Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, III, Chairman
National Commission on Terrorism
Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI)
Washington, DC, June 8, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee this afternoon to review the conclusions and recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorism.
The threat of terrorism is changing dramatically. It is becoming more deadly and it is striking us here at home. Witness the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the thwarted attacks on New York's tunnels, and the 1995 plot to blow up 11 American airliners. If any one of these had been fully successful, thousands would have died. Crowds gathered to celebrate the Millennium were almost certainly the target for the explosives found in the back of a car at the U.S. border in December 1999. Overseas, more than 6,000 casualties were caused by just three anti-U.S. attacks, the bombings of a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia and of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
If three attacks with conventional explosives injured or killed 6,000, imagine the consequences of an unconventional attack. What if a release of radioactive material made 10 miles of Chicago's waterfront uninhabitable for 50 years? What if a biological attack infected passengers at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport with a contagious disease?
It could happen. Five of the seven countries the U.S. Government considers terror-supporting states are working on such weapons and we know some terrorist groups are seeking so-called weapons of mass destruction.
Congress established the National Commission on Terrorism to assess U.S. efforts to combat this threat and to make recommendations for changes. The Commission found that while many important efforts are under way, America must immediately take additional steps to protect itself.
First, we must do a better job of figuring out who the terrorists are and what they are planning. First-rate intelligence information about terrorists is literally a life and death matter. Intelligence work, including excellent cooperation with Jordan, thwarted large-scale terrorist attacks on Americans overseas at the end of last year. Such welcome successes should not blind us to the need to do more.
Efforts to gather information about terrorist plots and get it into the hands of analysts and decision makers in the federal government are stymied by bureaucratic and cultural obstacles. For example, who better to tell you about the plans of a terrorist organization than a member of that organization? Yet, a CIA officer in the field hoping to recruit such a source faces a daunting series of reviews by committees back at headquarters operating under guidelines that start from the presumption that recruiting a terrorist is a bad thing.
This presumption can be overcome, but only after an extensive process designed to reduce the risk from such a recruitment to as near zero as possible.
Even if a young case officer makes it through this gauntlet, will the potential terrorist recruit still be around? Will the attack have already occurred? These guidelines were issued in response to allegations that the CIA had previously recruited individuals guilty of serious human rights abuses. The Commission found that however well intentioned, they constitute an impediment to effective intelligence collection and should not apply to counterterrorism sources. CIA field officers should be as free to use terrorist informants as prosecutors in America are to use criminal informants.
We also need more vigorous FBI intelligence collection against foreign terrorists in America and better dissemination of that information. The FBI's role in collecting intelligence about terrorists is increasingly significant. Thus, it is essential that they employ the full scope of the authority the Congress has given them to collect that information. Yet, the Commission believes unclear guidelines for investigations and an overly cautious approach by the Department of Justice in reviewing applications for electronic surveillance against international terrorism targets are hampering the Bureau's intelligence collection efforts. We recommend improvements in both of these areas.
Once the information is collected by the FBI, technology shortfalls and institutional practices limit efforts to exploit the information and get it into the hands of those who need it--such as intelligence analysts and policymakers. The Commission recommends increased resources to meet the FBI's technology needs, particularly in the area of encryption. We also have a recommendation designed to improve the ability of agencies to quickly identify, locate, and use translators--a perennial problem that plagues not just intelligence agencies but is particularly critical for time-sensitive needs such as preventing a terrorist attack.
This de-crypted and translated information is only valuable, however, if it gets to the people who need it. Dissemination of general intelligence information has not traditionally been an important part of the FBI's mission. They do a good job of sharing specific threat information but, otherwise, sharing information is not given a high priority. In fact, if the information is not specific enough to issue a warning or is not relevant to an investigation or prosecution, it may not even be reviewed. Information collected in field offices often never even makes it to headquarters.
The CIA faces a similar problem with the information it collects overseas in trying to protect sources and methods while disseminating the information as quickly and as broadly as possible to those who need it. The CIA addresses this with dedicated personnel, called reports officers, located overseas and at headquarters who are responsible for reviewing, prioritizing, and distilling collected information for timely distribution. The Commission recommends that the FBI establish its own cadre of reports officers.
Recent events have also demonstrated what terrorists could do if they decided to use their increasingly sophisticated computer skills to perpetrate a cyber attack. A vigorous plan for defending against such attacks must be a national priority. The Commission also strongly recommends measures to improve the lagging technological capabilities of the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA so that they don't completely lose their ability to collect intelligence against techno-savvy terrorists.
Signals intelligence also plays an increasingly vital role in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, yet the ability of the NSA to continue this essential mission is threatened by its failure to keep pace with changing technology. This conclusion is in accord with the findings reflected in the report accompanying your committee's Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (S. 2507). The Commission heard testimony from NSA representatives and others about the difficulties presented by the explosion in modern communications technologies. It is clear that while increased use of these technologies by intelligence targets presents potential collection opportunities, the NSA will not be able to exploit these opportunities without improvements in its own technology. These improvements should include innovative technology applications, research and development of new technologies, and the use of commercial products. The Commission was fully briefed on the activities of the SSCI Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and endorses the modernization efforts begun as a result of the TAG review.
The Commission also supports extending the term of the Director of the NSA from 3 years to at least 6 years. A number of those serving on this Commission have held senior positions in government and fully understand how difficult it is to make significant changes in such a large, and entrenched, program. The NSA needs to dramatically alter the way it does business. This is unlikely to happen unless a Director is in place long enough to understand the challenges facing the agency, develop a plan to meet those challenges, build the necessary budget, and see to its implementation. Given federal programming and budget cycles, this cannot be done in 3 years. A 6-year tenure has the added advantage of ensuring that the Director will be in place long enough to transition from one presidential administration to another. In addition, the position should be a four-star billet to attract the necessary caliber of officer for 6 years.
On the policy front, the United States needs to go after anyone supporting terrorists, from state sponsors, to nations that turn a blind eye to terrorist activity, to private individuals and organizations who provide material support to terrorist organizations.
Iran is still the most egregious state-sponsor of terrorism, despite the election of a reformist president. Elements of the Iranian Government use terrorism as a policy tool, assassinating Iranian dissidents at home and abroad and giving money, weapons and training to terrorists fighting against peace in the Middle East. There are indications that Iran was involved in the 1996 bombing attack in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The Commission is concerned that recent American gestures toward Iran could be misinterpreted as a weakening of our resolve to counter Iranian terrorism. We recommend that the U.S. make no further concessions to Iran until it ceases its support for terrorism.
The other countries U.S. identifies as state-sponsors (Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Iraq, and Libya) should be made to understand that we will continue sanctions until they take concrete steps to cease all support for terrorism. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan should be designated a state sponsor.
There are also states that, while they may not actively support terrorists, seem to turn a blind eye to them. Congress gave the President the power to sanction nations that are not fully cooperating against terrorism, but the power has not been effectively exercised. There are candidates. For example, Pakistan has been very helpful at times, yet openly supports a group that has murdered tourists in India and threatened to kill U.S. citizens. NATO ally Greece seems indifferent to the fight against terrorism. Since 1975 terrorists have attacked Americans or American interests in Greece 146 times. Greek officials have been unable to solve 145 of those cases. And just this morning, terrorists struck again with the cowardly assassination in Athens of the British Defense Attaché.
Terrorist groups also benefit from private funding and the Commission recommends that the U.S. Government use the full range of legal and administrative powers at its disposal to disrupt these funding sources. Money laundering, tax, fraud and conspiracy statutes all lend themselves to aggressive use against terrorist organizations, their front groups and supporters.
It is difficult to predict whether terrorists will use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. But the consequences of even a small-scale incident are so grave that certain weaknesses in the American approach should be addressed immediately. Three concrete steps could be taken right now to reduce the risk that terrorists will get their hands on a biological weapon: criminalize unauthorized possession of the most worrisome biological agents, strengthen safeguards against theft of these agents, and control the sale of specialized equipment necessary for weaponizing biological agents. Controls on biological agents should be as stringent as those applied to critical nuclear materials.
Let me also take this opportunity to clarify the record on a couple of our recommendations that have been incorrectly reported in the press. The first has to do with foreign students in the U.S. For decades, the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) has required colleges and universities to collect and maintain information on the foreign students enrolled in their institutions. This has included information on citizenship, status (e.g., full or part-time), the date the student commenced studies, their degree program and field of study, and the date the student terminated studies. The purpose was to ensure that foreigners who came to the United States as students did not break the law by staying after they had finished, or stopped, their studies. Until recently this data was managed manually and was thus not available to the government in a timely manner.
The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 showed the weakness of this longstanding process when it was discovered that one of the bombers had entered this country on a student visa, dropped out and remained here illegally. He was subsequently tried and convicted for his role in that terrorist attack, which took six American lives and injured over 1,000 others. He is currently serving a 240-year prison term.
Concerned by the obvious inadequacy of the longstanding program to collect information about foreign students, in 1996 Congress directed the Attorney General to modernize that system. In response, the INS established a pilot program using an Internet-based system to report electronically the information colleges and universities had already been collecting for over 3 decades.
The pilot program, called CIPRIS, covers approximately 10,000 foreign students from all countries who are enrolled in 20 colleges, universities, and training programs in the southern U.S. The purpose is to bring the visa-monitoring system into the 21st century. After several years experience, the INS has concluded that CIPRIS is effective and has proposed to apply it nationwide.
The Commission reviewed CIPRIS and the criticisms of the program, the primary one being the INS proposal to have the universities collect the fees needed to support the program. It is important to note that, while the universities opposed the idea of having to collect the fee, they did not oppose the main objective of the program to require reporting of information on foreign students.
The Commission concluded that monitoring the immigration status of foreign students is important for a variety of reasons, including counterterrorism. The Commission did not believe, however, that it was in a position to recommend specifically that the CIPRIS program be implemented.
The Commission is not recommending any new requirements on foreign students in the United States. The Commission's position is consistent with regulations that have been in place for many years, and with the view of Congress which mandated the creation of a program to more efficiently keep track of the immigration status of foreign students.
There have also been some reports claiming that the Commission recommends putting the Department of Defense in charge of responding to terrorist attacks in the U.S. This is not true. What we said, and I am now quoting from the report, is that "in extraordinary circumstances, when a catastrophe is beyond the capabilities of local, state, and other federal agencies, or is directly related to an armed conflict overseas, the President may want to designate DoD as a lead federal agency." The Commission did not recommend or even suggest an automatic leading role for the Defense Department in all cases. But if we undertake contingency planning for a catastrophic terrorist attack in the U.S., we must consider all plausible contingencies, including the possibility of a federalized National Guard force operating under the direction of the Secretary of Defense. Not to do so would be irresponsible. The best way to minimize any threat to civil liberties in such an extraordinary scenario is through careful planning, including a thorough analysis of the relevant laws, the development of appropriate guidelines, and realistic training. We don't want another overreaction due to lack of planning like we saw in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Thus, the Commission recommended that the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General develop detailed plans for this contingency.
As the danger that terrorists will launch mass casualty attacks grows, so do the policy stakes. To protect her citizens, America needs a sustained national strategy in which leaders use first-rate intelligence to direct the full range of measures--diplomatic, economic and commercial pressures, covert action and military force--against terrorists and their state sponsors.
Mr. Chairman, at this point I would like to introduce my fellow Commissioners
who are here today: the Commission's Vice Chairman, Mr. Maurice Sonnenberg,
Mr. James Woolsey, Ms. Jane Harman, and Ms. Juliette Kayyem. In addition
to those here today, the Commission included General Wayne Downing, Dr.
Fred Ikle, Mr. John Lewis, and Mr. Gardner Pekham. It was a privilege to
work with this group of dedicated individuals.