Transcript: 9/11 Commission Hearings for June 16, 2004
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; 3:25 PM
The 9/11 Commission met on Wednesday to discuss U.S. counterterrorism policy. Witnesses included FBI and CIA special agents. A transcript of the morning session follows.
THOMAS H. KEAN,
LEE H. HAMILTON,
COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN
FRED F. FIELDING,
JAMIE S. GORELICK,
JOHN F. LEHMAN,
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER,
JAMES R. THOMPSON,
COMMISSION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
COMMISSION DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
MARY DEBORAH DORAN,
FBI SPECIAL AGENT
JOHN PISTOLE, FBI, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR,
COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERTERRORISM
U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
DR. K, SPECIAL ADVISER TO CIA
TED DAVIS, CIA OFFICIAL
KEAN: Our first panel today includes Deborah Mary Doran, a special agent for the FBI. And she has pursued al Qaeda worldwide. She is accompanied by Mr. John Pistole, the executive assistant director of the FBI for counterintelligence and counterterrorism.
In addition, we have Patrick J. FITZGERALD, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, who has prosecuted many of the terrorism cases related to al Qaeda; and "Dr. K" of the Central Intelligence Agency, who has extensively tracked and analyzed the global terrorist threat to the U.S., particularly al Qaeda.
Would you please rise and raise your right hands?
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Please be seated.
"Dr. K" is also being accompanied -- these people need to be accompanied -- by Mr. Ted Davis of the CIA.
Ms. Doran, would you please begin?
DORAN: Good morning.
My name is Debbie Doran and since 1996 I've been a special agent of the FBI assigned to the New York division's Counterterrorism Division, where I focused on Osama bin laden and al Qaeda investigations.
As a street agent, I'm removed from the policy and administrative decision-making processes that have defined the scope and conduct of the FBI's investigation into al Qaeda, both historically and currently, and therefore cannot speak to those issues.
What I can speak to is how we at the street agent level pursued al Qaeda and some of what we have learned.
Let me begin by telling you that I am proud to be an agent of the FBI and I am particularly proud of the work done by the Counterterrorism Division in New York. I have been privileged and honored to work with and learn from my colleagues in the FBI, as well as those in other government agencies.
Prior to 9/11, it was primarily the New York office together with the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York, supported by dedicated analysts at FBI headquarters and in conjunction with our colleagues at CTC that constituted the majority of the United States government's institutional knowledge about al Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States.
The dedication and sacrifices made in this cause by these people is incalculable. I hope today that we who sit before you can do justice to their efforts, which since 9/11 have been supplemented with literally thousands of additional people in both civilian and military capacities. Clearly this is indicative of the responsibility with which we were charged prior to 9/11.
The FBI is and has been an integral part of the United States intelligence community working to prevent acts of terrorism.
Most emphatically, the FBI is not new to countering terrorism against United States interests, whether here or abroad. Included in the FBI's mission has always been the proactive identification and disruption of potential terrorism threats.
Our first joint terrorism task force was formed in New York over 20 years ago, and we have long understood that a successful prosecution after an attack is only second best.
The FBI is extremely effective in putting together both criminal and intelligence cases all built upon information obtained through detailed and thorough investigations that are factually substantiated and corroborated.
The fundamental objective of our investigations, both criminal and intelligence, is to reach to the highest level of truth about that which we investigate.
It is our training under the rule of law that has led to the FBI's successes in such cases.
FBI investigators seek to pursue all leads to their logical end and to follow these leads wherever they may take us.
While leads can undoubtedly be difficult in the wake of terrorist attacks, the real goal is to develop them through proactive investigation so as to be able to disrupt potential attacks before they occur.
In numerous instances, our investigations have disrupted planned attacks against the United States and have contributed to the disruption of planned attacks abroad.
Beyond merely disrupting specific plots, intelligence generated has significantly contributed to the identification of al Qaeda's leadership, its organizational structure, methods, training, finances, geographical region and intent.
The early development of operational sources and cooperators, dogged pursuit of leads and the factual substantiation of information all exemplify the ways that we were proactive in the fight against terrorism long before 9/11.
Through the use of sources, the FBI identified the first seeds of Islamically justified terrorism in the U.S. in the late 1980s.
Through these investigations in the early 1990s the name Osama bin Laden first surfaced. Initially he was identified as an organizer and financier of military training camps in Afghanistan.
The fact that his name first surfaced through FBI New York investigations were the reasons that the OBL investigation was assigned to the FBI's New York office.
This early era yielded yet another important name, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. all of these investigations contributed greatly to the FBI's then new but growing knowledge of OBL and his network.
The FBI's intelligence investigation into Osama bin Laden was opened in February of '96, and the criminal investigation was opened in September of '96. Perhaps the most significant factor in the progress of these investigations from our perspective came with the arrival of an al Qaeda defector, Jamal al Fadl, nicknamed Junior.
Junior had offered his information to a number of different countries before being brought in by the CIA in '96. Subsequently the CIA allowed him to meet with the Fbi.
In December '96, Junior was established as an FBI cooperating witness against al Qaeda. Information developed by Junior spurred a continuing effort to target and apprehend al Qaeda associates wherever they might be found, including those willing to act as informants.
Junior was only one of a series of cooperators developed by the FBI. Like him, they continue to be debriefed to this day and continue to provide the FBI with new and relevant information. Through these sources, the FBI gained valuable insights into al Qaeda.
Utilizing sources like Junior and others, Osama bin Laden was identified as the head of al Qaida.
Information provided by the sources also allowed for the identification of his top lieutenants and the structure of the al Qaeda organization. al Qaeda can be likened to the organization of a corporation, headed by a CEO, with a number of subsidiaries, the directors of which all sit upon the corporate board. In al Qaeda's case, OBL is the CEO, and his board of directors is called the Majlis al-Shura, or consultative council, which forms a core of the group's command and control structure.
This council discussed and approved major undertakings, including the terrorist operations of al Qaeda. Each member of the Majlis al- Shura headed a committee, and each committee had its own responsibilities and specific purposes, such as those for information, propaganda, Islamic law, finance and military operations.
Through these sources the FBI also gained a more comprehensive picture of the training camps, methods, tradecraft and intent of al Qaeda.
Throughout the '90s, thousands of men were recruited to come and fight on behalf of the Taliban against the Northern alliance in order to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan. Those who came were sent to basic training camps. Those who excelled were approached about the possibility of joining the larger jihad against the United States and its allies. Those who accepted that offer were sent on for advanced training and sometimes for specialized training such as in explosives.
It also became clear that OBL was more than simply a financier. Rather, he was the spiritual leader of a virulently anti-Western interpretation of Islam, who was adored by those who followed him.
By early '96 and continuing to today, the FBI and CIA have been working together in the targeting of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The FBI has contributed significantly to this joint effort and continue to examine al Qaeda's presence across the United States and around the globe.
Long before 9/11, FBI agents opened up a number of OBL-related investigations in the United States and briefed countless foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Eventually the amount of factually substantiated information developed was such that in June '98 Osama bin Laden was indicted in the Southern District of New York under seal. This was a significant legal tool to have in hand in the event an opportunity to capture bin Laden arose.
This indictment was unsealed and superseded after the attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in August of '98.
This commission has been provided unprecedented access to FBI personnel, FBI information and records in order to inform yourself about our roles in counterterrorism efforts, past and present.
The fact that this commission was able to draft the statement it has for this panel is, in and of itself, a small testament to the work done by this dedicated band of public servants, including those in the FBI in the years prior to 9/11.
On behalf of the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, and Executive Assistant Director of the FBI John Pistole, we thank the commission for inviting us to these proceedings and providing the opportunity in some small way to contribute to history.
We understand the responsibility with which you have been charged and will do our best to answer your questions.
KEAN: Thank you, Ms. Doran.
FITZGERALD: Thank you. Good morning.
In light of the comprehensive statement of the commission staff and Agent Doran, I would just like to emphasize three points.
The first point is that I think we sometimes fail to appreciate how well trained the al Qaeda network is and how they go about their intelligence gathering. And I think a couple of examples illustrate the point.
Many of us might think of terrorists as some sort of -- almost like a street gang. Not that street gangs aren't very dangerous, but I think we have to appreciate that many of the people in the al Qaeda network have very sophisticated educations.
When you see bin Laden on the videotapes next to Ayman al- Zawahiri, we forget that the man sitting next to him is a medical surgeon. Many people in the al Qaeda network are doctors, lawyers, advanced military officials from foreign countries who have great experience.
The second thing we forget is how well trained they are. They have formal training over in Afghanistan and had it for years where they trained people in surveillance techniques, countersurveillance techniques, assassinations, kidnappings, bomb building, all sorts of religious indoctrination, and taught them how to use ciphers and codes.
And so, we look at people who are studying this very, very carefully. What we saw in the embassy bombing case is that they used explicitly a cell structure. We found documents seized from an al Qaeda-located residence that showed that they followed a cell structure that had a surveillance cell, or intelligence-gathering cell that would gather information. They would then go to the headquarters cell by their methodology and get approval for an operation. They would then use a logistics cell to help carry out the operation, then an execution cell would come in and do the job.
We heard that same technique when we interviewed one of the bombers who was caught, who described the four cells, and we saw it in place. In that particular case, the man who was part of the intelligence cell that did the surveillance was a U.S. citizen named ali Mohammed, with 17 years experience in the Egyptian military prior to that. He went and joined the U.S. Army for three years, was in the United States, helped train some of the people who later carried out the World Trade Center bombing, went back to Afghanistan and helped train a lot of the top leadership in al Qaeda, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, in these various techniques.
Then he went as a U.S. citizen and surveilled a dozen targets in Nairobi in December 1993.
The headquarters cell was then bin Laden and others sitting in Khartoum in the Sudan.
They actually looked at files and photographs and approved the operation.
The surveillance itself was first done in December 1993, five years before the attack, which shows a level of patience and planning that we don't expect from a non-nation state.
The logistic cell was carried out by people who were in Kenya for years. Some were fisherman. Some were in the gem stone business. A critical person was a U.S. citizen running a charity in Kenya.
And one of the things I think we sometimes don't appreciate is that when we deal with criminals in the United States when we see a front organization that's usually a pretty thin front. I remember a mob case in New York where someone went into a cafe to order a cup of coffee, and they said, "We don't serve coffee here." And it was pretty obvious that the cafe wasn't a cafe.
But the concern you have is with al Qaeda, when they operate a charity, they actually believe in the charity work. Their ideology is such that they equate helping the poor and downtrodden, which is a good thing, with killing the people that they hate, including civilians.
And the people actually do lots of charity work, so if someone went to inspect a charity, they would see records. They would see orphans being treated. They'd be seeing medicine being shipped, and that's what gave it great, great cover.
And finally, they used an execution cell where they brought people who were trained in Afghanistan who had fought with the Taliban and brought them in at the last minute and told them what to do.
So I think when we think about the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda, we have to recognize that we're dealing with very intelligent people, very well trained and very patient.
And the other thing we need to do is recognize that they recognize who we are and what our strength and weaknesses are. And one of the things they plan and train to do is to exploit our weaknesses.
They know the immigration system. They know it's better to have U.S. citizenship or Western citizenship. They know it's important to have a passport and a good cover story, and that's how they get in our country.
And the other thing they appreciate is what they can learn from the media, in terms of gathering information, both publicized or leaked, that shows how we got about doing our business. And they know how to manipulate the media, both in terms of propaganda and terrorizing our population.
So it's a very serious problem. We all obviously know that from the tragic lesson of September 11th, and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Mr. FITZGERALD.
© 2004 FDCH E-Media