September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Press Roundtable With Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, U.S. Department Of State Coordinator For Counterterrorism; January 29, 2002

Press Roundtable With Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, U.S. Department Of State Coordinator For Counterterrorism

U.S. Mission to the European Union Brussels, Belgium January 29, 2002

Ambassador Taylor: Good morning, it is my pleasure to be here in sunny Brussels. (laughter) As was mentioned I did have the opportunity this morning to spend a couple of hours with the PSC [the EU's Political and Security Committee] to update them on the campaign against terrorism. Some of you will recall that I was here on the third of October [2001], and initially did a presentation to the PSC on the nature of the campaign, the threat and how we had assessed al Qaeda as the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. So this was a follow-up, some four months later into the campaign. My presentation was very well received in the sense of a continuing consultation with our EU colleagues on the global campaign. The (EU) Presidency expressed continued solidarity, continued with the President, and the campaign as we progress further on. I guess with that, I can take your questions.

Question: Ambassador, I would like to take you back to last month, you were in Beijing, you spoke then of setting up a joint U.S.-Chinese financial terrorism working group. You also said that the Chinese would give consideration to allowing you to open an FBI office in Beijing. And one of the things you mentioned there was that people from Western China, presumably Muslim separatists, had been arrested in Afghanistan, and presumably are still being held. I wonder if you could elaborate on these three points.

Taylor: Certainly, President Bush and President Jiang Zemin met in Shanghai and part of their discussion in Shanghai was an agreement to have a counter-terrorism dialogue, first at an experts level, which occurred very shortly after that meeting, and then with the successful conclusion of that, a discussion at an ambassadorial level, which was why I was in Beijing in December.

The two things that came out of that were: one, an agreement with the Chinese that we would exchange information among experts on the challenges we face in terms of financial intelligence, financial crimes investigations as it refers to terrorism. That group is scheduled to come to Washington, either late February or early March in the following-on from that agreement.

We have not gotten a final decision from the Chinese on the issue of the FBI Legatt [Legal Attache] office but certainly there was a clear indication in December that they were favorably considering that. I believe that when Vice Foreign Minister Li comes to Washington in February, we will have a final positive answer on that aspect of our discussion. Finally, I did indicate that there had been Chinese Uighurs that had been captured in the fighting in Afghanistan. I assume that they still are in detention in Afghanistan, but beyond that I am not sure of what their status is.

Question: How many?

Taylor: I am sorry, I can't comment on that.

Question: Ambassador, can you tell us how you assess the efforts made by the Europeans in the fight against terrorism, and if I may go from the fight of terrorism to the Middle East. How do you understand the position of the Europeans vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and the affair of the Karine A?

Taylor: First, I think the efforts of the European Union have been superb since 9/11 and have certainly been very consistent with the call of our President for all who joined the campaign to lean forward in executing whatever is necessary in order to improve the capacity of the world to take on international terrorism. And we think that is a very positive development and we have other areas we want to move forward on now that we have made the initial move with the EU in terms of the second agreement on Europol that allows the exchange of personal data and completing other discussions on mutual cooperation on criminal justice and matters of extradition which we believe will further cement the excellent cooperation that we have. It is all about continuing to build capacity to exchange information, law enforcement information, that is so critical in our fight against terrorism.

With regard to the Middle East peace process, that is not a portfolio that I monitor on a day-to-day basis. So it would really be inappropriate given the fact that I have been on the road for the last few days to even have a guess or a comment on that, so I prefer to deflect that to Washington and have them address that.

Question: Have there been any investigations or follow-ups into the Saudi religious community after the release of that video in December, there were specific names of sheiks, is that part of the portfolio, part of the investigations that the U.S. is leading?

Taylor: I don't generally comment at all on specific investigative or intelligence matters that our government or coalition partners are engaged in. I can only say rather definitively that we are following every lead that gets us back to al Qaeda.

Question: What are you expecting from the EU in terms of agreement on judicial cooperation, extradition, Europol, or are you linked enough with the individual EU countries? And if I could ask a second question, did you talk this morning with the PSC on questions of the detention of the prisoners in Guantanamo?

Taylor: First, I have already mentioned the areas that we are continuing our dialogue with the EU on. We have bilateral relations with all the members of the EU on extradition and judicial cooperation, and in the case of several, about half of the EU countries, we have mutual legal assistance treaties. So certainly we want to continue our bilateral discussions on these areas with the bilateral members as well as the EU in general with hopes of continuing to build capacity to exchange information that helps us on both sides of the Atlantic being more effective in our law enforcement and judicial efforts as we focus them on terrorism.

I did, as a part of my briefing today, discuss the detainees in Guantanamo to give our colleagues an update on their status. What I told the PSC this morning was the fact that our government has decided that these individuals are unlawful combatants, not prisoners of war. However, they have been since their detention and will continue to be treated in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention. And they have always been treated humanely, which is the American way. We put great stock in the humane treatment of all individuals, and these detainees have been treated in that manner since they were brought under U.S. control.

Question: Ambassador, after September 11, you are now in Brussels for a second time, what do you now see as the main threat in this continuing war against terrorism? And secondly, do you really think the PSC has the tools to deal with counter-terrorism?

Taylor: Well, the real threat remains al Qaeda ...

Question: And in Europe, if you could specifically, focus on Europe, how you see it in Europe?

Taylor: I think it is clear that despite the great success of our military operations in Afghanistan, and our decapitation of the Taliban, our destruction of the al Qaeda training facilities, the fact that we placed much of their leadership on the run, the al Qaeda still exists in about 50 countries around the world, and we still need to work very diligently with our law enforcement and intelligence partners around the world to identify and interdict those cells.

The fact that there have been many arrests, Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, I cannot remember them all, Singapore, Malaysia, of al Qaeda operatives since September 11, I think is a real indicator of the continual threat that al Qaeda presents in nations around the world. I think also the arrest of Mr. Reid, the individual with the explosives in his shoe on the flight from Paris to Miami, is another indicator of the fact that there are al Qaeda operatives out there with plans to continue their terrorism whether or not they get direction from Bin Laden, his lieutenants, or they operate independently.

I would remind you also that if you were to follow the Ressam case, that is the individual who was arrested crossing from Canada to attack the Los Angeles International Airport, that is available in the court record. Ressam was trained in Afghanistan, sent back to Canada and told to pick his own target. Essentially, he chose to attack LAX and then through petty crime and other sorts of things developed the finances to allow himself to do that.

So you have the kind of 9/11 attack but you also have the folks like Reid and Ressam. I'm not going to get into the Reid investigation, but the fact is we know that al Qaeda has trained people and sent them out as kind of freelance guys to do their own thing once they have been trained. We assess them to still be out there. The one thing the world can't do is think that because we have been militarily successful in Afghanistan that we have solved the problem of a Qaeda as a significant threat to international peace through terrorism.

Question: And the PSC? Given that it's quite young in its instruments and the availability of them, and [Javier] Solana [the High Representative of the EU for the Common Foreign and Security Policy] mentioned, I think back in October or November, although (inaudible) more intelligence-gathering unit of the PSC. Do you think in the current setup the PSC is capable of helping or facilitating or being involved in counter-terrorism?

Taylor: Well it's probably inappropriate of me to assess the capability of any institution that is a part of the EU. I mean that is not my job. I certainly left today's meeting with the conviction or the belief that the PSC is focused on improving capability. And any organization that is focused on improving capability has to be a very important tool in our worldwide effort to improve capability around the world. But I am not in the assessment business of the EU so that would be inappropriate for me to do.

Question: About the other organization, NATO, which has become really quiet lately: What is your assessment of the role of NATO, what can they do?

Taylor: Certainly, as I did in October, when my briefing led to the NATO decision to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, I returned yesterday and provided the North Atlantic Council and the PJC with an update on the campaign. I think [NATO] Secretary General Robertson said it best and I think all military organizations in light of today's threat have to assess whether they are organized and have the capability to really handle the asymmetrical threat that we face as a community from terrorists and terrorist-like organizations. And so I think it is appropriate for NATO to be involved in the deliberations that they are involved in, in assessing their capability and where they need to improve or enhance capability to meet the threat. And certainly that is where the Secretary General is leading NATO and with hopefully good results in the end. There is a military role in countering terrorism. And certainly as an alliance that is formed to protect the interests of the nations that are members of the alliance, the military wing of that alliance needs to consider its future capability and roles in providing the military capability that is required when needed to take on that threat.

Question: Could you speak a little bit about the talks with the EU on forging closer links, particularly on Europol and the data protection problems? And also are there any moves on intelligence sharing on a EU-U.S. level, and on judicial assistance - do you want an extradition treaty with the EU or just judicial assistance? I mean, how ambitious are (inaudible)?

Taylor: We are looking to expand cooperation. We are focused on a dialogue that helps improve cooperation. Cooperation is great today, but cooperation can even be better as we work through the two systems: the EU privacy laws and concerns as relates to how that information is used within our own country; the extradition concerns the EU has in extraditing people to the United States. And we can work through those things. So that is our focus, it is to try to work through the issues that could impact improved cooperation. And that in no way means that cooperation is not good. It just means that it can be better. And that is where our focus is, both judicial law enforcement and extradition. We have extradition treaties with all the members of the EU and so certainly on a bilateral basis that is a tool that we use every day. We would like to see that perhaps expanded to a EU-wide extradition treaty as another means of improving cooperation. So that is where we are trying to go.

Let's go over here. Yes sir?

Question: You mentioned Guantanamo Bay. As you know, a number of EU countries, including the UK, has said it would like its nationals held in Guantanamo Bay to be tried in the UK. What is the position on that? Have you reached a position on that, or when do you expect to?

Taylor: I don't know and I have been on travel for the last few days, so I am not sure where our government is in its deliberations on that. So it would be inappropriate for me to speculate. British officials have been allowed to visit their detainees at Guantanamo and it is our hope that in time, other governments will also have the opportunity to visit their detainees. But this position of detainees has not been determined as of this point that I am aware of.

Question: If I may follow up on Guantanamo problem. Mr. Solana mentioned last week that the important thing concerning this problem was just to comply with Geneva Convention rules. Does the United States share that view?

Taylor: The United States has treated every detainee consistent with the provisions of the Geneva Convention since they have come under U.S. control. And they have been treated humanely, which has been the U.S.'s way of doing business in any conflict that we have been involved in. I think that speaks for itself.

Question: Ambassador, you pointed out there are signs of continuing threats by al Qaeda cells. Do you have any signs for Europe? Can you point out this?

Taylor: I cannot go into the specifics of where specifically al Qaeda cells are located and that sort of thing, except to say that I think you can derive from the arrests that are ongoing right now that there are al Qaeda sympathizers, al Qaeda operatives still in Europe and that their job isn't finished yet. And we are continuing to work very closely with our European law enforcement colleagues as we are working with our law enforcement colleagues around the world to try to identify these people.

Yet when we consider the campaign against terrorism, when the President announced the campaign, there has been so much world focus on the whole notion of the military operations, but what is lost quite often is the fact that the President said that this would be a unique campaign, synchronizing diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement and financial control efforts, around the world. It is the intelligence, law enforcement and very particularly the financial cooperation, which we believe is going to really provide the long-term success that we will have against terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and others that operate around the world. The work is not over. There is still a lot to be done, but we are confident of our eventual victory using that kind of cooperation and consolidation around the world.

Question: Ambassador, do you see any other organizations apart from al Qaeda with a global reach without links to al Qaeda?

Taylor: Well, right now our focus is on al Qaeda and we don't want to deflect our attention from Job 1 at this point in time by speculating on other organizations that could have global reach or don't have global reach. Al Qaeda is our focus of the campaign, and when we finish with al Qaeda, we will consider where else we need to go next. Yes sir?

Question: Speaking of cooperation, are you entirely happy with the cooperation you are getting from the Arab countries, specifically Saudi Arabia, in your quest for the al Qaeda?

Taylor: We have been very pleased with the support that we have gotten from across the world from all of our coalition partners. We are working very closely with our Saudi counterparts in this campaign and to date have been quite pleased with their response. There is still a lot more work to be done not only in Saudi Arabia, but across the world. So we are never going to be satisfied totally with anything until the campaign is won. But in terms of our working relationship with our Middle East and other counterparts, we have been quite pleased with the contribution of all countries that have joined the coalition.

Question: How many al Qaeda operatives would you estimate there are still in Europe and given that you have said that there are people who might do acts of terrorism on their own, does that mean that it is less likely that you might have a September 11 through our end?

Taylor: Less likely that we might have one ?

Question: Yes, this is less likely that they would be able to launch,...

Taylor: Well, what we don't know is what we don't know. We don't know the impact of our arrests, of the detentions, of our military operations on this network called al Qaeda. We know that they have operatives, what we don't know is how the security changes that have been laid in, we don't know what the law enforcement changes have caused in terms of disrupting their capability to act. Their existence and capability to act are two different things. We hope we have had a very positive impact upon their capability to act with these very broad law enforcement and military operations, but we don't know what we don't know. We don't know if they won't try to attack.

Certainly, if you follow the al Qaeda modus operendi, they would have an attack and they would be planning another attack. So it is our assumption when they did 9/11, they had other attacks that they were planning to execute. It is hard to tell as of right now the impact of our campaign on disrupting those sorts of things. I am not intending to create great panic and fears, it is just a statement of fact that al Qaeda operates, or has operated in more than 50 countries around the world. There are still operatives out there that we are operating against and yes, we assess that they could attack anywhere in the world that they are currently operating in, including in the United States. But we hope that our law enforcement and other efforts will have a significant impact on their capability to do that, if they try to do it.

Question: You said that the number of arrests in Europe were a barometer of sorts of al Qaeda activity in Europe. The fact that there has not been any high profile arrest, or any arrest that we know of Saudis, does that mean that there is no activity in Saudi (Arabia). Is it not hard to believe that so many of September 11 attackers were actually of Saudi nationality. Yet, there have not been (any) arrests.... What...

Taylor: I do not comment on on-going investigations anywhere in the world and won't speculate on locations for potential arrests or that sort of thing, that would be inappropriate for me to do.

Question: Are there any concerns? Saudi (Arabia) doesn't seem to be a place where there are active investigations going on.

Taylor: You are asking me a speculative question. You said, it doesn't seem to be. I don't comment on on-going investigations involving our partners around the world. I mentioned earlier that we are quite satisfied with the responsiveness of our Saudi and Middle East partners which are part of part of this campaign.

Question: And the religious leads. We don't think of the underpinnings as much as we do of people who have the weapons. I hope I am not being too philosophical here but for someone in a diplomatic role, are you also addressing some of the religious underpinnings to al Qaeda?

Taylor: Well, whatever religious underpinnings al Qaeda has, we believe they have hijacked Islam and have indeed blasphemed Islam as providing a basis for this kind of evil that they perpetrated against the world. That would be my answer. I am not sure what religious track I would be following except to follow in the track of many Islamic clerics who have said this is not Islam that supports this kind of evil that al Qaeda has been involved in. Certainly, there is a sense that terrorism has roots that need to be addressed but those roots are many and people are worried about that as well. But as far as tracking a specific religious track that is not something that we believe is appropriate. As a matter of fact the religious community has spoken out forcefully against al Qaeda's misuse of Islam as a rationale for its activity.

I think I have time for maybe one more question.

Question: If I may come back to the Guantanamo question, you said that the detainees are well protected by the Geneva Convention. How do you explain that so many European governments seem not so convinced about that? And secondly, as you know, many European countries will refuse to extradite terrorists to the U.S. because the death penalty is still in place in many U.S. states. Can you work around this extradition issue?

Taylor: Well, we have worked on it for some time. In our bilateral relationships with many countries we have been able to work through the concerns that countries have about the death penalty and certain agreements that our governments have made, government to government, how certain persons will be handled and the judicial proceedings. The death penalty has not necessarily been an impediment to our bilateral extradition efforts with European countries. With regard to the detainees at Guantanamo, what I said was that the detainees were being treated consistent with the provisions of the Geneva Convention. I am not sure whether it is appropriate for me to comment on the opinions of some of our colleagues. The fact is, they are being treated humanely and consistent with those provisions and that is the way it is going.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your time.

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