Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bush to declassify the Iraq/Terrorism NIE

The latest, just posted on CNN.com, is that the president will declassify an NIE that was partially leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Such steps were recommended by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican, and Robert Kagan in the Washington Post today:
Probably what the NIE's authors mean is not that the Iraq war has increased the actual threat. According to the Times, the report is agnostic on whether another terrorist attack is more or less likely. Rather, its authors claim that the war has increased the number of potential terrorists. Unfortunately, neither The Post nor the Times provides any figures to support this. Does the NIE? Or are its authors simply assuming that because Muslims have been angered by the war, some percentage of them must be joining the ranks of terrorists?

As a poor substitute for actual figures, The Post notes that, according to the NIE, members of terrorist cells post messages on their Web sites depicting the Iraq war as "a Western attempt to conquer Islam." No doubt they do. But to move from that observation to the conclusion that the Iraq war has increased the terrorist threat requires answering a few additional questions: How many new terrorists are there? How many of the new terrorists became terrorists because they read the messages on the Web sites? And of those, how many were motivated by the Iraq war as opposed to, say, the war in Afghanistan, or the Danish cartoons, or the Israel-Palestine conflict, or their dislike for the Saudi royal family or Hosni Mubarak, or, more recently, the comments of the pope? Perhaps our intelligence agencies have discovered a way to examine, measure and then rank the motives that drive people to become terrorists, though I tend to doubt it. But any serious and useful assessment of the effect of the Iraq war would, at a minimum, try to isolate the effect of the war from everything else that is and has been going on to stir Muslim anger. Did the NIE attempt to make that calculation?
These questions will soon be answered.

John Negroponte addressed the NIE last night, AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) — National Intelligence Director John Negroponte acknowledged Monday that the jihad in Iraq is shaping a new generation of terrorist operatives, but rejected characterizations stemming from a leaked intelligence estimate that the United States is at a greater risk of attack than it was in September 2001.

Rather, he said, the high-level assessment from the nation's top analysts doesn't "really talk about" an increased threat inside the U.S. border.

"We are certainly more vigilant. We are better prepared," said Negroponte. "We are safer. The threat to the homeland itself has — if anything — been reduced since 9/11."
This NIE most likely will state nothing too surprising. It will likely state that the global jihad has expanded, there may be numbers in support of this claim.

The Washington Post reported on a CIA report from early 2005:
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."
In February 2005, Porter Goss said that the war in Iraq was recruiting new jihadists, the Washington Post:
The insurgency in Iraq continues to baffle the U.S. military and intelligence communities, and the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday.

"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds warned in late 2005, in Foreign Affairs, that the insurgents in Iraq could become the terrorists of tomorrow. After all, a primary cause behind the development of al Qaeda was the jihad in Afghanistan:
When the United States started sending guns and money to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, it had a clearly defined Cold War purpose: helping expel the Soviet army, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. And so it made sense that once the Afghan jihad forced a Soviet withdrawal a decade later, Washington would lose interest in the rebels. For the international mujahideen drawn to the Afghan conflict, however, the fight was just beginning. They opened new fronts in the name of global jihad and became the spearhead of Islamist terrorism. The seriousness of the blowback became clear to the United States with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center: all of the attack's participants either had served in Afghanistan or were linked to a Brooklyn-based fund-raising organ for the Afghan jihad that was later revealed to be al Qaeda's de facto U.S. headquarters. The blowback, evident in other countries as well, continued to increase in intensity throughout the rest of the decade, culminating on September 11, 2001.

The current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious blowback of its own, which -- as a recent classified CIA assessment predicts -- could be longer and more powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will find new targets around the world after the war ends. Yet the Bush administration, consumed with managing countless crises in Iraq, has devoted little time to preparing for such long-term consequences. Lieutenant General James Conway, the director of operations on the Joint Staff, admitted as much when he said in June that blowback "is a concern, but there's not much we can do about it at this point in time." Judging from the experience of Afghanistan, such thinking is both mistaken and dangerously complacent.
This debate, like so many we see these days, is silly and incomplete. Each side adopts one nuance over the other to bolster the cause.

Are we safer? Yes. Here's John Negroponte as reported on Paula Zahn Now:
JOHN NEGROPONTE, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: It talks about the jihadist movement having spread. My personal assessment with respect to the United States is that we are certainly more vigilant. We're better prepared. In that sense, I think we could safely say that we are safer.
We have taken important steps to enhance security in the United States. Yes, in that sense we are safer. But, the baseline for safety -- 9/11 and almost 3,000 dead -- is a lousy baseline. It is hard, very hard, to be less secure than that level.

Are we safer? No. Here's Michael Ware on Paula Zahn Now:
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the United States certainly has created quite a situation for itself.

I mean, we have seen -- it's been self-evident on the ground here since at least 2004 that the very thing President Bush says that he came here to prevent, terrorism, and to curb this terrorism, he is in fact fostering. I mean, after Afghanistan, al Qaeda and like-minded groups were looking for the new platform in which to blood the next generation, the next fire in which to forge the steel that they thought would take al Qaeda forward.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now dead leader, saw this opportunity, and took Iraq as a platform. And that's exactly what we have seen happen. We saw a homegrown fight internationalized by people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And we now see it as the rallying point for al Qaeda and global militants across the world.

This simply is not new. It's what intelligence agencies have been saying for quite some time. It dismisses President Bush's honey pot theory: We will draw them into Iraq and kill them there. No, say analysts I speak to. It's the beehive. We're shaking it up -- Paula.
And here is terrorism analyst Jim Walsh said on Paula Zahn Now:

A lot of analysts, myself included, were warning that, even before the war in Iraq, if we went into Iraq, this would help al Qaeda; this would help the terrorists. It would help with recruitment, and more people would want to join the cause.

And Kelli is right. Intelligence officials have been offering these views for some time in testimony and speeches. What's news here, though, is that this is a national intelligence estimate. It's the most important intelligence document that the government produces. All 16 different agencies are agreeing, and they're saying that we are less safe today than we were three years ago, and against the number-one threat we face, which is terrorism. And, so, it goes straight to the heart of the -- of the president's claims on what is his most important issue. So, it's certainly newsworthy in that regard.
There is a tiger on the loose. It is al Qaeda in Iraq. That tiger also has a number of cousins. Feel safer?


Blogger Chuck said...

You seem to put a lot of trust in CNN correspondent Ware. I put no trust in anything CNN says and I dispise Wolf Blitzer.

You can find better sources than CNN.

8:00 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I do put a lot of trust in Ware. In fact, I have found more and more reason to listen to what he says. Please note what I posted about earlier in the month, as it addresses my opinions on Ware's reporting. I first thought he might be a bit of a sensationalist in April and May, as he was saying things I had heard from few other sources. Then I noticed that his reporting from Ramadi contained some language reminscent of the reporting on Devlin's report.

I do try to exercise discretion on who I quote. I have even had some success contacting these journalists with follow up questions. Some have also taken the time to contact me.

If you come across good news items, please send me a link. i would appreaciate your sourcing.

Now, Ware was also quoted twice today (I think twice) as I knew he had given interviews on two CNN shows (usually on in the background) and I recalled that his remarks would be pertinent to my points. Also, CNN has a robust transcript service -- a major plus for bloggers.

8:47 PM  

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