Terrorist Threats Against AmericaAmbassador Francis X. Taylor, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Testimony to the Committee on International Relations
September 25, 2001
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and discuss the terrorist threats facing the United States and the world. We need to work together in the task of confronting the heightened terrorist challenge and deterring terrorists and their supporters in the future.
Your Committee's support for our programs in the fight against terrorism has been very helpful in the past and I look forward to working closely with you as we begin our campaign to rid the world of the terrorist menace that threatens all the worldís nations. With your permission, I have a more detailed statement to submit for the record. My remarks will highlight my statement for the record.
Before we begin, I want to express my condolence to the families of the thousands of Americans and citizens from more than 80 other nations who were killed, injured, or terrorized by these horrific acts against humanity. I also want to thank the thousands of police officers, firefighters, emergency service and medical personnel and many others who responded so magnificently and have worked tirelessly to save lives and avert greater tragedy. Their efforts in these extraordinary circumstances demonstrate the indomitable American spirit. We are proud of them all and what they represent.
The events in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 were not just an attack on America and Americans. The World Trade Center bombing claimed victims from some 80 nations -ó from our close neighbors Canada and Mexico to countries as far away as Australia and Zimbabwe, and large numbers from Britain, India, and Pakistan. For many countries, including ours, this attack claimed the lives of the largest numbers of their citizens in a terrorist incident. These terrorist attacks may have been conceived as a blow against America but in reality they were attacks against all civilized people.
There is no excuse, no justification, no rationalization for these acts of mass murder against innocent people. Those who try to excuse, condone and support groups involved in this activity are no better than the terrorists as their support encourages even more horrific acts like these. Our campaign will go after terrorist groups and their supporters and eliminate them as a threat to civilization.
President Bush said bluntly in his address to Congress last Thursday: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
This Administration is mobilizing an international coalition against the terrorists and those who support them. From around the world, countries have come forward, both individually and through their multilateral associations, to condemn these acts and to offer support for our campaign. While the ability of countries to contribute may vary, each recognizes that the attack against the World Trade Center is an attack against all nations, and future attacks must be deterred.
Mr. Chairman, a brief understanding of history and context are important in mobilizing for this effort. In your letter of invitation to testify today, you asked me to comment on what this new terrorist trend means.
To summarize, in some ways the September 11 attacks do not reflect a brand new trend as much as a quantitative increase in the terrorists' sophistication, planning and willingness to cause large scale destruction and loss of life. During much of the 1970's, most of the terrorism directed against the U.S. and our allies was supported and funded by State sponsors ó such as Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
In the early 1990's, we saw the emergence of radical fundamentalist terrorist groups that relied not on state sponsors but primarily on funds raised independently through front companies and so-called charitable contributions. Unlike their predecessors of the 70ís and 80ís, these groups were distinguished by the fact that they were loosely knit international networks. Some had ties stemming from their involvement in the successful effort by the Afghan people to throw out the occupying forces of the former Soviet Union. It was from this group that Islamic extremist "Afghan Alumni" formed the group al-Qaida, which means "The Base" in Arabic. Al-Qaida is essentially a holding company comprised of many terrorist groups and independent cells. The President and CEO of this holding company is Usama Bin Laden, the 17th son of a wealthy Saudi businessman and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
Bin Ladinís goal is to remove the American presence from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic Nations and to create an Islamic utopia in what is now the Islamic world. He sees the United States as the major impediment to his goal and has vowed to attack America and Americans to undermine our influence on the world stage.
While some attacks associated with al-Qaida were aimed against specific U.S. military targets, such as USS Cole in Yemen, others were aimed at civilians, such as the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed over 200 Africans, as well as 12 Americans. Other major plots to kill large numbers of people were foiled, such as an attempt at the end of 1999 to attack a hotel and a Christian religious site in Jordan, a plot to blow up civilian airliners in the Philippines, and a plan to attack Los Angeles airport.
One result of the terrorists' stark "us" vs. "them" attitude is their willingness to kill large numbers of innocent people in suicide attacks without claiming responsibility or stating a measurable demand. In the past, when terrorists hijacked aircraft or took over a building, they did so in pursuit of specific and quantifiable political goals, such as forcing governments to release previously captured colleagues or the media to publish manifestos. The September 11 attacks were a continuation of the trend to inflict maximum casualties, without regard to loss of life or likelihood of achieving specific demands. The planners used a ghastly scenario of the kind that could be imagined only by people so full of hatred that they are beyond the civilized pale.
The challenges in meeting this threat are immense. The September 11 terrorists apparently had enough money to make their preparations many months if not years in advance. They developed a network of cells; it will be a real effort to root out those that remain. These groups and perhaps others do not operate in a traditional top-down structure but are loosely knit. We will meet the challenges.
As President Bush told Congress last Thursday night, "We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network."
Our efforts include encouraging the gathering and increased sharing of good intelligence, rooting out terrorist cells, identifying and disrupting terrorist money flows, and assisting countries to tighten their border security, law enforcement, and intelligence capability.
The global coalition I mentioned earlier in my testimony is a key element. We are urging other countries to work with us. We are willing to exert diplomatic and economic pressures against countries that do not cooperate in counterterrorism efforts. International cooperation is essential at all levels and for the long term.
Last week I traveled with Deputy Secretary Armitage and several other colleagues to meet with our Russian counterparts. The trip during these busy times underscores the importance of our efforts to cooperate with countries with which we have a mutual interest.
There are a number of areas in which we are seeking international cooperation; I would like to highlight one in particular.
We are encouraging other countries to join in our efforts to clamp down on terrorist fund raising and money transfers. Funding is a critical element in these large-scale terrorist operations and in the recruiting of supporters. We need to choke it off.
The Executive Order signed by the President yesterday is part of that effort.
Another important tool in countering terrorism fundraising is the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act(AEDPA) of 1996, which you helped steer through Congress as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. For the benefit of those not familiar with the legislation, it makes it a criminal offense for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly contribute funds or other material support to groups that the Secretary of State has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. U.S. law also allows freezing of the designated groupís assets and denial of visas for members as well as leaders of terrorist organizations. Currently, 31 groups are designated, including al-Qaida.
Mr. Chairman, an important section in the AEDPA is worth repeating for the world at large. I refer to the finding in section 301:
"[F}oreign terrorist organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct."
This is a key point. Before they make a contribution to groups supporting terrorists, people around the world need to understand that by doing so they are assisting criminal conduct.
Using this and other legislation as a potential model, we have encouraged and will continue to encourage other countries to tighten up their own laws and regulations in order to curb terrorist fund raising and money transfers. Britain already has done so, and other countries, such as Greece, have new counterterrorism laws or proposed legislation in various stages of consideration. We have met with officials of some of these countries them to discuss AEDPA and other laws, and to exchange ideas and suggestions.
In particular, we are working with our G-8 partners to encourage international cooperation in countering money flows to terrorists. The State Department already developed a training course in our Antiterrorism Training Assistance program to help other countries improve their ability to identify and curb terrorist fund raising and transfers. We encourage other countries with expertise to make similar efforts.
In addition, the Administration is making ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism a top priority. The Administration is now finalizing proposed implementing legislation for this Convention, and we strongly encourage the Senate to act swiftly and provide advice and consent to ratification to this treaty.
The Administration last week began discussing with Congress a major counterterrorism bill, the "Anti-terrorism Act of 2001." Although most of the public attention has centered on criminal code provisions that the Justice Department put forward, the State Department also offered contributions for the combined bill. Preliminary discussions already started at the staff level and we would be glad to work with the Committee on provisions of mutual interest.
Mr. Chairman, there are a number of tools that we have been using to counter terrorism, and we are sharpening and improving them in this new struggle.
Some of the basic elements are not new. Just as old-fashioned, painstaking work is important in fighting ordinary crimes, so fighting terrorism requires a number of unglamorous but proven measures.
On the program front, we are utilizing training-related programs to help combat terrorism overseas and thus also help protect Americans living and travelling abroad. The State Department's Antiterrorism Training Assistance (ATA) program in which we train foreign security and law enforcement officials is a pillar of this effort. The program provides not only training but also helps promote our policies and improve our contacts with foreign officials to achieve our counterterrorism goals.
Even before the September 11 attacks, we were providing policy and working level seminars and training to assist countries in preparing for or responding to weapons of mass destruction terrorism. We also have developed a Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP) which utilizes sophisticated computer data base systems and improved communications to help identify potential terrorists who try to cross international borders.
The Departmentís contribution to the interagency counterterrorism research and development program, the Technical Support Working Group, also helps advance in explosives detection and other areas and bolster our cooperative R&D efforts with Britain, Canada and Israel.
We have proposed increasing our terrorism information reward program, including authority to offer larger rewards. The current maximum reward is $5 million. We propose allowing the Secretary to authorize payment of a higher reward if he determines that doing so would be important to the national interests of the United States.
The international coalition and our bilateral programs I mentioned are just some of the measures we are taking to meet this new challenge. Our response to the horrific events of September 11 will be broad-based and will not be completed in a short time. We are committed to a long term strategic campaign, in concert with the Nations of the World that abhor terrorism, to root out and bring to justice those that use terrorism. We are in for a long haul. As President Bush told the world last week, this will be a lengthy campaign. There are no easy or quick fixes in fighting this danger posed by international terrorism. We must be persistent, and determined. And we will.
With the dedication of the American people, your help and that of our allies overseas, we will succeed. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to take any questions.
Released on September 25, 2001