Former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane called on the United States on Sunday to join with its allies in developing a covert anti-terrorism force that would infiltrate terrorists' organizations and make preemptive military strikes against their training camps.
Speaking at a conference on terrorism in Los Angeles, McFarlane said the clandestine force would track down and penetrate terrorist groups in an effort to "strike at the heart" of what he and others characterized as expanding worldwide attacks against American civilians.
"The best way to collect information on terrorists is to penetrate terrorist organizations," said McFarlane, who mentioned training camps in Libya as a prime target for the proposed covert activity. "Violence must on occasion be a component of an effective strategy."
McFarlane said that such a covert military and intelligence force would be subject to confidential congressional approval, would include "central participation" by U.S. allies and would be geared toward acts of self-defense. He said the force would be aimed at groups in countries with governments that sponsor or condone terrorism. Later, he named Libya, Iran and Syria as such countries.
"Unless the terrorists know there really is a cost for harming Americans, then terrorism is going to be cheap to them," McFarlane said in an interview after his formal remarks. "By and large, these people are bullies who are not capable of a sustained high level of violence."
When asked if such a covert group exists or is being planned by the Reagan Administration, McFarlane, who resigned from the Administration in December, said, "I don't think so."
McFarlane was in Los Angeles for the conference on terrorism sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. He said he is speaking to various groups across the nation in hopes of educating the public about the growing threat of terrorism and the urgent need to develop an American response to fight it.
McFarlane and others said the need for an American anti-terrorism policy was dramatized by the bombing last week of a West Berlin discotheque and the explosion aboard a Trans World Airlines jetliner bound for Athens. Five Americans died in the two attacks.
"The first thing we must do in the next six months to a year is educate the public," McFarlane said in the interview. "We need to set aside for Americans this naive notion that there is a legitimate purpose for terrorism. They (terrorists) are murderers set out to destroy world order as we know it."
McFarlane said during a panel discussion that the United States may need "to win one" against a government known to sponsor terrorism--such as Libya--to garner public support for a sustained campaign against terrorism. Again, he emphasized, efforts to educate the public about the need for military action must come first.
"This country must act on the basis of political support from its body politic," he said in the interview. "That only comes from education, and that has only just begun."
Other speakers at the conference, which was held in Universal City and attracted about 400 participants, also called for a combination of education and military force to combat terrorism.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, said that confusion and vacillation in the United States and other countries has facilitated the rise of terrorism. Clarity and vision, he said, will ensure its defeat.
As an example, he suggested that the United States and its allies sever diplomatic and economic ties with countries suspected of sponsoring terrorism.
"It is the nature of bullies to threaten and sometimes deliver on those threats," said Netanyahu, who praised efforts by the Reagan Administration to punish Libya for sponsoring terrorist acts. "The only thing you can do is to say, 'Stop, and I'll fight you if you don't.' "
Brian M. Jenkins, who directs a research program on political violence at the Rand Corp., suggested that the Reagan Administration seek from Congress a formal notice of belligerency against Libya, the country most often mentioned at the conference as a training ground for terrorists.
The move would require no violence but would formally alert Libya to the seriousness of American purpose, he said. "We must avoid falling into a blow-for-blow response," Jenkins said. "(Retaliation) is not about proving we are tough. It is about killing people and blowing up things."