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Hearing of the International Terrorism Nonproliferation and Human Rights Subcommittee of the International Relations Committee

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC.


Federal News Service

HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, NONPROLIFERATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: AL QAEDA THREAT TO THE UNITED STATES AND ITS ALLIES

CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE ELTON GALLEGY (R-CA)

WITNESS: COFER BLACK, STATE DEPARTMENT COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM

LOCATION: 2172 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BODY:

REP. GALLEGY: Call the hearing to order.

Today the Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights is focusing its oversight responsibility on al Qaeda, which by all accounts remains the number one terrorist threat in the United States and to its people. On March 9th, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA Director George Tenet underlined this view by warning that al Qaeda terrorists were trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and planning spectacular attacks against the United States and its allies.

I agree that al Qaeda continues to be a dangerous threat to all of our citizens and to our interests around the world. However, I also believe that al Qaeda has fundamentally reorganized since September the 11th, 2001, and that our counterterrorism strategy needs to reflect the new al Qaeda structure and new al Qaeda strategy. Since they have lost the sanctuary in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has evolved into a much more decentralized organization, relying on either semi-autonomous cells or affiliated groups to carry out its deadly plans. Recent attacks bear out this strategy.

The May 16th, '03 suicide attacks in Casablanca that killed 45 people were carried out by attackers belonging to a local terrorist group who were recruited and trained by al Qaeda. In the November '03 suicide bomb attack in Istanbul that killed 25 people and wounded more than 300, the group that claimed responsibility, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, is linked to al Qaeda. A few days later, an attack against a bank and British consulate in Istanbul has been tied to another local terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda. Lastly, the preliminary results of the investigation of the Madrid bombings point to the involvement of Moroccan Islamic radicals who are members of the al Salafia-al-why can't we have, you know-Jihadia --

(To staff.) Is that correct? Close?

STAFF: Al Jihadia.

REP. GALLEGY: Al Jihadia-all organizations affiliated with al Qaeda.

These four attacks were executed by four different terrorist groups. However, each of these four organizations are connected either through recruitment training of Afghanistan or localist help, all tied to al Qaeda. They demonstrate that al Qaeda can inflict major casualties with smaller physical infrastructure and more decentralized operations.

Although we must still guard against a large-scale planned attack by Osama bin Laden or other senior al Qaeda leaders, the United States must respond to the threat posed by al Qaeda-affiliated organizations.

On a related matter, I would like to also explore the extent to which al Qaeda is not only an organization but has also become an ideology. Has it spawned completely independent groups or individuals who are bent on killing Americans or citizens with pro-American countries. And are we doing enough to isolate al Qaeda and discredit the radical ideology of bin Laden as part of a long-term strategy to defeat this terrorist organization?

I would like to now recognize the gentleman from California, Mr. Sherman, for the purposes of an opening statement. (To Rep. Sherman) And I just want to check, were you going to yield your time to Mr. Schiff or did you want to take the time?

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Well, what I'd like to do is yield three-quarters of the time to Mr. Schiff and confine my-I will-why don't I yield three minutes to the gentleman from Burbank.

REP. GALLEGLY: Very good. The gentleman from Burbank.

REP. SHERMAN: (Off mike.)

REP. GALLEGLY: Very good. Mr. Schiff.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Mr. Sherman.

REP. SHERMAN: Thank you. It is said that there's nothing we could have done. The fact

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REP. GALLEGY: Thank the gentleman.

We would like to welcome Ambassador Cofer Black today. Ambassador Black serves as ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department. The Department of State is the lead federal agency dealing with international terrorism. On behalf of the secretary, Ambassador Black represents the department for the counterterrorism security group. His office plays a leading role on the Department of State's counterterrorism task forces organized to coordinate responses to the international terrorist incidents.

Ambassador Black's responsibilities include coordinating U.S. government efforts to improve counterterrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the department's anti-terrorism training assistance program.

Prior to his State Department appointment, Ambassador Black served for 28 years in the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, including as the director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.

Welcome this morning, Ambassador Black.

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REP. GALLEGLY: I appreciate that. And it's my error for not catching-I wanted to give you a little more time to start with. And so -

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REP. GALLEGY: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

I'm just a little concerned we may have a vote here shortly -- (chuckles) -- so that I'll try to make my initial questions brief, and we'll get down the line so everyone gets a fair opportunity.

Mr. Ambassador, as far as you can discuss in open session, what is al Qaeda's current operational capabilities to plan and carry out a 9/11-style attack compared to its capability prior to 9/11?

MR. BLACK: Again, I will try and be as forthcoming as I can within the context that this is an open hearing, the results of which are broadcast around the world, including to my enemies. So with that in mind I'll be as helpful as I can.

First of all, I've been at this for quite a while. I like to think I know what I'm talking about.

The al Qaeda organization that we engaged before 9/11 and at 9/11 has been put under catastrophic stress. Seventy percent of their leadership has been arrested, detained or killed. The majority of the rest of them essentially are primarily defensive, concerned primarily about their own personal security. There is a massive global hunt for them under way. It is relentless, 24 hours a day.

So despite that, they do try and plan operations. They attempt to communicate with each other to lend coherence to their organization. So the al Qaeda of old, catastrophic stress, comprehensive successful engagement, and heading towards complete destruction. The bad news is that, realizing that their capabilities are greatly reduced, they're reaching out, trying to co-opt the missions of other terrorist groups, particularly local ones and others, and try and cement their determination and their operational profile to their objectives, which is to destroy the United States, to impose their brand of Islam, certainly in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, throughout the world.

REP. GALLEGY: So greatly reduced?

MR. BLACK: Greatly reduced, but the men and women who are the practitioners of counterterrorism are mindful that, until all of them are accounted for, there is a threat. We know from the past that they have actively sought weapons of mass destruction; that they have been, according to our best estimates, unable to put together all these things at one time-the people, the equipment-to launch an attack.

That does not mean that they will-that this will continue. We have to always assume the worst and conduct ourselves operationally with law enforcement, intelligence.

I just heard someone from the intelligence community the other day say that regardless of how minute or minuscule the information related to weapons of mass destruction, it is hunted down to the bitter end; there's no margin for error in these things.

So I think we can say that we've been very successful to date. You're not completely successful until you close out the threat, and that will be very difficult to do, but it will be the result of a long and successful struggle.

REP. GALLEGLY: Keeping in mind how you described the diminution of their operation as a result of our effort to eliminate the threat, would it be fair to assess the threat today to that of maybe a cornered animal that is more likely to do an aggressive attack rather than the historic calculating and methodical planning? And in follow up to that question-one follow-up question. Since 9/11, how has the recruiting gone internationally with al Qaeda?

MR. BLACK: Right. To try and encapsulate an answer to what is a very hard question, the main difference is the loss of expertise and personnel in the al Qaeda organization per se of today. They're left with far fewer people that know how to do these things effectively, securely. They have franchised out so that their personnel are probably-are of a lower standard in terms of training and expertise. They have a greater issue with successfully planning an operation over time. They want to conduct-as in the period of 9/11, they want to conduct mass casualties, attacks; they want to kill as many people as they possibly can. They have had to degrade in a lot of their operations to operations that have less impact, that are easier to conduct. They have made fundamental operational mistakes, as I said in my testimony. They're likely to continue to do that.

And in this new era, in this new time where the old organization has been engaged and is heading towards complete destruction, and as the affiliates-the answer to your second question-the affiliates, those who have instinctive commonality with the objectives of al Qaeda-those who watch television, those who access the Internet, gain inspiration from that, need also to be identified through intelligence, law enforcement means, and engaged. There is an advantage for us in the community of nations resisting these guys, and that most of them tend to side towards the area of being beginners, and beginners make a lot of mistakes.

REP. GALLEGLY: Thank you.

Mr. Sherman.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Mr. Rohrabacher.

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MR. BLACK: Yes, I know.

If I could just-if I could request, Mr. Chairman. I'm scheduled to be in front of the 9/11 committee on the 13th of April, so issues having to do with that I'd prefer to reserve for that. I'm happy to talk about al Qaeda and the terrorist threat, if I may, and would like to leave other type topics like that to that time.

REP. GALLEGLY: If members would try to focus their energy on the al Qaeda threat, that would be --

MR. BLACK: I'd appreciate it, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Mr. Schiff.

REP. SHERMAN: Yeah. Before Mr. Schiff speaks, I have a unanimous consent request that all members be given up to seven calendar days to furnish statement for the record.

REP. GALLEGLY: Without objection. In fact, everyone that would like to submit a statement for the record should be given that opportunity. And we will, with the unanimous consent, abide by the seven-day rule.

Mr. Schiff.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Mr. King.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Ms. McCollum.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Nick Smith.

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REP. GALLEGLY: Ms. Watson.

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REP. WATSON: In the time I have left, Mr. Chair, I'd like to make this comment.

REP. GALLEGY: The gentlelady's time has expired, so if you'd make it brief I would allow it. Just a brief question.

REP. WATSON: Yes. As you relate to other questions that will be asked here, who is the enemy? How do we get to them? And so that's why I ask that question. I know they're operating in other places around the world. We talk about al Qaeda. Where are they? How will we get to them? How will we hold them responsible for those acts that are committed?

Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.

(Pause.)

MR. BLACK: Is it all right to respond to that, sir?

REP. GALLEGY: Yes, if you like.

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REP. GALLEGLY: The gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Pence.

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REP. GALLEGY: I want to thank the members for their participation today.

And I would just like to say to you, Mr. Ambassador, that we all have concerns and questions about some of the operations of our intelligence gathering over years and months past, and certainly I understand Mr. Rohrabacher's concerns and identify with some of them. But I want to make it very clear that I want to associate myself with the comments of Mr. Chris Smith of New Jersey.

Mr. Delahunt, regarding the job you've done, the candor you've provided to this committee and the growing relationship that we have personally established-and I want to thank you for the 28-plus years of service you've had and for the tremendous contribution that you make to this committee.

And with that, the subcommittee stands adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)

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