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Interview with David Heyman, Center for Strategic and International Studies - 2003-05-20


After waves of attacks in the Middle East, the threat of a domestic attack in the U.S. has risen. Joining VOA’s David Borgida to talk about the situation is David Heyman, Director of Science and Security Initiatives at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, David Heyman, Director of Science and Security Initiatives at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. Mr. Heyman, thanks for joining us.

MR. HEYMAN
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA
A lot of points to talk about in that previous package. Let's begin with the last soundbite from Mr. Ridge, who said Americans, at least, are safer and more secure now than before 9/11. And I have to ask you, from a layman's point of view, does that square with the average person's anxiety about hearing about all of this?

MR. HEYMAN
Well, the raising and lowering of threat levels certainly raises and lowers people's anxiety level. That being said, since 9/11, there has been a significant amount of investments and changes in the way we protect this country at home and abroad. And those changes, relative to 9/11, are significant.

We've had perhaps a 100-fold increase in intelligence sharing with countries around the globe. We've had procurements of protective gear on the streets of America for first-responders, an increase in research, an increase in coordination across industry, the private sector and with local law enforcement.

All of that plays into a safer homeland security. Are we absolutely safe? Absolutely not. But we have, relative to 9/11, improved significantly.

MR. BORGIDA
So, from a tangible point of view, in terms of preparations, we probably are, but perhaps the psychological point of view, it's still an open question?

MR. HEYMAN
Yes. In fact, people at home are just, I think, starting to learn what kind of steps they would need to take to protect themselves.

MR. HEYMAN
Let's talk about this word that we hear a lot. It's called "chatter." And it refers to communications intercepts and so on that are often the basis for changing, raising and lowering, these threat levels. What does it mean? What are they hearing and what are they coming up with?

MR. HEYMAN
Well, chatter refers to the threat intelligence collection effort that the intelligence community operates. It involves a multitude of collection capabilities, from human intelligence, which are sources of people on the ground in countries, double agents, et cetera, to signal intelligence, which is communication devices, either radio, telephone, Internet, those types of things. The aggregate of all of this intelligence corresponds to the level of activity that they hear through these watchful eyes amongst targeted terrorist elements.

When they say the chatter is increasing, they're hearing more plans, more discussions about possible operational details. And we have seen an ebb and flow of the rise and fall of chatter around the world and it has corresponded to rising and lowering of threat conditions.

MR. BORGIDA
But, Mr. Heyman, is it not possible that some of the chatter could be feints here and there?

MR. HEYMAN
Absolutely.

MR. BORGIDA
There has been some discussion that perhaps the Saudi and Morocco terrorist attacks were an effort to distract Americans from the notion that it might happen here in this country.

MR. HEYMAN
There is no question that a feint, or fake chatter, would look just the same as real chatter, and distinguishing between the two would be very difficult. That being said, we are in a state where we are trying to refine our capabilities for identifying what is real and what is not. And the changes in our protective measures, our operational protection by raising the threat level, does help to disrupt networks, and so we respond that way.

MR. BORGIDA
Networks. Let's talk, for the last minute or so that we have in the segment, about al-Qaida. There are still no firm, clear fingerprints, footprints as it were, on some of these latest attacks, although al-Qaida I think is tied to the Saudi attack. But as one of the analysts said in a previous package, they remain a threat. Is that your view?

MR. HEYMAN
Yes. There is no question that they still have significant capability in the field. They have been regrouping. They have been changing their tactics. They have been learning and watching, which is what they have been doing for years, but they have been learning and watching how the U.S. has adjusted its homeland security capabilities. And I think we are going to see more attacks in the future. The coordination of the Saudi attacks, the multiple, coordinated, simultaneous attacks, is the handiwork of al-Qaida. And there are indications that the chatter is up and we will see something against targets in the near future.

MR. BORGIDA
David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, thanks, Mr. Heyman, for your insight. We appreciate it.

MR. HEYMAN
Thank you.

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