Transcript: Top Security Officials Talk With Diane Sawyer About the Nation's Safety

PHOTO Diane Sawyer, second from right, interviews Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and John Brennan of the National Security Council in WashingtonPlayMartin H. Simon/ABC News
WATCH National Security Leaders Discuss Terror Threat

DIANE SAWYER: Let's just start with today. Such an anxious day in a number of anxious days for American. First of all, London. How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here? Any of the things that they've seen were coming here? Dr. Clapper?


JOHN BRENNAN: The arrest-- the arrest of the-- 12--

DIANE SAWYER: The arrest--

JOHN BRENNAN: --individuals--

DIANE SAWYER: --of the 12.

JOHN BRENNAN: --by the British this morning. It's something that the British informed us about early this morning when it was taking place. And--


JOHN BRENNAN: --it-- it clearly-- indicates that there is an active threat that is-- exists in many parts of the world. We are in constant contact with the British right now. There's no indication at this point that it was directed toward our homeland. But this is something that we'll continue to work the British on.

DIANE SAWYER: But, again, when we look around today, just today with Newark Airport and the false alarm there, but New York City we had several of them. When you go in and brief the President -- I'm trying to imagine the language you use for him? Is it today we're at an eight on 10? Today we are blinking red. What is it you use to signal him what this time period is?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, we don't use the-- the color convention necessarily and-- I should point out firstly that of course the President stays very conversant of these issues, so it's more of-- a conversation that has continuity from-- from day-to-day rather than-- some shocking new revelation-- of-- of today's events, because the President is very fluent on-- on these events and on these threats. So he-- so it's more of a-- I think a business-like-- proposition. And there's not a lot of history on it-- because we do have extensive me-- mechanisms to-- respond to and thwart-- any potential threats and-- and what's occurred in London is a case in point.

DIANE SAWYER: But what do you say to the American people right now about the degree of-- anxiety that's just realistic right now as we head into the holidays?

JANET NAPOLITANO: What I say to the American people is that we are-- and thousands of people are working 24/seven, 364 days a year to keep the American people safe. What I say to the American people is that our security in the homeland is-- is something that we work at at many levels. It's-- it's the federal government. It's state and local law enforcement. It's the private sector. It's-- even individuals, when you see something like the See Something, Say Something-- campaign. It's a shared responsibility that we all have. And that-- every-- effort is made on-- behalf of the American people to keep them safe.

DIANE SAWYER: You all sleep well at night?

JAMES CLAPPER: When we get to sleep, yes, we do.

JANET NAPOLITANO: I call it sleeping fast. (LAUGHTER) We sleep fast.

JOHN BRENNAN: And you're always-- (COUGHING) trying to anticipate what the next threat is going to be. What we need to do. One of the things that the President has said to all of us is to make sure we take every step we can-- when we have indications that there might be a threat to the American people. Either at the-- in the homeland or abroad. And so that's one of the things 'cause as we each go home at night we wanna make sure that we have done all that we can do to identify these threats and to stop them.

DIANE SAWYER: As we know, Michael Rider (PH), who is at the National Counterterrorism Agency, has said, "We will not stop all the attacks. And it may well be tragic, innocent lives will be lost." Do you agree?

JOHN BRENNAN: I think what we have done as a counterterrorism/Homeland Security/intelligence community is to put the appropriate resources against the threats. And-- we work 24/seven-- constantly identifying where those threats are and what we can do to stop them. I think there's been a combination of some very, very good work-- at the federal/state/local levels. The international partnerships that have-- emerged over the past number of years. So I think we're better poised right now to identify these threats and stop them. But this is gonna be a constant effort. There are people out there that are trying to carry out attacks and-- we're gonna do our best to-- prevent them from doing so.

JANET NAPOLITANO: And-- and look-- I think-- Mike Rider was correct. You-- you can't put a hermet-- you know, you-- you cannot hermetically seal the United States. And we also--

DIANE SAWYER: So do you--


DIANE SAWYER: --all agree there will be pre-- and attack? We--


DIANE SAWYER: -cannot stop all--


JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I tell you anyway we-- we're not gonna bat 1,000 necessarily. We can't guarantee that. But we're certainly doing everything we can to ensure that we do thwart any-- any kind of an attack. but to guarantee publicly that we're gonna bat 1,000 every day-- and I think that's what Mike was getting to. Is this-- to sound a note of realism.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Right. And-- and that's why-- one of the other missions we have is to make sure that we are ready to respond should an attack-- actually get through all the-- the various-- efforts that we have underway. So part of this is the resilience of the country and the American people, should an attack succeed.

JAMES CLAPPER: We have a (UNINTEL) track record, though, in terms of stopping attacks. Preventing them from happening. People sometimes point to luck. You know, that-- something didn't happen because--

JANET NAPOLITANO: We just got lucky.

JAMES CLAPPER: --the operative wasn't able to carry out the attack. Well, it's because we've been able to degrade the capabilities, prevent them from training appropriately, so they lack a lot of the skills and sophistication precisely because we are keeping this constant pressure on them. So, you know, it-- it-- people may attribute it to luck but I think it's because of the pressure that we as the U.S. government has put on the terrorist groups over the past decade. And particularly since 9/11.

DIANE SAWYER: You really think that the Christmas Day Bomber and with the Times Square bomber as close as they were with that level of explosives available to them, that it was because we had just degraded their capability?

JAMES CLAPPER: Neither one of those attempts were successful. And-- it's because the constant pressure we're keeping on this groups that they're not able to develop I think the capabilities, the sophistication, the skills and the training to carry out those attacks. I'm not saying that-- you know, we're-- we're not concerned about the ability to penetrate our defenses. Like-- Abdulmutallab in terms of getting on that plane. And that's why-- Secretary Napolitano and Homeland Security have done a lot of work since last Christmas to make it-- much more difficult for an individual like that with something in their underwear to get on board a plane and get to the United States.


JOHN BRENNAN: I think it also illustrates the importance of-- of a-- of a well informed citizenry, too, which also forms-- one of those-- a very important layer of that lay-- multi-layer defense.

JANET NAPOLITANO: But I think it's fair to say that-- let's take-- we're almost at the one year anniversary of-- Abdulmutallab-- otherwise known as the Underwear Bomber. And he had-- PETN explosive material in-- in his under-- undergarments.

DIANE SAWYER: Powerfully--

JANET NAPOLITANO: And-- and he--

DIANE SAWYER: --explosive.

JANET NAPOLITANO: --got-- should-- should you be able to detonate it, absolutely. And he got it onto a plane. That should not have happened. But what we did is-- step back and said, "Well, how did he get that on the plane?" Recognizing at that point that this is really a global issue. And so we addressed it internationally.

DIANE SAWYER: So are you saying, as we know, his father had gone to the embassy to let the embassy-- he was paying cash. He had no bags. He was on the greater list. He was not on the smaller and the-- not on the no fly list. But he was on the greater list. There was no trigger to revoke his visa. Even with everything that had happened, are you saying this could never happen again because of what's been done in this past year?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I'm saying that-- what we have done in this past year-- I would-- say would pick him up. We would prevent him from getting on that plane from Amsterdam to Detroit. That's more international-- protocols put in place. It's-- IKEO (PH) the-- the-- U.N.'s aviation branch-- working with us, internationally and around the world, to adopt 190 nations'-- new international aviation-- requirements. It's the United States-- putting more intel-- that we have-- here-- and shipping it abroad so that-- those who are allowing individuals to board planes abroad have it before a boarding pass is issued. It's more information collection and sharing at the international level. So there are-- a number of steps-- as we go back and look at what happened last Christmas, to say, "How did this individual get on the plane and how do we prevent that from happening again?"

DIANE SAWYER: We remember-- Mr. Brennan, your coming out and saying-- standing up and saying, "I told the President I let him down."


DIANE SAWYER: Will you ever have to say that again?

JAMES CLAPPER: I certainly work every day to try to avoid having to deal with a situation like that where someone's able to get here into the United States on a plane. But as Secretary Napolitano said-- we have taken an-- a number of steps since last December. We did the after action review. (CLUNKING) We identified deficiencies in the system. Why was he able to get on a plane? Why wasn't there action taken once his father came in and saw U.S. officials? What can we do to strengthen the system? And after every incident-- whether we're talking about-- last December, whether we're talking about Fort Hood, whether we're talking about other things, we have learned lessons from those examples of-- attempted attacks. And we now I think are-- have a much stronger system as a result.

DIANE SAWYER: As we know, everyone keeps saying-- well, not everyone keeps saying, but the critics keep saying that we keep closing-- we keep fighting the last war. We keep closing the door on the last event. And that we're spending billions of dollars for instance on airport security when in fact airport security has not picked up a single terrorist, potential terrorist event. And that we are spending billions, which is exactly what the terrorists want, on last time's event instead of anticipating next time's?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, I-- I think that it would be unreasonable if we weren't correcting-- problems that we've found in reaction to an Abdulmutallab, say, for example. And-- and fixing the gaps in the system as we have in the last year. But-- I also think-- there's a lot of work that's being done to step ahead-- beyond that which-- the public knows. To put into place other layers of security that the public will not see and, quite frankly, that we cannot and should not talk about, to make sure that the public stays safe. So-- yes, there are things that we do to fix gaps that we know about and see when an event occurs, absolutely. But that doesn't mean we're not also thinking ahead and putting into place other measures that the public may not see.

JAMES CLAPPER: And most days if these terrorists are trying to murder people. Murder innocent men, women and children, they'll do it any way they can. And we have put obstacles in their way. We have made it a much-- less hospitable environment for them to be able to ply their trade. We're continuing to do that. But these are people out there that are damned and determined to kill people for no other agenda other than just to cause carnage and to kill. So it's a difficult challenge. It's one that we have to make sure that we're on top of our game every day. Because all the-- the air traffic that takes place on a single day. And all those planes. So this is a constant effort. It's across multiple departments and agencies. And-- I think we've been very-- effective as far as making it much more difficult for terrorists to carry out attacks.

DIANE SAWYER: All in on the 483 full body scanners. Are there gonna be a lot more?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Yes. By the end of the year there will be-- more deployments of the AITs and-- over the next two years-- we'll be covering almost--


JANET NAPOLITANO: --lanes (?).

DIANE SAWYER: --more pat downs-- and-- and random checks on trains?

JANET NAPOLITANO: We will be seeing-- more security on trains. Some you will see. Some you will not.

DIANE SAWYER: And malls? What do you do about malls?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, one of the things we do and have been doing is working with the mall association-- providing training to, for example, mall employees. And we've been doing that over the last year. So that they're alert. It goes to the-- to the See Something, Say Something theme that we have. And-- making them part of our security team. So we've worked with, for example, the Mall of America-- to-- train their staffs and others throughout the country. DIANE SAWYER: Director Clapper, I wanted to ask-- about homegrown terrorism. Thirty-five homegrown terrorists-- and I know that there are lots of different ways of counting in the last 18 months. We just decided-- and I trust the IPAP (PH). We just decided to go on and look, write down the number of YouTube opportunities there are to go on and tap into an—al-Awlaki video. Urging jihad.


DIANE SAWYER: What can you do about this? We-- on the assumption that some of these thousand-- 11,181 viewers are people who actually intend to hurt people? What do you do about that?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, to John's point. This is-- an illustration of another facet of-- what these-- extremist-- militants are doing to try to-- incite people and try to enlist them. And certainly-- we have to be-- we have to be mindful of that. Identify-- identifying so-called self-radicalization is-- unquestionably a-- tough problem. This is another case where we need this extensive network of-- people to include-- state and local law enforcement and alert and inform citizenry to-- alert us to this.

DIANE SAWYER: But what do we do about the-- the infinity that could be coming over the horizon? I mean, if we're-- if we are-- are there enough stings in America? Are there enough family members, are the enough members of the Muslim community who can keep us advised of what appears to be now a brand new era of homegrown terrorism?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, one of the things we've-- we've done-- we collectively has-- has been an outreach program. So, we are in dialogue with-- with the Muslim-- community. And that is what-- that is going to be a source of-- advice, counsel, and wisdom, as well as-- hopefully alerting us to-- to those-- among their number who are-- professing-- radical views.

DIANE SAWYER: As you know-- we've been looking at a series of Washington Post articles which say, there is simply an overwhelming number of agencies. That is not possible for any one person to be able to coordinate them. We made a poster of what was revealed to everybody a year ago. All of the agencies reporting and trying to coordinate, and simple human nature seems to be saying that it's impossible to have 12,000 government agencies, 2,000 private companies, 10,000 locations. And actually coordinate in a coherent and a smart way national intelligence.

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I think some of these articles-- are-- are a little bit-- histrionic-- if you will. I-- I don't know that I-- I understand or agree with the computation of these large number of-- of agencies as is characterized in the current article-- who are-- apparently acting in an uncoordinated manner. I do think-- that the effort is coordinated. The chart you held up is-- it reflects the 16 components of the intelligence committee, which I'm responsible for-- for leading and coordinating. And then-- Secretary Napolitano obviously has a huge responsibility for coordinating the efforts of-- the federal interlocutors with the state, local, tribal, and private sector.

DIANE SAWYER: Another article today--


DIANE SAWYER: --they have all these doubts of 4,000 local agencies, some of them are-- are local law enforcement officials who seem to be using fairly-- according to this random deployment of $32 billion of--

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, I would argue that it's important to have that grassroots-- level of observation that-- that is provided by-- local-- law enforcement.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Let-- me-- ask-- let me get away from a story-- in-- one newspaper, and talk about-- how-- what changes have been made, and what are we creating here in the homeland. We know we have terrorists who seek to attack us from abroad, we know we have a growing incident of homegrown terrorists. We know that-- the federal government alone-- is not responsible-- in a sense. We need to be able to collect information, and share information across the country. Particularly with state, local, tribal law enforcement. That's why we have-- created what are called fusion centers across the country that have analysts from the federal government in them, so that information can be shared, and information can be received back. That's why we have enhanced-- training-- for the private sector on things to watch out and prepare for. And the ability to respond. That's why a lot of the grant money that we dispense, which is valuable taxpayer money, is really-- we're really looking at how it will really help in the preparation and response capabilities.

DIANE SAWYER: And you stand behind the cost effectiveness of these domestic-- of the $3 billion I believe in the last year that was spent.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Yeah. I think-- if you went-- if we went and-- and I could-- go dollar for dollar through the monies that have been dispensed through the grant process, we would be able to show you how that was used. Now, it goes to states, and states then can marry that money with other things, which is why-- it's important that we have good coordination with the state governments, with the local governments. But one of our primary goals is to make sure that there's a homeland security architecture out there that appreciates and encompasses what state and local law enforcement can bring to the table.

JOHN BRENNAN: Diane, I think this-- this point of homeland security and national security is complicated, absolutely, it is. I mean, government is a very complicated business that's had to bring together the federal, the state, the local, move information around at the speed of light.


JOHN BRENNAN: And so the engineering that goes into this is rather complicated.

DIANE SAWYER: But a year ago, the complications, and the failure to coordinate was a problem.

JOHN BRENNAN: I wouldn't say it was a failure to coordinate. I think what we identified were that there were deficiencies in the system that we need to improve. And it's a constant process of improvement. We try to make sure it's going to be evolutionary, that we add additional capabilities. We don't want to build unnecessary redundancies into the system. No, we want to be able to coordinate very effectively among all these different departments and agencies. But it is complex. And it's not just the United States. Other governments as well, overseas, are having the same challenge. And so, we're trying to put an international architecture. Again-- information moves at the speed of light. So, we need to be able to take steps to prevent terrorist attack, as terrorists are moving. And so, I do think it is a testament to the work that has been in the intelligence, homeland security, and national security communities that we've been so successful as we've been over the last decade.


JANET NAPOLITANO: Might I-- one last point I-- I sort of want to-- part of your interview. But-- the connecting the dots analogy in the intel world is-- is really not the right analogy to use. There is so much information that comes in from so many forces-- places now, sources-- that— it's a cloud of information. And what you need to be able to do analytically is-- is discern patterns and so forth in that cloud. Tactics, behaviors-- other indicators that something is being planned that's really serious and credible, and act on that. So, connecting this dot to this dot, that is-- that is really not the way-- it works right now.

DIANE SAWYER: And as-- as of today, as we head into the Christmas holiday, what is the level of activity you see, the chatter you hear, the-- the alert? Whatever name you put on it. And we'll get out of the color coding system there. Whatever name you put on it. What is the level of alert we are on today?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well-- I would say that-- there is a lot of chatter-- in the intel world.

DIANE SAWYER: Increasing right now over the holidays?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, that references the holidays. And so-- we have a whole-- whole program of things we have put in place for the holidays. And as you might imagine, it includes some extra staffing at places. Extra resources-- extra information or additional information being provided, out to the countries. We know that things have already happened in-- in Europe, and we're watching that very closely as well. But yes, there is-- there is increased chatter in the system. And there are increased efforts on-- undertaken now by the-- homeland security.

DIANE SAWYER: But no concrete indications of a planned attack?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Nothing that is specific and credible in that sense. So, a-- again, it makes it-- it's one of those things where we've got a cloud-- but we don't have something specific from that cloud, but that means we all have to be leaning forward. And all means we have to be-- really at the top of our game. And we have literally thousands of people in the-- in the security community at the federal and state and local level who are participating in this.

DIANE SAWYER: Will you all be staying here over this holiday?

JOHN BRENNAN: We will be-- at our at our posts-- wherever that's going to be. But there's going to be constant vigilance on this. We recognize that-- our responsibility as-- as government officials is to make sure the American public can travel safely during the holiday season, so they can spend the holidays with their families. This is something that the communities that are engaged in this effort are determined to make sure that they're able to succeed in. And-- so, we have a passion about this work. And-- we're going to do our best to ensure that the terrorists do not succeed. And that's why correction systems have been ramped up, homeland security efforts and measures have been ramped up. We're constantly on our guard. And that's what the President expects, and that's what the President's going to get.

DIANE SAWYER: As we head into the anniversary of 9/11-- what's the most urgent thing on your list to get done that has not been done in the ten years?

JOHN BRENNAN: There are still a lot of work to be done overseas, as far as working with some of the partners. Some of the countries overseas whether--

DIANE SAWYER: On cargo, for instance?

JOHN BRENNAN: Well, yes, in terms of some security measures that are in place. But, you know, terrorists hide in certain places. They're operating and training in certain areas. And we need to continue to work with our foreign counterparts to make sure that they're doing their best to root these individuals out so they cannot launch attacks from overseas to the homeland here. So, this is something, in terms of building the capacity, building the capabilities, building the intelligence systems. It's a constant process that we're engaged in. So, there's still a lot of work to be done overseas. But-- you know, this is a learning-- effort, on the part of a lot of individuals. But we have to continue to adapt, continue to be flexible, and to continue anticipating what the terrorists are thinking themselves.

DIANE SAWYER: And so, that Americans are oriented to the real danger. Here's a- it's not an either or necessarily, As America-- as you look at these two photos, Anwar, al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden, who's the most dangerous?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I don't think you need to pick. I think they're both-- dangerous. And they-- both-- the center of a continuing effort to-- commit terrorist acts, and kill innocent people.

DIANE SAWYER: But you gave a-- comprehensive speech on Yemen, and on the dangers in Yemen. And the Vice President himself was saying later that he believes that-- that the bin Laden's organization ability to launch a global attack as the kind they did on 9/11 has been degraded, fundamentally degraded. But you have to look at the Arabian peninsula now, and you have to look at the small (UNINTEL) attack. Is that what you see too?

JOHN BRENNAN: I-- I think we're looking-- to prevent those strategic attacks. The large-scale attacks that Al Qaeda core, the-- the bin Ladens of the world are still determined to try to carry about. But we'd also be very vigilant about those small-scale attacks. Any terrorist of the ilk of bin Laden or others are people that we're going to continue to go after, continue to keep pressure on. They will be brought to justice. We're determined to that. So, we don't want to look at one area to the exclusion of others. We have to always be looking at the different areas where they are emanating from. And so, whether it be Yemen, whether it be in Africa, whether it be in South Asia-- this is something that we have to constantly keep our-- watch on.

DIANE SAWYER: Was WikiLeaks a profound wound in dealing with President Salah of Yemen?

JOHN BRENNAN: It was quite unfortunate-- that-- the WikiLeaks cables that were out there-- were released. Obviously, it was-- a criminal act-- whoever it was-- who was responsible for releasing these in an unauthorized fashion. I've-- discussed the issue with President Salah. We'll continue to work very closely with the Yemeni government. The two partnerships-- are able to get through these-- challenges. So, we're-- we're confident that-- our partners in Yemen are going to continue to stay focused on the terrorist threat.

DIANE SAWYER: I have a question for the three of you, which was-- it's from an intelligence official. Who phrased it this way, Can American intelligence-- is American intelligence now good enough to know if nuclear weapons from Pakistan or we presume, eventually, Iran, or now North Korea, can get in the hands of terrorists and head towards us?

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, as I said--

DIANE SAWYER: This is-- a bad (UNINTEL)?

JAMES CLAPPER: I would say this is something we are very, very-- attuned to, very sensitive about, and very concerned about. And we have-- wrapped up the-- the collection analysis against that very problem. That has been clearly been identified as-- a major area of concern. Two of the organizations that I oversee, the National Counter-- Counterterrorism Center and the National Counter Proliferation Center are both very, very focused on-- on this very issue. Which are organizations, by the way, that didn't exist-- ten years ago.

DIANE SAWYER: As of today, are you confident that you can make this assurance to the American people?

JAMES CLAPPER: I'm-- I'm con-- I'm-- yes. I am-- I am confident. I-- again-- never would say we'll bat 1,000, but I am-- I am-- I am very confident. Much more so than I was in the intelligence committee ten years ago than-- than I was then.

DIANE SAWYER: And just to run through a few things that were on the list ten years ago. Cargo. Not yet solved. In ten years, not yet solved?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, domestic-- cargo-- domestic cargo-- has essentially been solved. The issue about international cargo is much more complicated. But we-- have already-- put in place, and we're putting into place prior to October-- some people say we were just reacting to the-- toner cartridge-- threat that happened at the end of October. The plain fact of the matter is that-- we've been working on cargo all along. But it's-- it's-- an area where-- we have-- substantially improved-- cargo that's leaving from abroad, that's come to the United States. But there are so many places that cargo comes from abroad, that that's an ever-- ever-- how do I say this. As-- as-- as John would indicate-- it's something that really requires cooperation with our international partners. Something that we are continuing to work on.

DIANE SAWYER: Nuclear power sites?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Nuclear power sites-- we have--



DIANE SAWYER: What about computers? Because, again, we keep reading report after report that says that you still have to go to six or seven different computers. You cannot do a comprehensive search engine in order to gather in one place everything about somebody who might be a suspected terrorist. And-- in the world of Steven Jobs, and Larry Ellis, and-- and Mark Zuckerberg, you keep hearing people say in ten years, we can't get a search engine that can unify information on a terrorist.

JAMES CLAPPER: Well, we have made a lot of-- that's-- that's a valid point. And, again, we've made-- a lot of improvement in that. Certainly, much more so than-- was the case ten years ago. In fact, that's-- that's one of the very reasons that I occupy was-- was established. But-- this is-- is a very complex issue, involving-- all forms of information, which must take due regard for the protection of civil liberties. So, when we have databases that have-- any information on U.S. persons, we have to be very, very careful, and we are meticulous about protecting the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens. So, there's vast array of information that John alluded to-- and a sea of data has to be very-- we have to be very meticulous, very conscientious about-- that aspect. And that is one of the complexities of having one single search engine. And, of course, one could argue that-- if we did, would-- would that facilitate another WikiLeaks leaker.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Yeah. Let me-- say what I've come to appreciate in-- in my time as Secretary. Which is to-- that-- look-- in the intelligence world where you have clouds of information, lots of information from different sources-- the notion that there's a silver bullet out there that you could have a computer that you just type in one thing, and get the answer is-- is-- it's the wrong-- the wrong answer. There need to be many different kinds of searches going on. There needs to be some planned redundancy in the system. And if you have to check-- different databases-- that's okay. And the problem is, if people don't check. The problem is if we don't have good redundancy, the problem is if-- the information that is coming into the system is not-- is not-- accurate or credible. But the fact that you have to check several different systems-- to me, anyway, is-- is not the issue. We have-- individuals that work with us. They do that, and they do that all the time. It's part of what goes into the President's daily brief-- that we see-- as well-- every day. Which is-- there are lots of forms of information, they come in from lots of places. It may be something that comes-- from somebody who's traveling. It may be-- something that's a specific threat that comes in through an intel source. It may be something that actually comes up-- domestically. All those then have to be blended, looked at, and analyzed.

DIANE SAWYER: So, before I leave you, because of course, it is holiday time, and everyone is sitting with their families, telling me, sitting with your families, each of you what you say to them about how safe we are in America, and how we are to approach each day in a world of terrorism. How much anxiety they should have, or not?

JOHN BRENNAN: This is what I say to my family, that every day, the U.S. government I think gets better and better at putting in place the measures and procedures-- that are going to help keep them and their fellow Americans safe. This is a relentless effort on our part. The threats are out there. There are evil people in the world who are trying to do us harm. But this government has come an awfully long way, where we've worked very closely with our state counterparts, with our foreign counterparts. And we're much better positioned today than we were last week and last month, because we get additional data every day, we try to incorporate that data into the architecture that we have. We're always trying to adapt our procedures. The procedures that-- passengers see, or those that they don't see. So, I tell my-- my-- family-- this is something that-- your government-- your fellow Americans are working hard, and are not going to stop. Because this is something that-- again, there's a passion and dedication to stop these attacks from taking place.

DIANE SAWYER: But do they say to you, we're anxious? We're nervous? We-- we're worried?

JOHN BRENNAN: No, I think they feel that-- we're doing our best. You know, perfection is something that you aim for, you aspire to, but you never assume that you're there, because there's always a constant improvement that you want to pursue. Whether it's how we put information together, how we do the procedures at the Air Force, or whatever else. And I think if-- if they feel as though we're really determined and dedicated to this effort, I think they'd want the professionals to do their work.

DIANE SAWYER: And to those who want to feel perfectly safe?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Look, I say-- when I sit-- with my family-- that-- we are-- relentless in the sense of doing everything we can possibly think of do-- to keep the American people safe. They should live in a-- state of alertness, not a state of alarm. They are part of the solution-- to this effort. That we all have a role to play.

DIANE SAWYER: And this is 2010, 2011, and we have to be a different kind of--

JANET NAPOLITANO: We have to be a country that-- understands and I-- I think our citizenry do. But understand that-- terrorist threat is out there. It's-- it's ever changing. It's ever evolving. But we're-- a very determined and tough country. And-- we're going to do everything possible to prevent and should something-- actually get through-- our systems, we will be resilient, and we will get-- get after it.

JAMES CLAPPER: I agree. I-- I-- I don't know that any government-- at any point in our history could absolutely positively guarantee absolute safety and security. We always have threats to contend with. We have another form of it now. And-- we're doing everything we can to-- to thwart that threat and to make people safe and secure.

JOHN BRENNAN: And they're very brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line right now in places like Afghanistan, to protect our lives. And-- what we're doing here in the United States in some respects pale by comparison in terms of what they're doing out there. And so, I think-- the people in the United States should feel good that-- the Americans throughout the world are doing their best to-- protect-- their fellow Americans from harm.

DIANE SAWYER: Who of you has to call the President in the middle of the night if something happens?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I would say probably the homeland security advisor, usually.

JOHN BRENNAN: I-- you know, what we do is work very closely and collaboratively, and we make determinations about sort of when people should be notified of things. The President wants to stay very much in touch. He wants to be aware of what's going on. And so, if there's something that as a team-- and I think that's one of the things that we really feel good about. And it's a team of people working. Whether it be at the senior level, or the working level. They really have pulled together, because this is a-- shared-- goal, and objective. And the President-- I like to think that the President counts on his team to do the very best, and to bring the good news and the bad news to him. And-- we all have had the opportunity to-- to--

JANET NAPOLITANO: We've all had the opportunity to share the good news and the bad news.

DIANE SAWYER: And I'm really surprised you didn't know about London.

JAMES CLAPPER: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't.

JOHN BRENNAN: Well, you referenced London, but you didn't talk about the arrests.

DIANE SAWYER: The arrests. That's true. We have to put you on the ABC newsletter.

JAMES CLAPPER: Oh, good, I'll read it.

DIANE SAWYER: So, you feel good, this is a good holiday?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I feel that we have-- ramped up our efforts. We are-- leaning forward into it. And our goal is for the American people to have a safe and happy holiday season.

DIANE SAWYER: Thank you very much. Thank you all for your views.


DIANE SAWYER: The arrests in London. Have any particular insight? Give new insight into terrorist activities and particularly the threat of coming here?

JAMES CLAPPER: I think-- what-- what occurred in London were the arrests was illustrative this is a global threat. It is-- one that we work-- closely with our allies on. There has been reporting of a heightened-- concern in Europe. And this is just a manifestation of that. The-- and the British-- the British government took the appropriate action.

DIANE SAWYER: It appeared to be-- appeared to be-- native Bangladesh citizens, I believe, the 12 who were arrested. Any clue in that?

JANET NAPOLITANO: As far as I know, they-- we have not yet-- any connection between those arrests and any threat-- to the homeland, or to the United States. But as Director Clapper said, we're in constant contact with our colleagues-- in the U.K. on-- on these types of matters. Because there's-- great information that goes back and forth all the time.

JOHN BRENNAN: The British are very good in terms of their vigilance, and they move-- at a time when they think it's best to prevent an attack. There are also excellent partners as far as sharing information with us. And so, we have been in touch with them through the day to get the details about the individuals. Many of them were British citizens. Some came from south Asian-- backgrounds. And this is what we're going to be working with them over the next several days, to see whether or not there's any relation to any of these other threat streams that we're seeing out there. But at this point, I think the British feel good that they were able to get these individuals, bring them into-- the-- the legal system-- and to protect the British people.

DIANE SAWYER: Any sense of how many attacks they were planning? What kinds?

JOHN BRENNAN: I will leave it to the British-- to-- talk about-- the activities that these individuals were engaged in. But--

DIANE SAWYER: But again, no indication that-- that it was-- that it had a U.S. component?

JOHN BRENNAN: At this point-- we're working very much with the British. But-- it would be preliminary-- at best at this point-- to say anything about-- what their investigation might reveal.

DIANE SAWYER: And again, I thank you, and I hope you all have a safe, and really happy holiday.

JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you.


DIANE SAWYER: A great one.


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