Federal News Service
HEADLINE: JOINT HEARING OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON EUROPE AND THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, NONPROLIFERATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SUBJECT: U.S.-EUROPEAN COOPERATION ON COUNTERTERRORISM: ACHIEVEMENTS AND CHALLENGES
CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE JO ANNE DAVIS (R-VA)
WITNESSES PANEL I:
WILLIAM T. POPE, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY COORDINATOR, OFFICE OF THE COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM, DEPARTMENT OF STATE;
GIJS DE VRIES, COUNTERTERRORISM COORDINATOR, EUROPE UNION;
PANEL II: C. STEWART VERDERY, JR., ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY AND PLANNING, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY; BRUCE SWARTZ, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
LOCATION: 2172 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
TIME: 1:30 P.M.
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REP. ELTON GALLEGLY (R-CA): I thank the gentlelady and let me begin by thanking you again for holding this hearing today and for inviting the Subcommittee on International Terrorism Nonproliferation and Human Rights to participate. I appreciate your work in addressing the European-American cooperation in the war on terrorism.
The events of September 11th and many of the more recent terrorist acts have demonstrated a central role that European nations need to play in the war against international terrorism. They also show the importance of close cooperation between the U.S. and Europe in this effort. None of the 9/11 hijackers were European citizens. However, al Qaeda's Hamburg cell played an integral part in the 9/11 attacks. This cell consisted of at least eight extremists including three of the 9/11 pilots and Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the alleged 20th hijacker, was a French citizen.
Further, we've learned in previous hearings that some European citizens, whether native born or immigrants, are either joining radical Islamic groups or are sympathetic to the goals of these groups. Given our close ties to Europe as well as the Visa Waiver Program that allows travel to the U.S. from many European countries without a visa, this is a trend that poses a grave direct national security threat to the U.S.
Europe, however, is not just a source for terrorists seeking to attack our country. The continent, as the attacks in Madrid, Istanbul, Russia and other places have shown, has become a prime target for terrorists. To these attacks, I would also add the plot by a group of North Africans living in England to produce ricin, one of the world's deadliest poisons. The operation was foiled by the British police in January of '03. The target for the ricin was most likely a location in Britain.
I agree with the views expressed by Mr. De Vries' written statement that the March 11th bombing in Madrid have strengthened the EU's resolve to combat terrorism. At the same time, nobody believes that either side is doing enough in terms of intelligence, immigration or law enforcement cooperation. I would like each of our witnesses to provide some specific steps that can be taken to strengthen our cooperation and efforts.
As a starting point, let me suggest that both sides immediately begin discussions on sharing information on terrorists' travel patterns and/or lost, stolen or fraudulent passports. The 9/11 Commission stated that targeting terrorists' travels was at least as important as targeting terrorist financing. I urge both the U.S. and European officials to focus on this issue and improve our law enforcement efforts against fraudulent documents and other ways terrorists evade border controls.
I thank the gentlelady and yield back.
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REP. GALLEGLY: Will the gentleman yield?
REP. SHERMAN: I yield.
REP. GALLEGLY: I'd like to thank the gentleman for clarifying his position on the issue. Thank you.
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REP. GALLEGLY: Thank you, Madam Chairman. I'd like to ask both Mr. Pope and Mr. De Vries to try to answer this question for me and keeping in mind, certainly I understand that you limit your comments to what's appropriate in an open session. First, to Mr. Pope, the European and American policy makers differ in their assessment of the likelihood that an al Qaeda or jihadist group will succeed in acquiring or fabricating a major weapon of mass destruction.
MR. POPE: Certainly there is no doubt, at any level, whether it's policy level or a practitioner level, in Europe or here or anywhere else, that certainly al Qaeda wants to get one. They're trying. Bin Laden is on the record and we know from other ways that he and others are trying. Now whether they'll get one is-and also I must say that I know that we are doing everything humanly possible in various parts of the U.S. government to prevent that. And I believe that the Europeans are as well. We have really excellent cooperation in the more practical prevention areas. I'm trying not to go beyond, as you suggested.
At the policy level, there may be some somewhere, people somewhere who believe that Bin Laden is not trying it. But I think everybody on either side of the Atlantic or anywhere else would be very ill-advised to assume that there will never be any possibility that Bin Laden or those like him could acquire any kind of weapon of mass destruction. He has said he wants to do it. Others are going to try it. So I believe pretty much everybody understands that that is the intention for putting up every possible roadblock to doing that. But it's impossible to predict that that can happen on either side of the Atlantic.
REP. GALLEGLY: Before I go to Mr. De Vries, as a follow-up to your response and your reference to Bin Laden. We obviously know that Bin Laden, as an individual, not as al Qaeda, but as the individual leader, has been reduced in his ability to really operate. Do you believe that his ability to operate and function in accomplishing these goals, as the principal leader, is much advanced beyond impotence?
MR. POPE: Very significantly reduced. Not just his ability, but beyond him, the al Qaeda organization very significantly reduced from what it was on September 12th, 2001. There's no question about that. Bin Laden himself is a hands-on CEO-was a hands-on CEO who very much liked to run his organization and run various parts of it at the same time. That's extremely difficult for him at this point. But I don't think it would be prudent for anybody to believe that he'd given up trying or that others, who are inspired by him or who were at some point associated with him, aren't trying to do it. I think everybody knows that we're trying it and we're trying everything possible to prevent it.
REP. GALLEGLY: Same questions for Mr. De Vries, but I'd remind you that my question went beyond al Qaeda because certainly there are other jihadist groups that we have to be equally as concerned with that haven't had as much central focus by our efforts to deal with international terrorism.
Mr. De Vries.
MR. DE VRIES: I would concur with the statement by Mr. Pope. This is a serious risk even though perhaps for the immediate future, we should not discount the possibilities of attacks with conventional means. That remains a serious threat in Europe. But we have to be on our guard for the possibility that terrorist groups lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction. Ricin has been mentioned. There was a case of ammonium nitrate in the United Kingdom not too long ago. So these efforts are real, even though technically it is not easy to use weapons of mass destruction for terrorist purposes.
But we have to, I think, pay every attention to this phenomenon, including to the organization of what, in technical terms, is called the consequence management, the simple protection dimension. The Union has decided that it wants to devote additional attention to this (NBC ?)-related civil protection site to look at whether our member states have sufficient capabilities in this field, whether cooperation should not be further enhanced and whether that should not extend across the Atlantic, as indeed was indicated in the EU-U.S. Summit statement of June, to which I referred.
REP. GALLEGLY: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you.