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Intelligence Investigation

September 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: We turn now to, we hope two long-term intelligence experts. With me here James Woolsey, who was Director of Central Intelligence during the Clinton administration; and former Senator David Boren, who we hope to be joined soon by former Senator David Boren, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Gulf War. Mr. Woolsey, let’s start with the big intelligence question everyone keeps asking. How could U.S. Intelligence have missed the planning of an operation this sophisticated, this simultaneous, this multi-faceted?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, they may well have had some kind of indication that something was going to happen. You remember a few weeks ago in the aftermath, a few weeks after the Cole, there were a number of….

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the U.S.S. Cole.

JAMES WOOLSEY: The destruction of the ship or the near destruction of the ship in Oman, I’m sorry in Yemen. We had a number of alerts. And we had troops in Jordan and we had ships in the Persian Gulf. They went on alert, put out to sea and so forth. At that time there was a lot of concern that something might be about to happen. That’s been a worry I think of the intelligence community now for the last number of weeks. But this is often the case. You get a general warning sometimes, but not a specific one.

MARGARET WARNER: But explain how groups could communicate and one assumes individuals would have had to have been communicating without that being picked up by electronic means, or would it be picked up by electronic means but not sort of caught?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, there’s several things. First of all it’s gotten a lot harder to intercept communications in the last few years because of encryption being generally available around the world. Secondly even when things are picked up– I don’t know if this was in fact the case with Mr. bin Laden — sometimes press leaks hurt.

There was an indication in the press some weeks or months ago, that he was overheard using a telephone, a particular type of telephone, and if he was overheard, you can be sure that he stopped using it after that. I think another thing is that terrorist groups are notoriously hard to penetrate.

We’ve made it a little bit harder than it needs to be. In the aftermath of the …business in Guatemala a few years ago, my successor Mr. Deutch put out some guidelines that made it harder to recruit spies if those spies had a background of violence. Well, that might be all right inside governments.

There are a lot of good people trapped inside bad governments who spy for the U.S. or for Britain because they’re honest democrats and so forth. But in terrorist groups, there isn’t anybody except people who want to be terrorists. So it cuts back on your ability to recruit spies inside terrorist organizations if you can’t recruit people with some kind of a violent past.

MARGARET WARNER: So now you’re talking about so-called “human intelligence.”


MARGARET WARNER: So you would agree with some of our previous guests who have said things like… maybe you wouldn’t agree with this. But our human intelligence is abysmal or it’s been shortchanged recently. It’s really not what it should be.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I don’t think it’s been shortchanged recently. It has… We had some cuts from the Congress that I fought against when I was Director of Central Intelligence, but I know George Tenet has worked very hard to try to build up human intelligence. Bill Webster did. Most of that, those cuts were back during the late ’70s. And I think the agency has recovered largely from those, but there have been some overall budget trimmings in the last few years that I think probably have hurt a bit.

MARGARET WARNER: But then, are you saying that… We had another guest, Larry Johnson, who used to be at the State Department, deputy chief of counter terrorism, who said the U.S. Government isn’t willing to, quote, get in the sewer which is what you have to do and take those kinds of risks to really recruit, keep on payroll and so on, the kinds of spies you’re talking about.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well that’s a little bit of what I was saying. Up until late ’95, case officers had the flexibility to recruit pretty much whom they would as long as their station chief approved it. But these guidelines that came out in late ’95 deterred them. It doesn’t block them but it does deter them from recruiting people with violent pasts. If you’re going to recruit someone in a terrorist organization, it’s going to be someone with a violent past.

MARGARET WARNER: We are joined now by Senator Boren. Welcome Senator Boren.


MARGARET WARNER: I understand you were actually having breakfast with the CIA Director, George Tenet, this morning when this attack occurred and stayed at the agency for some time. Is there anything new you can tell us on what the thinking is on who was responsible for this?

FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: Well, not really. We were actually having breakfast downtown at a hotel. We thought we were having a very peaceful breakfast on a beautiful morning. And, of course, we were interrupted right in the middle of breakfast with this news. I think — I don’t have access and if I did I wouldn’t divulge it as to what our latest thinking is — but clearly I think you have to put on the list those that have the resources to do something as sophisticated as this.

I think you have to have bin Laden on the suspect list. You probably have some nation states that ought to be on the suspect list as well. You know, looking at this, it’s very clear– and I think this hopefully will give us leads to trace back and find and affix responsibility– the training that had to have been there by those who took over the aircraft, the ability to pilot the aircraft. It appears that perhaps they were piloting the aircraft, the knowledge to turn off the transponders that would make it very difficult to trace these aircraft from the ground and through our air control system.

These were people that were highly trained; they knew what they were doing. It was all very carefully coordinated. So we’re dealing with people with a lot of sophistication here. Some of that training and some of that preparation is bound to have left clues that hopefully we’ll be able to thread through pretty quickly.

MARGARET WARNER: You said you put some states on the list. Which states?

FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: I’d rather not start naming but I think obviously there are states that have reason to have strong feelings — Iraq, for example. We knew back during the Persian Gulf conflict — and that’s when we had a lot of intelligence successes because a lot of efforts were broken up to mount terrorist attacks that Saddam Hussein among others was trying to recruit every terrorist organization in the world to serve his purpose.

But I think now we’re in a situation where we must respond so strongly and send such a very strong signal for the sake not only of our security but the stability and security of the world that nation states that condone terrorism, that harbor terrorists, let alone those that sponsor terrorism will pay a very heavy, heavy price.

It was interesting to me that Mr. Qaddafi rushed out with a statement deploring the incident today. It’s pretty clear that none of these people who have harbored terrorists in the past want to suffer the consequences or have a risk of suffering the consequences.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Jim Woolsey, pay a higher price and if so what do we mean a higher price?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, we have to be very vigorous in recruiting spies and we have to do and sometimes that’s costly. But I think the key thing is what David said earlier about nation states — because Iraq has a lot of incentives to damage the United States heavily.

There was an FBI agent in charge of the early investigation of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Jim Fox, who had the view that there may well have been Iraqi government involvement in that. The Clinton administration, Justice Department, brushed that aside after the time but some of the information that came out at trial that had been under grand jury secrecy during the investigation looks as if there may well have been Iraqi government involvement.

And this time this administration, I hope and trust, will not brush aside the idea that there might be state involvement. We may well find that Osama bin Laden or some other terrorist group in the Mideast or elsewhere, probably the Mideast, is behind this. But they may well be a subcontractor or a junior partner. There conceivably could be a state behind this. Iran is possible. But I think we should focus very hard on the possibility of state backing.


MARGARET WARNER: David Boren, when you say states that sponsor terrorism should pay a higher price, what are you saying specifically?

FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: Well, I think the infrastructure of those countries needs to be severely damaged in terms of physical, military damage, strong military action, if that is required. We have to be able to deliver that message very, very strongly so that no one will even want to be on the suspect list in the future for harboring terrorism.

You know, I hope that out of all this, something will happen that I felt strongly about for a long time. And that is we cannot really deal with terrorism just like we can’t deal with environmental problems all by ourselves in the United States. Like environmental problems, national borders are really irrelevant when you talk about the movement of terrorism and the terrorist organizations.

We really need to sit down and we need to get the leading nations of the world, not only just our NATO allies but also the Russians if they’ll join us, the Chinese if they’ll join us, all of us have a stake in world stability.

And we need to say, “we need to form some kind of international inspection regime that will enable us to go in to areas of the world, hopefully with the acquiescence of the host governments, but if not, forcefully go into areas of the world, inspect a suspected terrorist camps, training camps and operation camps and break them up.”

When all of this happened, as I was walking along this morning, I thought back about a conversation I had about six weeks ago with President Putin of Russia in Moscow. We were talking about the threats. We had started talking about the missile shield. And he said, you know, we worry about missiles being launched by rogue states.

He said my worry– and he said, I think we all need to get together and figure out how to work together on this– is that car bombs and airplanes, he mentioned airplanes, could be used, much more conventional devices to inflict this kind of terrible damage. And we were talking about the opportunities for intelligence sharing and really building a strong leadership with the international community.

Maybe the shock of this incident will cause other countries around the world to wake up and I hope that our president will take the lead internationally in bringing together the top dozen nations of this world to become committed to this kind of international cooperative activity.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, David Boren, Jim Woolsey, thank you both very much.