Global Focus: TALK ABOUT TERRORISM
R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, joined us Monday, May 3 to discuss terrorism.
Woolsey, who served as CIA head from 1993 to 1995, is currently a partner at the law firm of Shea & Gardner in Washington, D.C. Previously, he worked as an arms control negotiator for the United States in Europe.
Read the transcript below.
Arlington, Va.: In the 1998 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, the Clinton administration soften its language on Iran. Why would this happen when the intelligence community still considers the country an active sponsor of terrorism?
R. James Woolsey: I believe the Administration still says that it regards Iran as one of the several active sponsors of terrorism. But it has withdrawn the language that describes Iran as the No. 1 terrorist sponsoring state. I believe the evidence for a reduction in Iranian sponsored terrorist activity is slight, but the administration probably felt it was enough because it wanted to send a positive signal to the reform forces in Iran that are centered around President Khatemi.
New Paltz, NY: Do you think the deteriorating situation in Yugoslavia is a prelude to more general destabilizing in Eastern Europe? Should U.S. citizens expect terrorist reprisals for the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo?
R. James Woolsey: I believe that unless the Clinton administration can get Milosevic to withdraw completely from Kosovo and accept a Nato force to guarantee the safety of the Kosovars, the world, and Milosevic, will believe that Milosevic has won. Right now, I'm sad to say, I think this is likely. That means in turn a weakening of the reformers and democrats in places such as Bulgaria and a strengthening of the hand of the Reds, Browns, organized crime, and other such groups. I think this would be accompanied by increased terrorism against the U.S. and American people and property overseas. Also one can't exclude the possibility of Milosevic-sponsored terrorist operations in the United States. I think all this is more likely if we appear weak than if we win clearly and decisively.
El Paso, TX:
R. James Woolsey: Cyberterrorism is only one of the ways in which our energy security could be threatened by terrorist actions. The best time to try to disrupt the electrical grid or fuel pipelines is probably next January 1st (because of the simultaneous Y2K problem), but it is a problem anytime. I think that one of the most useful things the country can do to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist actions (including disruptions of oil shipments from abroad) is to move away from reliance on hydrocarbons and toward reliance on carbohydrates. One aspect of this would be to pursue ethanol from biomass, not just corn, as automobile fuel. Another is to move toward reliance on renewables including photovoltaics, wind, and biomass to generate electricity. Fuel cell developments for both automobiles and electricity generation are also promising. Hunter and Amory Lovins wrote 20 years ago in Brittle Power about the vulnerability of our power systems for electricity and fuel--unfortunately they are still correct.
San Francisco, California: A common criticism heard around here these days is that the methods the U.S. has been using for the previous eight or ten years to combat governments which engage in and support terrorism punish the innocent, or perhaps the least guilty, while having little effect on the actual perpetrators. The examples usually cited are Iraq and Kosovo -- sanctions which hurt civilians first, and bombing which kills civilians and cannon fodder first. What do you think? Are there better methods to deter terrorism and go after the decision makers, perhaps?
R. James Woolsey: I believe that, although sometimes economic sanctions are useful and the current bombing of Yugoslavia is a portion of what we should be doing, there is only one effective way to deal with a government such as those of Iraq and Yugoslavia that sponsors terrorism or genocide: replace the government. I do not favor attempts to assassinate foreign leaders because it is not only illegal under the current executive order but seems to me to be only a last resort in the event of a war for survival of the nation--as against Nazi Germany. But in Iraq, we could sponsor a government in exile and support it in the North and the South, with military assistance far more effectively than we are today. And I believe it was extremely poor judgment that President Clinton began the bombing of Yugoslavia without moving substantial ground forces into the area in order to intervene if necessary and, at the very least, to make Milosevic think twice before he began the current genocide.
Dear Mr. Woolsey,
R. James Woolsey: Although the threat of illegal drugs and organized crime from abroad is a serious one, criminals, including drug dealers, are normally after money. The problem with the shift in emphasis in terrorism in recent years--as religious fanaticism and other very extreme movements have come to dominate the scene--is that many terrorist groups and individuals (Aum Shinri Kyo, Timothy McVeigh, a number of groups from the Mideast) are not interested merely in winning a place at the table and are not satisfied with obtaining money: they want to blow up the table and all the rest of us who are sitting there. Some such groups could quite conceivably use weapons of mass destruction including biological ones e.g. This trend seems to me to be even more serious for our security than even the flow of illegal drugs and the operation of international organized crime groups.
Honolulu, HI: Since we cannot prevent terrorists from employing weapons of mass destruction if they really want to, should the U.S. withdraw from its predominant place in the world to become less of a target?
R. James Woolsey: NO. I do not believe we should. The terrorists in many case s regard everything that we epitomize---not just Hollywood but political liberty, the rule of law, and economic freedom--as the work of the devil. There is no place that we can hide and by failing to support our friends abroad who stand for the same political values, we ultimately make the world less friendly to those values. John Donne said "No man is an island." Neither, these days, is the United States.
R. James Woolsey: A good intelligence source, whether it is a spy or a broken code, is a gift that keeps on giving to our national security. The circumstances, I believe, are very rare when a source should be endangered in order to conduct a covert action, or take any other step that might endanger the source or make it possible for someone to neutralize it. Certainly, one can imagine such a circumstance, however. For example, it would have been worth a great deal for the U.S. to have been able to help the 1944 German military officers' plot to kill Hitler to succeed.
Fairfax, Va. : Recent reports indicate the CIA has blunted bin Laden's campaign, helping to round up members of his various cells worldwide. But he is still on the loose, isn't he? Is there reason to believe that we have really slowed him down?
R. James Woolsey: My only knowledge of this is from press accounts, but it does seem as though bin Laden has had a number of his operations thwarted by American intelligence. Nevertheless, he remains at large, heavily protected by (and cooperating with) the Taliban in Afghanistan and his financial resources together with his fanaticism make him a continuing danger. In short, it seems that we may have slowed him down, but only slowed him down.
We're roughly half-way through this live discussion
with former CIA director R. James Woolsey. Use the hyperlink below to submit your questions.
R. James Woolsey: I believe there have been a number of attacks that have been halted--several by U.S. intelligence abroad preventing attacks on some of our embassies. Also, there is the well-documented case of the FBI's having penetrated and thwarted a second set of bombings in New York City following the World Trade Center attack. But both the FBI and the CIA operate under policy constraints that are designed to protect liberties in this country, with respect to the FBI's guidelines, but designed for far less understandable reasons in the case of limitations on CIA intelligence collection overseas. For example, in 1996, the CIA revised its guidelines to make it more difficult for CIA case officers to recruit as informants anyone in a foreign country who was a human rights violator. Since most terrorist organizations consist entirely of human rights violators, this was, in my judgment, an unwise change. If we don't know enough about what a particular terrorist organization may be planning to do, the reason is not that we are buying information from too many human rights violators, it is, rather, that we are not buying information from enough. We have to understand that just as the FBI and the Justice Dept. have to obtain information from someone like the Sammy the Bull Gravano (confessed to 19 murders) in order to convict a mafia family head like John Gotti, so it is also the case that the CIA overseas must obtain information from some truly undesirable individuals, if it is to have any chance at learning what terrorist organizations are likely to do. Espionage has been this kind of business for at least 4,000 years since Joshua's case officers, whom he dispatched into Jericho were only able to be successful by working with Rahab the harlot.
Washington, DC: The current issue of Foreign Affairs has an article titled "sanctions of mass destruction" in which the authors argue that terrorism is not the serious threat to the United States that it is made out to be -more Americans die by peanut allergies each year on average-. They suggest that, while it is terrible, it should be treated as a crime and not an act of war. What is your opinion on how serious an actual threat terrorism is to the US, and where you would draw the line between dealing with it via military vs. law enforcement means?
R. James Woolsey: If a terrorist organization successfully releases a biological toxin, such as anthrax, in an American city, I guarantee you that those who compared terrorism to peanut allergies will feel very foolish--- indeed, I hope worse than foolish. The problem with terrorism that might employ weapons of mass destruction is that the first terrorist event could easily produce an entire wars worth of casualties. For example, Korea and Vietnam each claimed 50-60,000 American lives. If a biological toxin were released in a major American city, we would be very lucky to get off with that few casualties. This is the problem with arguing from past experience. The first experience of terrorism using such weapons is likely to be, in terms of deaths, the equivalent of a major war.
R. James Woolsey: Satellites are very expensive and the satellites of the national reconnaissance office and the code breaking computers of the National Security Agency cost substantially more than human intelligence collection. During the Cold War, there was probably good reason for this allocation of resources. The Soviet Union did a number of things, particularly weapons development, in a rather rigid way. We could learn a great deal about Soviet weapons development programs, for example, by watching ICBM fields and military bases and by picking up radar signals. Today, the dangers are spread in far more unpredictable ways. For example, we must watch dozens of test ranges around the world in order to pick up ballistic missile tests by a number of different states---we can't just watch a few Soviet ranges anymore. But because of this unpredictability, we must have human intelligence to tip off and work closely with those who operate our technical intelligence collection. It is as if we spent nearly 50 years struggling against a large dragon, killed him, and then found ourselves in a jungle full of a large number of poisonous snakes. The snakes are much harder to keep track of than the dragon ever was.
R. James Woolsey: The KLA some months ago had a number of people in it with whom the United States would probably want to be slow to ally itself. There were extreme Marxists, terrorists, and some criminal elements. In the last two months, however, many in the KLA have been killed, volunteers have come from decent Kosovars driven from their homes by Milosevic, from Albania itself, and from the Albanian diaspora in Europe and the U.S. It is very difficult today, from the outside, to have a very good handle on the exact character of the KLA. But Milosevic controls Yugoslavia and we know that he has ordered mass murders, rapes, and displacement of hundreds of thousands from their homes. During World War II, we made common cause with one of history's worst tyrants and greatest murderers, Josef Stalin. We did this in order to defeat another terrible tyrant who, at the time, was stronger and more threatening, Adolf Hitler. I don't believe that working together with the KLA today is anymore reprehensible than working with Stalin in 1941-45. When we do this sort of thing, it is, some would say, trafficking with the devil. I have always liked the old expression: "When you sup with the devil, use a long spoon." That suggests that sometimes it's unavoidable to sup with the devil, but we should make sure that our spoon is sufficiently long.
Simi Valley, California: Mr. Woolsey, I have heard rumors of several satchel nuclear bombs being missing from the former USSR inventory. Is this fictitious, only a rumor, or fact? -Perhaps students of the master of terror - Stalin - had over documented the actual numbers?- If there are "loose cannons" about, how can we neutralize them?
R. James Woolsey: General Lebed, the governor of Krasnoyarsk, stated publicly some months ago that he was concerned that some such Russian satchel--nuclear charges--were unaccounted for. He has not been specific about the numbers. It is a legitimate concern, however, because of the disorganized and poverty-stricken nature of much of the Russian military today, even including the formerly elite Strategic Rocket Forces. There is no single way to deal with such a smuggled weapon. But unless it is heavily shielded ( a cumbersome matter) it is potentially detectable by some of the types of sensors that the United States now possesses and can deploy at, e.g., airports.
That's all the time we have. Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks to R. James Woolsey.
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