- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday refused to rule out the involvement of either Iraq or Iran in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"There is no doubt that there have been contacts and linkages to the al Qaeda organization," Mr. Tenet told Congress when asked about Iraqi ties to the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden.
"As to where we are in September 11th, the jury's out," Mr. Tenet said. "And … it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or Iraqi, and we'll see where the evidence takes us."
Mr. Tenet said U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Baghdad in particular played a role in the September 11 attacks.
The CIA director made the remarks in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he focused on national security threats to the United States.
The comments mark a shift from past statements by intelligence officials who had ruled out any state sponsorship of the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
On other issues, Mr. Tenet told the panel:
China is backing state sponsors of terrorism with arms sales, and its cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism is a "mixed bag."
Al Qaeda has been disrupted by U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but the group still poses a threat to the United States. "We assess that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will continue to plan to attack this country and its interests abroad," Mr. Tenet said. "Their modus operandi is to have multiple attacks in the works simultaneously, and to have al Qaeda cells in place to conduct them."
Al Qaeda terrorists are seeking to develop weapons that spread radioactive debris as part of a blast.
Iran is continuing to support terrorist groups, including transferring arms to Palestinian extremist organizations and Hezbollah. Tehran also has "failed to move decisively against al Qaeda members who have relocated to Iran from Afghanistan."
Anti-terrorism cooperation around the world has resulted in the arrests of more than 1,300 al Qaeda members in more than 70 nations and the disruption of terrorist operations.
The spread of nuclear-weapon components may not be detected by U.S. intelligence, and the transfer of long-range and cruise missile technology "has raised the threat to the United States from weapons-of-mass-destruction delivery systems to a critical threshold."
North Korea's communist regime is leading the nation toward "state failure," and mismanagement by the Pyongyang government is triggering the return of famine conditions.
"Large numbers of North Koreans face long-term health damage as a result of the prolonged malnutrition and the collapse of the public health network," Mr. Tenet said.
Regarding the connection between Iraq and the al Qaeda network, Mr. Tenet said the terrorist group is like "a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities."
"The distinctions between Sunni and Shia [Islamic denominations] that have traditionally divided terrorist groups are not distinctions you should make anymore, because there is a common interest against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capability wherever they can get it," Mr. Tenet said.
Iraq's government has a long history of supporting terrorists and has altered its targets to suit changing priorities, Mr. Tenet said.
"It has also had contacts with al Qaeda," he said. "Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides' mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible, even though [Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein] is well aware that such activity would carry serious consequences."
U.S. intelligence officials have said Mohamed Atta, one of the 19 suicide hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks, met secretly in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer.
The meeting, which was detected by Czech internal security agents, has raised concerns that Iraq played a role in the terrorist attacks.
A U.S. official said later that while an Iraqi role in the terror attacks cannot be ruled out, "At this point, there isn't evidence pointing to that."
Reflecting the Bush administration's current focus on Iraq, Mr. Tenet also said Baghdad is continuing its program to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems.
"We believe that Saddam never abandoned his nuclear weapons program," Mr. Tenet said, noting that Iraq has kept "a significant number of nuclear scientists, program documentation and probably some dual-use manufacturing infrastructure that could support a reinvigorated nuclear program."
A major fear of the CIA is that Iraq will gain access to radioactive fuel that could be used to create nuclear weapons, he said.
On the issue of China, Mr. Tenet said Beijing has tried to cooperate with the United States in the war against terrorism, while also continuing to back terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran, Libya and North Korea with arms and missile sales.
Asked by Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, whether China is "with us or with the terrorists," Mr. Tenet said:
"I think that we have a deep concern that the Chinese are engaging in activities that continue to be inimical not just to our interests, but that their activity stimulates secondary activities that only complicate the threat that we face, our forces face and our allies face, particularly in the Middle East and other places where they have these relationships."
China is building up its conventional and strategic nuclear forces as part of a drive to become a great power, Mr. Tenet said. Beijing views the United States as "the primary obstacle to the realization of that goal," he said.
Since the September 11 attacks, China has changed its approach to the United States but not its long-term strategy.
China's standoff with Taiwan continues, and the mainland's military buildup is "increasing the risk to the United States itself in any future Taiwan contingency," Mr. Tenet said.
China announced earlier this month that it is increasing its defense spending by 17.6 percent, and if the trend continues, Beijing will double its defense spending between 2000 and 2005.


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