - you do this thing, it's essentially a fizzle, then I think the reaction is, "Gee, do we really want to do this? Is this investment really worthwhile doing here?" We're not going to solve the loony problem. There are going to be the Tim McVeigh's out there and the others who will do the spontaneous act of lunacy, but we're worried about a qualitative risk that we saw in 9/11 - the ability for mass destruction, mass cascading effects. Let's bifurcate this issue and start to take a deep breath and essentially engineer our way back into figuring out how we can contain it and work around it without losing our heads. And you think the American public is prepared to accept the risk that there will be more attacks and that that's okay - to sort dial back a bit. I think what we really need is - Is that politically acceptable as well? - is - we need a candidate who are willing to test those waters, I think. But what we clearly know right now is the other line - I mean, the president put the ultimate line in the sand here with the State of the Union Address, in which he said, "The one thing about which there can be no question is the only way to win the war on terror is to take the battle to the enemy." And the entire house stood up and cheered. All right. Well, you know, the sailor in me says whenever something's that conventional wisdom, alarms are going off. I know Mother Nature's going to throw me a curve ball and maybe we really need to think about whether that really is the absolute nonnegotiable. There's certainly an element of it. Offense will always need to be, I would argue a complement of our strategy as we go forward, when we have the intelligence to inform it. But if we're willing, I think, to talk adult-like to the American people about the nature of these vulnerabilities, I think the reality is everybody understands natural disasters, they can't prevent. The earthquake will happen; the hurricanes will happen. But when you explain the things to make sure that these things aren't cataclysmic are things like making emergency management work, public health work, you are having a plan, you are being self-sufficient for 72 hours - build it around the non-terror issue, but then bring it full circle and say, "This is, ladies and gentlemen, what you can be doing as your victory garden. There's what you contribute on the home front to the war on terror. Our young men and women are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their blood in support or defense of this nation. What we can do here at home at a minimum is to make sure that terrorism is not so attractive to be done, and when it does happen that they don't you know, the mass loss of life or the mass disruption that can flow from it. And do you see that resilience in the American spirit? I absolutely do see it, and I certainly saw it here again in New York on 9/11, and you saw it on United 93. I've seen it in every sort of major crowd control event that I was involved with in the Coast Guard. I remember being in New York Harbor on the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty. Statistically it should have been an absolute - you know, it should have been a frat house disaster. I mean, people are tipping up a little bit and all this, but what you saw under those circumstances were people pulling together. They didn't call up everybody for help; they basically helped everybody along. It was sort of this sense of civic responsibility to manage our way through that. I think it's untapped, and it's really very interesting when you go back and look in the 1930s, when the Brits were wringing their hands over the issue of obviously growth in German power, one of the things that fed the appeasement dialogue - obviously the fatigue of the first World War was the main driver, but the other one was Nazi air power, where the conviction was the British people were just so weak. They hadn't been - nobody actually had attacked the place since the Spanish Armada, and the Spanish didn't get very far; that basically, if we get a hit here, the whole society will fall apart. The elites were pretty well convinced, in Chamberlain's cabinet here, that the British people couldn't take the punch of Nazi war power. And then of course, fast forward to the Battle of Britain, V bombs, the ultimate weapon of terror - there was absolutely no military utility. It was plus or minus London - that's what you basically got out of them. But what the Londoners showed was steely resolve that ultimately weakened the desire by the Nazis to use them. They were having the opposite effect of what they thought was availability. I - I'm convinced that the American people have been undersold in their - in their ability to work their way through. And I make that case because every generation of Americans has confronted adversity and confronted challenges. And so we go back to our founders. But if you look at, whether it was Great Depression or Great Wars, we haven't become a lesser of people every time we were confronted with adversity; we've become a better people every time.