Thomas Twetten speaks to students about Iraq, terrorism and defense
Twelve years removed from the CIA, Thomas Twetten, former CIA operations chief, came out of retirement to speak to the public about CIA affairs and the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in relation, or a lack thereof, to U.S. troops in Iraq post 9/11.
Close to 300 students, graduate students, Boulder community parents and senior citizens gathered at the Glenn Miller Ballroom Tuesday night to hear Twetten, who was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal two times, speak to the public about his own experiences and thoughts on the current administration.
“I’m the only former Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations to do speeches, and I do it because our culture revolved around ‘not to talk about it,'” he said.
Twetten had one hour to speak and promised he would not waste a second.
“When it comes to terrorism, Al-Qaeda is the main enemy. It is stronger than it was five and a half years ago since 9/11,” Twetten said.
He went on to explain that all Americans are fair game for attack, and to Osama bin Laden, suicide attacks are extremely valuable because they are the most effective and efficient way to minimize the number of deaths within their group and maximize the “you and me” killing, Twetten said.
For the first six months after 9/11, the United States acquired intelligence and diplomatic resources from Middle Eastern countries (including Iran and Syria), a situation that is much different than the one today.
With help from surrounding countries, American intelligence and the U.S. Army pushed Al-Qaeda into the rugged mountain border with Pakistan. Twetten believes, through various confirmed sources of communication, that Al-Qaeda considered itself finished by 2002.
As 2002 reached its end, nearly 80 percent of Al-Qaeda leaders were killed and the only power-player still remaining was bin Laden. If 80 percent of Al-Qaeda was destroyed, why does terrorism pose such a threat to American society today?
“We did it to ourselves,” Twetten said. “We did it to ourselves when we invaded Iraq.”
Twetten expanded on this by describing that a small group of neo-conservatives in the defense and vice presidential offices captured the ear of the President and in so doing, the ear of foreign policy.
“There can be no victory (in Iraq). It becomes an issue of whether we stay (in Iraq) for awhile or go quickly becomes a huge propaganda visory of Al-Qaeda. The inventors of this odd policy to invade Iraq believed we could impose democracy at gun barrel and really, that is terrible. Democracy just doesn’t work that way,” Twetten said.
Twetten said there exists in American society a theory of a domino effect being triggered by a loss in Iraq: With a loss in Iraq under the United States’ proverbial belt, terrorist attacks will continue, intensify and spread through other surrounding nations and crush our nation’s power.
Twetten just nodded his head and nearly promised that a loss in Iraq will not change or pose lasting effects on America. The fact of the matter is that Al-Qaeda just is not that big.
“Al-Qaeda isn’t doing well,” Twetten said.
He said Al-Qaeda does not represent Islam and their supposed relocation to Iraq isn’t being received well by locals.
The diversion against full attention on Al-Qaeda and the nation’s shift in focus towards Iraq should mostly be credited to the intensive investigations by congress, the 9/11 Commission and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission on the CIA following the 9/11 attacks.
Twetten went on to describe the complicated circumstances of the investigative procedures and the toll it took on the CIA and ultimately concluded, “Everybody taking care of American intelligence in Washington at that time were completely consumed in defending themselves, rather than American citizens as a whole.”
Twetten also said that the American Intelligence services are now under fine leadership and have recovered from the dramas of investigations and reform legislation after 9/11.
Although there was an emotional outburst made by a student regarding the government’s hypocrisy in staging the post-9/11 attacks and who held no hesitations in overtly attacking Twetten, another student reasoned, “Regardless of your political views or your judgment on current U.S. policy, I think his willingness to come out and speak from his position, a position so secretive for so long, takes a lot of courage and is really valuable,” said Myka Dunkle, a senior international affairs major.
Because Twetten began his speech with a bold statement, it was not surprising that he also exited with one.
“Terrorism as a methodology as for obtaining political goals does not work. Terrorism offends the conscience as it did in 9/11,” Twetten said. “People will not support this over the long run as Al-Qaeda continues to kill innocent people. Over the coming decade there will continue to be terrorism, but that will not change what we stand for, the way we live, our freedoms or our values.”