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Our ultimate concern and our ultimate goal is to assure the greatest possible security for the American people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Goss. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ranking Member Pelosi, welcome.
Ms. PELOSI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will not have an opening statement except to associate myself with the welcome that you and our distinguished Chairman Graham presented to the witnesses. We look forward to their testimony today.
I wish to associate myself with your and Mr. Graham's opening remarks, especially the list of concerns put forth by Senator Graham. I have concerns about us-except to the point of the separate entity; I have serious concerns about that. While it is true that our ultimate goal is to provide maximum security for the American people, I know our Chairs and ranking members share the view that we must do so while protecting our civil liberties.
With that, I welcome our distinguished witnesses and look forward to their comments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Goss. Thank you, Ms. Pelosi.
Vice Chairman Shelby.
Vice Chairman SHELBY. Mr. Chairman, I do not have an opening statement. I will be brief.
I do want to commend you and Senator Graham for having these open hearings. I believe, although we cannot talk about everything in open hearing-there are a lot of things we shouldn't talk about and will never discuss-there is a lot of information that will be brought out that the American people need to know about.
I want to commend our Staff Director, Ms. Hill, for bringing a story together, and this is a story that is a big challenge to our Intelligence Community and to us as Americans as far as security is concerned. Without these open hearings, I think a lot of Americans would not have any idea what was going on or what we were trying to do to make our Intelligence Community work together better, to make them stronger for the security of our Nation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Goss. Thank you, Senator Shelby.
At this time I ask Ms. Hill to proceed with her prepared statement. The floor is yours, Ms. Hill.
MS. HILL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a longer-actually I have two longer versions of this statement for the record. One is a classified version, which I would ask be made part of the sealed record.
Chairman Goss. Without objection.
[The classified statement of Ms. Hill was made a part of the classified record.]
Ms. HILL. The other is an unclassified version, but longer than the summary I will read here this morning.
Chairman Goss. Without objection in both cases.
Joint Inquiry Staff Statement
Hearing on the Intelligence Community's Response to Past Terrorist Attacks Against the United States from February 1993 to September 2001
Eleanor Hill, Staff Director, Joint Inquiry Staff
October 8, 2002
Mr. Chairman, members of the two Committees, good morning. The purpose of today's hearing is to review past terrorist attacks - both successful and unsuccessful -- by al-Qa'ida and other groups against the United States. This review focuses not only on the attacks themselves, but also on how the Intelligence Community changed its posture in response and on broader themes that demand close scrutiny by the Committees. This review of past attacks and issues is not as deep or as thorough as our inquiry into the events of September 11. Instead, it represents a more general assessment of how well the Intelligence Community has adapted to the post-Cold War world, using counterterrorism as a vehicle.
In conjunction with the Joint Inquiry Staff's (JIS's) review of the September 11 attacks, we have reviewed documents related to past attacks and interviewed a range of individuals involved in counter-terrorism in the last decade. The documents include formal and informal "lessons learned" studies undertaken by different components of the Intelligence Community and the U.S. military, briefings and reports prepared by individuals working the threat at the time, and journalistic and scholarly accounts of the attacks. Interviews included officials at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Defense (DoD), National Security Council (NSC), Department of State, outside experts, and other individuals who possess first-hand knowledge of the Intelligence Community's performance or who can offer broader insights into the challenge of counterterrorism.
This Staff Statement is intended to provide the two Committees with lines of inquiry that we believe are worth pursuing with the panelists who will appear before you today. It has four elements. First, we review briefly several major terrorist attacks or plots against the United States at home and abroad. Second, we note several characteristics of the terrorism challenge that became increasingly apparent in the 1990s. Third, we identify a number of important steps taken by U.S. intelligence and other agencies to combat terrorism more effectively - steps that almost certainly saved many lives. Fourth and finally, we describe in detail several problems or issues apparent from past attacks, noting how these hindered the overall U.S. response to terrorism. Several of these issues transcend the Intelligence Community and involve policy issues; others were recognized early on by the Intelligence Community but were not fully resolved.'
A Review of Past Attacks
The Joint Inquiry Staff has reviewed five past terrorist attacks or attempts against the United States as part of its inquiry into September 11: the 1993 bombing of the
· This review is focused on issues that are not addressed fully in other open or closed joint Committee hearings. Thus, for example, important concems such as information sharing and covert action are not addressed, even though they were important issues in how the Intelligence Community responded to past attacks. This Joint Inquiry Staff has prepared or will prepare assessments of these issues as separate
World Trade Center (WTC I); the 1996 attack on the U.S. military barracks Khobar
The Joint Inquiry Staff chose to review these five attacks for several reasons. First, they suggest how the radical Islamist cause grew from a disparate band of relatively unskilled amateurs to a seasoned group of skilled operators. This span of time allows the Joint Inquiry Staff to determine how the Intelligence Community adapted to meet this danger. Second, the attacks represent the major instances of international terrorism against the United States in the decade preceding September 11, 2001. Third, they represent a mix of attacks on U.S. interests at home and abroad. Finally, we included the attack on Khobar Towers to avoid drawing too many lessons from Sunni Islamic extremists linked to al-Qa'ida: as the 19 American dead at Khobar demonstrates, the Lebanese Hezbollah and other groups also threaten American interests today.
A brief review of each incident is provided below.
1993 Attack on the World Trade Center
On February 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the B-2 level garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six people and wounding another 1,000. The vehicle was traced to Mohammed Salameh, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship. Salameh's arrest led investigators to his accomplices - Arabs of different nationalities who were followers of blind radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abd al-Rahman. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the attack, had already fled the United States and was not apprehended until 1995. Yousef's collaborators, who were far less skilled and professional, were arrested shortly after the bombing.
Several of the radical Islamists responsible for the bombing had conducted terrorist attacks before. Members of New York's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) traced Salemeh to the home of Ibrahim el-Gabrowny, a cousin of El Sayyid Nosair. Nosair was the shooter in the 1990 assassination in New York City of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the controversial founder of the Jewish Defense League. Nosair also had assistance from Mahmud Abouhamila, who was arrested in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing.
According to FBI officials who were interviewed, the NYPD and the District Attorney's office resisted attempts to label the Kahane assassination a “conspiracy” despite the apparent links to a broader network of radicals. Instead, these organizations reportedly wanted the appearance of speedy justice and a quick resolution to a volatile situation. By arresting Nosair, they felt they had accomplished both.
Nosair was shot and then arrested after the Kahane shooting, and a search of his residence uncovered a trove of information regarding his cell's members and activities. Forty-seven boxes of notes and paramilitary manuals were carted away. It would be at least two years before much of the information was actually translated. The FBI case agent says that a relative of Nosair's traveled to Saudi Arabia to obtain money to pay for
Nosair's defense. He received funds from a wealthy Saudi, Usama bin Ladin. The agent told the Joint Inquiry Staff that this was the first time the FBI's New York office heard bin Ladin's name.
According to FBI agents interviewed by the Joint Inquiry Staff, intelligence on individual members of the cell who committed the attack was considerable before the World Trade Center attack. In 1989, the FBI had become aware that a number of Americans were being recruited to fight in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviets, a possible violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act. The FBI also learned that these individuals were receiving firearms and martial arts training in the New York area, and the FBI began to surveil these firearms training sessions. The FBI had an informant with access to the cell but, in essence, deactivated him shortly before the bombing. However, there was no indication of the magnitude of the attack they were planning or that they intended to kill thousands of Americans.
After the World Trade Center attack, the FBI reactivated the source who reported on the cell's plans. Drawing on this source, several weeks after the World Trade Center attack, the FBI arrested additional Islamist radicals planning a "day of terror" against several U.S. landmarks. The source enabled the eventual arrest and conviction of Shaykh Abd al-Rahman and his associates for planning the "day of terror."
A senior FBI terrorism analyst told the Joint Inquiry Staff that the lack of a state sponsor of these terrorist activities and the mixture of nationalities involved in the various plots initially confused U.S. investigators. One FBI investigator recalls that he initially suspected Serbian involvement, and later the prevailing opinion was that Libyans were behind the activity. Others thought that perhaps the Iraqis were seeking revenge for Operation Desert Storm. This theory gained support when it was discovered that Ramzi Yousef traveled with a valid Iraqi passport. Over time, however, the Intelligence Community realized that a new phenomenon was emerging: radical Islamic cells, not linked to any country, but united in anti-American zeal.
1996 Attack on Khobar Towers
On June 26, 1996, Saudi Shi'a Muslim terrorists detonated a truck bomb containing 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of explosives on the perimeter of the U.S. apartment complex called Khobar Towers at a military facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Although the truck did not pass through the base's perimeter security, the bomb's large size, which surprised U.S. officials, led to a massive explosion that destroyed much of the complex. Nineteen Americans died and 500 others were wounded. Following the attack, the United States redeployed its forces to more remote parts of the Kingdom.
A U.S. indictment brought in June 2001 charged that the Saudi Hezbollah, with support from Iran, carried out the attack. According to the indictment, Iran and its surrogate, the Lebanese Hezbollah, recruited and trained the bombers, helped direct their surveillance, and assisted in planning the attack.