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Rumsfeld Testifies Before Sept. 11 Commission

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2004 – On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was meeting with members of Congress. He stressed to them that the United States had to be prepared for the unexpected.

Shortly after, he was informed a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City, and then that another plane had hit the other tower. "At 9:38, the Pentagon shook with an explosion of then-unknown origin," Rumsfeld told members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Rumsfeld and former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen testified before the "9/11 Commission" at the Hart Senate Office Building here today. Rumsfeld told the commission that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States.

"We can't know where, or when, or by what technique," he said. "That reality drives those of us in government to ask the questions when and how might that attack be attempted, and what will we need to have done today and every day before the attack to prepare for it, and if possible, prevent it."

Rumsfeld said the attacks of Sept. 11 changed the world, and the old 20th century world died that day along with 3,000 victims. "We've entered a new security environment, arguably the most dangerous the world has known, and if we're to continue to live as free people, we cannot go back to thinking the way the world thought on Sept. 10," he said. "For if we deal with the problems of the 21st century through a 20th century prism, we will most certainly come to the wrong conclusions."

Rumsfeld personally saw the destruction of Sept. 11. He felt the flames, he smelled the burning fuel, and he saw the agony of the victims. "I asked the same question posed to this commission," Rumsfeld said. "What, if anything, could have been done to prevent it?"

Rumsfeld told the commission he knew of "no intelligence during the six-plus months leading up to Sept. 11 that indicated terrorists would hijack commercial airliners (and) use them as missiles to fly into the Pentagon or the World Trade Center towers."

Following Sept. 11, the United States put together a 90-nation coalition against terrorism. In short order, the coalition attacked terrorists in Afghanistan, drove the Taliban who shielded al Qaeda from power, and killed or captured two-thirds of the known al Qaeda leaders.

The secretary spoke to the difficulty of trying to prevent a terrorist attack on the order of Sept. 11. Today, few would argue that the United States should launch a preemptive attack on a terrorist enemy, he said. But before Sept. 11, the secretary asked, what would have happened if any U.S. president had gone to Congress and said, 'We need to invade Afghanistan, depose the Taliban and destroy the al Qaeda"? "How many countries would have joined? Many? Any? Not likely," Rumsfeld said.

Objections to preemption similar to those voiced before the coalition launched Operation Iraqi Freedom would have been raised, he said. "History shows it can sometimes take a tragedy like Sept. 11 to awaken the world to new threats and the need for action," the secretary said.

Rumsfeld said that by the beginning of 2001, it was apparent that the typical way of dealing with terrorism primarily as a problem for law enforcement to solve was not working. The Bush administration, he added, was working on a new strategy to not just contain terrorists, but to eliminate them. The National Security Presidential Directive 9, which implemented the new strategy, was presented just seven days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the same time the directive was being worked, the Defense Department was reviewing U.S. defense strategy with the goal of moving the department to the capabilities to confront the asymmetric threats of the 21st century, Rumsfeld said. At the heart of that review was that the first priority of DoD was to defend the people and territory of the United States against a broad range of asymmetric threats. The department also moved from the old "threat-based" defense strategy to a "capabilities-based" strategy, he said.

Rumsfeld said the department also reexamined contingency plans with the new realities and assumptions of the 21st century threats.

He said that after Sept. 11 he wrote out some thoughts on the war on terrorism. "I noted that it will take a sustained effort to root the terrorists out," he told the commission, "that the campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, (and) that no terrorists or terrorist networks like al Qaeda (are) going to be conclusively dealt with by cruise missiles or bombers."

He also noted that the coalition would not be fixed, but would change and evolve as the missions changed.

Since Sept. 11, the secretary said, DoD has pursued two tracks: prosecuting the war on terror and accelerating the efforts to transform the military.

Rumsfeld said the commission can help the U.S. military as it moves forward. "Rooting out and dealing with terrorist enemies is tough," he said. "It will require that we think differently than we did in the last century."

He suggested that the commission consider how the United States can strengthen the intelligence community and get better arranged for the 21st century challenges. "I've heard arguments in the wake of 9/11 that we need to consolidate all the intelligence agencies and put them under a single intelligence czar," he said. "In my opinion, that would do our country a great disservice."

There needs to be a multitude of sources for intelligence. What the government needs to do is to look at ways to break down barriers between departments, Rumsfeld said.

The secretary added the United States has to apply resources to combating the ideology of hate that terrorists spread. The United States will continue to capture and kill terrorists, he said, but the country needs to end the conditions that lead to terrorist organizations attracting new recruits.

The secretary also said the nation needs to look at ways to speed up the nomination and confirmation process for political appointees. He said that for six months of 2001, he and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were virtually the only political appointments confirmed in DoD.

Finally, he recommended a "joint" approach to the executive branch. The commission should look at the interagency coordination process and suggest new ways to accomplish it, he suggested.

Contact Author

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

Related Sites:
Text of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's Prepared Opening Statement to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, March 23, 2004
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

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