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Panel One of a Hearing of the House International Relations Committee - Diplomacy in the Age of Terrorism

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service August 19, 2004 Thursday





REP. SMITH: (Bangs gavel.) The hearing will come to order. And good morning everybody. We have entered the age of transnational terrorism. By that, I mean the global terrorist networks and the deadly acts of violence they commit at the time and place of their choosing. The ability of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda transnatinal terrorist network to inflict violence was felt with particular horror on August 7th 1998 when U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam were attacked. Members will recall, more than 220 people were killed, including 12 U.S. government employees. More than 4,000 were injured, mostly Africans. That was, or should have been, the wake-up call. Soon after the embassy bombings, I chaired a hearing, one of several on legislation that I sponsored that became law, to authorize substantial funds for counterterrorism, embassy security, public diplomacy, broadcasting and democracy building. At one hearing progress, we heard from Admiral William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chairman of the Accountability Review Board, not unlike the 9/11 Commission, that probed the embassy bombings. Admiral Crowe said at the time, that our investigation of the bombings, the boards were struck by the similarity of our recommendations, and those drawn by the Inman Commission 14 years before that. I felt very troubling the failure of U.S. government to take the necessary steps to prevent such tragedies in the interim. He also said, throughout the proceedings the boards were most disturbed regarding two interconnected issues.

The first of these was the inadequacy of resources to provide security against terror attacks, and the second was the relatively low priority accorded security concerns throughout the U.S. government by the Department of State, other agencies, and in general, on the part of many employees both in Washington and in the field. At that same hearing in the late 1990s, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security David Carpenter testified, and I quote him briefly, "during the past decade prior to the tragic August 7th bombing in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam, all of the attacks against U.S. interests involved indigenous terrorist elements. While we were aware of threats from external terrorist groups, none had ever materialized. The August 7th bombing demonstrated the existence of a global terrorist organization capable of and intent on attacking U.S. diplomatic targets. All our posts are now considered at risk, " he went on to say. He also concluded, "global or regional networks may strike where we are most vulnerable." Prophetic words.

On September 11th, 2001, we were most vulnerable in New York, at the Pentagon, and on four planes carrying Americans, 9/11 wasn't the start but the escalation of a war on Americans, and others of goodwill. We are, in fact, in a war, but with a new and far different enemy than any we have previously encountered. Our enemies are unlikely to be vanquished in any traditional sense of achieving their surrender. In fact, there may never be an end to this conflict, never an end to the need for internal vigilance, preemption, and vigorous application of all measures within our capabilities.

The 9/11 Commission suggests that the enemy is not just terrorism defined as some generic evil. They say, "the catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific, it is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, especially the al-Qaeda network, it's affiliates, and its theology." It is important that we face this fundamental fact, because since we are at war, we must fight a war. We must fight it to win, even if success is ultimately judged by a significant mitigation of the threat. We must fight to win because the consequences of losing have no limiting boundaries. We must fight to win using every prudent means at our disposal, including smart diplomacy, because half-hearted, half-baked responses will only exacerbate the problem and more lives will likely be lost. We must remember that our enemies neither seek our defeat in a political sense, nor a negotiated settlement, but they seek our annihilation, and will exploit any opportunity, target any innocent to achieve their aims.

We are only in the beginning stages of learning how to most effectively fight this war, yet the fact of the matter is that the Bush administration is, indeed, vigorously, and successfully prosecuting the war against transnational terrorism. In its report the 9/11 Commission clearly states, and I quote it, "in the nearly 3 years since 9/11 Americans have become better protected against terrorist attacks." The Commission notes, and I continue the quote, "because of offensive action against al Qaeda since 9/11, and defensive action to improve homeland security, we believe we are safer today." The commission notes further, however, that while we are safer, we are not safe.

Less than a month ago on July 24th, a raid in Pakistan on an al Qaeda leader fetched, among other things, three computers filled with data, and approximately 500 photographs of potential terrorist sites inside American, including my own state of New Jersey. Again, safer, but not safe. While the details contained in the database are sobering, the partnership that has been developed and nurtured with the Pakistanis at all levels, intelligence, military, government, that led to this arrest and others, has been extremely fruitful. It's one of the things the Commission talks about, the importance of building those bonds.

I would point out to my colleagues, it didn't happen by accident, it was forged through meticulous, tenacious, and smart diplomacy at the highest levels. We have been enormously aided, I would say, in our task as a Congress, and in the Executive Branch, by the 9/11 Commission, and its recent report on the complex nature of the threats that we face, the mix of striking success, and the regrettable missteps that comprise our response to date, and a much needed set of recommendations to guide our deliberations, plans, and actions.

Of the 40-plus recommendations contained in the report, more than a dozen concerned subjects, over which this committee has primary jurisdiction, we are currently focused on developing measures that we believe will address these comprehensively. In a traditional war, of course, we expect the military to assume the role of principle actor, with our fortunes dependent on the success or failure of its operations. But, in this war, the front line is not necessarily on the battlefield, and the Department of Defense, more than in any other conflict to date, shares, but doesn't own, the responsibility for our safety. That responsibility is distributed widely, and embraces the entirety of our interests, both domestic and foreign.

Today we are focused on how the State Department plans to prosecute this war, and how things have changed in the State Department since 9/11. Its role stretches far beyond the rarified ceremony of high diplomacy, in fact, it may well be that State represents our very first line of defense.

Sadly, we know that this has not always been the case. In fact, a simple review of the visa applications of several of the 9/11 hijackers who got U.S. visas at our missions in Saudi Arabia, make it abundantly clear that no one was seriously read them, and if they were, red flags, bells, and whistles were shamelessly ignored. Amazingly, visa applications gained muster that were marked with incorrect, incomplete, and at times simply incoherent entries. It appears that in addition to human error, and incompetence, there was an incredibly permissive visa approval culture at our consulate in Jeddah, which sought to provide as many visas as possible, turning the law, especially the 214(b) presumption, on its head.

The 9/11 Commission stresses the importance of effectively interdicting terrorist travel and states, and I quote, "for terrorists travel documents are as important as weapons. We found," that is the Commission, "that as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers were potentially vulnerable to interception by border authorities." Before 9/11, they go on to say, no agency in the U.S. government systematically analyzed terrorist travel strategies. The Commission notes, lingering, systemic weaknesses, but they note that they have been reduced, but not overcome.

The effort to prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism may pose the greatest challenge, I'm talking about prevention now, in the months and years to come. The question arises, how do people of good will rescue young people from the clutches of the hate-mongers, always on the prowl in search of new terrorist recruits. The 9/11 Commission suggests that the United States more effectively engage in the struggle of ideas. Misinformation, gross distortion, demonization of the United States which breeds anti-Americanism of the most lethal kind, need an immediate, rigorous, laser-like response. If we let the lies and hate stick by not responding robustly, we unwittingly permit the next generation to grow the hatred.

Like a political candidate who gets smeared in a campaign, the United States must aggressively seek to set the record straight, or the smear will be believed. If the smear sticks to a politician, he or she may lose an election. If the smear sticks the United States, terrorists will rise up in misguided furor and kill Americans. The U.S. doesn't have the luxury of inaction.

As the Commission notes, and I quote them briefly, if the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us. The Commission also suggests an agenda of opportunity, a multifaceted effort to promote liberty, tolerance, and economic development. Give the parents of young Muslims a vision that might give their children a better future, rather than bin Laden's vision of violence and death.

Let me make it clear, this committee welcomes the 9/11 Commission's suggestions and does so with open arms. Much of what we do, and have done, under the extraordinary leadership of Chairman Henry Hyde, and ranking member Tom Lantos, is designed to promote basic education, medical care for the indigent, humanitarian interventions, refugee protection, tolerance, microcredit lending, democracy building, and respect for fundamental human rights.

Should we be doing more? You bet. Given the opportunity and the enormity of the stakes, and the extent of the responsibilities that we collectively share, I know that many dedicated people at the State Department have devoted long hours, and much thought to developing ideas and plans on how to accomplish these difficult tasks. Today's hearing will focus on how state's responsibilities and opportunities are perceived within the Department, and we have an unprecedented historic number of assistant secretaries and deputies here to offer their views, nine of them. We welcome your valuable insight, your guidance, and counsel, and we thank you for your often under-heralded service.

Let me conclude by thanking my good friends, Former Governor Tom Kean, and the former chairman of this committee, Lee Hamilton, two men I've known and admired for years, for their outstanding work and to their expert staff, two of whom are here today, who have immersed themselves in not only the big picture but the all important seemingly mundane details.

I'd also like to extend a very special thanks to the 9/11 families, including the Jersey girls-Kristen, Mindy, Patty and Lorie-who have poured themselves into ensuring that this commission was established in the first place and now that its recommendations be heeded. They are truly American heroes who put the public interest above all else.

I'd like to yield to my good friend and colleague, Bob Menendez, a fellow New Jerseyian, for any opening comments Bob might have.


REP. CHRIS SMITH: Ms. Ginsburg, thank you very much for your testimony, and you as well, Mr. Kojm.

Just to begin the questioning, Mr. Kojm, you made a very persuasive case, I think, on the need for dialogue, enhanced dialogue among countries of the Middle East, Muslims I guess in general, but especially the countries of the Middle East and the United States and Western countries as well. One of the things that I have looked at, and I am not alone in this, for years has been the -- (inaudible) -- of the Helsinki process. As I think you know, I chair the Commission on Security and Cooperation and Europe, which is comprised of 55 countries that have agreed to the Helsinki Final Act, signed in 1975, which has a large number of mutually reinforcing baskets, three baskets, in the area of human rights, trade and security. That has been one of the most important living documents. In the worst days of the Soviet Union, as you know, and when the Warsaw Pact loomed as an ominous threat, this was a way of getting political prisoners out, of engaging eyeball-to-eyeball, foreign minister-to-foreign minister, parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian, and in every other way with these countries, and it was a learning experience. And many of the people who spent time in the gulag in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, including Sharansky and others, will tell you the Helsinki process was key to democracy building and human rights observance.

I held a hearing just on June 15th-"The Middle East, Would the Helsinki Process Apply?" And we heard from Ambassadors Max Kampelman, a very distinguished ambassador, Mark Palmer, and many others, including Natan Sharansky from Israel, the former political prisoner, to talk about whether or not this would apply.

I was wondering if the-if the commission looked at that model? We do have Mediterranean partners right now with whom we interface, and five countries of the Middle East routinely meet with parliamentarians, and their foreign ministers meet with European and U.S. and Canadian counterparts. And it has been a fruitful, but I don't think as much of a utilized, venue for us to promote this dialogue. We need to start talking the same terms, about what human rights are. Certainly, the universal declaration on human rights speaks to the universality of those rights. Other people can look at it and somehow go off on a tangent. We can learn from each other. This can be like a mirror, and also can promote, I think, some understanding. What is your view on the Helsinki process being applied and perhaps some of these countries, if not all, being incorporated into the Helsinki venue?

MR. KOJM: Mr. Chairman, thank you for the question. We very much consciously considered the Helsinki process model. Now in the final text of the report, we don't draw that analogy explicitly, but I can assure you that it did animate our discussions. And the comparison is a very apt one, because we're talking about a similar concern. It's trying to change societies and mind-sets over, frankly, a very long period of time. And, the process, as you well know, was very frustrating, and there were many steps backward. Fortunately, more forward than backward, but a lot backward in the interim. But the concept is a sound one because you get beyond government-to- government dialogue, and in Helsinki to dialogue about trade and human rights. We, frankly, would like to see even more, that there is discussion not just of trade, but of economic reform, not just human rights, but methods of political participation, and creating and strengthening civil societies. So, I think the example is a superb one for animating what we hope will be a relationship between the West and the Arab and Muslim world.

REP. SMITH: I appreciate that.

Let me ask you, Ms. Ginsburg, on the issue of visas, and I appreciate your testimony and the good work contained within this document. The point is made that there are weaknesses, systemic weaknesses. Some have been reduced, they're far from being overcome, as you say in the document. You talk about the watch list and many other good things. It seems to me from hearings we had and from work that we've done on the committee that one of our potential Achilles heels remains the visa waiver program. Some 27 countries are included in that, approximately 15 million people per year are able to access the United States without going through the vigorous, or rigorous protocol of a visa.

Henry Hyde just recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of State Colin Powell on June 30th, where he has asked, it's his recommendation, and we certainly concur, that the visa waiver program be reviewed for a continued participation by select countries, that a policy be considered that would require an eligible country's participation in the Interpol Stolen Travel Document Database, because that is a major problem, and this committee has just recently held a hearing on that as well.

It seems to me that that is the minimum, but the Visa Waiver program seeking the laudable goal of allowing the free and unfettered access of people among countries to visit family and relatives and for recreational purposes can be easily exploited by would-be terrorists. How do you respond to that?

MS. GINSBURG: Well, we think the decision to include visa waiver travelers in the USVISIT program is a good one, but the visa waiver program reviews are also important and need to be taken seriously. With respect to the lost and stolen passport participation, I'm not that familiar with the very critical details of how Interpol has set up its interconnectivity, so I don't know what ability there is now, technologically, to fully participate in access to those databases. I know that's something that's still being developed in this country. But, certainly, access to lost and stolen information is very critical for all of us. We know that intelligence indicates that al Qaeda has access to European passports, and that's one of the reasons why we say developing the terrorist travel intelligence and training immigration officials is so important.

We also suggest in the report that we should think about more passenger screening overseas, and I think that that's an area where improvements can be made. And one of the things we might work on are more robust international arrangements for doing that on a reciprocal basis.

REP. SMITH: Do you have very specific ideas on what at that would look like?

MS. GINSBURG: There are a number of different available models that we can discuss.

REP. SMITH: If you could make that a part of the record for this committee's consideration.

Let me just ask one other question before yielding to my colleagues on the issue of human trafficking. One of the issues that I've worked on along with a bipartisan group of colleagues has been to hopefully end the scourge of human slavery. As a matter of fact, I wrote the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. President Bush signed it again in 2003, an expansion. And what we've discovered is that organized crime has literally made tens of billions of dollars over the last several years. It is number three after weapons, drugs first, weapons second, human trafficking third, mostly for forced prostitution, and I was wondering if the Commission looked as to whether or not any or some of this money may have found its way into the nefarious enterprise called terrorism? We know that they get money from narco-terrorists, new money is gotten from weapons sale. Has that been looked at?

MS. GINSBURG: I don't know that we looked at whether some of the processes from human trafficking have made their way to terrorist organizations, but certainly one of the things we're saying about the center that has been set up to develop information about the human trafficking networks is that those networks crisscross with the terrorist travel facilitators, as well. So some of those networks that move human beings for work purposes, or other purposes, are also moving terrorists. So the efforts against those criminal organizations are also relevant for attacking terrorism.

REP. SMITH: I would just say, finally, before yielding to Mr. Menendez, that when we were writing that legislation that was signed in the year 2,000 by President Clinton, there was an enormous amount of pushback by the State Department then that naming names, and admonishing countries, holding non-humanitarian foreign aid as the lever to try to get them to live up to a standard where traffickers are prosecuted, and the women who were exploited were treated for what they are, victims, an enormous amount of pushback. But, we have found now, since it's been implemented, and the fourth report was recently issued in June, it has been, I think, a total, or as close to a total success as you could come in using a smart sanction.

I raise this, because one of the things in this Commission suggests that the change and the reform in the Muslim countries, the Arab countries really has to come from within. While I agree with that, I think it perhaps sells short the importance of very strong, consistent standards being put forward. It's not a matter of lecturing, it's a matter of saying, these are universally recognized standards, and certainly the people in the Arab world are deserving of democracy, they have a democracy deficit, and it seems to me that we sell short our ability, perhaps, to foment positive, constructive change, as we're seeing.

The trafficking changes we've seen in laws, legislation, including in the Muslim world, have been breathtaking. Numbers of countries have passed sweeping statutes to try and crack down on traffickers of human persons, which they had not had, it's because we said, we mean business, we're not kidding. So I would just say, in terms of tone, I think we can be very assertive, not always worrying about the backlash, as long as we're sincere and honest, and transparent and say, your people deserve democracy, and basic, fundamental human rights.

Mr. Menendez.


REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Green.

I'd just like to conclude with a couple of final questions. You make the recommendation in the report about the broadcasting board of governors, and as we all know broadcasting radio/TV have been enormously successful. And you know, remember the old adage, "The Iron Curtain isn't soundproof," going back to the Cold War. You make the point the BBG has asked for much larger resources; it should get them. What have they asked for, and are you sure they're not getting them?

And let me just-while you're thinking of that, just a couple of other issues. I mentioned earlier the importance of trafficking in human persons and the nexus between terrorism financing and human trafficking, which again is an exploding problem around the globe. Obviously the most obvious-and we know there is a connect here between drug trafficking and the profits improperly derived from poppies and cocaine and the like. My question to you would be, would you favor a role for our DEA in the intelligence community, sharing what they know about drugs and trafficking, often by the very same terrorists that we're worried about? So DEA's role, whether or not process-wise and organizational-wise, that ought to be included?

On the issue of-I'd just like to raise-on the torture issue you make some very-I think very important recommendations in the report about how the United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article III of the Geneva Conventions.

I would just note parenthetically that, just as you said, we need to vigorously point out to international audiences our absolute abhorrence of what was revealed to all of us in some of the detention centers and jails in Iraq, Abu Ghraib in particular.

And I would just point out again, further, parenthetically, there's 11 ongoing internal military probes, seven military have been charged, another two dozen are likely to be charged, pursuant to a report that may be issued as early as tomorrow. So there is a multitude of mutually reinforcing-and hopefully no stone will be left unturned.

I was in Edinburgh as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and there were 320 or so parliamentarians from 55 countries. I offered a resolution on torture and abuse of prisoners, and said we need to lead by example. If we're going to try to admonish other countries, some of the "stans" in Central Asia, not to torture prisoners, we need to absolutely lead by example and hold those to account who don't. But specifically you might want to elaborate on that recommendation.

And finally, on our hearings, which you point out-and I found this a little bit disappointing, because I was myself-as a subcommittee chair, was very active not only in holding hearings on terrorism myself-I mentioned one earlier about the-some of those who participated, including Ambassador-or Admiral Crowe, who's also an ambassador; but we also produced sweeping legislation that was passed into law, that significantly enhanced our ability to protect our embassies abroad, put more counterterrorism people-and to have this integrated response. The Foreign Relations Act of 2000/2001 was my bill, was signed into law -- $5.9 billion over five years, authorized to try to mitigate the threat of terrorism by setbacks, by more people on the job overseas.

And yet on page 106 it makes the point that the report indicated that this committee held only four hearings from January '98 to September 2001. We count at least 18. And obviously, you know, this is in whole or in part-obviously every hearing-I mean, when we did the Admiral Crowe hearing, there are other aspects that were discussed at that, but that was the primary focus.

My point is, it is misleading, in my view, and I say this with respect, to suggest we weren't on the job. Maybe we didn't do all we could have done, and that is probably very clear. But at least 18 hearings were held during that very limited time frame that you put in the report.

And any feedback on that, now or in the future, that you would like to provide for the record, we would appreciate that.

Mr. Kojm?

MR. KOJM: Thank you. Let me just try to go quickly through the several questions you raise.

With respect to DEA, certainly we support all steps to increase information sharing, both within elements of the intelligence community but also with other agencies. And our information sharing recommendations certainly go beyond just the intelligence community.

On the broadcasting board of governors, I'm really not prepared to speak precisely on budget figures there.

I think our broader point would be simply that television in the Arab and Muslim world is powerful. Al-Jazeera, whether we like it or not, is successful. And as Mr. Pence recounted, you can't beat somebody if you're not in the game. And we need to be in the game with respect to satellite broadcasting, and we need to be in the game in a big way.

With respect to torture and prisoners, our point with respect to those who are detained in the war on terrorism is that it's a point of friction with key friends and allies, with the British, the Australians, who speak to us about norms of international treatment.

Moreover, it's frankly not very helpful in the war of ideas. The treatment and the condition of detainees is also a theme in the media of the Arab and Muslim world.

With respect, finally, to the record of this committee, we of course stand corrected and welcome any material you would seek to provide that would enhance our understanding. And your staff has provided us some, and of course, we welcome that.

Thank you.

REP. SMITH: Thank you very much. And I want to thank both of you, Ms. Ginsburg as well, for your great service to our country. The product that the commission has produced is a blueprint. There may be additions to it. I mean, you know, the next time we-as you know, having worked on the committee-we see a draft bill not get changed in significant ways-that it goes through the process-will be the first time. So this is a graet starting point, and I think much that could be done administratively as well as legislatively will be done. So we thank you so much for that.

MR. KOJM: Thank you.

MS. GINSBURG: Thank you.


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