Top CIA Official Warns Next Terror Attack UnavoidableA top Central Intelligence Agency official has warned Americans that a new terrorist attack is unavoidable, despite all efforts to prevent it and the fact that the CIA is now "stealing more secrets" than ever.
"Now for the hard truth. Despite the best efforts of so much of the world, the next terrorist attack -- it's not a question of if, it's a question of when," CIA Deputy Director for Operation James Pavitt told an academic conference earlier this month.
"With so many possible targets and an enemy more than willing to die, the perfect defense isn't possible."
Pavitt said mounting foolproof countermeasures against terrorism would require sacrificing many civil liberties, which make American society great, and, as a result, would produce a system that, in his view, "is not worth defending."
The warning was contained in an address delivered by Pavitt, who is in charge of all clandestine operations conducted by the agency, at an April 11 conference at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The CIA released its transcript over this weekend.
US law enforcement agencies are already on heightened alert after the Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued at least two terrorism warnings over the past 10 days.
The FBI said it had intelligence about attacks being planned against financial institutions in northeastern US states and against shopping malls.
Pavitt dismissed charges the CIA was caught unaware by September 11 suicide attacks in the United States that killed some 3,000 people.
The CIA knew the network led by Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden was planning a major strike, he said.
But he argued that because al-Qaeda carefully screened its recruits and sharply limited the number of people privy to vital operational details, learning about the coming attacks was next to impossible.
"Against that degree of control, that kind of compartmentation, that depth of discipline and fanaticism, I personally doubt ... that anything short of one of the knowledgeable inner circle personnel or hijackers turning himself in to us would have given us sufficient foreknowledge to have prevented the horrendous slaughter that took place on the 11th," Pavitt said.
But he emphasized the CIA had never left Afghanistan in the wake in the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from the country and continued actively collect intelligence there throughout the ensuing civil war, information that proved vital during Operation Enduring Freedom, launched in the wake of the terror strikes.
"How we knew who to approach on the ground, which operations, which warlord to support, what information to collect?" the deputy director asked. "Quite simply, we were there well before the 11th of September."
Despite the common belief that US military operations in Afghanistan began October 7, Pavitt said CIA paramilitary teams "trained not just to observe conditions but if need be to change them" were on the ground in Afghanistan "within days of that terrible attack."
And hundreds of CIA operatives remain in the country hunting down the remnants of the al-Qaeda network and the Taliban regime, according to the CIA deputy director.
Without providing any details, Pavitt acknowledged his agency's intelligence-gathering capabilities had been tremendously boosted since September 11 and now exceed those it had during the Cold War.
"Today, the year 2002, I have more spies stealing more secrets than at any time in the history of the CIA," he said, adding that the agency was now training more than 10 times as many operatives than just five or six years ago.
The number of operational personnel employed by the CIA as well as the size of the agency's budget remains classified.
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