Holder: “We have to monitor each other’s citizens”
Today on CNN’s State of the Union, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Gloria Borger from Paris and shared his views regarding the current situation in Paris. Holder described the nature of future terror threats and the means of combating them. Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.
Holder on combatting the terror threat: “We focus mostly on the Americans who have gone to Syria. About 150 or so have gone to Syria or have attempted to do that, Syria and Iraq. We think there are about 12 that are there now who are actually engaged in the fight. But we work with our allies. We share information. And it’s one of the things, I think, that we frankly have to do better. We have to monitor each other’s citizens, because the reality is that any one nation can be hurt by the citizens of another nation.”
Holder on the terror organization behind the Paris attacks: “We don’t have any credible information, at least as yet, to indicate who was responsible, who sponsored this act. That is clearly one of the things that we have to make a determination of. I will say this, that AQAP remains the most dangerous of the al Qaeda cells, the al Qaeda organizations, and we are constantly focused on them.”
Holder on General Petraeus: “Well, I don’t want to comment on — I don’t want to comment on what is an ongoing — an ongoing matter. I will say that, frequently, those things that are leaked to the media are done so by people who are not in a position to know, and are frequently inaccurate. “
Full transcript available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORGER: I’m joined now by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
BORGER: Mr. Attorney General, thanks so much for being here with us this morning from Paris.
Americans have watched in shock and in horror as events unfolded in France this week. Did anything about the nature and the sophistication of this attack surprise you?
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, certainly, we’re horrified by what happened. And we express our condolences to the French people.
But I think what we saw in France over the course of this last week is, unfortunately, what we’re going to have to confront into the future. We have seen these kinds of attacks or attempts at these kinds of attacks certainly in the United States. We have seen things like this in the United Kingdom. We have seen this in Nairobi. We have seen it in Australia and Canada.
This is the nature of the new threat that we must confront. We can, I think, successfully confront it if we share information in a way that perhaps we have not in the past, and do a variety of other things, but I am very concerned about what we saw this week in France.
BORGER: We’re now being told today that one of the terrorists has activated other sleeper cells in France. Do you believe that all of these terrorists are part of a larger sleeper cell operation?
HOLDER: Well, the French have the lead on this investigation. And I would defer to them as to what their investigation has so far uncovered.
What I will say is that the United States is working with our French counterparts as best we can, sharing law enforcement information with them, sharing intelligence information with them, making available to them the information that we have in our various databases.
And I’m confident that they will ultimately be able to determine exactly who was responsible for these acts…
HOLDER: … and roll up all of the people who — who were, in fact, involved.
BORGER: Should we assume that there are similar sleeper cells in the United States? Yes? No?
HOLDER: Well, one of the things that we are constantly doing is looking at the body of people who we are concerned about in the United States, use legitimate means to monitor their activities. We don’t stereotype.
But we are constantly looking at those people to make sure that we are doing all the things that we can to keep the American people safe and stopping them from engaging in the kinds of activities that we saw here in France this week.
BORGER: One terrorist is still on the run, and she’s apparently headed to Syria, if she’s not there already. Do you have her in your sights?
HOLDER: Well, we’re working with our allies.
I mean, we have looked at the number of Westerners who have gone to Syria. We focus mostly on the Americans who have gone to Syria. About 150 or so have gone to Syria or have attempted to do that, Syria and Iraq. We think there are about 12 that are there now who are actually engaged in the fight.
But we work with our allies. We share information. And it’s one of the things, I think, that we frankly have to do better. We have to monitor each other’s citizens, because the reality is that any one nation can be hurt by the citizens of another nation…
HOLDER: … given the way in which people can transit from one country to another. So…
BORGER: Well, the French seem to have lost…
HOLDER: … the concerns about an American citizen, the concerns about a French citizen have to be shared by all.
BORGER: Well, but the French seem to have lost track of two of these terrorists, let them off their radar.
Was that an — was that an intelligence failure? And do you worry that could happen here, because, as you point out, you have people who have traveled to Yemen, for example, who are in the United States? So, if the French lost track of these — of these folks, could you?
HOLDER: Well, I think it’s too early to say exactly what happened here. There will have to be an after-action report and analysis of exactly what was done correctly, what was done incorrectly.
We try to do in the United States the best that we can in monitoring those people who we are most concerned about. But I think we also have to understand that we have lone wolves, people who act as individuals, and who kind of float under the radar screen, and who are potentially going to do things that are harmful to the American people.
We do all that we can.
HOLDER: We work with our state and local counterparts to monitor these people.
We ask the American people themselves to see something and to share that information.
BORGER: But were these men lone wolves?
HOLDER: So, I think that we’re doing a good job.
But we’re doing — well, that, we will have to see. We’re dealing at this point, the French are dealing at this point with just the impact of the heinous acts that occurred last week. As the investigation unfolds, I’m sure that they will make determinations…
HOLDER: … as to what the extent of any other people’s involvement was.
BORGER: Let — and let me just ask you, from your read of this, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for the Paris attack. And one of the brothers, as we know, trained in Yemen.
Do you believe that AQAP ordered, paid for, and coordinated this?
HOLDER: We don’t have any credible information, at least as yet, to indicate who was responsible, who sponsored this act.
That is clearly one of the things that we have to make a determination of. I will say this, that AQAP remains the most dangerous of the al Qaeda cells, the al Qaeda organizations, and we are constantly focused on them.
BORGER: Let me — let me just switch subjects here for a little moment on you.
There are reports that prosecutors in your department have recommended bringing felony charges against former CIA Director David Petraeus for sharing classified information with his mistress. Is that the case? Is that on your desk, that recommendation?
HOLDER: Well, I don’t want to comment on — I don’t want to comment on what is an ongoing — an ongoing matter.
I will say that, frequently, those things that are leaked to the media are done so by people who are not in a position to know, and are frequently inaccurate.
BORGER: So, is it inaccurate?
HOLDER: So, let me leave it — let me leave it at that.
BORGER: Well, John McCain says that this entire process has taken way too long.
HOLDER: As I said, I…
BORGER: … and that it’s been grievously mishandled.
How would you respond to that?
HOLDER: Well, I have got great respect for Senator McCain and Senator Graham, who I understand sent a letter to me as well.
We have done this investigation, I think, in an appropriate way. An appropriate determination will be done. And it will be done in a way that I think the American people will ultimately decide was fair to everyone who was involved.
BORGER: Attorney General Eric Holder, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
HOLDER: Thank you.