Former U.S. Sen. Lieberman joins Coloradans in 9-11 remembrance

The Colorado Statesman

Although 12 years have now passed since the 9/11 attacks, the resolve by Coloradans to never forget should not wane. In the words of Gov. John Hickenlooper at this year’s remembrance last week, “It is vital each year that we come together and maintain that memory.”

Hickenlooper spoke of the state’s continued memories of the 2001 tragedy as he welcomed Coloradans and several special speakers to a national security forum on Sept. 11, held at the University of Denver. Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver, who recently visited Ground Zero in New York, recounted that visit, which included seeing a tree buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers. That tree has been nursed back to health, and Hancock called it a “symbol of 9/11. [The attack] made us stumble but it didn’t knock us down.”

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., Denver Post editorial page editor Vince Carroll, and The CELL founder Larry Mizel pose after the forum on national security on Sept. 11.

Two of the major sponsors of legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks discussed its history, President Obama’s recent decisions regarding Syria and other national security issues at “Colorado Remembers 9/11: Looking at the Future of U.S. National Security.” Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. and former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., participated in the forum sponsored by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL) with Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Vincent Carroll as moderator.

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, center, was one of the guest speakers at The CELL’s “Colorado Remembers 9/11: Looking at the Future of U.S. National Security” program held last week. He is flanked by Denver attorney Norm Brownstein, left, of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and Marc Kasowitz, right, of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP in New York City. See what Lieberman and former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman had to say.

Lieberman and Harman spoke of what they were doing when they first heard about the attack. Both were at or near the U.S. Capitol at the time. “It was chaos on Capitol Hill,” recalled Lieberman. “We were totally unprepared.” In the days to follow, Lieberman said he was first heartbroken and stunned, and later angry, and that led him to resolve that he would do what he could to close the country’s vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks.

Executive Director of the Colorado Dept. of Corrections Rick Raemisch and Gary Wilson, director/undersheriff at the Denver Sheriff’s Department.

Harman, as a member of a national committee on terrorism, had been predicting a terrorist attack on the United States for two years, and recommending actions the country should take. The day before the attack, she had lunch with L. Paul Bremen, another member of that committee, and bemoaned the fact that no one was paying attention to those warnings. “There was no emergency plan or path forward, and I was shocked” that Congress was so unprepared, she said.

Attorney Steve Farber and Roxane White, chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper, share a warm hug during the VIP reception preceding the forum on national security on Sept. 11.

Lieberman said the legislation to create Homeland Security was the most significant change in the country’s national security apparatus since the end of World War II and the Cold War.

State Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, poses with Diane Smethills, a principal with Sterling Ranch.

Creating the department meant tearing down “silos” between many agencies that had information but weren’t sharing it. Lieberman noted that the FBI and CIA often seemed to be in competition with each other. The Coast Guard took on a new role because of the legislation, protecting the nation’s coasts in a way that hadn’t happened before.

Former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut with Democratic state Rep. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins prior to the start of last week’s forum on national security sponsored by The CELL.

The work on national security is a work in progress and there is still unfinished business, according to Harman. One of the biggest challenges is the need to improve information sharing. That became apparent during the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, Lieberman explained. Russian intelligence had notified U.S. intelligence about the Tsarnaev brothers and that one of them was “hanging out with known terrorists.” The FBI had even interviewed one of them but felt there was nothing there, and that information was never shared with Boston law enforcement. “It’s hard in a country as big and free as ours to stop terrorist attacks… If the system worked 100 percent we could have stopped four people from being killed” and many others injured. “There’s no such thing as 100 percent security,” Harman added. “We will never get there.” Terrorists have to be right only 1 percent of the time, but the United States has to be right 100 percent of the time, she said. “We have to manage risk,” be well-prepared and inform local law enforcement. But the nation also needs a well-prepared public. “You’re the ones who will know first” when there is something wrong with a family member or with neighbors.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, recovering from hip surgery, chats with former Senator Mike Kopp, manager of corporate affairs for Intermountain Rural Electric Association. Kopp is considering a run for governor next year.
Photos by Marianne Goodland and Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Lieberman and Harman moved on to discussing the recent revelations about National Security Agency surveillance and its impact on Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. While it’s important to protect the Constitution, Harman said she did not see security and liberty as a “zero sum game. We get more of both or we get less of both.”

Both Lieberman and Harman said they supported the Obama administration’s plan to create an ombudsman in the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. That system could do better, Lieberman said. “We’ll make it better.”

On domestic terrorism, Harman said it is significant and growing, in part because of the Internet. She pointed to Inspire magazine, one of the online publications read by Tsarnaev brothers and where they learned to make the pressure-cooker bombs used in the attack. “We have to find a better way, without becoming a police state, of identifying those few people with radical views and who are about to act on them.”

“They are real threats,” added Lieberman, pointing to several domestic terrorism attacks in the last dozen years, and stating that the United States is a natural target because of its values. “This is a values war,” he said.

Turning to Syria, Lieberman said he agreed with the President that the United States should respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, although he also said that he was “puzzled and disappointed” with how the President has handled the problem in recent weeks.

In an assessment of Al Qaeda, Harman said that in 2001 it was a top-down organization. Now it is a loose affiliation of “powerful franchises” and that North Africa is one of the greater threats. Failed or failing states breed terrorists, Harman explained. She agreed with Lieberman that the United States must find a way to prevent Syria from ever using chemical weapons again, and that the President must not back off on his plan to use force. However, the best outcome is that Russia becomes a United States partner on the problem, and that the two nations work together on a transition away from President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. “If we’re not tough in Syria, it’s not sending the right message to Iran and North Korea,” she said.

The United States must remain credible in its dealings with Syria, according to Lieberman. “With credibility comes our own security.” Harman agreed, stating that if diplomacy fails “we should act militarily.”

Lieberman disagreed with Harman’s assessment of Al Qaeda, saying he believed the organization is stronger now than it was in 2011. It exists more places on the globe, and its ideology is appealing to more young, disenfranchised men. “This war will not be over for a while. We’re strong enough to protect ourselves,” and while the goal is 100 percent, it’s hard to guarantee it.

In closing, Harman said the nation needs to remain united and resilient. “Terrorists won’t check party registration before blowing us up.”

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” Lieberman said, quoting the 19th-century abolitionist Wendell Phillips. “One side can’t end this [terrorist] war,” and the side that attacked on 9/11 is still at it.

See the Sept. 20 print edition for full photo coverage