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18 March 2005

Threats Growing More Complex and Lethal, Intelligence Chiefs Say

CIA's Goss, DIA's Jacoby testify before Senate on areas of concern

By Rebecca Ford Mitchell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The challenge of focusing the right resources on the right threats is a critical issue for the U.S. intelligence community, the directors of two major intelligence agencies told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee March 17.

“We’re facing a variety of sophisticated global threats of increasing complexity and lethality,” said Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “At the same time, we’re sustaining a very high operating tempo with our people and our capabilities … and reforming and transforming [the intelligence community]....And so, what keeps me awake at night is that we have very weighty decisions to make in terms of priorities in the way ahead.”

Porter Goss, director of the CIA, made the same point. “We need to do better at discerning what is a real threat … and to establish a threshold for devoting analytical and operational resources, which are precious, to track down a lead,” he said.  He indicated his intention to promote the establishment of a national university of intelligence to improve intelligence-gathering capabilities across the community.

Both agreed that international terrorism by Islamic extremists and the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are the two greatest threats to U.S. security.  “And we must not divert our focus and attention from nations of interest” and from determining their intentions, Jacoby added.

The intent behind the accelerated military build-up by China and Iran’s apparent attempt to obtain nuclear weapons and pursue missile development are of particular concern, the officials said.

The scale at which the Chinese are modernizing and building their military capabilities raises new questions as they “seemingly threaten U.S. forces in the region,” Goss said.  China’s recent legislation authorizing the use of military force against Taiwan if the island declares itself independent “speaks for itself,” he added.

Goss accused Iran of keeping high-level members of al-Qaida within its borders, meddling in the affairs of Iraq to further its own interests, and of being a state sponsor of terrorism through its support of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization.  “I would also say that their lack of candor, their lack of transparency on the subject of their nuclear program causes people to have reasonable doubt about what is actually their intent,” he said.  The country’s reform movement, he added, is being eclipsed by more conservative elements.

Potential flashpoints in Latin America include Venezuela, Haiti, Colombia and Cuba, Goss said, while also noting that nine countries in the region are scheduled to hold presidential elections in 2005 or 2006.  “I think we need to be much more focused on a global basis to what’s going on, and I think we ought to start in our backyard,” he said.

“There are certain players that are very clearly causing mischief for us,” Goss explained, noting that some things said by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “are very hard to reconcile with friendly interest toward the United States.”

The CIA director said he was not satisfied that enough attention is being paid to all U.S. borders, where trafficking of people, weapons and drugs poses a very serious threat.  Due to relative peace in the region south of the United States in recent years, “we phased out a lot of activities that we wish we hadn’t at this point,” he said.

Transnational terrorism, Jacoby stated, continues to undermine the stability of various nations. “The movement has changed in the last 12 months,” he reported, “from one that was centrally directed by al-Qaida leadership to one that we now term ‘an al-Qaida-associated movement’” in which, across many countries, “like-minded Sunni Islamic groups interact, share resources, and work to achieve shared goals” -- that include attacks against the United States. 

According to the intelligence directors, countries in which terrorism by Islamic extremists are of continuing concern include the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.  And in Africa, “chronic instability in countries such as the Sudan and Nigeria, and in areas such as the Horn of Africa, will continue to hamper counterterrorism efforts and offer potential sanctuary for terrorists,” Goss said.

In Iraq, a main front in the U.S. battle against terrorism, Goss said he believed that, since the recent elections, “there is a change of thinking in the country … that [democracy] is the way to go.”  However, willful intimidation by terrorists through violence against innocent people and the young Iraqi security forces continues, he said.

In an exchange with Senator Joe Lieberman -- who noted that the insurgents in Iraq, “a relatively small group of people that’s attempting to disrupt the clear will of the majority of 25 – 26 million people,” seemed like “gangs on the street who are willing to kill anybody” -- Jacoby said that the insurgency is made up of former regime elements, foreign fighters, disgruntled individuals and common criminals, and the tipping point will come when local Iraqis decide they will not put up with their violence any more and turn against them.

“The goal of many of these efforts [acts of violence] is very specifically to defeat stability and progress … and stability and progress is also the way to defeat the insurgency,” he said. 

The people of Iraq are much more hopeful about their future and much more concerned about stability than prior to their elections, he told the panel.  And, although too early to say if it is a trend, the number of insurgent attacks over the past two weeks has fallen “considerably below the high level of activity that existed last November,” he noted.

In the wide-ranging hearing on security threats, Goss assured the committee that all credible claims of abuse against those detained as suspected terrorists are fully investigated and “there are no techniques being employed that are, in any way, against the law or would be considered torture or anything like that.”  He also said there are safeguards in place involving the transfer of prisoners to other countries for interrogation, a practice known as rendition.

“The United States government does not engage in or condone torture,” he said.

The prepared statement of CIA Director Goss

The prepared statement of DIA Director Jacoby