House Intel Chairman: “Step on the Gas” & “Break the Back” of Confused Al Qaeda

By John R Parkinson

May 11, 2011 12:57pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@jrpabcdc) reports: 

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers, says that with al Qaeda confused and on the run now that its leader Osama bin Laden is dead, now is not the time scale back the intelligence community's presence in the Middle East, but rather the time to “step on the gas” and “break the back” of the terrorist organization. 

Rogers, R-Michigan, appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations Wednesday morning to warn policy makers against scaling back policies that contributed to the successful elite Special Forces operation that killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan May 2. 

“Al Qaeda is alive and well. They are hurt, they’re damaged, their inspirational and operational leader has been taken off of the battlefield, which is a huge opportunity for us. The confusion with them is opportunity for us and this is the time to step on the gas and break their back,” Rogers said. “We need to make sure all the policy makers from the executive branch to Congress understand that all of the things that led up to Osama bin Laden have to be a) improved on and b) they need to have the leadership behind them so they can continue to produce the kind of information that will get us [al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman] al-Zawahiri.”

“This is our chance to break the back of al Qaeda,” he added. “It’s no opportunity for us to retreat.”

Rogers said “9/11 was result of what didn’t happen” and pointed to cuts to intelligence services in the 1990s as a critical error in enabling al Qaeda to get stronger and most sophisticated  –two elements that eventually proved to exceed intelligence estimates in the years leading up to the September 11, 2001. 

Rogers insisted that now is the “wrong time to back off funding” the intelligence community and said calls from some Members of Congress to cut the nation’s intelligence posture in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“When 9/11 happened it took a unit that was fairly obscure, didn’t get all the resources and made it incredibly important,” Rogers said. “So what we realized is…we don’t have enough human intelligence. We don’t have the ability to touch people using the correct language in the correct place as often as we would like. Our ability to have signals collection and places where we need it was lacking and it was very Washington, DC centered to the rest of the world. We didn’t really coordinate as well as we could.” 

Rogers, who is a former FBI special agent, shot down the assertion that the war in Iraq and the controversy surrounding the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques may have actually delayed the flow of intelligence that led to Bin Laden. 

“All of the interrogations that were conducted over time – you took someone off a battlefield, you’re going to talk to them. I don’t think you have to use torture to get information. I’m a former FBI guy, obviously. We had our ways,” Roger said. “But all those interrogations netted information that helped us get smarter about who they were and how they operated, and everybody that you talked to, that gives you an opportunity to solve that next big problem for our effort to break the back of al Qaeda. So yes, I think we should be interrogating people.” 

The chairman also revealed that CIA Director Leon Panetta told him that if Bin Laden were to be captured alive, the only facility deemed secure enough to cage Public Enemy No. 1 was the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison that President Obama had campaigned to close down. 

“The director of the CIA said if we got Bin Laden, he would have to go to Guantanamo Bay because that’s the one facility that not only is protected from  people inside from getting out, but also from outside people getting in,” Rogers said. “We do need to have a place to put [captured high value targets]. If we get Zawahiri off the battlefield, where do you put him?” 

Rogers said Panetta has done “exceptionally good job at CIA” and said that while he believed General David Petraeus would “do a great job” as his replacement, he would miss Panetta as he transitions to the Pentagon.

Asked whether Pakistan helped hide Bin Laden and whether the United States could trust the country as a valued ally in the War on Terrorism, Rogers said there was no evidence yet of high-ranking officials providing safe haven for Bin Laden, but called Pakistan “one of the most confusing relationships” for the U.S.

“Clearly he had a logistics network. Who knew and what they knew is something we’re asking lots of questions about,” Rogers said. “I think it’s inherent as our relationship continues here that we know who, what, when and why about Osama bin Laden being in this particular compound for as much as five years. We should all understand that.”

“Today from all information I have seen, we can’t conclusively say that somebody senior knew and promoted safe haven [for Bin Laden]. Clearly may have been elements that knew and looked other way, but we can’t say the institutions yet knew and looked the other way, but we will know that I believe,” Rogers added. “This is a good opportunity for Pakistan to say ‘listen, this was embarrassing, let’s move forward.’ There’s a lot we can do together and let’s talk about all of the things we can do together.” 

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