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Maddow: Recess-appoint Erroll Southers to TSA

By Diana Sweet
Friday, January 22, 2010 5:03 EDT
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On Thursday evening MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show featured an exclusive interview with the Obama administration’s former pick to run the Transportation Security Administration nominee Erroll Southers, his first interview since withdrawing his name from consideration.

Maddow talks with Mr. Southers, who she refers to as “A man who I would recess-appoint if I could,” about the reasons for withdrawing his name to head the TSA, and whether or not he might reconsider.

On withdrawing his name, Southers explains “I withdrew my name because I had become a lightning rod for the administration. I was engaged in a political process far beyond what I thought it was going to be.”

“As you were well aware, the union issue really took on its own life, and quite frankly I was really concerned that had I been confirmed, that the attacks would not have stopped.”

Dr. Maddow dives right in to the possibility of salvaging Southers’ nomination. “Let me — let me be frank. You are a security and law enforcement and counterterrorism professional. You are not a politics guy. You’ve made that very clear throughout this process. But there are a lot of people in the country who look at the politics of your nomination and want this administration to have fought for you, to have made an example of Jim DeMint for dismissing national security in favor of this no-win dog-and- pony show about unions, to have recess-appointed you if need be, to have made a fist-pounding speech about it to ward off any other obstructionist shenanigans like that. If the administration hypothetically had second thoughts and decided to renominate you and handle it like that, would you do it? Would you try it again?”

“It was a very, very challenging process,” begins the former nominee, “But I want to say this — I believe I was the right man, with the right qualifications. I had very interesting and productive conversations with Secretary Napolitano about moving forward. I believe we could have developed the TSA, a maturing organization, into the best transportation security organization in the world.”

“Yes, I would do it. I’m committed to the mission. I tried to convince Senator DeMint it was about the mission.”

“We need to address the threat that`s facing this country. The politics need to be aside. And as you mentioned earlier, I am apolitical. This is about terrorism and not about politics.”

Raw Story reported earlier this month on the contoversy surrounding Southers’ nomination, that aside from GOP Senator DeMint’s unionization fears, included privacy concerns amid revelations that Southers had admitted to ‘data snooping.’

The following Youtube video is from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show originally broadcast on Thurs., Jan. 21, 2010. A full transcript of the interview with Erroll Southers follows below.

MADDOW: President Obama`s nominee to head up the Transportation Security Administration yesterday withdrew his name from consideration. Errol Southers was a candidate with arguably the perfect resume for the job.

Here, in a landmark moment for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, we`ll let Sen. Joe Lieberman run you through it. This is what he had to say about Southers` qualifications back in November.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT): To this job, you bring nearly three decades of experience in public safety, homeland security and intelligence carried out at all levels of government and, indeed, in academia. You have had responsibility for the security of Los Angeles` four area airports.

Previously, Mr. Southers taught Homeland Security and Public Policy at the University of Southern California and served as deputy director of California Governor`s Office of Homeland Security, also worked as an FBI special agent and as a police officer -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Given those kinds of qualifications, Mr. Southers` nomination was passed unanimously out of that committee. But then, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint decided to personally block Mr. Southers because Mr. DeMint said he was worried about the threat of unions – no, not unions! For TSA employees.

On the same day Mr. Southers withdrew his nomination, the heads of homeland security, the FBI, the director of National Intelligence, and director of the National Counterterrorism Center all testified on Capitol Hill about the security and intelligence lapses that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to load his underpants with explosives and hop on a plane to America.

One might think that would have been an occasion for Democrats to be up in arms about a Republican senator keeping the nation`s airline security agency from having anyone in charge so that he could score theoretical political points about unions, of all things, while the underwear bomber was in the skies.

One might think, right? One would be wrong. Here was the extent of the Democratic outrage over Republicans blocking this appointment. Here it was. Don`t blink. You`ll miss it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-WV): Madame Vice Chair, if I can just say that I`m sure that our colleagues all know that Errol Southers withdrew his name for head of TSA today. It`s a real shame. It`s a real shame.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Maybe a shame. It`s a lot of other things besides. Joining us now for his first television interview since withdrawing his name from consideration is the administration`s former nominee to head the TSA, Mr. Erroll Southers.

Joining us now for his first television interview since withdrawing his name from consideration is the administration`s former nominee to head the TSA, Mr. Errol Southers. Mr. Southers, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate the chance to talk with you.

SOUTHERS: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: So why did you withdraw your name from consideration?

SOUTHERS: I withdrew my name because I had become a lightning rod for the administration. I was engaged in a political process far beyond what I thought it was going to be.

As you were well aware, the union issue really took on its own life, and quite frankly I was really concerned that had I been confirmed, that the attacks would not have stopped.

I was looking forward to taking the agency, a maturing agency to the next level, and I don`t believe I would have been able to do so moving forward and looking backward at people who were going to continue to dog me over the union issue.

MADDOW: Yesterday I on this show called the circumstances surrounding your withdrawal — I think I used the phrase the embodiment of Democratic political weakness, that there is no reason a Republican senator like Jim DeMint should have won a fight against you on an issue like this union issue. I can`t imagine that it sounds good to hear that right now, but I wonder how you feel about the politics around your nomination. Do you feel that you were fought for adequately?

SOUTHERS: I felt like I was on my heels constantly. I would have preferred to be able to be more aggressive, leaning forward. The union issue quite frankly was a no-win with Senator DeMint. A yes response to unions, of course, would have resulted in a hold. A let me consider all of the aspects involved of unionization with the largest component of DHS would have resulted in a hold, and that was of course my suggestion. And then a no unions would have gone against Senator Obama`s letter to Jim Gauge (ph), the head of the AFTE (ph), when he was running for the presidency, where he specifically in October, 2008, said that collective bargaining rights for transportation security officers would be a priority in his administration if he were elected president.

So, yes, maybe, and no result in a hold from Senator DeMint.

MADDOW: Which means he picked a good political issue, particularly because he got away with it.

Let me — let me be frank. You are a security and law enforcement and counterterrorism professional. You are not a politics guy. You`ve made that very clear throughout this process. But there are a lot of people in the country who look at the politics of your nomination and want this administration to have fought for you, to have made an example of Jim DeMint for dismissing national security in favor of this no-win dog-and- pony show about unions, to have recess-appointed you if need be, to have made a fist-pounding speech about it to ward off any other obstructionist shenanigans like that. If the administration hypothetically had second thoughts and decided to renominate you and handle it like that, would you do it? Would you try it again?

SOUTHERS: It was a very, very challenging process. But I want to say this — I believe I was the right man, with the right qualifications. I had very interesting and productive conversations with Secretary Napolitano about moving forward. I believe we could have developed the TSA, a maturing organization, into the best transportation security organization in the world.

Yes, I would do it. I`m committed to the mission. I tried to convince Senator DeMint it was about the mission.

We need to address the threat that`s facing this country. The politics need to be aside. And as you mentioned earlier, I am apolitical. This is about terrorism and not about politics.

MADDOW: Well, hearing that, yes, you would do it, I don`t know that the White House is ever going to reconsider how they handled this, but if they did, knowing that you would consider it I think would be heartening.

On the substance of airline security, I would have liked to have heard from you today in those hearings on Capitol Hill about what you think the appropriate response should have been to the attempted Christmas day bombing. What do you think our response should be? Obviously you don`t want to fight the last war, but given that that vulnerability has been exposed, what should TSA and the government be doing next?

SOUTHERS: I think what we should probably do is understand we`re dealing with a transnational threat. I think that the response should have been global in its perspective. It would have been probably preferable to sit with our international partners, assess the intelligence that we had available, determine what we should do, collectively, and not individually to address this threat.

One of the things that everybody must understand is that this attack was debriefed by the foreign terrorist organizations that sent Mr. Abdulmutallab over here. They learned a great deal. We need to reverse- engineer what happened and think about what we would do to counter the emerging threat instead of yesterday`s attack, and having policies that are then driven and being reactive instead of really being thought out and being comprehensive in their scope.

MADDOW: In looking into some of your record and what you`ve worked on in the past today and preparing to talk to you, I know that some of the work that you`ve done specifically is about those types of explosives. What are the detection hopes for those types of explosives? I know that they`re very popular among the people who most want to harm America, who would most like to do something like take down an airliner. How are we ever going to be able to find that stuff?

SOUTHERS: Well, TATP, which has been used before — and I`ve worked with Professor Ehud Kanaan (ph) in Haifa — there are detection devices for that. Canines can be used for TATP, but they are very effective on PETN, which is what Mr. Abdulmutallab and Richard Reid had in his attack. So, canines are quite useful. We have actually evolved into a pilot at LAX where we are using canines to ward off that kind of attack.

The technology is good. But again, technology has got to be used to enhance the performance of our people. And much as they do in Israel, it`s the people and the staffing and their commitment to the issue and the mission that is going to stop terrorism and not just technology.

MADDOW: Mr. Southers, barring the possibility that the White House decides it`s in a fighting mood and decides to bring you back and try over and do it in a tougher way, if that doesn`t happen, what`s next for you? What are you going to do next?

SOUTHERS: I`m looking forward to first reengaging at the Los Angeles International Airport. We have the largest airport police department in the United States. We are very interdisciplinary in our approach. We have randomized a number of methodologies and counterterrorism strategies, and I look forward to doing that.

I also look forward to returning to the university. I`m associate director of the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, running the executive program, teaching, and being part of the solution to this problem of terrorism in the country instead of a political football for people that want to decide that it`s not quite important enough to move forward.

MADDOW: Erroll Southers, former TSA nominee who heads counterterrorism efforts for Los Angeles`s airports, the nation`s largest aviation law enforcement agency, and a man who I would recess-appoint if I could. Mr. Southers, I really want to thank you for taking — for talking to us and talking to us first. And I`m sorry for what a trial this has been. Thank you for your service.

SOUTHERS: Thank you, Rachel. Pleasure to be here.

 
 
 
 
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