Downing Resignation Bodes Ill for Terror War
debkafile Special Analysis, 29 June, 2002
The surprise resignation of retired Army General Wayne A. Downing as deputy national security adviser to the president for combating terrorism, on Thursday, June 27, is bad news for the road ahead of America’s war on terror, according to debkafile‘s intelligence sources.
The walkout of the forceful, down to earth Gen. Downing after 10 months on the job has been variously explained as a reaction to the preoccupation with terrorism at the top White House level – the president, the vice president and the national security adviser – on a day to day basis leaving him little to do, or discomfort with his role as a “coordinated” member of the White House staff.
According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, however, the general left because he strongly disapproved of the way the Bush administration is handling the anti-terror offensive, and more particularly its intelligence side.
In the beginning he got his way. He won the battle against the intelligence bureaucracy over the creation of a new data fusion center capable of keeping a 24-hour watch on terrorist activities and tracking all related interagency intelligence. Downing had begun assigning staff to the new center when word came down that it was to be swallowed up in the proposed Homeland Security Department, which the president finally approved.
As this veteran general saw it, the center’s function should have been to bring together all the incoming data on terror and make it instantly available for operational uses. For instance, US Special Forces encountering al Qaeda activity out in the field in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Persian Gulf would be able to access the identities of its leader and participants by hitting a few keys on their mobile computers. By the same process, they would file back to the center any new data garnered by surveillance in the field.
Damascus international airport would have been a perfect example, since it has become the primary transit hub for al Qaeda operatives traveling back and forth through the Middle East and on to the Balkans. Certain Damascus hotels are the secure haunts of these travelers while they wait for outgoing flights. Watchers at these hotels would be in a position to find out how many terrorists were staying at the hotel at any given time, what flights they are booked on and their destinations, passing it on to the center with running updates.
Damascus is but one extreme example of a source concentration of live data.
At present, raw intelligence of this caliber reaches US intelligence in the form of fragments scattered among the 6 – 8 different US intelligence bodies engaged in tracking and fighting terrorism. Instead of converging in a central information pool, the scraps move sluggishly and randomly from agency to agency, depending on clearance from relevant department heads, who may be guided more by turf battles and budgetary considerations than by the task at hand.
The raw intelligence then passes to analysts and evaluators who come to diverse conclusions. Someone in high authority has to put them all together and decide how to act on the final result.
Downing proposed cutting through this bureaucratic blockage in the intelligence flow with his centralized data pool.
He tendered his resignation significantly on the day that CIA director George Tenet and FBI director Robert Mueller 3rd made a rare joint appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to refute the criticism often heard in congress of the two services’ inability to work together and share information. Better coordination, it is often said, might have prevented or disrupted the al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington.
Both directors made an effort to demonstrate that their traditionally rival intelligence-security agencies could work together in the new Homeland Security Department. Yet their cautiously worded statements showed there is still a long way to go for real cooperation in fighting terror.
Mueller promised that new information-sharing capabilities inside the FBI – and with the CIA -would support the new department. But Tenet noted the separate ways in which the CIA, FBI and new homeland security agency would have individual but complementary roles in dealing with terror. He also said: “I am committed to assuring that the new department receives all of the relevant terrorist-related intelligence available”, implying that raw intelligence would not be handed over before processing and selection. Mueller opposed congressional proposals to relocate the FBI’s counter-terrorism functions in the new department.
Without mentioning the World Trade Center attacks in 1993 and 2001, the CIA director obliquely responded to charges against his agency (leveled in a seriesdebkafile ran in May “How Much Do US Presidents Know about Terror?”), when he told the Senate committee that America could not move from threat to threat in the future without putting in place “security procedures that prevent terrorists from returning to the same target years later.”
He added that “just because a specific attack does not occur does not mean that a category of
targets is no longer of interest to the terrorists.”
The central charge in that series was that the incumbent US President and the CIA deliberately ignored the writing left on the wall of the WorldTradeCenter by al Qaeda terrorists in 1993, the first time they tried to bring the towers down – and failed. This disregard left the site defenseless against the second calamitous strike.
General Downing, after his White House experience, was evidently unimpressed by the fine promises of secret sharing between the FBI and CIA directors and between them and the new homeland security department as an effective intelligence blade for warding off the next al Qaeda assault in the United States.
Like in 1993, not enough lessons have been drawn from the 9/ll disasters to prepare America for the fight ahead. If nearly 10 months after that trauma, America has still not set up a central data bank with updated rundowns and assessments on terrorist tactics, methods, targets, timelines and threats, then maybe America is not yet in shape to take on global terror.
In an interview Friday, June 28, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld informed the Washington Times that al Qaeda has obtained fresh supplies, including advanced weapons systems, for fighting the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He did not by the slightest hint indicate the supplier, or explain how with the international peace force in place and American troops surrounding Afghanistan, those supplies got through to Afghanistan – or reached Pakistan.
It was clear from his words that al Qaeda is not only alive and well, but kicking again, although the Americans destroyed its bases in Afghanistan and ousted its Taliban hosts. The lesson here is that al Qaeda may have lost its territorial base but has acquired instead a light-footed mobility.
DEBBAfile’s military and intelligence sources fill in some of the information not forthcoming from Rumsfeld. Two governments have taken charge of the financing, purchase and transfer of fresh weapons supplies to al Qaeda: Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Pakistani acquiescence.
The terror network has won a clear logistical field, ranging from Afghanistan through the Persian Gulf, Syria and Lebanon, Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. Al Qaeda can today move men and weapons unimpeded between Asia, the Middle East and Persian Gulf and all the way to Balkan Europe.
As for infiltrating the United States, al Qaeda has developed an active sea route of containers (as revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly on June 18 and 26) docking at American commercial ports.
In Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, the Islamic organization, led by the Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, is assembling an Islamic army with Saudi funding and Iranian instructors.
No combat force on earth can fight these flourishing terrorist resources without first-rate, real-time intelligence. America, withal its technological prowess, is weighed down by an unwieldy intelligence bureaucracy, holding it back from meeting the intelligence challenges posed by a spreading terrorist enemy.
That was why the official warnings and alarms ahead of July 4 sounded so vague and unconvincing. Targeting the Statue of Liberty, the Rushmore monument, nuclear stations, computerized traffic centers, water and electricity, is well beyond al Qaeda’s operational capabilities inside America.
Israel has offered a certain amount of data on a regular basis to the as yet unborn Department for Homeland Security. Minister of Internal Security Uzi Landau and Brig-Gen David Tzur were in Washington this week to discuss with US officials the creation of a joint anti-terror office, mainly as a communication hub, for the new department.