Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military


US House Armed Services Committee

STATEMENT OF 

MARK WONG
DEPUTY COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

MAY 22, 2001

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism to describe the State Department's view of the international terrorism threat. Edmund Hull, the Department's Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, regrets that long standing previous commitments prevent him from testifying today. As the Deputy Coordinator, I am appearing on his behalf. Because of your specific interests in the effort to protect Americans against terrorism, I am accompanied by Mr. Sam Brinkley, the senior advisor for our program to counter terrorist use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD).   

I will address in my statement our assessment of the terrorist threat and trends in terrorism, using as a starting point the State Department's annual report to Congress, Patterns of Global Terrorism, which was released April 30. I also will describe our counterterrorism efforts and coordination, including cooperation with the Department of Defense, and our efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction. In protecting the United States against international terrorist attacks, whether on U.S. or foreign soil, the first line of defense starts abroad. I will describe our activities in international counterterrorism and our cooperation with domestic counterterrorism efforts. The State Department is the lead U.S. Government agency in countering terrorism overseas. The Coordinator for Counterterrorism is the focus for the State Department's development and coordination of counterterrorism policy in the international arena. 

Threat Trends

            During the 1970's and 1980's, the primary threat to U.S. lives and interests came from countries - Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq, for example - that were directly involved in terrorism or supported terrorist groups. Using substantial state resources, these countries were able to sponsor terrorism on a large scale and with devastating impact, whether by supporting Palestinian leftist groups in their efforts to terrorize Israel or by directly attacking American and other Western targets.   

Terrorist groups became increasingly sophisticated, not only in their ability to conduct attacks, but also in their ability to manage complex financial and logistical networks, to spread their influence from the Middle East to Europe, South Asia, and beyond. To counter this threat, the United States devoted most of its counterterrorism efforts and resources to countering the state sponsors. The state sponsor threat was also the genesis of much of the counterterrorism legislation, including the "state sponsor" legislation and related sanctions laws, that Congress enacted to facilitate the United States' efforts. The successful conviction of Abdel Busset al-Megrahi, who participated in the murder of 259 people on Pan Am flight 103 and 11 more on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, on behalf of the Libyan government, is both a vivid reminder of the dangers of state sponsorship and a sign of the success we have in curbing it. 

Since the 1980's, the international community, with the United States in the lead, has increasingly worked together at all levels to isolate and confront state sponsors with various tools, international sanctions, multilateral pressure and isolation, and concerted diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement campaigns. By the late 1980's and early 1990's we began to see the fruit of that cooperation, with many state sponsors moving to limit -- but unfortunately not to end-- their support for terrorism. Nonetheless, even the decreased state sponsorship we see today represents a critical threat. For example, Iran and Syria's continued support for Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups has devastated the lives of too many innocent civilians and hurt the cause of peace in the Middle East.

The success we have had in reining in most State Sponsors has been countered by the more recent emergence of loosely organized, international networks of terrorists, often described in the popular lexicon as "Afghan Alumni," because of their involvement with the long-running conflict in Afghanistan. These terrorist networks share a vision of global "jihad" against the West, especially the United States, and Middle Eastern regimes they perceive to be "un-Islamic." As most governments, including our friends and allies in the Middle East, worked to improve their counterterrorism efforts - often with the assistance of the United States - many of the "international mujahidin" and the terrorist groups they created or joined sought safe haven in areas where they could work with relative impunity. Sadly for the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban believed it was in its interest to offer many of these terrorists, including Usama bin Ladin, safehaven in the parts of Afghanistan it controls. 

Although the locus for these terrorists is Afghanistan, they have and continue to spread their destruction across the world, including in Kenya and Tanzania, where they killed 12 American diplomats and hundreds of Kenyans and Tanzanians. They have even reached American soil. Afghanistan-based terrorists succeeded in bombing the World Trade Center. If it were not for the continuing diligence of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies operating here and abroad, and our allies, these terrorists would have inflicted even more devastation, carrying out terrorist attacks against our friends abroad, and very possibly in the United States as well. Here I specifically refer to the foiled plot to attack tourist sites in Jordan, and the foiled attempt by Ahmed Ressam to bring explosive devices into the U.S. from Canada in December 1999.     Clearly, the intent of these terrorist operatives --many trained in Afghanistan--to strike at the U.S. remains a clear and present danger, as we saw so tragically in the October 2000 murder of 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole.

Countermeasures

In preventing and defending against international terrorist attacks - whether aimed at Americans overseas or at home - our first line of defense and offense is overseas. As In indicated in my introduction, the Department of State, as the lead agency for countering terrorism overseas, heads this fight. The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism is the key office for developing, coordinating, and implementing the policy effort overseas.   

The U.S. Government uses all tools available - including international diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence collection and sharing, sanctions, and military force as appropriate - to counter current terrorist threats and to hold terrorists accountable for past actions. Terrorists seek refuge in what former Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan has described as "swamps." He meant by this, areas of countries where government territorial control is weak, such as Lebanon, or where a government or a powerful faction is sympathetic, such as in Afghanistan. We seek to drain these swamps. Through diplomacy, international and domestic legislation, intelligence sharing and strengthened law enforcement, the United States seeks to curb the ability of terrorists to move, plan, raise funds, and operate. Our goal is to eliminate terrorist safe havens, dry up the terrorists' sources of revenue, break up their cells, disrupt their movements, and bring them to justice for their crimes. 

International Cooperation

International cooperation is essential to countering international terrorism. We work closely with other countries to increase international political will to limit all aspects of terrorists' efforts. The introduction to the latest issue of our annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, presents an overview of our efforts to bolster international cooperation. I will not repeat the details, but I do want to underscore the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1333, which levied additional sanctions on the Taliban for harboring Usama Bin Ladin and other terrorists and for failing to close terrorist training camps. 

Our embassies and missions overseas are critical in obtaining and sustaining international cooperation and in providing early warning of potential threats to our interests. Our diplomats deliver a consistent message on terrorism to foreign governments, reinforce that message with practical support to the willing, and mobilize the international community to isolate - through political and economic pressure - those who still support or use terrorism. In multilateral meetings, as well as in our bilateral relations, we work to create an environment intolerant of terrorism, and to isolate those who threaten us, our friends and allies, and innocent people everywhere.   

As Secretary Powell has emphasized, it is our duty to afford the best possible protection to American citizens wherever they may work or travel, but we cannot succeed without the support and cooperation of foreign governments. These governments bear the primary responsibility within their borders for preventing terrorism, protecting our citizens, responding to terrorist attacks, and investigating attacks against Americans. It is also through the cooperation of foreign governments that we have extradited or rendered to American justice 13 wanted terrorists since 1993. 

Our Chiefs of Mission are responsible for coordinating the actions of the agencies that work from within our embassies to prevent and respond to terrorism. With the exception of those directly under a regional CINC's authority, our Chiefs of Mission are responsible for all official Americans working on behalf of the American people, whether they are Legal or Defense Attaches, Intelligence Officers, Foreign Service or Civil Service officers.  

                         Working with Defense

The State Department also leads the Foreign Emergency Support Team, also known as the FEST, which is deployed to serve as an ambassador's consultative and support unit in response to a terrorist attack or sometimes in anticipation of a potential attack. In the past year, the FEST has been deployed to the Philippines, Yemen, and Ecuador. This interagency team is led by experienced State Department professionals and staffed by experts from DOD, FBI, and other agencies. The FEST plays a crucial role in the vital tasks of coordinating the interagency response overseas, securing American lives and assets, and keeping Washington informed on key developments. The FEST team works intimately with the U.S. mission and host government to ensure that all steps are taken to protect U.S. interests and lives, and, in cases where American citizens are the victims of a terrorist attack abroad, to help bring terrorists to justice. 

The FEST team holds interagency exercises at least twice a year to ensure that they are ready for different and changing types of emergency response needs, ranging from airplane hijackings to biological or chemical attacks. The composition of the team depends on the incident but includes specialists such as FBI hostage negotiators and forensic experts and WMD consequence management planners as appropriate. 

We work closely with the Defense Department in the FEST operations. In addition to its contributions of experts and specialists to the FEST team, DOD also provides, maintains and operates the FEST's aircraft. Last year, Congress provided DOD funding to replace the 37-year-old aircraft. The Domestic Emergency Support Team (DEST) may also use this same aircraft to respond to incidents in the United States. If I may put in a plug for the Defense Department, DOD is considering a request of $75 million for a FEST aircraft in its FY 2002 budget. 

            The U.S. Government's international response capabilities are well defined, well coordinated, and well functioning. A carefully developed mechanism for coordinating our international efforts has evolved and passed repeated tests over the years. We realize that we can always improve and adapt, and so we are constantly reviewing and exercising our response capability to ensure it continues to address changing needs. Our Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism now includes officers detailed from the FBI and CIA to ensure better interagency coordination - both day-to-day, as well as in an emergency situation. We have been, and will continue to work with our interagency colleagues in the Departments of Defense, Justice, the Treasury, Health and Human Services and other agencies to strengthen our ability to protect Americans from terrorism overseas and at home. With the Chairman's permission, I will now turn it over to my colleague, Mr. Sam Brinkley, the Office's WMD Policy Advisor; we will be glad to answer the committee's questions upon the conclusion of his statement.

House Armed Services Committee
2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list