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Three National Priorities: Intelligence Capability, North Korea and Iraq

Americans should be pleased that the United States (US) has gone to the United Nations (UN) and negotiated a resolution that received unanimous support from the Security Council. This gives the United States the moral high ground in its actions against Saddam Hussein, and it increases the likelihood of allies being involved in both the military and post-military phase of whatever action is necessary to gain Saddam Hussein’s compliance.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are to be commended for their tenacity in negotiations. Now, the responsibility for compliance rests fully on Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein has indicated that if there is such an event, he would probably strike out at the United States through alliances with terrorist groups, which have the ability to harm Americans and US interests—including trained operatives sleeping in our country. For the protection and security of our people, we should be using each and every day between now and when war with Iraq is initiated to surveil, detain and deport those terrorist agents who are within our borders, as well as dismantle the foreign headquarters of those organizations.

There is one thing we agree upon, and that is that Saddam Hussein is an evil man. He is a tyrant. He has used chemical and biological weapons on his own people. He has disregarded UN resolutions calling for inspections of his capabilities and research and development programs. His forces regularly fire on American and British jet pilots enforcing the no-fly zones in his country. And he has the potential to develop and deploy nuclear weapons, a potential that we need to monitor closely. 

Saddam Hussein lives in a tough neighborhood. It is a neighborhood in which the United States has a number of commitments and threats.

The use-of-force resolution passed by Congress suggests that Saddam Hussein is the ultimate bully in this rough neighborhood, and that taking him out now and for good is the nation’s highest priority. 

I respectfully disagree. And in so disagreeing, I am—or at least I was—joined by the President. Nine days after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the President declared our top national priority to be a war on terrorism. This is what he said: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” 

In his State of the Union speech on January 29, 2002, President Bush restated those priorities: “Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives. First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans and bring terrorists to justice. And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.”

On October 7, 2002, the anniversary of the commencement of the war in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recommitted himself to the war on terrorism. The Secretary repeated a statement he had made one year earlier: “Our objective is to defeat those who use terrorism and those who house or support terrorists. The campaign will be broad, sustained, and we will use every element of American power. Today, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists, but there is no question that free nations are still under threat. Thousands of terrorists remain at large in dozens of countries. They’re seeking weapons of mass destruction that would allow them to kill not only thousands but tens of thousands of innocent people. Our objective in the global war on terror is to prevent another September 11, or an attack that is far worse, before it happens.” 

The war on terrorism did not begin in Afghanistan. For us, it began in New York and Northern Virginia and rural Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. It began and it continues in our homeland. 

As we assess the many challenges faced by the United States—and Saddam Hussein is clearly among those challenges—we must ask: What is our greatest responsibility?

In my opinion, the answer is easy: Securing the peace and safety of the homeland for our great nation.

And what is the most urgent threat to our peace and security? In my judgment, it is that shadowy group of international terrorists who have the capabilities, the materials (including conventional and weapons of mass destruction), the trained core of zealots united by their hatred for the United States, and the placement of many of those bomb throwers so they are sleeping among us, waiting for the order to assault. 

For the better part of two years, 19 of those killers took silent refuge in the sanctuary of the United States—silent refuge until they struck us on September 11. Those who committed mass murder left behind a much larger number continuing a dual existence of duplicity.

How many of these are there? What are the skills they possess? What are their plans and intentions? The answer is, we know only dimly.

Unfortunately, our ability to tear out these weeds from our home garden is limited because the attention we have paid to understanding this enemy next door has been grossly inadequate.

The Inspector General at the Department of Justice issued a report in September that concluded that while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “serves as the federal government’s principal agency for responding to and investigating terrorism....the FBI has never performed a comprehensive, written assessment of the risk of a terrorist threat facing the United States.” 

A task force of terrorism experts pulled together by the Council on Foreign Relations—co-chaired by my former Senate colleagues Gary Hart and Warren Rudman—concluded even more recently: “A year after September 11, America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic attack on US soil. In all likelihood, the next attack will result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to American lives and the economy.”

So we arm for battle with a shield of ignorance at home.  

Unfortunately, one of the realities of the start up of the proposed Department of Homeland Security is that, at least during a transition period, Americans will be even more vulnerable. Agencies such as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which will play a key role in protecting our perimeter defenses, will be distracted as organizational relationships are reshuffled. 

A final increased vulnerability is the virtual certainty that, if war starts and intensifies in Iraq, it could spark a wake-up call to action from sanctuaries of the Mideast and Central Asia to the sleepers in our hometowns.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has warned us that international terrorist organizations will probably use US action against Iraq as an indication for striking us here in the homeland.

A declassified portion of an assessment presented to the Select Committee on Intelligence concluded: “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the US. Should Saddam conclude that US-led attacks could no longer be deterred, he probably would become must less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq’s unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or [chemical and biological weapons]. Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamic terrorists in conducting a [weapon of mass destruction] attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.”

In other words, odds of another strike against the people of the United States by al-Qaeda or another international terrorist group go up when we attack Baghdad.

The first prong of our defense here in the homeland should be to root out the terrorists among us. But because of the instability of the days through which we are living and our lack of preparation, that is not a shield that should give us great hope.

Thus, the importance of a second strategy for disrupting and decapitating the enemy among us—attacking them at their source, just as we have done with such devastating effectiveness against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.                     

One of the reasons that the anticipated second, third, and fourth wave of terrorist acts have not occurred since September 11 is that our military assault has largely dismantled the command-and-control operations of al-Qaeda, making it more difficult for them to support and provide financing and logistics to their large number of operatives in the United States.

I believe we need to adopt a similar strategy of disruption and dismantlement for other terrorist networks. What is it going to take?

First, it is going to require that the President of the United States be given the authority to use that necessary force to dismantle—as he said in his State of the Union speech—the terrorist camps, terrorist plans, and the command-and-control centers of these organizations. Here we come to a point of widespread confusion, which is that the President already has this authority. 

The language of the resolution adopted by Congress in October states that: “Acting pursuant to this resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those who planned, authorized, committed, or aided in the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11.”

The fact is the only group the President has authority to use force against is those who planned, authorized, committed, or aided in the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11. The President specifically was denied the authority to take on the other terrorist groups which, in my judgment, represent the greatest threat inside the American homeland today. 

Let me just give a little bit of history: On September 12, 2001, President Bush requested robust authority to launch a full-scale war on terror. He sent to the Congress a draft resolution which stated: “The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, harbored, committed, or aided in the planning or commission of the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, and to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States [emphasis added].”

That is what the President requested, but Congress demurred. Congress only granted the President the power to use necessary force related to those nations or organizations and persons, which were determined to be connected to the tragedy of September 11. Al-Qaeda was not only our bull’s-eye, it was the totality of the target.

I offered an amendment to the Iraq resolution that would have granted the President the authorities he needs to deal with the threats posed by the five deadliest terrorist organizations, in addition to al-Qaeda, that would gladly join Saddam Hussein in a retaliatory strike. The groups are the Abu Nidal organization, Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, the Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Front.

Those five organizations have already killed hundreds of Americans. They have ties to countries that could provide them with weapons of mass destruction. Those five organizations have the capability to strike within our homeland; they have recruited, trained and placed operatives in our hometowns. 

The A team is Hezbollah, “the Party of God.” Since its formation in 1982, Hezbollah is known or suspected to have been involved in numerous anti-US terrorist attacks, including the suicide truck bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in April 1983; the US Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, and the US Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984. Three members of Hezbollah are on the FBI’s list of the 22 most wanted terrorists for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which a US Navy diver was killed.

This group receives a substantial amount of financial, training, weapons, explosives, diplomatic and organizational aid from Iran and receives diplomatic, political and logistical support from Syria. Hezbollah has a significant presence of its trained merchants of death in the United States. Several of these organizations gravitate around one axis of evil: Iran.

And not surprisingly. According to the National Commission on Terrorism: “Iran remains the most active state supporter of terrorism. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security have continued to be involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts. They also provide funding, training, weapons, logistical resources and guidance to a variety of terrorist groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”

Despite that record—and despite other recent events that prompt concern, even alarm, including North Korea’s admission that it has violated international agreements by pursuing development of nuclear weapons—the Bush administration continues to focus most of our military and intelligence resources on Iraq. And the resolution adopted by the Congress encourages that error. 

With sadness, I predict we will live to regret our focus on Iraq as we allowed these terrorist organizations to continue growing in the shadows. It may be days, weeks, months or years before they strike Americans again, but we will have allowed them to grow that capability. 

We have seen that al-Qaeda remains a force to be reckoned with; its agents have claimed credit for the deadly nightclub bombing in Bali on October 12 that killed nearly 200, including two Americans.

We cannot afford to deal with one evil, as evil as Saddam Hussein might be. We are dealing with a veritable army of evils. We must be prepared to respond to that army.

Here are my recommendations for steps the President should now be taking:

  • In the Middle East, we face a constellation of challenges, threats and commitments for the United States. We need to use this period to reduce the threatening environment in that area by active, sustained US diplomacy on two, half-century-old disputes: that between Israel and Palestine, and the dispute over Kashmir, the festering sore between two nuclear powers—India and Pakistan.

  • Second, the President a year ago should have ordered all of the law enforcement agencies under his control to design a comprehensive means of determining the number, location and capability of terrorists who are living among us. At this point, no one in our government can tell us how, where or when the various organizations can hurt us. At this late hour, this much action should be of the utmost urgent priority. This should be done, of course, within the confines of the protections afforded to all of the persons by the Constitution of the United States.

  • Third, we should be moving to detain all of those who can be legally detained who represent a threat to the United States. 

  • Fourth, the President should direct military forces to prepare to execute a full fledged war on terrorism. We must complete our mission in Afghanistan and then move to the next targets: al-Qaeda cells outside Afghanistan and training camps. 

  • And finally, I would advise the President to request of the Congress the authorities he needs to declare the war on terror, and specifically the authority to use force against those international terrorist organizations with the greatest capability to kill Americans here at home, with the greatest evil intent against Americans, and with the largest number of terrorist operatives located in the United States.

In these frightening times, it is irresponsible to add to the anxiety of the American people by going to war with Iraq without taking the additional steps required to curtail the possibility of more horrors being inflicted upon our homeland.

In one of the darkest periods of history of the Western World, in 1941, Winston Churchill declared: “Never, never, never believe that any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.  The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”*

* Editor’s Note: This article is based on speeches made by Senator Graham on the Senate floor prior to the October 11 vote on the joint resolution (H.J. Res. 114) authorizing the President to use all necessary force against Iraq. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 77 to 23; Senator Graham voted no.

Issue Date


Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence