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KWAME HOLMAN: George Tenet was back in familiar surroundings this morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee where he once served as staff director. Now in his fourth year as director of Central Intelligence, Tenet came to give his first public testimony since the September attacks.
And when the gavel came down, both the committee's Democratic chairman and Republican vice chair used their opening statements to say the attacks represented a failure of United States intelligence.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FLA): It is a priority of this committee to ascertain what more the intelligence community could have done to avert the September 11 tragedy. We must identify any systematic shortcomings in our intelligence community and fix those as soon as possible.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-ALA): All of us, I think, owe the American people an explanation as to why our intelligence community failed to provide adequate warning of such a terrorist attack on our soil. After all, as Director Tenet has stated, the director of Central Intelligence is hired, not to observe and to comment, but to warn and to protect.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tenet would address the attacks, but first he read from his prepared statement, warning that the threat of terrorism remains despite U.S. military successes in Afghanistan.
GEORGE TENET: Last year, I told you that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network were the most immediate and serious threat this country faced. This remains true today despite the progress we have made in Afghanistan and in disrupting the network elsewhere.
We assess that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will continue to plan to attack this country and its interests abroad. Their modus operandi is to continue to have multiple attack plans in the works simultaneously, and to have al-Qaida cells in place to conduct them. We know that the terrorists have considered attacks in the U.S. against high-profile government or private facilities, famous landmarks, and U.S. infrastructure nodes such as airports, bridges, harbors and dams. High-profile events such as the Olympics or last weekend's Super Bowl also fit the terrorists' interest in striking another blow within the United States that would command worldwide media attention. I must repeat that al-Qaida has not yet been destroyed.
It and other like-minded groups remain willing and able to strike at us. Al-Qaida leaders still at large are working to reconstitute the organization and resume its terrorist operations.
KWAME HOLMAN: Intelligence Vice Chair Richard Shelby of Alabama picked up the questioning.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Why were we utterly unaware of...
GEORGE TENET: I don't believe we...
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: ...Planning and the execution of the September 11 attacks? In other words, what went wrong?
You weren't shocked because you warned us before about these type of attacks, but the American people ask these questions, we will be asking them, and I know you've asked yourself those questions.
GEORGE TENET: The shock was that the attack occurred, but not the fact that the attack... Where it occurred, but not the fact that it occurred. So was there a piece of information that was collected that led us there? No. Did we know in broad terms that he intended to strike the United States? There's no doubt about that. But is there some piece of information out there, sir, that nobody saw? That's not the case.
In fact, in July and August, when we saw the operational tempo around the world go down overseas, it was very clear that what had been planned had been delayed. It was very clear in our own minds that this country was the target. There was no texture to that feeling. We wrote about it. We talked about it. We warned about it. Where did the secret for the planning reside? Probably in the head of three or four people. And at the end of the day, all you can do is continue to make the effort to steal that secret and break into this leadership structure, and we have to keep working at it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tenet described a range of other risks around the world, from political instability in Colombia and Venezuela, to the threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan over control of Kashmir.
GEORGE TENET: The chance of war between these two nuclear-armed states is higher than at any point since 1971. If India were to conduct large- scale offensive operations into Pakistani Kashmir, Pakistan might retaliate with strikes of its own, in the belief that its nuclear deterrent would limit the scope of an Indian nuclear counterattack.
Both India and Pakistan are publicly downplaying the risks of nuclear conflict in the current crisis. We are deeply concerned, however, that a conventional war once begun could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.
KWAME HOLMAN: The CIA Director also was asked about Iran, Iraq and North Korea; nations President Bush has criticized as an "axis of evil." Tenet talked about all three, and said the U.S. is closely watching Iraq's involvement with terrorism.
GEORGE TENET: Baghdad has a long history of supporting terrorism, altering its targets to reflect changing priorities and goals. It has also had contacts with al-Qaida.
Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides' mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible.
KWAME HOLMAN: Because of the sensitive nature of the information, public hearings of the Congressional Intelligence Committee frequently are very limited. And after the morning session, the CIA Director and the committee retired behind closed doors.
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