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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Security expert Colonel Mike Dewar
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The hunt for terrorists responsible for the attacks on the United States is the biggest operation of its kind in American history.

But how difficult is it for the authorities to track down the culprits? What methods of intelligence gathering can they employ? How have the terrorists covered their tracks?

Counter-terrorism and security analyst Colonel Mike Dewar answered your questions in a live forum.

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Transcript:


Newshost:

Jonathan Yates, Blackburn, UK asks: Reports seem to presume that this was a sophisticated attack that required state sponsorship. Surely all it takes is to get a number of people aboard the aircraft with small weapons (knives), who are capable of directing a plane towards a target (supposedly, this is easier than we might expect). Would this really require a multi-million pound support network?


Mike Dewar:

I think your commentator is correct - it doesn't necessarily require state sponsorship. It requires probably quite large sums of money. Those people would have had to have been maintained, sent through flying school - there is now evidence that various people were. We are talking about very large sums of money, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of pounds - that could have been supplied by Osama Bin Laden. So in that sense, he is right, it might have been a private effort but it would have involved hundreds of thousands of pounds.


Newshost:

And clearly well co-ordinated.


Mike Dewar:

Very well co-ordinated. This has been planned for a matter of a year or two. It has involved putting pilots through flying school, it's involved getting them to the United States, putting them in place, paying for them to live there, to rent motorcars and all the expenses of living for a long period of time.


Newshost:

Richard Turner, London, UK asks: Why is everyone so adamant that it was carried out by an Islamic militant organization? I feel it seems more likely that this was perpetrated internally. There are enough fundamentalists within the States to pull this off.


Mike Dewar:

No I don't think that is at all likely. I am very sure that this was an outside effort. All the evidence is that these were people infiltrated from the Middle East - we don't know precisely where. These are unlikely to have been US citizens. They could have been people who have been living there, maybe for some years but I would doubt that it was strictly speaking an indigenous effort. There are not too many American citizens who are willing to commit suicide - I think that is probably the defining reason.


Newshost:

Bill Chidley, London, UK asks: Is it true that Osama Bin Laden received training, funds and equipment from CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan?


Mike Dewar:

It is certainly true that the CIA provided funding to buy weapons for the Muhajadin during that war. I don't know specifically whether Osama Bin Laden was provided with funding - I doubt it, in that in those days he was actually resident in Saudi Arabia.


Newshost:

A similar point from James O'Keeffe, Dublin, Ireland who asks: Is it true that the CIA used to support Osama Bin Laden and now it has totally backfired?


Mike Dewar:

The answer is I don't think it is true - even it were true I am afraid alliances change and trying to score points like you seem to be, I think is very unfair. The British have in the past provided destroyers to Argentina and those same destroyers arguably were used against us. Sadly the world changes and circumstances change and we don't all have the ability to forecast the future.


Newshost:

Vivek Dixit, Singapore asks: How long would such an operation have taken to plan? Such an operation seems to have been simple yet deadly in its effect, yet the scale of it should have required extensive planning and therefore run the risk of leakage and being detected. Is it not then indeed a huge failure of intelligence agencies not to have detected it?


Mike Dewar:

Yes, it is a failure. By definition it is a failure but I don't think it is a culpable failure. I think that we have to realise that this was an unprecedented form of terrorism - it wasn't being looked for, quite simply. It was beyond the imagination of, I think, any Western mind, it is fair to say, that someone would actually hijack several aircraft and fly them into skyscrapers - not only killing themselves but maybe 5,000 - 8,000 people. So I don't think it is a culpable failure. There were general indications of terrorist attack - there were no specific indications picked up of this sort of attack. It is very easy to point fingers with the benefit of hindsight - I don't believe there was a culpable failure.


Newshost:

Jonathan Tepper in London UK asks: How good is the CIA's human intelligence in the Arabic-speaking world? How much intelligence assistance can Mosad offer the CIA and NSA with Arabic groups?


Mike Dewar:

I think that is a very good question. The answer is that the human intelligence capabilities of the CIA in the Middle East are very limited. The Americans have never been particularly strong in that field - actually MI6 is rather better at that and we have a better capability in the Middle East.

Also you are quite right to point out Mosad's capabilities and they have close links with the CIA. So American intelligence will be very largely in the region garnered from Mosad intelligence and, you'll be surprised to hear, to some extent from British intelligence. We have in Cyprus a very crucial and strategic listening post capability on the top of Mount Troodos and that produces a massive amount of intelligence which of course is passed onto American intelligence agencies.


Newshost:

Surya, Lafayette, USA asks: Why is it that the US seeks Pakistani support even though they know that Pakistan has been a strong supporter of terrorism?


Mike Dewar:

Pakistan has always been also at the same time an ally of the United States. But I agree it is a mixed relationship. I wouldn't say they were strong supporters of terrorism per se - they have to maintain sensible and reasonable links with a neighbouring Islamic country, namely, Afghanistan and they have to keep their own population, of course, happy and, if you like, pander to Islamic sensitivities which is entirely understandable. So it is a difficult balancing act for the Pakistani Government and I think one has to feel for them - it is a conundrum that one - they are friends but they also have to survive. It is important that the Pakistani Government survives and maintains the support of its own people.


Newshost:

Barry Hurley in Cambridge, UK asks: What do you think the likelihood is of an American and Soviet partnership formed to track down these terrible people? This could be the chance to seal a positive relationship with Russia. I would hope that President Bush would pre-warn Mr Putin of an attack on the Middle East to allow Mr Putin to get his people out.


Mike Dewar:

I think that is another very good question. You have only got to look at a map to see the importance of Russia in this equation. Russia has influence over Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, which of course if there is going to be ground entry into Afghanistan - if there is I would say - those countries could well be useful. There is also the so-called Northern Alliance headed by Masoud - if he is still alive - in northern Afghanistan and that could well be a route into Afghanistan. Also, of course, Pakistan could be another route.

So it is very important that President Putin is kept informed - I couldn't agree more - and all the signs are that he is being kept informed. Yes, I agree, there is potential here for Russian/American co-operation.


Newshost:

Well, Russia of course has had a fairly unhappy history in Afghanistan which prompts the question from Richard in London, UK who asks: How likely is a full-blown land assault on Afghanistan. Surely it would fail if the "brutal" Soviets could not succeed?


Mike Dewar:

Yes, I think you are probably right. I don't we are in the business of a land invasion of Afghanistan. Conceivably we could be in the business of some sort of special forces action - a more surgical, precise action in Afghanistan - that must be an option. But I agree, land invasions of that sort of countryside in the conventional sense are out of the question.

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