Tags: Intelligence | Agencies: | Terror | Attack | U.S. | 'Within | Year'

Intelligence Agencies: Terror Attack on U.S. 'Within a Year'

Wednesday, 06 February 2002 12:00 AM

"We assess that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups will continue to plan to attack this country and interests abroad," Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Al-Qaeda leaders are still at large and are working to reconstitute the organization and resume its terrorist operations ... al-Qaeda has not yet been destroyed."

Defense Intelligence Agency chief Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson provided more details in written testimony, stating he was worried a massive attack against the United States or its interests abroad could occur during the next 12 months. He singled out Colombia, the Philippines or Indonesia as potential centers for planning violence against U.S. citizens or interests.

"We must continue to be vigilant and never assume that we have 'won the war.' We will be most vulnerable when the threat appears to have diminished, security measures are relaxed, and we return to 'normal,'" Wilson wrote.

"Terrorists work on their own timeline and are patient. They are content to wait for the right opportunity, even if it takes years, to increase their chances of success."

Tenet defended the CIA against stiff questioning from senators about the agency's performance against terrorism and specifically its failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency, he said, had thwarted several possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas last summer, but had no inkling that al-Qaeda was plotting the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

"We never had the texture that said this is the date, the time and the place" of the attack, Tenet told the committee. "We welcome the committee's review of our record on terrorism ... We're proud of that record. It is a record of discipline strategy focus and action," Tenet said.

"I have to tell you that when you do this every day the shock was where the attack occurred but not that the attack occurred," he said. "Where did the secret for the planning reside? Probably in the head of three or four people. At the end of the day all you can do is try to steal that secret ....

"Intelligence will never give you 100 percent predictive capability on terrorist threats and terrorist events," Tenet said. "We know that they will hurt us again. We have to minimize their ability to do so, because there is no such thing as perfect security in this business."

Tenet said intelligence alone could not protect the country; security procedures must be in place at airports, embassies and other places to minimize risk.

"When the information isn't available, we need to make sure our backside is protected," he said.

"We know they will hurt us again, we have to minimize" their ability to do so, he said, adding that nearly 1,000 members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization have been arrested worldwide since Sept. 11.

But despite this, and the additional disruption caused by the four-month war in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden's terror organization remains the major threat to the United States, Wilson said.

"The al-Qaeda network has not been eliminated and it retains the potential for reconstitution," he said. "Many key officials and operatives remain and new personalities have already begun to emerge. Some operations that were already planned could be easily completed."

But Wilson said the intense attacks on al-Qaeda training camps had a devastating effect on the organization.

"What was removed in Afghanistan for al-Qaeda was in essence their Fort Bragg, their Fort Irwin. ... It was truly military-style training that was ongoing ... It is difficult to establish the scale and the complexity of that kind of operation," he said.

"We knew about the training centers for years. The difference now is we did something about it," added Carl Ford, assistant secretary of state for intelligence, who also testified to the committee. "If somebody some place else tries to build a training center, my expectation is they won't be there very long."

Dale Watson, FBI assistant director for counter-terrorism and counterintelligence, told the committee that 13 of the 19 hijackers came into the United States only a few months before the attacks, and none had contacts with anyone on terrorism watch lists.

"We had no information about them, intelligence-wise, through no one's fault, that's how they did it," Watson said.

Tenet would not specify in open session whether he believes Osama bin Laden is dead, but readily offered that he believes Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is alive.

Bin Laden has no identified successor that could rally his forces as effectively if he is killed or captured, Wilson said, but warned that could cause the organization to splinter into different groups with different agendas.

Wilson said for the near-term terrorists will likely favor easily fashioned or bought conventional weapons but said the psychological and economic impact of last fall's anthrax attack has not gone unnoticed.

"More than two dozen states or non-state groups either have or have an interest in acquiring chemical weapons, and there are a dozen countries believed to have biological warfare programs," he said.

Tenet agreed.

"The [biological warfare] piece of this seems to be more advanced than anything else," he said.

Wilson also warned that within a decade U.S. citizens or military personnel may be attacked with "volumetric weapons," a massive, fuel-rich slow burning weapon that creates so much overpressure it does extensive damage to structures and even dug-in personnel. Less than a year ago, Wilson told the committee in testimony that it would be 15 years before that weapon fell into enemy hands.

"Several countries [are] openly advertising it for sale," he said.

Ford, assistant secretary of state for intelligence, complained that budget cuts have decimated the State Department's ability to collect unclassified intelligence from overseas.

More than money, however, is keeping experienced people to analyze intelligence and spot trends and suspicious activities.

"What I couldn't have gotten by without were my people, my experts, people who have been on the job 25, 30 years ... You can't replace them with 10 rookies ... Over the next five to seven years we're losing a good portion of our expertise."

Tenet said within three years 30 percent to 40 percent of the men and women in the CIA will have been there five years or less.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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We assess that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups will continue to plan to attack this country and interests abroad, Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Al-Qaeda leaders are still at large and are working to reconstitute the organization and resume...
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Wednesday, 06 February 2002 12:00 AM
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