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TESTIMONY OF ELEANOR HILL, STAFF DIRECTOR, JOINT INQUIRY COMMITTEE
Ms. HILL. Mr. Chairman, members of the two committees, good morning.
The purpose of today's hearings is to review past terrorist attacks, both successful and unsuccessful, by al-Qa'ida and by 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 Community has adapted to the post-Cold War world, using counterterrorism as a vehicle.
In conjunction with our work regarding the September 11 attacks, the staff has reviewed documents related to past terrorist attacks and interviewed a broad range of individuals involved in counterterrorism throughout the last decade. The documents include formal and informal lessons learned, studies undertaken by different components of the 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, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the Department of State, outside experts and other individuals who possess firsthand knowledge of the Community's performance or who can offer broader insights into the challenge of counterterrorism.
One particularly helpful report was the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's recently completed study of the attack on the USS Cole and the Community's performance regarding that attack.
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 Community, but were not fully resolved.
The staff has reviewed five past terrorist attacks or attempts against the United States as part of its inquiry into September 11. They are:
The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that killed six people and wounded another 1,000;
The 1996 attack on the U.S. military at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans and wounded 500;
The 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks, which occurred less than 10 minutes apart, destroyed the facilities and killed 12 Americans and over 200 Kenyans and Tanzanians; more than 4,000 were injured, many permanently blinded;
The planned attacks in 1999 and 2000 around the Millennium celebrations; and
The 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 39 more. Each of those is gone into in far greater detail in our staff statement, but for purposes of the oral summary, I will not repeat those details.
The Joint Inquiry Staff review of these five incidents suggest several important characteristics of the emerging terrorist threat. Some were obvious to all at the time and others only became clear in retrospect, but all required changes in U.S. counterterrorism efforts and, more broadly, within the Intelligence Community.
The characteristics include:
The emergence of a new breed of terrorist, practicing a new form of terrorism, different from the state-sponsored, limited-casualty terrorism of the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. The new terrorists were not directly sponsored by a state and sought to kill thousands or more in their attacks;
The presence of international terrorists who operated in America and were willing to conduct attacks inside America. The relative immunity from international terrorism that America had for many years enjoyed was gone. Terrorists would conduct attacks on U.S. soil and organize and raise funds in the United States for attacks overseas;
An adversary, al-Qa'ida, that is unusual in its dedication, its size, its organizational structure and its mission. Throughout the 1990s, al-Qa'ida became more skilled and attracted more adherents, making it, in essence, a small army by the end of the decade;
The existence of a sanctuary in Afghanistan that allowed alQa'ida to organize, to train, to proselytize, to recruit, to raise funds and to grow into a worldwide menace; and
Finally, the exploitation of permissive environments, such as Yemen, where governments were not willing or able to crack down on radical extremist activity. Unlike Afghanistan, the regimes in these countries did not necessarily support al-Qa'ida; rather, they lacked the will or the ability to stop its activities.
As these challenges emerged, the Intelligence Community and, at times, the United States Government adopted several important measures that increased America's ability to fight terrorism in general and al-Qa'ida in particular. Many of these measures can only be described obliquely or cannot be mentioned at all due to national security requirements and rightful concerns about revealing intelligence methods. Several counterterrorism efforts do, however, deserve mention.
First, the early creation of a special unit to target bin Ladin well before bin Ladin became a household name or even well known to counterterrorism specialists: The CTC created a unit dedicated to learning more about bin Ladin's activities. This unit quickly deter
mined that bin Ladin was more than a terrorist financier, and it became the U.S. Government's focal point for expertise on and operations against bin Ladin. Later, after the 1998 embassy attacks made the threat clearer, the FBI and the NSA increased their focus on al-Qa'ida and on Islamic extremism.
Second, innovative legal strategies: In the trial of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the Department of Justice creatively resurrected the Civil War-era charge of seditious conspiracy, enabling the U.S. Government to prosecute and jail individuals planning terrorist attacks in America.
Aggressive renditions: Working with a wide array of foreign governments, the CIA helped deliver dozens of suspected terrorists to the United States or allied countries. These renditions often led to confessions and disrupted terrorist plots by shattering cells and removing key individuals.
Improved use of foreign liaison services: As al-Qa'ida emerged, several CIA officials recognized that traditional U.S. intelligence techniques were of limited value in penetrating and in countering the organization. They understood that foreign liaison could act as a tremendous force multiplier, and tried to coordinate and streamline what had been an ad hoc process.
Strategic warning on the risks to U.S. interests overseas: After the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the CIA clearly and repeatedly provided warnings to senior U.S. policymakers, warnings that reached a crescendo in the summer of 2001. Policymakers from both the Clinton and the Bush administrations have testified that the Intelligence Community repeatedly warned them that al-Qa'ida was both capable of and seeking to inflict mass casualties on America.
Expansion of the FBI overseas: FBI Director Louis Freeh greatly expanded the number of legal attache offices and focused them more on countries in which terrorism was prevalent or which were important partners against terrorism.
By September 11, there were 44 legal attache offices, up from 16 in 1992. Given the increasing role the FBI and the Department of Justice were playing in counterterrorism, these offices helped ensure that domestic and overseas efforts were better coordinated.
Augmenting the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs: The Joint Terrorism Task Force model was originally created to improve coordination between the FBI and the New York Police Department. The first World Trade Center attack led to the expansion of the JTTFs to other cities and led to the inclusion of CIA officers in several task forces.
Improved information sharing: Intelligence officials and policymakers took several measures to improve information-sharing on terrorism among leading U.S. Government agencies. The National Security Council revived the interagency process on terrorism and threat warning, resulting in regular senior policymaker meetings concerning terrorism. The NSA and the CIA held regular video conferences among analysts after the 1998 embassy bombings. Although many weaknesses remain, the FBI and the CIA took steps to increase collaboration, which had been extremely poor in the early 1990s, and established rotations in each other's counterterrorism units.
Despite these measures to better fight terrorism, the Community response was limited by a number of factors, including interpretations of U.S. law and overall U.S. counterterrorism policy.
Among these factors were, first, continued terrorist sanctuary. Up until September 11, al-Qa'ida raised an army in Afghanistan. Despite the Intelligence Community's growing recognition that Afghanistan was churning out thousands of trained radicals, there was little effort to integrate all the instruments of national powerdiplomatic, intelligence, economic and military-to address this problem.
Both the Clinton and the Bush administrations took some steps to address the problem of Afghanistan. Former National Security Adviser Berger has testified that after August, 1998, "The President authorized a series of overt and covert actions to get bin Ladin and his top lieutenants." None of these actions appear to have ultimately hindered terrorist training or al-Qa'ida's ability to operate from Afghanistan. However, Berger also testified that there was little public or congressional support for an invasion of Afghanistan before September 11.
Deputy Secretary of State Armitage and Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz have testified that by the time of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration was far along, but not finished, with a policy review that called for more aggressive policy against the Taliban and against al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. They were not, however, actively using the military against terrorism before this time.
In addition, al-Qa'ida exploited the laxness of other countries' counterterrorism efforts or the limits imposed by their legal systems. As the National Commission on Terrorism, the Bremer Commission, reported in 1998, "Some countries use the rhetoric of counterterrorist cooperation, but are unwilling to shoulder their responsibilities in practice, such as restricting the travel of terrorists throughout their territory."
A law enforcement approach to terrorism: In part because options such as military force were not promising or deemed feasible, the United States defaulted to countering terrorism primarily through arrests and trials. The use of the law enforcement approach had several weaknesses, including allowing al-Qa'ida continued sanctuary in Afghanistan. The reliance on law enforcement when individuals fled to a hostile country, such as Iran or the Taliban's Afghanistan, appears particularly ineffective, as the masterminds are often beyond the reach of justice.
During our interviews, one FBI agent scorned the idea of using the FBI to take the lead in countering al-Qa'ida, noting that all the FBI can do is arrest and prosecute. He noted that they cannot shut down training camps in hostile countries. In his view, "It is like telling the FBI after Pearl Harbor, 'Go to Tokyo and arrest the Emperor." In his opinion, a military solution was necessary because, "The Southern District doesn't have any cruise missiles."
Although the investigations contributed greatly to America's understanding of al-Qa'ida, the emphasis on prosecutions at times led to the diversion of considerable resources away from intelligence