Today’s release of the unclassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate, Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland, is a black eye for the Bush Administration propaganda campaign that Iraq is making America safer. Despite White House efforts to persuade the public that we are vanquishing Al Qaeda, the intelligence community sees things differently. It is the equivalent of George Bush trying to pass off a pig wearing lipstick as a foxy debutante, but frantic spin notwithstanding the naked critter is still a pig.
Here are the two critical key judgments from the estimate:
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 (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups.It is important to understand that work on this NIE started in April; so it is not reflecting new, startling intelligence. The Senators and Representatives with access to the classified portions of the NIE need to ask some tough questions. For starters, what is the evidence that Al Qaeda has “regenerated” its ability to attack the continental United States? I am skeptical of this claim because we have witnessed a marked decline in mass casualty terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006.
Of note, 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 attacks.
Set aside the Bush Administration rhetoric on terrorism and look at its actions. In November 2001, when Osama Bin Laden was surrounded in Tora Bora, the CIA officer leading the charge, Gary Berntsen, called for reinforcements to finish off the Al Qaeda Chief. General Tommy Franks and General Dell Dailey turned him down. Bin Laden escaped.
Several recent books, including Woodward’s State of Denial, document that George Bush directed Secretary of Defense to start planning the invasion of Iraq in October of 2001. The focus on Iraq took Al Qaeda off of the hook.
George Bush and his apologists keep insisting that we are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. While there are individuals in Iraq who would consider themselves affiliated in some fashion with Bin Laden, the fact is that most of the violence is sectarian in nature and has little to do with Al Qaeda. I was in Iraq a year ago with the special operations forces who are devoting their energies to tracking down and killing AQ operatives. Despite a steady body count and capture of suspects, the overall level of violence in Iraq has continued to rise. In other words, success in killing and capturing suspected AQ operatives is having no effect on stemming the rise in violence.
Why is Bin Laden and his number two, Ayman Zawahair, still running free? The answer is pretty simple–the Bush Administration has not made their capture or elimination a priority. Here we are approaching the six year anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and there still is no one in charge of hunting down the Al Qaeda leaders. CIA is working the issue as are U.S. special operations forces. But the full panoply of the U.S. Government’s resources have not been marshaled nor organized. If you are going to have a Czar in the White House then for my money it ought to be a “Where in the World is Osama” Czar.
The folks ostensibly responsible for coordinating the counter terrorism effort–Fran Townsend and her clumsy deputy, Juan Zarate–are over their heads and incapable of swimming in deep water. I have no personal animus against either, but good friends throughout the national security bureaucracy describe the two of them as incompetent. Someone is supposed to harness the energy of the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State and create a coherent strategy. But they have failed to do so and no one else has stepped into the void. Therefore we should not be surprised that Al Qaeda reportedly is thriving in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan.
Check out whitehouse.gov. Terrorism is not listed as one of the key focus issues on the left side of the page. That speaks volumes. George Bush does not get briefed every morning on the status of the hunt for Bin Laden. Knowledgeable friends still on the inside tell me that he is not demanding progress reports. Finding Bin Laden is not a priority issue for Bush.
Perhaps George Bush needs to go back and review his notes from Harvard Business School. Set a goal, organize the necessary resources to accomplish the goal, and make it a priority. But as Al Qaeda regenerates what is President Bush going to do? He has his August vacation in Crawford to worry about. That is his true priority.
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