The senator says briefings indicate a war with Iraq is ''highly likely'' to provoke terrorist attacks.
By MARY JACOBY and PAUL DE LA GARZA
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 5, 2002
WASHINGTON -- A war in Iraq could provoke international terrorist cells within the United States to attack American citizens at home, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham said Friday.
Moreover, Graham said, Iraq could respond to a U.S. attack by deploying chemical or biological weapons against Israel, which could possibly retaliate by firing nuclear missiles at Iraq.
"The worst case is modern Armageddon," Graham said.
The Florida Democrat spoke about the potential consequences of war with Iraq in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times as the Senate opened debate on a resolution authorizing President Bush to take action to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Bush has asked Congress for broad authority to carry out a unilateral attack on Baghdad, if necessary.
Although former Vice President Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and other senior Democrats have criticized Bush's war plans, Graham's objections were among the most substantive offered so far by any lawmaker.
Republicans said the Democrats are risking retaliation in November from a majority of voters who, according to polls, support the president's intention to take action against Iraq.
A new Gallup Poll released Friday showed public support is high: 57 percent favor invading Iraq to remove Hussein, with 38 percent opposed. But only 37 percent favor going to war if the United Nations opposes it.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott told reporters that critical speeches by Gore, Daschle and others -- as well as a trip to Baghdad by three House Democrats -- "haven't been helpful" to Bush's effort to protect the United States against Iraq and other rogue states.
Graham, however, said it was his duty to challenge Bush. The threat of a retaliatory attack on the homeland is real, Graham said, yet the nation's intelligence agencies have resisted declassifying enough information about it to inform the American public.
The intelligence community has identified "specific threats that citizens of the United States may experience, not as a soldier in combat, but as a citizen living in an otherwise peaceful community," Graham said. "People have every right to know that."
Later, joining the debate on the Senate floor, the senator said, "Briefings that I have recently received suggest that the likelihood of such strikes within the United States is not remote or even probable, it is highly likely."
Among the groups Graham identified as already present in the United States and poised for attack are Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and "agents of Iraq."
Hezbollah in particular, he said, is a more serious threat to U.S. domestic security than most people realize. Hezbollah, or "party of God," has killed hundreds of Americans in bombing attacks in Lebanon, including 241 U.S. servicemen who died when a truck bomb destroyed their barracks in Beirut in 1983, but has not struck the United States at home.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, Hezbollah had claimed more American lives than any other international terrorist group.
On Friday, Graham and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with CIA director George Tenet.
The panel's relationship with the CIA and other intelligence agencies has been strained by the aggressive joint House-Senate investigation into the pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures.
Tenet recently wrote an angry letter to the panel objecting to the inquiry staff's note in a briefing book for lawmakers that a CIA official appearing before the committee could be expected to "dissemble," meaning to deceive or put forth a false appearance.
More recently, Graham has criticized the intelligence agencies for failing to provide information about their plans for Iraq sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Tenet, the nation's top intelligence official, agreed on Friday to answer some of the lawmaker's questions about Iraq but not all of them, Graham said.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency is "fully committed to working with the committee and doing our very best to accommodate their request" to declassify information about threats to the homeland.
Mansfield gave no time frame on declassification other than to pledge it would be "as soon as we can."
The FBI, which is responsible for investigations of international terrorists on U.S. soil, did not respond directly to Graham's criticism.
However, FBI spokesman John Iannarelli said "it has always been the policy of the FBI that if specific, credible information (of a terrorist threat) was received ... the general public would be immediately notified."
Iannarelli added: "Likewise, if the FBI was in possession of such specific and credible information, the bureau would take the necessary steps to protect the American public by seeking the immediate arrest" of the suspects.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrests Friday of four people in Oregon and Michigan accused of being al-Qaida members conspiring to wage war on the United States.
Graham said he does not discount the Iraqi threat but says he opposes a pre-emptive strike while the war on terrorism remains in full gear.
He described Hussein as "an evil man" whose chemical and biological weapons capabilities must be neutralized but said removing the Iraqi president should not be the nation's priority at this time.
Meanwhile, Bush plans to make a speech in Cincinnati next week to take the case for war directly to the American people, the White House announced.
-- Times Washington bureau chief Sara Fritz contributed to this report, which also includes information from Times wires.