Intelligence Leaders Warn Senate Panel: Terrorist Attempt ‘Certain’ in Months

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 3, 2010

(by Eli Lake, WashingtonTimes.com) – The five senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate panel Tuesday they are “certain” that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States in the next three to six months.

The warning came during the annual threat briefing to Congress in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who asked, “What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months? High or low?”

“An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral, said in response.

Four other intelligence agency leaders who appeared at the hearing with Mr. Blair said they agreed with the assessment.

They included CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and John Dinger, the acting assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research.

Mr. Blair outlined the major threats facing the United States, in addition to a possible terrorist attack. They include:

• The threat of major attacks on U.S. computer networks and infrastructure.

• The increasingly dangerous Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

• Instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

• Iranian and North Korean missile and nuclear programs.

• China’s military buildup.

• Efforts by the anti-U.S. government of Venezuela to develop closer ties with Iran, China and Russia.

The warning about the threat of another attempted attack, like the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet, was in keeping with the sober public assessment of threats outlined last year by Mr. Blair.

“In our judgment, al Qaeda also retains the capability to recruit, train, and deploy operatives to mount some kind of an attack against the homeland,” according to his written testimony.

The recent arrests of an al Qaeda cell led by Najibullah Zazi, the attempted bombing of the Northwest Airlines jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage, with which Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is charged, all suggest al Qaeda has come close to pulling off mayhem inside the United States.

Adm. Blair’s message was sobering: “Counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda have put the organization in one of its most difficult positions since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom [in Afghanistan] in late 2001,” he said. “However, while these efforts have slowed the pace of anti-U.S. planning and hindered progress on new external operations, they have not been sufficient to stop them.”

The testimony specifically warned that al Qaeda is capable of another attack on the United States, marking a change from the 2009 assessment that emphasized the group’s intentions to attack U.S. soil but said their capabilities to launch an attack on the homeland were limited. …

Mr. Blair testified that al Qaeda is eyeing targets the group in the past attempted to attack, including commercial jets and financial institutions in New York City, and the Washington Metro system.

Mr. Blair’s testimony also focused on al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to obtain biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, but he said he would discuss details only in a closed session.

In testimony after Mr. Blair’s, Mr. Panetta pointed out that the biggest problem for U.S. spies is tracking the “lone wolf” operative who has no background in terrorism.

Mr. Blair said part of the problem is that al Qaeda has switched tactics from spectacular “multiple-cell-based attacks” to smaller-scale operations that are harder to detect.

“The recent successful and attempted attacks represent an evolving threat in which it is even more difficult to identify and track small numbers of terrorists recently recruited and trained and short-term plots than to find and follow terrorist cells engaged in plots that have been ongoing for years,” Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Blair’s written testimony touched on a wide range of topics – from Latin America to the effects of climate change on U.S. strategic interests in the world.

He began his testimony with a stark warning to Congress about the devastating capability of hackers to attack U.S. computer networks.

“Malicious cyber-activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication,” he said. The director added that the technology today favors hackers and other criminals and not nations to protect their networks.

On Iran, Mr. Blair said the intelligence community suspects that Iran was preparing the groundwork for building nuclear weapons, but that to date Tehran had made no political decision to build the arms. Despite political turmoil that has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets since the June 12 presidential elections, Iran’s decision-making process would remain the same, he said.

Overall, Mr. Blair said, he gave the protesters little chance for success. “Strengthened conservative control will limit opportunities for reformers to participate in politics or organize opposition,” he stated. “The regime will work to marginalize opposition elites, disrupt or intimidate efforts to organize dissent, and use force to put down unrest.”

The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to foresee political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution. That prediction proved wrong within five months.

Copyright 2010 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. The first paragraph of a news article generally answers the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when found in paragraph 1 of this article.
(NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details and the why and/or how.)

2. What are the responsibilities of the Director of National Intelligence? (see “Background” below for the answer)

3. a) Define intelligence as used in this article.
b) Name the intelligence leaders who testified before the Senate Committee on Intelligence yesterday.

4. a) List the major threats the U.S. faces, as described by Mr. Blair.
b) Were you surprised about any of these threats? Explain your answer.

5. The four intelligence agency leaders who appeared at the hearing with Mr. Blair said they agreed with his assessment that terrorists will attempt an attack in the U.S. in the next 3-6 months. How is this assessment different from the 2009 assessment?

6. Paragraph 13 states: “Mr. Blair’s testimony also focused on al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to obtain biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, but he said he would discuss details only in a closed session.” How can this information be viewed as positive?

7. a) News of impending terrorist attacks in the U.S. are serious and disturbing. Why is it important for the public to know that this could be a reality? (What can we do about it, instead of worrying?)
b) Ask a parent the same question.


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Background

THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI), is the United States government official subject to the authority, direction and control of the President, who is responsible under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 for:
  • Serving as the principal adviser to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to the national security;
  • Serving as the head of the sixteen-member Intelligence Community; and
  • Overseeing and directing the National Intelligence Program.

Prior to establishment of the DNI, the head of the Intelligence Community was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). The DCI concurrently served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Establishment of the DNI position was one of the recommendations in the report by the 9/11 Commission investigating the September 11 attacks. The report, which was released on July 22, 2004, identified major intelligence failures that called into question how well the Intelligence Community protected U.S. national and homeland security interests against attacks by foreign terrorists. (from wikipedia.org)

SENATE SELECT COMMITTEES/THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE:

  • Select committees are created for clearly specified purposes. Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction. As “little legislatures,” committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information; and recommend courses of action to their parent body. (from senate.gov)
  • The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is dedicated to overseeing the United States Intelligence Community – the agencies and bureaus of the Federal government of the United States who provide information and analysis for leaders of the executive and legislative branches. … The Committee is “select” in that membership is temporary and rotated among members of the chamber. The committee comprises 15 members. Eight of those seats are reserved for one majority and one minority member of each of the following committees: Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Judiciary. Of the remaining seven, four are members of the majority, and three are members of the minority. In addition, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader are non-voting ex officio members of the committee. (wikipedia.org)

Resources

Visit the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence website for the complete written transcript and video of the Hearing on “Current and Projected Threats to the United States” at intelligence.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?hearingId=4370.

For information on Senate Committees click here

Visit the Director of National Intelligence website at dni.gov.

Psalm 46