Watch CBS News

Transcript: Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell on "Face the Nation," June 23, 2024

Morell says "lack" of urgency about terrorist threats
Michael Morell says there is a "lack of a sense of urgency" about terrorist threats 07:35

The following is a transcript of an interview with former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, a CBS News national security contributor, on "Face the Nation" that aired on June 23, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined now by former CIA Deputy Director, Mike Morell. He's also our CBS News senior national security contributor. Good to have you here. 

MIKE MORELL: Good to be here, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just had that Foreign Affairs article that got all this attention, "The Terrorism Warning Lights are Blinking Red Again." You compare the moment we are in now to what happened in the lead up to 9/11. And I want to play something FBI director Chris Wray said earlier this month. 


FBI DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Our most immediate concern has been that individuals or small groups will draw a twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home. But now, on top of that, increasingly concerning is the potential for a coordinated attack here in the homeland, not unlike the ISIS-K attack we saw at the Russia concert hall back in March.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's chilling. The White House says the president is briefed regularly on threats. If that is true, do you think he's doing enough?

MIKE MORELL: Hard for me to say whether he's doing enough because a lot of what needs to be done we wouldn't see publicly. What I would say is, I ran into a lot of current- former intelligence- current intelligence officers and current policymakers. After we published the article, the response was almost universal. And we're glad you wrote this. It's really important. I read that as maybe there's a lack of sense of- of a sense of urgency here. And that's really important. 

MARGARET BRENNAN : A lack of sense of urgency among members of the public? Or the government? 

MIKE MORELL: The administration. Yeah. And Congress, quite frankly. There needs to be a sense of urgency about this. And I think the American public needs to understand what the threat is. That's why we called for a public congressional hearing just on the terrorist threats to the homeland. Right, not a hearing on threats broadly, but threats to the homeland. And then we need to hear what the administration is doing about this in a broad sense, right. Not the details, but in a broad sense.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I asked the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Turner, about exactly your proposal, and he- he really kind of dismissed it. He said, Oh, we've covered that.


MIKE MORELL: He said- we already covered that. They haven't. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, he did call for the administration to declassify information. Our colleague, Sam Vinograd who ran vetting at the border for DHS, said basically that the information that feeds those vetting lists, the watch lists, is dependent on how much good intelligence is collected, and that has been under-resourced. Do you agree with that? 

MIKE MORELL: I- I agree with that 100%. We've shifted resources from the counterterrorism community to the China community. Now, that's understandable to some degree, it's been significant. So I think there's a cost to the intelligence we're collecting. The vetting system beyond not having the information- the vetting system does not provide all of the information that the government has. There was just a DHS inspector general report that outlined all the problems with the vetting system. So it's lack of information and it is the system itself. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That- and we have it on a graphic, the report said Customs and Border Protection could not access all federal data necessary to enable complete screening and vetting of non-citizens seeking admission into the United States. This is the government saying we can't vet everyone properly.

MIKE MORELL: Right. And Customs and Border doesn't have the technology, right? To even connect. There are all sorts of issues here that need to be resolved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mike Morell, stay with us. I have to take a break but there's much more I want to talk to you about.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. We return now to our conversation with CBS News senior national security contributor, Mike Morell. Mike, I want to ask you about some video that CBS broadcasted earlier this week, 60 Minutes obtained it. It's Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi walking around the US Capitol back in 1999. We're seeing that video now. It was shot within 90 days of the time when senior al Qaeda planners were deciding on 9/11 targets according to the FBI. At the time you were at the CIA. We know now the FBI identified this man, al-Bayoumi, as an intelligence operative with close ties to two of the 9/11 hijackers. But in that 9/11 commission report it said there was no credible evidence that he was a violent extremist or aided extremists. Now that you have seen this video, what do you think it reveals?

MIKE MORELL: No doubt in my mind, that it is a casing video, that it is a casing video for some sort of terrorist attack. Number one. Number two, pretty clear to me that al-Bayoumi was- was either working for al Qaeda, or was Al Qaeda. Did he know about the 9/11 attacks? Probably not. Did he know that the two individuals he was interacting with were 9/11 hijackers? Probably not. But- but no doubt in my mind that al Qaeda tasked him to do this casing video. The video is chilling. It's chilling in terms of what he was- what he was videotaping, his narration over the top of it which- which is part what tells you it was a casing video. And his- his- his extremist comments. Let me just give you two examples, Margaret. On- on the casing part. At one point he says I will get over, he's looking at the Washington Monument, I will get over there and I will report. I will report to you in detail what is there. He's talking to somebody, right? He's- and- and he's talking about a plan-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Not like a tourist would?  

MIKE MORELL: Not like a tourist video. And then in terms of the extremism, he's- he's- he's looking at the Capitol. And he says they say that our kids are demons. However, these are the demons, what he's looking at. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the FBI concluded he was not a threat. The 9/11 commission report concluded he was not a threat. You're saying it's clear he was Al Qaeda and living under the noses and examination of law enforcement undetected. He's now living in Saudi Arabia as we speak. That's pretty- that's a pretty big oversight by US law enforcement and intelligence. Did the CIA know about this video? 

MIKE MORELL: We did not. You know, I'm 99.9% confident that we did not have this video. I was the President's briefer at the time. If somebody had shown me this video, I would have shown it to the President. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was, as I understand it, UK officials- UK intelligence that scooped up this video? 

MIKE MORELL: Yes, just so- so- so when he left the United States, he went to the UK. And after- after 9/11, the FBI discovered that he had signed- helped- helped- helped the two 9/11 hijackers get their first apartment. He- and the FBI learned that they learned that he was in the UK. So they go to the UK Government and they say- they share all this information. The British government arrests him, detains him, interrogates him, gets all this material. They say they provided it back to the FBI.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it just stayed at the FBI. 

MIKE MORELL: It looks- it looks that way. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: A lot more to come on this including on 60 Minutes in the fall. Thank you so much for your analysis Mike Morell. We'll be right back.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.