ABC NEWS’ JAKE TAPPER, JENNIFER DUCK and SUNLEN MILLER REPORT:
Top officials from the Bush Administration invited the men and women who will replace them in just one week to join them for a two and a half hour hypothetical terrorist attack.
The drill, in which U.S. cities from coast to coast were attacked by terrorists using improvised explosive devices in coordinated attacks, allowed, for instance, the National Security Adviser-designate for President-elect Obama to watch as President Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, responded with various recommendations.
“We want this new team to be as successful as they possible can be especially in the areas of national and homeland security,” current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said before the exercise, standing with the White House Chief of Staff-in-waiting Rahm Emanuel.
The drill, orchestrated by the Department of Homeland Security, simulated two-days’ worth of attacks on American cities targeting transportation and economic centers.
Bush Homeland Security Advisor Ken Wainstein tells ABC News the type of response merited in such a scenario: “Federal government assisting state and local governments; responding to medical needs, responding to investigative needs, making sure we had enough protective forces out there to provide to provide to give confidence to the American people that they can continue to live their lives 12 despite the fact these explosions are going on all around the country.”
Wainstein said that “even though we don’t have any specific threat information that suggests such an attack is going to happen, it is conceivable.”
President Bush himself warned just yesterday at his last press conference that an attack on U.S soil would the most pressing threat for President-elect Obama’s new term.
“The most urgent threat that he’ll have to deal with,” the president said, “Is and attack on our homeland.”
“The process has evolved quite a bit, and a lot of the processes have improved and have strengthened,” said former CIA official John Brennan, who will serve in Wainstein’s role for President Obama. “What the exercise was intended to do was to make sure that the federal government was able to respond very well to these types of coordinated attacks that span a geographic area that goes from West Coast to East Coast.”
“There’s still more work to be done,” said Wainstein. “Every time we do these exercises, every time we deal with a crisis, you learn lessons but you also identify the weaknesses. and it’s our job to try and address each of those weaknesses we identify.”
He said the Obama team did well. “It wasn’t designed to be a ‘gotcha’ exercise where we were going to put people on the spot,” said the Bush adviser. “That being said, they asked very probing questions to the extent that there were soft spots in our policies or processes. 10 they went right to those soft spots. They saw the issues and I think we had a very constructive dialogue.”
Former White House Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke says such exercises are vital, and indicated they made a difference in the reaction during the real disaster on September 11th.
“If we had not had scores of exercise with real playing when 9/11 happened I would not have known what to do,” Clarke says, “You can’t just read things in a book and expect to know how to do it.”
Does your heart start pumping? Is it nerve-wracking?
“It’s actually very much like the real thing, real players sitting around the real room,” Clarke says. “You receive information the same way they will receive it in the same event, and it will force you in real time to make decisions…If the exercise is done well it simulates the real work and after a while the players forget it’s a game.”
Prior to the exercise, the Obama team participated in a briefing in the nerve center of the White house, The Situation Room, to orientate them with government procedures and incident management practices. And following the IED scenario, members of the incoming and outgoing teams talked about air defense, pandemic influenza and other disaster response situations.
Participants included, from the Bush Team, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, DNI Mike McConnell, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Counter Terrorism Center acting director Mike Leiter, and FEMA Administrator Hank Paulison.
From the Obama Team, they including pending DNI Admiral Dennis Blair, DHS Secretary -designate Governor Janet Napolitano, Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner, incoming White House senior adviser David Axelrod, and incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Watch our report here:
– Jake Tapper, Jennifer Duck and Sunlen Miller