The Only Way to Address Terrorism Is to Deal with the Issues
that Create Terrorism
The Only Way
to Address Terrorism Is to Deal with the Issues that Create Terrorism
Testimony of Ambassador J. Cofer Black,
Former Director, Counterterrorism Center, Central
Intelligence Agency, Before The
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. April 13, 2004.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Washington,
My name is Cofer Black. From 1999 until 2002 I was the Director of the DCI’s
Counterterrorist Center. We call my old unit “CTC”. It is in that capacity that
I am here to testify today. I promise to be brief in my opening remarks so we
can get to your questions. I am here today to tell you and the American public
what we did, what we tried to do, and where we fell short in order to help this
Commission and the Nation understand what happened and encourage the kind of
discussion that will help us avoid a similar tragedy in the future.
· And believe me our enemies are still
out there plotting to attack us and our allies in the war on terrorism. These
attacks could take the form of spectaculars like 9/11 or could be smaller, but
still deadly operations that are easier to mount, like what happened in Madrid.
I am not here
to testify as part of a political process or to create another political
firestorm over some new perceived allegation of negligence, inattention, or
error by someone else.
· Too often in this election year, the
effort you are engaged in has revolved around what people in this country
perceive as partisan issues. I do not want to engage in an exercise that
reflects that kind of unproductive exchange.
mattered to me and the men and women I led within the Counterterrorist Center
did not depend on the flavor of the Administration, but rather was driven by
what we thought needed to get done in our attempt to protect American citizens,
property, and interests.
In order to
understand the threats that emerged during 2001 and our response to those
threats I want to briefly provide some context. A lot of this activity is highly
classified so I will provide an overview.
I want to
begin by describing our overall strategy. We have been systematically attempting
to counter the terrorist threat since William Casey established CTC in 1986.
Over the following 15 years we saw the nature of that threat evolve. Our
approach to dealing with the threat also had to evolve.
By the time I
arrived in the summer of 1999, CTC was ready to take the next step in its
evolution—to embark on a new, more offensive strategy to deal with the terrorist
problem. Our plan had a number of elements:
· First, because terrorism is a global
problem, we needed to build a global coalition to work with us to fight the
threat. We set out to engage with every liaison service worldwide that was
willing to work with us. In some cases, we needed to build up the capabilities
of those services, and we did.
· Second, we worked to engage actively
with those services that have a regional or semiglobal capability.
· Most importantly, we worked to
develop our own operations to advance US CT objectives by penetrating terrorist
safehavens and collecting intelligence that would both inform policy and enable
our own operations.
was our global strategy, the single issue that overwhelmingly occupied our
attention was UBL and al-Qa’ida. The “Plan” we developed to deal with al-Qa’ida
1. Disrupting UBL operations. This depended heavily
on developing sources of both human and technical intelligence that could give
us insights into his plans at the tactical level. This is easy to say, but hard
2. Channeling and capturing UBL. This required us
to know where UBL was, to develop capture teams, and to find a way to have these
two streams of activities intersect at a specific time. All from a distance.
3. Psychological operations. Psychological
operations are always hard to conduct and hard to measure. But we were trying to
drive UBL to areas that might be easier for us to operate in, at the same time
that we disrupted his operations. One of our goals was to convince the Taliban
that UBL was a liability.
4. UBL’s lieutenants. Al-Qa’ida is not a one-person
show. At the same time we were pursuing UBL, we were also working to develop
intelligence on his chief lieutenants in order to conduct operations against
5. Technical operations. In order to improve our
intelligence collection we were working with a variety of partners outside of
CTC to develop innovative approaches to dealing with a denied area like
to refine our approach throughout 2000 and into 2001. Pushing forward with those
initiatives that seemed to have promise. But this was a hard and a long-term
effort. There were no quick fixes short of invading Afghanistan, and that was
determined not to be an option prior to 9/11.
· Let me also set the record straight
on the Predator. We were interested in a UAV program to improve our operations
in Afghanistan as far back as 1999. While I had to live within my budget, CTC
was interested in and pushed to develop Predator capabilities. I was convinced
that we needed these capabilities and would be able to put them to good use.
That said, wanting something does not translate into having it ready to deploy.
There were very serious debates over how to proceed, and I object to any notion
that CTC—that I—either did not want to develop this capability or that we tried
to kill it.
out with many distinct terrorist threads that required our attention. This is
also a highly classified area. I will attempt to summarize. CTC was:
· Continuing effort to work with the
FBI on the USS Cole attack.
· Working to follow through on a major,
multi-country takedown of terrorist cells in SE Asia.
· Responding to a hostage situation in
· Dealing with another hostage crises
in the Philippines.
all this was the rising volume of threat reporting. By the summer of 2001 we
· An increasing amount of so-called
“chatter” alluding to a massive terrorist strike. We were receiving this
intelligence not only from our own sources, but also from liaison.
· Human intelligence was providing the
same kind of insights.
· Disruption efforts and detentions
were also corroborating our concerns about a coming attack.
· None of this, unfortunately,
specified method, time, or place. Where we had clues, it looked like planning
was underway for an attack in the Middle East or Europe.
At the same
time, we were working on two tracks:
· To go after al-Qa’ida, and
· To disrupt the threatened terrorist
In going after
the organization, we were doing several things simultaneously:
· First, we had to penetrate the threat—to
do this we needed to penetrate both the al-Qa’ida safehaven in Afghanistan and
the organization itself to collect better human and technical intelligence on
its activities and to understand it well enough to conduct effective operations
· Second, we had to look for
opportunities to take down al-Qa’ida cells—with the intelligence we collected we
worked to create plans to disrupt or degrade al-Qa’ida.
mistake, this was a difficult mission with a low probability for success in the
· Finally, we were developing new
capabilities—to enable us to penetrate and take down the organization. These
ranged from the Predator to developing new approaches for going after the Afghan
safehaven by working with groups within the country and with any cooperative
service in neighboring countries. A number of these initiatives were included in
the so-called December 2000 “Blue Sky” memo and in follow-on discussions within
the CSG process that have been previously discussed by others and in your Staff
In order to
disrupt, we approached almost two-dozen cooperative services to go after
UBL-related targets worldwide. At best we were hoping to delay any attack to buy
ourselves more time to find out what was planned. We were looking for every
opportunity to go on the offensive against al-Qa’ida.
Where we did
not have enough information to act, we warned. We produced CIA and
analyses that examined the heightened threat situation. Your staff statement
this morning ran through titles of a number of these documents.
· More broadly, I also want to
emphasize that CTC and the Intelligence Community produced significant strategic
analysis that examined the growing threat from international jihadist networks
and al-Qa’ida. I believe that the record shows that the USG understood the
nature of the threat. This understanding was the result of a range of products
we produced or contributed to, including:
o Personal interaction via
participation in the CSG.
o Periodic, stand-back assessments on
UBL and Sunni extremist-related topics.
o Contributing to the annual “Global
Patterns of Terrorism”.
o And, outside the Executive branch,
activities such as the DCI’s Worldwide Threat
support for the Bremer Commission on Terrorism, and briefings for the HPSCI
we were not able to stop what happened on 9/11 despite our actions and warnings.
I promised to
be brief, so I will close with one final thought. What I have been largely
talking about is what CIA can and has done. But ultimately what we at the Agency
do is deal with the symptoms of terrorism at a tactical level. As long as there
are people who are not happy with their lot in life, as long as the United
States is perceived to somehow be the cause of this unhappiness, there will be
terrorism. No matter how many plots we uncover and disrupt, no matter how many
terrorist organizations we degrade or destroy, another individual or group will
rise to take their place. We need to remind the American public of this reality.
Those like the families who have lived thru the horrors of 9/11 will never
forget. But I fear sometimes the rest of the country is losing sight of the
long, hard way ahead. At the more strategic level, the only way to address
terrorism is to deal with the issues that create terrorism. To resolve them
where possible, and where that is not possible to ensure that there is an
alternative to violence. And that is not something that CTC or CIA can do. That
is a mission for the broader United States government.