- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Covert intelligence operations against Osama bin Laden and military attacks during the Clinton administration failed to disrupt the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, a congressional investigator told Congress yesterday.
Meanwhile, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh defended the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies from charges of intelligence failures and said the September 11 attacks probably could not have been prevented.
"The intelligence community and the FBI, in my opinion, does not appear to have had sufficient information to prevent the September 11 attacks," Mr. Freeh told a hearing of the joint House-Senate committee investigating intelligence failures.
It was the first time Mr. Freeh commented publicly on FBI counterterrorism amid charges by critics that the FBI and CIA failed to predict and stop the al Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people at the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Earlier, Eleanor Hill, the joint committee staff director, disclosed for the first time that the Clinton administration mounted covert action programs against al Qaeda and bin Laden beginning in 1998, but both those operations and overt military strikes proved ineffective.
"None of these actions appear to have ultimately hindered terrorist training or al Qaeda's ability to operate from Afghanistan," Mrs. Hill said. She provided no details of the covert operations.
Other intelligence officials said one operation was a joint CIA effort with Pakistani military intelligence to capture bin Laden. The operation failed in part because of Pakistan's support for the Afghan Taliban movement, which was backing al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The primary Clinton administration military action was the August 1998 attack on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. The factory was suspected of making chemical-weapons material for al Qaeda, but later was found only to have been making pharmaceuticals.
The cruise missile attack on Afghanistan failed to hit bin Laden who had fled from one camp before the attack and did little to disrupt terrorist training there.
The committee's review concluded that intelligence agencies made some improvements in fighting terrorism since the end of the Cold War, she said, but noted that "important gaps" in counterterrorism capabilities were never closed.
"These included many problems outside the control or the responsibility of the intelligence community, such as the sanctuary terrorists enjoyed in Afghanistan, and the legal limits on information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement officials," Mrs. Hill said.
U.S. intelligence agencies failed to learn from the lessons of past attacks, such as bombings in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen.
The lapses allowed al Qaeda to "exploit the gap in the U.S. counterterrorism structure to carry out its devastating attacks," she said.
Mrs. Hill blamed the FBI for a lack of aggressiveness inside the United States in pursuing terrorists.
"The FBI responded unevenly at home, with only some field offices devoting significant resources to al Qaeda," she said. "An overall assessment of the risk to America was not prepared, and much of the FBI's counterterrorism effort was concentrated abroad."
Mrs. Hill also said the National Security Agency (NSA), which conducts electronic eavesdropping, failed to help the FBI in intercepting communications inside the United States on foreign terrorists, thinking the FBI was responsible for that kind of spying.
Intelligence also lacked focus on terrorism because agencies were asked to spy on too many targets.
"The U.S. wanted to know everything about everything all the time," she said, noting that the NSA had 1,500 spying targets with 20,000 "essential elements" mandated by customers within the targets.
Regarding FBI counterterrorism efforts, Mr. Freeh said in testimony that he believes it is not possible to prevent all terrorist attacks.
"No agency or country particularly in a democracy where the rule of law is respected can be expected to foil and prevent every planned attack," he said.
Mr. Freeh blamed budget and personnel shortfalls and legal restriction on domestic activities for the FBI's inability to better prevent terrorist attacks.
FBI agents were prohibited from visiting the Internet sites of suspect groups or from attending public meetings of a target group. Also, counterspy and terrorism informant guidelines imposed years ago "curtailed our ability to collect information in national-security cases," he said.


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