'Can't Defeat Them Unless We Understand Them'

Answer: No. Nuclear weapons are very well-guarded by the nations that have them. Nuclear weapons (as opposed to radiological dispersal devices) are also extremely difficult to make.

Cincybabe e-mails: Mr. Clarke, I have enormous respect for you, and sincerely appreciate all your efforts to keep our country safe. If you had been able to make one change before you left the Bush administration, what would that be? Thanks in advance.

Answer: One change? That's hard. I guess it would have been to make the National Security Service out of parts of the FBI: a new agency within an agency, not a police unit but an intelligence group, not something focused on prosecutions but on deterrence. President Bush last month agreed to do that sometime in the near future, but it will take a long time to get it running.

Scott in Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Thank you Sir, for your service to our country. You are indeed a patriot.

During your time as counterterrorism czar under the last 4 administrations, it has been said numerous terrorist plans have been discovered by our intelligence agencies. Without going into specifics, could you give us an approximate number of plots which have been foiled? Thank you.

Answer: Its difficult to give a number, Scott, because in some cases we were never sure if the attack was "for real" or just talk. Some of the more well-known attacks we foiled were the New York City "Landmarks Case" in 1993 in which al Qaeda intended to blow up the tunnels and some buildings in New York, repeated attempts on U.S. embassies abroad, the New York subway case in 1997, the "Millennium Case" in which attacks were planned in Yemen, California and Jordan.

Ernest in California writes: Is it possible our country is so overwhelmed with internal politics, hatred and defiance, that this condition blinds us to more pressing matters of national security? And international security?

Answer: Well, Ernest, it does seem sometimes that many politicians in Washington spend a great deal of time on issues that seem more motivated by partisan concerns than by an objective concern for national security. These security issues should be at the top of our agenda, they should be subject to objective analysis and open dialogue, and should not be used by political parties for advantage.

STF in Rochester, N.Y., writes: Are there steps afoot to insure that state governors and their main state police officers are briefed similarly to the Daily Threat Matrix (or Grid) President Bush looks at? Don't you think it would be a wise step to involve the pertinent state top officials in these daily briefings so that Americans can travel safely on the Interstate system knowing up-to-date info is shared by the federal government with the States along I-80, or 40 or 5, etc. etc. ?

Answer: In every region of the country here are Joint Terrorism Task Forces in which state and city police have access to classified information from the FBI and CIA. The Daily Threat Matrix contains all sorts of other material, including things going on overseas. Distributing intelligence information on a "need-to-know basis" is a difficult balancing act. Who needs to know what? It is, however, getting better and the FBI is telling more to state and local authorities.

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