The New Globalization: The International Terrorist Network and How it WorksAmbassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Remarks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC ) Policy Conference 2004
May 17, 2004
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. It is my great pleasure to come before you today to address one of the most impressive conferences of this or any year. AIPAC has a well-deserved reputation for pulling together an outstanding event every year, with speakers from throughout the Washington policy community and beyond, and it is truly a pleasure to join you today.
I would like to focus my remarks on the status of the global war against terrorism, what we have seen in the evolution of the terrorist threat, and the continuing problem of state sponsorship of terror. But first, I would like to highlight some facets of our excellent cooperation with Israel in the counterterrorism arena.
The U.S.-Israeli friendship spans more than 50 years, joined together by shared democratic values and a vision of peace and prosperity for the Middle East region. The United States has stood by the state of Israel during troubled times, and is committed to Israel's security.
It has been my pleasure to work closely with Israeli colleagues over the years, both at the CIA and now in my capacity as the Secretary of State's Coordinator for Counterterrorism. I have traveled to Israel on numerous occasions, most recently to Jerusalem this past December to co-chair the U.S.-Israel Joint Counterterrorism Group (JCG), which is an important part of our counterterrorism partnership.
The Joint Counterterrorism Group was established between our governments in 1996, and meets regularly. The JCG facilitates interagency exchanges on terrorism issues and examines means to enhance our cooperation. We focus on augmenting key capacities to combat terror.
The Technical Support Working Group, which reports to the JCG, pursues cooperative R&D projects to address shared counterterrorism technology requirements. Key areas of cooperation include physical security, the detection and defeat of explosives, countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, and investigative support and forensics technologies for law enforcement and counterterrorism operations. We have succeeded in jointly developing new technologies which have saved American and Israeli lives over the years. This should be a source of great pride for us all.
I do not need to tell anyone in this room that Israel has suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists during its history. The American people suffer along with you, and our citizens understand your pain on a very personal level, particularly given that 17 Americans were murdered in terrorist attacks in Israel during 2003 alone.
Americans felt the kinship, deep sorrow, and support of the Israeli people following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The government and people of Israel immediately offered their unlimited support in America's hour of need.
Following the September 11 attacks, the United States has forcefully applied the Bush doctrine: any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and will be held to account. We have done so through our National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, which creates the policy framework for coordinated actions to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its friends around the world and, ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them. We have implemented this strategy to act simultaneously on four fronts:
-- Defeat terrorist organizations of global reach by attacking their sanctuaries, leadership, finances, and command, control and communications;
-- Deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by cooperating with other states to take action against these international threats;
-- Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit by enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on the areas most at risk; and
-- Defend the United States, its citizens, and interests at home and abroad. The National Strategy highlights that success will only come through the sustained, steadfast, and systematic application of all elements of national power -- diplomatic, financial, law enforcement, intelligence, and military.
While the United States is committed to combating terrorism the world over, in whatever form it takes to threaten the American people and American interests, the focus of our efforts since September 2001 has been on the al-Qaida organization.
Let me briefly tell you about the progress we have made, and how the al-Qaida organization looks far different than it did in September 2001.
A global dragnet has tightened around al-Qaida, made possible by a broad coalition of 84 nations, all focused on the common goal of eradicating the terrorist threat that endangers all civilized nations. Since September 11, 2001, 70% of al-Qaida senior leadership and more than 3,400 lower-level al-Qaida operatives or associates have been detained or killed in over 100 countries, largely as a result of cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Terrorist cells have been wrapped up around the globe, from Singapore to Italy and Saudi Arabia, as well as here at home in Buffalo, Portland, and North Carolina.
We have made extensive efforts to attack al-Qaida's financing, which is the lifeblood of its murderous activities, providing for the movement of operatives, the cooperation of officials and local populations, and the acquisition of arms and explosives. More than 172 countries have issued orders freezing or seizing approximately $200 million in terrorism-related financial assets and accounts.
In addition to attacking known accounts, more than 100 countries worldwide have introduced new terrorist-related legislation or regulations, including new laws to block money-laundering and the misuse of charities in the support of terrorists.
Meanwhile, we have strengthened our defenses here at home, including a comprehensive reorganization of our government to more effectively protect the homeland. We have implemented more stringent screening procedures, and worked with the international community to raise global law enforcement and security standards. We have also been engaged to provide frontline countries with the training and assistance needed to support and expand their counterterrorism efforts. I have been actively involved in this process through the implementation of the State Department's counterterrorism programs.
I would now like to take a few minutes to describe how the al-Qaida threat has evolved over the past two and a half years. Although there are numerous terrorist organizations of concern in the world today, the top priority of U.S. efforts has been on the al-Qaida organization, its affiliates, and those who support them.
The removal of the Taliban regime from Afghanistan by Coalition forces stripped al-Qaida of its primary sanctuary and support, and shut down long-standing terrorist training camps. Although our work continues in Afghanistan to root-out the remnants of al-Qaida's former strength, al-Qaida has lost a crucial safe haven. In short, al-Qaida has been deeply wounded, and has been forced to evolve in ways not entirely by its own choosing in order to remain a viable threat.
We and our coalition partners have also removed the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, a long-time state sponsor of terror. The al-Qaida-affiliated Zarqawi network continues to spread terror and death as the Iraqi people move toward a brighter future free from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
Foreign jihadists now see Iraq as a new focal point for their fight against the U.S. and as a training ground to build their extremist credentials. There, they have joined with former regime elements, criminals, and other local insurgents to conduct attacks against Coalition forces. Iraqi civilians have also been targeted by these jihadists as they attempt to sow discord in Iraq. We are aggressively rooting out the foreign fighters in Iraq, and we will continue to devote the resources necessary to ensure that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will be unable to use Iraq as a secure training ground or sanctuary.
We have relied on the support of our partners in the global coalition against terrorism to ensure that al-Qaida is unable to establish a new secure base of operations like that which existed under the Taliban in Afghanistan. This support has been, and will continue to be, essential to ensuring that al-Qaida is never able to reestablish comfortable sanctuary anywhere in the world.
Our ongoing operations against al-Qaida have served to isolate its leadership, and sever or complicate communications links with its operatives scattered around the globe. Unable to find easy sanctuary in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the al-Qaida leadership must now devote much more time to evading capture or worse. This has complicated al-Qaida's communication and coordination efforts, which are much harder and time-consuming in the current operating environment. We have also seen examples of terrorist activities delayed for extended periods as al-Qaida affiliates await instructions from an increasingly isolated central leadership.
Also, as al-Qaida's known senior leadership, planners, facilitators, and operators are brought to justice, a new cadre of leaders is being forced to step up. These individuals are increasingly no longer drawn from the old guard, no longer the seasoned veteran al-Qaida trainers from Afghanistan's camps or close associates of al-Qaida's founding members. Critical gaps have been cut out of the al-Qaida leadership structure, and these relatively untested terrorists are assuming greater responsibilities. We are relentlessly going after these new leaders as they are identified.
There are also growing indications that al-Qaida's ideology is spreading well beyond the Middle East, particularly its virulent anti-American rhetoric. This has been picked up by a number of Islamic extremist movements which exist around the globe. This greatly complicates our task in stamping out al-Qaida, and poses a threat in its own right for the foreseeable future.
Literally scores of such groups are present around the world today. Some groups have gravitated to al-Qaida in recent years, where before such linkages did not exist. This has been, at times, merely an effort to gain greater public renown for their group or cause, but more troubling have been the groups seeking to push forward al-Qaida's agenda of worldwide terror.
In particular, groups like Ansar al-Islam and the Zarqawi network pose a real threat to U.S. interests, as has been shown very clearly by their deadly activities in Iraq. Jemaah Islamiya (JI) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are also working to further al-Qaida's twisted designs.
While it would be a mistake to believe that we are now confronted by a monolithic threat posed by legions of like-minded terrorist groups working in concert against our interests, it would be fair to say that we are seeing greater cooperation between al-Qaida and smaller Islamic extremist groups, as well as even more localized organizations.
Identifying and acting against the leadership, capabilities, and operational plans of these groups poses a serious challenge now and for years to come.
In addition to these groups, there are literally thousands of jihadists around the world who have fought in conflicts in Kosovo, Kashmir, Chechnya, and elsewhere. As I said earlier, we see these "foreign fighters" operating in Iraq, where we are fighting them with our Coalition and Iraqi partners. These jihadists will continue to serve as a ready source of recruits for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
These localized groups and individuals are vulnerable to incitement, be it from the some foreign media or radicalized religious teachings. Countering their violent actions represents a real challenge to law enforcement and security services to identify and counter them. We seek to take advantage of the fact that many of these individuals tend to be less capable of conducting major attacks than more organized terrorist groups.
We are determined that our efforts to bolster political will and our assistance to augment the capabilities of partner security services will succeed in identifying and countering these threats. We have also taken action to address other sources of terrorism in our world today, including the continuing threat posed by State Sponsors of Terrorism, particularly Iran and Syria.
Iran remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world. It continues to be involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts and exhort a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals. Iran continues to provide Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian rejectionist groups -- notably HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad -- with funding, safehaven, training, and arms. Iranian cooperation on al-Qaida is more mixed, as they claim to have detained a number of high-ranking members of the organization. We require that al-Qaida members in Iranian custody be transferred to the custody of the United States, their countries of origin, or third countries in order to gain threat intelligence, and thereby save lives.
Syria continues to provide political and material support to Palestinian rejectionist groups. HAMAS, PIJ, the PFLP and other groups all operate from Syria. Syria also continues to permit Iran to use Damascus as a transshipment point for resupplying Hezbollah in Lebanon. As with Iran, Syrian performance on al-Qaida has been mixed: Damascus has cooperated with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, and has discouraged signs of public support for al-Qaida, including in its media and at mosques. Syria has also made an effort, only partially successful, to halt the flow of fighters through Syria into Iraq.
The United States continues to apply pressure on Iran and Syria, and all State Sponsors, to cease their aid to terror. We are continuing to work with our international partners on a bilateral basis and in multinational fora to press our view that these states must fundamentally change behavior before receiving the full benefits of international citizenship. We will continue to utilize unilateral political and economic pressure on these states as well, through various U.S. sanctions and diplomatic approaches.
As I have said, the support of these State Sponsors continues to be central to the operations of several major terrorist groups which threaten the interests of both the United States and Israel. This phenomenon stands apart from the developing trend toward decentralized, locally-supported terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the expansion of the global jihadist movement.
Groups like HAMAS and Hezbollah attempt to cloak themselves in the guise of solely humanitarian and political organizations. However, we are not fooled, and we are working hard to convince the world of their true intentions and nature.
A developing "good news" story can be found in a hitherto unexpected place: Libya. We are currently engaged in a comprehensive review of Libya's record of support for terrorism. While this process is not yet complete, Libya has taken some significant steps to repudiate its past support for terrorism. Libya has fulfilled its UN requirements relating to the renunciation of terrorism. Libya is also providing assistance in the global war on terrorism and has pledged further cooperation. The government has also adopted and implemented a policy of eliminating its weapons of mass destruction. This has reduced the likelihood of WMD material and technology being transferred into terrorist hands. The jury is still out on Libya, and we are continuing to press for resolution of all outstanding issues -- including the settlement of claims by Americans against Tripoli for past terrorist acts -- but we have made remarkable progress over the past year.
I would like to close now with the rather hopeful thought that we may find unexpected positive developments from unexpected places. All of us here in this room hope for meaningful change which improves the prospects for peace and security.
Of one thing I am certain: our two great nations will stand together to fight terror. Terrorists and those who support them will be given no respite, no refuge from the justice they deserve. They will be brought to justice, or justice will be brought to them. We are in this fight together, and for the long haul; there can be no accommodation with this evil.
I am encouraged by the fact that the United States is standing shoulder to shoulder with many allies in a global coalition against terrorism, none more stalwart that the State of Israel. Thank you for your kind attention. I am happy to answer any questions you might have at this point.
Released on May 18, 2004