We held our last open hearing on national security threats one year ago tomorrow. Director Tenet, on that day, you testified that first and foremost among the threats to the United States was the threat posed by international terrorism – and specifically by Usama bin Laden’s global terrorist network. We all agreed with you when you said that “the highest priority” for our Intelligence Community “must invariably be on those things that threaten the lives of Americans or the physical security of the United States.”
To fight this terrorist threat, you assured us, “the Intelligence Community has designed a robust counterterrorism program that has preempted, disrupted, and defeated international terrorists and their activities.” In fact, you told us, “in most instances, we have kept terrorists off-balance, forcing them to worry about their own security and degrading their ability to plan and conduct operations.”
Seven months after your testimony, in an attack that apparently had been years in the planning, Usama bin Laden’s terrorists killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans in less than one hour.
As you know, the United States has an Intelligence Community today – and a Director of Central Intelligence – in large part because of the Pearl Harbor disaster of December 7, 1941. The fear of another Pearl Harbor provided the impetus for our establishment of a national-level intelligence bureaucracy. This system was created so that America would never have to face another devastating surprise attack. That second devastating surprise attack came on September 11th, and it killed more Americans than did the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.
All of us, I think, owe the American people an explanation as to why our Intelligence Community failed to provide adequate warning of such a terrorist attack on our soil. After all, as Director Tenet has stated, the Director of Central Intelligence is hired “not to observe and comment, but to warn and protect.”
In the very near future, this Committee will join with the House Intelligence Committee in an effort to provide an explanation to the American people. Once we determine why we were caught completely by surprise, we must then work together to ensure that there is no third Pearl Harbor.
I am pleased that the Director of Central Intelligence and his colleagues have joined us today. These threat hearings are important, because understanding what the threats are is the first step toward helping our Intelligence Community meet the challenge of defending against them. These hearings also give the respective leaders within the Intelligence Community an opportunity to speak directly to the American people. While the bulk of the activities of the Intelligence Community are secret, there is a great deal we can and should discuss in a public forum. With that in mind, I ask each of our witnesses to address Members’ questions to the greatest extent possible in this open setting.
Not long ago, our Intelligence Community faced a single clear threat – the Soviet Union and its Communist allies – against which it could devote most of its resources and attention. With the end of the Cold War, the world situation facing our intelligence agencies underwent a fundamental change. Until that point, murky transnational threats had been only sideshows to the “main event” of the East versus West strategic rivalry. Today, however, coping with asymmetric transnational challenges such as terrorism has become the most important duty of our Intelligence Community. To say the least, the post-Cold War period has been one of difficult transition.
Even before September 11th, we had a rocky history of intelligence failures – among them the bombing of Khobar Towers, the Indian nuclear tests, the bombing of our East African embassies, the first attack on the World Trade Center buildings, and the attack upon the USS Cole. Examined individually, each of these failures, tragic in their own way, may not suggest a continuing or systemic problem. However, taken as a whole, and culminating with the events of September 11th, they present a disturbing series of intelligence shortfalls that, I believe, expose some serious problems in the structure of and approaches taken by our Intelligence Community.
We will have many opportunities in the very near future to discuss the structural and organizational defects inherent in our intelligence community. For today, we should remember that understanding the threats is the first step along a road that must lead to improvements in how our nation confronts these threats. It has become apparent that international terrorism now poses the most significant threat to our security and interests at home and abroad. I will be interested to hear what our intelligence agencies believe such threats will look like in the future.
Just as militaries can face defeat if they keep trying to fight the last war, so can intelligence agencies suffer terrible strategic surprise if they spend their time trying to meet the last threat – or if they try to meet new threats with the mindsets, tactics, and obsolete methodologies of the past.
The United States clearly faces unprecedented dangers today, and we will surely face new ones tomorrow. I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today as we discuss these threats and how we can work together to defeat them.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.