14 February 2003
Senior Official Says "Breathtaking" Gains Made in Counterterrorism
(National Strategy for Combating Terrorism discussed) (1240)
By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism unveiled
February 14 is "a companion piece" to the national strategies on
weapons of mass destruction and homeland security already announced by
the Bush administration, a senior administration official says.
"What you're seeing is a construct, all of a piece," the official
said, concerning various subsets of the U.S. National Security
Strategy. He added that separate "companion piece" strategies on cyber
security and critical infrastructure security could be expected within
a few days.
In talking about the strategy, the official focused on how much
improvement has been made since September 11, 2001.
"The changes in capacity and culture -- both -- of the intelligence
and law enforcement communities since 9/11 in my judgment have simply
been breathtaking in the most positive way," he said. "There were
issues about both the quantity of intelligence available in certain
areas and the integration -- some people call it 'connecting dots' --
in that time period. Since then the changes that have come about have
just been remarkable," he said.
"There are people who are 'making it happen' every day, and at every
level of government," he said. "We oversee a process out of the White
House that brings together every relevant agency of government twice a
day -- at seven o'clock and three o'clock every we day we sit down and
go over every threat that we know of," he said. "And we go through not
just what we know about it, but what are we doing? How are we chasing
it? How are we chasing down every possible thread?"
The official said the process goes all the way up through the
president, who meets with his most senior advisers every morning to
also make sure that everyone understands the threat and that proper
actions are being taken to get in front of it and to disrupt it.
The FBI and the CIA have "significantly increased their capacity in
terms of numbers -- hires and numbers in training -- but also in
conjunction with the State Department, they have made tremendous
changes in their relations with liaison partners -- again intelligence
and law enforcement overseas -- in like-minded countries," the senior
official said. "The cooperation between so many of these countries in
intelligence channels is greater than it has ever been and than I
frankly would have expected it to be," he said. People have come to
common cause, he said.
"It's been much the same in law enforcement overseas, and then when
you come back into this country, the relationship between the FBI and
state and local law enforcement has just exploded in terms of its
capacity. There are now some 66 joint terrorism task forces in the
United States," he said. "And these bring together at FBI offices
state, local and other federal capacities in one place with a single
focus on counterterrorism," he said.
"Borders and INS and Customs are part of these same meetings we have.
And they understand what they have to do," the senior official said.
"They sit with us every morning at seven o'clock and three o'clock as
well. And we track down every thread of information. A huge percentage
turn out to be simple crimes that are misunderstandings; sometimes we
call them 'poison pen.' Somebody's learned they can go roust somebody
by accusing them unjustly. Every one of those we run down. Every day
we get a little bit better," he said.
Readers of the terrorism strategy shouldn't be surprised at the
prominent role given to the Department of State, the principal U.S.
foreign affairs agency, the official said.
"The Department of State and the diplomacy arm and all that they bring
to this is a critical and major and important part of the war on
terrorism," the senior administration official said. "While the
activities of the Department of State may be slightly less than the
military in the first tactical stage, when we're out physically
attacking al-Qaeda and the Taliban and pushing them out of Afghanistan
-- and I said slightly less -- even in that area the diplomacy side of
it is critically important to be able to conduct military operations
anyplace," he said.
For the long term, the official said, the need is to bring
international forces to bear against terrorism.
"We need to make sure that every like-minded state joins in common
cause to both root out the immediate causes -- the immediate
terrorists -- but then to build the institutions, the capacities to
keep us on track for the long term," he said. "This is a global
problem. We need to attack it globally; and the State Department is
key to that. Look at the organization of the department itself, with
Cofer Black (Coordinator for Counterterrorism) and Frank Taylor
(Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security). In every council we
have on this issue, Ambassador Black and Frank Taylor are critical
parts of this issue and we lean on them to take initiatives and to
guide a very robust foreign policy approach in every dimension of
diplomacy. So they're major, major players, in many ways leading the
international dimension to this," he said.
Part of the counterterrorism strategy is designed to "enable weak
states" that "do not have the law enforcement, intelligence or
military capabilities to assert effective control over their entire
"We have active programs," the senior administration official said,
"managed by the Department of State, with the local ambassador as the
front man for us, to go out and work with these states, to work with
them on their legal systems, to work on their law enforcement systems,
to work with them on borders and coast guard systems. We've brought
coast guard training to some of these states so they can better
protect their own borders and protect themselves," he said.
Some of these countries "are getting their own wake-up calls, because
they're seeing the fruits of -- the damage of terrorism in their own
country," he said. "We are actively engaged in those countries that
are having problems themselves. Sometimes it's the military; sometimes
it's the intelligence; sometimes it's law enforcement: always with
State Department. Again, it's that long-term basis that we have to get
into," he said.
"We will defeat al-Qaeda and Taliban and get to the bottom of that,"
he said. "But jihadism and extremism will be with us for a long time.
And we need those states to take the other end of the strategy and
really nail it down," he said.
With the success in freezing terrorist financial assets, terrorists
have moved into informal ways to move money. The senior administration
official, however, was reluctant to say very much about the topic.
"We do know that there are informal systems that exist," he said. "We
do know that people now have been pushed into trying to carry cash
around. And, frankly, that helps us," he said. "But I'm really at a
loss to be able to describe anything specifically, other than to tell
you that one of the facets of our attacks is to dry up financing, and
we think we've had significant success at it. Not everything we do in
this regard is public, and cannot be, he said.
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