WASHINGTON – U.S. military intelligence has not been able to improve its information-gathering, despite efforts beginning before the September terrorist attacks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
"We have not made many strides since I've been here in improving the intelligence take," Rumsfeld said during a "Town Hall" meeting with military and civilian workers at the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld said he and other Pentagon officials are considering "having a somewhat more senior person overseeing the intelligence" to make sure "the focus is more laser-like" on getting better information for fighting the war on terrorism.
The Pentagon also is looking at ways to help military intelligence agencies work more closely with civilian agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI.
Rumsfeld reportedly is considering creating a civilian post, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, which would have to be approved by Congress. Democrat Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said that any decision on the new position should await hearings on how best to reorganize the entire intelligence community.
In an interview Monday, Rumsfeld made the case for more aggressive U.S. pursuit of terrorists outside of Afghanistan. He said Taliban and al- Qaida fighters are lingering in nearby countries, hoping for a chance to sneak back in and seize power.
"They can come right back in the minute you turn your head, so you have to be aggressive in seeing that they don't feel there's an opportunity for them to re-establish themselves," Rumsfeld said.
"Then you say well, what more aggressive can you do? In Afghanistan, the answer is not much," Rumsfeld said. "We can probably try to find better ways of finding the al-Qaida who have left Afghanistan."
Pakistan and Yemen have been very cooperative with U.S. efforts to hunt al-Qaida down, Rumsfeld said, but Iran and Iraq have not. And he expressed fears that al-Qaida will turn up in Indonesia, "which is a worrisome place."
Rumsfeld spoke Monday to reporters taking part in the National Journalists Roundtable, a forum that promotes increased access between top U.S. officials and black reporters.
Last month, Rumsfeld ordered Air Force Gen. Charles Holland, head of the Special Operations Command, to develop a more aggressive plan to apprehend or kill al-Qaida terrorists. Holland briefed Rumsfeld about the evolving plan last week.
On Monday, Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, presented the latest Pentagon scenario for invading Iraq to President Bush and his foreign advisers.
The United States has been intercepting ships believed to have fugitives or contraband on board, Rumsfeld said. Those searches are being done in the Persian Gulf, around the horn of Africa and in the Mediterranean, but there are no plans to do them globally.
Without revealing specifics, Rumsfeld said the campaign in Afghanistan is now more of a manhunt than a traditional military operation and he wants the skills of U.S. forces brought in line with that duty. The last large-scale military assault of the war was Operation Anaconda, in which troops tried to clean out a section of eastern Afghanistan.
"What we do face are a set of capabilities and technologies and weapons of mass destruction that can cause enormous carnage in our country, and to our forces and friends and allies around the world," Rumsfeld said. "To deal with that, you really have to organize, train and equip to address those kinds of capabilities, instead of just continuing what we were doing at the turn of the century."
When asked about news reports that he has grown impatient with the pursuit of al-Qaida, Rumsfeld denied being "unhappy with the pace of things" and praised U.S. commanders and forces who have those assignments.
"I can understand why the stories come out, because I am, I suppose, genetically impatient," Rumsfeld said. "If everything were being done absolutely perfectly, I'd probably still be impatient."
Rumsfeld denied that a U.S. attack on Iraq is imminent. But he noted the support Iraq's neighbors gave the United States in the 1991 Gulf War and said this time around, "I think you would find that countries would find a way publicly or privately to be supportive.
"I don't know of anyone I've talked to in the region who would walk across the street to shake Saddam Hussein's hand," Rumsfeld said. "If you sat down with the leadership of any country over there, you'd find they have a very low regard for that fellow. You'd also find they're much smaller countries, and much weaker. ... The little guy in the neighborhood is fairly careful about what he says."