tv Panelists Discuss Intelligence Gathering and Terror Threats CSPAN June 22, 2017 9:52am-10:34am EDT
in pakistan. and later in 2011, a successful drone strike took out an american cleric who was the first american targeted for death by the cia and in many respects the father of this digital jihad that we are living today. i am reminded that it is one thing to kill a man, another to kill his ideas. the topic of our panel today is whether the intelligence community has the tools it needs to blunt this terrorist threat. i'd like to introduce members of our panel. i'd like to begin with jane harmon who is on my far left. jane harmon is a very familiar face here on capitol hill. she resigned from congress in february of 2011 to join the woodrow wilson center as its
first female director, president and ceo. jane served on all major security committees and has made numerous congressional fact finding missions to hot spots including north korea, afghanistan and guantanamo bay. she has been recognized as an expert on security and public policy issues. she has received the medal for distinguished service, the cia seal medal and the distinguished public service medal. immediately next to jane is congressman pete hookstra, the chairman of the house committee on intelligence between 2004 and 2007 where he partnered with congresswoman jane harmon in 2004. the first modernization of the intelligence community in 50 years. chairman hookstra is currently
working with the investigative project on terrorism. congressman will heard, a former undercover cia officer. he's the representative for the 23rd congressional district of texas which includes 800 miles of the u.s./mexico border in washington. on the committee for homemade land security and as a chairman of the information technology subcommittee on the oversight and government reform committee. and nicholas rasmussen, prior to becoming nctc director he served with the national security counsel staff as special assistant to the president and senior director for counter terrorism where he was responsible for providing staff support to the president, the national homeland security
advisor on counter terrorism policy and strategy. he also previous served as director for original affairs in the office for combatting terrorism. flint, michigan. was this an individual who was on any of our watch lists? >> first, it's probably too early to say. i would just say that any law enforcement investigation you know more on day two than you knew on day one. and you'll know more on day ten than you knew on day nine. i'd be getting out in front of my fbi colleagues if i went very far on the specifics of the individual. that said, the indications is that this individual may have been motivated by the kind of
ideology you referenced in your opening remarks. while it's too soon to draw firm conclusions, certainly the type of attack that was conducted bears some of the hallmarks of things we've seen in other capitals around the world in recent days, attacks that are not particularly complex, large scale or sophisticated and yet they can do enormous harm. they can cause loss of life and strike terror and fear and insecurity in the hearts of populations. so that makes them worthy of our heightened concern. at the same time, it is a different threat environment than the threat environment that we've been living with for much of the post 9/11 period. yes, it is more complex, yes, it is more dynamic, more challenging in many ways. but it's also worth remembering and not losing sight of some of the progress we've made in mitigating some of those threats that we were the most worried
about a decade ago or five or six years ago when al qaeda was our principal counter terrorism concern. the threat of a large scale mass casualty attack aimed at a u.s. city, i think we've done a lot to reduce the likelihood of such an attack. the likelihood of an attack here in the home land using weapons of mass destruction, also we've made progress in building up our defenses to counter that attack. the threat environment is challenging, disturbing, concerning. i think it's worth differenti e differentiating what we're talking about. >> jane, you sat on the house committee on intelligence as the ranking democrat. is this what the future looked like in terms of the threat environment? >> first of all, let me say about your catherine that you are an extraordinarily capable reporter and i think everyone
should respect the quality of journalism you bring to fox. i want to express my distress that fair and balanced has been removed as the moniker of fox. but i would offer this fair and balanced comment, which is that the terrorists aren't going to check our party registration before they blow us up. this is really something we have to do on a bipartisan basis. pete and i did that. it's also true that when i chaired the intelligence subcommittee of homeland security and mike mccall was my ranking member, we did that. bipartisan ship is not dead, but it needs to be more robust. no, i didn't imagine that this would happen. we were there on 9/11. there was no contingency survival plan for congress. many of us were milling around
in front of the capitol. his tiny little basement apartment had golf club which is took up off the place and a bed or so. but there was no place to go. we finally commandeered the capitol police headquarters and went there and tried to offer help. but we never imagined that what came at us on 9/11 was going to metastasize to this. i want to commend nick and other parts of the i.c. for heroic work trying to get ahead of the problem. no. at least speaking for me, we didn't anticipate. it's an idea, not just a person. defeating an army is one thing. defeating an idea is a lot harder.
>> here. bipartisan ship. >> thanks. lack of technology. there's no way that jane and i or those of us on the intelligence committee anticipated this, especially when we were leaving in 2011. you know, i mentioned to jane as you went through the countries that she visited, you didn't mention one that may be the most notable. we had some very interesting trips. that was to libya to meet with gaddafi. we were a small part of the process that ended up in gaddafi flipping and actually becoming an ally in fighting the radical jihadist threat that was out there. the interesting thing is jane asked me about within of the pe people that we met, who was his intelligence chief who was a
graduate of michigan state and a big fan of tom izzo and those types of things. we went to egypt, we met with--u little did i imagine that we would be looking at a threat environment where iraq was a failed state with isis, that syria was a failed state, that libya would be a failed state, that egypt would lose control of the sinai, that we would have changed our policy and started working with the muslim brotherhood. and that's really changed. when you saw those failed states, when you saw the refugees, when you saw the mass migration into europe, the fighters going from europe, some
from the united states into syria and into libya and now coming back into europe and those countries, those have all created a threat environment that i don't think anybody ever saw coming out on the horizon. now the challenge is how do you go back and stabilize syria, how do you go back and stabilize libya, yemen. and we still haven't really gotten a strategy to address a number of those issues. >> we've got a handful of failed states, which are effectively safe havens for terrorist groups. does the i.c. have the tools to work with entities in those nations to try and gather intelligence effectively? if not, how do we do the work around? >> i'll try to answer that question in less than 50
minutes. so the intelligence community has the capabilities, they have the resolve, they have the right people, they have the leadership. but this is an issue that's bigger than just the intelligence community. it starts with -- i think ambassador crocker is here today. one of the things he always says if you have wingtips and pumps on the ground, it prevents boots on the ground. basically, if you have diplomats on the ground, you can prevent the need for having to come in militarily. we have to support the state department. we have to make sure that u.s. a.i.d. has a strong budget to do their work. and we have to make sure the intelligence community has the operating authorities to bring the hammer down on the folks over there. but we also have to think about what day do we celebrate?
the question i always ask people that are experts in this field -- i say what day do you celebrate when it comes to the war on terrorism? the best answer i've gotten is from my friend ambassador hank crumpton, was process cu prosecuting the war on 9/11. it's like fighting influenza. we have to bring a hammer down and stop them from having safe havens. we have to counter their ideology as well. they were doing things called writing night letters. now isis is doing social media campaig campaigns. we have to be able to counter that. and we have to make sure that local law enforcement and
commercial security have the information on texaaxes, technis and procedures these guys are using. it's a hard problem. it's broader than just the intelligence community. >> nick, you suggested in your earlier statement that we have disrupted significant plots targeting the homeland, is that correct? >> yes. i'm talking about kind of a sweep of a long period of history in the period since 9/11. >> let's talk about recently. have we disrupted major plots targeting the u.s. in the last year? >> i don't know that i would something with that degree of specificity. we are constantly looking to identify individuals who may have designs on the homeland but i don't think i'd put anything to the category the same way you put it. >> i would say we've stopped people that were capable of planning and plotting a major attack on the u.s. you know, you have to remember,
when you take key people off the battlefield that have the capabilities and the leadership abilities to do some of these things, that counts. and there have been a number of those significant activities over the last year. >> no. i wouldn't disagree with that at all. i was just trying to carefully parse -- i didn't want to leave the impression that there was some incipient, imminent plot aimed at the homeland that just came close to happening, because i think that would be n misleading. the different array of things we can do to defend ourselves includes all of the things the congressman mentioned. but i think one of the things that's under plplayed in this discussion is just an effort to create a greater sense of societial resilience, that we will cope, not just cope by prosper and bounce back and succeed in living our lives regardless of what happens on
any given day. unfortunately, some form of terrorism will be a semipermanent feature of the landscape, whether it's this ideology or some future ideology. the answer is to continue to hone our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities and bring the hammer down when the hammer needs to be brought down. a big part of the answer is giving tools around this country the tools they need to protect themselves, the information they need to protect themselves and an understanding of the terrorist threat so they can put that threat in perspective. >> i just wanted to point out how hard this is and to salute the intelligence community for what it is able to do. it will never be 100% effective. now we have learned that the new tools of terror are a big truck and a butcher knife. even if we have gun control in this country, there's still going to be people with validly licensed guns who go crazy and
do dumb stuff and kill people. that's not the catastrophic threat that you were asking about, but i don't rule that out either. there are biological weapons that are pretty easily accessible in hospitals. anyway, but the other point i wanted to make is resilience matters. yes, it does. think britain. keep calm and carry on. they've had more attacks lately than any place. but there are also things we can do to win the argument. you said this is an idea. and yes having pumps and wingtips is a way to win the argument using diplomacy. there are better arguments. i actually went to yemen. i don't think you did. >> i did. >> oh, you did. everything he could do to keep up with me. how do we win the argument?
we live our values. that's a very important part of it. a lot of people want to live here because of our values. we also do effective counter messaging that we need to work on more. when john kelly was talking earlier, he was talking about the response part. and he was talking about the private sector intercepting bad messages. but the private sector is also capable of in near simultaneous time putting on good messaging and having those who have escaped from the horror of isis or those who are respected imams or community figures come up in the same space that some kid is looking at and say, wait a minute, here is an alternate idea. having communities give these lost kids opportunities who are susceptible to the messages. i think there are some tools we need to invest in more. >> if i can add onto what jane's
talking about, this notion of in the cia you learn about covert influence, right, a covert action. we have to figure out as a country how do we do counter covert influence. that opens up a whole lot of questio questions. you have to have groups like the wilson center. it is hard to coordinate the various elements within just the intelligence community. thinking about how you coordinate the intel in law enforcement, local law enforcement and the private arena in order to have a
strategy on how we're going to deal with this ideology is hard. the bipartisan ship that y'all showed, that exists. today's event is a perfect example. >> nick, what tools do you want that you don't have right now? >> i would turn the question a little bit and instead of identifying a single tool, saying if i could just go off the shelf and buy that, we'd be set. i look at more as a transformational exercise. the discipline of intelligence analysis for understanding the modern terrorism threat is literally changing under our feet as we're doing the job every day. so i often think about this.
the analysts we probably hired ten years ago who came with really strong social science backgrounds, good writers, good thinkers who had language skills and understood the dynamic in places like iraq, we need that. but we also need people now who know how to look at haystacks of data, sift through that data and draw nonobvious connections that help us shrink the size of the haystack so we can point our light on those issues of the greatest concern. now when i'm talking to young people who want to work in the intelligence community, i say, i hope you can write but i also hope you're digitally literate. i hope i can put you down in front of a spreadsheet and you can make sense of that. obviously to hire people like
that, you've then got to empower them with the kind of tools you're asking about. most of them are things that are available. big data is not a problem that only the government has. there isn't a sector of the private industry that isn't dealing with big data and how to draw useful information out of large piles of data. we can go to school on a lot of that with our private sector partners and friends, but i want to make sure we have the right work force to do what we need to do five years from now, ten years from now to fight terrorism. >> this is what i love about the intelligence community. nick is a perfect example. yes is the answer, what is the question. what they need is they need some of the technology like computer vision. when you're looking at satellite imagery and from different parts of the day, a human eye is not going to detect a car that was moved half a pixel. they're not going to be able to detect a gray versus silver car.
being able to introduce that kind of technology into the analytical flame woramework is o make sure we're delivering the kind of results that we need. not only introducing that kind of technology, but that the folks within the intelligence community know how to leverage it to achieve desired outcomes. >> i want to bring jane and pete in here on this issue of interrogations. one of the criticisms of the last administration is that we got out of the interrogation business. should we be getting back into it in a more robust way? >> let me answer your previous question. does the intelligence community have what it needs. i will answer your interrogation question as well. i look at the overall environment. and these are some of the things that jane and i worked on when we were on the committee.
it is absolutely essential and i'm glad that the nonpartisan nature of the intelligence community continues. i don't necessarily always see that, but i'm not here. so i think you need that. the other thing, i look forward to the day when the intelligence community moves back into the background and is not on the front page every day, that it has effective oversight with congress. i'm not saying go and do it out oversight but intelligence needs to be done on the background, not on the front page. i look to the day when we restore the public trust in the intelligence community. we've lost a lot of that now with what's been going on with perceived things that have been going on. we've had those struggles and debates in congress. but i think a lot of congress and maybe the public is suspicious about what the intelligence community is doing to america and americans to keep us safe. they have to have a long-term outlook. and i think they need the
creativity, alternative scenarios. they cannot have group think. if we're capturing people, absolutely we need to interrogate. congress needs to set the limits and boundaries for how that interrogation takes place. but just saying we're not interrogating, no. capturing live people is a great source of information that complements everything else you get. we had that struggle, we had that debate about what's acceptable and what's not
numerous times. congress sets the parameters. the intelligence community implements them but interrogation absolutely needs to happen. >> it was a very courageous thing of special operations command to physically go to captu capture osama bin laden. he was killed. it's not just capturing people, which we should do as an alternative to killing them where possible, but it's also capturing their data which is crucial. back up, pete. early in the bush 43 administration, i was briefed. i think you were not yet chairman. read your "new york times" today. this stuff is finally seeing the light of day.
i was briefed by the then general counsel of the cia, personally briefed with one staffer in the room. and this was very early. we all thought we would be attacked again and were extremely worried about the safety of the country. my response to that was to write a letter then classified, since declassified to that general counsel saying i wanted to know what policy guidance he was given about those techniques. the intelligence community doesn't make policy. the intelligence community presents intelligence to policy makers who make policy. i wrote that letter because frankly i was quite shocked by what was on the list that i was briefed about. and i never received a substantive response. and the bush administration in its first term chose basically to operate under the president's commander in chief authorities,
his article 2 authorities. he does have those and they're important, but not to go through congress. and we had to struggle to get the memos. we never got them from the office of legal counsel in the justice department, not on any watch anyway, to get the information that congress needed to do proper oversight. pete is right that there should be robust interrogation within legal limits subject to congressional oversight. >> we agreed on a lot of things, but this is one where we walked in tandem for almost the whole ten years that we were together on the intel committee regardless of what role. and that is the executive branch has to be accountable to congress and follow the parameters that congress establishes. and way too often in the time that we served, we couldn't get the information that we felt was
absolutely essential for us to do effective oversight. and i think that diminishes the intelligence community and puts in place a framework where you can have an executive branch. whether it's republican or democrat, it doesn't matter. the executive branch has to be accountable to congress for what happens in the intelligence community because we set the parameters and they implement. and you captan't have a preside moving and doing things -- it's only a gang of eight that they wouldn't even share information with. that's totally unacceptable. >> on the al qaeda question, nick, what is al qaeda's potential to carry out a mass casualty attack directed at the united states? >> i was talking about that a little bit earlier.
i think we have done a great deal to degrade and constrain al qaeda's ability, at least the core of al qaeda that directed the 9/11 attack against the united states. we've done a great deal to degrade that core capability resident in afghanistan and pakistan. there's no question that al qaeda remains a robust, resilient organization with a global presence and there are al qaeda afill yatd organizations arou around the world threatening to american interests. al qaeda on the arabian peninsula attempted to carry out multiple aviation attacks directed at the united states over the last decade. this goes to your earlier questions about failed states or safe havens and thetaining te t attivea
activity in places like yemen. it shouldn't detract from the idea that your government, that we as an intelligence community is still focused -- i would argue as a matter of first priority on al qaeda as a threat to u.s. interests every bit as much we're focused on isis. we get the privilege of having multiple number one priorities. it means you sometimes have to make choices about where you stretch and spread your resources. but al qaeda has never stopped being a number one principal concern for the united states. even as isis has taken over the headlines. >> just on that point, is al qaeda's most active base of operations now in syria? >> i guess i would say either syria or yemen. aqap are the al qaeda affiliate who s who present the most immediate concern. >> the bomb maker, is he
connected to the restrictions on laptop computers going on flights into the united states? >> i think the best way i would describe that is that al asi asiri -- that's one vector of intelligence that we continue to worry about and focus on. but we've also seen other terrorist organizations try, fail and even in some cases have some success at targeting aviation. think of what happened in recent months more as an accumulation over time rather than tied to one individual. i wouldn't want to send the impression that if we just got the right individual off the battle field, that we would have secured our aviation industry forever. i don't believe that. one of the things i think is the most concerning to us in the intelligence community is just
how persistent and committed our terrorist adversaries are to going after aviation. >> asiri remains active in targeting and plotting? >> i don't know that i'd go that far. i don't want to talk about specific intelligence matters here. i would feel better if i knew with certainty that he wasn't. >> i want to bring in pete and jane because you touched on this earlier. what role do you think the current political environment is playing in terms of either helping or impeding this war against -- >> is that a trick question. impeding, i'm sure everyone in this room thinks that. i'm not making -- you know, expressing an opinion about the political environment, except that the intelligence community cannot become the adversary or
even the participant in the partisan mud slinging. it cannot. it has to remain impartial. there is a biblical statement in the main hall of the cia. it's been quoted all the time. and the truth shall set ye free. george h.w. bush i think was responsible for putting that statement there. that's a hollowed hall. with the stars on the walls, some of whom still can't be identified who gave their lives to keep this country safer. we need the most robust intelligence community we can field. pete and i worked on helping to reshape it in 2004 after the failures of 9/11 and the iraq wmd crisis. authorities are not perfect. it was congress for gosh sakes. but we worked closely together. we were two of the so-called big
four working on that bill. the authorities are adequate to give the i.c. tools that it needs to do its best job. not a perfect job. there's no such thing as 100% security. you just heard that the terrorists are very agile and try to work beyond us and we have to scramble to keep up. pete is exactly right about red teaming by the way. my bottom line here is we need to praise the i.c., we need to give it the right tools and robust oversight on a bipartisan basis by congress. >> one of jane's favorite says used to be truth to power. that's what the intelligence community has to do. they need to do the analysis and tell the political leaders here's what we see regardless of where the chips may fall politically. there's a responsibility then for political leaders to express their views and to hold the intelligence community accountable for their performance. but there's also a responsibility for the
intelligence community to act in a way that has integrity to it. the leaks coming out -- it appears some of the leaks coming out of the intelligence community are totally unacceptable. there's a fault on both sides of this issue right now. the political discourse in regards to the intelligence community and some of the behavior that is apparently coming out of the intelligence community. there's a responsibility for both of those actors to change their behavior and move back into a constructive framework. >> i'd add on this. i spent 9.5 years as an undercover officer in the cia. i was one of the early employees in the unit that prosecuted the war in afghanistan of 9/11. if on september 12th, you would have told me that it would be 16 years before there was another
major attack on the homeland, i would have said you were crazy. the reason there hasn't been a major attack on the homeland is because of the men and women in the intelligence community, law enforcement community and the military that are still operating as if it's september 12th. these are men and women of integrity that are working hard every single day putting themselves in harm's way in order to protect us. and they are not going to worry about whatever drama comes up in this place, in this building, because they're going to do their job despite who is in power because they're real professionals. >> one quick thought to that. won't wade into the politics. as a serving career person, i shouldn't. i can say from a work force perspective nothing makes the day of an officer working for me more than hearing from a member of congress that they've briefed, whether democrat or republican, thank you for your service, i admire what you do.
those five or six simple words can carry, you know, along with the sense of duty and commitment that will was just referring to can carry you forward through a lot of difficult times at the office. we had the opportunity earlier this spring to host mr. heard and a number of his colleagues at nctc. having that interaction between members of congress and intelligence professionals i think underscores exactly what all three members of congress current and former have said. it's our job to stay out of politics but we need to be validated by the politicians doing good work, work that is valued. i serve in a position that i don't necessarily need to hear that myself. but i certainly hope that the people who work for me can have that level of appreciation offered to them not just by the public but by members of congress. >> just a kcouple of final questions for nick.
we're heading into the final days of ramadan. a lot of americans are waking up every day and wondering when is a vehicle attack coming to this country? what would you say to them? have we disrupted this type of attack? >> this came up in the conversation that secretary kelly had. there's no question but that a vehicle attack is one of those things now that potential extremists or terrorists realize they have at their disposal. it is something that does not require a terrific amount of planning, inordinant amount of resources. i think what we've seen in europe and other places around the world is that terrorists will use what they have at their disposal to carry out operations
to try to create fear and insecurity in populations. vehicles are a tool that they're going to be able to use. it gets to something, though, that will said earlier. that is it's our job in the intelligence community to share the kind of information with state and local authorities who can help build the kind of effective defenses in a city so that operator of a vehicle might be stopped at the earliest possible moments. first responders, law enforcement, police know what to do, know how to disabled that individual. so that if we do, god forbid, suffer that kind of attack, you know, i pray it will be an aborted attack or --