Terror threat higher since 9/11, report says
WASHINGTON A stark assessment of terrorism trends by U.S. intelligence agencies has found that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington who were involved in preparing the assessment or have read the final document.
The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by U.S. intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and it represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside the government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.
An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology. The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” one U.S. intelligence official said.
More than a dozen U.S. government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document.
The officials included employees of several government agencies and both supporters and critics of the Bush administration. All of those interviewed had either seen the document or participated in the creation of drafts of it.
The officials discussed some of the document’s general conclusions but not its details, which remain highly classified. Officials with knowledge of the intelligence estimate said it avoided specific judgments about the likelihood that terrorists would once again strike on U.S. territory.
The relationship between the Iraq war and terrorism and the question of whether the United States is safer have been subjects of debate since the war began in 2003.
National Intelligence Estimates are the most authoritative documents that the intelligence community produces on a specific national security issue, and they are approved by John Negroponte, director of national intelligence. Their conclusions are based on the analysis of raw intelligence collected by all the spy agencies.
The judgments in the estimate confirm some predictions of a National Intelligence Council report that was completed in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq.
That report stated that the approaching war had the potential to increase support for political Islam worldwide and could increase support for some terrorist objectives.
Documents released by the White House timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks emphasized the successes that the United States had made in dismantling the top tier of Al Qaeda.
“Since the Sept. 11 attacks, America and its allies are safer, but we are not yet safe,” concludes one, a report titled “9/11 Five Years Later: Success and Challenges.” “We have done much to degrade Al Qaeda and its affiliates and to undercut the perceived legitimacy of terrorism.”
That document makes only passing mention of the impact the Iraq war has had on the global jihadist movement. “The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry,” it states.
On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a more ominous report about the terrorist threat. That assessment, based on unclassified documents, details a growing jihadist movement and says that “Qaeda leaders wait patiently for the right opportunity to attack.”
The new National Intelligence Estimate was overseen by David Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, who commissioned it in 2004 after he took up his post at the National Intelligence Council. Low declined to be interviewed for this article.
The estimate concludes that the radical Islamic movement has expanded from a core of operatives and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda to include a new class of “self-generating” cells inspired by Al Qaeda but without any direct connection to Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants.
It also examines how the Internet has helped spread jihadist ideology and how cyberspace has become a haven for terrorists who no longer have refuges in such countries as Afghanistan.