CIA Chief Says U.S. Has Maintained Focus on al Qaeda
By Donna Miles
Both the Clinton
and Bush administrations "cared deeply about the challenge
of terrorism" and were committed to disrupting the al Qaeda
network, the nation’s director of central intelligence told the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
was no lack of care or focus in the face of one of the greatest
dangers our country has ever faced," George Tenet told the
"Sept. 11 Commission" on its second day of hearings about
events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "But
despite these efforts," he said, "we still did not penetrate
the plot that led to the murder of 3,000 men and women on that Tuesday
Tenet told the
commission the lessons of Sept. 11 drive home the point that "as
a country, you must be relentless on offense." But there’s
another key component, he said: "A defense that links visa
measures, border security, infrastructure protection and domestic
warnings" – all in a way that "increases security,
closes gaps and serves a society that demands high levels of both
safety and freedom."
said the United States has made steady progress on both fronts,
but acknowledges that "much more work needs to be done"
in light of the terrorist threat. Tenet, who worked for both administrations,
told commission members the CIA
first became concerned about Osama bin Laden in 1996, after he moved
from Sudan to Afghanistan.
him as one of the most active financial sponsors of Islamic fundamentalist
terrorism," he said. In response, Tenet said, the CIA created
a dedicated component in its Counterterrorism Center, the Bin Laden
Issue Station, dedicated to disrupting his operations. "We
also issued the earliest of what turned out to be a long series
of warnings about bin Laden and al Qaeda," Tenet said. "And
I believe those warnings were heeded."
Bin Laden became
a more pervasive threat in Afghanistan, which Tenet told the commission
"had become a haven where terrorists could disseminate their
ideology, plot, fundraise and train for attacks around the world."
In 1999, after bin Laden called on Muslims to kill Americans and
their allies, Tenet said, the CIA began developing a new plan to
develop human and technical resources to track him.
As a result,
Tenet said, intelligence "rose markedly" through 2001.
Working with a coalition of countries, Tenet said the United States
was able to disrupt terrorist attacks against the United States
and save lives.
In its effort
to crack down on terrorism, Tenet said, the CIA and the worldwide
coalition arrested or detained 45 Hizballah network members in East
Asia and broke up cells planning attacks against civilian targets
in the Persian Gulf.
Tenet said a
"rash of intelligence reports" during the summer of 2001
intensified the CIA’s coordination with U.S. allies committed to
combating terrorism. Suspected terrorists were arrested and detained,
and terrorist activities were disrupted in two dozen countries,
he said. Weapons caches were uncovered, and plans to attack U.S.
diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and Europe were halted,
the director added.
Before the Sept.
11 attacks, Tenet said, the Bush administration "was working
hard … to devise a comprehensive framework to deal with al
Qaeda, based on the best knowledge that we in the intelligence community
could provide." But despite all these efforts, both at home
and overseas, Tenet acknowledged to the commission that "we
collectively did not close these gaps rapidly or fully enough before
Since that day,
Tenet said, the CIA has worked hard to enhance intelligence and
improve "integration" within the government. He said the
agency has strengthened its ties to law enforcement agencies and
broken down walls that impede interagency cooperation.
A new Terrorist
Threat Integration Center is up and running, and the government
is filling what the director called "critical gaps we had in
our process of ‘watchlisting’ potential terrorists."
learned, and are doing better, in an integrated environment that
allows us to respond faster and more comprehensively than three
years ago," Tenet told the commission. "And much more
work needs to be done."