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CONTACT: Senator Russ Feingold
Zach Lowe (202) 224-8657
Ahead of the Curve on Yemen
WASHINGTON - January 5 - In the year's following 9/11, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has consistently advocated for a global approach to defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates and opposed efforts such as the war in Iraq, and most recently, the military escalation in Afghanistan, which undermine our global fight against terrorism. As part of this effort, and as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Feingold has repeatedly called for a strategy to deny al Qaeda safe havens around the world, including Yemen. This timeline represents Feingold's post-9/11 efforts to focus on Yemen and address the conditions there that threaten the national security of the United States.
- October 9, 2002 - During a speech from the Senate floor in opposition to the authorization of use of force in Iraq, Feingold says that invading Iraq could be counterproductive in our fight against terrorism and points to terrorism in Yemen as an example of where our focus should be:
"An invasion of Iraq must stand on its own, not just because it is different than the fight against the perpetrators of 9/11 but because it may not be consistent with, and may even be harmful to, the top national security issue of this country...the fight against terrorism and the perpetrators of the crimes of 9/11. I ask: Is this war against terrorism going so terribly well when we see the possible explosion of the French tanker in Yemen?...Will the invasion of Iraq encourage our allies and Islamic friends to help us in the fight against terrorism or just make them extremely nervous?"
- May 13, 2003 - Shortly after President Bush's infamous appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Feingold delivered a speech from the Senate floor calling for less rhetoric about going after terrorists and more information about the escape of 10 Yemeni prisoners involved in the attack on the USS Cole. During the speech, Feingold said:
"The President reminded us on the USS Lincoln that he has pledged that terrorists who attacked America ‘would not escape the patient justice of the United States'... But how many people noticed when...10 men escaped from a prison in Yemen...10 men who apparently were being held on charges of involvement in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors, including one from my home State of Wisconsin?...This escape occurred, apparently, just as our brave troops were entering Baghdad - at least in part in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism. But no one seems to be discussing at all this potentially dangerous lapse in Yemen."
- May 15, 2003 - Feingold sends a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell requesting information on the escape of the 10 suspects in the attack on the USS Cole.
- July 23, 2003 - During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight, Feingold asks FBI Director Robert Mueller what steps the FBI had taken to question the suspected USS Cole bombers who later escaped. After receiving some information from Mueller, Feingold tells him, "I've tried every way I know to get an answer, and it just strikes me as mystifying. That when we knew that al Qaeda operatives were in jail in Yemen, there is just a paucity of information about what we were doing to make sure they'd stay there."
- July 29, 2003 - During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator Feingold questions Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz if he is sure "we have our eye on the ball" when U.S. forces were moving toward Baghdad on the same day as the men responsible for the attack on the USS Cole were escaping from a Yemeni prison.
- July 17, 2003 - Feingold introduces an amendment to a defense spending bill to require the Bush administration to report to Congress on our government's efforts to investigate the escape of al Qaeda members responsible for the attack on the USS Cole from a Yemeni prison. In remarks about the escape, Feingold says, "We cannot afford to be easily distracted, incapable of focusing on a global effort to stop terrorists because of our intense focus on other issues with only a nebulous connection to this most important priority of stopping international terrorist networks... I am troubled that the same administration that was recklessly threading together any and all justifications for a war with Iraq a few months ago may have at the same time been complacent about the status of the USS Cole attackers."
- March 31, 2004 - In a speech from the Senate floor on the need to better focus the fight against terrorism, Feingold is critical of the lack of answers from the Bush administration on the escape of the USS Cole bombers. In the speech, Feingold said the answers received from the administration "were of a deeply troubling ‘no one is minding the store' variety" and states, "We must give these issues the focus they deserve and devote resources and support to monitoring these situations closely and acting to protect our interests."
- October 6, 2004 - In a statement in support of the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, Feingold warns against ‘geographic stovepiping' of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts that hamper better coordination and good policy, saying, "...getting counter-terrorism right... in the Horn of Africa requires an understanding of Yemen as well as Kenya. But the policymakers who specialize in these places don't necessarily work together."
- February 6, 2006 - Following the escape of Jamal al-Badawi, the suspected mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole, from a Yemeni prison along with 13 members of al Qaeda - his second escape from Yemeni custody - Feingold writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and questions the administration's reliance on Yemen as a capable partner in fighting al Qaeda. Feingold demands more information from the administration on the suspects including al-Badawi and the extent to which the U.S. monitored these detainees.
- October 26, 2007 - In reacting to the release of Jamal al-Badawi, the suspected mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole, Feingold blasts the decision by the Yemeni government to release him, calls on the Bush administration to explain what it will do to bring him to justice, and calls on the candidates running for president of the United States to "commit to refocusing our national security where it belongs, on combating al-Badawi and others in al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups."
- May 1, 2008 - Feingold and Republican Senator and fellow Intelligence Committee member Chuck Hagel introduce legislation to improve and reform how the U.S. government collects information on emerging threats, including terrorist safe havens around the world with the establishment of a commission to review and reform our intelligence capabilities. The legislation is endorsed by a host of national security and foreign policy experts.
- May 7, 2008 - In a statement on the seven and one-half year-old investigation into the attack on the USS Cole, Feingold raises questions about the Yemeni government's helpfulness in the fight against al Qaeda after letting the investigation into the bombing languish and allowing those involved in the attack walk free. In his statement, Feingold said, "Our reliance on the government of Yemen to detain and prosecute these known members of al Qaeda - and their inability or unwillingness to do so - calls into question the partnerships and relationships we have secured in our efforts to meet the number one threat we face."
- May 2008: The Senate Intelligence Committee, on a bipartisan basis, approves the Feingold-Hagel bill to improve and reform how the U.S. government collects information on emerging threats, including terrorist safe havens around the world. The legislation is approved as an amendment to the FY2009 Intelligence Authorization bill. Upon passage, Senators Feingold and Hagel cite the Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center's testimony that diplomatic reporting, a key theme of the legislation, is "'absolutely critical' for understanding conditions that can result in the emergence of new terrorist safe havens." The legislation is also introduced as a separate bill.
- June 15, 2008 - In an oped in the Miami Herald co-written with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, Feingold writes, "On the map of the world, it's those hidden corners, about which we know so little, where some of the most dangerous threats against the United States may be brewing. Unfortunately, our government is still not doing enough to gather intelligence and other information in those hidden places. There are far too many gaps on the map that need to be filled in; far too many places where what we don't know could hurt us."
- Late 2008 - An official trip Feingold planned to make to Yemen is canceled due to security concerns.
- March 10, 2009 - During the keynote address at a conference on the future of Somalia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feingold links the situation in the troubled nation with instability in Yemen, saying:
"It is impossible to separate the situation in Somalia from wider regional tensions, especially the historic tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the instability in Yemen, to name but a few. Renewed engagement in Somalia requires renewed engagement with the wider region. This has been missing over recent years and it is an essential component of any effective strategy toward Somalia... What I said in 2007 remains true today: strengthening our diplomatic and intelligence capacities is essential if we are to effectively pursue strategic objectives in Somalia."
- April 14, 2009 - During an interview on MSNBC on the need to address piracy off the coast of Somalia, Feingold says, "...there is an enormous growing crisis in places like Yemen and Somalia that if we ignore them, it will simply become the next avenue for al Qaeda and other groups that want to do us harm."
- April 30, 2009 - In a statement on the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, Feingold said:
"...the report provides important reminders of the expanding threat from al Qaeda affiliates and other terrorist groups, particularly in Yemen, North Africa and the Horn of Africa" and "this kind of clear-headed analysis is critical if we are to go beyond a short-term, tactical approach and develop comprehensive strategies to eliminate terrorist safe havens and the conditions that allow terrorist groups to operate and recruit..."
- July 2009: The Senate Intelligence Committee, on a bipartisan basis, approves Senator Feingold's reform legislation as part of the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization bill. The legislation, which builds on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, would establish a commission to focus on the critical reform of integrating the country's intelligence capabilities with the open gathering and reporting of information by other elements of the United States Government, particularly the State Department, thereby strengthening our overall collection, reporting and analytical capabilities. The bill passes the full Senate on September 16, 2009.
- August 6th, 2009 - In a statement, Senator Feingold raises concerns about al Qaeda safe havens around the world, and Yemen in particular. In the statement, Feingold says, "The threats to our national security in Yemen are serious and are getting worse" and raises concerns about the capacity of Yemen's justice and security systems to hold Guantanamo detainees. Feingold offers policy recommendations, saying "to effectively fight the threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates, we have to change the way our government is structured and how it operates." The recommendations begin with obtaining better intelligence and include:
o Full integration of our intelligence community with all the ways in which our government, particularly the State Department, openly collects, reports, and analyzes information. This integration, which was the goal of the legislation he introduced with Senator Hagel, is a critical component of strategic counterterrorism and without it, we will never understand the conditions around the world - most of them apparent to experienced diplomats - that allow al Qaeda affiliates to operate, nor will we be able to respond effectively.
o The integration of clandestine intelligence community activities and open information gathering must include the allocation of real resources to the right people. Funding must be allocated based on interagency strategies, not driven by the equities and influence of individual agencies, rather than interagency strategies. And while Congress should do its part, real reform must be internalized by the executive branch.
o Establishment of new embassy posts - Whole countries or regions being off limits to our diplomats presents a national security problem. In some cases, we can and should establish new embassy posts. In the areas that security concerns make this prohibitive, we should develop policies that focus on helping to re-establish security, for the sake of the local populations as well as for our own interests.
o Strong, sustained policies aimed directly at resolving conflicts that allow al Qaeda affiliates to operate and recruit. Policy needs to be driven by the real national security interests we have in these countries and regions, and our policies need to be supported by all elements of the U.S. Government, including a real recognition that, sometimes, policies that promote economic development and the rule of law really are critical to our counterterrorism efforts, and they need real resources and support from the whole of our government.
- August 29, 2009 - In an oped in the Wall Street Journal calling for a timetable to end the war in Afghanistan, Feingold writes, "we've become embroiled in a nation-building experiment that may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries."
- November 17, 2009 - Feingold chairs a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs on counterterrorism priorities and strategy for the Sahel region of Africa. During his opening statement, Feingold said:
"The administration is right to focus attention on the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, but we cannot lose sight of other places where al Qaeda is seeking to gain ground. As we have seen in Somalia and Yemen, weak states, chronic instability, ungoverned spaces, and unresolved local tensions can create almost ideal safe havens in which terrorists can recruit and operate. Several parts of the Sahel region include that same mix of ingredients, and the danger they pose not just to regional security but to our own national security is real."
- December 2, 2009 - In a letter to President Barack Obama detailing his opposition to the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Senator Feingold writes, "Sending more troops to Afghanistan is unlikely to help, and could hurt, our efforts to address Al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan. Moreover, al Qaeda and its affiliates are located in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and other places around the world. Rather than investing so many of our resources in Afghanistan, we should pursue a comprehensive, global counterterrorism strategy."