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Testimonies of Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, General Richard Myers, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Thomas Pickering
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NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES
THOMAS KEAN HOLDS DAY ONE OF A PUBLIC HEARING
THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE,
AMBASSADOR THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS
COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
RICHARD ARMITAGE, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES HOLDS FIRST DAY OF A TWO-DAY PUBLIC HEARING ON THE COUNTERTERRORISM POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES
SPEAKERS: THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN
LEE H. HAMILTON, COMMISSION VICE CHAIR
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER
MAX CLELAND, COMMISSION MEMBER
FRED F. FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER
JAMIE S. GORELICK, COMMISSION MEMBER
SLADE GORTON, COMMISSION MEMBER
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER, COMMISSION MEMBER
JAMES R. THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER
BOB KERREY, COMMISSION MEMBER
PHILIP ZELIKOW, COMMISSION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
MICHAEL HURLEY, COMMISSION SENIOR COUNSEL
KEAN: Good morning.
As chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, I hereby convene our eighth public hearing.
This hearing is going to run over the course of two days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, and from 8:30 to 5:30 tomorrow.
The focus of this two-day hearing will be the counterterrorism policy of the United States. We will take as our principal focus the period between the embassy bombings of 1998 and the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In particular, this commission will review how our government responded to the increasing threat from Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida.
We'll also examine the global war on terrorism today and seek from our witnesses perhaps some recommendations now how today we can do things to make America safer.
Over the next two days, we'll hear from senior officials from both the Clinton and the Bush administrations on the topic of terrorism, bin Laden and Al Qaida.
We will hear from former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright; current secretary of state, Colin Powell; former secretary of defense, William Cohen; current secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld; the director of central intelligence, George Tenet; former national security adviser, Samuel Berger; and former national counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke.
This commission had invited current national security adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice to appear today, but the administration has declined that invitation. We're disappointed that she's not going to appear to answer our questions about national policy coordination, but in her place the administration has designated Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
We have had extended private meetings with Dr. Rice. We have received a lot of information from her and she's been a very cooperative witness in that circumstance.
We reserve the right today to ask each of our witnesses, as well as Dr. Rice, to appear before this commission again and answer further questions.
It is not possible for this hearing to cover everything we've learned. We know more than we are able to present to the public today. Yet we believe that we will be able to bring before the American public a significant body today of new information. We'll present more, of course, in our final report.
Just one additional word: Our hearing today is on policy issues leading up to 9/11, and a number of our witnesses were also involved in the events of that particular day. We're going to hold a later hearing in June that will address in detail how our government responded to the attacks on that particular day of 9/11.
Our first panel today will examine how the U.S. government used diplomacy as an instrument of national power to try and disrupt the Al Qaida network, and in particular, what it did to persuade the Taliban regime to arrest and to hand over bin Laden and his lieutenants, or at least to expel them from Afghan territory.
As we did in January, we will precede the introduction of panels with staff statements. These statements are informed by the work of the commissioners, as well as staff, and represent the staff's best effort to reconstruct the factual record.
Judgments and recommendations are for commissioners, and the commission will make those recommendations during the course of our work and, of course, in our final report.
I would now like to recognize Dr. Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, who will introduce the first staff statement. And he will be followed by Mr. Mike Hurley, who directs the investigations that pertains to the topic of today's hearing.
ZELIKOW: Members of the commission, with your help, your staff has developed initial findings to present to the public on the diplomatic efforts to deal with the danger posed by Islamic extremist terrorism before the September 11th attacks on the United States.
ZELIKOW: We will specifically focus on the efforts to counter the danger posed by the Al Qaida organization and its allies. These findings may help frame some of the issues for this hearing and inform the development of your judgments and recommendations.
This report reflects the results of our work so far. We remain ready to revise our understanding of these topics as our work continues. This staff statement represents the collective effort of a number of members of our staff. Scott Allan, Michael Hurley, Warren Bass, Dan Byman, Thomas Dowling and Len Hawley did much of the investigative work reflected in this statement.
We are grateful to the Department of State for its excellent cooperation in providing the commission with needed documents and in helping to arrange needed interviews both in the United States and in nine foreign countries.
We are also grateful to the foreign governments who have extended their cooperation in making many of their officials available to us as well.
The Executive Office of the President and the Central Intelligence Agency have made a wealth of material available to us that sheds light on the conduct of American diplomacy in this period.
I'd now like to introduce Michael Hurley of our staff, noting that Michael is employed by an agency of the United States government and did three tours in Afghanistan after 9/11. He will now present an abbreviated version of the staff statement, omitting some of the historical background.
HURLEY: Counterterrorism and U.S. foreign policy -- terrorism is a strategy. As a way to achieve their political goals, some organizations or individuals deliberately try to kill innocent people, noncombatants.
The United States has long regarded such acts as criminal. For more than a generation, international terrorism has also been regarded as a threat to the nation's security.
In the 1970s and 1980s, terrorists frequently attacked American targets, often as an outgrowth of international conflicts like the Arab-Israeli dispute. The groups involved were frequently linked to states.
After the destruction of Pan-American flight 103 by Libyan agents in 1988, the wave of international terrorism that targeted Americans seemed to subside.
The 1993 attempt to blow up the World Trade Center called attention to a new kind of terrorist danger.
A national intelligence estimate issued in July 1995 concluded that the most likely threat would come from emerging transient terrorist groupings that were more fluid and multinational than the older organizations and state-sponsored surrogates.
This new terrorist phenomenon was made up, according to the NIE, of loose affiliations of Islamic extremists violently angry at the United States. Lacking strong organization, they could still get weapons, money and support from an assortment of governments, factions and individual benefactors.
HURLEY: Growing international support networks were enhancing their ability to operate in any region of the world.
Since the terrorists were understood as loosely affiliated sets of individuals, the basic approach for dealing with them was that of law enforcement. But President Clinton emphasized his concern about the problem as a national security issue in a presidential decision directive, PDD 39, in June 1995, that stated the U.S. policy on counterterrorism. This directive superseded the directive signed by President Reagan in 1986.
President Clinton's directive declared that the United States, "saw terrorism as a potential threat to national security, as well as a criminal act, and will apply all appropriate means to combat it. In doing so, the U.S. shall pursue vigorously efforts to deter and preempt, apprehend and prosecute, or assist other governments to prosecute individuals who perpetrate or plan to perpetrate such attacks."
The role of diplomacy was to gain the cooperation of other governments in bringing terrorists to justice. PDD 39 stated, "When terrorists wanted for violation of U.S. law are at large overseas, their return for prosecution shall be a matter of the highest priority and shall be a continuing central issue in bilateral relations with any state that harbors or assists them. If extradition procedures were unavailable or put aside, the United States could seek the local country's assistance in a rendition, secretly putting the fugitive in a plane back to America or some third country for trial."
Counterterrorism and foreign policy in practice: four examples from 1995 to 1996.
The staff statements describes the first two examples, Ramzi Yousef in 1995 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 1996, in more detail.
Please turn to the middle of page 3 where I will now discuss the third example, Osama bin Laden.
In 1996, he was based in Sudan. Under the influence of the radical Islamist Hassan Al Turabi, Sudan had become a safe haven for violent Islamist extremists.
By 1995, the U.S. government had connected bin Laden to terrorists as an important terrorist financier.
Since 1979, the secretary of state has had the authority to name state sponsors of terrorism, subjecting such countries to significant economic sanctions. Sudan was so designated in 1993.
In February 1996, for security reasons, U.S. diplomats left Khartoum. International pressure further increased as the regime failed to hand over three individuals involved in a 1995 attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the regime.
Diplomacy had an effect. In exchanges beginning in February 1996, Sudanese officials began approaching U.S. officials asking what they could do to ease the pressure.
During the winter and spring of 1996, Sudan's defense minister visited Washington and had a series of meetings with representatives of the U.S. government.
To test Sudan's willingness to cooperate on terrorism, the United States presented eight demands to their Sudanese contact.
HURLEY: The one that concerned bin Laden was a request for intelligence information about bin Laden's contacts in Sudan.
These contacts with Sudan, which went on for years, have become a source of controversy.
Former Sudanese officials claim that Sudan offered to expel bin Laden to the United States. Clinton administration officials deny ever receiving such an offer. We have not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim.
Sudan did offer to expel bin Laden to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials became aware of these secret discussions certainly by March 1996.
The evidence suggests that the Saudi government wanted bin Laden expelled from Sudan, but would not agree to pardon him. The Saudis did not want bin Laden back in their country at all.
U.S. officials also wanted bin Laden expelled from Sudan. They knew the Sudanese were considering it. The U.S. government did not ask Sudan to render him into U.S. custody.
According to Samuel Berger, who was then the deputy national security adviser, the interagency counterterrorism security group, CSG, chaired by Richard Clarke, had a hypothetical discussion about bringing bin Laden to the United States. In that discussion, a Justice Department representative reportedly said there was no basis for bringing him to the United States since there was no way to hold him here absent an indictment.
Berger adds that in 1996 he was not aware of any intelligence that said bin Laden was responsible for any act against an American citizen. No rendition plan targeting bin Laden, who was still perceived as a terrorist financier, was requested by or presented to senior policy-makers during 1996.
Yet both Berger and Clarke also said the lack of an indictment made no difference. Instead, they said the idea was not worth pursuing because there was no chance that Sudan would ever turn bin Laden over to a hostile country.
"If Sudan had been serious," Clarke said, "the United States would have worked something out."
However, the U.S. government did approach other countries hostile to Sudan and bin Laden about whether they would take bin Laden. One was apparently interested. No handover took place.
Under pressure to leave, bin Laden worked with the Sudanese government to procure a safe passage and possibly funding for his departure.
In May 1996, bin Laden and his associates leased an Ariana Airlines jet and traveled to Afghanistan, stopping to refuel in the United Arab Emirates. Approximately two days after his departure, the Sudanese informed the U.S. government that bin Laden had left. It is unclear whether any U.S. officials considered whether or how to intercept bin Laden.
The fourth example, which I'll paraphrase from the staff statement, is Khobar Towers.
HURLEY: In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb was detonated in the Khobar Towers residential complex for Air Force personnel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The Khobar bombing began as a law enforcement case, but Khobar bombing also was an intelligence case.
As we state in the middle of page five, the Khobar case highlights a central policy problem in counterterrorism: the relationship between evidence and action.
Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, emphasized to us, for example, that even if some individual Iranian officials were involved, this was not the same as proving that the Iranian government as a whole should be held responsible for the bombing.
National Security Adviser Berger held a similar view. He stressed the need for a definitive intelligence judgment. "The evidence might be challenged by foreign governments. The evidence might form a basis for going to war. Therefore," he explained, "the DCI and the director of the FBI must make a definitive judgment based on the professional opinions of their experts."
In the Khobar case, as in some others, the time lag between terrorist act and any definitive attribution grew to months, then years, as the evidence was compiled.
I'll now discuss the Afghanistan problem, beginning with the fourth paragraph on page six.
After suffering some disruption from his relocation to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his colleagues rebuilt.
In August 1996, he issued a public declaration of jihad against American troops in Saudi Arabia. In February 1998, this was expanded into a public call for any Muslim to kill any American, military or civilian, anywhere in the world.
By early 1997, intelligence and law enforcement officials in the U.S. government had finally received reliable information disclosing the existence of Al Qaida as a worldwide terrorist organization. That information elaborated a command-and-control structure headed by bin Laden and various lieutenants, described a network of training camps to process recruits, discussed efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and placed Al Qaida at the center among other groups affiliated with them in its Islamic army.
This information also dramatically modified the picture of inchoate new terrorism presented in the 1995 national intelligence estimate. But the new picture was not widely known. It took still more time before officials outside the circle of terrorism specialists or in foreign governments fully comprehended that the enemy was much larger than an individual criminal, more than just one man, OBL, and his associates.
For example, in 1996, Congress passed a law that authorized the secretary of state to designate foreign terrorist organizations that threaten the national security of the United States, a designation that triggers economic, immigration and criminal consequences.
HURLEY: Al Qaida was not designated by the secretary of state until the fall of 1999.
While Afghanistan became a sanctuary for Al Qaida, the State Department's interest in Afghanistan remained limited. Initially, after Taliban's rise, some state diplomats were -- as one official said to us -- willing to give the Taliban a chance because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan.
A secondary consideration was that stability would allow an oil pipeline to be built through the country; a project to be managed by the Union Oil Company of California, or UNOCAL.
During 1997 working-level state officials asked for permission to visit and investigate militant camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban stalled, then refused.
In November 1997, Secretary Albright described Taliban human rights violations and treatment of women as "despicable."
A Taliban delegation visited Washington in December. U.S. officials pressed them on the treatment of women, negotiating an end to the civil war, and narcotics trafficking. Bin Laden was barely mentioned.
U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson led a delegation to South Asia and Afghanistan in April 1998. No U.S. official of this rank had been to Kabul in decades. Ambassador Richardson used the opening to support U.N. negotiations on the civil war.
In light of bin Laden's new public fatwa against Americans in February, Ambassador Richardson asked the Taliban to turn bin Laden over to the United States. They answered that they did not control bin Laden, and that, in any case, he was not a threat to the United States.
The Taliban won few friends. Only three countries recognized it as the government of Afghanistan: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudi effort and its aftermath: As we say on the middle of page eight, Saudi Arabia was a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism. Yet the ruling monarchy also knew bin Laden was an enemy.
Bin Laden had not set foot in Saudi Arabia since 1991, when he escaped a form of house arrest and made his way to Sudan. Bin Laden had fiercely denounced the rulers of Saudi Arabia publicly in his August 1996 fatwa, but the Saudis were content to leave him in Afghanistan so long as they were assured he was not making any trouble for them there.
Events soon drew Saudi attention back to bin Laden. In the spring of 1998, the Saudi government successfully disrupted a major bin Laden-organized effort to launch attacks on U.S. forces in the kingdom using a variety of man-portable missiles. Scores of individuals were arrested.
HURLEY: The Saudi government did not publicize what had happened, but U.S. officials learned of it. Seizing this opportunity, DCI Tenet urged the Saudis to help deal with bin Laden.
President Clinton, in May, designated Tenet as his representative to work with the Saudis on terrorism. Director Tenet visited Riyadh a few days later, then returned to Saudi Arabia in June.
Crown Prince Abdullah agreed to make an all-out secret effort to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden for eventual delivery to the United States or another country. Riyadh's emissary would be the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal. Director Tenet said it was imperative now to get an indictment against bin Laden.
A sealed indictment against bin Laden was issued by a New York grand jury a few days later: the product of a lengthy investigation.
Director Tenet also recommended that on action be taken on other U.S. options such as a covert action plan.
Vice President Gore thanked the Saudis for their efforts.
Prince Turki followed up in meetings during the summer with Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders. Employing a mixture of possible bribes and threats, he received a commitment that bin Laden would be handed over.
After the embassy bombings in August, Vice President Gore called Riyadh again to underscore the urgency of bringing the Saudi ultimatum to a final conclusion.
In September 1998, Prince Turki, joined by Pakistan's intelligence chief, had a climactic meeting with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. Omar reneged on his promise to expel bin Laden. When Turki angrily confronted him, Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out. The Saudi government then cut off any further official assistance to the Taliban regime, recalled its diplomats from Kandahar, and expelled Taliban representatives from the kingdom. The Saudis suspended relations without a final break.
The Pakistanis did not suspend relations with the Taliban.
Both governments judged that Iran was already on the verge of going to war against the Taliban. The Saudis and Pakistanis feared that a further break might encourage Iran to attack. They also wanted to leave open room for rebuilding ties if more moderate voices among the Taliban gained control.
Crown Prince Abdullah visited Washington later in September. In meetings with the president and vice president, he briefed them on these developments. The United States had information that corroborated his account. Officials thanked the prince for his efforts, wondering what else could be done.
HURLEY: The United States acted too. In every available channel, U.S. officials, led by State's aggressive counterterrorism coordinator, Michael Sheehan, warned the Taliban of dire consequences if bin Laden was not expelled. Moreover, if there was any further attack, he and others warned, the Taliban would be held directly accountable, including the possibility of a military assault by the United States.
These diplomatic efforts may have had an impact. The U.S. government received substantial intelligence of internal arguments over whether bin Laden could stay in Afghanistan. The reported doubts extended from the Taliban to their Pakistani supporters, and even to bin Laden himself. For a time, bin Laden was reportedly considering relocating, and may have authorized discussion of this possibility with representatives of other governments.
We will report further on this topic at a later date.
In any event, bin Laden stayed in Afghanistan.
This period may have been the high-water mark for diplomatic pressure on the Taliban. The outside press continued. But the Taliban appeared to adjust and learn to live with it, employing a familiar mix of stalling tactics again and again. Urged on by the United States, the Saudis continued a more limited mix of the same tactics they had already employed. Prince Turki returned to Kandahar in June 1999 to no effect.
From 1999 through early 2001, the United States also pressed the United Arab Emirates, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off its ties and enforce sanctions, especially those relating to flights to and from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, these efforts to persuade the UAE achieved little before 9/11.
As time passed, the United States also obtained information that the Taliban was trying to extort cash from Saudi Arabia and the UAE with various threats, and that these blackmail efforts may have paid off.
After months of heated internal debate about whether this step would burn remaining bridges to the Taliban, President Clinton issued an executive order in July 1999 effectively declaring that the regime was a state sponsor of terrorism. U.N. economic and travel sanctions were added in October 1999, in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267.
None of this had any visible effect on Mullah Omar, an illiterate leader who was unconcerned about commerce with the outside world. Omar had no diplomatic contact with the West, since he refused to meet with non-Muslims.
The United States also learned that at the end of 1999 the Taliban Council of Ministers had unanimously reaffirmed that they would stick by bin Laden. Relations with bin Laden and the Taliban leadership were sometimes tense, but the foundation was solid. Omar executed some subordinates who clashed with his pro-bin Laden line.
By the end of 2000, the United States, working with Russia, won U.N. support for still broader sanctions in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1333, including an embargo on arm sales to the Taliban.
HURLEY: Again, these had no visible affect. This may have been because the sanctions did not stop the flow of Pakistani military assistance to the Taliban.
In April 2001, State Department officials in the Bush administration concluded that the Pakistani government was just not concerned about complying with sanctions against the Taliban.
Reflecting on the lack of progress with the Taliban, Secretary Albright told us that, "We had to do something. In the end," she said, "it didn't work. But we did, in fact, try to use all the tools we had."
Other diplomatic efforts with the Saudi government centered on letting U.S. agents interrogate prisoners in Saudi custody in cases like Khobar. Several officials have complained to us that the United States could not get direct access to an important Al Qaida financial official, Madoni Al Tayid (ph), who had been detained by the Saudi government in 1997.
American officials raise the issue. The Saudis provided some information.
In September 1998, Vice President Gore thanked the Saudis for the responsiveness on this matter, though he renewed the request for direct U.S. access. The United States never obtained this access.
The United States also pressed Saudi Arabia and the UAE for more cooperation in controlling money flows to terrorists or organizations linked to them.
After months of arguments in Washington over the proper role of the FBI, an initial U.S. delegation on terrorist finance visited these countries to start working with their counterparts in July 1999.
U.S. officials reported to the White House that they thought the new initiatives to work together had begun successfully.
Another delegation followed up with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in January 2000.
In Saudi Arabia, the team concentrated on tracing bin Laden's assets and access to his family's money, exchanges that led to further fruitful work.
Progress on other topics was limited, however. The issue was not a consistent U.S. priority. Moreover, the Saudis were reluctant or unable to provide much help.
Available intelligence was also so non-specific that it was difficult to confront the Saudis with evidence or cues to action.
HURLEY: The Bush administration did not develop any diplomatic initiatives on Al Qaida with the Saudi government before the 9/11 attack. Vice President Cheney apparently called Crown Prince Abdullah on July 4th, 2001, only to seek Saudi help in preventing threatened attacks on American facilities in the kingdom.
Pressuring Pakistan: Please go to the bottom of page 11.
Secretary Albright hoped to promote a more robust approach to South Asia when she took office, but the administration had a full agenda of concerns, including a possible nuclear weapons program, illicit sales of missile technology, terrorism, an arms race, and danger of war with India, and a succession of weak democratic governments.
The American ambassador to Islamabad, in most of the immediate pre-9/11 period, William Milam, told us that U.S. policy had too many moving parts and could never determine what items had the highest priority.
A principle envoy to South Asia for the administration, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, explained the emphasis on nuclear weapons both because of the danger of nuclear war and because nuclear proliferation might increase the risk that terrorists could access such technology.
In May 1998, both Pakistan and India had tested nuclear weapons. These tests marked a setback to nonproliferation policy, and reinforced U.S. sanctions on both countries. But the tests also spurred more engagement in order to reduce the threat of war.
Bin Laden and terrorist activity in Afghanistan were not significant issues in high-level contacts with Pakistan, until after the embassy bombings of August 1998.
After the U.S. missile strikes on Afghanistan, bin Laden's network and their relationship with the Pakistani supported Taliban did become a major issue in high-level diplomacy. After the strikes, President Clinton called Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif, and he was sympathetic to America's losses. But the Pakistani side thought the strikes were overkill; the wrong way to handle the problem.
The United States asked the Saudis to put pressure on Pakistan to help. A senior State Department official concluded that Crown Prince Abdullah put a tremendous amount of heat on Sharif during his October 1998 visit to Pakistan.
Sharif was invited to Washington and met with President Clinton on December 2nd, 1998. Tension with India and nuclear weapons topped the agenda, but the leaders also discussed bin Laden. Pakistani officials defended Mullah Omar, and thought the Taliban would not object to a joint effort by others to get bin Laden.
In mid-December, President Clinton called Sharif, worried both about immediate threats and the longer-term problem of bin Laden. The Pakistani leadership promised to raise the issue directly with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the United States received word in early 1999 that the Pakistani army remained reluctant to confront the Taliban, in part because of concerns about the effect on Pakistani politics.
In early 1999, the State Department Counterterrorism Office proposed a comprehensive diplomatic strategy for all the states involved in the Afghanistan problem, including Pakistan.
HURLEY: It specified both carrots and sticks, including the threat of certifying Pakistan as not cooperating on terrorism.
A version of this diplomatic strategy was eventually adopted by the State Department. Its author, Ambassador Sheehan, told us that it had been watered down to the point that nothing was then done with it.
By the summer of 1999, the counterterrorism agenda had to compete with cross-border fighting in Kashmir that threatened to explode into war. Nevertheless, President Clinton contacted Sharif in June, urging him strongly to get the Taliban to expel bin Laden.
Clinton suggested Pakistan use its control over oil supplies to the Taliban and its access to imports through Karachi. The Pakistani leadership offered instead that Pakistani intelligence services might try to capture bin Laden themselves.
President Clinton met with Prime Minister Sharif in Washington on July 4th. The prime subject was resolution of the crisis in Kashmir. The president also complained to the prime minister about Pakistan's failure to take effective action with respect to the Taliban and bin Laden.
Later, the United States agreed to assist in training a Pakistani special forces team for the bin Laden operation. Particularly since the Pakistan Intelligence Service was so deeply involved with the Taliban and possibly bin Laden, U.S. counterterrorism officials had doubts about every aspect of this new joint plan. Yet while few thought it would do much good, fewer thought it would do any actual harm.
Officials were implementing it when Prime Minister Sharif was deposed by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. General Musharraf was scornful about the unit and the idea.
At first the Clinton administration hoped that Musharraf's takeover might create an opening for action on bin Laden. National Security Adviser Berger wondered about a trade of getting bin Laden in exchange for softer treatment of a relatively benign military regime. But the idea was never developed into a policy proposal.
Meanwhile, the president and his advisers were anxious about a series of new terrorist threats associated with the millennium and were getting information linking these threats to Al Qaida associates in Pakistan, particularly Abu Zubaida.
President Clinton sent a message asking for immediate help on Abu Zudaida and another push on bin Laden, renewing the idea of using Pakistani forces to get him.
Musharraf told Ambassador Milam that he would do what he could, but he preferred a diplomatic solution on bin Laden. Though he thought terrorists should be brought to justice, he did not find the military ideas appealing.
Administration officials debated whether to keep wrong with the Musharraf government or confront the general with a blunter choice: to either adopt a new policy or Washington will draw the appropriate conclusions.
One such threat would be to cancel a possible presidential visit in March.
HURLEY: U.S. envoys were given instructions that were firm, but not as confrontational as some U.S. officials had advocated.
Musharraf was preoccupied with his domestic agenda, but replied that he would do what he could, perhaps meeting with the Taliban himself.
Despite serious security threats, President Clinton made a one- day stopover in Islamabad on March 25th, 2000, the first presidential visit since 1969.
The main subjects were India-Pakistan tensions and proliferation, but President Clinton did raise the bin Laden problem. The Pakistani position was that their government had to support the Taliban and that the only way forward was to engage them and try to moderate their behavior. They asked for evidence that bin Laden had really ordered the embassy bombings a year and a half earlier.
In a follow-up meeting the next day with Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, President Musharraf argued that Pakistan had only limited influence over the Taliban.
Musharraf did meet with Mullah Omar and did urge him to get rid of bin Laden. In early June, the Pakistani interior minister even joined with Pickering to deliver a joint message to Taliban officials.
But the Taliban seemed immune to such pleas, especially from Pakistani civilians like the interior minister. Pakistan did not threaten to cut off its help to the Taliban regime.
By September, the United States was again criticizing the Pakistani government for supporting a Taliban military offensive to complete the conquest of Afghanistan.
Considering new policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: The civil war in Afghanistan posed the Taliban on one side, drawn from Afghanistan's largest ethnic community, the Pashtuns, against the Northern Alliance.
Pashtuns opposing the Taliban, like the Karzai clan, were not organized into a political and military force. The main foe of the Taliban was the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Masood, a hero of the Afghan jihad and a leader of ethnic Tajiks. The Taliban were backed by Pakistan. The Northern Alliance received some support from Iran, Russia and India.
During 1999, the U.S. government began thinking harder about whether or how to replace the Taliban regime. Thinking in Washington divided along two main paths.
The first path, led by the South Asia Bureau at the State Department, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth and its counterpart on the NSC staff, was for a major diplomatic effort to end the civil war and install a national unity government.
The second path, proposed by counterterrorism officials in the NSC staff and the CIA, was for the United States to take sides in the Afghan civil war and begin funneling secret military aide to the Taliban's foe, the Northern Alliance.
HURLEY: These officials argued that the diplomatic approach had little chance of success and would not do anything, at least in the short term, to stop Al Qaida.
Critics of this idea reply that the Northern Alliance was tainted by associations with narcotics traffickers, that its military capabilities were modest, and that an American association with this group would link the United States to an unpopular faction that Afghans blamed for much of the misrule and war earlier in the 1990s. The debate continued inconclusively throughout the last year and a half of the Clinton administration.
The CIA established limited ties to the Northern Alliance for intelligence purposes. Lethal aid was not provided.
The Afghan and Pakistani dilemmas were handed over to the Bush administration as it took office in 2001. The NSC counterterrorism staff, still led by Clarke, pushed urgently for a quick decision in favor of providing secret military assistance to the Northern Alliance to stave off its defeat.
The initial proposed amounts were quite small, with the hope of keeping the Northern Alliance in the field tying down Taliban and Al Qaida fighters. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice discussed the issue with DCI Tenet.
In early March 2001, Clarke presented the issue of aid to the Northern Alliance to Rice for action. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley suggested dealing with this as part of the overall review they were conducting of their strategy against Al Qaida. In the meantime, lawyers could work on developing the appropriate authorities.
Rice agreed, noting that the review would need to be done very soon, but that the issue had to be connected to an examination of policy toward Afghanistan.
Rice, Hadley and the NSC staff member for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told us that they opposed aid to the Northern Alliance alone, contending that the program needed to include Pashtun opponents of the regime and be conducted on a larger scale.
Clarke supported the larger program, but he warned the delay risked the alliance's defeat.
The issue was then made part of the reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. The government developed formal policy papers that were discussed by sub-Cabinet officials, the deputies, on April 30th, June 27th and 29th, July 16th and September 10th.
During the same time period, the administration was developing a formal strategy on Al Qaida to be codified in a national security presidential directive, NSPD.
HURLEY: The Al Qaida elements of this directive had been completed by deputies in July. On September 4th, the principals apparently approved the submission of this directive to the president.
The Afghanistan options debated in 2001 ranged from seeking a deal with the Taliban to overthrowing the regime. By the end of the deputies meeting on September 10th, the officials had formally agreed upon a three-phase strategy.
It called first for dispatching an envoy to give the Taliban an opportunity to expel bin Laden and his organization from Afghanistan, even as the U.S. government tried to build greater capacity to pressure them.
If this failed, pressure would be applied on the Taliban both through diplomacy and by encouraging anti-Taliban Afghans to attack Al Qaida bases, part of a planned covert action program, including significant additional funding and more support for Pashtun opponents of the regime.
If the Taliban's policy failed to change after these two phases, the deputies agreed that the United States would seek to overthrow the Taliban regime through more direct action.
ZELIKOW: Excuse me, Mike. We've been asked to wrap up the staff statements so that we can proceed with the witnesses. Let me move immediately to the conclusion of the staff statement from here.
In conclusion, from the spring of 1997 to September 2001, the U.S. government tried to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden to a country where he could face justice and stop being a sanctuary for his organization. The efforts employed included inducements, warnings and sanctions. All these efforts failed.
The U.S. government also pressed two successive Pakistani governments to demand that the Taliban cease providing a sanctuary for bin Laden and his organization, and failing that, to cut off their support for the Taliban.
Before 9/11, the United States could not find a mix of incentives or pressure that would persuade Pakistan to reconsider its fundamental relationship with the Taliban.
From 1999 to early 2001, the United States pressed the UAE, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off ties and enforce sanctions, especially related to air travel to Afghanistan. These efforts achieved little before 9/11.
The government of Saudi Arabia worked closely with top U.S. officials in major initiatives to solve the bin Laden problem with diplomacy.
On the other hand, before 9/11 the Saudi and U.S. governments did not achieve full sharing of importance intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort to track and disrupt the finances of the Al Qaida organization.
ZELIKOW: Thank you.
KEAN: Thank you very much.
Our first witness today is Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, formerly our secretary of state. She's, I believe, well-known to all in this audience, and has a distinguished career in public service. We are very pleased to have her appear before the commission this morning.
So welcome to you, Madam Secretary.
She is accompanied by former Undersecretary for Political Affairs, and one of the great public servants this country has, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who has had, as I say, a very distinguished career in public service.
Madam Secretary and Ambassador Pickering, we would like to ask you if you could raise your hands so we may place you under oath.
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
ALBRIGHT: I do.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. A prepared statement will be entered into the record in full, and we would ask you to summarize your statement, and please proceed.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Vice Chairman Hamilton, and members of the commission. I'm very pleased to be here.
As you've just mentioned, Tom Pickering, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs, and one of our most experienced and respected foreign service officers in U.S. history, is here with me.
During my years as secretary of state, if I were traveling or otherwise occupied, Ambassador Pickering was the department's representative at White House meetings related to terrorism. We thought it would help in providing the most complete answers if Ambassador Pickering were available as appropriate to add his recollections to mine.
I would also like to emphasize, at the outset, my desire to be of as much help as possible to the commission. We can't turn back the clock to before September 11th, but we must do everything we can to prevent similar tragedies and we owe it to the families of the victims of 9/11 and to us all.
Mr. Chairman, we all know that history is lived forward and written backward; much seems obvious now that was less clear prior to September 11th. But I can say with confidence that President Clinton and his team did everything we could -- everything we could think of -- based on the knowledge, we had to protect our people and disrupt and defeat Al Qaida.
ALBRIGHT: We certainly recognized the threat posed by the terrorist groups. Although terror was not new, we realized we faced a novel variation. Instead of being directed by a hostile country, the new breed of terrorist was independent, multinational and well-versed in modern information technology.
During our time in office, the transnational threat was a dominant theme in public statements, private deliberations and foreign relations. This was reflected in the administration's decision to expand the CIA's counterterrorism center, intensify security cooperation with other countries, enlarge counterterrorism training assistance, double overall counterterrorism expenditures, increase anti-terrorist rewards, freeze terrorist assets, train first responders here at home, plan for the protection of infrastructure against cyberattacks and reorganize the National Security Council with a mandate to prepare the government to shield our people from unconventional dangers.
As early as 1995, President Clinton said that, and I quote, "Our generation's enemies are the terrorists who kill children or turn them into orphans," unquote.
The president repeatedly told the United Nations that combating terrorism topped America's agenda and should top theirs. He urged every nation to deny sanctuary to terrorists and to cooperate in bringing them to justice.
Before Y2K, we undertook the largest counterterrorism operation in U.S. history to that time. Cabinet members or their representatives met virtually every day for the sole purpose of detecting and preventing terrorist attacks.
I fully embraced an aggressive policy before and especially after August 7th, 1998, when terrorist explosions struck our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. This was my worst day as secretary of state.
Within a week, we had clear evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible. The question for us was whether to rely on law enforcement or take military action. We decided to do both.
We prosecuted the conspirators we had captured, but we also launched cruise missiles at Al Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. The timing of the strikes was prompted by credible, predictive intelligence that terrorist leaders, possibly including bin Laden, would be gathering at one of the camps.
The day after the strike, the White House convened a meeting to study further military option.
Our primary target, bin Laden, had not been hit so we were determined to try again. In subsequent weeks, the president specifically authorized the use of force and there should have been no confusion that our personnel were authorized to kill bin Laden. We did not, after all, launch cruise missiles for the purpose of serving legal papers.
To use force effectively, we placed war ships equipped with cruise missiles on call in the Arabian Sea. We also studied the possibility of sending a U.S. special forces team into Afghanistan to try and snatch bin Laden.
ALBRIGHT: But success in either case depended on whether we knew where bin Laden would be at a particular time. Although we consumed all the intelligence we had, we did not get this information, and instead we occasionally learned where bin Laden had been or where he might be going or where someone who appeared to resemble him might be. It was truly maddening.
I compared it to one of those arcade games where you manipulate a lever hooked to a claw-like hand that you think once you put your quarter in will actually scoop up a prize, but every time you try to pull the basket out the prize falls away.
The Africa embassy bombings intensified our efforts to neutralize bin Laden and also to protect our own people. Every morning that I was in Washington, I personally reviewed the latest information about threats to our diplomatic posts. I was struck by the number of danger signals we received and also by the difficulty of making a clear judgment about whether a threat was credible enough to warrant closing an embassy.
Even as we took protective measures and looked for ways to use force effectively, we pressed ahead diplomatically. Shortly after our cruise missile strikes, the Taliban called the State Department to complain. This led to a prolonged dialogue during which we repeatedly pushed for custody of bin Laden.
The Taliban replied by offering a menu of excuses. They said that surrendering bin Laden would violate their cultural tradition of hospitality and that they would be overthrown by their own people if they yielded bin Laden in response to U.S. pressure. Perhaps, they said, bin Laden will leave voluntarily. At one point they told us he had already gone.
In any case, we were assured that bin Laden was under house arrest. That was a lie, since he continued to show up in the media threatening Americans.
In 1999, we developed a new strategy aimed at pulling all the diplomatic levers we had simultaneously. We went to each of the countries we thought had influence with the Taliban and asked them to use that influence to help us get bin Laden.
One such country was Pakistan, whose leaders were reluctant to apply real pressure to the Taliban because it would alienate radicals within their own borders.
ALBRIGHT: There was a limit to the incentives we could offer to overcome this reluctance. Pakistan's nuclear tests in 1998 had triggered one set of sanctions; a military coup in 1999 triggered more.
Nevertheless, in our discussions with Pakistani leaders we were blunt. We told them that, "Bin Laden is a murderer who plans to kill again. We need your help in bringing him to justice."
Our ambassador delivered this message, so did Tom Pickering. So did I. So did the president of the United States.
In return, we received promises but no decisive action. We couldn't offer enough to persuade Pakistani leaders, such as General Musharraf, to run the risks that would have been necessary.
It was not until September 11th that Musharraf had the motivation in his own mind to provide real cooperation. And even that has not yet resulted in bin Laden's capture, though it apparently has led to several attempts on Musharraf's life.
The other two countries we went to were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and both agreed to deliver the right message. The Saudis sent one of their princes to confront the Taliban directly. And he came back and told us the Taliban were "idiots and liars."
The Saudis then downgraded diplomatic ties with the Taliban, cut off official assistance and denied visas to Afghans traveling for non- religious reasons. And the UAE did the same. Our diplomats, including Ambassador Pickering, also met directly with Taliban leaders.
We told them that if we did not get bin Laden, we would impose sanctions both bilaterally and through the U.N., which we did. We also warned them clearly and repeatedly that they would be held accountable for any future attacks traceable to Al Qaida.
In retrospect, we know that the Taliban and bin Laden had a symbiotic relationship. The Taliban needed the money and muscle Al Qaida provided; bin Laden needed space for his operatives to live and train. And there was never a real chance the Taliban would turn bin Laden over to us or to anybody else.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to now offer briefly some of the recommendations for the future.
We must begin by thinking clearly about what it is we need to do.
ALBRIGHT: We were not attacked on September 11th by a noun, terrorism. We were attacked by individuals affiliated with Al Qaida. They are the enemies who killed our fellow citizens and foreigners, and defeating them should be the focus of our policy.
If we pursue goals that are unnecessarily broad, such as the elimination not only of threats but also of potential threats, we will stretch ourselves to the breaking point and become more vulnerable -- not less -- to those truly in a position to harm us.
We also need to remember that Al Qaida is not a criminal gang that can simply be rounded up and put behind bars. It is the center of an ideological virus that has wholly perverted the minds of thousands and distorted the thinking of millions more. Until the right medicine is found, the virus will continue to spread, and that remedy begins with competence.
Bin Laden and his cohorts have absolutely nothing to offer their followers except destruction, death and the illusion of glory. Puncturing this illusion is the key to winning the battle of ideas.
The problem is not combating Al Qaida's inherent appeal, for it has none. The problem is changing the fact that major components of American foreign policy are either opposed or misunderstood by much of the world.
According to the State Department's advisory group on public diplomacy, published recently, the bottom has indeed fallen out of support for the United States. This unpopularity has handed bin Laden a gift that he has eagerly exploited. He is viewed by many as a leader of all those who harbor anti-American sentiments, and this has given him a following that is wholly undeserved.
If we are to succeed, we must be sure that bin Laden goes down in history not as a defender of the faith or champion of the dispossessed, but rather as what he is: a murderer, a traitor to Islam and a loser.
The tarnishing of America's global prestige will require considerable time and effort to undue, and that's why we need long- range counterterrorism plans that advantage of the full array of our national security tools.
This plan must include the comprehensive reform of our intelligence structures; a vastly expanded commitment to public diplomacy and outreach, especially within the Arab and Muslim worlds; a far bolder strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan; revised policies toward the key countries of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; expansion of the Nunn-Lugar program to secure weapons of mass destruction materials on a global basis; a new approach to handling and sharing of information concerning terrorist suspects; and a change in the tone of American national security policy to emphasize the value of diplomatic cooperation.
ALBRIGHT: And Secretary of State Powell has made a concerted effort to begin this.
Let me close by saying that I sympathize greatly with the president and others in positions of responsibility at this time. Each day brings with it the possibility of a new terrorist strike. The March 11 train bombings in Madrid remind us that, despite all that is being done, our enemies have a broad range of targets.
We should all expect and prepare ourselves for the likelihood that further strikes will take place on our own soil, and we must be united in making sure that if and when that happens it will do absolutely nothing to advance the terrorists' goals. It will not cause divisions within and among the American people; on the contrary, it must bring us closer together and make us even more determined to fulfill our responsibilities.
For more than two centuries, our countrymen have fought and died so that liberty might live, and since September 11th we have been summoned, each in our own way, to a new round in that struggle.
We cannot underestimate the risks or anticipate the final victories will come easily or soon, but we can draw strength from the knowledge of what terror can and cannot do.
Terror can turn life to death and laughter to tears and shared hopes to sorrowful memories. It can crash a plane and bring down towers that scrape the sky.
But it cannot alter the essential goodness of the American people or diminish our loyalty to one another or cause our nation to turn its back on the world.
Mr. Chairman, and members of the commission, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here with you this morning. And I'd be very pleased now to answer your questions.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
Lead questioners for this panel are Commissioner Lehman and Commissioner Roemer. They will each have 15 minutes for their questions. Additional questioners on this panel will be held strictly to the five-minute rule.
And, Commissioner Lehman, I believe you're going to start the questioning on behalf of the panel.
LEHMAN: Since my college Tim Roemer was one of the originators of this commission, I'll yield the prime position to Tim.
KEAN: So yielded.
ROEMER: I want to thank the secretary for that gracious gesture.
I want to start, Mr. Chairman, by, I believe, underscoring something you said in your opening statement.
ROEMER: You said that we have invited Dr. Rice to talk to this 9/11 commission.
Well, we have a book issued by Richard Clarke which is a blistering attack on the Bush administration. We have Dr. Rice on the airwaves saying that she strongly condemns and disagrees with Mr. Clarke's assessments and analysis.
I would hope that this discussion would not be for the airwaves and would not be a partisan type of discussion that we have, but belongs in this hearing room tomorrow in a substantive way so that the 10 commissioners can ask factually based questions and so the American people have the access to those answers to try to make this country safer.
So I would underscore your comments, Mr. Chairman, that I hope Dr. Rice will reconsider and come before our commission for the sake of the American people tomorrow.
Madam Secretary, I want to mention your book, if I may, Madam Secretary -- I don't need to mention a bestseller.
You say, in a chapter called "A Special Kind Of Evil," that, the African bombings -- our embassies there -- were the worst day of your tenure as secretary of state. "We lost 224 people, 12 Americans. The devil breathed down our neck that day, and three years later, 19 hijackers drove us into the jaws of Hell," where we are today. trying to resolve some of these tough questions.
The Clinton administration launched 79 cruise missiles 13 days after finding who did this. Had diplomacy run its course? Should we have taken the same kind of action that we took after the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa with the USS Cole?
ALBRIGHT: Congressman Roemer, let me say that, as you pointed out, when the embassies were blown up, it was my worse day. I went to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In Nairobi, I saw the rubble and I saw the suffering of the African people, many of whom were in hospitals as a result of what had happened, and obviously many were dead.
ALBRIGHT: And I then brought the bodies home of the dead Americans, and sat with the coffins and talked with the families when I came back.
And so for me, this was a horrendous moment and one that I was bound and determined to figure out why it had happened and what we could do about it.
I asked Admiral Crowe to form a commission to determine various actions that we could take, and it was something that was on my mind constantly.
I was very much in favor of the attack with the cruise missiles, and was very much in favor, along with the rest of our team, to try to do everything we could to have further military attacks if and when we had predictable and actionable intelligence.
And as I say in my statement, I believed fully that we were prepared to go. President Clinton had issued all the orders. We had kept armed submarines in the Arabian Sea. And we were ready if there ever was actionable intelligence. And so I did favor military action.
But at the same time, we had to continue to act diplomatically. I have always believed that what is necessary is to use every tool in the American national security arsenal, whether it is military, diplomatic or economic or legal. And we tried everything at the same time.
On the USS Cole, we were obviously prepared to respond, but we did not have definitive evidence that it really was committed by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida; that evidence came after we were out of office. But had we had definitive evidence, I can assure you that we were prepared to act militarily.
ROEMER: Let me ask you a question about that, Madam Secretary.
There are three investigations going on with respect to the USS Cole. The Yemenis are doing one, the FBI is doing one and the CIA is doing one.
In December, the CIA comes forward, hedges the recommendation, comes forward with a preliminary judgment, and says they can't, through command and control, prove that Osama bin Laden ordered it.
Isn't it enough at this point to say Al Qaida did it and respond in that kind of way, either in December or certainly in the months that come after your administration?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the real question is to try to figure out what really did happen. And when we left office, we did not have all the answers to it. And as you point out, there were numerous investigations.
I, myself, called the president of Yemen to help us in this issue and to press for additional investigations. I think the results came after we were out of office, and I would have hoped that action could have been taken.
But there was no definitive action of any kind at the time that we left office.
ROEMER: In terms of the time that you spent as a secretary of state on terrorism -- we'll have Secretary Powell follow you -- what percent of your time, if you can give us a rough estimation, did you spend?
You had Middle East peace. You certainly were one of the driving forces in being a hawk with respect to Kosovo and using our military there. What percent of your time can you best estimate that you spent on counterterrorism policy?
ALBRIGHT: It's very hard, Congressman, to give you an exact estimate, but I can tell you what I did, which is every morning when I came into my office, I obviously read the intelligence, but I also met with the assistant secretary for security.
I had changed the standard practice and named a law enforcement officer to that job, David Carpenter, who was a retired Secret Service agent. And so I had a real expert dealing with it. We spent whatever time was necessary in the morning in order to go over the threats.
Then either I or Ambassador Pickering, depending upon who was in town, went to the small meetings that took place on counterterrorism issues.
We talked about issues to do with terrorism, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida in so many meetings, whether they were official principals meetings at the White House or the breakfasts that Mr. Berger and Secretary Cohen and...
ROEMER: ABC breakfasts, Albright...
ALBRIGHT: No. The ABCs were lunches. The breakfasts were a little bit larger, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Mr. Tenet and the ambassador to the United Nations.
But we talked about this constantly and therefore it's hard to give you an estimate of the time. But it was very much...
ROEMER: Can you guess at all? Twenty percent? Fifty percent?
ALBRIGHT: I would say probably somewhere about 35 percent, because it was something that was constant and it was very hard to quantify.
ALBRIGHT: But I can tell you I started every single day trying to assess what the terrorist threats were, and also how to direct the diplomacy in order to be able to make sure that we were dealing with this.
I think maybe Ambassador Pickering can also tell you how much time he spent on it because our activities were seamless.
PICKERING: I think that secretary's judgment in this -- and she used to call me after the morning meetings and give me orders to carry things out and get things done. Given the number of meetings, particularly in crisis periods leading up to the millennium, for example, sometimes most of the day would be occupied in dealing with this particular issue until all the meetings that the secretary mentioned -- she had many internal meetings in the State Department to plan for not only what she should do with the ongoing meetings at an interagency basis, but also get us thinking about new ideas, thinking out of the hat on this issue and trying to come up with new and different ways to deal with the problem.
ALBRIGHT: So some days, it was 100 percent. So I think it's very hard to give you a real percentage.
ROEMER: Let me, in my 15 minutes, move quickly through some things. I mentioned Secretary Powell will be coming next.
I imagine you briefed Secretary Powell as he came into office in a transition. Did you let the secretary know that Al Qaida was going to be the kind of threat that he would need to spend 35 percent or 50 percent or 100 percent, in some days, of his time fighting this new fluid, dynamic threat to this country? And what was his reaction or what was Dr. Rice's reaction to these types of briefings?
ALBRIGHT: Well, let me explain a little bit of what happened in the transition in the State Department as something that is done many times and is well put together. So I had general meetings with Secretary Powell. Then, when he moved into his offices in the first floor of the State Department, I arranged to make sure that every assistant secretary briefed him on whatever the issue was. And Ambassador Sheehan, who was in charge of counterterrorism, briefed Secretary Powell in detail about the kinds of things that we have been talking about, in terms of Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden, et cetera.
In my general discussions with Secretary Powell, I did point out that this was a major issue that had occupied a large portion of my time. But...
ROEMER: How did he react to that?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think he understood that this was a serious issue. And I only know what I've read in terms of Mr. Berger's conversations with Dr. Rice, but I believe that Secretary Powell understood the dangers that were inherent.
ROEMER: Let me move on to a very complicated relationship that the United States has with Saudi Arabia.
I want to ask, very bluntly and very frankly, your opinion with regard to their cooperation with the United States prior to 9/11.
We were able to get the Saudis to cooperate on issues such as having Ambassador Turkey go to yell at Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, but we could not get them to access Al Qaida's CFO. What kind of relationship was this? And did you personally press the Saudis hard in these kinds of instances when we needed access to high-level people like Madoni Al Tayid (ph)?
ALBRIGHT: I think, as you pointed out, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a very complicated one and the Saudi record is a mixed one, frankly.
I think that they were helpful on a number of issues. I talked to Crown Prince Abdullah, as well as Foreign Minister Saud, about a number of issues, obviously including bin Laden and Al Qaida. We also spent a lot of time on Iraq, and we spent a lot of time in terms of issues to do around the Middle East peace process.
They always did say that they would press and push on the bin Laden/Al Qaida front but, frankly, it's hard to say how effective it was at what times.
ROEMER: Are you convinced they were pushing?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I was convinced when they told me they were pushing, but the bottom line is that, in effect, as you look at the record, there were questions about some of the financial aspects. And I do think that there is a mixed record.
One of the things about the Saudis is that they often do more things in private than is evident publicly, but I would say the record was a mixed one. I would say we pushed as hard as we could.
ROEMER: Let me ask you, Madam Secretary, in your book, you say, and I quote, "Sadly I was not surprised that we were attacked, or even shocked that the airplane hijacking was involved," unquote.
You were not surprised by that September 11th event? Did you have intelligence or briefings indicating that hijackings were possible on September 11th? Why weren't you surprised? And did it include not being shocked that planes were used as missiles and weapons, or that it was Al Qaida?
ALBRIGHT: A number of responses to that, Congressman.
I think that we were operating within an atmosphere where we were watching all kinds of potential attacks, and, in fact, foiled a number of them in the years that we were in office. I, kind of, call them the dogs that didn't bite or bark, because people didn't hear about them.
So, I think that we were always on the lookout, which is why I said I wasn't surprised, because we knew that there were a variety of attacks possible and we foiled some.
In various briefings, we were told that there were all kinds of ways to do things: car bombs or suitcases or bio or chemical. And among the various parts of what we were briefed, there would be sometimes a mention of an airplane.
But basically, we were looking at all kinds of potential ways that there could be attacks. And so the sadness of this was that we were always on the lookout for some terrible thing, and we were foiling many, many of the potential attacks.
ROEMER: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. I've been slipped a note that my time has expired and I want to stick right to that so that other commissioners can get in.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman.
LEHMAN: Madam Secretary, welcome.
LEHMAN: I would like to follow up on many of the same subjects here.
One of the constant refrains we've had in the over a thousand interviews that we've done and through the documents that we have been studying, is that there was considerable dysfunction in the intelligence community, particularly with regard to sharing of information. A lot of people did not know about information that was in the government that was not shared, stovepiped. And many people were not playing with a full deck.
So I'd like to ask your own view...
... some even with intelligence -- about starting with your entry as secretary of state. You'd been at the U.N. You were part of the inner circle, the NSC, the Cabinet. What was the picture that you had when you took over the reins as secretary of state as to the nature of the threat -- the terrorist threat?
ALBRIGHT: When I came in as secretary, which was February 1997, there was no question that we knew about a variety of threats. I had, at the U.N., been involved with some of the issues to do with Sudan, where we were very concerned about the web of terrorist camps and support, et cetera, that were present in Sudan.
If you remember, the Sudanese were implicated in an assassination attempt on President Mubarak, and it was as a result of that that we instituted or put in sanctions against Sudan.
And so I clearly was aware of issues and was briefed. And also briefed in terms of some of the investigations to do with the World Trade Center.
So one knew that there were various terrorist threats that we were dealing with, but on, as I pointed out in my remarks, kind of, a whole new level of problems.
And I did see, I have to say, something that you alluded to, which was a lack of communication already between the CIA and the FBI in terms of transmitting information to each other. And so what we tried to do was to bring them closer together, with some difficulty. I think some to do with the culture of both those agencies, and something that I recommend finally that needs to be fixed.
ALBRIGHT: So I do think that there were issues in that regard.
But on the whole, I think there was a lot of intelligence available and the question is how it was read.
LEHMAN: Well, specifically on the '93 attack on the World Trade Center, we have been told by some very senior officials that the complete picture, the evidence of the Al Qaida links of the perpetrators, were really not made known until after -- shared within the government until after the trial of the blind sheik. And the links of Abdel Rahman Yasin, for instance, were not widely known within the government.
When did you, if you could think back, become aware of the close and many links between the '93 plotters and Al Qaida?
ALBRIGHT: I can't remember exactly. I mean, I think that, you know, we began to know more about Al Qaida sometime in '96, '97. We knew bin Laden was a financier that was involved in a variety of activities. But I honestly can't tell you exactly when I became aware of the various linkages.
LEHMAN: Did you know about Abdel Rahman Yasin and his fleeing to Baghdad and his support and cooperation with Saddam's intelligence service? Did you see any significance in that? He being, of course, one of the main plotters of the '93 bombing.
ALBRIGHT: I can't say that I remember that.
LEHMAN: Just on that theme, the fact that Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas were there along with Yasin, would this have been a reason to begin to look a bit at what the Iraqi secret service was doing with Al Qaida, with or without Saddam's knowledge?
ALBRIGHT: Again, my sense of all of this was that there were shadowy connections among a variety of groups. But in terms of this kind of specificity, frankly, that was not something that as secretary of state I would have been looking into.
LEHMAN: One of the questions, again, that have often been raised is, almost as soon as the Clinton administration came in there was an attempt to assassination President Bush. There was a very minor strike launched against the intelligence service of Saddam -- intelligence headquarters, and with the assurance that no one would be there so it would be in the middle of the night.
After the Khobar bombing there were many in the administration who wanted to retaliate, but in fact nothing was done.
After the '93 WTI attack there essentially was nothing done, pending the five-year trial.
LEHMAN: After the embassy bombing, there was, again, an attempt to make cruise missile attacks against the training camps and then against the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.
As you recall, there were criticisms at the time that this was a wag-the-dog scenario, that it was during the various stages of the president's problems, and that there was no real evidence there; that it was an innocent pharmaceutical plant. You were part of the inner sanctum at the time.
In your view, was there real evidence that this was part of a bin Laden network?
ALBRIGHT: You've said a lot of different things.
Let me just say that I do believe that when we had evidence, we used force. And the response on the '93 -- on the attempted assassination of President Bush, we reacted I think, very strongly. That's certainly what the Iraqis thought.
And I was the one that had the rather peculiar moment of delivering the message to the Iraqi ambassador at the United Nations, while sitting in his residence under a portrait of Saddam Hussein, that we were bombing Baghdad and then went to the Security Council with the proof of it.
So I think that we acted very well on that, and should be a sign that we were prepared to use military force when it was appropriate and we had intelligence in order to make it effective.
I think on the issue of '98, we were prepared to use force, and did use it immediately after the bombings of the embassies, as I said earlier.
On actionable intelligence, I believed, and continue to believe, that the plant in Sudan was connected to this network that Osama bin Laden had had in Sudan and that it was an appropriate strike.
And as you point out -- and I think this is the very hard part for all of us, Mr. Secretary -- is that we have to put ourselves into the pre-9/11 mode, and it's hard, because we've been in our post-9/11 prism, where we should be, and yet things were very different before 9/11.
And as you point out, we were mostly accused of overreacting, not underreacting. And I believe we reacted appropriately, and as I said earlier, we would have acted more had we had actionable intelligence.
And so, I think we dealt very appropriately with the issue and I think our record stands well.
LEHMAN: The reports at the time and subsequently have appeared in various places that the evidence involved with the pharmaceutical plant not only involved Al Qaida and specifically Osama, but also the Iraqi -- various programs within the Iraqi government, let us say.
Did you see any significance in that as something to worry about, perhaps the Iraqis' involvement with Osama might be a bit more than it might appear?
ALBRIGHT: I did not make the connection.
But let me just say this, is that if you look at the record, I was as hawkish on Saddam Hussein as anybody, made more statements and took more actions, whether I was ambassador at the United Nations or secretary of state, in terms of trying to contain Saddam Hussein and make sure that he proceeded in terms of trying to live up to or fulfill the Security Council resolutions.
ALBRIGHT: And so, I did not or do not remember making a link between what was happening in Sudan and the Iraqis.
I don't know, Tom, whether you have anything.
PICKERING: Mr. Secretary, I also participated in the meetings leading up to that decision.
There were two pieces of evidence only that I was aware of that I thought were very, very important and that helped, I believe, to crystallize the decision. One was the report we had following chemical analysis of the actual sample of a precursor to VX nerve gas that did not occur in nature. It was very unique and was not used for any other known purpose.
And the other was the connection that the secretary just talked to you about of the plant with investments of activities of Osama bin Laden in Sudan. As you know, he spent time in Sudan prior to the attack on the plant.
And I was not aware of any Iraqi connection until after the attack.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
Let me shift to Saudi Arabia. As I'm sure you all know, it is a kind of a, sort of, common wisdom, or in the State Department, one would say an urban myth, that the culture of the department is ruled by pro-Saudi- pro-Sunni bent.
And there are things that certainly give credence to that in the record leading up to 9/11. The fact that State never made any demarche to get after the Saudis had perhaps the second most powerful man in Al Qaida in their possession from '95 on and didn't tell us for some time, and to this day has not been turned over to us. The fact that the activities of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs have really never gotten even on to the scope of the agenda between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The flow, this constant promotion of jihadist ideology around the world.
In your time -- and the fact, of course, that, which has recently become an issue that, despite the fact that the priests and ministers are in jail in Saudi for having Christian services, they are -- nevertheless, Saudi was never listed on the annual list of State Department states who don't offer religious freedom.
LEHMAN: In your time, did you find -- one last -- in our last hearing, Ms. Ryan, who headed the Consular Service, explained that the reason special attention was not given to Saudis seeking visas, even after Khalid Sheik Mohammed, for instance, was indicted and he was given a visa, was because the State Department had Saudi Arabia in a most favored nation status. And, indeed, when we had the officer who did stop one of the hijackers, he said that he came under pressure from his colleagues because picking on a Saudi was very much not acceptable.
Do you find this was a problem? Is there a cultural problem, or is this purely a myth?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I don't think there's a cultural problem. I think that basically there are those in the Department that are responsible for our relationships with Saudi Arabia, and there are people in the department who are responsible for our relationships with Israel and other countries. And I think that, as secretary, and as undersecretary, we took all those issues under consideration, obviously.
I do think, as I said earlier, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an incredibly complicated one. We had forces stationed there. We were trying to figure out how to deal with Iraq. We understood the role of Saudi Arabia within the Arab world.
And we pressed them. I, personally, pressed them on issues to do -- believe it or not -- on women's rights. I pressed them on the religious issues. I pressed them on questions to do with how they were using their charitable money. And we did push them at a variety of times.
As I said earlier, the record is mixed. But the relationship is complicated and there are divisions within Saudi society, and I think it will continue to be a highly complex relationship for the United States.
PICKERING: Also, Mr. Secretary, on the visa case, as I know all of you know from your own work and some of the work that has been done ahead of time, the State Department officers issuing visas relied on something called a watch list. And in fact, the State Department had taken the initiative to develop the watch list in connection with certain criminal activities and then expanded it in cooperation with the intelligence community to try to deal with terrorism, as we all saw terrorism becoming a much more serious problem.
PICKERING: And the tragedy of the issue is that apparently there was information available to the intelligence community, but it did not get into the watch lists, something every State Department officer in Saudi Arabia issuing visas had to consult before even thinking about issuing a visa. And that, unfortunately, the intelligence we had in our possession -- again some of the stovepiping problem you related earlier and some of the compartmentation issue or some of the, I think, maybe uncertainty in the intelligence community about the importance of getting that information to the visa officers.
Visa officers interview people often to determine whether they're going to overstay their visa; become immigrants without going through the appropriate processes.
I don't know that visa officers, except by happenstance, have any particular ability to detect terrorists. But maybe we have new profiles now that will help.
But the watch list was the basis for that. And unfortunately in that particular case, the watch list was not up to date and, therefore, we missed those individuals that should have been caught by the visa process.
LEHMAN: Thank you very much.
KEAN: I just have one question. It seems to me that for years, at the end of the Clinton administration and into the Bush administration, we seem to have a hope -- which I don't quite understand -- that the Taliban somehow would agree, through diplomatic pressure or through some other pressure, to give up Osama bin Laden in some way or other. And it seems to go on for a few years, even though I can't find in anything I've read any justification, really, for that hope.
I understand trying for a while, but once you've probably coming to the end of your rope on those attempts, recognizing that this was a man who was the leader of the Taliban, was something who wasn't even talking to people because they weren't Muslims, diplomatically?
ALBRIGHT: I do think that we later learned about the very, kind of, as I said, symbiotic relationship between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And if you look at it, it's hard to -- the vain hope is the way that I say -- as you review it, that you feel.
ALBRIGHT: But at the time, you have to realize what our options were, in terms of we needed to have them cuff him up, so to speak, and basically we used every pressure point that we could.
There were a variety of meetings that we had with them. We thought that we could either threaten or induce them to give him up. But even -- and I have to say the options, let's say, of bombing them has not produced Osama bin Laden.
So I think that you do have to look at the options that you have. And if we did not have the leverage, then perhaps the Pakistanis, for instance, who had closer relations with them, or the Saudis, we had hoped would have that kind of relationship.
But clearly, this very knitted relationship was not something that was evident that we had good intelligence on.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
KERREY: Madam Secretary, first of all, it's very nice to see you again.
It seems to me during the Clinton administration there were two big mistakes and I wonder if you'd comment on them.
The first is that from 1993 through 2001, the United States of America was either attacked or we prevented attack by radical Islamists close to a dozen times, either where the attack was successful or whether we interrupted the attack. And that during that period of time, not only did we not engage in any single military attack other than the 20th of August 1998 -- there was no attack against Al Qaida during that entire period of time.
Indeed, the presidential directive that was -- the operative one of 62, that was written and signed in May of 1998, didn't give the military primary authority in counterterrorism. They were still responsible for supporting the states and local governments if we were attacked and they were still providing support for the Department of Justice and doing investigations.
And it seems to me especially -- you cited the '93 case with Iraq, the bombing of Iraq -- it seems to me that that was a terrible mistake. Indeed, the commission has seen evidence that people at lower levels of the Department of Defense and Dick Clarke himself were preparing analyses suggesting more aggressive military efforts and it went nowhere. So that's mistake number one that I think was a big one.
And the second one was after we had reason to believe that the Saudis were financing terrorists who were at least indirectly connected, if not directly connected, with killing Americans on the 7th of August 1998, that we didn't threaten to freeze their assets or actually freeze their assets; something that my guess is would have a dramatic impact on the kingdom's willingness to continue to behave in that fashion.
So those are the two mistakes that I think were made during the Clinton administration. The first one, I think, is a really large one. Honestly, I don't understand if we're attacked and attacked and attacked and attacked, why we continue to send the FBI over like the Khobar Towers was a crime scene or the East African embassy bombings was a crime scene.
You said we had balance between military effort and diplomacy. And frankly, I've got to say, it seems to me it was very unbalanced in favor of diplomacy against military efforts.
ALBRIGHT: I think, Senator -- or Mr. President -- is that it is...
ALBRIGHT: ... very difficult to assess what the targets would have been. And in many cases, some of the linkages that have been made now were not evident at the particular time. And to bomb at random or use military force I think would have created a situation that would have made our lives, American lives, even more difficult within the Muslim world.
These are judgments that have to be made. And I think I'm known well enough inside and outside the government as somebody who was always willing to match diplomacy with force.
And so, I do believe that we used force when it was appropriate, and strongly. So I think that...
KERREY: Madam Secretary, with great respect, after August of '98 you and I both know what we did.
KERREY: We led the North Atlantic alliance to an effort against Kosovo and that was the choice that was made; that was the threat that was considered to be the most important. And we used a military force against Belgrade.
I think it's a straw man to say that we're going to have random bombing or indiscriminate bombing. That's not what we're proposing at all.
I keep hearing the excuse we didn't have actionable intelligence. Well, what the hell does that say to Al Qaida? Basically, they knew -- beginning in 1993 it seems to me -- that there was going to be limited, if any, use of military and that they were relatively free to do whatever they wanted.
ALBRIGHT: Senator, there never -- as far as I know -- was a discussion as to whether there was a choice between using force in the Balkans and using force against Al Qaida. That was not a choice that ever was discussed or made. It was not one or the other.
And I think that the executive orders that President Clinton put out about using lethal force against Osama bin Laden, everything that we did in terms of the structure that we put together to freeze various assets and to go after them with every conceivable tool that we had -- you, Senator, I know, were the only person that I know of who suggested declaring war. In retrospect, you were probably right.
But we used every single tool we had in terms of trying to figure out what the right targets would be and how to go about dealing with what we knew to be a major threat.
And I reviewed it, and I am satisfied that we did what we could given the intelligence that we had and pre-9/11, if I might say. We have to keep being reminded of that, because there were whole questions -- as Secretary Lehman said -- that we overreacted, not the other way around.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FIELDING: Madam Secretary, Ambassador Pickering, thank you both very much for being here and for your service to our commission and to the country.
I have a follow-up question very similar to the two that have just been asked you.
There was broad consensus among officials -- in civilian and military -- prior to 9/11 that there was little or no congressional support or even public support for a large scale U.S. military action against Al Qaida in the Afghan territory.
Likewise, there was skepticism that we've been told about, frequently, within the U.S. government that the military really was reluctant to engage in any military action against bin Laden in Afghan, and in fact, as Senator Kerrey just said, but for the retaliatory strike after the East African embassy bombings, there was no follow up.
FIELDING: So we have the State Department communicating threats to the Taliban, saying that -- and I guess it was around 1999 -- that they would be held accountable and that there would be military force, among other things, for any attack by Al Qaida against the United States.
Now, that leads to my question: Did the Taliban have a reason to believe that we would make good on that threat, that it was a valid threat? And likewise, what steps -- when you formulate a policy to make that kind of a threat, what steps did you take to ensure that we, in fact, had a credible military force that could enforce that?
ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, as I said, President Clinton had ordered that lethal force be used. There were armed submarines in the Arabian Sea and a variety -- bombers on standby and ready to go so that -- the orders were there.
The president also asked for a variety of options from the Pentagon in terms of special forces, a variety of -- as far as I know, there was no option off the table and that there were questions about the Pentagon saying that these were not viable.
You will have Secretary Cohen here and you can ask him these questions. But I do know that from the perspective of one of the members of the principals' committee, I, as secretary of state, can assure you that the president asked for a variety of military options.
And so, I, again, think that you have -- from my perspective, the Pentagon did not come forward with viable options in response to what the president was asking for.
PICKERING: I also think, Mr. Fielding, that the record is pretty clear on the intensive looks that we were giving to the target lists, and what could be found, and how to find Osama, and could we see him. And we found that we may have seen him, but he wasn't there, or perhaps he was going to be someplace, but it never panned out.
But there are very clear indications -- using Afghan irregulars who were prepared to work with us, using the kinds of strikes that we used against the camps, looking at all of the other alternatives -- this was a constant preoccupation that we had many times when I would have phoned the secretary on the secure phone and say, "We think it's about to happen," only to call her back 24 hours later and say, "No, it didn't work."
PICKERING: The intelligence wasn't secure enough to know that we would be there to hit that particular target. It was Osama bin Laden obviously. So it was not something that sort of was done once and put aside and never thought about again.
FIELDING: No, I appreciate that.
But to get back to the second part of my question, when you formulate a diplomatic policy, if you will, which says we're going to use force against you and we're going to use our military if you don't resolve this in a diplomatic sense.
My real question is what process do you go through before that decision is made to ensure that we really did have a credible military plan and force that could react to that to make our threat to the Taliban credible?
ALBRIGHT: Well, we did -- and Ambassador Pickering participated in many of these meetings -- we had interagency meetings to talk about what our various options were. And I think we all felt it was appropriate to let the Taliban know that they would be held responsible if further action were held.
And as we made that -- the truth is that they didn't do anything in between the time that we made that point to them. And it was a threat that was out there, a Damocles sword. And we did have various options to deal with them with the cruise missiles off the submarines and other ways of bombing.
I personally am not satisfied that we were able to get all the right answers out of the Pentagon. I think that is a question. And one of the issues always in any interagency meeting, whether it was starting when I was ambassador at the United Nations, I would ask for a variety -- although at that case not as appropriate as when I was secretary -- for a variety of options in terms of what could be done militarily.
And I think you will have to ask Secretary Cohen, because we all dealt on this issue together. And I think that the thing that is very hard to explain to people now is how much time we spent on all this and were constantly debating what we could do given a pre-9/11 atmosphere. It really was very, very different. And most people thought that we had made up the issues of terrorism, as Secretary Lehman pointed out.
So I hope very much that in considering all this, you do -- I know how hard it is for me, and I'm sure it's hard for you -- is to get back into the pre-9/11 mode.
FIELDING: Thank you. Thank you both very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
GORELICK: Madam Secretary and Ambassador Pickering, thank you for being here and thank you for your service to this country.
GORELICK: I would like to probe a little bit further the issue of use of military force in Afghanistan. You, I think, once famously said in a different context, "What's the use of having this state of the art military if we can never use it?"
So, I would like to know what your reaction was when there was developed a plan to use special forces to invade Afghanistan and go and get bin Laden post the '98 embassy bombings, when DOD opposed using this plan as unworkable and unwieldy. What was your view on their posture?
ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, and as I said in my opening remarks, the embassy bombings were something that was -- very deeply touched everything that I did at the State Department and affected -- you know when Admiral Crowe presented his report, it was, I think, devastating in many ways. And he blamed me personally. So, believe me, it was something that, as secretary of state, I did feel responsible. These were people who worked for me.
And I felt very much that we needed to do everything we could to make sure that there was a retaliation against those who had done it and that we had to pursue so that this would not happen again. And I did press, as did others, for a variety of options.
And the explanation about the special forces that was always hard was, you either had a very small group that was then not able to protect itself, or one that was so large that would be detectable. And so the balance of trying to find the right special operations group was very difficult.
But you have to ask the military people this question...
GORELICK: Oh, we will.
ALBRIGHT: ... because president Clinton and I and Sandy Berger, we all pushed and pressed, as did Ambassador Pickering. Because I think that we did see the linkage between diplomacy and the threat of force and the use of force.
I spent most of my eight years in office thinking and talking about the linkages between diplomacy and use of force, and that one underlines the other. And so I did my best, in fact, to question on this.
GORELICK: Would you agree with the statement that Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz gave us, that if the DOD had gone to Congress before 9/11 and asked to invade Afghanistan that they would not have been taken seriously?
ALBRIGHT: I think I do agree with that, because it was very hard to get congressional support for military action. We had a hard time in various other areas, whether it was supporting peacekeeping operations or generally in terms of trying to get support because I think there was a whole question about how serious this all was, despite the fact that I think we made many statements to the effect, as I said, President Clinton and Ambassador Pickering and I, and Sandy Berger and Secretary Cohen spoke very often about the continuing danger of terrorism.
But on this particular subject, I do agree with Undersecretary Wolfowitz.
GORELICK: I appreciate the caveat.
You issued a demarche, or a warning, to the Taliban before the call, saying that you would hold or the U.S. government would hold the Taliban responsible for any harm to Americans, is that correct?
ALBRIGHT: We did, yes.
GORELICK: And after the Cole, you, in answer to a question from Secretary Lehman, said -- or maybe it was Congressman Roemer -- you said, "We didn't know" -- by the time you left office, you didn't know that the attack on the Cole was the responsibility of bin Laden; is that correct?
ALBRIGHT: That is correct.
GORELICK: But having made that threat, what is your view on the necessity for the U.S. government to have responded to the Cole forcefully when that conclusion of responsibility was in fact made?
ALBRIGHT: Well, as I said and you repeated, we did not have definitive proof. The definitive proof came during the Bush administration. And they had repeated the threat.
So I think you have to again ask them in terms of how they saw, whether they reacted appropriately once it was proven that the Cole was linked to Al Qaida.
In our case, there was not proof by the time we left office that it was and we stood with our threat.
GORELICK: Thank you.
LEHMAN: Just to set the record straight, however, our investigations have indeed proved that the conclusion was reached in CIA at a much earlier time; in fact, as early as November, and certainly by December.
GORELICK: But not conveyed to decision-makers.
LEHMAN: But not conveyed to decision-makers.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that is a general issue that people need to look at, is how material comes up the system and who knows what at what time. I think that is an issue, how it is conveyed and at what time.
KEAN: Senator Gorton?
GORTON: Same general subject, Madam Secretary. I take from page six of your written statement: "There would have been reason to justify military action" -- that is an invasion of Afghanistan -- "but without the megashock of September 11th, we would not have had a local staging ground to support such an attack and diplomatic backing would have been virtually nonexistent."
Would you not say that exactly the same situation existed during the first eight months of the Bush administration; i.e., prior to 9/11?
ALBRIGHT: I do think that clearly 9/11 affected them as it did us. And therefore the question is, how they looked at the particular material. They seem to have felt also that there was not a justification.
I think the question comes down to one of the last issues that Ms. Gorelick raised with us, is whether when there was proof that Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden were connected with the USS Cole, the threat having been made, why there was not a response at that time.
ALBRIGHT: I think that is a question...
GORTON: I'm asking this question. This question relates to an invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and disperse Al Qaida.
ALBRIGHT: I do think -- this is my personal opinion -- that it would be very hard pre-9/11 to have persuaded anybody that an invasion of Afghanistan was appropriate. I think it did take the megashock, unfortunately, of 9/11 to make people understand the considerable threat.
Plus there was not a staging area in Pakistan and the variety of problems that we faced, I do think that this administration faced also.
GORTON: And pre-9/11, the only military response to any Al Qaida attack, whether successful or one of the many that you said was frustrated during your period of time -- the only military response was the response in the immediate aftermath of the embassy bombing. And while many other potential covert or cruise missile kinds of responses were considered, all ran up against an objection that the intelligence wasn't actionable, that you didn't know -- there was no appropriate target, or that there would be collateral damage. So every such suggestion was frustrated and came to naught before 9/11; is that not correct?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I have no way of judging what happened inside the Bush administration from January to September.
GORTON: Well, you do know that nothing happened.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I do know that, but I also do know that many of the policy issues that we had developed were not followed up. And I have to say, with great sad sadness, to watch an incoming administration, kind of, take apart a lot of the policies that we did have, whether it had to do with North Korea or the Balkans, was difficult.
So I think you have to ask people that were in the Bush administration as to how they saw things on this particular issue.
But I do think, in all fairness, that 9/11 was a cataclysmic event that changed things and that they must have had similar reactions.
But clearly there are many issues and many questions now about how they were responding to the terrorist threat and how seriously they took it. You are going to have some other witnesses here who will be more capable of responding to that question than I because I know nothing beyond what I read.
GORTON: So at least during probably the year 2000, if not earlier, and 2001, up to 9/11, a rational Al Qaida could determine that terrorism was essentially cost-free, or only at a cost so modest that it was well worthwhile?
ALBRIGHT: I don't believe that actually.
I think that if you look at what we were doing, we were on an upward trajectory of ramping up our dealing with terrorist activities, whether it was putting the infrastructure into place that the Bush administration is using on tracking finances, on trying to get more money into the CIA, of developing counterterrorism centers and activities. So I think, no.
I mean, it's hard for me to get inside the head of Al Qaida, but no, I do not think they must have thought it was cost-free.
GORTON: Well, there we certainly disagree.
I guess my time is up.
Last question for this panel from Governor Thompson.
THOMPSON: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here today and thank you for your service to our country.
I must say that I am impressed with not only your record, but the record of the Clinton administration, in its efforts to pursue and stop Al Qaida, to provide appropriate responses on behalf of our country and for the vigor and determination with which your administration acted in these affairs during the time that you were in office.
But I'd like to turn to a subject that everybody else in Washington is talking about, so we might as well recognize the elephant in the room.
ALBRIGHT: So to speak.
THOMPSON: Understanding, as I do, all the things that your administration did, I'm perplexed that even though you followed many of Mr. Clarke's suggestions -- whether it was frequent principals' meetings, frequent meetings of the small group, pressure on the Saudis, pressure on the Pakistanis, preparation of the Predator for military action, going after financing, issuing demarches, all of that -- and where you didn't follow his advice, you had reasonable and logical explanations for it, some of which you've talked about today and some of which you've talked about in your written testimony.
For example, not providing military aid to the Northern Alliance or putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan.
THOMPSON: But none of the years of the Clinton effort, as vigorous as it was, either stopped the spread of Al Qaida, brought us Osama bin Laden or prevented September 11th.
And it's really hard for me to see how criticism can be leveled against the Bush administration, which was brand new and had only seven months to try and look at, and in many cases, continue the policy of the Clinton administration toward Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. This was not one of those things they blew up like the Balkans or North Korea.
Is that a fair conclusion?
ALBRIGHT: I think that fighting terrorism is a very difficult job, and it is clear from our experience of eight years, I think it's very hard to find Osama bin Laden. We had a hard time. I regret that they have not been able to find him. It is very difficult.
We are dealing with a brand-new threat in a way that spreads through these variety of groups where people are given sanctuary and where, in fact, I think there is a question in the long term how we deal with it in term of educational issues, in terms of trying to get the moderate Muslims to help us -- some of the suggestions that I made.
I think what I consider -- if I may say so -- the great value of this commission is that you are asking exactly these kinds of questions in terms of not just trying to place blame, but trying to learn lessons.
When I was first told about the mandate of this commission, that is what it is, and so -- to get answers and learn lessons without, in fact, just trying to place blame.
I do think that it is important to understand how much attention was paid to fighting terrorism in the Bush administration.
I can only talk about what we did and that is that it was constantly on our minds, that President Clinton spoke about it all the time privately in meetings to foreign leaders, as well as publicly -- that we did, in fact, create the national security system that allowed somebody like Dick Clarke in the job of being the coordinator, and that I think our record in dealing with this is one that established a variety of policies that I think were on the way toward helping us fight terrorism.
But I am not going to say that it is easy. And it is the threat of our time.
And the devil's marriage between these shady groups and the spread of weapons of mass destruction is unfortunately the problem that we are all dealing with, that we cannot deed to our children and grandchildren.
So I am very glad that this commission is looking into this because it's the lessons learned, not so much the blame placing.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Madam Secretary.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, again, for your testimony, very much. And thank you for all your public service, Secretary Albright.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Governor.
KEAN: And thank you, Ambassador Pickering, for being here with us.
We'll be submitting a few -- perhaps if we could, a few more questions fro the record.
KEAN: And we look forward to your responses.
Thank you very, very much.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you so much. Thank you.
KEAN: Our next witness, I think, is familiar to everybody in this room.
KEAN: He, too, has a record of tremendously distinguished service to this country in a number of different ways, both on the volunteer level as well as in the public service level.
We welcome a senior member of the Cabinet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is accompanied by distinguished Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
Thank you very much for coming.
Mr. Secretary and Mr. Deputy Secretary, we would like, if we could, to ask you to raise you right hand that we may put you under oath.
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
POWELL: I do.
KEAN: Thank you very much.
Secretary Powell, your prepared statement will be entered into the record in full. We would ask you, therefore, if you could summarize your remarks.
POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a great pleasure to be before the commission today. And I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you regarding the events leading up to and following the murderous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is my hope, as I know it is yours, that through the hard work of this commission, our country can improve the way we wage the war on terror and, particular, better protect our homeland and the American people.
I'm pleased to have, of course, with me today Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage. Secretary Armitage was sworn in on March 26th of 2001, two months into the administration. And he's been intimately involved in the interagency deliberations on our counterterrorism policies. And of course, he also participated in what are known as principals as well as National Security Council meetings whenever I was on travel or otherwise unavailable.
Mr. Chairman, members of the commission, I leave Washington this evening to represent President Bush and the American people at the memorial service in Madrid, Spain, honoring the over 200 victims of the terrorists attacks of 3/11, March 11, 2004. With deep sympathy and solidarity, our heart goes out to their loved ones and to the people of Spain.
And just last Thursday, in the garden of our embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, I presided at a memorial service in honor of two State Department family members, Barbara Green and her daughter Kristen Wormsley, who were killed two years ago by terrorists while they worshipped in a church on a bright, beautiful spring morning.
I know that the families and friends of the victims of 9/11, some of whom are listening and watching today, grieve just as the Spanish are grieving and just as we at the Department of State did and still do for Barbara and Kristen.
Mr. Chairman, I am no newcomer to the horrors of terrorism. In 1983, Secretary Armitage and I were working for Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger, as was Secretary Lehman at that time, when 243 wonderful, brave Marines and Navy corpsmen were killed in Beirut, Lebanon.
POWELL: I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 when the first bombing of the World Trade Center took place. In 1996, I may have been out of government, but I followed closely the events surrounding the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
Khobar and all the other terrorist attacks over the years were very much part of my consciousness as I prepared to assume the office of secretary of state under President George Bush.
I was well aware of the fact that I was going to be sworn into office just three months after the USS Cole was struck in the harbor at Aden, Yemen, taking the lives of 17 sailors and wounding 30 others.
I was well aware -- very well aware that our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been blown up in 1998, injuring some 4,000 people and killing 220, 12 of them Americans; the highest number of casualties in a single incident in the State Department's history.
As the new chief executive officer of the Department of State, I was acutely aware that I would be responsible to President Bush -- he made this clear that this was my responsibility -- for the safety of men and women serving at our posts overseas, as well as for the safety and welfare of private American citizens traveling and living abroad.
The 1999 Crowe commission report on embassy security became our blueprint for upgrading the security of all our facilities. Admiral Crowe had done an extensive review and made some scathing criticisms on how lax our country was in protecting our personnel who were serving abroad from terrorist attacks.
One of my first actions was to ask retired Major General Chuck Williams of the Army Corps of Engineers to come into the department and head our building operation. We wanted him to move aggressively to implement the Crowe recommendations and to protect our people and our installations, and he has done a tremendous job of that.
At the beginning of this administration, we are building one new secure embassy a year. Today we are building 10 new secure embassies every single year.
As the president's principal foreign policy adviser, I was well aware, as was the president and all the members of the new national security team, that communism and fascism, our old foes of the past century, have been replaced by a new kind of enemy, terrorism.
We were well aware that no nation is immune to terrorism. We were well aware that this adversary is not necessarily a state, and that it often has no clear return address. We knew that this monster is hydra-headed, many tentacled. We knew that its evil leaders and followers espoused many false causes, but have one purpose: to murder innocent people.
Mr. Chairman, President Bush and all of us on his team knew that terrorism would be a major concern for us, as it has been for the past several administrations.
During the transition from the Clinton to the Bush administration, we were pleased to receive the briefings and information that Secretary Albright and her staff provided us on President Clinton's counterterrorism policies and what they had done for the previous eight years before we came into office.
POWELL: Indeed, on December 20th, four days after President Bush announced that I would be the next secretary of state, I asked for and got a briefing on our worldwide terrorism actions and policies from President Clinton's counterterrorism security group headed by Mr. Dick Clarke.
In addition to Mr. Clarke, at this briefing -- my very first briefing during the transition -- also present were the CIA's counterterrorism director, Mr. Cofer Black, from the FBI, Dale Watson. Also present were representatives from the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and from within the State Department, representatives of our own Bureau of Intelligence and Research, as well as our acting coordinator for counterterrorism.
A major component of this briefing was Al Qaida's growing threat to the United States, our interests around the world, and Afghanistan's role as a safe haven for Al Qaida.
As a matter of fact, that part of the briefing got my attention. So much so that later I asked Mr. Armitage -- when he got sworn in -- to get directly involved in all of these issues, and he did.
In addition, in my transition book that was provided to me by Secretary Albright, there was a paper from Mike Sheehan, Secretary Albright's counterterrorism coordinator, and I read it very carefully.
That transition paper, under the rubric Ongoing Threat Environment, stated that, quote, "In close coordination with the intelligence community, we must ensure that all precautions are taken to strengthen our security posture, warn U.S. citizens abroad, and maintain a high level of readiness to respond to additional incidents that might come along."
The paper informed me that, quote, "The joint U.S.-Yemeni investigation of the USS Cole bombing continues to develop new information and leads, but that it is still too early to definitively link the attack to a sponsor, i.e. Osama bin Laden."
And under Taliban, the paper records that, "We must continue to rally international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions, including an arms embargo against the Taliban."
The paper further stated: "We should maintain the momentum of getting others, such as the G-8, Russia, India, the Caucasus states, Central Asia, to isolate and pressure the Taliban."
It continued: "If the Cole investigation leads back to Afghanistan, we should use it to mobilize the international support needed for further pressures on the Taliban."
Let me emphasize that the paper covered a range of terrorism- related concerns, and not just Al Qaida and the Taliban.
So the outgoing administration provided me and others in the incoming administration with transition papers, as well as briefings based on their eight years of experience that reinforced our awareness of the worldwide threat from terrorism.
POWELL: All of us on the Bush national security team, beginning with President Bush, knew we needed continuity in counterterrorism policy. We did not want terrorists to see the early months of a new administration as a time of opportunity.
And for continuity, President Bush retained Director Tenet at the CIA.
Director Tenet's counterterrorism center remained under the leadership of Cofer Black. He was kept on there until he joined the State Department last year to become my assistant secretary for counterterrorism.
Dick Clarke was retained at the National Security Council.
I retained Ambassador Edmund Hull as acting coordinator for counterterrorism until I was able to bring a new team in a little bit later in the year under the leadership of former Brigadier General Frank Taylor of the United States Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. He was Cofer Black's immediate predecessor.
I also retained David Carpenter as assistant secretary for diplomatic security and kept Tom Fingar on as acting assistant secretary for intelligence and research.
Christopher Kojm, now a staff member of your commission, was a political appointee from the prior administration, and we kept him on, as well, in order to show continuity during this period.
And, of course, FBI Director Louis Freeh provided continuity on the domestic side.
Early on, we made clear to the Congress and to the American people that we understood the scope and compelling nature of the threat from terrorism.
For example, on February 7th, 2001 -- just a few weeks into the administration -- my acting assistant secretary for intelligence, Tom Fingar, who had served in the same capacity in the previous administration, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding threats to the United States.
In the first part of his testimony, he highlighted the threat from unconventional sources, saying, "The magnitude of each individual threat is small. But in aggregate, unconventional threats probably pose a more immediate danger to Americans than do foreign armies, nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, or the proliferation even of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems."
Mr. Fingar then went on to single out Osama bin Laden, saying that, "Plausible, if not always credible, threats linked to his organizations target Americans and America's friends or interests on almost every continent."
Mr. Chairman, members of the commission, the Department of State was well aware of the terrorist threat.
The new Bush administration, as had the Clinton administration, created counterterrorism and regional interagency committees to study the counterterrorism issue in a comprehensive way.
The committees, in turn, reported to a deputies committee chaired by Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, on which Mr. Armitage was my representative.
POWELL: The deputies, in turn, reported to Cabinet-level principals committees, which answered to the National Security Council, chaired by the president.
These committees, however, were not by any means the sum and substance of our interagency discussions on counterterrorism nor do they represent all that was happening in the administration on a day- to-day basis.
In order to keep in constant touch on counterterrorism issues, as well as all of the other items on our agenda, Secretary Rumsfeld, Dr. Rice and I held a daily coordination phone call meeting on every morning that we were in town at 7:15.
In addition to our regular and frequent meetings at the State Department every morning at 8:30, I met with my staff and immediately had available at 8:30, information from my I&R section, my intelligence people as well as my counterterrorism coordinator, as well as the assistant secretary in charge of diplomatic security.
We formalized regular luncheons with Dr. Rice, myself, the vice president and Secretary Rumsfeld in order to make sure that we stayed in closest touch with each other, not only on terrorism but on all issues.
Above all, from the start, the president by word and deed made clear his interest and his intense desire to protect the nation from terrorism. He frequently asked and prodded us to do more. He decided early on that we needed to be more aggressive in going after terrorists and especially Al Qaida.
As he said in early spring, as we were developing our new comprehensive strategy, quote, "I'm tired of swatting flies." He wanted a thorough, comprehensive diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement and financial strategy to go after Al Qaida.
It was a demanding order, but it was a necessary one.
There were many other compelling issues that were on our agenda that a new administration has to take into account -- a Middle East policy that had just collapsed; the sanctions on Iraq had been unraveling steadily since 1998; relations with Russia and China were complicated by the need to expel Russian spies in February; and the plane collision with a Chinese fighter in April.
There were many foreign leaders who were coming to the United States or wanted us to visit them to get engaged with the new administration.
Yes, we had to deal with all of these pressing matters and more, but we also were confident that we had an experienced counterterrorism team in place.
President Bush and his entire national security team understood that terrorism had to be among our highest priorities -- and it was.
Now, what did we do to act on that priority?
Our counterterrorism planning developed very rapidly considering the challenges of transition and of a new administration. We were not given a counterterrorism action plan by the previous administration.
As I mentioned, we were given good briefings on what they had been doing with respect to Al Qaida and with respect to the Taliban.
POWELL: The briefers, as well as the principals, conveyed to us the gravity of the threat posed by Al Qaida. But we noted early on that the actions that the previous administration had taken had not succeeded in eliminating the threat.
As a result, Dr. Rice directed a thorough policy review aimed at developing a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the Al Qaida threat, and this was in her first week in her new position as national security adviser. This decision did not await any deputies or principals committee review; she knew what we had to do and she put us to the task of doing it.
We wanted the new policy to go well beyond tit-for-tat retaliation. We felt that lethal strikes that largely missed the terrorists if you don't have accurate targeting information, such as the cruise missile strikes in 1998, might lead Al Qaida to believe that we lacked resolve. These strikes had obviously not deterred Al Qaida from subsequently attacking the USS Cole.
We wanted to move beyond the roll-back policy of containment, criminal prosecution and limited retaliation for specific terrorist attacks. We wanted to destroy Al Qaida.
We understood that Pakistan was critical to the success of our long-term strategy. To get at Al Qaida, we had to end Pakistan's support for the Taliban so we had to recast our relations with that country.
But nuclear sanctions caused by Pakistan's nuclear weapons test, and the nature of the new regime, the way President Musharraf took office, made it difficult for us to work with Pakistan.
We knew, however, that achieving sustainable relations with Pakistan meant moving more aggressively to strengthen and shape our relations with India as well. So we began this rather more complex diplomatic approach very quickly upon assuming office, even as we were putting the strategy on paper, and deciding its other more complicated elements.
For example, in February of 2001, Presidents Bush and Musharraf exchanged letters.
Let me quote a few lines from President Bush's February 16th letter to President Musharraf of Pakistan. This is just a few weeks after coming in to office. Quote, the president said to President Musharraf, "Pakistan is an important member of the community of nations and one with which I hope to build better relations, particularly as you move ahead to return to civilian constitutional government.
"We have concerns of which you are aware, but I am hopeful that we can work together on our differences in the years ahead. We should work together," the president continued, "to address Afghanistan's many problems. The most pressing of these is terrorism, and it inhibits progress in all other issues.
"The continued presence of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida organization is a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must be addressed.
"I believe Al Qaida also threatens Pakistan's long-term interests. We join the United Nations in passing additional sanctions against the Taliban, to bring bin Laden to justice, and to close the network of terrorist camps and their territory."
The president concluded, "I urge you to use your influence with the Taliban to bring this about."
President Bush was very concerned about Al Qaida and about the safe haven given them by the Taliban, but he knew that implementing the diplomatic road map we envisioned would be difficult. The deputies went to work, reviewing all of these complex regional issues.
Early on, we realized that a serious effort to remove Al Qaida's safe haven in Afghanistan might well require introducing military force, especially ground forces. This, without the cooperation of Pakistan, would be out of the question.
POWELL: Pakistan had vital interests in Afghanistan and was deeply suspicious of India's intentions. Pakistan's and India's mutual fears and suspicion threatened to boil over into nuclear conflict as the administration got into the early months of its existence.
To put it mildly, the situation was delicate and dangerous. Any effort to effect change had to be calibrated very carefully to avoid misperception and miscalculation.
Under the leadership of Steve Hadley, deputy national security adviser, the deputies met a number of times during the spring and summer to craft a strategy for eliminating the Al Qaida threat and dealing with the complex implications for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
So we began to develop this more aggressive and more comprehensive strategy. And while we did so, we continued activities that had been going on in the previous administration aimed at Al Qaida and other terrorist groups, including intelligence activities.
For example, during the summer of 2001, the CIA succeeded in a number of disruption activities against terrorist groups. These are activities where our agents create turmoil among those groups they know to be associated with terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot assemble, cannot communicate, can't effectively plan, receive any support or money, and are generally unable to act in a coordinated fashion.
You will hear more about these activities from Director Tenet tomorrow. But I want to emphasize that, notwithstanding all these intelligence activities that were under way, at no time during the early months of our administration were we presented with a vetted, viable, operational proposal which would have led to an opportunity to kill, capture or otherwise neutralize Osama bin Laden; never received any targetable information.
Let me return now to our diplomatic efforts. From early 2001 onward, we pressed the Taliban directly and sought the assistance of the government of Pakistan and other neighboring states to put additional pressure on the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan and shut down Al Qaida.
On February 8th, 2001, less than three weeks into the administration, we closed the Taliban office in New York, implementing the U.N. resolutions passed the previous month -- I must say with the strong support and the dedicated efforts of Secretary Albright and Undersecretary Pickering.
In March, we repeated the warning to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for any Al Qaida attack against our interests.
In April, 2001, senior departmental officials traveled to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, to lay out our key concerns, including about terrorism and Afghanistan.
We asked these Central Asian nations to coordinate their efforts with the various Afghan players who were opposed to the Taliban. We also used what we call the Bonn Group of concerned countries, to bring together Germany, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, the United States to build a common approach to Afghanistan.
At the same time, we encouraged and supported the Rome group of expatriate Afghans to explore alternatives to the Taliban.
In May, Deputy Secretary Armitage met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov of the Russian Federation to renew the work of the U.S.-Russia working group in Afghanistan. These discussions had previously been conducted at a lower level. We focused specifically on what we could do together about Afghanistan and about the Taliban.
This, incidentally, laid the groundwork for obtaining Russian cooperation on liberating Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.
KEAN: Mr. Secretary, we are going to run out of time...
POWELL: Yes, I will get shorter.
KEAN: Thank you, sir.
POWELL: I just wanted to make the point that in June, in July and August we took every effort that was available to us to put pressure on Pakistan to cut its losses with the Taliban and to take every effort possible to make sure that Pakistan understood the need to bring Afghanistan around to eliminating the threat provided by Al Qaida and its presence in Afghanistan.
POWELL: We also put into play a number of other options that were available to us.
As we know, during this period, we looked at some of the ideas that Mr. Clarke's team had presented that had not been tried in the previous administration. These activities fit the long-term time frame of our new strategy and were presented to us that way by Mr. Clarke.
In other words, these were long-term actions that he had in mind and not immediate actions that would produce immediate results. If these ideas made sense, we explored them. If they looked workable, we adopted them.
For example, we provided new counterterrorism aid to Uzbekistan because we knew Al Qaida was sponsoring a terrorist effort in that country led by the Islamic movement.
We looked at the Predator. The Predator at that time in early 2001 was not an armed weapon that they used to go after anyone. And Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Tenet will talk more about this. But by the end of that summer period, as we entered September and October, it was a weapon that was usable and it was used extensively and effectively after 9/11 when it was ready.
Other ideas such as arming the Northern Alliance with significant weaponry or giving them an added capability did not seem to be a practical thing to do at that time for the same sorts of reasons that Secretary Albright discussed earlier.
The basic elements of our new strategy, which came together during these early months of the administration, first and foremost, eliminate Al Qaida. It was no longer to roll it back or reduce its effectiveness; our goal was to destroy it.
The strategy would call for ending all sanctuaries given to Al Qaida. We would try to do this first through diplomacy, but if diplomacy failed and there was a call for additional measures including military operations, we would be prepared to do it. And military action would be more than just launching cruise missiles at already warned targets.
In fact, the strategy called for attacking Al Qaida and the Taliban's leadership, their command and control, their ground forces and other targets.
The strategy would recognize the need for significant aid, not only for the Northern Alliance, but to other tribal groups that might help us with this.
It would also include greatly expanding intelligence and authorities, capabilities and funding.
While all this was taking place, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, we did everything we could to protect the lives of American citizens around the world.
As you know, the threat information that we were receiving from the CIA and other sources suggested that we were increasingly at risk and the risk was -- looked to be mostly overseas.
POWELL: And, while that is my responsibility, others in our administration were looking at the threat within the United States.
But in response to these overseas threats, we issued threat warnings constantly. Every time the threat level went up, we would respond with appropriate threat warnings to our embassies, to our citizens around the world who were traveling or living on foreign countries, warning them of the nature of the threat and encouraging them to take the necessary caution.
So, it is not as if we weren't responding to the threat. We were responding to the threat in the way that we could respond to the threat: with warnings, with emergency action committee meetings in our embassies to make sure that we were buttoning down and buttoning up.
Mr. Chairman, this all continued throughout the summer. It reached a conclusion in early September, when all the pieces of our strategy came together: the intelligence part, the diplomatic part, military components of it, law enforcement, the nature of the challenge we had before us which was to eliminate Al Qaida. It all came together on the 4th of September, at a principals meeting, where we concluded our work on the national security directive that would be telling everybody in the administration what we were going to do as we moved forward.
It took us roughly eight months to get to that point, but it was a solid eight months of dedicated work to bring us to that point.
And then, as we all know, 9/11 hit and we had to accelerate all of our efforts and go onto a different kind of footing altogether.
I just might point out that, with respect to Pakistan, consistent with the decisions that we had made in early September, after 9/11, within two days, Mr. Armitage had contacted the Pakistani intelligence chiefs who happened to be in the United States and laid out what we now needed from Pakistan. The time for diplomacy and discussions were over; we needed immediate action.
And Mr. Armitage laid out seven specific steps for Pakistan to take to join us in this effort.
POWELL: We gave them 24, 48 hours to consider it and then I called President Musharraf and said, "We need your answer now. We need you as part of this campaign, this crusade."
And President Musharraf made a historic and strategic decision that evening when I spoke to him and changed his policy and became a partner in this effort as opposed to a hindrance to the effort.
Mr. Chairman, I have to also say that we were successful during this period in rounding up international support.
The OAS, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations, NATO, the entire international community rallied to our effort.
To summarize all of this, Mr. Chairman, I might say that this administration came in fully recognizing the threat presented to the United States and its interests and allies around the world by terrorism.
We went to work on it immediately. The president made it clear that it was a high priority. The interagency group was working. We had continuity in our counterterrorism institutions and organizations. We kept demarching as was done in the previous administration.
But while we were demarching and while we were doing intelligence activities to disrupt, we were putting in place a comprehensive strategy that pulled all of these things together in a more aggressive way and in a way that would go after this threat in order to destroy it and not just keep demarching it.
We had eight or so months to do that, and in early September, that strategy came together. And when 9/11 hit us and brought us to that terrible day that none of us will ever forget, that strategy was ready and it was the basis upon which we went forward and we could accelerate all of our efforts.
While I was warning embassies and taking cover in our embassies in response to the threats, Secretary Rumsfeld was doing the same thing with military forces. Director Tenet was doing the same thing with his assets around the world. And our domestic agencies, the FBI, the FAA were also looking at what they needed to protect the nation.
Most of us still thought that the principal threat was outside of the country. We didn't know while we were going through this procedure and through these policies in putting together this comprehensive strategy that those who were going to perpetrate 9/11 were already in the country, had been in the country for some time, and were hard at work.
Anything we might have done against Al Qaida during this period, against Osama bin Laden may or may not have any influence on these people who were already in the country, already had their instructions, had already burrowed in and were getting ready to commit the crimes that we saw on 9/11.
Nevertheless, we knew that Al Qaida was ultimately the source of this kind of terror and we determined to go after it.
POWELL: As Secretary Albright said earlier, we have many other things we have to do in the months and the years ahead. We have to get our message out. We have to do more with public diplomacy. We have to do more with our allies and with our partners around the world.
We are working on all of these issues.
But Al Qaida no longer has a safe haven in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are on their way to democracy. I was there last week.
There are going to be no more weapons of mass destruction or safe havens in Iraq. The people of Iraq have been liberated and they're on their way to a democracy.
And so, I think we're trying to create conditions where we will bring the whole civilized world together against the threat of terrorism.
Mr. Chairman, I will end at this point and my entire statement is available for your record.
KEAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony.
We'll begin this round of questioning with Commissioner Thompson, followed by Commissioner Gorelick.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, your testimony delivered here this morning in written form has come close to this issue, but let me ask you directly.
In the seven months between the time the Bush administration took office and September 11th, to your knowledge did Mr. Clarke ever present to the Bush administration a new plan for dealing with Al Qaida? Or was he, along with the rest of the NSC staff and the counterterrorism group working on the NSPD that was eventually produced in September without any complaint that things had to be done before that time?
POWELL: To the best of my knowledge -- and I'll ask Deputy Secretary Armitage to comment on this because he was so intimately involved -- is that in the early part of the seven-month period and then coming to sort of a climax in April, we started to pull together the various threads of a new policy. But I'm not aware of a specific new plan that had been put forward.
Dr. Rice had asked for a comprehensive study to be done of everything that we were doing up to that point from the previous administration, any new ideas that would come along. But I'm not aware of a specific new plan that was presented for consideration by the principals for action by the National Security Council.
ARMITAGE: I did not see a plan either.
But it's quite clear, Governor, that Dick Clarke, who participated in most of the DCs -- deputies committee meetings in which I participated, was quite impatient and was pushing the process quite well.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, taking into account both your military background and your present diplomatic position, in your opinion would military aid to the Northern Alliance during the period February, 1991, to September, 1991, have prevented 9/11?
THOMPSON: Would more frequent principals meetings in that period or more small group meetings in that period have prevented 9/11?
POWELL: No, and I'm not quite sure I followed the rationale between more meetings and preventing 9/11. We met constantly. It wasn't always at principals level. But there was no lack of communication between the principals. There was no lack of exchange of information and data.
I was briefed every morning by my intelligence people. So were all of the other principals. The president got daily briefings from the director of Central Intelligence, and we consulted with each other about all of these issues. So I don't think it was a lack of meetings that resulted in 9/11, if that's the suggestion.
THOMPSON: In your opinion, would an invasion of Afghanistan, between February of '91, and September of '91, prevented 9/11?
POWELL: I can't answer that, but I can say that those who were perpetrators of 9/11, who were actually going to conduct the attacks of 9/11, already had their instructions, had their plans in place, and they were in the process of infiltrating themselves into the United States, or they were already here.
And invading Afghanistan and cutting off the head, if you succeeded in getting Osama bin Laden and disrupting Al Qaida at that point, I have no reason to believe that would have caused them to abort their plans.
THOMPSON: In fact, NATO is in Afghanistan today, and yet everyone who has testified before this commission or been interviewed by this commission still fears that we may yet suffer another attack on our own soil. Is that not correct?
POWELL: That's correct. Al Qaida has tentacles in many different parts of the world. We've been very successful. We've eliminated a significant portion of the senior leadership that we knew about. This does not eliminate the entire organization, and it is not the only organization that means us ill.
THOMPSON: Let me take you back to the time you took office, early in 1991. Would you give us a summary version of the most pressing foreign policy issues that the nation, in your opinion, faced -- how you rank them, and where counterterrorism fit into this order of priority.
POWELL: There's no question that counterterrorism was in the top tier on this list. It's very difficult to rank order them because they just come rushing at you, and you have to deal with them as they come. I would say the Middle East peace problem was right there, one of the top ones.
The discussions that President Clinton and Ms. Albright, Dr. Albright, were having with the Palestinians and Israelis had essentially fallen apart just before inauguration. In fact, President Clinton and I spoke about it on his last day in his office that afternoon of January 19th and expressed his disappointment that it didn't work. So that was a top one.
Sanctions were falling apart with respect to Iraq, and we had to arrest that collapse of the sanctions policy. We're interested in a new relationship, what our relationship would be with Russia, with China.
And so lots of things press in, and you have to deal with all of them. But there's no doubt that counterterrorism and terrorism was high on that list. The very reason the very first briefing I got was on terrorism, and Dr. Albright, Secretary Albright, certainly made clear that she thought it was a high priority. I was announced on Saturday the 16th and the very next day Sunday the 17th, I met with Dr. Albright at her home for the first time to start talking about these issues.
THOMPSON: In May of 1991, you testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and you said: In my first three months, I'm very satisfied with the level of interagency coordination and cooperation. And you made specific reference to the FBI and the CIA.
Now, I realize you're only on the job three months at that time. But in light what we've all heard since that time about the difficulties in getting the FBI and the CIA together on the issue of Al Qaida, do you think you were being a little optimistic about the degree of coordination?
POWELL: I was getting a steady stream of information from Director Tenet. I read the same thing the president ready every morning, and the PDD, as its known and you're well familiar with it. And the PDD regularly talked about terrorist activities. My own intelligence operation, I&R, fed me with a steady stream.
I met on a regular basis -- occasional basis -- regular basis with Director Freeh, had access to FBI information. So I didn't feel that there was a lack of coordination or a lack of communications and interchange between the principals.
THOMPSON: All of us, I'm sure, have the strong desire to prevent another Afghanistan. And there are places in the world, are there not, Mr. Secretary, either in Africa or Southeast Asia that present that threat?
THOMPSON: Would you tell us, please, what the administration and you are doing both diplomatically and militarily to head off this threat of another Afghanistan?
POWELL: Right after 9/11, even before 9/11, we started to work with the countries of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, we knew, would be an important nation in this regard. And after 9/11, we put a full court press on all of the nations of Central Asia not only for access for our troops to do their work in Afghanistan, but to create new relations with them.
And all of them have expressed a desire to have a friendly relationship and, in some cases, a partnership with the United States. And we did this very sensitive to Russia's concerns about the United States being in that part of the world. But we were able to persuade the Russians, over time, that we had a common enemy in terrorism, and they should not fear the United States having these kinds of relations with Central Asian nations.
We also looked at some of the nations in Africa; for example, Somalia, which was without a government. Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm sure he'll testify to this, has been looking at our footprint around the world to see how best we can deploy our forces to deal with those nations of the world and those regions of the world that have the potential as serving as safe havens for terrorist activities.
For example, we have a presence in Djibouti now that we didn't have previously, because we're concerned about the possibility of terrorists finding safe havens in that part of the world. And so I think we have, through our diplomatic efforts, our intelligence efforts and our military footprinting, been very sensitive to the need to get ahead of the terrorists and to dry up these fertile places. Part of our public diplomacy effort goes to this effort as well.
THOMPSON: One last question...
ARMITAGE: If I may...
THOMPSON: Yes, go ahead, Mr. Armitage.
ARMITAGE: There's one other element that the Secretary has made a big part of our policy at the Department of State. And that is that a big portion of our assistance programs for almost every country is in good governance and democracy, because you're not going to have a failed state, we feel, if you have good, transparent governance and democracy.
It's not that it's new. I think the amount of attention, the amount of money going to it is new and it's raised.
THOMPSON: Prior to September 11th, would it have been possible either for the Clinton administration or the Bush administration to say to either the Saudis or the Pakistanis, as the President did after September 11th: You're either with us or against us.
POWELL: It's not clear how you would have communicated such a message and under what set of circumstances. What would you have been saying to the Pakistanis at that point that would have persuaded them that it was a choice they had to make?
After 9/11, it was clear to the Pakistanis that we were going to take action against Al Qaida. And if that included taking action against the Taliban, if that included going into Afghanistan and removing that regime, we were going to do it.
POWELL: And what we were essentially saying at that point: You've got to be with us. And I think without that kind of imperative, 9/11 plus the fact that we were determined to invade a country if that's what it took to get rid of this threat, I'm not sure you would have gotten the kind of response from the Pakistanis that we got on the 14th of September.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
KEAN: Commissioner Gorelick?
GORELICK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Secretary Powell and Secretary Armitage for being here today.
Secretary Powell, it has been my pleasure over 25 years to have worked with you in two Democratic administrations. Just to protect you, I will note for the record you were in uniform.
So it's my pleasure to have the opportunity to question you today.
I'd like to return to some questions Governor Thompson asked you at the outset. And they have to do with the appropriate role of the National Security Council in an area like terrorism and particularly whether it is mostly a policy-making body as it seems to have been in the policy-making process leading up to NSPD-9 directed to counterterrorism or whether it has an operational role as well. And you have been, I would say candidly dismissive of the notion that more meetings would have been helpful.
But I would note that by putting off until the perfect policy was in place a decision on flying the Predator, a decision on arming the Northern Alliance, a decision on a response to the Cole, there were operational implications to this, in fairness, prolonged policy-making process. There are gaps of six weeks between deputies committee meetings as this process unfolds.
And then during what has been called the summer of threat where you have the CIA director running around with his hair on fire, you all, the Cabinet, was never summoned to the White House to talk.
Now, as I take it, your view is it wouldn't have made a difference. And Dick Clarke has said, well actually during the millennium process, it did make a difference.
So I'd like to ask you were you aware, for example, that within your department, visas were being issued to the plotters of 9/11 when these individuals in your consulate had no information from the CIA or the FBI that these were bad actors? Were you aware that your tip-off list, which had lists of terrorists who should be prevented from coming into this country, were not being given to the FAA so that the same people wouldn't fly on our aircraft.
Did you sit at a meeting with the attorney general and say to him, "Have you turned over every rock in your FBI so that I know how to respond as secretary of state to these threats?"
POWELL: I wasn't being dismissive of meetings as not being useful. I was saying that there are many ways to communicate besides just having principals meetings. I could see the need for an almost daily meeting when I think of the Y2K situation just before New Years Eve when the whole world was sort of abuzz as to what was going to happen. That truly was a time that made me want to meet every single day.
But we were not dismissive and did not fail to deal with issues like Predator or Northern Alliance. The Predator was not ready as a weapon during the early months of 2001.
Toward the latter part of that 7-month period, more information became available as to the capacity and the capabilities of the Predator as an armed weapon, and we all became more involved in it. And it was moved along at very, very rapid speed through the development process, almost through a Skunkworks process. And it was used as soon as it was available.
So having lots of principals meetings about whether the Predator was or was not armed wouldn't have served any particular purpose, because that isn't the mechanism by which the Predator was being examined for use. The best...
GORELICK: Let me follow up...
POWELL: ... if I just may, Ms. Gorelick. The NSC is principally a coordinating body, coordinating the development of policy. And in a crisis atmosphere the NSC system also becomes somewhat operational as it pulls people together to deal with a crisis.
GORELICK: Well, I would note that it was operational, but only at the CSG level which is, in most institutions and most organizations in the government, 2, 3, 4 levels down.
Let me just follow up very quickly on the Predator. The Predator had been used as a surveillance technique -- well it hadn't been used, it had been tested up until the end of the Clinton administration. And then it literally was sat on the ground until it could be armed. Did you consider using it, as it had been used in Kosovo, to survey and then cue laser guided missiles or other arms not on the Predator?
POWELL: You'll have to direct the question to Secretary Rumsfeld and Mr. Tenet, but my understanding is that it was used for reconnaissance purposes in the fall of 2000. And then during the winter season, it was brought back to the United States for work and to start to determine its capability to handle a weapon.
POWELL: There was a time lag between the ability of the Predator to find something on the ground and then to deliver an ordnance from somewhere far away like a cruise missile from one of the submarines or ships at sea. So there wasn't a direct action link in real time between: There's a target; hit it. That's what the Hellfire did. It gave you an immediate response. And it was not available until the fall of 2001.
GORELICK: I will direct that question to later witnesses.
POWELL: On the Northern Alliance, since you raised it, the opinion of our group in whatever form it took this opinion was that the Northern Alliance only controlled a small portion of Afghanistan at this point. It had been pretty beaten up. It was involved in some activities that we had some serious reservations about. And we did not feel that at that time during that period, it was ready for a massive infusion of American assistance and what it would have done with such a massive infusion.
We didn't think it had the capability to march on Kabul or to take down the Taliban. And that was a judgment. It wasn't a judgment deferred. It was a judgment made at that time. Things changed after 9/11 when were actually going to put people in with the Northern Alliance to give them the kind of capability that they ultimately acquired with our people.
GORELICK: And in that regard...
POWELL: On visas, the 19 individuals who got into the United States, it was nothing in the databases until the summer of 2001 when two of them were identified to us and we immediately took action against the visas that had allowed them into the country.
But otherwise, these individuals would not have tripped anyone's database. There were discrepancies on the forms they filled out. They were not the kinds of discrepancies that said to you, "This is a terrorist." And they easily corrected those errors on the application forms and resubmitted them. And there was nothing in our consolidated database that would have said, "Don't let these individuals in the country because they're terrorists."
GORELICK: And it's just those, sort of, gaps that I personally believe can be addressed by having all the relevant parties in the room in a state where there is an emergency. I do want to go on, though.
I was struck by your candid, very candid statement of the degree to which you were apprised of the terrorist risk when you took office and really seized with it. But as I go back and I look at what President Bush listed as his priorities for your department, I think on the day actually that your selection was announced, there were Russia, NATO, China, alliances in the Far East, our hemisphere, the Middle East and Iraq.
And then when I look at Condi Rice's piece in foreign affairs describing essentially the Bush campaign's view of the world, it barely mentions terrorism. So I guess my question is: Are you saying that your personal priorities were different from that of the administration's?
POWELL: No, I think the terrorism threat and counterterrorism was a priority of the president. If you look at his Citadel speech, while he was still a candidate, in the campaign he touched on it. And throughout the early months and increasingly as got to the end of the year, he focused more and more on the intelligence information that he was being provided by Director Tenet. I think you'll hear from Director Tenet that a significant percentage of the items in the daily PDD dealt with terrorism.
GORELICK: What percentage of your time do you think you've spent on terrorism before 9/11?
POWELL: I really don't know that I can make such a calculation. It was embedded in almost everything we were doing, but I don't know that I could tell you what percentage of time I spent on that one issue and probably couldn't tell you what percentage of time I spent on any other issue you ask me about.
GORELICK: I know it's a difficult question.
Our staff statement notes that the national intelligence estimate described our enemy, in terms of terrorism, as "Islamic extremists angry at the United States."
And so I was struck by the fact that the national strategy for combating terrorism, which was issued last February of '03, doesn't have a single word -- a single word -- about jihadists or Islamic extremists. And it looks at terrorism as the enemy, but terrorism is a tool. It is not an enemy in itself; it's a tool. And really, our enemy is quite distinguishable.
And you have been in this business, the national security business, for your entire life. So my question to you is: Doesn't a strategy which blinks a reality like that doom us to failure? Don't we have to be focused on who the enemy is and have a strategy focused on getting that enemy?
POWELL: The enemy is not terrorism; it's terrorists. They're individuals, real, live people out there who mean us ill.
And we have studied them, we've designated them, put them on foreign terrorist lists, we've gone after them. We have gone after those countries diplomatically and militarily that support these kinds of terrorist organizations.
So I think we have a clear understanding of what we are going after, whether it's Abu Sayyaf, whether it's Hezbollah, whether it is Al Qaida.
We have been working with friends around the world who are participating in this campaign against terrorism, whether it's President Uribe, who is here today, and the terrorist organizations he is fighting, or whether it's with President Arroyo and the terrorist organizations she is fighting in the Philippines.
And so, it is not some esoteric term "terrorism." It's people we're after, terrorists, and they are the enemy.
GORELICK: And would you agree that our principal adversary right now is Islamic extremists and jihadists?
POWELL: I would say that they are the source of most of the terrorist threats that we are facing.
POWELL: They fuel those individuals and organizations such as Al Qaida and Hezbollah. But principally Al Qaida right now, I would say, continues to be the number one organization we have to concern ourselves with.
GORELICK: Your predecessor, who testified a few minutes ago, said that she issued a demarche, a threat, to the Taliban before the Cole, saying: If you permit people within your borders to do us harm, you will face very serious consequences. By which, she indicated she meant at least to consider military responses.
And yet, after the Cole, all we did was issue another demarche. Weren't you afraid that we would be viewed as having issued an empty threat?
POWELL: We, also, issued demarches to the Taliban. One has to be careful on issuing such threats, but one also has to be mindful that it's one thing to issue a threat, but if you don't have something targetable to go after -- and it was not the plan in the previous administration, it was not part of our early plans, to go after the entire Taliban regime. We were focusing on Al Qaida and Taliban support of Al Qaida. We wanted to go after Al Qaida.
And so yes one has to be careful about issuing demarches and threats that you don't have the ability to follow up on with a full range of actions.
That's one of the reasons that, as we went through this process of strategy developed throughout that 7-month period, we came to the conclusion that the answer had to be the elimination of Al Qaida and the threat posed by Al Qaida. But every...
GORELICK: But you had the -- pardon me, I'm sorry. You had the Cole hanging out there. They had dome grievous harm to us, and we had previously threatened them with a response. And yet there was no response. Did you consider what to do in that intervening period to respond to the Cole?
POWELL: We did not take under advisement, or take into account, during that period, the kinds of actions we were prepared to take after 9/11, because we knew that Al Qaida was responsible, but it wasn't clear how we could get at Al Qaida in a way that would destroy Al Qaida. And we had not yet reached the point of saying we're going to have to take down the Taliban regime. That came later.
GORELICK: One question. I was struck by your emphasis on the continuity from the Clinton administration and the number of people you carried forward and, frankly, the number of policies that you carried forward up until September 11th.
And I found it to be -- and I'd just ask you for a comment on this -- a marked contrast to the rather pointed criticisms from Condoleezza Rice of the Clinton administration policies.
GORELICK: She has given speeches. She has been on the airwaves essentially saying that the policies that she inherited and that you inherited were bankrupt, that they were feckless, that there was no response.
And yet, you have made, I think, a singular point here this morning of saying that up until September 11th, most of them were continued at least until you completed this policy review and then in my observation, the policies that you, indeed, adopted as a principals committee on September 4th were actually following the trajectory of where the Clinton administration had been. Would you care to comment on that?
POWELL: We took advantage of the expertise that existed with the individuals I listed to include Dick Clarke. But, in fact, the policy of the previous administration had not eliminated Al Qaida. It's a tough, tough target as Dr. Albright said earlier.
And so we came in, kept many of these people in place. Over time as we gained from their expertise and realized it was time to make a change, we brought in new people in diplomatic security, brought in a new director of I&R, brought in new people in our counterterrorism branch and in other parts of the administration.
So we eventually brought in our people. And I think that the policy that we came to and which was decided upon at that September 4th principals meeting does take us to a new level of engagement and then a new level of determination to eliminate this threat. And it reflected the kinds of discussions and judgments that were made by the deputies and the crisis group, the counterterrorism group, early in the year. And it did take us to a new level that said not just rollback but eliminate. And there is a clear distinction between what was going on at the end of the previous administration and what we are now prepared to do on the 4th of September.
GORELICK: Well, if I had more time, I would pursue that with you, but I thank you for your testimony today.
KEAN: Just one brief question. You've been around government a long time and a number of administrations. Based on that experience, the period from March to August 2001, was that an exceptionally long time to develop a new policy of the kind of complexity of the president's policy on Al Qaida?
POWELL: Not really. It was a complex issue, and it's not as if we were not doing anything but sitting around working on NSPD. We were reaching out to Uzbekistan. We were continuing to work with Pakistan. We were engaged diplomatically. We were following up on various U.N. actions that had been taken.
And so there was work going on. Ms. Gorelick made reference to visas. We were in the process of reviewing our visa policy. We had the tip-off system, but it was not really serving the full intended purpose. It was going to be the basis of the Terrorist Threat Information Center that came later.
POWELL: And so there were many things that were going on and not just everybody standing still waiting for an NSPD to be finished.
Keep in mind that we dealt with the issue of what's the status of the Predator, what's the status of the Northern Alliance.
And you may want to add a word to that, Rich.
ARMITAGE: Thank you.
The development of this, what we consider to be a comprehensive policy, was one that the members who are sitting on the commission who served on Capitol Hill will recognize the complexities of.
Some of the things we had to do in order to move forward with Pakistan involved removing an unbelievable number of sanctions, which are put on by people with very strong views on Capitol Hill. We were already in the process of working that out. That does not happen in a week. The same is true of India, who are under sanctions.
So as the secretary said, we weren't just sitting around.
Now, the question of the Northern Alliance has come up several times, and people wonder why it was so hard to come to a decision. Well, beyond the drug dealing that they did, well, that caused us some trouble. Beyond the human rights tragedy that they inflicted in the 1996 time period, that took us a little time to get over.
It's not sufficient to be the enemy of our enemy to be our friend. To be our friend you have to share or be willing to at least embrace to some extent our values, and that's why the question of the Northern Alliance wasn't an easy one. It was a tough one.
KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste?
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Secretary Powell, for your testimony here today and for your dedicated service to our country. As you know, I have long been a personal admirer of yours, and thank you again for your commitment in service.
Secretary Armitage, the administration has asked that you be allowed to testify tomorrow in place of Condoleezza Rice. No one could suggest that her role is not central to our inquiry and that her knowledge is different from yours, as she was a direct liaison between the president and the CIA and the FBI on issues directly relevant to our inquiry.
That is why the commission unanimously requested that Dr. Rice appear. The only reason the administration has advanced for refusing to make Dr. Rice available is a separation of powers argument, that presidential advisers ought not have to appear before the Congress.
I would call to your attention a report by the Congressional Research Service dated April 5th, 2002, well before the controversy arose about Dr. Rice's appearance.
BEN-VENISTE: In that report, there are many precedents involving presidential advisers. Lloyd Cutler, counsel to President Carter, testified, came up to Congress to answer questions. Zbigniew Brzezinski, assistant to the president for national security affairs, appeared in 1980. Samuel Berger appeared to the president as a deputy assistant to the president for national security in May of 1994. He reappeared in his function as national security adviser in September of 1997. John Podesta, chief of staff to President Clinton, and several others in the Clinton administration, have appeared before congressional committees. And I may add that after this report was prepared, Governor Ridge appeared before two committees of the Congress.
So I would ask, Mr. Armitage, without any disparagement of your service or of your knowledge, that when you leave here today, you advise the administration of this report. I've got an extra copy for you to take with you.
We ask again in all seriousness that Dr. Rice appear.
Secretary Powell, let me ask you this, I'd like to turn your attention to the immediate events after 9/11. You were in Peru on that day. You flew back. It must have been a dreadfully painful experience on several levels, not the least of which was your inability to communicate during that long trip back.
Thereafter, you met with members of the Cabinet and the president at Camp David. And my friend, Secretary Lehman, has brought up the subject of Iraq with Secretary Albright.
You and I met with other members of the commission on the 21st of January of this year. On that occasion, you advised us of a full-day meeting on Saturday, September 15th, in which the question of striking Iraq was discussed. You advised us that the deputy secretary of defense advanced the argument that Iraq was the source of the problem and that the United States should launch an attack on Iraq forthwith. You advised us that Secretary Wolfowitz was unable to justify that position.
Have I accurately described your recollection of what occurred?
POWELL: There was a meeting of the National Security Council that Mr. Wolfowitz also attended on that day at Camp David, as you describe. There was a full day of discussions on the situation that we found ourselves in, who was responsible for it.
And as part of that full day of discussion, Iraq was discussed. And Secretary Wolfowitz raised the issue of whether or not Iraq should be considered for action during this time.
And after fully discussing all sides of the issue, as I think it is appropriate for such a group to do, the president made a tentative decision that afternoon -- I would call it a tentative decision -- that we ought to focus on Afghanistan because it was clear to us at that point that Al Qaida was responsible, the Taliban was harboring Al Qaida and that that should be the objective of any action we were to take.
He did not dismiss Iraq as a problem. But he said: First things first, we will examine all of the sources of terrorism directed against the United States and the civilized world, but we'll start with Afghanistan.
Now, he confirmed that over the next couple of days in meetings we had with him. And when he came back down from Camp David and we met on Monday, he made it a firm decision and gave us all instructions as to how to proceed. And then he announced that to the nation later in the week.
And so he heard arguments, as he should, from all members of his administration on the different alternatives. I think this is what a president would expect us to do, and he decided on Afghanistan.
BEN-VENISTE: Excuse me, you have characterized Secretary Wolfowitz...
KEAN: Last question.
BEN-VENISTE: ... Secretary Wolfowitz's position as whether or not we ought to attack Iraq. Is it not the case that he advocated for an attack on Iraq?
POWELL: He presented the case for Iraq and whether or not it should be considered along with Afghanistan at this time. I can't recall whether he said "instead of Afghanistan." We all knew that Afghanistan was where Al Qaida was.
BEN-VENISTE: Was there any concrete basis upon which that recommendation was founded, in your view, to attack Iraq for 9/11?
POWELL: Secretary Wolfowitz was deeply concerned about Iraq being a source of terrorist activity. You will have a chance to talk to him directly about...
BEN-VENISTE: I've asked for your view, with all due respect, Secretary Powell.
POWELL: With all due respect, I don't think I should characterize what Mr. Wolfowitz's view were.
BEN-VENISTE: No, I asked for your view. In your view, was there a basis?
POWELL: My view was that we listened to all the arguments at Camp David that day, and Mr. Wolfowitz felt that Iraq should be considered as part of this problem having to do with terrorism. And he wanted us to consider whether or not it should be part of any military action that we were getting ready to take.
We all heard the argument fully. We asked questions back and forth. And where the president came down was that Afghanistan was the place that we had to attack because the world and the American people would not understand if we didn't go after the source of the 9/11 terrorists.
BEN-VENISTE: I'm out of time. And I'm just going to listen to my chairman.
KERREY: Well, Mr. Secretary, to both of you and Secretary Armitage, I would prefer that Dr. Rice would be here tomorrow, but Dick you would be a fabulous national security adviser. You would be a dynamite one.
So that said, let me say that, with great respect, I'm having difficulty with, you know, we spent eight months developing a plan because I don't think that's the central problem here. And my recollection of the presidential campaign, and by the way, my history, my actions in presidential campaigns were kept intact in 2000. I supported the loser in the primary so my memory may not be very good.
But I don't recall terrorism being much if even an issue at all in the 2000 campaign, in part, even though it was on the policy- maker's minds, they were aware of the threat, they were aware of what's going on, but I just don't recall it being a driving force in either one of the campaigns.
Maybe I've got that wrong, but I don't think so.
And I think the central problem, Mr. Secretary, is something that all three of us have dealt with from time to time and that was the use of military force in dealing with Al Qaida.
I said earlier to Secretary Albright, I think it was one of the big mistakes of the Clinton administration. In fact, I think it was also a fault of the Bush administration. Although I'm sympathetic that the secretary of defense was not a primary actor in the war on terrorism. Indeed, striking, his recollection of the briefings on Al Qaida were considerably different than yours. His recollection may be different when he's testifying.
But it wasn't as clear and shouldn't be because under presidential directive 62, which was signed by President Clinton in '98, that presidential directive didn't give the Department of Defense a primary role in the war on terrorism. It just didn't in counterterrorism activity.
And I've read the cautionary concern that General Zinni had, who was CINC of CENTCOM at the time and other military leaders. I've had, in twelve years experience in the United States Senate, many times I walk out wondering if I voted the right way. And among those moments was Desert Storm I, where I'm relatively certain today that I did vote the wrong way.
But it came from a concern for bodybags coming home and would we be able to sustain the political effort. And I was likewise concerned about Bosnia, ended up supporting the effort in Bosnia and Kosovo.
But those who say we shouldn't be skeptical or concerned about use of military force, I think have got it wrong. We should be. We should, it seems to me, always wonder.
But I wonder if you see it that way. I mean I wonder if you see that if you look at from '93 when World Trade Center I was hit the first time and through September of 2001, Al Qaida never suffered a military response from us, never -- other than on August 20th, which was a relatively small military attack, a very limited military attack with absolutely no anticipation of boots on the ground of being involved.
And I'm just wondering, I appreciate that I'm asking a question as if you were secretary of defense, secretary of state, national security adviser and perhaps even president, not just secretary of state.
But I wonder if you see it that way, as well, that our reluctance to give the secretary of defense and the military a more prominent role in counterterrorism efforts contributed to our lack of preparation.
KERREY: The bottom line for me is it just pains me to have to say that on the 11th of September that 19 men and less a half a million dollars defeated every single defensive mechanism we had in place -- utterly. It wasn't even a close call. They defeated everything we had in place on 11 September, with hardly, it seems to me, any doubt about their chance of success.
And I'll just stop there and give you a chance to tell me what you think went wrong.
POWELL: Let me speak to our administration, and I'll speak more generally to get to the heart of the question. I think, in our deliberations and our meetings -- and Mr. Armitage may wish to speak to this -- the Pentagon was starting to develop plans. It was looking at contingencies that it might have to deal with. And you can pursue this with Secretary Rumsfeld this afternoon.
But in this whole period, to say that use military force to get Al Qaida when it wasn't going to be a surgical strike -- anybody who thinks that Osama bin Laden might just be laying around somewhere and you can go pick him up; well, maybe. Good luck. But that's a wish, not a strategy or not a military action.
So you would have had, really, to go after Al Qaida by going after the Taliban, and that meant invading another country. And it meant invading another country without the support of any of the surrounding countries where you would need some access to get there.
And so I don't know that in this period from '93 through the summer of 2001 you had a sufficient political base and sufficient political understanding, both here and in the international community, that would have given you a basis for saying that we know enough about Al Qaida, we know enough about the Taliban, that we are going in to invade this country and remove this threat.
KERREY: Can I respond to that?
KEAN: Just a minute response.
KERREY: Yes, just a minute response -- because Secretary Albright said the same thing. And I was there in '91 when you and former President Bush and Secretary Cheney went to the world and persuaded the world that we needed to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.
Public opinion wasn't on your side either when you began. Public opinion wasn't on the side of President Clinton when he suggested that we needed to intervene in Bosnia. It wasn't on the side of the administration when they decided to intervene in Kosovo.
It's rare that public opinion is on the side of a president or political leader when it comes to using military force, except after the fact.
So, it does seem to me to be in many ways sort of a straw man position to say: Gee it would have been exceptionally difficult. Yes, it would have been exceptionally difficult. But, history's replete of examples where political leaders made a decision in spite of public opinion being on the other side, and saying, "I've got the persuade people because I see it being an urgent necessity."
POWELL: I don't think that, in the case of Al Qaida and Afghanistan during this period, it rose to that level of urgent necessity, that the people thought that we've got to go do this now, even if it includes major invasion of a country without the support of any of the surrounding countries.
Do we have a sufficient cause and justification to undertake such action? And previous administration can speak for itself. They've spoken for themselves, they said they didn't see it. And frankly in our first 7 months in office, as we looked at this we realized that it might come to that. That's the realization that we come to.
And you come to these kinds of realizations after a great deal of study and debate. You don't walk in on the first day and say we have decided this is what has to be done.
So we discussed it with all of the experts who were in the previous administration and stayed over. We then brought in our new people. Mr. Armitage came in after 2 months. General Taylor came over after a while. A lot of people came in, and we put together a more comprehensive policy and we reached the conclusion in early September that it might come to that and we have to understand that we might have to go in and take this kind of large-scale military action if that was the only way to eliminate this threat.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer -- I'm sorry.
ARMITAGE: The record I have of our discussions in the deputies, in the July time frame where we began to discuss actually using military measures if all the rest was not successful, that's a long way from having a plan, a military plan, but these were things that as the secretaries indicated, we talked about, we debated, and we realized eventually we were going to have to have in our quiver.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to both of you, Secretary Powell and Secretary Armitage, thank you again for your service and your time.
I join in the wide chorus of praise for you, Mr. Secretary, and your career, both in public service, but also in the private sector when you were trying to get the American people more engaged in volunteer service.
Let me pick somebody else who joins in that praise of you that is widely condemning almost everybody else in the Bush administration for not acting quickly enough on terrorism.
Richard Clarke in his new book, on page 228, says, "Colin Powell took the unusual steps, during the transition, of asking to meet with the CSG, the Counterterrorism Security Group, took notes, and was surprised at the unanimity of the recommendations and the threat of Al Qaida. He paid careful attention and asked Mr. Armitage to follow up on it." Very blunt, very praiseworthy, very complimentary of your understanding the problem.
In that PowerPoint presentation that he made to you, he in fact said, they're here. One of the slides said that Al Qaida was in the United States.
Doesn't that in fact say two things: one, that nine months is too long to act. You have to take some immediate steps. And two, if you're going to go from a rollback strategy to an elimination strategy, if you're going to go from swatting flies to exterminating the flies, you've got to have something to exterminate them with, whether it's Predator, Northern Alliance, aid to Uzbekistan, covert operations -- you have to be taking some of these actions.
ROEMER: The USS Cole, why didn't we take at least some of those actions in the meantime as this nine-month bottom-up review took place?
POWELL: I don't remember the specific PowerPoint slide. I didn't turn to Mr. Armitage because he wasn't there yet. He didn't show up for another two months.
And if Mr. Clarke was aware...
ROEMER: Well, just to clear the record, he later asked Rich Armitage to...
POWELL: Thank you. Yes.
ROEMER: ... to get involved.
POWELL: But there were others working for me at the time that I asked. And the time that he gave me the briefing, I was not the secretary of state. This administration was not in office.
And if, according to this slide, Mr. Clarke and the members of the previous administration who were briefing me that day -- this was the 20th of December, a month before inauguration -- if they were aware that Al Qaida representatives were already in the country running around and knew that, and knew that these 19 -- if that's the reference in that passage -- they were running around inside the country, the obligation frankly is on them, not why didn't we do something beginning a month later.
Why hadn't they done something while they were preparing the PowerPoint presentation?
And so I haven't read that section of the book.
ROEMER: That's certainly in our questions to Mr. Clarke tomorrow. Because he's a sworn participant tomorrow for over two hours, we intend to ask him many of those questions.
Today, as the Bush administration moved forward from January on, why not exercise some of these options?
POWELL: The options were not options. There was no option for an armed Predator. The armed Predator did not exist.
ROEMER: Recon Predator.
POWELL: The recon Predator -- it was analyzed very carefully -- and I think Director Tenet will be speaking about this -- that it was a waste of the asset at that point to have it fly around and become identified and its pattern of operation, method of operation become known to those on the ground who it was looking for. And the Taliban did have some aircraft that might have been capable of going up and taking the Predator down.
A judgment was made that since we couldn't use the reconnaissance information from the Predator to immediately target that which the Predator found, let's not give away its signature and other aspects of its operational capability until we could do that.
POWELL: And it was a crash effort all during 2001, the first seven months of this administration, to get it armed. And it was armed in September. And as soon as it was armed, as soon as it was tested, we knew what it could do, it was used. And it was used effectively, and it was used repeatedly.
The Northern Alliance question we've answered. This was not a force that had the capability to take down the Taliban or to remove Al Qaida's presence in Afghanistan. And as Secretary Armitage just described, we had significant issues that we had to work our way through. And it took time to work our way through these issues and to do it in a way that did not offend other tribes or other groups within Afghanistan, that might have taken a dim view of what we were doing with the Northern Alliance.
ROEMER: But, Mr. Secretary, then this elimination of Al Qaida was a three- or five-year process. It was not anything that was going to take place anytime soon.
POWELL: I think Mr. Clarke says that he saw it as a three- to five-year process. It was not a matter of, okay, fine, I want to eliminate Al Qaida, so tomorrow morning I'm going to go do it.
Al Qaida does not quite present that kind of a target to you. You have to work diplomatically, politically, law enforcement, get inside the financing of Al Qaida and similar organizations, ultimately to bring them down and to put them on the run.
ROEMER: Thank you Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman. Senator Gorton.
GORTON: Mr. Secretary, you weren't able to read your entire statement, but I think your conclusion, which was both thoughtful and frightening, deserves to be on the oral record as well as in the written record, and it does lead to my one question.
You say, "the fundamental is this: Sometimes you can do almost everything right, and still suffer grievous losses from terrorist attacks. The recent train bombings in Spain demonstrate this tragic but inescapable fact. Spanish authorities were well prepared. Spain's highly capable security forces were on high alert, and security had been increased across the country. In fact, several weeks earlier, they had apprehended terrorists with a truck load of explosives. Nonetheless, and despite all their best efforts and precautions, Spain still suffered these horrific attacks that produced such terrible casualties. Before this war is won, there will be more such attacks."
Now, the fact that we don't like to talk about, in public, for fear of what consequences it might have, is the fact that we have now gone for 2.5 years in the United States without an Islamic extremist successful terrorist attack here. We have prevented some, but in a sense, nothing has happened.
I'd like you to give me your opinion, to the extent that you feel able to do so, of the reasons for that.
How much of it is blind luck? How much of it is the fact that we've hardened targets? How much of it is the fact or the proposition that we have more effective intelligence and prevention than we did before 9/11? How much is due to the fact that we have attacked the sources, the physical sources? And how much of it is due to the fact that all of these things together may simply not have ended terrorism, obviously it did not, but simply displaced it, to Indonesia, to Morocco, to Turkey, to Saudi Arabia, to Spain, to places in which the targets are easier and softer?
POWELL: Sir, we are still vulnerable, and we should accept that, and we'll always be vulnerable as long as we are a free and open society.
But we have done a number of things that I hope have deterred attacks, made it harder for people to plot against the United States and have perhaps scared them into thinking, "Well, we wouldn't be as successful as we might have been a couple of years ago": the creation of the Department of Homeland Security; the manner in which we took the tip-off database that Ms. Gorelick spoke about and have now used it to create a much larger database, and we're pulling all the FBI, CIA, State Department databases into one system; the fact that we have changed our visa policies significantly -- we're now starting to fingerprint people coming into the country and getting a better ID on them; the fact that we have done a lot of work on our borders; the fact that we have the Transportation Security Administration, does a better job of looking at who's coming into the country at our airports and other places of entry and points of entry.
So I hope that these defensive measures we have taken are deterring attacks and are giving people who might come after us pause, "Is there not a better place that we can go and conduct one of these terrible attacks and make the same point to the world about our philosophy and our evil intent." And maybe that's why they have gone elsewhere.
I think it also illustrates why nobody is immune and we all have to work together.
And so I hope that as a result of the attack in Spain, the attack in Bali, the attack in Riyadh the attack in so many other places in the world will pull the civilized world together and cause us to do a better job of sharing intelligence information, law enforcement information, financial cooperation and direct action against terrorist organizations.
But I can't give you a measure for each one of these steps, Mr. Gorton. It's just not possible.
And we're still vulnerable. A nation as large as ours, fairly open. And we can't shut down our openness. We cannot be so afraid that we don't let anybody into our country.
It's costing now. We don't let students come to our universities because we're concerned, or they don't want to come to our universities because they are afraid of the difficulty of getting a visa even if they're fully qualified for a visa, or the harassment they sometimes feel at our airports.
So we have to secure the homeland, but we also have to remain a open nation, or the terrorists win.
But I hope that all of the efforts the president has taken over the last couple of years have contributed to our deterrent effect against terrorist activity.
GORTON: So you feel that to a certain extent there has been genuine deterrence, a reduction in it, but also a significant degree of displacement.
POWELL: Well, deterrence for sure. We have made it a lot harder to people to come and move freely about our country. And they knew we're looking for them, and we know that the policies the president has put in place are for the purpose of finding these folks before they get us.
With respect to displacement, we know we have pretty much crippled their ability to work in Afghanistan.
POWELL: I can't say that we've gotten them all. There may be some remnants left.
We also know they're trying to re-create themselves elsewhere. That's why what Secretary Rumsfeld is doing with his footprint of our military forces and what Director Tenet is doing and will speak to you about are so important. We got to chase them and find them wherever they surface in these other places in the world.
ARMITAGE: Probably the best deterrent, Senator, in addition to those that the secretary has mentioned, is about the 500 Al Qaida that have been wrapped up by Pakistan and the dozens who have been killed and arrested by the Saudis, particularly after the May 12th bombings. That's part of deterrence, too. You've got to have the sharp edge or the pointy edge of the spear.
POWELL: Just to put a P.S. on that, some of these organizations, particularly Al Qaida, thought they were getting a free ride in certain places. They have now discovered there's no free ride in Saudi Arabia. And you see what President Musharraf has been doing in recent days in that battle that's taking place up in the tribal areas.
They know they're going to be engaged. And you can be sure they're going to be engaged by Spanish authorities. And so they know there's no longer any impunity associated with their actions. The world, hopefully, is coming together. We must not let the success of some of these actions, such as the Spanish disaster, cause us to back away from the campaign against terrorism. It should cause us to redouble our efforts.
KEAN: Thank you very much Secretary Powell, Deputy Secretary Armitage. Thank you for being with us. We would like to submit you a few more questions for the record. And we look forward to your reply on those.
We're now going to adjourn until 1:30.
I would ask the audience, by the way, before you leave, the Capitol Police have asked us to announce that as people leave the room for lunch, please do not leave bags, packages, unattached things in the room because the Capitol police may take them away and they won't be here when you get back.
So thank you all very much. We'll reconvene promptly at 1:30, audience, and please, the commissioners, be here at that time.
KEAN: OK. I hereby reconvene the hearing. Our next panel will consider the extent to which the U.S. military was used to address the threat of terrorism against the United States during both the Clinton and the Bush administration.
We'll begin with a staff statement on the role of the military, presented by our executive director, Philip Zelikow.
ZELIKOW: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Members of the commission, with your help, your staff has developed initial findings to present to the public on the use of America's armed forces in countering terrorism before the 9/11 attacks.
These findings may help frame some of the issues for this hearing and inform the development of your judgments and recommendations. This report, like the others, reflects the results of our work so far. We remain ready to revise our understanding of these topics as our investigation progresses.
The staff statement represents the collective effort of a number of different members of our staff. Bonnie Jenkins, Michael Hurley, Alexis Albion, Ernest May (ph), and Steve Dunn (ph) did much of the investigative work reflected in this statement.
The Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency have cooperated fully in making available both the documents and interviews that we have needed for our work on this topic.
I am going to skip briefly over the role of the military in counterterrorism strategy, simply noting that in George H.W. Bush's presidency and the early years of the Clinton administration, the Department of Defense was a secondary player in counterterrorism efforts, which focused on the apprehension and rendition of wanted suspects, and move directly to the narrative account of Operation Infinite Reach.
After the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were attacked on August 7th, 1998, President Clinton directed his advisers to consider military options. He and his advisers agreed on a set of targets in Afghanistan.
Let me go to the paragraph on the Sudanese choice: More difficult was the question of whether to strike other Al Qaida targets in Sudan. Two possible targets were identified in Sudan, including a pharmaceutical plant at which the president was told by his aides, they believed VX nerve gas was manufactured with Osama bin Laden's financial support. Indeed, even before the embassy bombings, NSC counterterrorism staff had been warning about this plant.
Yet on August 11th, the NSC staff senior director for intelligence advised National Security Adviser Berger that the bottom line was that we will need much better intelligence on this facility before we seriously consider any options.
By the early morning hours of August 20th, when the president made his decision, his policy advisers concluded that enough evidence had been gathered to justify the strike.
ZELIKOW: The president approved their recommendation on that target while choosing not to proceed with the strike on the other target in Sudan, a business believed to be owned by bin Laden.
DCI Tenet and National Security Advisor Berger told us that. Based on what they know today, they still believe they made the right recommendation and that the president made the right decision. We have encountered no dissenters among his top advisers.
This strike was launched on August 20th. The missiles hit their intended targets, but neither bin Laden or any other terrorist leaders were killed. The decision to destroy the plant in Sudan became controversial. Some at the time argued that the decisions were influenced by domestic political considerations, given the controversies raging at that time.
The staff has found no evidence that domestic political considerations entered into the discussion or the decision-making process. All evidence we have found points to national security considerations as the sole basis for President Clinton's decision.
The impact of the criticism lingered, however, as policy-makers looked to proposals for new strikes. The controversy over the Sudan attack in particular shadowed future discussions about the quality of intelligence that would be needed about other targets -- Operation Infinite Resolve and Plan Delenda (ph).
Senior officials agree that a principal objective of Operation Infinite Reach was to kill Osama bin Laden and that this objective obviously had not been attained.
The initial strikes went beyond targeting bin Laden to damage other camps thought to be supporting his organizations. These strikes were not envisioned as the end of the story.
On August 20th, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton, issued a planning order for the preparation of follow-on strikes. This plan was later code-named Operation Infinite Resolve.
The day after the strikes, the president and his principle advisers apparently began considering follow-on military planning. A few days later, the NSC staff's national coordinator for counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, informed other senior officials that President Clinton was inclined to launch further strikes sooner rather than later.
On August 27th, Undersecretary of Defense Slocombe advised Secretary William Cohen that the available targets were not promising. There was, he said, also an issue of strategy, the need to think of the effort as a long-term campaign. The experience of last week he wrote, quote, "Has only confirmed the importance of defining a clearly articulated rationale for military action," close quote, that was effective as well as justified.
ZELIKOW: Active consideration of follow-on strikes continued into September. In this context, Clarke prepared a paper for a political-military plan he called Delenda (ph) from the Latin, "to destroy." Its military component envisioned an ongoing campaign of regular small strikes occurring from time to time whenever target information was right in order to underscore the message of a concerted, systematic and determined effort to dismantle the infrastructure of the bin Laden terrorist network.
Clarke recognized that individual targets might not have much value, but he wrote to Berger, "We will never again be able to target a leadership conference of terrorists, and that should not be the standard."
Principals repeatedly considered Clarke's proposed strategy. But none of them agreed with it.
Secretary Cohen told us that the camps were primitive, easily constructed facilities with rope ladders. The question was whether it was worth using very expensive missiles to take out what General Shelton called "jungle-gym" training camps. That would not have been seen as very effective.
National Security Adviser Berger and others told us that more strikes, if they failed to kill bin Laden could actually be counterproductive, increasing bin Laden's stature.
These issues need to be viewed, they said, in a wider context. The United States launched air attacks against Iraq at the end of 1998 and against Serbia in 1999, all to widespread criticism around the world. About a later proposal for strikes on targets in Afghanistan, Deputy National Security Adviser James Steinberg noted that it offered, quote "little benefit, lots of blowback against bomb-happy United States," close quote.
In September of 1998, while the follow-on strikes were still being debated among a small group of top advisers, the counterterrorism officials in the office of the secretary of defense were also considering a strategy. Unaware of Clarke's plan, they developed an elaborate proposal for a quote, "more aggressive counterterrorism posture," close quote.
The paper urged defense to, quote, "champion a national effort to take up the gauntlet that international terrorists have thrown at our feet," close quote. Although the terrorist threat had grown, the authors warn that quote, "We have not fundamentally altered our philosophy or our approach," close quote. If there were new horrific attacks, they wrote, that then, quote, "We will have no choice, nor unfortunately will we have a plan," close quote.
They outlined an eight-part strategy to be more proactive and aggressive. The assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, Alan Holmes, brought the paper to Undersecretary Slocombe's chief deputy, Jan Lodel (ph). The paper did not go further. Its lead author recalls being told by Holmes that Lodel (ph) thought it was too aggressive. Holmes cannot recall what was said, and Lodel (ph) cannot remember the episode or the paper at all.
The president and his advisers remain ready to use military action against the terrorist threat. But the urgent interest in launching follow-on strikes had apparently passed by October.
ZELIKOW: The focus shifted to an effort to find strikes that would clearly be effective, to find and target bin Laden himself.
Military planning continues. Though plans were not executed, the military continued to assess and update target lists regularly in case the military was asked to strike. Plans largely centered on cruise missile and manned aircraft strike options and were updated and refined continuously through March 2001.
Several senior Clinton administration officials, including National Security Adviser Berger and the NSC staff's Clarke, told us the President Clinton was interested in additional military options, including the possible use of ground forces. As part of Operation Infinite Resolve, the military produced those options.
We'll skip the next paragraph that details them and go to the relationship of the White House and the Pentagon, which was complex.
As Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, director of operations for the Joint Staff put it, "The military was often frustrated by civilian policy-makers whose requests for military options were too simplistic. For their part, White House officials were often frustrated by what they saw as military unwillingness to tackle the counterterrorism problem."
Skipping the next paragraph, go to General Shelton said that, quote, "Given sufficient actionable intelligence, the military can do the operation," close quote.
But he explained that a tactical operation, if it did not go well, could turn out to be an international embarrassment for the United States.
Shelton and many other military officers and civilian DOD officials we interviewed recalled their memories of episodes such as the failed hostage rescue in Iran in 1980 and the "Black Hawk Down" events in Somalia in 1993.
General Shelton made clear, however, that upon direction from policymakers, the military would proceed with an operation and carry out the order.
Skipping the next paragraph, let's go to the concerns expressed by the commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, CENTCOM, General Anthony Zinni.
Before 9/11, any military action in Afghanistan would be carried out by CENTCOM. The Special Operations Command did not have the lead. It provided forces that could be used in a CENTCOM-led operation.
The views of the key field commander, Cary Greg White (ph): General Zinni told us he did not believe that some of the options his command was ordered to develop would be effective, particularly missile strikes.
Zinni thought a better approach would have been a broad strategy to build up local counterterrorism capabilities in neighboring countries, using military assistance to help country like Uzbekistan. This strategy, he told us, was impeded by a lack of funds and limited interest in countries like Uzbekistan that had dictatorial governments.
Skipping the next paragraph, let's emphasize that military officers explained to us that sending Special Operations Forces into Afghanistan would have been complicated and risky.
ZELIKOW: Such efforts would have required bases in the region, however. The basing options in the region were unappealing. Pro- Taliban elements of Pakistan's military might warn bin Laden or his associates of pending operations.
The rest of the paragraph gives an example of that, but go to the next one: "With nearby basing options limited, an alternative was to fly from ships in the Arabian sea, or from land bases in the Persian Gulf, as was later done after 9/11. Such operations would then have to be supported from long distances, over-flying the airspace of nations that might not be supportive or aware of the U.S. efforts."
Finally, "Military leaders again raise the problem of actionable intelligence, warning that they did not have information about where bin Laden would be by the time forces would be able to strike him. If they were in the region for a long period, perhaps clandestinely, the military might attempt to gather intelligence and wait for an opportunity."
One special operations commander said his view of actionable intelligence was that if you give us the action, we'll give you the intelligence. But this course would be risky, both in light of the difficulties already mentioned, and the danger that U.S. operations might fail disastrously, as in the 1980 Iran rescue failure.
Cruise missiles as the default option. Cruise missiles became the default option because it was the only option left on the table after the rejection of others.
The Tomahawk's long range, lethality and extreme accuracy made it the missile of choice. However, as a means to attack Al Qaida and OBL-linked targets pre-9/11, cruise missiles were problematic. Tomahawk cruise missiles had to be launched after the vessels carrying them moved into position. Once these vessels were in position, there was still an interval as decision makers authorized the strike, the missiles were prepared for firing, and they flew to their targets.
Officials worried that bin Laden might move during these hours, from the place of his last sighting, even if that information had been current. Moreover, General Zinni told commission staff that he had been deeply concerned that cruise missile strikes inside Afghanistan would kill numerous civilians.
The rest of the paragraph offers detail on that, but let's go to the next section -- no actionable intelligence.
The paramount limitations cited by senior officials on every proposed use of military force was the lack of actionable intelligence.
ZELIKOW: By this, they meant precise intelligence on where bin Laden would be and how long he would be there.
National Security Adviser Berger said that there was never a circumstance where the policy-makers thought they had good intelligence, but declined to launch a missile at OBL-linked targets for fear of possible collateral damage. He told us the deciding factor was whether there was actionable intelligence.
If the shot missed bin Laden, the United States would look weak and bin Laden would look strong.
There were frequent reports about bin Laden's whereabouts and activities. The daily reports regularly described where he was, what he was doing and where he might be going. But usually, by the time these descriptions were landing on the desks of DCI Tenet or National Security Adviser Berger, bin Laden had already moved.
Nevertheless, on occasion, intelligence was deemed credible enough to warrant planning for possible strikes to kill Osama bin Laden.
Kandahar, December 1998 -- the first instance was in December 1998 in Kandahar. There was intelligence that bin Laden was staying at a particular location. Strikes were readied against this and plausible alternative locations. The principal advisers to the president agreed not to recommend a strike.
Returning from one of their meetings, DCI Tenet told staff that the military, supported by everyone else in the room, had not wanted to launch a strike because no one had seen Osama bin Laden in a couple of hours.
DCI Tenet told us that there were concerns about the veracity of the source and about the risk of collateral damage to a nearby mosque.
A few weeks later, to set the time, Clarke described the calculus as one that had weighed 50 percent confidence in the intelligence against collateral damage estimated at perhaps 300 casualties.
After this episode, Pentagon planners intensified efforts to find a more precise alternative to cruise missiles, such as using precision-strike aircraft. This option would greatly reduce the collateral damage. Yet not only would it have to operate at long ranges from home bases and overcome significant logistical obstacles, but the aircraft might also be shot down by the Taliban.
At the time, Clarke complained that General Zinni was opposed to the forward deployment of these aircraft. General Zinni does not recall blocking such an option. The aircraft apparently were not deployed for this purpose.
The desert camp, February 1999 -- during the winter of 1998 and '99, intelligence reported that bin Laden frequently visited a camp in the desert adjacent to a larger hunting camp in Helmand Province of Afghanistan used by visitors from a Gulf state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab Emirates.
At the beginning of February, bin Laden was reportedly located there and apparently remained for more than a week. This was not in an urban area so the risk of collateral damage was minimal. Intelligence provided a detailed description of the camps. National technical intelligence confirmed the description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the UAE.
The CIA received reports that bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp, where he visited with emirates.
The location of this larger camp was confirmed by February 9th, but the location of bin Laden's quarters could not be pinned down so precisely. Preparations were made for a possible strike, at least against the larger camp, perhaps to target bin Laden during one of his visits. No strike was launched.
According to CIA officials, policy-makers were concerned about the danger that a strike might kill an emirate prince or other senior officials who might be with bin Laden or close by.
ZELIKOW: The lead CIA official in the field felt the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable. The OBL unit chief at the time agrees. The field official believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill bin Laden before 9/11.
Clarke told us the strike was called off because the intelligence was dubious and it seemed to him as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America's best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf.
Documentary evidence at the time shows that on February 10th, Clarke detailed to Deputy National Security Adviser Donald Kerrick the intelligence placing in the camp, informed him that DOD might be in the position to fire the next morning and added General Shelton was looking at other options that might ready the following week.
Clarke had just returned from a visit to the UAE working on counterterrorism cooperation and following up on a May 1998 UAE agreement to buy F-16 aircraft from the United States.
On February 10th, Clarke reported that a top UAE official had vehemently denied that high-level UAE officials were in Afghanistan. Evidence subsequently confirmed that high-level UAE officials had been hunting there.
By February 12th, bin Laden had apparently moved on and the immediate strike plans became moot. In March, the entire camp complex was hurriedly disassembled. We are still examining several aspect of this episode.
Kandahar, May 1999 -- in this case, sources reported on the whereabouts of bin Laden over the course of five nights. The reporting was very detailed. At the time, CIA working level officials were told that strikes were not ordered because the military was concerned about the precision of the sources's reporting and the risk of collateral damage.
Replying to a frustrated colleague in the field, the OBL unit chief wrote that, quote, "Having a chance to get OBL three times in 36 hours and forgoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry. The DCI finds himself alone at the table with the other principals basically saying, "We'll go along with your decision, Mr. Director," and implicitly saying, "the agency will hang alone if the attack doesn't get bin Laden," close quote.
These are working level perspectives.
According to DCI Tenet, the same circumstances prevented a strike in each of the cases described above. The intelligence was based on a single uncorroborated source and there was a risk of collateral damage.
In the first and third cases, the cruise missile option was rejected outright and, in the case of the second, never came to a clear decision point.
ccording to National Security Adviser Berger, the cases were really "DCI Tenet's call," close quote. In his view, in none of the cases did policy-makers have the reliable intelligence that was needed.
ZELIKOW: In Berger's opinion, this did not reflect risk aversion or a lack of desire to act on DCI Tenet's part. "The DCI was just as stoked up as he was," said Berger. Each of these times, Berger told us, George would call and say, "We just don't have it."
There was a fourth episode involving a location in Ghazni, Afghanistan in July, 1999. We are still investigating the circumstances.
There were no occasions after July, 1999, when cruise missiles were actively readied for a possible strike against bin Laden. The challenge of providing actionable intelligence could not be overcome before 9/11.
Skip the next section on millennium plots. Go directly to the section on the attack on the USS Cole.
On October 12, 2000, suicide bombers in an explosives-laden skiff rammed into a Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors and almost sinking the vessel.
Skip the remainder of the paragraph.
After the attack on the USS Cole, National Security Advisor Berger asked General Shelton for military plans to act quickly against bin Laden. General Shelton tasked General Tommy Franks, the new commander of CENTCOM, to look again at the options.
According to Director of Operations Newgold, Shelton wanted to demonstrate that the military was imaginative and knowledgeable enough to move on an array of options and to show the complexity of the operations.
Shelton briefed Berger on 13 options that had been developed within the standing Infinite Resolve plan. CENTCOM also developed a, quote, "Phase campaign concept," close quote, for wider ranging strikes including against the Taliban and without a fixed end point.
The new concept did not include contingency plans for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept was briefed to Deputy National Security Advisor Kerrick and other officials in December, 2000.
Neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration launched a military response for the Cole attack. Berger and other senior policy-makers said that, while most counterterrorism officials quickly pointed the finger at Al Qaida, they never received the sort of definitive judgment from the CIA or the FBI that Al Qaida was responsible that they would need before launching military operations.
Documents show that in late 2000, the president's advisers received a cautious presentation of the evidence, showing that individuals linked to Al Qaida had carried out or supported the attack, but that the evidence could not establish that bin Laden himself had ordered the attack.
DOD prepared plans to strike Al Qaida camps and Taliban targets with cruise missiles in case policy-makers decided to respond.
Essentially the same analysis of Al Qaida's responsibility for the attack on the USS Cole was delivered to the highest officials of the new administration 5 days after it took office.
The same day, Clarke advised National Security Advisor Rice that the government, quote, "Should take advantage of the policy that we will respond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing and not be forced into knee-jerk responses," close quote.
Deputy National Security Advisor Steven Hadley told us that tit for that, military options were so inadequate that they might have emboldened Al Qaida. He said the Bush administration's response to the Cole would be a new, more aggressive strategy against Al Qaida.
Pentagon officials, including Vice Admiral Scott Fry and Undersecretary Slocombe, told us they cautioned that the military response options were limited. Bin Laden continued to be elusive. They were still skeptical that hitting inexpensive and rudimentary training camps with costly missiles would do much good.
The new team at the Pentagon did not push for a response for the Cole, according to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy. Wolfowitz told us that by the time the new administration was in place the Cole incident was stale.
The 1998 cruise missile strike showed OBL and Al Qaida that they had nothing to fear from a U.S. response, Wolfowitz said.
For his part, Rumsfeld also thought too much time had passed. He worked on the force protection recommendations developed in the aftermath of the USS Cole attack, not response options.
ZELIKOW: The early months of the Bush administration: The confirmation of the Pentagon's new leadership was a lengthy process. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz was not confirmed until March 2001, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith did not take office until July 2001.
Secretary Cohen said he briefed Secretary-Designate Rumsfeld on about 50 items during the transition, including bin Laden and programs related to domestic preparedness against terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction.
Rumsfeld told us he did not recall what was said about bin Laden at that briefing.
On February 8th, General Shelton briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on the Operation Infinite Resolve plan, including the range of options and CENTCOM's new phased campaign plan. These plans were periodically updated during the ensuing months.
Brian Sheridan, the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, SOLIC, the key counterterrorism policy office in DOD, never briefed Rumsfeld. Lower level SOLIC officials in the office of the secretary of defense told us that they thought the new team was focused on other issues and was not especially interested in their counterterrorism agenda.
Undersecretary Feith told the commission that when he arrived at the Pentagon in July 2001, Rumsfeld asked him to focus his attention on working with the Russians on agreements to dissolve the Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty and preparing a new nuclear arms control pact.
Traditionally, the primary DOD official responsible for counterterrorism policy had been the assistant secretary of defense for SOLIC. The outgoing assistant secretary left on January 20th, 2001, and had not been replaced when the Pentagon was hit on September 11th.
Secretary Rumsfeld said the transformation was the focus on the administration. He said he was interested in terrorism, arranging to meet regularly with DCI Tenet. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place, preparing the quadrennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and reviewing existing contingency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system for possible use against bin Laden.
He said that DOD before 9/11 was not organized or trained adequately to deal with asymmetric threats. As recounted in the previous staff statement, the Bush administration's NSC staff was drafting a new counterterrorism strategy in the spring and summer of 2001. National Security Adviser Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley told us that they wanted more muscular options.
In June 2001, Hadley circulated a draft presidential directive on policy toward Al Qaida. The draft came to include a section that called for development of a new set of contingency military plans against both Al Qaida and the Taliban regime.
Hadley told us that he contacted Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz to advise him that the Pentagon would soon need to start preparing fresh plans in response to this forthcoming presidential direction.
The directive was approved at the deputies' level in July and apparently approved by top officials on September 4 for submission to the president. With the directive still awaiting the president's signature, Secretary Rumsfeld did not order the preparation of any new military plans against either Al Qaida or the Taliban before 9/11.
Rumsfeld told us that immediately after 9/11 he did not see a contingency plan he wanted to implement.
Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz also told us the military plans presented to the Bush administration immediately after 9/11 were unsatisfactory.
ZELIKOW: Roads not taken -- officials we interviewed flatly said that neither Congress nor the American public would have supported large scale military operations in Afghanistan before the shock of 9/11, despite repeated attacks and plots including the embassy bombings, the millennium plots, concerns about Al Qaida to acquire WMD, the USS Cole and the summer 2001 threat spike.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz warned that it would have been impossible to get Congress to support sending 10,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan to do what the Soviet Union failed to do in the 1980s.
Vice Admiral Scott Fry, the former operations director for the JCS noted that, quote, "A two or four-division plan would require a footprint troop level and force that was larger than the political leadership was willing to accept," close quote.
Special Operations Forces always saw counterterrorism as part of their mission and trained for counterterrorist operations.
Quote, "The opportunities were missed because of an unwillingness to take risks and a lack of vision and understanding of the benefits when preparing the battlespace ahead of time," close quote, said Lieutenant General William Boykin, the current undersecretary of defense for intelligence and a former founding member of Delta Force.
Before 9/11 the U.S. special operations command was a, quote, "supporting command, not a supported command." That meant it supported General Zinni and CENTCOM and did not independently prepare plans itself. General Pete Schoomaker, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army and former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command said that if the special operations command had been a supported command before 9/11, he would have had the Al Qaida mission rather than deferring to CENTCOM's lead. Schoomaker said he spoke to Secretary Cohen and General Shelton about this proposal. It was not adopted.
Let me move now directly to our conclusions and finish. In summary, our key findings to date include the following: In response to the request of policymakers, the military prepared a wide array of options for striking bin Laden and his organization from May 1998 onward. When they briefed policy-makers, the military presented both the pros and cons of those strike options and briefed policy-makers on the risks associated with them.
Following the August 20th, 1998 missile strikes, both senior military officials and policy-makers placed great emphasis on actionable intelligence as the key factor in recommending or deciding to launch military action against bin Laden and his organization. Policy-makers and military officials expressed frustration with the lack of actionable intelligence. Some officials inside the Pentagon, including those in the special forces and the counterterrorism policy office expressed frustration with the lack of military action.
The new administration began to develop new policies toward Al Qaida in 2001, but there is no evidence of new work on military capabilities or plans against this enemy before September 11th. And both civilian and military officials of the defense department state flatly that neither Congress nor the American public would have supported large-scale military operations in Afghanistan before the shock of 9/11.
Thank you. Thank you all very much.
KEAN: We'll now hear from former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Secretary Cohen served with great distinction in the United States Senate before serving as secretary of defense during the second term of President Clinton.
Mr. Secretary, we are very pleased that you've consented to be with us today. And we'd like you, if you could, to raise your hand so we can place you under oath.
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
COHEN: Thank you very much.
Your prepared statement will be entered into the record in full. And so we'd ask you to summarize your remarks as you'd like.
COHEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And I'd like I'd like to express my gratitude to the commission for the important work that you are undertaking. I've had the opportunity, I think, to meet with either the members and/or staff on three prior occasions. And I am happy to be here today to contribute whatever I can to the important analysis that you are undertaking.
September 11th was a life-transforming event I think for all of us. It was a barbaric attack, killing some 3,000 Americans by turning airliners into cruise missiles.
I think all of us have a solemn responsibility to the victims of September 11th, to the victims' families, many of whom may be here today and certainly are watching, and also to the brave men and women in our military who continue to carry the battle and suffer the wounds in this war against terrorism.
COHEN: Let me say on a personal note, my interest in the subject of terrorism began about a quarter of a century ago. I had attended an event -- conference in Bonn, Germany. A banker by the name of Hans-Martin Schleyer (ph), a businessman, had been assassinated by the Red Army faction, and the Europeans were eager to explore ways in which they could combat the scourge of international terrorism.
During the time I served as a member of the United States Senate and the Armed Services Committee, I saw the bombing of our embassy in Beirut, the bombing of our Marine barracks in Beirut, the bombing of Pan Am 103, the hijacking of TWA-847, the bombing of the West Berlin discotheque, the bombing of OPM-SANG and of Khobar Towers, among the many acts that were directed against the United States.
As a result, during that time, I became convinced that our military was not organized to act swiftly enough in the age of what Toffler described as that of "future shock."
I helped to write the Goldwater-Nichols Act, establishing the power and the leadership of the joint chiefs of staff as a result of being concerned about what's taken place. That came, by the way, over the objection of the Pentagon during that time.
In 1986, I authored the legislation to establish a Special Operation Command, once again, I would point out, over the objections of the Pentagon, because I felt it was important to enable us to be able to respond to the emerging threats.
I wrote and I spoke about the subject on numerous occasions convinced that the threat was growing, was becoming more organized, less sporadic, and when coupled with access of weapons of mass destruction, likely to pose an existential threat to the world.
I carried these convictions to the Pentagon when President Clinton asked me to serve as the secretary of defense. I found that he not only shared my views, but he was prepared to support efforts to counter these threats with dollars, with deeds, as well as with his presidential words.
In my experience, the threat of international terrorism remained a top priority for all members of his national security team throughout the years I served at the Pentagon.
COHEN: In my written statement, I outlined some of the major initiatives that I had the department undertake between January of '97 and 2001.
They included enhancing force protection; support for covert and special operations activity; designating and organizing a National Guard to serve as the first responders in the wake of attacks against our cities; organizing a joint task force for civil support to assist the cities and states against terrorist attacks that might take place; helping to train 100 major cities in consequence management against terrorist attacks; engaging in personal diplomacy and public appearances to alert the American people to the threat posed by anthrax, ricin, VX and radiological materials, the danger of them falling into the hands of terrorist groups.
These initiatives were undertaken as the department was engaged in waging war in Kosovo; we attacked Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Fox; as we destroyed a suspected WMD site in Sudan; as we coped with the dangers of cyber attacks against our critical infrastructure, including the unknown consequences of a critical massive cyber failure that was then known as Y2K. I believe that we devoted some $3 billion to $4 billion in defense spending at that time to cope with that for fear that the terrorists would try to exploit that millennium turnover.
We launched an attack upon Al Qaida's training camp in Afghanistan as has been discussed earlier today. We continued efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden after discovering his role in the bombing of the embassies in Africa and then later with the USS Cole.
And we developed new intelligence-gathering capabilities that could be directed against Osama bin Laden and others as, again, you have discussed here earlier this morning.
In addition, the department also worked closely with the CIA, the FBI and other agencies, and as a result, I believe we were able to thwart a number of terrorist activities directed here against Americans and abroad.
I know the commission is anxious to explore more specifically what happened or did not happen at the Defense Department.
But I'd like to try and paint in the few moments I have at least a broader perspective as well.
I think all of us who have held the public trust have to be accountable for what we did or did not do during our careers in the public service and holding the public trust.
But I want to put it into perspective as a former member of the Senate and a former member of the House of Representatives as well, because I think as the commission may find fault, indeed that's all -- in all probability, that might be the goal of the commission. I don't think so.
But I hope you'll find the fault lines as well in our society as a whole. And if you just permit me four or five minutes to outline some of the challenges I think that all of us face, certainly while I was in the Senate, also at the Department of Defense, I'd point out that on many occasions the administration was able to secure the cooperation of Congress in the pursuit of its goals.
There were a number of other occasions in which we did not.
COHEN: For example, some in Congress, the media and the policy community accused those of us who were focused on the terrorist threat of being alarmists, of exaggerating the threat in order to boost our budgets. And countering this threat of terrorism was, quote, "the latest gravy train," according to one expert who was quoted in U.S. News & World Report.
And the belief that we were somehow indulging in a cynical hyperbole I think resulted in a number of legislative reactions.
There were tens of millions of dollars cut out of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, in the so-called Nunn-Lugar program, which I believe was one of the most important programs we could have passed, and that was to help reduce the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear materials and others in the possession of the former Soviet Union.
Tens of millions of dollars were cut from that program, I think posing a greater risk to us. We had to spend a significant amount of time trying to lobby to restore funds in that regard.
Congress blocked the cooperation with countries whose support was critical to the counterterrorism efforts, such as banning military cooperation with Indonesia, by way of example, the world's largest Muslim country that is a key battleground in the campaign against Islamic extremists and banning any meaningful cooperation with Pakistan, the front line state in the global war on terrorism.
There were reasons for this, but nonetheless, that was the reality.
We had a program called IMET which was designed to put our military into contact with the militaries of other countries to help educate them in the way that a civilized country and democracy is able to subordinate the military civilian rule and to pursue democratic values. Well, the program was terminated based on activities that took place in that country and elsewhere.
We had congressional committees who rejected requests for legislative authority to the department to provide certain support to domestic activity or agencies to prevent or respond to terrorist actions in the United States.
It was with this in mind that I tried to combat this complacency and cynicism that I helped to create -- not to create, but I filled the membership of a commission that was led by former Senators Rudman and Hart, including the vice chairman of this commission and former Speaker Gingrich, along with senior retired military commanders and others.
In releasing the commission's first report long before September 11, Vice Chairman Hamilton stated the fundamental issue. He said, "What comes across to me in this report more than any other single fact is that the commission believes that Americans are going to be less secure than they believe themselves to be, and so I think what we're trying to say in this report is we've lived in a very secure time, we're very fortunate for that, but we're going to be confronted with a lot of challenges to our national security that Americans do not believe we're going to be subject to, and that's really what comes out of this report for me more than any other single thing."
Well, I'll tell you, his remarks really resonated with me, because I recall at my very first press conference as secretary of defense back in 1997, I was asked, "Mr. Secretary, what is your greatest concern as you look toward the future?"
COHEN: And I'd like to just read my response. My greatest concern is that we're able to persuade the American people that having a viable, sustainable national security policy is important even when there's no clearly identifiable enemy on the horizon.
We still live in a very dangerous, disorderly world. And in many cases, we face dangers that are comparable to those we've faced from the past, namely the proliferation of missile technology, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of terrorism.
I believe that we have been complacent as a society. I think that we have failed to fully comprehend the gathering storm. Even now, after September 11th, I think it's far from clear that our society truly understands the gravity of a threat that we face or is yet willing to do what I believe is going to be necessary to counter it.
Even after September 11th, after the anthrax and the ricin attacks in the United States, I remain concerned that the controversy over not finding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will lead to the erroneous assumption that all this talk about the dangers of WMD is just another exercise in the cynical exploitation of fear.
After all, it's commonly noted -- it was noted here again this morning -- there were no attacks since September 11th. I think this is a dangerous delusion. The enemy is not only coming, he has been here. He will continue to try to examine our weaknesses and exploit the crevices in our security and destroy our way of living as well as our lives.
Mr. Chairman, I'll conclude here. I think you can deduce from my written statement, I believe that the Clinton administration, far more than any previous administration prior to September 11th, understood the threat that terrorism poses to our country. I think it took far greater and more comprehensive action to counter it than previous administration did by virtue of the growing threat.
But in spite of all of this, the United States was hit in a devastating way. Even today, with the global war on terrorism being waged, I believe we need to do far more to prevent the spread of virulent Islamic extremism and to prevent terrorism from reaching our shores.
I don't pretend to hold the keys to the kingdom of wisdom and what needs to be done in the future. But I think, as I said before, we all must stand accountable for our actions.
It's my hope that the commission, again, will focus on the fault lines that run through our democratic system as we struggle to cope with the challenges of unprecedented proportions. I've outlined just a couple of items which I think should considered for the future. I think we have to develop an in-depth public discussion among our citizens, as well as among elected officials, regarding the compromises on privacy that we're willing to accept in order to remain free and safe. The current debate over access to personal data for aviation security purposes, I don't think is encouraging.
We have to elevate the public discussion on these matters and do our best to remove from them electoral manipulation at least until we truly understand the issues and choices.
COHEN: We have to reconcile the role technology's going to play in our lives, for good and ill, and try to maintain and ensure that it remains our master and that we don't remain its slave.
I don't think it's going to be an easy balance to strike, but I think it has to be done.
I think we have to consider establishing a domestic intelligence organization distinct from law enforcement and subject to appropriate control and regulation and oversight. I think we have to secure and eliminate, on an accelerated basis, fissile nuclear materials and chemical and biological weapon agents that pose a risk of diversion. This is going to require a much more cooperative relationship with Russia than we currently have.
And I think we have to re-energize America's engagement in the Middle East. I believe that the road to peace in the Middle East runs through Baghdad. And success in Baghdad may very well run through Jerusalem. The unabated violence can only serve, in my judgment, to remain a breeding ground for even more savagery and nihilism in the future. And this effort should not await the counting of ballots in November.
And finally, I think we need to persuade the free people of the world that the war on terror cannot be waged by America alone. As recent events demonstrate, religious extremists and fanatics don't recognize geographic boundaries. There are no rear lines. There are no pockets of tranquility. There are no safe harbors for innocent civilians.
Every one of us is one the front lines today. A virus or bomb, born in a distant laboratory or a factory, is but a plane ride away from any place on this planet. So it's time for sober reflection and the charting of a responsible course of action.
And to the extent I can contribute to this, Mr. Chairman, I'm prepared to answer your questions.
KEAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for a very articulate statement. Commissioner Fielding, are you going to begin the questioning? And then followed by Commissioner Kerrey.
FIELDING: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for appearing here today, but also thank you for the many hours you've spent with the commission and the staff in preparing this, and your very full, prepared testimony as well as your remarks this morning. I'd like to also express my personal high regard for you and for all the years of public service that you've given to this nation. Thank you.
We, of course, have a mission to fulfill.
FIELDING: And one of the things that we obviously have to figure out is what happened on 9/11. But equally important to our mission is to figure out the other factors that may have contributed to the situation we found at 9/11.
And obviously, again, one of those is the development of our counterterrorism strategy. And of course we're going to pick your brain and again today, as far as the aspects of the military fed into that. And my colleagues have a lot of questions, so I'll try to watch that little ball as much as anybody.
But under Presidential Directive 62, the military of course and the Defense Department didn't have the leading role in the counterterrorism efforts during your tenure. And yet, ironically, we've heard a lot of testimony and a lot of commentary that the military was being criticized for being reluctant to use its forces and to actually conduct military operations against Al Qaida and bin Laden.
As a matter of fact, Richard Clarke's now very famous book, he says, "The White House wanted action. The senior military did not, and made it almost impossible for the president to overcome their objections."
And I know that you've seen other commentary like that, that the primary limitation that's often cited is that for each decision for using military force, there was this lack of actionable intelligence. And we've heard about it today. And we've heard about it a lot.
And our understanding of that is what was stated earlier, that at a specific time, you couldn't anticipate where the location of bin Laden or his key followers might be, so that it could be sufficiently determined that it was worthwhile to launch military reaction to it.
After August 20th of '98, there were at least three opportunities to which we have been privy to use force against bin Laden. However, in each case, it was determined that there wasn't actionable intelligence.
I guess the first question I'd like to say is whose call is that? How does that decision become a factor and a determinative factor?
And in addition to that, if I could, given that you had setbacks in using force, what was your assessment of the existing capabilities at that time of the CIA...
COHEN: The which capabilities?
KEAN: The existing capabilities -- to obtain what would be required as actionable intelligence? And to the extent that you found them deficient, what steps did you take to supplement and to put into action things that the Defense Department could do to beef up that capability?
COHEN: On the second part, Mr. Fielding, I think that Senator Kerry and others would tell you that over the years, one of the identifiable deficiencies within our intelligence collection capability is the absence of good HUMINT, that we have over the years tended to oscillate between focusing upon technical capabilities with our satellite-gathering technologies as opposed to developing human intelligence.
COHEN: With the collapse of the Soviet Union, of course, that becomes a much more challenging objective, to get good human intelligence in areas that are governed by tribal leaders where an individual perhaps can detect who is a remote cousin the minute they show up within 200 yards.
So penetrating societies such as that becomes even more problematic in terms of developing good human intelligence.
And then you're called upon to try and develop assets on the ground. Well, then the question is, "Who do you trust, and how can you trust them, based on what evidence in the past that they have been credible?
All of that goes into an analysis by the CIA working with other intelligence agencies. Secretary Powell talked about I&R; we have DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency.
But essentially we turn to the DCI to say, "Do we have good intelligence?" We review the PDD, as has been discussed earlier today. We sit down at the Cabinet-level meetings with the president and/or with the National Security Adviser and his team and say, "Is this good enough intelligence to warrant taking action?" And each case has to be looked at in that regard.
Now, you mentioned August of '98. Frankly, it was following the bombing of the embassies in East Africa that the antenna were really up. We were collecting at a level that I saw -- it was unprecedented in terms of the amount of information coming in pointing to bin Laden and then getting the information that would be a gathering of terrorists in Afghanistan.
After reviewing all that information, the determination was made: this was a target certainly that we should attack -- that plus the so- called pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.
But it was that kind after process whereby -- what do we have?
Do we have to be certain? The answer is no.
Do you have to be pretty sure? I think that the answer is yes if you're going to be killing a lot of people.
We're prepared to engage in collateral damage if the target that we're after is certainly important.
But all those factors are into a decision.
But having, quote, "actionable intelligence" means reliable and the basis of that reliability.
Single-source information, usually I think George Tenet will tell you not good enough.
Maybe if they've got a single source that is truly reliable -- they've had him in the past -- that might be, under the circumstances.
But it all depends upon the quality of the people you've got on the ground, coupled with whatever you can put up in the air to locate certain targets.
FIELDING: But who makes that final decision? Who makes that call?
COHEN: The president of the United States makes the final decision. We make recommendations.
We as the national security team would sit down, examine it and then come to a consensus if we could. If we couldn't, frankly, we would go to the president with our individual recommendations. But most of the time, we were able to reach a consensus.
COHEN: And then the president weighs what has been recommended to him, to act or not to act, and then makes the decision.
FIELDING: Just following up, again, on my earlier line of questioning. Did you do anything or were there any steps available that you thought you were worth taking to augment the CIA's capabilities for collecting intelligence?
COHEN: We worked with the CIA. There were some joint efforts as such to reinforce the CIA. We had a cooperative program in terms of the unmanned aerial vehicles, the UAVs. There was some controversy over that as well, I might add.
But trying to find him was certainly a joint enterprise in terms of technical capability. Did we have people on the ground in Afghanistan? The answer was we did not, for the most part.
FIELDING: Was that just not really a viable, realistic option?
COHEN: Well, again, in looking at Afghanistan, looking at the history of that country, look at the power and the power and the relationship with the tribes in the region.
The notion that we could put, quote, "Special Forces in that region that would go undetected or uncompromised," I think was pretty remote. Was it possible? You could say it was possible. Was it advisable? We didn't think so at the time. And I think in reflection, we still don't think that was a viable option.
FIELDING: I'd like to ask your opinion, because we have to evaluate the various -- the three incidents. And we've heard a lot of testimony and lot of writings that that particular second event that I made reference to -- I think it was in February of '99, the hunting camp with the UAE hunting camp -- that that was the lost opportunity.
COHEN: As I recall, there were at least three instances in which the initial intelligence take, as they called it, that we think we have him, and what we would then do is, quote, "spin up" the military at that point, namely, our ability to target that particular area with the thought of taking that individual or group of people out.
There were three instances. Each time the munitions and the people were spun up, they were called off because the word came back: We're not sure -- we're not quite sure.
In one instance, there was an identification that somehow we had bin Laden in our sights. Turned out it was a sheik from UAE. There was another consideration of shooting down an aircraft that might be carrying bin Laden, should he try to escape. That also proved to be reversed by the intelligence community saying we don't think we have him.
So there were three occasions following the attack on the camps in Sudan. But in each and every one of those occasions, it came back on a second look saying we don't think we've got enough here to recommend to the president that we should take military action. And that came from the intelligence community, through the national security adviser, and we all sat and made a collective judgment: OK, under the circumstances, we don't fire.
FIELDING: Now, if you could assist us, if I can take you back to the August 20th attack and response attack. After that happened, there was criticism about the pharmaceutical plant. And there was also criticism in general about trigger-happy and this sort of thing.
And recalling that negative reaction, does that criticism affect the planning and use of military force in defending the United States in this context?
COHEN: I'm glad you asked that question, Mr. Fielding, because it's something that I've wanted to talk about for some time. In terms of the kind of poisonous atmosphere that existed then that continues to exist today, you're going to discuss Mr. Clarke's book with him tomorrow but all of the accusations, questioning motives, and calculations during that time, when the attack was launched in Afghanistan and Sudan, there was a movie out called "Wag the Dog."
There were critics of the Clinton administration that attacked the president saying this was an effort on his part to divert attention from his personal difficulties. I'd like to say, for the record, under no circumstances did President Clinton ever call upon the military and use that military in order to serve a political purpose.
When I took the office, I had a very clear understanding with the president. He was very clear with me. Under no circumstances would I ever be called upon to exercise any kind of partisan relationship, would participate in no politics and would never allow the military to be used for a political purpose.
President Clinton was true to his word. He never called upon us to do that. It was strictly on the merits.
Now, that accusation surfaced again, and it was something of concern to me. I'll take just a few moments to express it.
In that fall, I should say that winter, in December of 1998, we decided to attack Saddam Hussein. It was called Operation Desert Fox. It was a four-day operation in which we launched a number of attacks upon his weapons of mass destruction sites, his missile production facilities and killing a number of Republican Guards and others.
I got a call the day that that operation was launched. I received a call from Speaker Gingrich and soon-to-be or then-to-be Speaker Livingston asking me to come up to Capitol Hill. They said the House was in an uproar. There was a rage boiling in the House of Representatives. This clearly had to be politically inspired.
I was eager to go up to the Hill. I had not been in the House of Representatives for 20 years and I walked that evening into the well of the House of Representatives. There were almost 400 people there that night, maybe more too a closed session of Congress.
COHEN: And I spoke for three hours, assuring every single member that the reason we attacked Saddam Hussein was because of his noncompliance with the security council resolution, that at no time did the president of the United States ever seek to use that military strike in order to avoid or divert attention from the impeachment process.
I was prepared at that time and today to say -- I put my entire public career on the line to say that the president always acted specifically upon the recommendation of those of us who held the positions of responsibility to take military action. And at no time did he ever try to use it or manipulate it to serve his personal ends. And I think it's important that that be clear, because that "Wag the Dog" cynicism that was so virulent there, I'm afraid is coming back again. I think we did everything we can to stop engaging in the kind of self-flagellation and criticism and challenging of motives of our respective presidents.
FIELDING: Thank you. That also is the conclusion of the staff in the staff report. But I'm glad you had a chance to elucidate on it. On August 20th...
KEAN: Last question.
FIELDING: OK. Thank you. On August 20th, we heard about General Shelton undertaking a planning order for preparation of a follow-on operations, and obviously there were never any follow-on operations that came to fruition. But what directions did you give the military for development of military plans against bin Laden after August 20th for our guidance?
COHEN: Our plans were to try to, quote, capture and/or kill -- or kill, I should say in this particular case -- capture or kill bin Laden. That was the directive that went out, the memorandum of notification. The president had signed several of those, refining them on each and every occasion. Taking that directive, we had our people in a position, should there be, quote, "actionable intelligence" -- again, the key word. And we can -- we should discuss that and debate that issue of what constitutes it.
COHEN: But whenever there was, quote, "actual intelligence," we were prepared to take action to destroy bin Laden or the targets.
Were there plans to use Special Forces to supplement the Northern Alliance that they were able to apprehend and hold on to bin Laden? The answer was yes.
There were packages that were developed with our Special Forces at Fort Bragg. There were a number of proposals quote, "on the table or on a shelf," prepared to be utilized in the event that we were certain -- and not certain to 100 percent degree -- but reasonably certain that he was going to be at a given area.
I know a question has been raised, "Well, why wouldn't you put a unit in there with the anticipation that they could help gather intelligence and track him down?"
And I've tried to address this in my written statement. But consider the notion, we have 13,500 troops in Afghanistan right now, not to mention the Pakistanis, and we can't find bin Laden to date. So the notion that you're going to put a small unit, however good, on the ground, or a large unit, and put them into Afghanistan and track down bin Laden, I think is folly.
But if we had people on the ground, if we had the Northern Alliance, if they were reliable, did we have people prepared to go? The answer was yes.
General Shelton, I think, will tell you, it's very difficult to kill an individual with a missile. We all know that. You're talking about six hours from the time you, quote, "spun-up," you've got the coordinates, GPS signals -- target that individual. You're six hours away.
To put troops on the ground was probably double that time. By the time you take a package and fly them from Fort Bragg or compose some elements that were already in the Gulf, you're talking more than six hours.
So the answer is, why don't have you forces on the ground in Afghanistan? And the point I'm simply trying to make is that the notion that you could put thousands or hundreds or even tens of people on the ground and hope to locate him under those circumstances, I think, is simply unrealistic.
FIELDING: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
KERREY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, nice to see you again.
COHEN: Good to see you, Senator.
KERREY: First of all, let me say, as you were introducing yourself, I had not until I prepared for this hearing realized -- then you reinforced it -- that you were the father of the Special Operations Command. And it must have given you a considerable amount of pride to see how effective special operations units were in Afghanistan, Iraq and, according to the reports today in the Hindu Kush again, trying to run down bin Laden as we speak.
COHEN: Senator Kerrey, you may recall one of the complaints that used to come from the Pentagon and the executive branch is that Congress engages in too much micromanagement. I think that was the case. And also the reformation of the joint chiefs of staff of Goldwater-Nichols of macromanagement. But I thought it played a very important role.
KERREY: Certainly. Both of those were. And they want you to micromanage when they've got something they want you to support.
But let me also say with great respect, I do think that in '98, that a special operations unit with an element of surprise could have had a tremendous impact at that particular point. It's a judgment call you've got to make. It's a much different situation than it is today. And I appreciate that very much.
Look, one of the problems I think that I have with this whole thing is that we were attacked on the 11th of September 2001 by the same people that attacked the Cole on the 12th of October 2000, by the same people who attempted to attack The Sullivans a few months earlier, by the same people who were responsible for multiple millennium attacks in 1999, by the same people who attacked our embassies on the 7th of August, 1998, and now, as we understand it, by the same people who have had previous attacks back to the 1990s, perhaps up to and including the World Trade Center bombing one.
So it's not just that we were attacked successfully by 19 men with less than a half a million dollars utterly. I mean they just defeated every single defensive mechanism we had up in place. It's that this is the same group that had attacked us on many other occasions in the past.
And that's why I keep coming to the question, of why would we have a presidential directive in place in 1998 that said that the Department of Defense and our military was going to be used principally for a response, if we were attacked in a local and state situation, and to support what the Department of Justice was doing.
I don't understand why the military wasn't given a priority and a primary role in the fight against not just terrorism, but the fight against Osama bin Laden. I mean, I presume you've seen the declaration of war that he released on the 23rd of February, 1998. That was very precise. Again, issued by somebody who had demonstrated not just a willingness to kill Americans, but the capacity to kill Americans.
And every single time I heard the administration come up before the Intelligence Committee that I was on, maybe just trying to keep doing what you had done for years before, it was, "We're going to send the FBI to investigate this stuff."
And I would say, "My god, I don't understand this. They killed airmen in Khobar Towers. They attacked our facilities in East Africa. They attacked our sailors on the Cole."
I don't understand, and still today don't understand, why the military wasn't given a dominant role. And I wonder, if you're looking back on it today, do you think we underutilized the military during the 1990s in the war against in this case, radical Islamists, led by Osama bin Laden?
COHEN: First of all, I've seen your comments about the need to declare war against Al Qaida. We were at war with Al Qaida. We weren't declaring it as such and the president going to Congress saying, "Let's declare war against Al Qaida."
I take your point about bin Laden being very precise. He was very precise in issuing a personal fatwa against me. I was put on the list. There was a price tag. There were several attempts, which I don't have to go into details about, going after me.
So I was very much aware that this was a war that had been declared against the United States, including members of the president's Cabinet personally, putting us at risk, as well as our military personnel.
The use of the military -- the only use I could have seen in terms of could we have done more against bin Laden, it was really talked about putting a massive force into Afghanistan over the objection -- you've heard this this morning, and it's something that I had to take into account: Could we in fact take a much more aggressive military operation against bin Laden without the support of Pakistan or any of the neighboring countries?
General Zinni's name has been surfaced on several occasions here. When you recommend people to advise you -- and I was the one who recommended that General Zinni be the commander of the CENTCOM -- you look at their background, you look at their war records, you look at how they've conducted themselves and you hopefully trust their judgment.
General Zinni made a number of recommendations, which I took to heart, because he was of the opinion that had we taken certain types military action, it would have been, quote, "ineffective, counterproductive."
He was the same general who recommended that we not overreact when there was a military coup in Pakistan, saying, "Wait a minute, I've worked with this general. I think we may be able to persuade him to be much more supportive than he has been than we think in the past."
As a result of that kind of relationship that General Zinni had with General Musharraf -- President Musharraf, later President Musharraf -- we were able to help thwart attacks during the millennium.
So you have to at some point put some judgment in the experts that you call upon to give you advice.
Could I have second guessed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Shelton? Yes. Could I have second guessed General Zinni? Did I have reason to, based upon my experience with them? And the answer was no.
COHEN: I put a lot of faith in their recommendations and their judgment, and I never found them, quote, "risk averse." They really were more mission successful in their orientation -- saying if we do this, we're likely to succeed, if we do the following, we're likely to fail. Those were the kinds of decisions we had to make.
So, what could have been done? We had lethal authority. Sandy Berger said we weren't trying to send simply a summons to bin Laden in Afghanistan, we were trying to kill him -- him or anyone else who was there at the time. That was, you know, what they call a warning shot to the temple. We were trying to kill bin Laden -- and anyone there that went to that camp.
Did we have the kind of information that would have allowed to us get him later? We didn't see it. It was never recommended. I can't account for everything that you've heard, but there was never a recommendation that came to the national security team that said: We've got a good shot at getting him, let's take military action and do it.
The only other alternative would have been: Could we have persuaded Pakistan, "Get out of the way, we're coming, we don't need your support, we're going to invade Afghanistan"?
I leave it to you, Senator Kerrey, and to others who have served in Congress. Do you think it's reasonable that under the circumstances that any president, including President Clinton, could have gone to Congress in October of 2000 and said, "These people are trying to kill us, and now therefore we're going to invade Afghanistan and take them out." I don't think so. But other members can disagree. A judgment call. You sat on the other side of that decision.
KERREY: Well, that presumes that the president would come to Congress and request authorization for action there. But as you know, there have been many moments when the president doesn't request such authorization. He just does it.
COHEN: Can I make -- let me make one other point. One other point. You remember Kosovo.
COHEN: Here we had a campaign going on in Kosovo. I don't know how many times you came to the White House, but there were meetings after meetings with members of Congress coming down to the president saying, "This is a bad idea, when are you going to get out? What's the exit strategy? How much is it going to cost us?"
We had to sustain a 78-day bombing campaign -- frankly, without the support of Congress. And it was a successful campaign. And as a result of that, we saved a lot of lives.
But I give you that as an example to say the notion that somehow President Clinton or even President Bush -- absent 9/11 -- could have walked into the halls of Congress, say, "Declare war against Al Qaida," I think is unrealistic.
KERREY: But, Mr. Secretary, I must say you're making my argument. I supported what the president did in Kosovo. I supported what he did in Bosnia. I was in the minority in both times. But that didn't stop him from doing it. The fact that it was difficult, the fact that it was hard, the fact even at times that it was unpopular -- he believed in it, and he rallied the American people to the cause.
COHEN: He also rallied allies.
KERREY: He didn't rally, he didn't do that with bin Laden.
COHEN: But he also rallied allies to the cause. You had the NATO countries involved in Bosnia and Kosovo. You have, after 9/11, you have him rallying the international community to help go into Afghanistan.
Prior to that time, I dare say there is not a single country that would have been supporting the president of the United States declaring war and invading Afghanistan prior to 9/11. You can disagree with that judgment. I don't think there was a single country, and I frankly think that Congress would have overwhelmingly rejected it.
KERREY: I would disagree. I respectfully disagree. First of all, again, as I said, there are many instances where the president doesn't even come to Congress. Operation Just Cause in Panama. He didn't come to Congress and say, "Gee, is it OK to do that?" Grenada -- the president didn't come to Congress and said, "Is that OK to do it?" In Bosnia and Kosovo, the very examples that you cite, the president didn't have the support of Congress, and he went ahead and did.
I think he did the right thing. But the fact that it's unpopular, that it's difficult, that our allies are not necessarily with it shouldn't deter a president who believes that what we have is a serial killer on our hands who had begun killing us at least as early as 1993, who had issued a very specific declaration of war calling Islamic men to join an Islamic army on the 23rd of February, 1998, and then demonstrated that he had the capacity in a very sophisticated way on the 7th of August to carry out that threat.
We had a round in our chamber and we didn't use it. That's how I see it. And I don't know if it had prevented 9/11. But I absolutely do not believe that just because a commander in chief sits there and said, "Gee, this thing is unpopular therefore I can't do it," I don't think that's a good argument. I know Secretary Rumsfeld is going to use it here in a few minutes and I'm going to be just as harsh with him. I don't buy it.
COHEN: Well, Senator Kerrey, let's go back to the Persian Gulf war of '91. There you had Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait. There you had the president of the United States, President Bush 41, going to the international community, gathering support, and then deciding to come to the Congress to get congressional support. Close call. I think it passed the Senate by four votes under those extraordinary circumstances.
But I would submit to you the notion that you'd be able in the fall of 2000 to have rallied the Congress and the country to invade Afghanistan and to have had the support of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, all of the other people in the region, I don't think is realistic.
COHEN: Judgment call -- we can be faulted for that. I just don't think it was feasible.
KERREY: Well, I would just say for the record: Better have tried and failed than not to try at all. And I think in this particular case, again, what you've got, the thing that's most troubling about 9/11 is that it was carried out by the same group of people that had killed Americans the previous October, that had tried to kill Americans on the (inaudible) just before that in the Summer of 2000. It's a series of events stretching back for a decade. That's the problem.
COHEN: And we would...
KERREY: With a declaration of war by he guy who's leading the organization.
COHEN: And we were trying to kill those members whenever we could find them.
But you're not talking about people sitting in a city waiting to be attacked. It's like mercury on a mirror. You're talking about individuals who can hide. I mean let's look at what's taking place today. I point out again, you've got thousands of people on the ground in Afghanistan with the support of Pakistan, and we still are unable to track him down and to kill him.
KERREY: But if you look at the performance of the Special Operations units in Northern Afghanistan and the war against Afghanistan, and they leveraged thousands of GIs effort, they were enormously effective.
COHEN: I agree.
KERREY: Likewise in Iraq and likewise again right now in Afghanistan.
COHEN: I agree. I think we owe them a tremendous amount of gratitude for all of the sacrifice they make and the training they have. That's the reason we are the finest in the world, because of that training.
KERREY: What was the military objective on 20 August, 1998?
COHEN: The military objective was to kill as many people in those camps as we could, to take out the pharmaceutical plant because we had reason to believe -- actionable intelligence.
KERREY: But there were more men south of Kandahar than there was up by the coast. Why did we attack that particular camp?
COHEN: Because intelligence was that we believed that bin Laden and his associates were going to be there. We went after as many as we could and as high as we could. We didn't know whether he'd be there for sure. We hoped he would be there. He slipped away apparently.
KERREY: Did you consider putting a special ops -- a relatively small special ops team just to get eyes on the prize -- just to be able to be sort of forward air controllers, rather than having to rely on satellites or tribals to tell you where bin Laden was?
COHEN: I think that the judgment was that it was a more discrete operation likely to be less compromised than if we tried to put people on the ground at that time. Again, you can question that judgment, but that was a recommendation coming that had the best chance of success of getting him.
KERREY: We're going to hear from Secretary Rumsfeld in a little bit and I want to ask you one last question in that regard. During the transition, you briefed the secretary on 50 items and also briefed him on Al Qaida. And perhaps he's going to recall, but in a previous interview, he didn't remember much about the briefing on Al Qaida.
Can you offer any reasons why?
COHEN: I listed -- since I had limited time with Secretary Rumsfeld, I knew that he had -- was quite familiar with the office. And what I tried to do is to give him the whole panoply in a very short period of time knowing that there were going to be specific briefings by the chairman of the joint chiefs and others, the joint staff, the national security adviser and, also, the CIA.
COHEN: So we tried to cover as many subjects as we could.
The very first subject had to do with a major threat to the United States involving Al Qaida or bin Laden's associates, but an extremist group launching an attack domestically.
I don't think I want to talk about it any more than that, but that was a number one item. Everything else on the item were issues that I thought he should at least be aware of, but number one was my concern.
And frankly I came to Capitol Hill. I met I think with just a total of perhaps eight to 10 people to talk about the threat that existed and what needed to be done what needed to be done to help counter it. I don't think I want to talk about it more.
KERREY: I made the same conclusion, Mr. Secretary. But as I said at the beginning, Goldwater-Nichols, Special Operations Command, the men and women of the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard that won the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, that was your troops and you ought to feel very proud of it.
COHEN: Thank you very much, Senator.
KEAN: Governor Thompson.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, let me see if I could get this straight. We've been talking for the last half hour on the issue of a response to the USS Cole.
If I understand the testimony of a lot of people, the Clinton administration didn't believe it had proof sufficient of Al Qaida's responsibility before they left office, and perhaps the Bush administration felt it wasn't on their watch and they had other fish to fry.
And passing that, you seemed to suggest in your answer to an earlier question that the only option for a military reprisal for the bombing of the Cole was an invasion of Afghanistan. And I think most people would agree -- and certainly prior testimony has cited -- that that was just not an appropriate response. We had no place to forward base from. We had no coalition. It was much different than Kosovo where we had overflight rights and we had allies.
But am I wrong in believing that just as appropriate a response would have been action against the Taliban, not necessarily just against Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida followers.
We knew where Mullah Omar lived, presumably. What about a missile strike on Taliban facilities, not just their training camps, but on their civil seats of government? There would have been collateral damage, yes, but I think you said you were willing to accept collateral damage. And the 13 sailors we lost in the Cole were not collateral damage, they were direct damage.
Was any consideration given to reprisals against the institutions and facilities, civil government of the Taliban, for the Cole?
COHEN: There were a number of proposals. And I can't recall specifically, but I think Mr. Clarke may be talking about those tomorrow. But there were a number of recommendations to go in and flatten a number of areas.
To go Part II of Transcript click http://globalresearch.ca/articles/COM403B.html
NOTES: [????] - Indicates Speaker Unknown [--] - Indicates could not make out what was being said.[off mike] - Indicates could not make out what was being said.
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