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18 September 1998
17 September 1998
(State Department, congressional experts outline views) (700) By Ralph Dannheisser USIA Congressional Correspondent Washington -- A State Department official and a congressman outlined the changing face of terrorism before a business group, and warned that it poses increasing concerns for Americans at home and abroad. Gordon Gray, director for regional affairs in State's counterterrorism office and Representative Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican, were among the speakers at a briefing for business leaders September 17 sponsored by Equity International, Inc. Gray told the group that "the good news is the decline in state terrorism." But, he quickly added, "the bad news is the same thing -- the decline in state terrorism." That seeming contradiction comes into play, Gray said, because "the decline in state sponsorship poses new problems, as we see more and more loosely knit organizations" like that headed by Saudi Arabian businessman Usama bin Ladin -- groups that by their nature are harder to get at. Bin Ladin is thought to have been behind the recent bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Gray portrayed a mixed picture with respect to terrorist activity. On the one hand, he said, "last month's bombings at the two U.S. embassies and in Northern Ireland "painfully reinforce the dangers posed by terrorists," whose "attacks are becoming far more lethal in recent years," -- even as the critical infrastructure in our increasingly sophisticated society "becomes that much more vulnerable." But at the same time, Gray observed, "There are some positive signs." For example, he reported, the total number of terrorist incidents in 1996 and 1997 fell to a 25-year low. "It's important that we not exaggerate what the actual threat is. That's exactly what terrorists want to do" to intimidate their foes, he said. Gray cited four pillars of U.S. policy with respect to terrorism: -- a strict refusal to grant concessions to terrorists; -- a determination to apply the rule of law; -- steps to help friendly countries increase their capabilities to combat terrorism, and -- a continuing effort to put pressure on state sponsors of terrorism as well as the terrorists themselves. Would-be terrorists must be convinced that "our memories are long, our capabilities are strong," he said. Saxton, chairman of the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, told the audience of business executives there has been a distinct change in the use of terrorism in the decade of the 1990s. The United States demonstrated to foes, most notably in the Gulf War, that "our conventional capability was rather overwhelming," and so "the same group of nations with the same long term agenda had to find different ways to carry out and achieve their objectives," he said. He named Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan and North Korea as "hotbeds of international terrorist activity." And, Saxton said, it is "an unfortunate fact of life" that many terrorist nations "are beginning to avail themselves of technology that we generally refer to as weapons of mass destruction." A real threat now exists of attacks on American cities, perhaps using nuclear devices, he warned. While most Americans outside Washington have not paid much attention to the threat, it is "something we have to do for our own survival," he said. Saxton rejected the notion that bin Ladin is operating independently. "Bin Ladin is a puppet....He is paid big money to carry out acts of terrorism by the leaders of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya," he declared. Asked why Pakistan is not on the State Department's list of terrorist states, he responded, "I can tell you they're on our (the task force's) list. We believe they're a major sponsoring state. We believe that they are one of the more dangerous sponsoring states." But the Department has resisted efforts to classify the country as such, he noted. Saxton contended that state sponsors of terrorism are spending more than $500 million a year on "groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad" -- organizations that he said get their funding from drug traffic, counterfeiting and "contributions from Islamist fundamentalist groups around the world" in addition to direct government payments.