July 18, 2007

Both Sides in Iraq Debate Seize On New Intelligence Assessment

By CQ Staff, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY
Published: July 17, 2007
By John M. Donnelly, CQ Staff

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News and analysis on CQ.com

Key Judgments

Source : http://dni.gov/press_releases/20070717_release.pdf

We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al- Qa’ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities. We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al-Qa’ida to attack the US Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United States since 9/11.

• We are concerned, however, that this level of international cooperation may wane as
9/11 becomes a more distant memory and perceptions of the threat diverge.
Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qa’ida senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qa’ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

• As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat
environment.

We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

We assess that al-Qa’ida’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population. The group is proficient with conventional small arms and improvised explosive devices, and is innovative in creating new capabilities and overcoming security obstacles.

• We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical,
biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.




CQPolitics.com Daily E-mail CQ Midday Update from Capitol Hill Congressional Quarterly Free Newsletters Members of Congress were quick to look for partisan advantage Tuesday in a new intelligence report describing a “persistent and evolving” terrorist threat to the United States.

Both parties sought to employ the report as a club in their fight over the Iraq War. Democrats said the report underscored the need to shift U.S. resources from the conflict in Iraq toward fighting al Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide. Republicans said the report underscored the importance of remaining steadfast in Iraq and beyond.

At issue was a declassified summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate — a consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies — titled “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland.”

“The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al Qaeda, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities,” the NIE summary said.

The document recounted mixed progress in combating terrorism. It said that U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts have “constrained” al Qaeda’s capabilities and disrupted plots in the last five years. But it expressed concern that the level of effort could wane. It said al Qaeda retains safe havens in Pakistan and key leaders, and would seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It also warned that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah “may be more likely to consider attacking the homeland over the next three years if it perceives the United States as a direct threat to the group or Iran.”

The report arrived against the backdrop of a fierce Senate debate over Iraq playing out on the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill (HR 1585). Democrats in both chambers said the report reinforced the need for legislation forcing the administration to bring home substantial numbers of combat troops.

“It is a travesty that Osama bin Laden remains at large nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks, and that the Bush administration and most congressional Republicans remain stubbornly wedded to a flawed strategy in Iraq,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Changing our strategy in Iraq and narrowing our military mission to countering al Qaeda terrorism – as a bipartisan majority in the Senate now favors – would be the single greatest thing we could do to undermine al Qaeda’s ability to use Iraq as a recruiting and propaganda tool fueling the growth of regional terrorist groups.”

In the House, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the report “raises serious questions about this administration’s anti-terror strategy, as well as its continued insistence that the war in Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.”

Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said the House Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, will hold a joint hearing with the House Intelligence Committee soon on the resurgence of al Qaeda. He too said Tuesday’s report was as much about Iraq as about al Qaeda.

“As the House voted last week, we must responsibly redeploy our troops out of Iraq, handing responsibility for security over to the Iraqis and leaving only those forces required for limited missions,” Skelton said. “This will allow us to concentrate our efforts on Afghanistan and the al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.”

Republicans, by comparison, drew attention to the report’s findings that U.S. efforts have at least partly succeeded in disrupting al Qaeda and that the group’s connections and capabilities in Iraq are being leveraged to foment terrorism more broadly.

John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the House minority leader, used the report to criticize Democrats for being soft on terrorism.

“Retreat is not a new way forward when the safety and security of future generations of Americans are at stake,” he said in a statement.

Boehner and other Republicans said the report highlights the need to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

“The NIE provides an urgent public reminder that our nation faces a persistent and ongoing threat from al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups,” said Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who also pointed to the need to change FISA to grant broader leeway for electronic snooping.

This story originally appeared in CQ Today.

© 2006 Congressional Quarterly

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