U.S. policies on terrorism found `seriously deficient'

National panel's study faults CIA and FBI

June 04, 2000|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A new congressionally ordered report on the changing threat of global terrorism bluntly warns that U.S. policies are "seriously deficient" in the face of a foe that is increasingly dangerous and difficult to counter.

The National Commission on Terrorism report, which will be released tomorrow, specifically faults the CIA for being "overly risk-averse" and criticizes the FBI for various "bureaucratic and cultural obstacles."

The 10-member independent panel recommends that President Clinton consider imposing limited diplomatic and military sanctions on Greece and Pakistan, both longtime U.S. allies, for "not cooperating fully on counterterrorism."

The commission's findings go much further than the State Department's annual report on global terrorism, which was issued last month. That document sharply criticized both Greece and Pakistan but stopped short of calling for sanctions. "Basically, we're saying we've been too cautious and too risk-averse in our approach to terrorism," L. Paul Bremer III, a former career diplomat who is chairman of the commission, said in an interview.

The commission charges that the federal government has yet to prepare adequately for a "catastrophic terrorist threat or attack" involving biological agents, deadly chemicals or nuclear weapons. Among other recommendations, it calls on Congress to ban the possession of such critical pathogens as anthrax.

"We need to take better steps to get ahead of the curve on biological terrorism," Bremer said. "We need to be ready. And we're not."

The 64-page report urges the CIA to modify internal guidelines adopted in 1995 that require field agents to obtain high-level approval before employing the services of clandestine informants who have engaged in illegal activities, including human-rights abuses.

The panel says the new rules "send an unmistakable message" to CIA case officers that recruiting clandestine sources of terrorist information, including those who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes, "is encouraged in theory but discouraged in practice."

"This has inhibited the recruitment of essential, if sometimes unsavory, terrorist informants and forced the United States to rely too heavily on foreign intelligence services," the report says.

Panel member Jane Harman, a former member of Congress, said the commission was not suggesting giving the CIA "carte blanche to hire thugs and murderers." But she said numerous CIA field officers in Europe and the Middle East complained of the current rules. "We certainly heard from the field that the guidelines are limiting," she said.

Bill Harlow, the CIA spokesman, disputed that charge. "The notion that our human-rights guidelines are an impediment to fighting terrorism is simply wrong," he said. "No one knows better than we do that, when combating terrorism, it is often necessary to deal with unsavory individuals. But we do so with eyes wide open and appropriate notification to senior officials."

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