Frances Townsend was the former homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush from 2004 – 2007 and chaired the homeland security council. Previously, her wide-ranging career included Deputy Assistant to the President, Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism, thirteen years at the United States Department of Justice in a variety of senior positions, and Counsel to the Attorney General for Intelligence Policy. NewsReal Blog had the pleasure of interviewing her on a wide range of issues affecting America’s homeland security.
NewsReal Blog: You recently visited Saudi Arabia. What were your impressions?
Frances Townsend: They are very worried about regional security issues. They are surrounded on all sides: Iraq to the North, Yemen to the South, and Iran to the East, not to mention Somalia. Although they are the strongest in the region, this is of shallow comfort.
NRB: What is your opinion on the Obama administration’s foreign policy?
Townsend: My biggest concern right now is a lack of focus on critical foreign policy issues. There are major issues that are growing threats to the US, whether the violence on the Southwest border or Iran’s growing nuclear weapons program. I frankly think there needs to be a real, concerted effort to deal with these threats before they manifest themselves at home and I don’t see it.
NRB: How do you view the Iranian nuclear program?
Townsend: Iran is absolutely determined to have a nuclear weapon. Iran supports the largest state sponsored terror program in the world, Hezbollah. Remember how Hezbollah bombed the marine barracks in Lebanon in the 80’s? It is ancient history in this country. Iran has demonstrated itself to be an irresponsible member of the international community. I would be crazy not to worry about them sharing any nuclear capability. It defies logic to assume that they will act responsibly.
NRB: Why do you think the terrorists want to attack America?
Townsend: As a society we need to come to grips with the fact there are people that hate us. By and large, there are enough people around the globe that disagree with American foreign policy, domestic policy, and culture; yet, only a fraction will act on it and try to kill us. I think they hate our Democratic society, the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of religion.
NRB: There are those who would argue that the War on Terrorism is over, do you agree or disagree?
Townsend: Only a Western mindset can say that. Understand that these people think in hundreds of years, a time span which is quite different than our short term attention span. After 9/11 we managed to have an attention span of several years. We are coming upon our 10th anniversary without a major attack on the US. People are prepared to say we are done and are ready to move on which is what Al Qaeda exactly hopes.
NRB: What do you think about the Department of Justice (DOJ) RE-INVESTIGATING former CIA officials?
Townsend: There is just a fundamental sense of unfairness to me. We should not put these honorable, patriotic, public servants through an investigation that already took place. I think there are deep, long term consequences that a change in administration means a change in the law.
NRB: Do you think the DOJ is dragging their feet on investigating the defense attorneys that photographed and showed CIA officials’ pictures to the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay?
Townsend: The Justice Department needs to investigate this and send a clear message to the defendants and their lawyers that this type of conduct will not be tolerated. Otherwise, the lesson for all public servants is to not take risks.
NRB: Should a terrorist be tried in a federal trial or military commission?
Townsend: It very much depends on what are the facts, what are the circumstances surrounding the investigation and capture of the terrorist, and what is in the best interest of the US government concerning national security.
NRB: For the 9/11 terrorists, especially Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, what is the best venue for trial?
Townsend: The best venue is the military commissions. The debate should be whether the attack should be viewed as an act of war, a crime, or both. I subscribe to the idea that an attack which killed 3000 people is an act of war and what logically follows is a military commission.
NRB: Do you think the Obama administration will change its mind?
Townsend: The administration is waiting for a period of quiet and then they will pop this decision out and that worries me. I think they are very determined to keep this in federal court. Transparency is important here. I think the administration’s indecisiveness at this point is a disaster. This lack of a decision is as troubling as the way they find the military commissions troubling.
See Part 2 Tomorrow