|Bin Laden Called Top Terrorist
'Global Network' Active, Tenet Says
By Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 8, 2001; Page A16
CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday described Saudi exile Osama bin Laden's "global network" as the "most immediate and serious" terrorist threat to the United States.
Tenet also reported that Russia, China and North Korea have continued in the past year to sell missile technology to Iran, Pakistan and other countries.
Delivering the CIA's annual assessment of worldwide threats, Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that state-sponsored terrorism appears to be declining. But "transnational" terrorist groups -- such as bin Laden's network of Arabs who fought to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and have since turned against the United States and pro-Western Arab governments -- are "becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated," he said.
Bin Laden, who is believed to be living in Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling Taliban, has been indicted in New York for conspiring to attack U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993 and to bomb two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Four alleged members of his organization, known as al Qaeda or "the Base," went on trial this week in Manhattan for the embassy bombings, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. U.S. and Yemeni officials also have said they believe that bin Laden was behind the Oct. 12 bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors in the Yemeni port of Aden.
Bin Laden's organization, Tenet said, "is continuing to place emphasis on developing surrogates to carry out attacks in an effort to avoid detection, blame and retaliation."
Thomas Fingar, acting head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, emphasized the elusive nature of al Qaeda. He told the Senate committee that bin Laden was like the chief operating officer of a multinational corporation that provides "guidance, funding and logistical support" to henchmen who, "like regional directors or affiliates, have broad latitude and sometimes pursue their own agendas."
In discussing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, Tenet said Russian defense firms last year supplied ballistic missile technology to Iran, India, China and Libya, although he did not name the companies or specify what they sold. He also said Russia provided assistance to Iran's civilian nuclear program that "could be used to advance its weapons programs as well."
Under questioning from Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a critic of the Bush administration's national missile defense plan, Tenet reiterated a U.S. intelligence estimate that the "most likely" way for an enemy to attack the United States with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons would be with "non-missile delivery means," such as a bomb contained in a truck, shipping container or suitcase.
Asked by Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) to assess China's military buildup and "increasingly harsh rhetoric about what the future holds" for U.S.-Chinese relations, Fingar said: "In some respects, it's a mirror image of the testimony that all of us [U.S. intelligence officials] have prepared" about China.
"We're the yardstick, and if you're going to justify budgets in China, you need a formidable adversary," he said.
In discussing the Middle East, Tenet said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has grown more confident in his ability to hold on to his power." But he added that Iraq's military capabilities have declined as a result of sanctions, a conclusion endorsed by another witness at the Senate hearing, Vice Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Wilson added that Hussein "probably retains limited numbers" of missiles, launchers and warheads.
Tenet, Fingar and Wilson all noted that the Iraqi leader has effectively taken advantage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has made progress in his diplomatic efforts to chip away at the sanctions.
In other remarks, Tenet said:
• The Caucasus and Central Asia are "parts of the world that have the potential to become more volatile as they become more important to the United States" because of U.S. investments in extracting oil and gas from the Caspian Sea. Faced with Islamic extremist groups, Central Asian leaders "are looking increasingly to the West for support."
• India and Pakistan are likely to conduct additional ballistic missile tests and, possibly, more nuclear tests.
• Information warfare, such as computer attacks over the Internet, are a likely way for adversaries to respond to overwhelming U.S. military superiority.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
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