Skip to comments.House Intelligence Committee report on Counterterrorism Intel Capabilities prior to 9/11 (excerpts)
Posted on 04/10/2004 8:01:27 PM PDT by chance33_98
Mr. TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank both of our colleagues for appearing today.
And Mr. Chairman, I would like to go back to something you just touched on because there was Khobar Towers. There was the American embassiesAfrica, the Cole. Some people speculate that Trans World Airlines (TWA) 800 was an act of terrorism. There has never been compelling proof that it was otherwise. So I have to believe, given that that flight took off in New York, we have to at least suspect that.
A couple of things were occurring that I was curious if your group looked into. Going back to the Clinton Administration, in order to be fair to everybody, was the question ever asked, given the things that had previously happened around the world, including Khobar Towers, why on Earth was it standard Navy policy to turn the water-side security of an American warship in a known terrorist state over to a Third World ship chandler?
And did anyone's career suffer in the slightest for coming up with that idiotic policy? Because the captain was following his orders. Unfortunately, it was the standing orders that I think were idiotic.
A ship chandler, in case you haven't been in the steamship business, is the guy who sells everything from fuel to toilet paper to a ship. And the standing orders were that that guy was responsible for the water-side security.
Second question is: There have been way too many published reports that there was intelligenceand now I am going to the Bush Administration, so each side is going to take a little hit herethere were way too many published reports that there was intelligence gathered that the son of the blind cleric who was responsible for the first bombings of the World Trade Center had been saying that he wanted to hijack a plane for the purpose of holding those passengers captive and ransom them for his father. Given those reports, how on Earth did someone not step forward and say, ''Maybe we ought to limit the ability of people to carry knives and box cutters on American flights?''
Because I know, as recently as last August, I traveled with two members of our armed forces down to Vieques. And both of them carried fixed blade knives with blades about that big onto the plane. And no one said a word. No one asked for their credentials.
And I have to believe that the hijackers on the 11th did not smuggle those knives on board. They actually walked through security with them. No one questioned them.
Did anyone's career in any of this suffer from either of those colossal failures? Or conversely, has anyone down the line shown you conclusive proof that someone said, ''Gee, maybe we should tighten security in Yemen on our water side?'' Did anyone conclusively say, ''We have these very serious threats by the son of this cleric. Shouldn't we be taking a much tougher look at our airport security?''
Mr. CHAMBLISS. I don't know that anybody's career suffered, Gene. I am not sure what the answer to that question is.
Mr. TAYLOR. And the reason I ask that is I continue to get letters from home saying, ''Doggone it, you congressmen, if you screw up like that, we fire you every other year.'' Or any other profession, somebody gets fired.
What is happening? Didn't anybody's career suffer as a result of these failures? And I think they are fair questions.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Well, that was not the focus of our investigation is the only reason I don't remember that question being asked to anybody. But we have had a lot of discussion about the Cole incident.
And interestingly enough, Gene, not only was the refueling procedure not changed or rerouted or redirected in any way, but if you will remember, we disrupted a previous attempt to attack the Cole. And somebody had to make a decision as to whether or not to refuel that ship out at sea or bring it into harbor to refuel it. And instead of making the decision to refuel it at sea, the decision was made to bring it in, which was not a smart decision, looking back on it.
And we had already picked up on some folks who were trying to do exactly the same thing. Their boat sank because it was overloaded with explosives.
Mr. TAYLOR. May I interrupt for one second?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Sure.
Mr. TAYLOR. Did we know that prior to the actual bombing of the Cole? The boat that sank recovered; did someone in the intelligence community say, ''This is what the intention of this boat was''?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Yeah, that was
Mr. TAYLOR. That was known?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. I mean, I don't know that it was known that it was directed at the Cole.
Mr. TAYLOR. But they found a small boat, loaded with explosives, somewhere in that harbor, on the bottom?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. That is right.
Mr. TAYLOR. Okay.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Let me just talk for a minute. And I don't want to spend a lot of time on this because we have made a decision that it doesn't do any good to point fingers at administrations for deficiencies. We need to look forward as to where we are going.
There were mistakes made by a number of previous administrations with respect to the intelligence community. And you can't point to any one administration and say, ''Gee, if they had done this, we would not be in the situation we are today.''
Mr. TAYLOR. If I may, Mr. Chambliss, I am not trying to remove either the past president or the sitting president. I don't think it was their day-to-day job to do this. But it had to be somebody's day-to-day job.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Yeah.
Mr. TAYLOR. And what I think the citizens are fairly asking is, ''Is anybody held accountable when something like this goes wrong?'' Because in any other profession, someone is held accountable.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. And that is a fair question. And that question has been asked time and again, specific. And there are a number of them. Ninety-nine percent of them, we can't even talk about with you here. But there have been a number of situations, not unlike the son of the cleric or the Cole situation or other similar-type situations to that, that have been discovered now that when you look back at them, you ask, ''Why in the world didn't we react to that?''
The one that has been made public that we can talk about is the now-famous Phoenix memo that came out of the Phoenix office of the FBI. I mean, what has been made public about that should, in the minds of any reasonable individual, particularly a law enforcement officer, have required further investigation on the part of superiors of that individual.
Because it was a very detailed report. It was a very factual report. And it is a very revealing report.
But unfortunately, it got caught in that bureaucracy of the FBI and got stuck in a file. And somebody said, ''This doesn't make any difference to us. We have seen this before.'' And there was no activity and no action taken on it.
Would that memo, in and of itself, have told us about September 11? No. But when you combine that with a series of other incidents, including the Moussaoui situation, including some of the information that came out of the Cole bombing related to two individuals who were with one of the prime suspects involved in the Cole bombing and who are seen in a meeting in Malaysia, again that has been publicly reported.
All of this taken together, Gene, had the potential of at least giving us more background than we actually had. And there was a lot of dropping of the ball by a number of individuals and a number of agencies when you look back at it.
And we have asked the tough questions of why that happened. We haven't always gotten satisfactory answers as to why that happened.
And obviously, we are not about the business of firing individuals who dropped that ball. But I think, at the end of the day, you are going to see some changes made throughout the various intelligence agencies that are going to be required in order to bring them up to speed.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you very much. We are very fortunate on this subcommittee to have a former CIA officer in Mr. Simmons.
And yet, in America, the political culture is that these people are bad, that for every clandestine agent we have overseas, we need five lawyers and an administrator to keep an eye on him. And when somebody like Mike Spann, who was the first man to die in Afghanistan, is serving as a paramilitary officer, doing interrogations for the Special Operations Division, he is considered a hero. And yet, two years ago, when I ran for my first election for Congress, I was labeled a war criminal for doing the same thing in Vietnam for the CIA.
So when are the members of Congress going to begin the process of changing the political culture about the men and women who put their lives on the line doing Human Intelligence (HUMINT)lives on the line? My roommate and colleague from Vietnam died in the embassy in Beirut, Jim Lewis, he and his wife both, doing HUMINT in Beirut, trying to collect against terrorist targets in Beirut. They were killed doing that job.
And there are many others like that. And yet, their story is not told. Their lives and careers are not valued.
And how can we expect young men and women, my sons and daughters, to choose a life as a clandestine operative or working in HUMINT, where you put your life on the line? And yet, every time you open The Washington Post or you see about a congressional hearing, you are being slammed as being some sort of criminal crook or unpatriotic person.
It is a big question. How do we deal with that?
And having served myself in the Carter administration, in the Carter White House, I do remember Stansfield Turner and that chapter. And in hindsight, a lot of things that were done there proved unproductive in the years subsequent to that.
I just wanted to add that major acts of terrorism against Americans and especially the American military started in Lebanonthe way I see it, the modern terrorist erain the early 1980s. So it goes over four administrations.
Efforts were made to fix the problem. In hindsight, they were inadequate. All of them were inadequate. And Porter Goss, our chairman, says that what changed on 9/11 was the audience. And now there is a huge opportunity to get right things that many of us thought weren't right before, but to get them right now on a bipartisan basis.
You know, we spent a lot of time, both formally and informally, trying to define terrorism and trying to define homeland security. And I don't want to ask you about that.
But I was struck by yourI guess it was Saxbyuse of the word ''flat-footed,'' that we were caught flat-footed and specifically referred to this as a massive intelligence failure. When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, Little Rock paid notice because Timothy McVeigh had actually cased the federal building in Little Rock and decided it was not a good target and moved on to Oklahoma City.
If we had a bombing in Little Rock tomorrow, I don't think I would consider that we were caught flat-footed. I mean, I am aware when I go out there, ''Hey, somebody actually looked at this street in this city as a potential thing.''
How can we say we were flat-footed after what happened at the World Trade Center in 1993, which really had a more dramatic loss of life in mind? I mean, my understanding is the intent was to topple one tower into the other and then have them both take out several buildings down the row. And the intended loss of life was probably in the six figures, in terms of number of killed.
I don't understandand I am not criticizing your use of the termbut to say that we are flat-footed after that event, help me out with that?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Well, the fact of the matter is we were. And not just the 1993 World Trade Center attack, but when you look at the events that followed that: the embassy bombings, the Cole incident, the number of other terrorist acts that were taken against American assets around the world.
We knew bin Laden did not like Americans, that he wanted to kill and harm Americans. We knew the Al Qaida operation existed. And we knew something about it. We knew a lot about it. But, for whatever reason, we didn't focus in on trying to penetrate that organization to be able to gather intelligence from it.
We were flat-footed from the standpoint of the FBI being in an investigate and prosecutorial mode, as opposed to a disrupt and interrupt mode. They have had to change their complete mindset at the FBI when it comes to counterterrorism today. And that really should have been done before.
We shouldn't have to wait until it happens and investigate it and prosecute it. That is what I mean.
Dr. SNYDER. Maybe I can just throw in another question. Where does congressional culpability come? I mean, we certainly knew.
We can point our fingers and call it a massive intelligence failure. It must have been a massive monitoring failure.
I mean, I certainly knew about 1993. It occurred before I got here. But the Cole occurred since I have been here. The embassy bombings occurred since I have been here.
I mean, we clearly have dropped the ball, if we are saying, ''Gee, we were caught flat-footed in 1993. We were caught flat-footed at Khobar Towers.'' At some point, we should have been saying, ''We can't keep being caught flat-footed.'' Now I guess we are now.
Ms. HARMAN. I mentioned before, Vic, Porter Goss' comment that what changed on 9/11 was the audience. I think a lot of people were talking about all this. Al Qaida declared war on us in 1998. And senior officials of the Clinton administration, at that point, if not earlier, as all the press reports have concluded, were actively urging that the highest possible priority be given to the Al Qaida threat.
Why didn't more happen? Why didn't agencies change?
Because I think the public wasn't clued in. A lot of people didn't believe anything serious could happen to us domestically. And there were higher priorities.
There is no higher priority anymore. And I certainly hope that word ''flat-footed'' will never be used again. Let's retire the word ''flat-footed.''
Now, we are just going to be dumb and lame if we don't understand how serious this is. But we have to change the systems, not just perhaps some of the people. And some of the people have left, so we have an opportunity, as I mentioned at the FBI, to have new folks working new systems.
We have to change the systems so that if someone is threatening to hijack a plane, it won't just be seen in kind of linear terms. But somebody else might think, ''Gee, that hijacked plane could crash into a building,'' because again, that was in Tom Clancy's book. And there were other rumors, in hindsight, that perhaps could have caused the right system to conclude that this was a real possibility and then go after, hunt, for folks who could inflict that kind of harm.
We just weren't there. And we have to be there now.