Transcript: 9/11 Commission Hearings for June 16, 2004
ROEMER: Thank you.
KAY: I don't have much to say. I mean, I trust what the director said implicitly in terms of his assessment of how long it would take.
KAY: And I also believe that there is a program under way to accomplish that within the time frame that he's talked about. I, myself, am not privy to what that program entails, but I know it's under way.
(UNKNOWN): Congressman, if I could...
(UNKNOWN): If I could...
ROEMER: Ms. Doran?
DORAN: My level?
ROEMER: Sure. Maybe more important at your level.
DORAN: It's a fundamental part of our job, myself and my colleagues. We all try to develop sources. We all have sources. And most of those are targeted in the United States, but there are those that we work jointly with our partners in CIA and send overseas or work with overseas to continue to vet the information that they do have and to task them for the information we need.
ROEMER: And really to put you on the spot, do you have the kind of career track and incentives and capabilities within FBI to have more people like you come in there and spend a career doing this?
DORAN: I suppose there's always room for improvement, but so far so good.
ROEMER: That's why we asked you, too.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FRED F. FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
For the panel, I really have very specific questions about a specific subject.
One of the hazy questions that surrounds Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda is really its relationship, if any, with Iraq and with Saddam Hussein.
We've often heard that Osama bin Laden would not have been a natural ally, for religious reasons, for the composition and nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. And our staff report, as you just heard, basically says there's no credible evidence of any cooperation between the two. However, there seems to be some indicia that there may have been.
And, Mr. Fitzgerald, I'm delighted you're here, because this first question really I wanted to ask specifically to you, because it relates to the indictment of Osama bin Laden in the spring of 1998.
FIELDING: This is before the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa and the administration indicted Osama bin Laden. And the indictment, which was unsealed a few months later, reads, "al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government, and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq."
So my question to you is what evidence was that indictment based upon and what was this understanding that's referenced in it?
FITZGERALD: And the question of relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda is an interesting one. I don't have information post-2001 when I got involved in a trial, and I don't have information post-September 11th. I can tell you what led to that inclusion in that sealed indictment in May and then when we superseded, which meant we broadened the charges in the Fall, we dropped that language.
We understood there was a very, very intimate relationship between al Qaeda and the Sudan. They worked hand in hand. We understood there was a working relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, and they shared training. We also understood that there had been antipathy between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein was not viewed as being religious.
We did understand from people, including al-Fadl -- and my recollection is that he would have described this most likely in public at the trial that we had, but I can't tell you that for sure; that was a few years ago -- that at a certain point they decided that they wouldn't work against each other and that we believed a fellow in al Qaeda named Mondu Saleem (ph), Abu Harzai (ph) the Iraqi, tried to reach a, sort of, understanding where they wouldn't work against each other. Sort of, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
And that there were indications that within Sudan when al Qaeda was there -- which al Qaeda left in the summer of '96 or spring '96 -- there were efforts to work on joint -- you know, acquiring weapons.
FITZGERALD: Clearly, al Qaeda worked with the Sudan in getting those weapons in the national defense force there and the intelligence service. There were indications that al-Fadl had heard from others that Iran was involved. And they also had heard that Iraq was involved.
The clearest account from al-Fadl as a Sudanese was that he had dealt directly with the Sudanese intelligence service, so we had first-hand knowledge of that.
We corroborated the relationship with Iran to a lesser extent but to a solid extent. And then we had information from al-Fadl, who we believe was truthful, learning from others that there were also was efforts to try to work with Iraq. That was the basis for what we put in that indictment. Clearly, we put Sudan in the first order at that time as being the partner of al Qaeda.
We understood the relationship with Iran but Iraq, we understood, went from a position where they were working against each other to a standing down against each other. And we understood they were going to explore the possibility of working on weapons together.
That's my piece of what I know. I don't represent to know everything else, so I can't tell you, well, what we've learned since then. But there was that relationship that went from opposing each other to not opposing each other to possibly working with each other.
FIELDING: Thank you. That's very helpful.
Not unrelated, later in 1999, the Congressional Research Service published a report on the psychology of terrorism. I don't know if any of you are familiar with that report, but it's a 178-page document. But there was a passage about possible al Qaeda attack on Washington, D.C. And it said that, quote, "could take several forms." And it had various scenarios.
One of the scenarios is rather chilling because this, and I'm quoting again, "Suicide bombers belonging to al Qaeda's martyrdom battalion could crashland an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of CIA, or the White House," end of the quote.
Another passage in that same report says, "If Iraq's Saddam Hussein decides to use terrorists to attack the continental United States, he would likely turn to bin Laden's al Qaeda. al Qaeda is among the Islamic groups recruiting increasingly skilled professionals including Iraqi chemical groups, weapons experts, and others capable of helping to develop weapons of mass destruction. al Qaeda poses the most serious terrorist threat to U.S. security interests, for al Qaeda's well-trained terrorists are engaged in a terrorist jihad against U.S. interests worldwide."
Now, I would appreciate brief comments -- and we're really very short on time -- of the panel as to is there validity to that report? And secondarily, in your view, in addition to what you've helped us with, Mr. Fitzgerald, is there any evidence or any indicia of cooperation and support on the side issue of whether it's Iraq?
FITZGERALD: Sir, I think we are in full agreement with the staff statement in terms of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship at this time. It is an issue that we aggressively pursue in tracking down all new leads to try and deepen our understanding of what that relationship might have been.
FITZGERALD: But I think the staff statement did an excellent job of representing what our current understanding of the relationship...
FIELDING: What your current understanding of the...
FITZGERALD: Yes, sir, but every day we are tracking down new leads that come out on this topic aggressively.
FIELDING: Mr. Pistole?
PISTOLE: I agree with the staff statement also. There is substantial information about new threats. But in relating back to the report that they referenced, that information has been out there -- I don't recall when I first became aware of that or when the FBI, I can't even speak on behalf of when somebody became aware of that information.
But clearly we've been aware of al Qaeda's interest in targeting specific areas, as was carried out on 9/11.
The issue of where we go from here is better described in a closed setting, which I'd be glad to provide any time.
FIELDING: Well, thank you. We would appreciate that.
Anyone else have any comments?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
GORELICK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Our staff statement concludes about al Qaeda now that it's a loose confederation of regional networks with greatly weakened central organization.
And so my question for the panel is this: Does that mean that it is less capable of harming us? Or is it more a multiheaded snake that is in fact more potent?
FITZGERALD (?): The one thing that I would have added to the staff statement, because it is true, al Qaeda is a much more decentralized organization today, but bin Laden, Zawahiri and the al Qaeda leadership that remains is in South Asia.
It is actively pooling whatever resources it has left at its disposal, and in a very centralized and methodical way, we believe that it is plotting an attack and moving an attack forward, using what capabilities it has left to attack the homeland in the next few months so that you face threats from multiple sources and multiple directions.
FITZGERALD: I think the challenge with the more decentralized al Qaeda is that it's probably a more clandestine, smaller threat. It's more difficult to find. And that's probably -- as we deal with al Qaeda, the decentralized organization, that's the challenge that we face in the future.
GORELICK: So it both has -- just to summarize, it both has some remnants, if you will, some potent remnants of its leadership maintaining some level of centralized control and planning and it also has a dispersed set of activities that may be more difficult to attack. Is that what you're saying?
FITZGERALD: They present a new challenge for all of us as we try to disrupt it.
GORELICK: Would anyone else like to comment on that? Because it goes to the vice chairman's question about capabilities today.
We've heard a lot about how we have systematically attacked and imprisoned and killed the leaders, and that is all to the good in many respects. But it does pose the question of whether the less centralized al Qaeda that we're left with is more or less harmful to us and my worry is that it's more harmful.
And I guess if there are other people who would like to comment, I'd be appreciative of your comments.
KAY: Well, I agree with the notion that our success against the leadership is a two-edged sword. I mean, al Qaeda is like a cancer that's metastasized and spread, and it's terrible.
And when they have central leadership, they're more effective at controlling operations and certainly doing the spectacular, but you don't want them to do it. But when they do have central leadership, my assumption is it provides law enforcement, intelligence and the national security people a better opportunity. Then if you make an inroad, you can know what's going on and have a better shot at preventing it.
When they spread out, and to the extent they're much more loosely connected -- they may do some freelancing -- it just makes everyone's job a lot harder.
So it's a positive thing that the leadership has been decimated in many respects, but it shouldn't give us great comfort in the sense that we still have just a different danger and maybe more far flung in some respects.
GORELICK: Thank you.
I'd like to follow up on the question posed by Commissioner Thompson in which members of the panel essentially said: You have to look at this enemy in two parts.
GORELICK: You've got the hard core. And I think, "Dr. K" you basically said: Look, they are hard core, and the only way to go at them is straight at them.
And then there is the broader community of support, and there it is a battle for the hearts and minds.
And I want to probe that a little bit, and I have a two-part question. One is, do we think that there is in the Muslim world, in the Arab world, broader public support for bin Laden personally, for al Qaeda generally? And two, if the answer to that is yes, how does that hurt us? What is the impact of that broader support? Why should we be worried about it?
Could you start with that, "Dr. K"?
First of all, I think it's important to emphasize that what bin Laden represents only reflects an extremist minority of the Muslim community. So we're not talking about the Muslim world as a whole, in general, that adheres to and supports his beliefs, his philosophies, his vision.
GORELICK: Can I just interrupt for a moment?
But as I understand it, there is considerable and broad support for him and for al Qaeda, or approval. Maybe I'm not using the right terminology from your point of view.
But could you expand on your answer a little bit?
KAY: Well, I think it varies by country.
In those countries which have a much more stricter interpretation of Islam, countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, for example, his popularity, his appeal is probably stronger. I mean, we don't have, obviously, good numbers here which we can judge. We're sort of working on the basis of anecdotal evidence.
In those countries which have more moderate interpretations and implementation of Islam in the countries -- Morocco, Turkey, for example -- the level of support is probably much less. And whether it's growing or not I think is very difficult to gauge.
And, yes, I think there is a -- even amongst the more moderate elements, which I alluded to earlier, I think you will find sympathy for what he's trying to do. Maybe not his tactics, but certainly for his vision of unifying all Muslims under one caliphate, I think would probably have a great deal of support for that vision. Less support for his tactics and certainly even less support for his indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
GORELICK: Did you want to answer the part of the question about the impact of that support? Should we worry if bin Laden and al Qaeda's support in the Muslim world is growing?
KAY: Well, I think definitely we should worry if that support is growing, because it means that we, the United States, as well as our allies, will face a greater potential pool of recruits out there, the terrorist recruits.
And it means that even if bin Laden and al Qaeda were to disappear tomorrow, that you still have enough remnants out there in terms of affiliated, like-minded -- we use the term "like-minded" -- groups or individuals who will carry on the banner because they believe in what he stood for.
GORELICK: Thank you.
KEAN: Our last questioner will be Senator Gorton.
GORTON: Mr. Fitzgerald, I think we on the commission and all Americans owe you a great debt of gratitude for your ability to deal within the law and the Constitution with terrorists after they have been captured and charged with all of the due process of the law.
I'd like to add to that admiration my admiration for the profound nature of your written statement here today on motivations and on causes. It's one of the best written statements I've seen during the entire life of this commission.
Very close to the beginning of that statement, you make the following observation: First and foremost, al Qaeda is driven by its ideology which fundamentally opposes our way of life and our system of laws, with no room for negotiation or accommodation.
GORTON: The belief in martyrdom, a glorious death in violent jihad that qualifies one for paradise pervades al Qaeda members' thinking.
And in the very next sentence you manage to connect that directly or indirectly with a 14th century Islam scholar.
My question to you is, is, in your view, that ideology fundamentally, religiously driven, however perverted those religious ideas may be?
FITZGERALD: I would agree with that.
It's driven by religion, but a warped version of Islam. There are a billion Muslims in the world who don't buy into that.
And then its view of history, of economy, of politics, all stems from that, what we could say, perverted religious point of view.
When we first talked to the fellow Junior, or al-Fadl, who was the al Qaeda defector, when he first sat down and talked to us he, at one point said, you know, you really don't have horns in your heads. And that's what they've been brainwashed in the camps to think. They thought we were all evil, and they've been brainwashed into this ideology, so that's the mind set they're coming from.
GORTON: And that particular ideology, when you deal with people with no room for negotiation or accommodation, is peculiarly difficult for Westerners from a completely different culture.
And is it your view that in many respects when we get to those basic causes it's only going to be met by other Muslims who profoundly disagree with it and feel that it is damaging to them and to the balance of their culture?
FITZGERALD: I think, as I think Commissioner Gorelick mentioned, we need to win the hearts and the minds of the other people so that they will stand up and call these people to account, that they will aid us in the fight against terrorism, and to the extent that we need to take military action, that countries will allow us to use their countries as bases of support or not oppose us. Because we need to win over the people to our side who are not in that extremist camp.
GORTON: Mr. Pistole, do you and the FBI agree with those general statements that Mr. Fitzgerald has set up?
PISTOLE: Yes, Senator.
We view this as a generational issue that is worldwide, that is something that is not a short-term fix, and it may even be tantamount to a hundred year war.
This is something that goes on and on until these hearts and minds, as had been mentioned, can be changed so we don't have young men and women who are brought up to learn to hate Americans, Jews, anybody who does not conform to their ideology.
GORTON: Mr. Davis and "Dr. K"?
KAY: I definitely agree with that portrayal. I think there is really no accommodation with what bin Laden represents.
Even -- I mean, you could go to the extreme of saying if the United States were to eliminate its support for Israel, get out of the Middle East and stop exporting all of our goods and culture to that part of the world, and would that make a difference?
Well, I don't know. But I just don't think it's any accommodation here.
GORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you very much.
That completes our questioning.
I want to thank the panel members very much for your service and for your help this morning to the panel.
Thank you very, very much.
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