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Remove Terrorist Sanctuaries, Say Members of September 11 Commission - 2004-08-06

Two members of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks say the United States and its allies must identify and eliminate terrorist havens. Commission members Slade Gorton and Richard Ben-Veniste testified at a congressional hearing in Los Angeles.

The hearing of the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights met at the Los Angeles airport, which ironically had been the target of a failed terrorist attack over the New Year holiday in 2000. A would-be airport bomber, Algerian Ahmed Ressam, was intercepted at the northern U.S. border with a car full of explosives as he tried to enter the country from Canada.

Less than two years later, others would carry out attacks on the opposite side of the country with deadly effectiveness, killing some three thousand people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.

All 19 men involved in that attack trained at al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, and Friday's hearing addressed a recommendation by the so-called 9/11 Commission, that would-be terrorists be denied safe havens. Commission member Slade Gorton says terrorists look for places with rugged terrain, weak governments, and low population.

He says his commission asked U.S. and foreign officials where they would seek a base, if they were terrorists.

"The same places came up again and again on their lists: western Pakistan and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, southern or western Afghanistan, the Arabian peninsula, especially Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and extending southwest into Kenya," he said.

He says the list also includes southeast Asia from Thailand and Indonesia to the southern Philippines, West Africa, including Niger and Mali, and European cities with expatriate Muslim communities, especially in Eastern and Central Europe where security forces and border controls are less effective than elsewhere.

He says another potential haven is in the Middle East. "We also make clear that Iraq would go to the top of the list as a terrorist sanctuary, if it were to become a failed state," he said.

The commission members say, however, that these are not the only places where terrorists can be found, and note that Germany and the United States have also been unwitting havens.

The 9/11 commission proposed creation of a new post of national intelligence director to oversee the 15 agencies that deal with intelligence. Mr. Ben-Veniste told the congressional committee that oversight of the office is important.

"And therefore the Congress has a role, a very critical role, as we have seen, in ensuring that this office will work efficiently and appropriately in providing a legitimate menu to the president of the United States," he said.

The two men say that whoever fills the role of national intelligence director must have full budget authority to exert effective control over all 15 agencies. Echoing the comments of commission colleagues in Washington, Mr. Ben-Veniste said that, otherwise, the new post would only lead to more bureaucracy, which he says would be counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.