Council on Foreign Relations
GERALD SEIB: [In progress]—your cell phones. I've just turned off mine, I think. If you're not sure, turn it all the way off. Secondly, unlike most Council events—and many of you, I know, are familiar with Council events—this event is on the record, thanks to our generous guest. Third, the remarks of our speaker will be followed by a question and answer session. There will be mikes moving around the audience. When we get to that point, if you just want to indicate to me you've got a question by raising your hand—I don't want to be very bureaucratic about it—and I think that that will work sufficiently. Though, I'll make sure I look to the back of the room as well as in the front of the room, if you'll just trust me on that point. And finally, and obviously, keep your questions concise and make sure they actually have a question mark at the end, and we'll probably be better off.
The news of this week sort of prompts me to begin the proceedings today by saying the following: On the subject of terrorism, before we had [former White House Counterterrorism Director] Richard Clarke, before we had Richard Ben-Veniste [a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States], and before we had [Commission Chairman] Thomas Kean, we had Senator Bob Graham. When he was seeking the presidential nomination earlier this year, Senator Graham liked to talk about his record on lots of things, such as creating jobs. I remember that I had the honor of being at one of the six dozen or so Democratic candidate debates, and I asked Senator Graham about job loss. And he took the occasion, as I recall, to hold up a copy of his very slick book on how to create jobs, described the book at great detail, and, as I recall, gave the website of his campaign so people could go there and look at his book on creating jobs. And I thought, "What a sucker I was. I walked right into that one." [Laughter.]
But even at that point in a debate about economics, I had the feeling that Senator Graham, down deep, probably really wanted to talk more about the subject that's on the agenda today, which is terrorism, intelligence, and whether the country was and is prepared for dealing with terrorism.
He comes by his interest in this subject honestly, largely through his service on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he joined as a member in 1993, and became chairman of for a two-year period in 2001. And On September 11, 2001, as it happened—and if I'm recalling correctly—Senator Graham was having breakfast with the chief of Pakistani intelligence at the moment the Twin Towers were struck in New York, presumably talking about Osama bin Laden at that point.
Subsequently, he became the co-chairman of the Joint Senate House Intelligence Committee that looked at the performance of the intelligence committee before 9/11, working with a fellow Floridian, [U.S. Representative] Porter Goss [R-Fla.], in that effort. He voted against the resolution authorizing war in Iraq, arguing I think not so much that the war in Iraq was wrong, but that the table hadn't adequately been set, that there were terror threats beyond al Qaeda that hadn't been dealt with adequately and that should be addressed, even before we got to Iraq. He was, I think, during the presidential campaign, if I might say so, a provocateur on the subject of terrorism and intelligence, and I expect he will be the same for us today.
It's my honor to introduce Senator Bob Graham. Senator. [Applause.]
BOB GRAHAM: Good morning and good afternoon and, Gerry, thank you very much for your kind introduction. I was saying I appreciate both your remembrance and your remarks.
I'm going to start at the outset this afternoon by saying that I will make some comments today that will not be well-received in the White House. I have observed the White House's reaction to comments that it does not well receive, and so in a matter of pre-emptive defense, I have a confession to make. When I was four years old, I was enrolled in the Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod Nursery School in Tallahassee, Florida. On a day in the spring of my enrollment in 1941, I kicked in a house made of blocks by some of the other students at Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod Nursery School. The director of the school told me,"Robert, we cannot have that behavior by the children at Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod. I am calling your mother and asking that she come and take you home, and that she not ever bring you back." Now, that's on the record, you can make whatever you wish of that confession.
Friends, this has been a painful week for our nation. The horrible tragedy of September 11 has been revisited, first in hearings by the [9/11] Commission and, second, by the revelations in the book ["Against All Enemies: Inside the White House's War on Terror—What Really Happened"] of the former White House counterterrorism director, Richard Clarke.
More painful than the memories which these events have resurrected, I believe is the growing realization that our leaders did not do everything that they could have done and should have done to protect Americans from a terrorist attack. The 9/11 Commission, for example, has reported that they endorse the recommendations of the Joint Congressional Inquiry [into the 9/11 terrorist attacks], which I co-chaired with my friend and colleague and fellow Floridian, Porter Goss. We found that failures of intelligence collection and analysis, compounded by a lack of information-sharing within the intelligence community and between the intelligence community and the law enforcement community, cost us the chance to detect and disrupt the plot of the 19 hijackers. In short, September 11 could have—indeed, should have—been prevented.
I share Richard Clarke's view that since September 11, President Bush and his key members of his administration have failed to keep their eye on the ball on the war on terrorism. Frankly, we had al Qaeda on the ropes in the spring of 2002. But rather than finishing the job and crushing the operational command structure of al Qaeda, we shifted our focus.
Let me share a personal story. [U.S.] Central Command, which has responsibility for our military actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, at MacDill Air Force Base. It has been my practice to periodically visit the Central Command, to receive a briefing as to what they are doing. I did that in February of 2002. After the formal briefing with PowerPoint [presentations] and all that goes with a military briefing, I was asked by one of the senior commanders of Central Command to go into his office. We did, the door was closed, and he turned to me, and he said, "Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq." This is February of 2002."Senator, what we are engaged in now is a manhunt not a war, and we are not trained to conduct a manhunt."
To draw a historical analogy, I think that what the Bush administration did, beginning as early as February of 2002, was to make a decision that we would fight a pre-emptive war against Mussolini and let Hitler run free. I agree with Richard Clarke, who concludes in his book that Iraq was a complete and unnecessary tangent. I have described [it] as a distraction.
Now, I don't mean to suggest, and I do not believe Richard Clarke means to suggest, that Saddam Hussein is anything other than a bad, evil person who did bad and evil things to his own people and his neighbors and would hoped to have done it more broadly. But the question was not a singular question about Saddam Hussein. It was, rather, a comparative question. Of all the evils in that neighborhood of the Middle East and Central Asia, which evil deserved to have our primary military attention?
As we have learned since the war in Iraq, our intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, and my good friend and former colleague, Senator [Charles S.] Robb [D-Va.], is going to be at the front seat of trying to determine why that was—if it was the case and, if so, why. [Robb co-chairs a bipartisan commission established in February by President Bush to examine U.S. intelligence-gathering.]
There has never been a shred of evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any ties to al Qaeda, despite the suggestions from the president and other key administration officials that they were, in some way, married. And at his campaign kickoff in my state of Florida on last Saturday, March 20, the president again gave the American people the clear impression that Saddam Hussein was, in some reason, linked to 9/11. In fact, Iraq and al Qaeda represented opposite ends of Islamic thought: Iraq, a secular government based in Baghdad with the traditional ambitions of a nation-state; al Qaeda, a shadowy, extremist movement that relied on the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
As Gerry said, I voted against the resolution to go to war in Iraq. Let me explain why I did it and what I think it says about the Bush administration. I did it because I thought the standard as to which of the many evils in the Middle East and Central Asia we should apply our military force against was a rather—[inaudible]—strategy and a simple one. Which of those evils had the greatest capability to kill Americans? Now, you can argue—maybe you would have—a different standard. That was my standard.
And then I thought that there were three factors that would help answer that question. Which of the evils in the region had the greatest capability to kill Americans, particularly, had the number of trained persons in the art and skills of terrorism to do so? There was no question as to who had the greatest capability, particularly in light of the fact that, as we now know, Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction available for immediate use. It was al Qaeda.
Second, who had the greatest will to use that capability? In the National Intelligence Estimate that the consensus of our intelligence agencies produced in September of 2002 [and], after some effort, was finally willing to release publicly, they made the collective judgment of the American intelligence community that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the United States unless he was attacked. And so what did we do? We attacked him.
On the other hand, al Qaeda, without provocation, had just killed 3,000 Americans on September 11. But I think the most significant criterion is not just capability and will, but rather presence. Unless we were engaged in a war like we were in the Cold War, where the Soviet Union had massive missiles to deliver their weapons of mass destruction, it is difficult to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction unless you have some capacity inside the United States to do so.
I can tell you, friends, and I would hope that the administration would release this information so the American public could form a better judgment, that there is no comparison—there is no comparison—of the number of Saddam Hussein agents who were in the United States in the period from 2002 to 2003 and the number of representatives of al Qaeda and, as well, [Lebanese terrorist organization] Hezbollah. I will talk about that shortly.
But there is no indication that the president is sufficiently curious to begin to ask the right questions or make the right judgments as to which of these many evils is the greater threat to the lives of Americans. He has never shared with the American people what was his standard of judgment and what were the factors that he thought were relevant in exercising that judgment. When President Bush labeled Iraq the next front in the war on terror, it was a self-fulfilling declaration. It became truthful only because we made it so. Iraq only became a breeding ground for insurgents and potential terrorists from the many nations after we created chaos with our invasion and then followed chaos with poorly managed occupation.
It's not just my view. CIA Director George Tenet, testifying before the Congress just a few weeks ago, acknowledged that the war in Iraq has inflamed the jihadists. This is what he said: "As we continue the battle against al Qaeda, we must overcome a movement, a global movement infected by al Qaeda's radical agenda. The steady growth of Osama bin Laden's anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the wider Sunni extremist movement and the broad dissemination of al Qaeda's destructive expertise assure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future with or without al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the picture."
We cannot and we will not win the war on terrorism until the administration acknowledges that the war on Iraq and the war to crush terrorist networks are two very different enterprises and will require two very different strategies. To win the war on terror, I would recommend a strategy that is based on at least five key components. One, we must take the fight to the terrorists. We must play a strong offense, not simply rely on defense. I support the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, I did so 10 months before the president was ready to come on board with that concept, and I have fought for federal plans and funding to harden our most vulnerable targets here at home with a special interest in hardening our seaports, which I consider to be one of our greatest vulnerabilities.
But we cannot simply construct enough forts and barricades to wait and hide for the next terrorist attack. I happen to come from a state where about 40 to 50 of our local communities have the word"fort" in it—Fort Walton Beach, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Fort Mead, Fort Lauderdale. Why do we have so many places with the word "fort" in their title? The reason was because we fought one of the bloodiest Indian wars in the history of the country in Florida from the early 1830s to the mid-1840s, and the strategy of the United States government—and we were then a territory—was to build forts so people could run and hide should there be an Indian attack. What happened? They kept burning down our forts. Fort Lauderdale got burned down twice before they had a structure that could survive. And the military would sit around in the forts waiting for the next Indian attack.
Now, this is a very politically incorrect statement I'm about to make, but it happens to be historically true. What ended the Seminole Indian Wars in Florida and ended them in a space of less than 24 months was when the army decided they couldn't win by sitting in the forts. They had to go out and take on the Indians, and they did, and shortly the war was over. And, incidentally, that led to Florida being admitted to the Union and lots of good things have happened since then.
To truly protect our values, including our economic viability, we must go after the terrorists, where they live, where they are training, and not just in Afghanistan. We need to do it in Syria and in the Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon, and in Iran and other breeding grounds and training centers for terrorists.
Second, to carry out that fight, we must instill new creativity with our intelligence and defense and law enforcement agencies. A group at the Rand Corporation describes the kind of tactics that we will need to win this war on terrorism as"super precision warfare." Yet the Joint Inquiry and now the 9/11 Commission have found that our intelligence agencies have been mired in a Cold War-era turf war disagreement over target priorities and inattention to seismic shifts in technology. We cannot afford bickering like that, which delayed, first, the deployment, and then the arming of the Predator [unmanned aerial vehicle], one of the most significant innovations of, first, the war in Kosovo, then in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq. The agency seemed not to have appreciated that our enemies are no longer nation-states, which have easily defined targets. Our enemies today don't have missiles, they don't have tank divisions, they don't have submarines—all the things that we were concerned with the Soviet Union possessing during the Cold War. Our new enemies are more diverse, less hierarchical, and much more nimble and fluid.
Another analogy: had a private corporation failed to adapt itself against its fast-moving competition in the same way that the CIA and the FBI have failed to adapt since the end of the Cold War, that company would be bankrupt. I do not believe the chances of either the CIA or the FBI filing for bankruptcy are very great, but we, the citizens of the United States, are paying the price for their failures.
A Joint Inquiry recommended a starting point for reform, which, ironically, happens to be the same starting point that [President] Harry Truman advocated in 1947, and that is the rather radical thought, "Somebody needs to be in charge so that we don't have this finger-pointing at who did what and when." We recommended appointing a Cabinet-level director of national intelligence, a director who would be separate from the director of the CIA. I have introduced legislation to accomplish that and the other changes recommended by the Joint Inquiry.
As a testimony to my effectiveness, two-and-a-half years after 9/11 and some 15 months after the Joint Inquiry submitted its final report, nothing has happened. I feel like the opening statement that Richard Clarke made to the 9/11 Commission and particularly to the families of the victims—one of embarrassment, one of revelation—that he had failed as had many other instruments, and he asked for forgiveness. I am now prepared to ask for such forgiveness.
We must rebuild our relationships, as point number three, with foreign allies so that we can effectively eliminate the financiers, the sponsors, and the leaders of terrorist networks around the globe. Those international relationships were never stronger than in the days after September 11. They have now been shattered by the administration's decision to go virtually alone in Iraq.
Possibly one of the positive results of the tragedy that occurred in Madrid three weeks ago [when suspected terrorists bombed commuter trains] will be that it will be seen as an inspiration to a renewed international coalition against terror. A united effort and a super-precision warfare strategy will be especially important as we move beyond al Qaeda to other terrorist networks including Hezbollah, and I remind you that Hezbollah has been described as the A-team of international terrorism, because it had killed more Americans prior to September 11 than any other group.
Third, we must enhance our domestic intelligence-gathering capabilities. We need to have a full and open debate in this country about the balance between domestic security and personal liberties and how we go about identifying and tracking terrorist suspects who live among us. One of the most essential questions is whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its traditional law enforcement orientation, is up to the job that needs to be done, or do we need the equivalent of the British [domestic intelligence agency] MI5 to protect us? I credit FBI Director [Robert] Mueller with making significant strides in trying to shift the culture of the FBI towards a more counterterrorism mission, but I am not certain that the FBI will, in the time we can tolerate, truly get it in terms of the revolution that must take place.
An example: During the course of our Joint Inquiry, I asked a senior FBI official this question: "Could you estimate how many al Qaeda there are in a 'blank' city of the United States?" The answer: 'We have five open files out against al Qaeda suspects in that city. So our answer is there are five al Qaeda in that city.'" Frankly, friends, from an intelligence perspective, that is simply ludicrous.
We must also figure out a way to build networks of intelligence-gathering among federal, state, and local agencies, including that police officer who is out there walking the beat in most metropolitan areas of America. What better source of information about suspected terrorists who have infiltrated our country than the people who know them best and are in a position to evaluate their apparent danger. I might say that in the weeks before September 11, while a number of terrorists were living in northern Virginia, one of the key terrorists was stopped in an automobile arrest for some traffic transgression. But the police officer who arrested him, who had a lot of information, did not have access to the information that that very person that he was looking at was on the watch list because of his past terrorist records. What the hell kind of intelligence system is that? Excuse me.
And, finally, we must be prepared to trust the American people with the truth about what we know, especially about what we have done wrong in the past, who has been held accountable, and what we are doing to avoid making those same mistakes again. I am afraid that truth-telling is a character trait in very short supply in the current administration. In fact, I would say that there has not been in modern American history—and maybe in American history—an administration that was as secretive as the one which occupies the White House today. And when someone does come forward from this shroud of secrecy to tell the truth—whether it's a former Cabinet member, such as Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill; whether it's a National Security Council official, such as Richard Clarke; or whether it is Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster—this administration's response is to engage in character assassination.
I know firsthand how specious this administration's penchant for secrecy can be. In our 800-page final report of the Joint Inquiry, we had a chapter which I considered to be the most significant chapter in the book, which talked about the issue of the role of foreign governments in assisting the terrorists while they were in the United States plotting and practicing and preparing to execute their attack.
Let me just—I started this interest from this question. Suppose you were to go through this room and pick out 19 people, and then we were to say, "Here is your task: you are to come together. Many of you have had no prior association, some of you have, and you are to take a plan which is in a very conceptualized form and make it operational. Then you are to practice that plan and then you are to execute it, and your goal is to kill 3,000 people. And, incidentally, you are to do all of that without letting anyone understand, know, or have suspicion of what you're doing. And, incidentally, to the 19 who have been selected, the country where we are going to do this is Yemen." Would that be a pretty tough task for any 19 people in this room? That is essentially what the 19 terrorists did leading up to September 11. My suspicion is that they were not operating alone, that they had support and assistance, including the support and assistance of foreign governments. We detailed what we had found out on that subject in our report. This is page one of the chapter that talks about the role of foreign governments in assisting the terrorists, pages two and three, pages four and five, and on for 27 pages, censoring information that the American people have a right to receive relative to just who are our allies in the war on terror.
Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan [D-N.Y.], a true statesman, a brilliant policy analyst, and—[inaudible]—I was privileged to be one of his students—throughout his life was a champion of open government. His last book,"The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policies," is, in my opinion, one of his crowning academic and political achievements. Senator Moynihan concluded that book with these words: "A case can be made that secrecy is for losers, for people who don't know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in the mode of an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, the most pervasive of Cold War regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us."
Friends, it is time for the United States to recommit to a real war on terrorism, avoiding distractions. It is time to instill the discipline to move forward in a focused and laser-like manner. And it is time to begin to tell the truth to the American people about what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we fail to do so, the United States places itself in the same jeopardy as the Soviet Union just two decades ago. Thank you. [Applause.]
I think we're going to join together in our—this is not an electrified chair, is it?
SEIB: No, it wasn't previously anyway. I think the senator needs to get miked. And I will start, if I might. And then we'll turn to the audience. But let me start by taking you back to a period well before September 11. And those of us who looked at the staff reports from the 9/11 Commission this week know that they trace a period of years of seemingly missed opportunities to do more about al Qaeda. It makes me wonder, from your perspective, how significant do you think the failings of the Clinton administration were, and frankly, are there failings of oversight on the part of the Senate and the House intelligence committees during that period as well, to the extent that there might have been some ability to move the machinery from Capitol Hill?
GRAHAM: I think the responsibility for action covers all the people that you've just listed, and many others. During our inquiry I asked one of the leading officials in the Clinton administration, "What was the biggest mistake that you made during the 1990s?" His answer was, "We allowed al Qaeda to continue to operate training camps which we knew the scale [of] and the skills that were being taught. We had the ability to take those training camps down. We did not have the will to do so." I would agree that that was the major failing of the Clinton administration.
SEIB: Questions from the audience. Jodie?
QUESTIONER: Senator—[off mike]. Sorry. One of the things that the administration has been most loathe to allow the full details to come out [about] was the August 6  presidential briefing memo [on potential terror attacks]. I—how much—how clear do we now know, how specific was the warning provided to the president and his advisers at that point with regard to the possibility of al Qaeda terrorists being in the country, planning to use airplanes to attack a major target? And why were not the airlines at least put on alert?
GRAHAM: The answer to your question is, it was not specific. We are never going to get to the standard that the president used three days ago that, "If I had known that the terrorists were going to attack New York City on September 11, I would have done something about it." Well, you might as well go home—we're never going to know that kind of detail.
But let me use your question to give a specific example of what might have happened with somewhat greater curiosity. I happen to be a pilot, so I know a little bit about airplanes. I know that one of the things you're taught to do is that if you should ever be hijacked, don't resist—get the plane on the ground and let the people who are professionals deal with the hijackers. That's been the standard of behavior for U.S. commercial airline pilots. So it was not surprising that the first three planes were taken down almost without any resistance. It was only the fourth plane, where they had heard the radio broadcast of the first three, that somebody awakened to the fact that this is different than the hijackings that have occurred in the past. These people are using this plane as not just a means but an end, and therefore they resisted.
We did things like allow fairly open access between the cabin and the cockpit based on that theory—"Let the hijackers come in and we'll talk about it; get the plane on the ground." I think that once this administration understood the degree of vulnerability we had from a new use of airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, they had an obligation to tell the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and the commercial aviation industry of this so that they could have gone about the business of redeploying their past practices in order to meet this new threat. Now, would that have avoided September 11? I don't know. But it would have been an intelligent thing to do in any event.
SEIB: We'll go there first, and then we'll swing around this way.
QUESTIONER: Senator, the program which you have outlined for us today is a rather technical one, a law enforcement response to terrorism. Are you suggesting that the United States has before it no possible options in the area of international politics, perhaps even social affairs or economic affairs, that might get at some of the foundations of terrorism? Or are we dealing strictly with a problem that has to be handled in this technical manner that you outlined to us?
GRAHAM: Well, it's a little bit like the case where you have snakes in your house, that you have got to take pretty strong actions to get them out of your house before you can start to talk about where your son or daughter is going to go to college.
I think we have an immediate threat that needs to be dealt with, but in the context of the reason why well-educated, intelligent, in some cases fairly sophisticated people are willing to commit suicide and homicide for an extremist religious belief, we need to understand better what are the roots of that and begin to deal with those roots. That's going to be a generational issue.
But when I use the term that the Rand Corporation uses of "super-precision warfare," I meant to say that it would be warfare of a different kind. It will not be totally law enforcement, and it won't be totally military, nor will it be totally intelligence. But it will be a combination of those, focusing with precision on those aspects of our enemy that require such action. As an example, one of the reasons that people are reluctant to talk about Hezbollah is because it has many faces. It has—it's a political party. It has members in the Lebanese Parliament. It's a social service agency—it provides health and education and other services, particularly to the poor people in Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon. But for the better part of two decades it has also been a very aggressive terrorist agency. So our applying super-precision warfare—I think the first place[s] to look at [are] the same training camps that I described earlier [as] the key failing of the Clinton administration, except now they're not in Afghanistan, they're in Syria and Lebanon. They're not as large as al Qaeda's camps, but they are significant and they are more sophisticated. Al Qaeda gave you a bachelor's degree in the liberal arts of terrorism. If you want to get a graduate degree, go to Hezbollah.
SEIB: I want to make good on my promise to go to the back of the room. Right there, and then we'll move back up to the front.
QUESTIONER: Joe Onek, Constitution Project. In the days immediately after September 11th, virtually the only plane that flew was the plane carrying high-level Saudis back to Saudi Arabia. Was that a lost intelligence-gathering opportunity, and what was the justification for it?
GRAHAM: The answer is yes. The justification was that the Saudi Embassy had asked United States officials for permission to fly some of its citizens out of the country, and we looked on it as more of a ministerial matter and granted them permission. Apparently we did not—the agencies that were, to whom this request was made, did not question other agencies in the federal government that might have wanted to interrogate these people before they left.
But let me say, this is a pattern which may have started a few days after 9/11, but which has [also] persisted. There are some of the key operatives of the foreign governments whose involvement is censored in this report, who have also been allowed to leave the country without ever submitting to interrogation, or where they were stopped by another government, and we essentially asked them to turn them loose. I think that it is shocking, the degree with which this government, this administration, has tolerated a role for foreign governments that contributed to the deaths of September 11.
QUESTIONER: Let me follow that up by asking very quickly—the—there is a distinct feeling within the executive branch now that Saudi behavior, on this front in particular, has turned around in, say, the last six months or so. Do you believe that to be the case? Do [you] have reason to believe that's not the case, that the cooperation level has gone up?
GRAHAM: Well, first, I am not going to—to ratify or affirm your statement. The nation involved—I am retiring from the Senate—I do not want my next job to be at [Fort] Leavenworth [prison]. But, let's say—what—whatever the government might be, I do not believe that we can just dismiss a pattern of behavior that was so flagrantly and violently adverse to our interest—[inaudible].
QUESTIONER: Senator Jim Moody.
GRAHAM: Yes, hey Jim.
QUESTIONER: Thank you for your thoughtful work to date on this matter. Two—a small question, and then a more philosophic one. The smaller question—a driver's license is all you need to get on an airplane today. It's all you need. It's the easiest thing to fake. You can go on the web—go on the web and get—there are hundreds of places. So, it may just be a cosmetic protection. We feel safer, but are we really? That's just a mechanical question for your thought.
Then I have a—a lot of the discussion has been about—there is a group, there are, let's put it this way—there are a group of people who have thought—all have thought all along and expressed it as much, that the road to—the road to peace in the Middle East leads through Baghdad. You talked earlier about the—on the need to get at the causes of extremism and violent fanaticism. Do you think the—what was—described as the benign neglect of the Middle East peace process during the first period of this administration contributed in some way? Do you tie those relationships at all to what—the war against terrorism?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the continuous and what now appears to be rapidly escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine is a source of continuous turmoil in the Middle East and raises questions about the United States' basic commitment to a stable Middle East. So, we—I think it has been largely ignored by this administration. It is not the totality, by any means, of the reasons for our, our current wars in the Middle East, but it is a factor in our ability to end the wars and to move on to a new period.
In terms of are we safer or not, the—the answer is yes, I think we are safer on airplanes, even though you can get on with your driver's license. There are other checks, manned and womanned, by more efficient personnel who have upgraded. I think there's been almost no additional security at some of our major vulnerabilities, and I mentioned one, which was our seaports, and those almost 20,000 cargo containers that enter the United States every day.
SEIB: Well to the back, there's a microphone handy.
QUESTIONER: Yes. I recently understood that there was a U.S. government travel warning placed on travel to East Africa, and that that may have resulted in some 13,000 jobs in the tourism and hotel industry in Kenya being lost. And I was wondering if you could comment on that in light of statements that those who are poor are more easily recruited by these networks, and also, any comment you could have on the role of Africa in terms of security gaps and as potential sources of information from Muslim countries that could be helpful in the war on terrorism.
GRAHAM: First, I can't comment about the East African travel advisory. I was unaware of that, and I don't—I can't evaluate the wisdom of the advisory and the consequences. But Africa is a major region for terrorism. As you know, Osama bin Laden lived in the Sudan for a period of about five years in the late '80s and early '90s. One of the reasons that he was there was because he saw an opportunity in that Horn of Africa region. It is primarily a Christian area, but 30 percent of the population is Muslim, and he saw an opportunity to stir up controversy based on religious differences. It also is an area that has significant mineral and petroleum resources that he wanted to exploit. And, geographically, it is—it is an important transfer point between Europe, the rest of the Africa, and Asia.
It was not by accident that some of the earliest attacks against U.S. interests occurred just north of the Horn of Africa at the Port of Aden in Yemen. There was an attempt made in early January of 2000 to attack a U.S. destroyer, the U.S.S. Sullivans, which failed. And then there was the attack against the U.S.S. Cole 10 months later, which tragically took 17 American lives.
SEIB: To the left of the camera there, and then we'll come back here.
QUESTIONER: You've mentioned the importance of taking the war on terror directly back to the terrorists, but I would like to ask you, what is the role of assassination in this real war on terror? And secondly, what is the role of international law and human rights in this war on terror?
GRAHAM: Well, I believe that whether it is our domestic civil liberties or whether it is our responsibility to be an advocate for human rights—I thought President [Jimmy] Carter last night in his remarks when he—when he said that human rights were not the product of the United States of America, the United States of America was the product of human rights, and I agree with that centrality of concern for human rights in our national values and history.
We have a general prohibition which U.S. presidents going back—SenatorRobb is here—I believe that President [Gerald] Ford was the first president who formally announced a—by executive order, a policy against the United States engaging in assassinations, and that policy has been carried forward by every president since that time. Now, the president also can issue a directive, and, with or without a covert action, [an] addendum, which would authorize assassination under certain circumstances.
I think if we could assassinate Osama bin Laden, it would be a desirable but not sufficient action by the United States. As I indicated in my remarks, al Qaeda has become so decentralized and its—its skills and its influence so diversified, someone described it recently as being like having a blob of mercury on the table and you slam your fist into and it suddenly bursts into a hundred small pieces. Well, that is something analogous to what has happened to al Qaeda. So, in that instance, I would—I would support the attempt to eliminate him, but I would not describe his elimination as the end of the war on terror.
SEIB: I think we have time for one last question, and Dan's been waiting.
QUESTIONER: Senator, I have no doubt that when the final history of this period is written, there will be assigned a great importance to the preoccupation, almost obsession, of our president with Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Do you have any insight into the nature, the source where that comes from? Is it that they have to assure supplies of oil? Is it that he thought that the al Qaeda—that the Iraqis were trying to assassinate his father? Where does that obsession come from?
GRAHAM: Mr. Schorr, let me say, every Saturday at about 9 in the morning, I turn on NPR [National Public Radio] and I very much enjoy—
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]—say tomorrow morning. [Laughter.]
GRAHAM: Well, your question is a pretty good starting point. I would—what you listed would be on that agenda. I would also say that many of the people who were the driving forces in this administration were there in the first Bush administration and felt that they had failed by not carrying the 1991 [Gulf] War all the way to Baghdad and that it was their responsibility to complete that mission.
And then there—there is this idea that by occupying Iraq, we can first democratize Iraq, and then it will become an influence of change throughout the Middle East. I just—I hope that that theory will work, because we certainly have invested a lot of American lives and dollars in it.
But I would point out that the British—shortly after World War I, and when the current, the modern Iraq was created—announced that it was their intention to create a democracy in Iraq, and they sent in a substantial force of diplomats and military to accomplish that goal. They stayed in Iraq until the early 1950s, and what happened when they left? They appointed a king, established a monarchy, and left. I hope we'll do better than the British did.
SEIB: I think, as for teams in the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball] tournament, the clock has run out on us. But, I'd like to—it seems to me this is hard—has been hard to beat for a lunch discussion on either the grounds of topicality or timeliness, and anybody who doesn't leave with some things to chew over hasn't been listening carefully enough. So, thank you very much, and the discussion is clearly beginning, not ending. Thank you very much.
GRAHAM: Thank you, sir.
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