Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Intelligence Report Warns of al-Qaeda's Capabilities

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Worldwide counterterror efforts have restrained Osama bin Laden's network from again attacking the United States, but al-Qaeda's capabilities to mount such an attack have been "protected or regenerated" partly by securing a safe haven in northwest Pakistan, according to portions of a National Intelligence Estimate made public today.

"Greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al Qaeda to attack the U.S. homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11," the new estimate states.

It warns, however, that bin Laden and his top core leadership continue to plot attacks against the United States and "will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al Qaeda in Iraq," whose activities in that country have energized "the broader Sunni extremist community" and helped recruit and indoctrinate new operatives.

While U.S. intelligence believes al-Qaeda will continue to try to put operatives inside the United States, and anti-U.S. rhetoric continues to spread among radical Islamic Internet sites, the estimate reiterates a 2006 judgment that "the internal [U.S.] Muslim terrorist threat is not likely to be as severe as it is in Europe."

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said today's assessment shows that the invasion of Iraq "diverted needed resources from eliminating the threat from al Qaeda." He pointed back to President Bush's remarks four years ago when the chief executive said, "Al Qaeda is on the run."

"The NIE released today points out that the real threat to the U.S. homeland emanates from Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq," Reyes said.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking Republican on the House intelligence panel said the released estimate is "an urgent public reminder that our nation faces a persistent and ongoing threat from al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups."

The estimate, which represents the views of the entire U.S. intelligence community, was completed June 21 after an eight-month effort. Many of its conclusions were contained in congressional testimony last week by Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which supervised its production.

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