White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Sunday the volume of information seized from the terrorist al Qaeda network during last week’s mission to kill Osama bin Laden was “the size of a small college library.”
He called it “one of the great achievements in the history of intelligence,” and said it could take time for U.S. intelligence experts to analyze and act on the information found on the computer equipment taken from the Pakistan compound where American forces killed bin Laden.
“We are just starting to go through this treasure - this large cache of information - and we’ll learn as we go along,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Earlier on CNN, he said the terrorist organization was at its weakest point since 2001.
Mr. Donilon and other U.S. intelligence officials this weekend began revising the long-held view that bin Laden was little more than an al Qaeda figurehead. The mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was still very much in control of a world terror network, Mr. Donilon said.
“I think, at this point, we can’t declare al Qaeda strategically defeated,” he said. “They continue to be a threat to the United States. But we have taken a really important milestone in terms of taking down this organization.”
The ongoing revelations from the Obama administration drew some mild criticism Sunday.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said White House staffers risk undermining intelligence efforts in the wake of the killing of bin Laden by talking too much about what American forces found in the terrorist leader’s compound.
“I would have preferred a lot less discussion about intelligence out of the White House,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “My guess is the people in the Pentagon feel that way. The more information that goes out about intelligence, the greater the risks to our people and the less likelihood we’re going to be able” to capture or kill the suspects.
Mr. Rumsfeld is one of several former officials in the George W. Bush administration and other key figures from 9/11 who are praising President Obama’s handling of the mission to kill bin Laden, but questioning the White House’s actions in the aftermath and its priorities going forward.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told “Fox News Sunday” that President Obama’s restrictions on enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, will make it harder to find terrorists in the future.
“It’s not clear to me today that we still have an interrogation program that we put someone through if we capture them,” he said, pointing out that the U.S. military has used waterboarding to train its own troops.
“If it were my call, I’d have that program ready to go,” he said.
Intelligence experts say the interrogation techniques - critics denounce the techniques as “torture” - were instrumental in the takedown of bin Laden. Retired Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, told “Meet the Press” that “you can’t deny we got valuable information from these folks. The fact is, we did it this way, and this way worked.”
But Mr. Donilon deflected questions about the role enhanced interrogation played in leading to bin Laden.
“I’m not going to comment on specific intelligence,” he said numerous times during appearances on Fox, NBC, ABC and CNN.
On “Meet the Press,” former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani indicated he was disappointed in Mr. Donilon’s “failure to answer” interrogation questions, crediting Mr. Bush with pushing ahead with the techniques despite political criticism. “No doubt all of the work he did brought it about.”
Still, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Giuliani, among others, praised Mr. Obama for finishing the job.
“I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Mr. Cheney said. “That was his responsibility, and he handled it well.”
Also Sunday, both party’s top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee warned against attempts to cut off aid to Pakistan over bin Laden’s presence in that country, likely with some level of official or quasi-official knowledge.
Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Richard G. Lugar of Indiana both said Islamabad is a needed ally in the war on terrorism, with Mr. Kerry saying, “Even in the getting of Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis were helpful. We have people on the ground in Pakistan because they allow us to have them.”