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Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee- Threats to U.S. National Security

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service

February 12, 2003 Wednesday



SEN. WARNER: Thank you very much.

The senator from Massachusetts.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-MA): Thank you very much.


MR. TENET: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KENNEDY: Mr. Tenet, we have seen Americans called to great concern over these past days. They're being urged to collect water, three days of water, three days of food; plastic sheeting and duct tape. That's happening all over the country, all over the country.

Now let's be cold and frank about it; is that because of the danger of Iraq or is that because of the danger of Saddam -- or of al Qaeda?

MR. TENET: This threat that we're dealing with now, sir, is directly related to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden at this moment. And that's what the predicate of raising the threat level was, was this specific --

SEN. KENNEDY: So that is the threat that I think, at least for Americans today. Now, when Americans ask me, given that is the threat that they are being called to action for, why isn't the administration giving a fraction of the attention to the dangers that al Qaeda are presenting here at home as they are in terms of the organizing for war against Iraq, what do we answer?

MR. TENET: Sir, I would not agree with that at all. I think that we --

SEN. KENNEDY: Do you think -- do you think the American people --

MR. TENET: No, I think --

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me just ask you the question, then. Do you think the average American person believes that this government is as focused on what the danger is here at home as the efforts that they are making to mobilize the international community and the military in order to engage in a war in Iraq?

MR. TENET: Sir, I can only answer that from where I sit and what I see and what I do every day. And I can tell you that there is, on our part and the people we support, an enormous amount of attention being paid to al Qaeda and this threat every day in a very considered and considerable manner.

SEN. KENNEDY: This is what Mr. -- yesterday Mr. Mueller reported: "The al Qaeda network will remain for the foreseeable future the most imminent and serious threat facing this country. The organization maintains the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the United States with little warning. Al Qaeda has developed a support infrastructure inside the U.S. that will allow the network to mount another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, multiple-scale attacks against soft targets -- banks, shopping centers, supermarkets, apartment buildings, schools, universities, poisoning water and water supplies."

And then: "Al Qaeda will probably continue to favor spectacular attacks that meet several criteria: high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, the maximum psychological trauma."

And then finally it gets into: "Baghdad has the capability and, we presume, the will to use biological, chemical, radiological weapons against U.S. domestic" -- "in the event of a U.S. invasion." In the event of a U.S. invasion.

And then it continues along: "Our particular concern" -- this is the head of the FBI -- "Our particular concern is that Saddam may supply" -- may supply -- "al Qaeda with biological, chemical or radiological material before" -- may supply it before -- "or during a war with the U.S. to avenge the fall of his regime." The best testimony that we have from the head of the FBI is the greatest risk to American servicemen is, either before or during a war with the U.S., with the fall of the regime. And Baghdad has the capability to provide the U.S. -- will use the biological/chemical against the U.S. domestic targets in the event of a U.S. invasion.

Now, what is -- let me get back to you. You were very, very clear what you thought was the most imminent threat to the United States, the president did, in -- (inaudible) -- year ago. And I think for most Americans, believe, particularly what they've heard in the very recent times, that this is where it's at. And your reaction to that.

MR. TENET: Let me just take a few minutes, because you raised z number of important points.

Let me put this poisons and gas thing in some context because people aren't -- there are 116 people in jail in France, in Spain, in Italy and in Great Britain who received training and guidance out of the network run by an individual who is sitting in Baghdad today and supported by two dozen of his associates. Now, that is something important for the American people to also understand. Iraq has provided a safe haven and a permissive environment for these people to operate.

And the other things that are very compelling to us, sir, just so I can close the loop on this issue, is we also know from very reliable information that there's been some transfer of training in chemical and biologicals from the Iraqis to al Qaeda. So we're already in this mix in a way that's very, very important for us to worry about. How far it goes, how deep it is is a subject that we'll continue to entertain.

SEN. KENNEDY: All right.

Just on that point, here we have North Korea, that has provided technology and weapons to countries that are directly supporting terrorism, North Korea has, in terms of Iran, in terms terms of Syria, in terms of other countries, have definitely done that. They are on the verge, they may very well have two nuclear weapons. We don't have to get into that. But there is no question that they're going to be producing weapons-grade plutonium, which can be made into nuclear weapons, within the next few weeks. They have provided the weapons to nations which have supported terrorism.

We don't need another review. We don't need another study.

We know that they've done that. Why isn't that a crisis? You refuse to call it a crisis.

MR. TENET: Sir, we --

SEN. KENNEDY: Why isn't that a crisis, and can you give the assurance to the American people that that is getting as much focus and attention as the mobilization in terms of the military for Iraq?

MR. TENET: Sir, my -- if I can answer that, it is a very serious problem. Jacoby yesterday called it a crisis, I called it a serious problem. Let's split the difference. The North Korean --

SEN. KENNEDY: I -- I don't --

MR. TENET: -- North Korean behavior, their proliferation activities, their ballistic missile capabilities all are very serious issues. They also must be dealt with. Policy makers are trying to figure out an approach that deals with the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the South Koreans. This is a very important issue. We are unfortunately in an environment where we have three or four very tough things to do simultaneously. Each approach to each subject will be different for the policy makers. So you've put yourself -- you highlighted something that must be -- must be -- dealt with and that we are paying attention to and have to move on on, because it has serious consequences as well, sir.

SEN. WARNER: Time is up.

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