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Searching for Answers

August 10, 1998 at 12:00 AM EST
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more now we get three views. Admiral Bobby Ray Inman is former director of the National Security Agency and former deputy director of intelligence at the CIA. In 1984 and 1985, he headed a bipartisan commission on embassy security. J. Christopher Ronay, a former chief of the FBI explosives unit, directed the investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He is currently president of the Institute of Makers of Explosives in Washington, D.C.. And Brian Jenkins is a security consultant who directed research on political violence at Rand, a federally-funded research organization. Thank you all for being with us.

Admiral Inman, weren’t those bombings just the sort of disaster that your commission hoped to prevent?

BOBBY R. INMAN, Former Deputy Director, CIA: Sadly, they were.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell me what you recommended so that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

BOBBY R. INMAN: Well, first, we knew terrorism is a terribly hard target, and, therefore, there was not likely to be advanced warning. All the prospects for saving lives, therefore, depended on what you did in advance for local alert, suspicious movement in the streets around the facilities, and what you could do to keep the embassies, themselves, consulates, from being the direct target of blast–where you could move, relocate, move out of the center of the city, get seventy-five to a hundred feet from the street, but there were going to be facilities where you couldn’t make that change. And there you still needed to do what you could for preventing the number of deaths that would come with direct hit from explosives.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Like what?

BOBBY R. INMAN: There were a number of alternatives, everything from mylar on glass to walls. Whether there are better, newer techniques now, I’ll leave to your other two, more current people.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you made these recommendations and some of them Congress appropriated money for but not all the money that was required, is that right?

BOBBY R. INMAN: Thirteen years ago recommendations came out. There was initially strong bipartisan support. We had two congressional members of the commission-Sen. Warren Rudman and Congressman Dan Mica-the program was four to five billion-a lot of money. In retrospect, one mistake probably we bypassed OMB. They were not part of the process.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Office of Management & Budget.

BOBBY R. INMAN: Exactly. And they still get to referee how much money is put in budgets. So while we could make recommendations, the Congress could show initial support, over time that support dwindled, pressures to hold the budgets down, the absence of explosions at other embassies, and, therefore, the program turns out to be vastly smaller than we had foreseen as the need.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And these embassies were probably low priority because they did not have a history of terrorism, is that right?

BOBBY R. INMAN: That is correct, but we had alerted when we did the commission that once we had fixed the safety of the embassies in the high threat areas, that terrorists would go out looking for soft targets. They’d go elsewhere, so that there were no facilities outside the U.S. that we could consider totally immune. There were some in countries with very strong law enforcement, good economic conditions where the likelihood was remote. But throughout the third world clearly the danger was always going to be there.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the changes were not made at these embassies?

BOBBY R. INMAN: They were not made-at least-there were a few. I’m told that all of the new embassies that have been built meet the standards that we prescribed, but the potential for replacing-for upgrading other embassies, clearly, much more could have been done. Though, one of the worries we had at the outset was the talent within the State Department to execute this very large program. They weren’t planned for. So it’s clear that was also going to be a limiting factor from the outset we knew.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ronay, as a person who knows a lot about explosives, if the recommendations had been met and the changes had been made, would it have saved lives in these embassies?

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY, Former FBI Investigator: That’s very hard to tell, sitting here, watching the photographs that are returned. I think those changes and recommendations were well made, and I think certainly they do fortify buildings and could have been a life-saving feature in some cases. But with this kind of a device or these deliveries of these types of bombs, it’s going to be very hard, if not impossible, to eliminate casualties.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s talk about the device. From what you’ve heard, what do you think the device was? Let’s start with Nairobi or both of them.

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: It’s again, very hard for me to speculate here at a distance, but it appears they were vehicular devices delivered by trucks of some sort, which is not new. We’ve been investigating these for many years, certainly since 1983 in Beirut, where we saw three very serious cases targeting American interests there, not the least of which was the Marine Corps barracks bombing. And we’ve learned from those things in investigating these types of crimes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. I’m going to come back to something about the investigation in just a minute. Brian Jenkins, who could have done-from what you know so far-and I don’t mean specifically the person-but what kind of group could have carried out two bombings at the same time of this magnitude?

BRIAN JENKINS, Security Consultant: Well, there’s a number of things that we can surmise from the facts that we do know, without being able to speculate precisely on who was responsible. We are dealing here with a small group, professional, probably a group that is, regards itself certainly as an elite, quite possibly God-inspired, feeling no need to explain themselves or their cause, quite willing-determined to kill in quantity, willing to kill indiscriminately, in fact, perhaps caught up in terrorism as vocation, that is, the process of terrorism itself, where by carrying out simultaneous attacks, when, in fact, one attack would have sufficed to make the point, by carrying out multiple attacks, demonstrate their skills. There’s a kind of a showmanship, almost a baroque theatricality to this.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does there have to be a state supporting a group like this?

BRIAN JENKINS: There may be, but it is not a prerequisite. I mean, we certainly have seen in the Oklahoma City bombing that virtually any damn fool could put together a large quantity of explosives to kill a great number of people. The real skill to the organization will be determined in the days and weeks to come to see how good they were at the planning and preparation to evade arrest, to escape, to get away with the bombing after the fact.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Chris Ronay, what’s happening now in the investigation to try to figure out who the group is?

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: Well, I think they’re just trying to get their resources all in one place and organized. It looks to me to be a very difficult task to control a crime scene, which is the most essential part of evidence gathering, in fact. You’ve got to control it before you can hope to collect meaningful evidence and get it to an analysis center and perhaps learn some very, very specific things about the vehicle or the bomber, himself.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It must be very difficult to investigate at the same time as they’re still digging out people and bodies.

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: Well, it’s difficult. Sometimes they too run contrary to each other. Recovery of victims is certainly most important, but one has to have concern for the other as well; it has to go on together.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now aside from the scene, itself, in order to figure out who did it, they must be monitoring all kinds of radio traffic and everything else. What’s happening in that way?

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: Well, an investigation takes on many forms: the intelligence services, the investigative services, not only from the U.S. in this case but from other countries involved and certainly the Kenyans would be participating in this and the Tanzanians. It’s a very multi-pronged investigation. What goes on at the crime scene is one thing, and those leads that come out of there will be shared with the others as they come out. But that alone wouldn’t necessarily be the total picture, even early on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Admiral Inman jump in here. Do you have any comments on what can be known about the group and what now is taking place in the investigation?

BOBBY R. INMAN: The fact that there were two bombings almost at the same time says this required some superior organizational skills. That makes me suspect state-supported, though it could be some other groups. The odds are-

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me. Why does that make you suspect state-supported?

BOBBY R. INMAN: Simply for the organizational skills, to get it in place. An individual–two or three might get one embassy. Being able to do two at almost the same time I think is much more difficult for amateurs to undertake. Second, if they’re as good as I suspect they are-and Brian Jenkins was one of our consultants when we put together our study 13 years ago-I suspect there won’t be communications out there that are accessible. So after the fact they’re going to be very hard to catch.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean communications of the sort that we were just talking about. You don’t mean taking credit-

BOBBY R. INMAN: –our intelligence-

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –that sort of thing. Brian-

BOBBY R. INMAN: Finding-

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Go ahead.

BOBBY R. INMAN: Finding leads.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Brian Jenkins, what do you make of the fact that there’s been-I mean, there has been one group that took credit, but I’m not sure-it was a group that took credit-one report said via Aktar Television, and another report said this group took credit via Dubais News Service, a group called the Islamic Group for Protecting Holy Sites. What do you make of that?

BRIAN JENKINS: Well, I think we have to be skeptical of claims of responsibility that come in after events like this are publicized throughout the world. We live in an age in which the eruption of some distant volcano promptly brings three claims by terrorist groups for responsibility. The fact is, it remains the burden of the perpetrators, if they choose to communicate, to communicate in a way and to communicate information that establishes their bona fides.

Thus far I’m not sure that we have that communication. What we have seen in some of these recent terrorist attacks in the 1990′s, especially some of the-some of the more horrendous examples involving large scale, indiscriminate creation of casualties, is the absence of a claim. Terrorist groups claim credit to call attention to themselves and their causes, to outshine rival groups, to develop constituencies, to attract recruits. Where we don’t have that kind of a claim we have a group that is unconcerned about constituency, is unconcerned about attracting recruits, is perhaps isolated in its own universe of thought, pursuing goals that they believe are self-evident.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chris Ronay, based on experience so far with other investigations, including ones you’ve been involved in, what are the odds that we’ll ever know who did this?

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: It would be impossible to guess at odds.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, some we know, some we don’t, right?

J. CHRISTOPHER RONAY: Yes. And some we know and we have investigative success, but we can’t bring to fruition because this–indicted suspects are unavailable to us. And some it takes, as you follow the events, many, many years to bring to trial either in the U.S. or somewhere else. But our purpose in the U.S. law enforcement business and Justice Department now is to bring people to account for these crimes, wherever it’s possible to do that in the United States, if that’s what’s feasible.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much for being with us.