On July 17, the nation’S.16 intelligence agencies issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessing The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland. According to the declassified summary of its key judgments, the greatest homeland security threat we face today comes from al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist networks. The estimate reports that al Qaeda has rebuilt its capacity to attack America, operating out of its safe haven in Pakistan, while drawing on the support of regional terrorist groups to enhance its capabilities, spread its extremist ideology, and win new recruits.
According to the July 2007 NIE:
- Al Qaeda represents a very serious threat to America’s security. “Al Qaeda will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots.”
- Al Qaeda has reconstituted its ability to strike America and is actively operating and plotting attacks against the United States from its safe haven in Pakistan. “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.”
- The war in Iraq is serving as a powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda, providing the group with access to new resources, operatives and supporters. “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 attack.”
To the great detriment of U.S. security, the Bush Administration has failed to grasp the nature of al Qaeda’s continued and resurgent threat and has proven incapable of advancing a viable strategy to respond to it. This NIE is the latest evidence that the Administration is losing ground in the war on terrorism, and that its flawed strategy in Iraq is empowering al Qaeda and making us less safe at home. Recent statements from the President show that the White House continues to be out of step with the intelligence community. It is time that the Bush Administration stop spinning the intelligence, level with the American people, and rethink its national security strategy.
The July 2007 NIE Provides the Latest Evidence that the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy is Failing to Combat the Threat of al Qaeda and other Terrorist Networks
The Intelligence Community assesses that al Qaeda has secured safe haven in Pakistan and has rebuilt its capacity. The NIE shows that nearly six years after 9/11 and the President’s declaration of war against terrorism, the Bush Administration has failed to eliminate al Qaeda’s threat to the homeland and also has failed in its fundamental mission to prevent al Qaeda from gaining a safe haven. According to John Kringen, Deputy Director for Intelligence at the CIA, “We actually see the Al Qaida central being resurgent in their role in planning operations. They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan there. We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. So we see that activity rising.” (John Kringen, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 7/11/07)
· The Bush Administration is out of step with the Intelligence Community. “There is a perception in the coverage that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September the 11th. That’s just simply not the case.” (President Bush, Press Conference, 7/12/07)
Other key measures in the war on terror show that the Bush Administration’s strategy is losing ground in the fight against al Qaeda and terrorist networks:
- The Bush Administration has failed to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice: 2,143 days have passed since September 11, 2001, and Osama bin Laden has not been captured. The Bush Administration has failed to capture or kill the key architects of the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, continue to lead and inspire thousands of extremists around the world. (as of 7/26/07)
- The Bush Administration has failed to stop major increases in global terrorist attacks. After reaching a 20-year high in 2003, the number of worldwide terrorist attacks has grown dramatically in recent years, increasing more than threefold since 2004. The increases have been particularly dramatic in Iraq and Afghanistan where terrorist incidents rose 91 percent and 52 percent respectively, over the past year. (State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, 4/30/07)
- The Bush Administration has failed to win the battle of ideas that would “drain the swamp” of extremism. Bush policies have created a whole new generation of extremists aiming to kill Americans rather than “draining the swamp” of extremism, and have allowed the creation of new safe havens for terrorists. From its misguided strategy in Iraq to its inadequate commitment to stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan and inattention to other critical issues in the Arab and Muslim world, the Bush Administration’s policies have had a destabilizing and radicalizing effect.
The July 2007 NIE Is the Latest Evidence That the Bush Administration Has It Wrong On Iraq
The NIE shows that the Bush Administration’s strategy in Iraq is actually helping to empower al Qaeda and leaving us less safe at home.
The Intelligence Community assesses that Iraq is not the front line in the fight against terrorism. According to the July 2007 NIE, al Qaeda has reconstituted its capacity and is directing operations from its safe haven in Pakistan. Testifying on the implications of the NIE on al Qaeda, Edward Gistaro, National Intelligence Officer at the CIA, stated that the intelligence community is primarily concerned about al Qaeda operating out of Pakistan – not Iraq:
Representative Andrews: Are they more capable or less capable of attacking us from the FATA [the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas] relative to Iraq?
Mr. Gistaro: Sir, I think the estimate speaks pretty clearly that we are primarily concerned with Al Qaida in South Asia.
Representative Andrews: So they’re more capable in the FATA areas than they are in Iraq, right?
Mr. Gistaro: Yes, sir.
(Edward Gistaro, Testimony before the House Armed Services and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 7/12/07)
· The Bush Administration is out of step with the Intelligence Community. “So on my orders, good men and women are now fighting the terrorists on the front lines in Iraq.” (President Bush, 7/12/07)
The Intelligence Community assesses that fighting in Iraq is not making us safer at home. According to the July 2007 NIE, continued U.S. operations in Iraq are actually making us less safe by “help[ing] al Qaeda energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.” (National Intelligence Estimate, July 2007)
· The Bush Administration is out of step with the Intelligence Community: “9/11 taught us that to protect the American people, we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don’t have to fight them where we live.” (President Bush 5/23/07)
These judgments of the July 2007 NIE bolster other assessments made by the intelligence community and terrorism experts:
- National Intelligence Director McConnell says Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan is much more likely to plan next attack on U.S. than terrorists in Iraq:
Senator Jack Reed: “Well, the question would be: If you had to establish a probability of a successful attack being organized and directed against the United States, would it emanate from Pakistan, with this newly revised Al Qaida leadership, or would it come out of Iraq?”
National Intelligence Director McConnell: “My belief is the attack most likely would be planned and come out of the leadership in Pakistan.” (Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 2/27/07)
- April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate: The Iraq war created new terrorists. According to the April 2006 NIE, Iraq has become a “cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” (National Intelligence Estimate, April 2006)
- Peter Bergen, terrorism expert: The Iraq war has allowed al Qaeda to reinvent itself. “The Iraq War has also encouraged Muslim youth around the world to join jihadist groups, not necessarily directly tied to Al Qaeda but often motivated by a similar ideology. The Iraq War allowed Al Qaeda, which was on the ropes in 2002 after the United States had captured or killed two-thirds of its leadership, to reinvent itself as a broader movement because Al Qaeda’s central message – that the United States is at war with Islam – was judged by significant numbers of Muslims to have been corroborated by the war in Iraq. And compounding this, the wide dissemination of the exploits of jihadist groups in Iraq following the invasion energized potential and actual jihadists across the world. (“The Iraq Effect,” Mother Jones, March/April 2007)
- Steve Simon, terrorism expert: U.S. presence in Iraq has been a “godsend to jihadists.” “The large presence of U.S. ground forces has had little effect on Iraqi politics, or on the insurgency… At the same time, the presence of U.S. fores is a godsend to jihadists. Talk of a Korea-like commitment and an elaborate base structure, alongside an unwillingness to discuss a timetable for withdrawal, has fueled suspicion and further energized the jihad.” (Testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, 7/17/07)
More Than Four Years into the War, the Bush Administration Continues to Spin Intelligence on Iraq, Is Unwilling to Level with the American People
In a speech to U.S. troops at Charleston Air Force Base on July 24, President Bush used the recently-released NIE to make his case for staying the course in Iraq, promoting what many intelligence analysts and terrorism experts have assessed as a misrepresentation of the realities on the ground in Iraq. His speech contradicted the assessments of the intelligence community by promoting the notion that al Qaeda is the central front in the war on terror, and conflating the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 with al Qaeda in Iraq.
· “The key theater in this global war is Iraq.”(President Bush, July 24, 2007)
· “If we were not fighting these al Qaida extremists and terrorists in Iraq, they would not be leading productive lives of service and charity. Most would be trying to kill Americans and other civilians elsewhere – in Afghanistan, or other foreign capitals, or on the streets of our own cities.” (President Bush, July 24, 2007)
Robert Grenier, former head of the counter-terrorism center at the CIA, says President’s speech is “fundamentally misleading.” “I think what the president is saying is in some sense fundamentally misleading… If he means to suggest the invasion of Iraq has not created more jihadists bent on killing Americans, and that if Iraq hadn’t been there as a magnet they would have been attracted somewhere else, that’s completely disingenuous.” (Los Angeles Times, 7/25/07)
Abraham Wagner, a senior researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism at Columbia University, says President’s speech was a “spin job.” “‘In the Cold War it was called ‘threat lumping,’ Wagner said. ‘It is creating a threat to justify what you are doing. Al Qaeda in Iraq never existed prior to the US activity in Iraq and I think it is still a small operation.’ ‘It is unfortunate,’ he added, that ‘the administration, in their last gasp to justify what they are doing, are inventing threats and misrepresenting what they are getting from the intelligence community.’” (Boston Globe, 7/26/07)
The July 2007 NIE Provides the Latest Evidence that Changing the Course in Iraq Will Enable Us to More Effectively Fight Terrorism, and Protect the U.S. Homleland
The NIE shows that:
- Changing course will allow us to more effectively fight terrorism by refocusing our efforts to eliminate al Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan,
- Changing course and reducing our presence in Iraq will eliminate a key recruiting tool and source of ideological inspiration for al Qaeda;
- Changing course will allow us to restore the readiness of our military forces, which have been stretched dangerously thin by operations in Iraq; and
- Changing course will make us more safe.
Democrats recognize the dangerous and growing terrorist threat and have taken significant steps to counter it
Senate Democrats demanded a change of course in Iraq so that the United States can refocus our resources on the battle against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats. Over the past several months, Democrats have advanced a number of measures to change in policy in Iraq, to transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’ open-ended commitment in Iraq.
In the final version of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats took a critical step forward in holding the President and the Iraqi government accountable for Iraq’s future and advancing the goal of changing course in Iraq. The legislation conditions U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks and also requires the President to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in meeting these benchmarks.
In the months ahead, Senate Democrats will continue to take every opportunity to push for a change of course in Iraq. While ensuring continued counter-terror operations inside Iraq and further training of Iraqi security forces, Democrats’ comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will allow us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight of hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and addressing other important issues both at home and abroad.
Senate Democrats provided increased funding for reconstruction and assistance initiatives to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the threat from the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorists. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Senate Democrats provided $909.9 million for reconstruction programs and State Department operations in Afghanistan, which represents an increase of $189 million above the President’s request. Additional funds are provided for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rural counter-narcotics initiatives, development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance. These initiatives are focused primarily in provinces targeted by the Taliban.
Senate Democrats passed legislation to address critical unfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. This year, Democrats have led the effort to pass the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007. The legislation takes a major step toward fully implementing the recommendations of the bipartiS.Amdt.9/11 Commission and effectively marks a change of course after years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs. The bill will make America more secure by giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe; making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing at all levels of state, local, and federal law enforcement.
Democrats secured increased emergency funding to better secure American borders, ports, and transit systems against terrorist threats. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill also provides $1.05 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11. This allocation includes hundreds of millions of dollars to protect American rail and mass transportation systems, install Explosive Detection Systems at airports, screen air cargo, and implement security measures at our nation’s ports.