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The Worldwide Threat in 2003: Evolving Dangers in a Complex World
WORLDWIDE THREAT BRIEFING BY GEORGE TENET
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
February 11, 2003
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Mr. Chairman, as you know, the United States Government last week raised the terrorist threat level. We did so because of threat reporting from multiple sources with strong al-Qa'ida ties.
The information we have points to plots aimed at targets on two fronts -- in the United States and on the Arabian Peninsula. It points to plots timed to occur as early as the end of the Hajj, which occurs late this week. And it points to plots that could include the use of a radiological dispersion device as well as poisons and chemicals.
The intelligence is not idle chatter on the part of terrorists and their associates. It is the most specific we have seen, and it is consistent with both our knowledge of al-Qa'ida doctrine and our knowledge of plots this network -- and particularly its senior leadership -- has been working on for years.
The Intelligence Community is working directly, and in real time, with friendly services overseas and with our law enforcement colleagues here at home to disrupt and capture specific individuals who may be part of this plot.
Our information and knowledge is the result of important strides we have made since September 11th to enhance our counterterrorism capabilities and to share with our law enforcement colleagues -- and they with us -- the results of disciplined operations, collection, and analysis of events inside the United States and overseas.
Raising the threat level is important to our being as disruptive as possible. The enhanced security that results from a higher threat level can buy us more time to operate against the individuals who are plotting to do us harm. And heightened vigilance generates additional information and leads.
This latest reporting underscores the threat that the al-Qa'ida network continues to pose to the United States. The network is extensive and adaptable. It will take years of determined effort to unravel this and other terrorist networks and stamp them out.
Mr. Chairman, the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Communities aggressively continue to prosecute the war on terrorism, and we are having success on many fronts. More than one third of the top al-Qa'ida leadership identified before the war has been killed or captured, including:
-- The operations chief for the Persian Gulf area, who planned the bombing of the USS Cole.
-- A key planner who was a Muhammad Atta confidant and a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks.
-- A major al-Qa'ida leader in Yemen and other key operatives and facilitators in the Gulf area and other regions, including South Asia and Southeast Asia.
The number of rounded-up al-Qa'ida detainees has now grown to over 3000 -- up from 1000 or so when I testified last year -- and the number of countries involved in these captures has almost doubled to more than 100.
-- Not everyone arrested was a terrorist. Some have been released. But the worldwide rousting of al Qa'ida has definitely disrupted its operations. And we've obtained a trove of information we're using to prosecute the hunt still further.
The coalition against international terrorism is stronger, and we are reaping the benefits of unprecedented international cooperation. In particular, Muslim governments today better understand the threat al-Qa'ida poses to them and day by day have been increasing their support.
-- Ever since Pakistan's decision to sever ties with the Taliban -- so critical to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom -- Islamabad's close cooperation in the war on terrorism has resulted in the capture of key al-Qa'ida lieutenants and significant disruption of its regional network.
-- Jordan and Egypt have been courageous leaders in the war on terrorism.
-- A number of Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates are denying terrorists financial safe haven, making it harder for al-Qa'ida to funnel funding for operations. Others in the Gulf are beginning to tackle the problem of charities that front for, or fund, terrorism.
-- The Saudis are providing increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts -- from arrests to sharing debriefing results.
-- SE Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, with majority Muslim populations, have been active in arresting and detaining terror suspects.
-- And we mustn't forget Afghanistan, where the support of the new leadership is essential.
Al-Qa'ida's loss of Afghanistan, the death and capture of key personnel, and its year spent mostly on the run have impaired its capability, complicated its command and control, and disrupted its logistics.
That said, Mr. Chairman, the continuing threat remains clear. Al-Qa'ida is still dedicated to striking the U.S. homeland, and much of the information we've received in the past year revolves around that goal.
Even without an attack on the US homeland, more than 600 people were killed in acts of terror last year -- and 200 in Al-Qa'ida-related attacks alone. Nineteen were United States citizens.
-- Al-Qa'ida or associated groups carried out a successful attack in Tunisia and -- since October 2002 -- attacks in Mombassa, Bali, and Kuwait, and off Yemen against the French oil tanker Limburg. Most of these attacks bore such al-Qa'ida trademarks as intense surveillance, simultaneous strikes, and suicide-delivered bombs.
Combined US and allied efforts thwarted a number of Al-Qa'ida-related attacks in the past year, including the European poison plots. We identified, monitored, and arrested Jose Padilla, an al-Qa'ida operative who was allegedly planning operations in the United States and was seeking to develop a so-called "dirty bomb." And along with Moroccan partners we disrupted al-Qa'ida attacks against US and British warships in the straits of Gibraltar.
Until al-Qa'ida finds an opportunity for the big attack, it will try to maintain its operational tempo by striking "softer" targets. And what I mean by "softer," Mr. Chairman, are simply those targets al-Qa'ida planners may view as less well protected.
-- Al-Qa'ida has also sharpened its focus on our Allies in Europe and on operations against Israeli and Jewish targets.
Al-Qa'ida will try to adapt to changing circumstances as it regroups. It will seek a more secure base area so that it can pause from flight and resume planning. We place no limitations on our expectations of what al-Qa'ida might do to survive.
We see disturbing signs that al-Qa'ida has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq. In addition, we are also concerned that al-Qa'ida continues to find refuge in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Al-Qa'ida is also developing or refining new means of attack, including use of surface-to-air missiles, poisons, and air, surface, and underwater methods to attack maritime targets.
-- If given the choice, al-Qa'ida terrorists will choose attacks that achieve multiple objectives -- striking prominent landmarks, inflicting mass casualties, causing economic disruption, rallying support through shows of strength.
The bottom line here, Mr. Chairman, is that al-Qa'ida is living in the expectation of resuming the offensive.
We know from the events of September 11 that we can never again ignore a specific type of country: a country unable to control its own borders and internal territory, lacking the capacity to govern, educate its people, or provide fundamental social services. Such countries can, however, offer extremists a place to congregate in relative safety.
Al-Qa'ida is already a presence in several regions that arouse our concern. The Bali attack brought the threat home to Southeast Asia, where the emergence of Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region is particularly worrisome.
-- And the Mombassa attack in East Africa highlights the continued vulnerability of Western interests and the growing terrorist threat there.
Although state sponsors of terrorism assume a lower profile today than a decade ago, they remain a concern. Iran and Syria continue to support the most active Palestinian terrorist groups, HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad. Iran also sponsors Lebanese Hizballah. I'll talk about Iraq's support to terrorism in a moment.
Terrorism directed at U.S. interests goes beyond Middle Eastern or religious extremist groups. In our own hemisphere, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has shown a new willingness to inflict casualties on U.S. nationals.
Mr. Chairman, let me briefly turn to a grave concern: the determination of terrorists to obtain and deploy weapons of massive destructive capability, including nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological devices.
The overwhelming disparity between US forces and those of any potential rival drives terrorist adversaries to the extremes of warfare -- toward "the suicide bomber or the nuclear device" as the best ways to confront the United States. Our adversaries see us as lacking will and determination when confronted with the prospect of massive losses.
-- Terrorists count on the threat of demoralizing blows to instill massive fear and rally shadowy constituencies to their side.
We continue to receive information indicating that al-Qa'ida still seeks chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. The recently disrupted poison plots in the U.K., France, and Spain reflect a broad, orchestrated effort by al-Qa'ida and associated groups to attack several targets using toxins and explosives.
-- These planned attacks involved similar materials, and the implicated operatives had links to one another.
I told you last year, Mr. Chairman, that Bin Ladin has a sophisticated BW capability. In Afghanistan, al-Qa'ida succeeded in acquiring both the expertise and the equipment needed to grow biological agents, including a dedicated laboratory in an isolated compound outside of Kandahar.
Last year I also discussed al-Qa'ida's efforts to obtain nuclear and radiological materials as part of an ambitious nuclear agenda. One year later, we continue to follow every lead in tracking terrorist efforts to obtain nuclear materials.
-- In particular, we continue to follow up on information that al-Qa'ida seeks to produce or purchase a radiological dispersal device. Construction of such a device is well within al-Qa'ida capabilities -- if it can obtain the radiological material.
Before I move on to the broader world of proliferation, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to comment on Iraq. Last week Secretary Powell carefully reviewed for the U.N. Security Council the intelligence we have on Iraqi efforts to deceive U.N. inspectors, its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, and its support for terrorism. I do not plan to go into these matters in detail, but I would like to summarize some of the key points.
-- Iraq has in place an active effort to deceive U.N. inspectors and deny them access. This effort is directed by the highest levels of the Iraqi regime. Baghdad has given clear directions to its operational forces to hide banned materials in their possession.
-- Iraq's BW program includes mobile research and production facilities that will be difficult, if not impossible, for the inspectors to find. Baghdad began this program in the mid-1990s -- during a time when U.N. inspectors were in the country.
-- Iraq has established a pattern of clandestine procurements designed to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. These procurements include -- but also go well beyond -- the aluminum tubes that you have heard so much about.
-- Iraq has recently flight tested missiles that violate the UN range limit of 150 kilometers. It is developing missiles with ranges beyond 1,000 kilometers. And it retains -- in violation of UN resolutions -- a small number of SCUD missiles that it produced before the Gulf War.
-- Iraq has tested unmanned aerial vehicles to ranges that far exceed both what it declared to the United Nations and what it is permitted under U.N. resolutions. We are concerned that Iraq's UAVs can dispense chemical and biological weapons and that they can deliver such weapons to Iraq's neighbors or, if transported, to other countries, including the United States.
-- Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of Usama Bin Ladin. We know Zarqawi's network was behind the poison plots in Europe that I discussed earlier as well as the assassination of a U.S. State Department employee in Jordan.
-- Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al-Qa'ida. It also provided training in poisons and gasses to two al-Qa'ida associates; one of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.
Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence. It comes to us from credible and reliable sources. Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources. And it is consistent with the pattern of denial and deception exhibited by Saddam Hussein over the past 12 years.
Mr. Chairman, what I just summarized for you on Iraq's WMD programs underscores our broader concerns about of proliferation. More has changed on nuclear proliferation over the past year than on any other issue. For 60 years, weapon-design information and technologies for producing fissile material -- the key hurdles for nuclear weapons production -- have been the domain of only a few states. These states, though a variety of self-regulating and treaty based regimes, generally limited the spread of these data and technologies.
In my view, we have entered a new world of proliferation. In the vanguard of this new world are knowledgeable non-state purveyors of WMD materials and technology. Such non-state outlets are increasingly capable of providing technology and equipment that previously could only be supplied by countries with established capabilities.
This is taking place side by side with the continued weakening of the international nonproliferation consensus. Control regimes like the Non-Proliferation Treaty are being battered by developments such as North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT and its open repudiation of other agreements.
-- The example of new nuclear states that seem able to deter threats from more powerful states, simply by brandishing nuclear weaponry, will resonate deeply among other countries that want to enter the nuclear weapons club.
Demand creates the market. The desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge. Additional countries may decide to seek nuclear weapons as it becomes clear their neighbors and regional rivals are already doing so. The "domino theory" of the 21st century may well be nuclear.
-- With the assistance of proliferators, a potentially wider range of countries may be able to develop nuclear weapons by "leapfrogging" the incremental pace of weapons programs in other countries.
Let me now briefly review, sector by sector, the range on non-nuclear proliferation threats.
In biological warfare (BW) and chemical warfare (CW), maturing programs in countries of concern are becoming less reliant on foreign suppliers -- which complicates our ability to monitor programs via their acquisition activities. BW programs have become more technically sophisticated as a result of rapid growth in the field of biotechnology research and the wide dissemination of this knowledge. Almost anyone with limited skills can create BW agents. The rise of such capabilities also means we now have to be concerned about a myriad of new agents.
-- Countries are more and more tightly integrating both their BW and CW production capabilities into apparently legitimate commercial infrastructures, further concealing them from scrutiny.
The United States and its interests remain at risk from increasingly advanced and lethal ballistic and cruise missiles and UAVs. In addition to the longstanding threats from Russian and Chinese missile forces, the United States faces a near-term ICBM threat from North Korea. And over the next several years, we could face a similar threat from Iran and possibly Iraq.
-- Short- and medium-range missiles already pose a significant threat to US interests, military forces, and allies as emerging missile states increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories.
And several countries of concern remain interested in acquiring a land-attack cruise missile (LACM) capability. By the end of the decade, LACMs could pose a serious threat to not only our deployed forces, but possibly even the U.S. mainland.
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As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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