PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


Al-Qaeda and the Threat to the American Homeland [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speaker: Jane Harman, House of Representatives, (D-CA)
Presider: Arnaud de Borchgrave, Director, Transnational Threats Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 12, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations



Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C.

September 12, 2007

ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE: This meeting is on the record.

I think the intelligence community today employs roughly 100,000 people in 16 different agencies. The budget, I understand, has gone up to about $60 billion since 9/11, from $40 billion; and oversight of the intelligence community, obviously, is a formidable challenge.

And I think you would agree that no congressman or congresswoman is more knowledgeable about the intelligence community and its many spokes and wheels than Jane Harman. You have a very impressive bio in hand, so suffice it to say that Congresswoman Harman has played a critically important legislative role in key domains of intelligence, terrorism, homeland security, foreign affairs and the environment.

And today's format, until the -- until 9:00, is a conversation and/or interview. So to maximize our time, let me plunge in with the first question.

Here we are, six years later, and al Qaeda is obviously back everywhere and with a vengeance. I think we could also all agree that Iraq has acted as a force multiplier for al Qaeda. But my question is, how this a global, political, religious, even -- I mean, spiritual and terrorist movement, how hardly a day goes by without people being involved in this and arrested somewhere in Europe, and yet in the United States there's been a paucity of such arrests? And I guess my question to you is, why? Since we are still the main enemy. And also would it be a problem with linguistics at the FBI, not sufficient Urdu or Pashto, Arabic, Dawi or Farsi?


Good morning to many good friends. I am a proud member of the council and have been for many years. I can't resist telling my favorite Jane and council story, which is that I was speaking to the council -- I remember the day very well -- on March 13th, 2006, in New York, and my daughter, Hillary, was sitting in the front row, nine-plus months pregnant. And in the middle of my speech, Hillary went running out of the room. So I lost my way and called out, "Hillary, where are you going?" I obviously had figured it out, and as soon as my remarks were over, I ran to the hospital and she gave birth to the perfect grandchild, my first, named Ruthie.

Next morning, Richard Haass calls and says, "Jane, what happened?" And I said, "Richard, you have two children. This is not very complicated. I'm now a proud grandmother." In the mail about three days later there arrives a T-shirt, and it says, "Youngest Council Term Member." (Laughter.) So the council does have a heart, and I want to applaud you all.

The answer to this question is hard, and there really isn't one answer, Arnaud. As you kept elaborating on the question, I could figure out parts of an answer, and let me try. Over six years and one day, al Qaeda has changed considerably. I agree that al Qaeda and its copycat cells are stronger than they were six years ago. Instead of a top-down organization, there is a loose horizontal affiliation among many groups, and they are everywhere. That is correct. You said that they have attacked in Europe -- you're right -- and there have been numerous arrests in Europe, most recently -- and I think we all saw this -- in Denmark and Germany last week.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Including Turks for the first time.


DE BORCHGRAVE: Including Turks in Germany for the first time.

HARMAN: Including Turks and Germans, yes. Not for the first -- the Germans are not for the first time. That's right.

But there have been arrests here, too, over the years. There have actually been intelligence success stories, some of which are public and some of which are not. But no one has missed the plots to bomb JFK, as an example, and attack Fort Dix in New Jersey. There was a terror cell arrested in Torrance, California. That got my attention; that's my political district. It was mostly Americans radicalized in Folsom State Prison. So there have been arrests.

What there have not been here are attacks. And that's very good news, and I do think some of the credit for that goes to law enforcement. I think we have been much more capable since 9/11. It would be interesting to see what Clark (sp) thinks about that. But I also think that there are two reasons why there have not been attacks, and these are guesses.

Number one, I think there has been an effort to pull off something more spectacular than 9/11, and that has proved impossible so far. If the so-called liquid bomb plot, the plan to blow up mostly American airliners between Britain and America, had succeeded, 4,000 people could have died, and that would have been more spectacular than 9/11. That's a success story because we foiled that plot, with our British counterparts. But they've been trying to pull off something more spectacular.

Secondly, I think that the level of assimilation in America is greater than it is in any of the Western European countries we're talking about. It is true -- you and I talked before we went on this morning about the fact that there are a lot of angry middle-class or well-educated Muslims in America. That's true. But the opportunities are different, and the ethnic groups from which these people come are diverse. It's not all Pakistanis or all Turks. And so I have observed that in many communities the Muslim American population is well-integrated, and the efforts to reach -- to outreach have been quite effective.

So I would say those two things. But let me just conclude with a sober note. It is not hard to blow up a car, and it's really not hard to strap explosives on your body and walk into a shopping center. And I do think that those things could well be in our near future.

DE BORCHGRAVE: We've noticed, Jane, in the research we've done at CSIS, that what was going on in the mosques has now morphed to the Internet. And the Internet gives young Muslims a feeling that they do belong to a global organization, the umma. And so surely the radicalization or the temptations of radicalization are just as strong here as they would be anywhere else.

HARMAN: I think the temptations are just as strong here. I agree with that. A good example is Adam Gadahn, who is alleged to be the PR spokesperson for Osama bin Laden. Adam Gadahn grew up in Southern California, in Orange County, the son of hippy parents of Jewish descent, who was alienated and -- guess what? -- surfed the net, found some religious sites, went to a nearby mosque, became radicalized, and now is living somewhere in the tribal areas in Pakistan, under indictment by our country.

So, yes, I mean, it can happen. There's no question about it. And I think that is dangerous. But what it takes is more than -- Adam Gadahn left this country to carry out his act. He hasn't, so far as I know, returned.

But I still think, Arnaud, that there are differences. I think the community here is more diverse and more assimilated than it is in Europe.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Judging from polls and surveys, the American people have reached the tipping point on Iraq, but Congress is not there yet. And how did Petraeus and Crocker impress you yesterday and the day before? And what do you feel is the exit strategy that will garner a two-thirds vote in each chamber?

HARMAN: And that -- in one sentence?

DE BORCHGRAVE: No, as many as you want.

HARMAN: Well, let me say that I admire Petraeus and Crocker. I've been to Iraq four times, most recently in May. I did observe on the ground some improvement in the military situation, especially in Anbar. But I continue to believe that there is no political improvement in Iraq, and I don't think continuing our combat mission is going to achieve political improvement. So I do think we need to be focused on a change of mission.

An exit strategy implies that every single person who works for America should be out of Iraq. I do not support that. What I support is basically the outlines of the Iraq Study Group, which I think is -- was a road map Bush should have seized almost a year ago. It had all the right validators and it had basically an end to our combat mission by early next year, which seems to be the timetable, if any, that most people are on, and a surge in political and economic activity in the region. So I still think it's the best pick in -- oh, by the way, there's a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for that.

Can we get two-thirds for some solution? From reading the newspapers today, it seems like more and more people are coming to an idea of beginning to draw down troops now without a firm end date. I think we could get to two-thirds for that. I think it is important to get to two-thirds.

I think Congress is at 18 percent in the polls for a reason, and that reason is that we're fighting each other. And I think the American people are ahead of Congress. That's probably a good thing. But I do believe that bipartisanship is needed at this point to pull Congress together and to show the country that Congress is paying attention to, really, the yearning for us to solve problems, rather than just have public fights.

DE BORCHGRAVE: It seems to me that whichever way we slice and dice a U.S. withdrawal, it will still be perceived as a U.S. defeat in most of the world. And how, then, does one maintain the consensus -- the NATO consensus -- on Afghanistan?

HARMAN: Well, I think our mission in Iraq is perceived as a U.S. mistake right now. I was one who voted for the resolution in 2002. I voted for the resolution for two reasons: number one, I believed the intelligence, which said that there was WMD in Iraq and Saddam Hussein intended to use it on his people and on us; but number two, the resolution itself was a set of procedures to use the U.N. to try to get all the 16 U.N. resolutions enforced, and only if that failed then to give the president authority to initiate military action.

So I think the failure was not there -- although it turned out our intelligence was wrong -- the failure was the failure to plan for any serious postwar outcome other than victory. And we all know from 10 fabulously good books that the advice of seasoned professionals was ignored and that there was an ideological view that we would be greeted as liberators. And even when the arms caches were being looted early on after the military action, Don Rumsfeld told me, literally, when I asked him, it's not a priority; this doesn't mean anything because, of course, we have won -- you know, victory accomplished -- "mission accomplished" -- and this problem will not be serious.

DE BORCHGRAVE: With a Democrat in the White House in 2009, is it conceivable that a Democratic administration would agree to continue in Afghanistan for the five to 10 years that it might require?

HARMAN: I didn't answer that question.

First of all, I hope there will be a Democrat in the White House in 2009, whoever she may be. (Laughter.)

And Afghanistan is going to take more time. I think we were too quick to believe that we had accomplished victory. And I think Afghanistan is demonstrating, at least to me, the problems with a strategy of basically paying off tribal leaders. I think we should respect the tribal system and we should understand it and hope that these people will work with us, but I don't think we bought long-term stability in Afghanistan by the way we handled Afghanistan.

And I think it is a long-term problem. It's very important that we, as part of the international community and the NATO force, stay the course in Afghanistan, and that we help Hamid Karzai become a stronger leader in Afghanistan.

DE BORCHGRAVE: You mentioned the ISG report, the Hamilton-Baker report, which said that Iran now has more influence in Iraq than the United States. And it seems to me that the Maliki government, or what's left of the Maliki government, agrees to this. Maliki himself has made two trips to Tehran in 11 months, and I understand came back with considerable aid that hasn't been announced yet.

The administration keeps ratcheting up the rhetoric against Tehran's mullahs, including the suggestion that Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the 125,000-strong special forces of Iran, be declared an international terrorist organization.

President Sarkozy said at the end of August that, failing diplomacy, the options on Iran were to learn to live with an Iranian bomb or to bomb Iran.

How would you cope with Iran's nuclear ambitions? Some people are suggesting regime change, but surely regime change will take a very long time, and by then Iran will presumably have nuclear weapons.

HARMAN: Well, starting with the first part of the question, I think Iran is meddling in Iraq. These explosively formed projectiles, EFPs, are the most lethal form of IED. They penetrate up -- even level seven armor, which is the strongest armor protection we can put on vehicles and people. There are not a lot of those EFPs in Iraq, but it is very worrisome that they're there, and we know they have an Iranian signature.

And there also is reason to believe that there are Iranians in Iraq fomenting mischief. The arrests that we made in Iraq sometime back were not random arrests. There is reason to believe that Iran is meddling in Iraq, and that is something we should loudly condemn and the international community should join us in doing that. And we are talking -- and I applaud this -- Ryan Crocker is talking to his Iranian counterpart in Iraq about this and about a way to try to turn this into something more constructive. So I think those things are going on and should go on.

As for Iran's nuclear capabilities, something I've been saying for years is I don't think our intelligence on Iran is nearly good enough. That is something I have seen. And I remember, after one briefing a few years ago, asking, when the briefers were pretty clear about some aspect of Iran's nuclear capability and they had gotten this from human sources, I said, "Couldn't this as easily be disinformation as information?" And I don't think I really got a good answer to that.

It is critically important that we learn the lessons from the intelligence failures in Iraq and make certain we have adequate sources, and we do our best to verify them, that we penetrate where necessary -- I'm not elaborating on any of this -- and that we're absolutely sure that what we -- that what we claim to be factual or as factual as we can get is, in fact, factual. No more curveballs, please. No more curveballs.

So let me start there. I don't think our intelligence is great, so I don't think we know absolutely how far along Iran is. We also don't know where all of its nuclear capability is. We -- the assumption has to be that there's a huge covert program, that it's well underground under high population centers, designed so that if we were to bomb Iran and were to try to get rid of it all, we would have to take out large numbers of innocent civilians. That's what they would want. And they would have the b-roll all ready to show on not just Al-Jazeera, but all over on, you know, every TV network in the world.

Third point. If we didn't like the day after strategy in Iraq, we don't have a day after strategy in Iran. I think attacking Iran by air, one, would not be particularly effective; two, would generate enormous nationalism, a huge international outcry; and, you know, a series of orchestrated attacks against our allies -- let's just start with Israel, which is, you know, within close range. So I don't think we have that in hand.

Finally, I do think that coercive economic sanctions are working. You talk to people like Bob Kimmitt, whom I respect very much, and what the Treasury Department has been trying to do and what the U.N. has been trying to do is working. So we have a plan.

I was surprised by what Sarkozy said, but it's interesting. It's interesting because it shows that France is changing, and it shows that he's not afraid to say things like that in the interest of preventing the world from a nuclear Iran, which, so far as I can tell, could be a very large destabilizing event.

DE BORCHGRAVE: In Paris last week during the -- I met with the head of think tank who is a socialist, and he said it's absolutely imperative that the U.S. opt for bombing Iran because Western civilization was at stake. I was very surprised to hear this from a socialist. The next day a right-of-center contacted me and said exactly the same thing. And you hear this in the -- among our Jewish friends all the time, including Norman Podhoretz, who after all is the grandfather of the neocons.

HARMAN: Yes. He's written an article, I think it was --

DE BORCHGRAVE: In Commentary in June.

HARMAN: -- in Commentary, that says the case for bombing Iran -- I don't buy the case for bombing Iran at this point.


What are your thoughts on John Edwards' proposal to create a counterterrorism and intelligence treaty organization? Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 who retired in 2004 -- Tom Sanderson, my deputy who's here today, and I had dinner with him the night he leaving MI6 -- he said, "The time is indeed at hand for a multilateral sharing of intelligence in real time." But it's an idea, he says, has come, but it probably won't happen for another another few years. How do you feel about this?

HARMAN: Well, I don't know how I feel about a formal organization. I know how I feel about intelligence sharing -- I feel bullish about the need for intelligence sharing, and it happens.

I mean, one of the strong stories in the '90s, even as we were disinvesting in intelligence, which turned out to be a mistake -- to remind everyone, we declared a peace dividend after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and in the Bush I administration we reduced our expenditures on intelligence and defense. But at any rate, one of the unsung intelligence successes is -- was and is -- the strong liaison relationships that we have. We and the Brits and the Australians and the French -- even while we were being criticized politically by the French -- and others have shared intelligence in real time for years, and let's add a number of Middle Eastern countries, too. And what I hope is is that the quality of our intelligence worldwide improves, the quality of our sharing of intelligence continues.

We can't do this alone. We can't figure out the plots. We can't penetrate the plots. We don't look like the folks in Osama's cave. Other people do, and those are the people we have to be working with.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Before we turn it over to questions, if a Democrat again wins the White House in 2009, what changes, if any, can we expect with some of the issues that plagued the Bush administration, such as wiretapping, the FISA process, Guantanamo, the role of the DNI, performance of DHS and border security?

HARMAN: Well -- (chuckles). (Laughter.) He has a way of asking a narrow question, doesn't he? (Laughter.)

I'm glad you brought that up because I think that even now Congress has the responsibility to act to put a framework around a number of the new legal -- I wouldn't want to call them legal -- the new policies that this administration has adopted since 9/11. I think Congress is somewhat at fault for our failure to act. Now that the Democrats are in charge, we really must act. And I do believe we can build bipartisan support for efforts to put legal frameworks around these policies.

I think it was a grave mistake to start some of these programs and claim that they were justified in perpetuity by the president's commander-in-chief authorities under Article II. I don't think that is correct, and I think that a much more appropriate strategy would have been one that some of us suggested, which was to say, "It's a new world, we need new tools."

And just as in the effort to ask for a Patriot Act, which I supported, this administration should have asked for clear authority on detention, interrogation, the location of a prison offshore in a place like Guantanamo -- there was no request for permission to do that -- et cetera, and what policies would attach. And now the Supreme Court and other courts are requiring this administration to go back and justify some of these things -- and oh, by the way, many of these things are going to have to be changed.

So let me start there. I think the first opportunity we will have to do a course correction is when FISA sunsets, the new FISA law that we passed in early August, in six months. I think there is a better fix for FISA, one which will require an Article III court -- that's a court independent of the executive branch -- to approve the contours of the program on the front end so we know it won't metastasize into something else. That was a proposal made in August by the Democratic leadership. I think if we had more time we can explain that proposal and build bipartisan support for that.

In some ways -- in other ways, FISA would be modernized. It would be made clearer that to listen to foreign-to-foreign communications does not require a court warrant. It never did, but nonetheless we can clarify that. But we would also clarify that there is a framework around FISA.

I do want to say something about the DNI. I have been concerned lately about a couple of things that Mike McConnell has done.

First of all, I think the role he played in the negotiations on FISA was -- whether he intended it or not, appeared to be a political role. He appeared to be taking orders from the White House and negotiating for the White House. He is supposed to be -- that role -- I know this because I was one of the godmothers of the new intelligence reform law -- that role was supposed to be nonpartisan, and he didn't appear to handle it that way. That's number one.

Number two, recently in El Paso, at a conference that Intelligence Chairman Silver Reyes held, McConnell talked to the newspaper and revealed, to my amazement, that -- this is what he quoted as saying in the newspaper -- that about 100 Americans or so at a time are targets under our surveillance program. Whether that's true or not -- and I can't confirm it -- putting out details like that in the public press is selective declassification. He's not authorized to do that by himself, and I think that that was a really misguided thing to do.

And finally, he said in connection with the German arrests this week that that all happened because now we have closed the gaps under FISA because of Congress' action a couple months ago, and now we can listen to these guys and we found them. Well, excuse me, it has been pointed out in the press that these people were under surveillance for at least 10 months, so that wasn't true. And the way he presented that looked like, again, he was being political.

So, Jane to Mike: please stop. You're undermining the authority of your office.


Now is the time for council members to join in the discussion. If you have a question, please raise your hand. And if you're recognized, please stand up and state your name and affiliation.

Yes, sir, in the middle back there. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Bill Courtney. I'm with Computer Sciences Corporation. We're one of your proud constituents in California.

HARMAN: You sure are. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: In most of the loose-nuke scenarios, intelligence is the long pole in the tent to neutralizing the threat. But particularly in light of the WMD intelligence failure in Iraq, are we making sufficient investments in intelligence to deal with the loose-nuke threat, both in the technical and in human areas?

HARMAN: You're right that intelligence is the long pole. But as you also know -- CSC would know this -- it's very hard to monitor nuclear proliferation. A lot of the materials are not in big boxes marked "loose nukes." Small amounts of highly enriched uranium, for example, can be shielded and protect detection even now -- I'm looking at Clark Ken Irvin (sp) -- by our radiation portal monitors. We're going to have new technologies coming along, but right at the moment it's still a scary scenario.

So are we making the right investments? I would say we're making investments. Are we going to get to a place fast enough where we truly can detect everything we need to detect? My answer is I don't know. And as I learn more about some of the materials that could cause us harm, especially the radiological materials like cesium-137, I truly worry that it isn't that hard to get small amounts of materials like that, put them with two sticks of dynamite, and contaminate, you know, two square kilometers of downtown Manhattan. Cesium-137 is used in radiology machines in hospitals, and that's something we're studying.

So we need to do more, and we need the private sector to develop better and better detection capabilities. I think in this case, at least in the nuclear case, human intelligence will matter, but the ability to use technology to detect small amounts of stuff is probably the place I would put my dollar.


QUESTIONER: I'm Robert Gard with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. A related question.

From what you just said, it's evident that the best solution to the problem is to nail down the highly enriched uranium that exists in tons in Russia and in research reactors all over the world. Why is there no sense of urgency? We've been working at this 15 years, and we're not halfway there yet.

HARMAN: Well, I don't know that there's no sense of urgency. I think that the answer to that is -- why isn't this at the top of the list of priorities? I think because Iraq has sucked the oxygen out of almost everything. But there is some progress under the Nunn-Lugar program, which we are funding at a -- to a greater extent than we did, and there is some progress. But I'm not going to argue with you. I want to applaud the efforts of Sam Nunn, who I thought was an excellent senator and is an even better ex-senator, at trying to bring attention -- public attention to this problem.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Dina Temple-Raston with National Public Radio.


QUESTIONER: There's been some discussion about taking the Intelligence Oversight Board and possibly moving it over under the umbrella of the DNI. What do you think of that sort of scenario?

HARMAN: You mean PFIAB? Is that what you're talking about?

QUESTIONER: The subset of PFIAB, so it would be the IOB part of PFIAB.

HARMAN: Well, the problem PFIAB has -- the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board -- is it reports to the president, and a lot of the work it does isn't shared because of where it is. I have worried that if now a subset of PFIAB moves on over to the DNI, we have that problem times two -- another part of its work wouldn't be shared.

I think what we do need, as well as we can have it, is a group of people well trained, knowledgeable about the classified world, who make certain that all the piece parts are working toward an objective, and that objective is accurate, actionable intelligence that we can use for decisions by policymakers. Bad intelligence is likely to lead to a bad decision. Good intelligence may not, you know, guarantee a good decision, but I think the chances are better. And we have a lot of work to do.

The DNI concept -- again, this is why I just made my statement about Mike McConnell -- is supposed to be an objective, independent joint command across 16 intelligence agencies using the budget mechanism as leverage to task them together to use their strengths together so that we get to better intelligence. And I'm worried that bits and pieces are co-opted. He may be either naively or deliberately playing a role that's inappropriate. And so I guess my bottom line on that proposal is, I don't see it serving us better than the present concept does.

DE BORCHGRAVE: The lady on my far right.

QUESTIONER: I'm Priscilla Clad (sp), retired from the Foreign Service and now an independent observer. Just to take us back to al Qaeda for a moment, do you think -- I mean, what -- what is the role in al Qaeda today? It's obviously a far more complex organization, as you stated earlier. But what is the role of Osama bin Laden and the leadership structure in Waziristan or wherever they are and the way that al Qaeda operates today?

HARMAN: Well, I think he is alive. I have no reason to believe he's not. I think that our preoccupation in Iraq has prevented us from keeping our eye on capturing him. Excellent piece in Newsweek last week about the efforts that were aborted to capture him. And I think he continues to serve as the -- THE inspirational figure in a movement that has metastisized and is much more lethal than it was six years and two days ago, and therefore, capturing or killing him -- they're not the same thing. I don't -- I envision us, hopefully, capturing him because I think that would be a much more useful thing to do, but we do have the legal authorities to kill him if capture is impossible.

But at any rate, I think removing him from the top of the structure is an important objective, and removing Zawahiri, his very able number two, from that structure is also very important regardless of whether they are the quarterbacks on the field.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Ambassador Wendt.

QUESTIONER: Allan Wendt.

You've mentioned almost in passing that so far we have been spared what you, I think, referred to as low-tech attacks, but you thought that perhaps we wouldn't be spared them much longer. Why do you suppose something like this has not been undertaken already? I mean, one can think of so many different ways to create chaos and mayhem in our cities right here in Washington. Parking garages that fill up at 9:00 in the morning or earlier. Cars loaded with TNT. I can't imagine how we would react if this does happen, but I wonder why hasn't it happened up until now.

HARMAN: Well, my answer was that at least until now there has been a focus on trying to do the attack more spectacular than 9/11. But I completely agree with you that it's not rocket science to blow up a garage, to send a suicide bomber or three into shopping malls around the U.S.

And it is being done in North Africa, in case anyone's missing this, with increasing regularity. I was in Morocco in April on the day that two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside our consulate in Casablanca. And those were the most recent attacks in Morocco. There were just a series of attacks in Algeria, and now this affiliation of terror groups in North Africa is calling itself al Qaeda of the Maghreb.

So we can see in regions; there's now al Qaeda in Iraq, there's al Qaeda of the Maghreb, surely there will now be an umbrella group that grows up in Europe and possibly something will be here. Yes, it can happen.

The second part of your question was interesting, we haven't talked about it yet, and that is American resilience. We need to grow some resilience. The Israelis are good at cleaning up -- as horrible as this is, maybe it's because it happens so often -- cleaning up the scene of a suicide bombing quickly. They don't have the yellow tape there for months. The body parts are removed, the walls are washed and they go on with their lives. It's very impressive. The Brits did that after 7/7 a couple of years ago. They were used to that from the IRA bombings and from the bombings in World War Two.

We don't have any history of this. We're still mourning 9/11. I'm still mourning 9/11. But we do need the leadership and the personal skill sets to move on from things like this. And those are things we're going to have to develop because car bombings and suicide bombings are likely to be in our future. This is a very dangerous world. It's an era of terror. And fixing this problem is not going to be easy.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Tom Sanderson?

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Congresswoman, for your leadership on Capitol Hill. Tom Sanderson from CSIS. As you said, Iraq has been sucking the oxygen out of a lot of things. And in a few years if we do have a substantial drawdown, it will free up military, intelligence and financial resources. Where would you like to see some of that effort and money, time and intellectual assets shifted in the war against terrorism?

HARMAN: Well, first of all, I wouldn't call it a war against terror anymore. Terror is a tactic. I would call it a struggle against extremism. Or I don't want to fuss with the words; we need Bill Safire to invent the perfect words here. But that "war" terminology has driven us to a place that I think is a dead end. You know, the president is commander and chief, ignoring Congress and the courts, doing whatever he thinks is necessary. And the projection of military might -- which I am for in appropriate circumstances -- is not going to solve this problem. General Petraeus will tell us that.

So, what would I like? You know, we have surged everything into Iraq, and most of the intelligence we do in Iraq is tactical. You know, trying to prevent the next IED from blowing up our troops. That's what we do in Iraq. We need to get back to strategic intelligence: understanding the world and trying to figure out ahead of time what is getting dangerous and what are some strategies we can do to prevent and disrupt those dangers.

One place I would put more intelligence is Afghanistan. We just talked about this. Another place I would put more intelligence right this minute is Pakistan. No one is missing the Musharraf meltdown. And what are the best strategies to employ? I think part of that answer depends on the most accurate assessment of how vulnerable is Musharraf and how much better or worse would it be to augment his team with some of his former rivals and so on and so forth, and how secure is his nuclear arsenal.

I mean, these are some questions we have to know the answers to. I haven't read any intelligence on Pakistan in the last month, so maybe we do know these answers, but that's a place I would go very soon.

DE BORCHGRAVE: One from the front, then we have to go to the back.

QUESTIONER: Clay Swisher from from the Middle East Institute. I heard General Hayden speak last week at CFR up in New York, and he spent great detail describing American efforts to operate within its space to confront the radicalism throughout the world, but was silent when asked what are the policy failures that are encouraging radicalism. And he said that's a policy matter beyond the scope of my job.

Now, you're a legislator, and presumably, you have the ability to speak honestly about these things. And I want to ask you -- you've mentioned Israel several times. But to what extent when American personnel, both civilian, diplomatic, and military deployed, all throughout the Arab-Muslim world -- to what extent does America's strong alliance with Israel, particularly as it's expanding its borders, encroaching on Palestinian land and mistreating them on a daily basis, does this expose America and harm our national security? And why don't we have this open and fair debate about what is America's moral and humanistic relationship vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians?

HARMAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, Hayden's remarks last week -- I was sorry not to be there. I was invited to be there and could not do that. From reading the transcript, I think that Hayden, whom I admire, was unnecessarily aggressive about his need for space and for the rest of us to back off and let the CIA do its work. I believe, as I said earlier, that a clear legal framework, designed by Congress, which has Article I authority to do this -- we're supposed to regulate captures on law -- on land and on water -- a clear legal framework by Congress, much better than the law we passed last year, would help Hayden, not hurt Hayden, in his effort to interrogate those he needs to interrogate. So that would be my comment about that. Okay.

Then you asked about Israel and whether our policies toward Israel are biased. I think that basically was what you were saying.

QUESTIONER: Harming our national security.

HARMAN: Israel is our only democratic ally in the Middle East. And we have had our policy since the Truman administration to recognize and protect Israel, and I support those policies. I also, however, support efforts we are taking again -- Condoleezza Rice is taking again -- to convene a conference in the Middle East and push toward a two-state solution. I applaud that. I think it is in our security interest and in Israel's security interest to have a stable Palestinian neighbor -- a Palestinian state as a neighbor.

And resolving that endless dispute is going to take some work by the parties on the ground, but there is now some evidence that there is much stronger leadership in the Palestinian Authority and I think we should support that leadership. And I do think as part of a two-state solution Israel will withdraw -- and should -- from parts of the West Bank and retreat to defensible borders. And the Palestinians should have their own state, which should be helped as -- it should be part of an economically revitalized region.

So I think -- I wouldn't come at the question the way you do. I think you are critical in ways perhaps I would not be. But the answer is two states with definable borders and Israel confined to its own state.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Elisa Massimino with Human Rights First. You were one of the leaders in 2005 and you had a virtual army of generals, including this one, behind you to push for adoption of the McCain amendment --

HARMAN: Mm-hm.

QUESTIONER: -- which restricted the policy of official cruelty that had pervaded prior to that time. And you mentioned twice now the need for a legal framework. And I guess I'm concerned that Congress has been trying to do that, but it's not so much that there's a lack of a legal framework but that the administration doesn't like the legal framework that it's been given. There can clearly be some more detail put into that.

But now I'm concerned, after the Military Commissions Act and the executive order in July, that we run the risk of going back to the situation that we had before of a double standard of treatment. And I know that's something many of the retired generals and admirals who pushed for that law -- and thanked you very much for it -- are concerned about now.

Can you say a little bit about what you can do and what the Congress can do to ensure now that actions that are authorized under that executive order are things that we'd be comfortable having done to our own people if they are captured? Because that's the standard now, under the Supreme Court's ruling in the Hamdan case, that this is what the United States believes Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions means.

HARMAN: Well, I voted against the military commissions law because I thought that it was inadequate, and I think it is inadequate. And I think there are parts of it we have to revise. For example, we suspended habeas corpus, and I think that that was a huge mistake. And numbers of us are proposing bills to restore habeas corpus.

I don't know whether it will happen. The president might veto it and if we don't have two-thirds, we won't be able to get there. But I think we will over time be able to repair that.

As for our policy on techniques used during interrogations -- I think that's what you're really asking me -- most of it is classified. You know that. My preference would have been not to have an exemption for the CIA. I said that on the floor. I didn't vote for the military commission law in large part because of that. I would have done it differently.

My proposal, and this, I'm sure, could use improvement, was to state a policy that applied everywhere and then perhaps on a case by case basis to give the president a little latitude. Case by case basis means name of human being and something the president might want to propose with respect to an individual person in an emergency circumstance, which would have to be notified in advance to Congress, the way we notify of covert actions. That would make the president personally responsible for something, and it would obviously put a brake on -- B-R-A-K-E -- on executive conduct. That might've worked, might've answered the question of, what do you do about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he has -- if he has allegedly information he won't share through normal means?

But I don't believe that the CIA should be exempt from the laws Congress passes. I don't agree with Mike Hayden, a man I admire very much, that we should back off and let him do what he needs to do and trust him. I personally think he exercises great restraint. And I also think that the women and men of the CIA, many of whom I know around the world, take enormous risks to keep us safe, and I applaud their efforts. That still doesn't mean that they should operate under a separate set of laws or a separate set of executive procedures that Congress barely knows about.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. To ask a question -- I'm Clark Ervin with the Aspen Institute.

To ask a question that Arnaud asked in passing, can DHS, in your judgment, the Department of Homeland Security, be turned around? And if do, how? And if not, what should replace it, in your judgment?

HARMAN: Well, does everybody know this man if he didn't -- well, yes, he did introduce -- Clark Kent Ervin was at DHS, a very old friend of the president's, from Texas, who left and was critical of some things this administration is doing and now has a project on homeland security for the Aspen Institute.

And thank you for your courage, Clark, by the way.

DHS in hindsight was probably an overambitious idea. To remind you all, some of us in Congress on a bipartisan basis thought there ought to be a homeland security function in the government, post-9/11, to organize all the different activities. But we were not proposing a department with 200,000 people in 22 departments.

That idea emerged after the White House fought us for a while. That idea emerged from the White House. It was developed by Andy Card over a long weekend, and the White House put that out as the proposal they wanted. We -- we is a little hearty band of bipartisan folks -- decided to embrace it because we knew that, with White House support, we could get it. But it has been a hard slog to make the department work. It's now under its second set of management.

I think that Michael Chertoff, and I've said this publicly many times, is a strategic thinker. He works very hard at it. He's had some visible mistakes on his watch, like Katrina, but he also has moved the department closer to a risk-based formula, so that the funding and the focus go to places at highest risk and that the mission is what the mission should be, which is to harden targets in America against terror attacks. And so I applaud that. And I see Jessica Herrera in the audience here, who is the staff director of the Homeland Security Committee, on which I serve.

So I think we're moving there. Can we absolutely get there? I don't think so.

Number one, because there's no hundred percent assurance of security. Let's understand that. Never will there ever be.

Number two, because the folks trying to attack us attack asymmetrically, you know, look for our weakest link, and we'll always have some. That is human nature.

But three, because the project probably is too ambitious. I would hope at some -- in some lifetime we could revisit the organization of the Homeland Security Department and streamline it further and go -- what goes with that is Congress streamlining itself. We have really not accomplished that. That is one of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission that we have not dealt with. In the House only, we formed a Homeland Security Committee, but if you went to the conference we had on the 9/11 bill, which was recently signed into law, you would have 80 people, members, sitting around a table. Why did we need 80 members of the House and Senate? Because they were from so many different committees, each of whom was preserving her turf. And that is not a modern homeland security structure.


QUESTIONER: Fred Siebold (sp), attorney. Many of the tasks you have mentioned require enormous language skills, it seems to me, to accomplish. Do you think we have such language skills in -- among our military and other people? And if not, what are we doing about it?

HARMAN: Well, I think we had basically no focus on this problem in the '90s. We had trained a lot of Russian specialists during the long and ultimately successful fight against the Soviet Union. But once the wall came down in 1989, we continued with what I call the 1947 business model of defense and intelligence, until recently, and that meant that we were very hobbled in terms of having people with both language and cultural understanding of areas that we were now focused on, which were no longer the Soviet Union, since there is no Soviet Union.

We've been playing catch-up. We're doing much better. We do train in competent facilities in a lot of locations the languages that are necessary to get around in the Middle East.

But something we could do that we would be a lot faster is to change our clearance process -- this is something Mike McConnell has recommended -- so that we can clear, at least at some level -- doesn't have to be at, you know, for all the bells and whistles, but it could be at some intermediate level -- people who come from the countries of interest. Just imagine: Iraqi-Americans and Iranian-Americans -- the largest population of Iranians outside of Tehran is in Los Angeles. A whole bunch of folks speak Farsi and other languages in Los Angeles. And if we could recruit these people and clear them into our intelligence agencies, they would come with the language and cultural skills we're so desperately seeking.


QUESTIONER: Ashley Deeks, Department of State. You've mentioned a couple times putting detention on a legislative framework. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about your thinking about what that would look like, whether it would be simply reauthorizing Guantanamo, whether it would look at security detention in the United States, if you could just speak a little to that.

HARMAN: Well, let me commend your former -- I'm trying to think what -- legal counselor -- I can't think of the name of the term -- general counsel, Will Taft, who was a law school classmate of mine, for his courageous effort to speak out against a practice -- which has been abandoned -- called ghosting, where we would detain people, and the Red Cross and others would not even know who they were and where they were. I think that was a mistake. I mean, that was a violation of core principles that our country stands for, and was unnecessary.

What would a proper detention framework look like? To remind, in the first Gulf War, on the battlefield, as I understand it, we had tribunals composed of a few military folks sorting people out and sending them to different places. So it was clear who they were and where they were going to go.

We never had that here. Now, it's true we didn't have one battlefield in which to sort people, and I get that. But my basic tenet would be that everybody deserves a status and the ability to challenge that status.

That doesn't have to be full habeas for everybody, but it does have to be some kind of a procedure where we sort people out. And there are a variety of places they could go, including, assuming they're, you know, arrested in some foreign country, to whatever is the legal system of that foreign country if they're a foreign national. I don't think there's anything wrong with that if they are threatening the interests of that foreign country. But we should have a system that we work out. It doesn't have to resemble pre-9/11 systems, but it has to be subject to public debate and public law so that it is clearly understood.

As far as Guantanamo goes, I think in hindsight Guantanamo was a mistake. I've been to Guantanamo three times. I never got the straight story at Guantanamo. Guantanamo was deliberately set up outside U.S. soil so that U.S. law would not apply. And it has worked out in a way that has, I think, not furthered the core principles for which our country stands.

Now the detention of all those folks is under challenge. I read in the newspaper today that Mike Hayden and others are raising the state secrets objection to providing information about these folks. I think that's a mistake, too. Congress recently voted not to let anyone released from Guantanamo be incarcerated or come to the United States because they threaten our neighborhoods, while we have four of these so-called high-value targets in our supermax prison in Colorado right now. I think our legal system could handle some number of these folks, either in our regular prison system or in military prisons. So I think all of this should have been and should now be carefully rethought, and we should use Article I, Section 8 -- "the Congress shall regulate captures on land and on water" -- as the basis for this new framework.

DE BORCHGRAVE: Time for one more question. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Pam Benson from CNN.

How does the U.S. deal with the resurgent al Qaeda in a safe haven in Pakistan when you have a government which you suggest is in meltdown, an ungoverned area? What do we do about it before al Qaeda core strengthens to a point that they become even more of a threat?

HARMAN: Well, we have to do more about it. I gather that Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte is on his way as we speak to talk to Musharraf about the need to do more. I certainly recognize the fact that the tribal areas of Pakistan are in the country of Pakistan, but I do not believe that this regime has done enough to find, to capture, the al Qaeda presence in the tribal areas, and it needs to do more. And if it will not do more, we need to work with it and others who have common interests to figure out a way to do more.

And I have actually been to those places. I, with Porter Goss and other members of the Intelligence Committee some years back, flew into Waziristan and was on the ground for a period of time. And it is a very austere place, very easy to hide, with a huge, you know, centuries-long history of independent government.

So I'm not saying it's not a hard problem, but it is a fact -- it's now been in the public press -- that Westerners are going there to be trained to be operatives. They're coming back to their countries where they have documentation. They're not all born Germans or born Brits, although a lot of the people we're talking about are born in Britain, who have Pakistani dual citizenship. And they're being trained to come back and to join home-grown terror cells and make those cells operational.

That is something we cannot tolerate. We can't tolerate it in Europe. We surely can't tolerate it in America. And our operating assumption has to be that if they're coming back to Europe, they're coming to America. And I believe urgently that we have to have a better policy for finding out where al Qaeda is in the tribal areas and finding the mechanisms to take it out.

DE BORCHGRAVE: I think you would agree with me that this was an extraordinarily rich discussion made, of course, possible by the brilliance of our guest. Thank you. (Applause.)


HARMAN: Adjourned.








More on This Topic


The State of Intelligence: Fifteen Years After 9/11

Speaker: John E. McLaughlin
Speaker: John S. Pistole
Speaker: Francis X. Taylor
Presider: Dina Temple-Raston

Experts discuss developments in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering in the past fifteen years, including lessons learned since the...