Senate Democrats

The Iraq Accountability Project: A Wrap-Up Of This Week’s Senate Oversight On Iraq

This week Senate Democrats continued to pursue aggressive oversight of the President’s conduct of the war.  While the President and Senate Republicans have chosen to follow a failed stay-the-course strategy in Iraq, Senate Democrats continued to hold the President accountable for his failed strategy.

Thursday, May 3rd

Senate Armed Services Committee

“Hearing to receive testimony on United States Central Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2008 and the Future Years Defense Program.”

Admiral Fallon agreed that political compromise is critical to success in Iraq.

SEN. LEVIN: Admiral, you said in your opening statement for the record that the most important need in achieving our strategic goals would be good leadership by the government of Iraq. Do you agree that the solution in Iraq has got to be a political solution based on compromise among the Iraqis themselves, and that that agreement is essential if we’re going to end the violence?

ADMIRAL WILLIAM J. FALLON, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: Senator, it’s very clear that success in Iraq is going to be greatly dependent and, I believe, not possible, without the firm commitment and demonstration by the political leadership in that country that they are acting in the interests of the entire population.

The Iraqi government is falling behind on critical benchmarks.

SEN. LEVIN: Here’s what Secretary Rice wrote to me in her letter of January 30. She said that Iraq’s policy committee on national security has agreed upon a set of political, security and economic benchmarks and an associated timeline, in September of 2006. These were reaffirmed by the Presidency Council on October 16, 2006, and referenced by the Iraq Study Group. They also were posted on the president of Iraq’s Web site.

Now, these benchmarks included the following. They were supposed to, by September of 2006, form a constitutional review committee, approve law and procedures to form regions, agree on a political timetable, approve the law for independent high electoral commission, approve provincial election laws and set date for provincial elections, approve a de-Baathification law by November.  The constitutional review committee was supposed to complete its work by January of ’07, and by March of ’07, the constitutional amendments referendum was supposed to have been held.

 Were any of those things accomplished as far as you know?

ADMIRAL FALLON: Senator, they’ve been working all of these issues. There’s been progress made, at least from their reports to me and my understanding. They are not moving, in my opinion, fast enough to support what we’re trying to do in that country. And I think that, making sure that the leadership in Iraq understands that we don’t have unlimited time, that we must move forward, that they’re going to have to make these tough decisions, is important.

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, my question was, were those specific benchmarks met within the timeline that they set for themselves?

ADMIRAL FALLON:  Clearly, they have not been able to stay on their – what they originally hoped to do here.

Senator Reed asks Admiral Fallon about long-term planning for force levels in Iraq.

SEN. REED: And what plan guidance are you giving your planners for force levels in Iraq three years out?

ADMIRAL FALLON: I haven’t gotten to that level of detail. Right now we’re working very hard to try to give General Petraeus the support he needs to complete the influx of forces, but I’ve asked them to start taking a look at alternatives for where we might want to be in the future. I envision that we will want to be – and we will be asked to be – in Iraq for some period of time with some representation of U.S. capability, just as we do in other countries. Now, what that’s going to be, how soon we transition to what might be an enduring presence there to do the kind of things we do in other countries, I think is something that we need to be thinking about right now and start doing at least the initial planning for.

REED: In that context, are you developing plans for redeploying forces out of Iraq – as a contingency at least?

FALLON: I do not have plans right now to do that. But it’s certainly something that we’re going to think about and take under advisement, as we should to provide group peer counseling, training, coping mechanisms and strategies.

Admiral Fallon says we must be “steadfast in our messages” to push the Iraqi government to make the necessary political compromises.

SEN. SESSIONS:  We were there and [the Iraqi government] kept telling us, we want more time for this and more time for that, and a sense that they just would not understand the urgency of it. I understand that there’s a plan for a two-month summer recess in the Iraqi parliament. Can you give us your impressions on that summer recess – which I think is unacceptable – and your evaluation of the sense in which this government is capable of making the decisions on oil and reconciliation that really are important to us?

ADMIRAL FALLON: Senator, that’s the number one question, in my mind, is their ability, as well as willingness, to do this. The heads are nodding affirmatively, "Yes, we understand. Yes, we’re going to do this." When these things come up like this two-month holiday, immediately, I know Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have pushed back on it. I think it was Dr. Rubai, the national security adviser, the other day said, this will be addressed. They’re not going to take a two-month vacation. We’re going to get them to work, which is clearly necessary. How can we have our people out there fighting and dying, if they’re off on vacation, instead of addressing the most pressing issue, which is getting the kind of reconciliation sense in the minds of the people?

SEN. SESSIONS: Well, that certainly worries me, I’ve got to tell you. This government has got to be functional, if we’re going to support it.

ADMIRAL FALLON: I think we need to be steadfast in our messages from here and from all of our coalition forces, that the only acceptable behavior here is going to be them stepping up to take those tough decisions, however difficult they may be, to give their people the confidence that they can trust and believe in their government.

 Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
“The Internet:  A Portal to Violent Islamist Extremism”

The Internet has become a key tool that terrorists use for recruiting and planning, allowing the rapid and cheap dissemination of terrorist ideology.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: It is another irony of the digital age that the Internet – invented by the Department of Defense as a way to ensure undisrupted communications in the event of an enemy attack – is now being used to recruit and train the terrorists who plot such lethal attacks against American and other western targets. As we will hear today, Islamists who have made a global political ideology out of a religion, use the Internet as a way to reach across national boundaries to recruit new soldiers, sympathizers and financial supporters. It is a focused campaign in which Islamist terrorists use the Internet to broadcast news, propagandize, and conduct on-line classes in terrorist tactics and ideology. They also use the Internet to transcend gaps in space and time, to research potential targets and share information with each other about planned operations….

MICHAEL S. DORAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC POLICY, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: While this struggle bears some comparison with past ideological conflicts, it differs in that the Internet allows relatively small organizations with limited resources, such as Al-Qaeda, to broadcast messages across the globe instantaneously. In past conflicts, only nation states could disseminate their messages so widely. Terrorists are using the Internet now more than ever in an attempt to influence the global political environment. Al-Qaeda and its associates, in particular, use the Internet to spread their political ideology, disseminate the extremist interpretation of religion that supports it, and coordinate their operations…

Those characteristics that turned the Internet virtually overnight into an indispensable tool of our day-to-day life have also made it a boon to terrorist organizations: using the Internet is cheap; it allows the rapid dissemination of text, video, and audio files; and, importantly, it allows anonymous communications to very large audiences. The benefits to terrorist groups of a cheap and anonymous multi-media communications system are obvious.

LIUTENANT COLONEL JOSEPH H. FELTER, DIRECTOR, COMBAT TERRORISM CENTER (CTC), U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY: The real center of gravity of the violent movement that sustains Al-Qaeda are the ideas of radical jihadist thought. It is these ideas, not necessarily the individual leaders, which insulate Al-Qaeda against U.S. pressure and enable the movement to spread even as its leaders are captured or killed. The Internet facilitates the dissemination of these ideas and, perhaps more importantly, offers like-minded would-be terrorists the ability to network around these dangerous concepts.

It is not possible to capture, kill, or incarcerate ideas. We should not think of Al-Qaeda in terms of organizational charts and bureaucratic hierarchies that typify a conventional military enemy. Al-Qaeda has become a brand name, a way of seeing the world. This global movement would not be possible without the pervasiveness of Internet accessibility and the capability it offers Al-Qaeda’s thought-leaders to define the way disillusioned youth think about the world. The Internet allows thousands of disenfranchised and displaced individuals to build a virtual community of followers bound together only by a body of shared ideas and digital relationships. We cannot prevent all of these relationships from forming or stop the generation of these ideas, but we can do a better job of understanding how the Internet facilitates these processes so we can monitor and thwart those who join the jihadi movement.

FRANK J. CILLUFFO, ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY POLICY INSTITUTE, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Internet chat rooms are now supplementing and replacing mosques, community centers and coffee shops as venues for recruitment and radicalization by terrorist groups like al Qaeda. The real time, two-way dialogue of chat rooms has taken the fight global, enabling extremist ideas to be shared, take root, be reaffirmed and spread exponentially. Use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) has made a range of terrorist operational activities cheaper, faster, and more secure. Communications. Fundraising. Planning and coordination. Training. Information gathering and data mining. Propaganda and spreading misinformation. Radicalization and recruitment. The list is long, and not even complete.

Use of the Internet by terrorists groups has evolved over time. Terrorists once used the Internet primarily to support operations. Increasingly, however, the World Wide Web is also used for another purpose: to spread radical ideologies faster, wider, and more effectively than ever before possible. Radicalization, whether facilitated by CMC, face-to-face interaction, or other means, can create pools of like-minded believers who may go on to enlist into terrorist movements and plan and commit acts of violence. Radicalization is the lifeblood of the global extremist jihadi Salafist movement, generating new recruits for existing groups or creating environments in which new groups arise.

Military strategies alone are not sufficient in our efforts against terrorism.

MR. CILLUFFO: Our adversaries comprise a global, transnational insurgency. To prevail against it, we must win in the battle for hearts and minds, remove terrorist masterminds, and offer hope and opportunity to those who might otherwise be seduced by the jihadi ideology. We have entered a new phase of this struggle and must rethink our strategy as a result. Military activities and hunting down individual terrorists are alone insufficient.

Terrorists use the Internet to involve more and more people in their cause by creating virtual networks that are difficult to track.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: The most macabre example of their exploitation of the Internet is one we will hear today from Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Felter, director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. In an effort to raise its visibility and recruit new members, an Iraqi insurgent group held a website design contest open to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. First prize was the opportunity to launch a rocket attack against American forces in Iraq, with just the click of the mouse from the winner’s computer. These are not the efforts of amateurs. Terrorist groups run their own professional media production companies that produce video and audio for Internet broadcast, they create websites, chat rooms, online forums, libraries and video games that promote the Islamist agenda. They are a clear and present danger.

DEP. ASST. SEC. DORAN: The anonymity of the web and the ready availability of a virtual space for posting material in large quantities make it easy for terrorist-related sites to pop up temporarily, publish new material, and then move to another address when necessary. Once the material has been published, it is immediately duplicated on a large number of sites located on servers across the globe. The speed with which this dissemination occurs poses a serious challenge to those in the U.S. government working to locate hostile sites, and assess their content. In fact, the web has created conditions that make it possible for us to imagine a wholly new type of terrorist network – one that is almost entirely virtual – composed of individuals who are not personally known to each other but who are animated by the same ideology and willing to coordinate actions in pursuit of it.

LT. COL. FELTER: Jihadi thinkers see themselves waging a series of insurgencies that are linked intellectually by a shared ideology. The key to their victory, they argue, is winning the hearts and minds of various Muslim constituencies. The two primary ways in which jihadi thinkers have sought to do this is by: 1) indoctrinating successive generations of Muslim youth with the jihadi value-system; 2) creating as many possible new avenues for Muslims to participate in the jihadi movement.

The terrorists are taking advantage of the web’s potential to greatly expand opportunities for their followers and sympathizers to support this deadly movement. For example, one book available online, entitled 39 Ways to Participate in Jihad, spells out a variety of options to aid and abet the terrorists’ cause short of overt participation in terrorist attacks and many facilitated by the Internet. For example, the book urges supporters to spread news about jihadis fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today we see thousands of websites springing up to distribute information created by terrorists and insurgents in those countries. The book also encourages parents to teach their children about the path of jihad. It urges mothers to socialize their children with a jihadi mindset from an earlier age by reading them bedtime stories of the great jihadi fighters or showing them videos of successful jihadi attacks against American forces. Today we see video games distributed online that focus on killing effigies of President Bush and teaching a distorted version of history that emphasizes the role of terrorists.

Senators and witnesses offered suggestions to counter the use of the Internet by terrorists.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: The United States must take the challenge posed by these Internet terrorists very seriously and launch an aggressive coordinated and effective response. We cannot cede cyberspace to the Islamist terrorists. We must do everything we can as quickly as we can to disrupt their websites and compete with them for the attention of all who frequent them. We need to monitor these sites constantly for information and use them to exploit divisions among different sects and factions. We need to recruit “trolls” who can sow seeds of doubt on the different extremist websites and chat rooms. And we must develop the ability to shut these sites down when danger is imminent. It’s tragic that the Internet – this marvelous 21st Century technology – has become a twisted tool for those who seek to kill innocent people and try to sow fear and division in the free world.

LT. COL. FELTER: Given what we know about how radical Islamic extremists are harnessing the power of the Internet, the CTC believes efforts to combat the threats posed by these terrorists can be enhanced through 1) developing a more comprehensive understanding of the ideology fueling Islamic radicalism which is exported online; 2) better exploiting the terrorists organizational rifts and network vulnerabilities that they expose online and 3) expanding opportunities to support our collective efforts to combat the terrorist threat harnessing more diverse communities of expertise that can contribute to the fight.

MR. CILLUFFO: Drawing on the collective knowledge of recognized specialists in religion, psychology, information technology, communications, law, intelligence matters, and other fields, we offer a five-pronged plan that contains a range of ideas to guide our response postures both online and offline, and heighten their effectiveness. These proposals are informed by three key themes: how and why individuals are influenced via CMC; the need to counter extremist speech with an effective counter-narrative that challenges extremist ideology and offers an alternative to those who feel alienated and marginalized; and the importance of intelligence work to inform counterterrorism and the counter-narrative.

1.      Craft a compelling counter-narrative for worldwide delivery, in multimedia, at and by the grassroots level….

2.      Foster intra- and cross-cultural dialogue and understanding to strengthen the ties that bind together communities at the local, national, and international levels….

3.      Recognize and address the need for additional behavioral science research into the process of radicalization both online and offline….

4.      Deny or disrupt extremist access to, and extremist efforts through, the Internet via legal and technical means, and covert action, where appropriate….

5.      Remedy resource and capability gaps in government.

Wednesday, May 2nd

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense
The committee heard testimony in CLOSED session on Defense Intelligence.