Details

When

October 29, 2007, 9:00 am - December 18, 2018, 10:42 am

Where

1761 N Street NW
Washington, 20036 (Map)

Frances Fragos Townsend delivered her remarks at MEI's 61st Annual Conference, at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.

 

Ambassador Chamberlin, thank you for your very kind introduction. I should tell the audience, I have had the pleasure during the course of my public service career to work with Wendy when she was both at INL [the Bureau for International Narcotics and law Enforcement Affairs] and when she was ambassador to Pakistan and I was in the Justice Department. It is really a pleasure to be with you and it is a real privilege to have the opportunity to address the 61st annual conference of the Middle East Institute.

As the president discussed in his speech in late August, the United States has vital and enduring interests in the Middle East. Our peoples have been bound historically through faith, education and commerce. The region is home to the cradle of civilization and all three monotheistic religions. Long before the discovery of oil and gas, the area has been a key source of trade. The Middle East remains a strategic crossroads for the entire world.

This conference and the panels that you are hearing from today tackle a full range of issues that will have broad implications for what the landscape of the Middle East may look like in 2010. From my vantage point and given the issues that I am responsible for every day, I would like to outline what we, in concert with our regional partners, are working to achieve in the region from a counterterrorism perspective.

Our strategic vision for the war on terror involves the effective use of all instruments of national power and influence. It involves the killing and capturing of terrorists, denying them save haven, preventing access of terrorists to weapons of mass destruction, cutting off their sources of funding, and basically working to deny them all those things that they need to operate and survive. Ultimately we will work to defeat violent extremism and create an environment that is inhospitable to violent extremists and all those who support them.

To put this vision in context I would like to speak with you today about the terrorist threat confronting the United States and our friends and allies around the world and throughout the Middle East, and our strategy to defeat the deadly scourge of terrorism. The United States faces a persistent and evolving terrorist threat, primarily from violent Islamic extremist groups and cells. Currently the most serious and dangerous persistent manifestation of this threat is al-Qa‘ida; however, the threat does not reside in one group alone. Rather, it emanates from a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks and individuals, and their state and non-state supporters, which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism to serve their ideological ends.

Terrorists are enemies of all humanity and this evil is not based on Islam or any peaceful religious belief. Terrorists are pursuing a violent world vision that is darkened by hate, fear and oppression. For these terrorists there is no peaceful coexistence with those who do not subscribe to their distorted world vision. They accept no dissent and they tolerate no alternate points of view.

The United States is not the only object of their terror. This enemy movement seeks to create and exploit a division between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds and within the Muslim world itself. Indeed, most of the terrorist attacks since September 11 have occurred in Muslim countries and most of the victims have been Muslims. Ultimately, the United States, the Middle East and the broader Muslim community and civilized people everywhere face a terrorist enemy that threatens international security, peace and prosperity and the right of all people to live free from fear of indiscriminate violence.

The United States is fighting back and with the help of our allies and partners we will win this war, but we cannot do it alone. We need our partners and allies to win, and you are fighting the threat just as we do. Since September 11 our most important successes against al-Qa‘ida and other terrorist organizations have been made possible through effective partnerships and we are working with our partners around the globe, and especially in the Middle East, over the short term along four priorities of action.

First and foremost, we are working together to prevent attacks by terrorist networks. Together we are attacking terrorists and their capacity to operate effectively both at home and abroad, denying them what they need to operate and survive. We attack their funding, their travel, their communications, their weapons, their people. For instance, in North Africa we are working with our partners to counter al-Qa‘ida’s expansion in the Maghreb, evident in the emergence of al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Earlier this year I traveled to Morocco, Algeria and Libya to discuss these concerns. Our partners in Algeria have experienced an increase in violence and bombings, including an assassination attempt against President Boutiflika — but Algeria has long been a strong counterterrorism partner, going back to the case of Ahmed Ressam and the millennium bombing investigation. That partnership has only grown stronger with time.

Our counterterrorism cooperation with countries of the Maghreb is effected through intelligence and law enforcement partnerships and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. We continue to strengthen partner capacity to confront the terrorist threat we all face as well as to enhance regional and sub-regional cooperation.

Our partners throughout the Middle East — from Morocco to the Gulf to Pakistan — are disrupting terror cells, identifying or killing key terrorist operatives and starving terrorist networks of the funds and material support required for their survival. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been an important partner in the war against terror. They have taken a number of public steps and together we have submitted a total of ten designations to the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee. Saudi Arabia has acted to restrict the transfer of charitable funds outside of the country and also restricted the movement of cash across its borders.

Our second short-term priority of action is denying WMD to rogue states and their terrorist allies who seek to use them. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists is one of the greatest threats we face, threatening our collective security. We are working with partners across the globe to take aggressive steps to deny terrorists access to WMD-related material, equipment and expertise. We are assisting our friends and allies in their efforts to prevent, deter and respond to WMD threats.

A key part of this effort is the global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism. Launched in July 2006 by the United States and Russia, this initiative establishes an international framework to enhance cooperation, build capacity and act to combat the global threat of nuclear terrorism. This global initiative started with twelve countries; today there are sixty countries participating, including several from the broader Middle East region (Afghanistan, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey). In fact Middle Eastern countries have played key leadership roles in the initiative, with Morocco hosting the first meeting of the initiative, Turkey hosting the second and the government of Kazakhstan hosting the third and most recent meeting this past summer.

We cannot permit the world’s most dangerous terrorists and their regime sponsors to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons. As we work to implement our strategy to combat all WMD terrorism, we take particular care to work together with the full range of foreign partners to prioritize and tailor our capacity-building efforts to the local and regional conditions we face together in this challenge.

Our third short-term priority of action is denying terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states. The United States and its partners and allies in the war on terrorism make no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, and we are working to end the state sponsorship of terror — to break the bonds between rogue states and our collective terrorist enemies.

The United States currently designates five state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba. Iran merits particular attention.

Iran, long a source of violence in the Middle East, is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Tehran plans, supports and finances terrorist operations. It supports groups such as Lebanese Hizballah, which is attempting to undermine Lebanon’s democratic government, and funds groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which target Israel and destabilize the Palestinian territories.

The IRGC Quds Force provides lethal support in the form of weapons, training, funding and guidance to select groups of Iraqi Shi’a militants who target and kill coalition and Iraqi forces and innocent Iraqi civilians. Iran also is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan and remains unwilling to account for and bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida members it detained back in 2003.

We will continue to confront this danger before it is too late. Just last week the United States designated the IRGC and the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics under Executive Order 13328, because of their role in aiding Iran’s stated objectives of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In addition we designated related individuals and entities as a signal that we will make known — especially to the international financial community — the activities of those operating on behalf of those organizations. Also last week, we designated the IRGC Quds Force under Executive Order 13224 for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, and Iran’s state-owned Bank Saderat as a terrorist financer.

We are pressing all state sponsors to take the steps that are required to have those designations rescinded. Each case is unique and our approach to each will be tailored accordingly. Some states, based on their actions and policies, have been removed from the state sponsors list. For example, the designation of Iraq as a state sponsor was rescinded in 2004 as it transitioned to democracy, ceased its terrorist support and became a partner in the war on terror. Libya, which has dismantled its nuclear program, can serve as a model for states who wish to rejoin the community of nations. Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terror was rescinded in 2006.

Our fourth short-term priority of action is denying terrorists control of any nation they would use as a base and launching pad for terror. Terrorist enemies are striving to claim a strategic country as a haven for terror. From this base they could destabilize the Middle East and strike America and other countries with ever-increasing violence.

Today, terrorists see Iraq as a central front in the war on terror. The president recently framed it this way: “The challenge in Iraq comes down to this: either the forces of extremism succeed or the forces of freedom succeed. Either our enemies advance their interests in Iraq or we advance our interests. The most important and immediate way to counter the ambitions of al-Qa‘ida and Iran and other forces of instability and terror is to win the fight in Iraq.”

We also will continue to work to prevent the exploitation by terrorists of ungoverned or under-governed areas as safe havens in other regions of the world. Such areas allow our terrorist enemies to plan, organize, train and prepare for operations against the innocent. Earlier efforts in the war on terror deprived al-Qa‘ida of its safe haven in Afghanistan and degraded its network by capturing or killing most of those responsible for the tragedy of September 11. However, a recent National Intelligence Estimate produced by the intelligence community noted that the group has protected its top leadership, regenerated its operational lieutenants and worked to reestablish a safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas — each of these core capabilities that could facilitate another attack on our homeland.

Accordingly, we continue to work with President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to capture key al-Qa‘ida operatives and pressure al-Qa‘ida and the Taliban in the FATA. Al-Qa‘ida has made several attempts to assassinate President Musharraf and the Pakistanis understand the threat that al-Qa‘ida and violent extremism pose to their country. Just yesterday in Rawalpindi a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint near a building where President Musharraf was. Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror and we will continue to work with them to defeat al-Qa‘ida.

Many of our key successes in the war on terror were won working with President Musharraf and our Pakistani partners. President Musharraf’s courageous choice to join the struggle against extremism has saved American lives. His government has helped capture or kill many terrorist leaders. For example, Pakistani forces helped capture Abu Zubayda, a man believed to be a trusted associate of ‘Usama bin Laden. Pakistani forces helped capture another individual believed to be one of the key plotters of the September 11 attacks, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Pakistani forces helped capture the man we believe masterminded the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. We will continue to work with Pakistan to ensure that no part of Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists.

Even as the United States and our partners throughout the Middle East and beyond work to defeat terrorism along these four priorities of action over the short term, we recognize that the war on terror is not just a battle of arms — it is also a battle of ideas, a fight against the terrorists, their dark world vision and their murderous ideology. The long-term solution for winning the war on terror is the advancement of freedom and liberty as alternatives to their ideology of hatred and oppression. We ultimately seek a Middle East of secure democratic states that are at peace with one another. We seek justice and human dignity for all people of the Middle East. We encourage countries throughout the region to open their political systems and provide their people with greater voice and participation.

Yet we do not seek to impose our style of democracy on others. It is only the terrorists who seek to impose their values and points of view on others. Rather, we recognize that each country in choosing freedom must move along their own path and reflect local traditions and culture. We also recognize that there are universal human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the president noted during his address this year to the UN General Assembly, “stands as a landmark achievement in the history of human liberty. It opens by recognizing the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Human rights and political freedoms are not Western values; they are universal.” [note: precise end of quote not noted]

The strategy to win the battle of ideas is to counter the lies of the terrorists. We must deny terrorists future recruits and empower the very people that terrorists most want to exploit – the faithful followers of Islam. Vital work is being done within the Islamic world itself. Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait and Indonesia, among others, have made important strides in this effort. Responsible Islamic leaders are denouncing an ideology that distorts and exploits Islam to justify the murder of innocent people and defiles a proud religion. The Kuwaiti government has continued to work closely with us to uncover terrorist activities and to improve its laws and capabilities to combat terrorism. Importantly, the Kuwaitis have implemented a government-funded initiative to combat extremism and spread moderation among Muslims through education, training, international dialogue and research. The government of Saudi Arabia initiated a national campaign to counter terrorism intended to educate school-age children about the evils of terror. The government has also undertaken a comprehensive public awareness campaign, from billboards along roadways to messages on cash machine receipts. Earlier this month the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa condemning violent extremist activities and the financial support of such extremist activities.

Many of the Muslim faith realize they are a target of this ideology of terror. Just to demonstrate how despicable the terrorists are and the depth of their depravity, in one case in Saudi Arabia terrorists defaced and destroyed a holy Qur’an so that the hollowed-out book could be used to hide explosives. Those who commit these horrible acts claim that they act in the name of Islam. This is impossible, for they are takfiris. They are criminals and responsible for the murder of innocent Americans and Muslims, from New York, Washington, Pennsylvania; from Bali to Baghdad; in Kenya and Tanzania. These criminals make victims of the innocent they kill and the peaceful religion of Islam which they dishonor.

Everywhere the US has joined in the fight against terrorism, our allies have stood beside us, becoming partners in this vital cause. Our partners, particularly those throughout the broader Middle East, know the stakes: the survival of liberty, the future of the region, the justice and humanity of your principles and ours. The United States is proud to stand with you.

History has taught us that events and dangers in far-off lands directly and negatively affect our security here at home. We have learned this from World War II and more recently from the tragedy of September 11. But the converse is also true: as countries enhance their own security, particularly by combating terrorism and protecting and defending their homelands, the security of our own homeland increases. Earlier this month the president issued an updated National Strategy for Homeland Security. The strategy builds directly from the 2002 strategy and complements our National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. Although the new document highlights that homeland security is built upon a foundation of partnerships throughout all levels of our nation and society, it also emphasizes the importance of partnerships that extend beyond our nation’s borders. As I said at the beginning, our most significant successes in the war on terror have been made possible through effective partnerships and this is particularly true of our allies in the Middle East.

Continued success will depend on the actions of a powerful coalition of nations maintaining a united front against terror. Middle Eastern countries must continue to play the leading role they have played until now. It is only through transnational cooperation that together we will defeat violent extremism and create an environment that is inhospitable to violent extremists and all those who support them.

It has been a privilege to speak with you. Wendy, I am happy to take questions.

Question & Answer:

Ambassador Chamberlin: The first question comes from a student, Clifton Martin, from the College of William and Mary. When seeking partners in the war against terrorism, does the United States take into consideration the human rights records of those states?

Frances Fragos Townsend: As I mentioned in the course of my remarks, obviously we look to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the UN. We obviously encourage and advocate for the adherence to policies consistent with the UN Declaration for Human Rights. We work to expand a common understanding of what that means, how you implement that. I think we have done that pretty effectively. We have partnerships around the world and we see with those partnerships have come improved human rights records.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Thank you very much. Michael Simon from McNeil Technologies and DynCorp International: Can the US effectively deal with the challenges of Middle East and South Asia terrorism with limited numbers of officials who have in-depth cultural and linguistic expertise? What can the administration do now to promote greater numbers of USG and DOD personnel with higher levels of proficiency in difficult languages?

Frances Fragos Townsend: This has been a persistent challenge going back more than a decade. What we have tried to do is pool critical language resources across the federal government while at the same time increasing the capability we have. There was an education partnership that was cosponsored by Secretary Rice and Secretary Michael Chertoff to try and encourage language programs across American universities and increase and incentivize participation. This continues to be a challenge for us and it is one we now look at trying to anticipate what will be the critical language requirements not just now but in coming years, in future years, so we can anticipate and plan for it.

Ambassador Chamberlin: I would also like to point out that the Middle East Institute has a very aggressive language program. We teach Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi and Turkish in the evenings at the Institute, for those of you who would like to come and study with us. The next question is by S. Ashcromb: How do you propose to deny recruits to terrorist organizations? Does education play a role (madrassahs)?

Frances Fragos Townsend: Education absolutely plays a role but it is not only — it is education systems and improving education reform around the world. Again, we need to understand that when we advocate education reform we are not advocating an American style of an education system. I was the product of a Catholic education and think I was better for it and got a very good basic education. So it is less imposing an American-style education system as suggesting that education reform has got to include science and technology education, it has to include the kinds of skills that will be necessary for people to engage in both political dialogue and the economy as they come of age to enter it.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Sam Witwicki: The homeland security advisory system has been at orange for the airline sector since August 2006. If the new screening procedures adopted by TSA were adequate to counter the liquid explosive threat, why are they still at orange?

Frances Fragos Townsend: It’s interesting, I am happy to take the question about the homeland security advisory system. I think what you have seen over time, since the very beginning when we instituted such a system, is a refinement of how we use it and deploy it. This is an example. You can remember in 2004 there was a threat to the financial system and when we raised the threat level then, it was very targeted to the financial sector in certain cities. We further refined it so that we were able to target it in this instance, after the August 2006 plot targeting airliners with liquid explosives coming out of London to the United States, to just that sort of threat.

It would come down — well, I cannot talk about classified information. We believe that al-Qa‘ida represents a continuing threat in the aviation sector and so the threat level represents not just our countermeasures but also represents the level of threat and intelligence that we see in that area.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Farah Stockman from the Boston Globe: Does President Bush feel a responsibility to ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be halted by the time he leaves office?

Frances Fragos Townsend: The issue about the Iran nuclear program is not a uniquely or solely American one. This is really a question of the international community coming together. While I mentioned in my remarks the financial designations targeted to their nuclear program, there are also sanctions at the UN. This is a concern for the entire international community. It is a particular concern throughout the Middle East, where it is a destabilizing program.

Ambassador Chamberlin: David Pollack from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: How do you assess the terrorist threat in case of confrontation with Iran and how are we preparing for that?

Frances Fragos Townsend: As I mentioned in my remarks, Iran is the single largest state sponsor of terrorism. They remarkably continue to advocate the use of terror as a tool to achieve their foreign policy objectives. Prior to September 11, as you well know, Hizbullah, whose patron is Iran, was responsible for the murder of more Americans than any other terrorist group. There is no question that we have to continue to confront Iran and its policy of state sponsorship of terrorism. It has not only resulted in the deaths of Americans, going back to the Marine barracks bombing, but it has resulted in the destabilization in Lebanon as well.

We have a responsibility, along with the rest of the international community, to try to bring an end to the state sponsorship of terrorism, particularly in the case of Iran, which is the largest single state sponsor.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Catherine Siswoyo from Arcadia University: How does the US perceive Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, which encourages hatred toward unbelievers?

Frances Fragos Townsend: As Wendy mentioned, I have spent a great deal of time traveling throughout the Middle East. I have probably spent more time in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia than any other country, working with our partners there on the counterterrorism agenda. I am reluctant to use the label Wahhabism as distinct from Salafism. I think we have to be careful about our terms. What we are fighting is an extremist Islamic ideology that advocates the use of violence. That is the enemy. I do not pretend for a moment to be an Islamic scholar or authority and so what I would say to you is we have to be very clear about who our enemies are and who they are not. Those who advocate the use of violence are our enemies.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Barbara Slavin from USIP — and I have a second question that is very similar, I’ll combine the two. Is water-boarding torture? Can you please define torture and offer some examples?

Frances Fragos Townsend: First and foremost, the United States does not torture. I think there has been a good deal of frustration over the fact that we will not define what interrogation techniques that we use. General Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has explained our unwillingness to define what techniques we do use because we will not signal to our enemies who actually train against — we know from intelligence and cases that we have had, they train against what they know or believe our techniques to be.

Let me step back. There is the Army Field Manual and the restrictions related to the Army Field Manual. When the Army Field Manual was published, no one suggested that the Army Field Manual went to the limit permitted by law. The Army Field Manual was meant to be implemented at a tactical military level with people who had limited training. The CIA’s program, on the other hand, involves some 240 hours of training; it requires approvals by the director of the CIA and senior leadership in CIA. It is a very limited program — there have been fewer than a hundred people in the interrogation program. Less than a third of those have been exposed to any techniques. We have gotten thousands upon thousands of valuable intelligence reports from the overall program. It is a team concept; there is no lone wolf running an interrogation. Any one member of the team can put a stop to it. It stops when an individual has begun to cooperate. It is reviewed — there are people who are members of the team who are responsible for the psychological and physical health of the detainee. There are enormous protections put in place for this program.

I must tell you, they are tough interrogation techniques. They are not torture. This is a program that when General Hayden, after the program was suspended, had to make policy recommendations on what should or should not be included, what techniques, he engaged members of Congress. There were discussions and dialogue back and forth with Director Hayden before he made his recommendations to the president. After the program was put in place, the Congress was briefed — the oversight committees, he went back and briefed, including on the techniques. It is not appropriate for me to discuss it in a public forum in detail but I can tell you that Director Hayden has engaged his congressional overseers in detail.

Ambassador Chamberlin: John Greenfield from Northern Arizona University: How does the US deny al-Qa‘ida the recruitment capabilities which are crucial for its continued existence?

Frances Fragos Townsend: This really goes to the heart of the battle of ideas. I think there are a number of things that we do. They are all the things you think about in the State Department and public diplomacy area that Karen Hughes is responsible for. There is outreach domestically by almost every federal agency — the FBI and the Justice Department; there is outreach in the Department of Homeland Security. We have tried to increase cultural awareness and training of those who have border enforcement responsibilities. It is an imperfect system but the government alone is not going to win this battle. Steve Hadley, the national security advisor, and I have engaged a number of nonprofits and charitable organizations to talk about what is the role of the private sector. When you look at our historical relationships in the Middle East, they began most frequently not in government-to-government relationships but through many who are here today — through your companies in the private sector.

So denying them recruits and winning the long-term battle of ideas is not only a responsibility — it is an important responsibility of the government but we have to learn how to incorporate our private sector and nonprofit partners.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Alan Keiswetter from MEI: What do you, as a White House insider, make of the press speculation that recent comments by the president and vice president are preparing the way for attacks on Iran?

Frances Fragos Townsend: I think people are trying to read into it more than is there. Pretty succinctly, what we have been saying is we are going to use all tools of national power and influence. A military intervention should be a last resort. We have to use all our influence and what you have seen recently is the diplomatic effort. You have seen the use of our financial tools, economic tools. So what they are saying is there is no tool off the table but the use of military force should only be as a last resort.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Michael Standantis from the UK Patterson School of Diplomacy: Why do we use the MEK in Iraq for intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program? How reliable is the information that they give the US intelligence community?

Frances Fragos Townsend: This is going to be a short answer: I do not discuss sources and methods, and whether or not we are getting intelligence from the MEK is not appropriate for me to comment on.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Jane Anderson asks while the leaders of al-Qa‘ida are ideologues, unbending in their mindset, they often recruit regular people as operatives — or at least, sympathizers. What is the US doing to convince normal citizens of the Islamic world not to support the extremists and radicals?

Frances Fragos Townsend: I think the premise of the question is correct, that al-Qa‘ida does seek to exploit and win over ordinary people. But I think the most persuasive thing that I point to is the fact that these ideologues who claim to act in the name of Islam, when you look at what they do, whether it is the perversion of the charitable system in the giving of zakat; the use of travel, claiming the right of hajj or umrah to raise funds and move cash across borders; the example I used in the speech of the defacing of the holy Qur’an; the killing of innocents like Mabahith officers in Saudi Arabia or Pakistani military and intelligence authorities; the attempted assassination of a Mabahith officer in the holy city of Mecca. All these things are antithetical to true Islam. People of faith will see it for what it is if they are given the facts and I think that is the way to persuade them — not because I say so or not because any government official says so, but on the facts of how they behave.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Can you foresee a counterterrorism strategy that would ask US citizens to tolerate occasional terrorist attacks in the US in order to get our attainable goals in the global war on terrorism?

Frances Fragos Townsend: It is hard for me to imagine making the case to the American people that they must accept some level of violence. That said, I have enormous respect for my partners in Israel who very much —Israeli citizens every day confront the likelihood of acts of terrorism on their own soil. I think the American people expect their government to have a zero tolerance for violence inside our own borders and to work against that. That said, there must be a recognition of a persistent enemy who continues to try every day to attack us inside the homeland and our interests around the world. We have been fortunate by a lot of hard work by thousands of men and women who work for the United States government around the world and with our allies around the world to prevent that. There will never be zero risk of that but we must work to defeat their ultimate objective.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Walter Miller from the Foreign Service Institute: How do you define what you call the ideology of terror?

Frances Fragos Townsend: I may have answered this in one of the prior questions. It involves the use of violence against civilian and innocent populations in an effort to achieve a political objective. In their case it is the imposition of their radical and unremitting ideology of terror and hate and violence.

Ambassador Chamberlin: The next question is from Clayton Swisher of MEI: Does the US believe Palestinians have any right to resist Israel’s occupation or is any resistance, including against soldiers and settlers, considered terrorism?

Frances Fragos Townsend: I do not presume to be an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Here is what I will say. Consistent with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all citizens of the Palestinian territories and of free countries and all countries around the world are entitled to be treated with justice and dignity. There is no question from the president’s statements that we believe that there is a two-state solution, living side by side in peace and security. We want to see that for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis and we believe there is a path forward. As you know, Secretary Rice is working very hard to try and get forward movement to that very objective.

But it is really not a question so much for us to achieve it as it is for the parties themselves to make up their mind that it is time to do that.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Walid Chamoun: Could you speak about counterterrorism activities within our borders? For example, how safe are we from attacks? How many containers are being scanned now for destructive agents?

Frances Fragos Townsend: As I mentioned, there is no zero risk. We are never going to get to zero risk. What you do is set priorities. A tremendous priority for the Department of Homeland Security has been the screening of containers — the Container Security Initiative and CPAT (the Counterterrorism Partnership Agreements around the world). The notion to that is to create a layered defense, begin the screening process and secure shipping lanes at the furthest point away from US shores. Then you have a layered defense. There are a number of things we do in terms of detectors inside US ports. Is it a matter of having it be 100%? No. What it is a matter of is risk mitigation based on what you believe to be the highest threat. We target those most dangerous containers that we have reason to have suspicion through the National Targeting Center. We look at shipping containers around the world as they move for anomalies to actually go in and open them up. But that is a small percentage that we open up and we do it based on targeted intelligence.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Sounds like an official who has worked at the Coast Guard. Heather Callan from Loyola University in Chicago: What do you see is the role of North Africa in the US relations and activities in the Middle East? What can this region do and provide in the future for Middle East, Europe and the continent of Africa? I guess that pertains to counterterrorism.

Frances Fragos Townsend: I have had the great privilege of having a counterterrorism relationship with our partners in the Maghreb, in North Africa, over a decade. In fact my first trip to North Africa was Tunisia on a State Department — I was a prosecutor at the time and was sent on a human rights trip by Ambassador Rapel’s [phonetic] office. So I feel like I have had the benefit of a long-term relationship in the region, looking at strengthening counterterrorism partnerships. I mentioned Algeria in my remarks; I would be remiss if I did not say to you that we have had an incredible relationship with our Moroccan partners as well as Tunisia and now Libya. Libya sees the threat of extremism inside their own borders and are working with their North African allies and the United States.

I think there is an incredibly important role. This was reemphasized during a recent trip I made to Italy and talking to our partners in Europe. They are looking to strengthen their relationships because of the immigration patterns. They are looking to strengthen their counterterrorism relationships with their North African partners. I think it is very important because travel and movement is so easy and we do not want to discourage legal migration. These relationships, to target those who wish to do us harm — whether that is in Europe, with our European allies, or here in the United States — becomes crucial. That also involves strengthening the capabilities in the region and we work through our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to try and help in that area.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Kenneth Ojong from American University: Why are African countries mentioned as being in the Middle East in discussions related to terrorist activities?

Frances Fragos Townsend: Wendy, you could answer this as well as I could. It has to do with a whole host of — which I am sure Wendy is better positioned to explain than I am – a whole host of historical reasons that when we refer to the broader Middle East, it includes our North African allies.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Yes, indeed. We have had some of our most tragic terrorist events against our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya as well — also al-Qa‘ida related. Jerry Thompson: How do you reconcile our policy of denying sanctuary and treating those that do terrorist attacks with our ambivalence towards the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, allowing sanctuary to the PKK to attack our NATO allies in Turkey?

Frances Fragos Townsend: No question, the United States government recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization and its activities as terrorist-related. The president has applauded the restraint shown by the Turkish government in spite of the threat that they have endured for years and the thousands of casualties that they have suffered. We are working with both our Turkish and Iraqi allies to try and deal with that threat emanating out of northern Iraq and it continues to be a challenge.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Robert Dreyfus from The Nation and Rolling Stone: Why don’t you have the courage to apologize for the president and the vice president’s lies that Iraq was linked to 9/11?

Frances Fragos Townsend: Let me say this. We have never believed that Iraq was linked to the September 11 attacks themselves. There is no question that there was extremist activity tolerated within Iraq’s borders that represented a threat not only to the United States but represented a threat to the region. I clearly am not going to persuade Mr. Dreyfus of the righteousness of that. I will tell you that — don’t take it from me, you look at Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq’s statements. They believe that this is the definitive battle for them. They believe that they must win or face ultimate defeat. So regardless of the question of the linkage to September 11, the fact remains that Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq now represents a very real and persistent threat that we must work with the Iraqi government to confront.

Ambassador Chamberlin: Thank you very much.

About this Transcript:

Frances Fragos Townsend delivered her remarks at MEI's 61st Annual Conference, at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.