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Al-Qaeda : CIA & consensus report on state of Al-Qaeda as of May's end 2008
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 Message 1 of 2 in Discussion 
From: MSN NicknameT-o-r-s-t-e-n  (Original Message)Sent: 5/30/2008 2:41 PM
U.S. Cites Big Gains Against Al-Qaeda
Group Is Facing Setbacks Globally, CIA Chief Says

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008; A01

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group's core leadership.

While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers.

All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with The Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA.

"On balance, we are doing pretty well," he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.

"One of the lessons we can draw from the past two years is that al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy," said Robert Grenier, a former top CIA counterterrorism official who is now managing director of Kroll, a risk consulting firm. "Where they have succeeded initially, they very quickly discredit themselves."

Others warned that al-Qaeda remains capable of catastrophic attacks and may be even more determined to stage a major strike to prove its relevance. "Al-Qaeda's obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "I agree that there has been progress. But we're indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy."

A landmark study last August by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies described the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area as a de facto al-Qaeda haven in which terrorist leaders were reorganizing for attacks against the West. But Hayden said counterterrorism successes extend even to that lawless region. Although he would not discuss CIA operations in the area, U.S. intelligence agencies have carried out several attacks there since January, using unmanned Predator aircraft for surgical strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban safe houses.

"The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance -- even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," Hayden said.

But terrorism experts note the lack of success in the U.S. effort to capture bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Intelligence officials say they think both are living in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal area in locations known only to a few top aides. Hayden said capturing or killing the pair remains a top priority, though he noted the difficulties in finding them in a rugged, remote region where the U.S. military is officially forbidden to operate.

The Bush administration has been watching political developments in Pakistan with apprehension, worried that the country's newly elected leadership will not be as tolerant of occasional unilateral U.S. strikes against al-Qaeda as was the government of President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Hayden declined to discuss what agreements, if any, have been brokered with Pakistan's new leaders, but he said, "We're comfortable with the authorities we have."

Since the start of the year, he said, al-Qaeda's global leadership has lost three senior officers, including two who succumbed "to violence," an apparent reference to Predator strikes that killed terrorist leaders Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi in Pakistan. He also cited a successful blow against "training activity" in the region but offered no details. "Those are the kinds of things that delay and disrupt al-Qaeda's planning," Hayden said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, he said he is concerned that the progress against al-Qaeda could be halted or reversed because of what he considers growing complacency and a return to the mind-set that existed before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We remain worried, and frankly, I wonder why some other people aren't worried, too," he said. His concern stems in part from improved intelligence-gathering that has bolstered the CIA's understanding of al-Qaeda's intent, he said.

"The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where 'safe' is normal," he said. "Our view is: Safe is hard-won, every 24 hours."

Hayden, who has previously highlighted a gulf between Washington and its European allies on how to battle terrorism, said he is troubled that Congress and many in the media are "focused less on the threat and more on the tactics the nation has chosen to deal with the threat" -- a reference to controversial CIA interrogation techniques approved by Hayden's predecessors.

"The center line of the national discussion has moved, and in our business, our center line is more shaped by the reality of the threat," Hayden said.

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda's affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism.

"Despite this 'cause célebrè' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as "more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis," he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics -- including some who used to support al-Qaeda -- criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians.

While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they "created the circumstances" for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden warned, however, that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms.

"It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period," he said.

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 Message 2 of 2 in Discussion 
From: MSN Nicknamebreeze_tiogaSent: 5/30/2008 2:57 PM
And on the flip side... Fox News posts this....

WASHINGTON ?nbsp; Al Qaeda, increasingly shut down in Iraq, is establishing cells in other countries as Usama bin Laden's organization uses a "safe haven" in Pakistan's tribal region to train for attacks in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa and the United States, the U.S. intelligence chief said Tuesday.

"Al Qaeda remains the pre-eminent threat against the United States," Mike McConnell told a Senate hearing more than six years after the 9/11 attacks.

He said that fewer than 100 Al Qaeda terrorists have moved from Iraq to establish cells in other countries as the U.S. military clamps down on their activities, and "they may deploy resources to mount attacks outside the country."

The Al Qaeda network in Iraq and in Pakistan and Afghanistan has suffered setbacks, but he said the group poses a persistent and growing danger. He said that Al Qaeda maintains a "safe haven" in Pakistan's tribal areas, where it is able to stage attacks supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani tribal areas provide Al Qaeda "many of the advantages it once derived from its base across the border in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller and less secure scale," allowing militants to train for strikes in Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa and the United States, McConnell said.

Terrorists use the "sanctuary" of Pakistan's border area to "maintain a cadre of skilled lieutenants capable of directing the organization's operations around the world," McConnell told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The next attack on the United States will most likely be launched by Al Qaeda operating in "under-governed regions" of Pakistan, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, planned to tell Congress on Wednesday.

"Continued congressional support for the legitimate government of Pakistan braces this bulwark in the long war against violent extremism," Mullen states in remarks prepared for a separate budget hearing and obtained by The Associated Press.

The U.S. has expressed growing concern that Al Qaeda figures who fled Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001 have been able to regroup inside tribal regions, posing a threat not just to U.S. forces across the border, but offering a potential base for global operations.

U.S. officials have said they believe that bin Laden is taking refuge in the Pakistani tribal region, likely on the Pakistani side of the border.

Still, McConnell praised Pakistan's cooperation in the fight against extremists, saying that hundreds of Pakistanis have died while fighting terrorists. He said Islamabad has done more to "neutralize" terrorists than any other partner of the United States.

Despite the Pakistani cooperation, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Pakistani military has been unable to disrupt or damage Al Qaeda terrorists operating in the tribal border region. And the U.S. military is prohibited by Pakistan from pursuing Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters that cross the border to conduct attacks inside Afghanistan.

McConnell also told the Intelligence Committee that the Taliban, once thought to be routed from Afghanistan, has expanded its operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around the capital of Kabul, despite the death or capture of three top commanders in the last year.

At the same hearing, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly confirmed for the first time the names of three suspected Al Qaeda terrorists who were subjected to a particularly harsh interrogation technique known as waterboarding, and why.

"We used it against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time," Hayden said. "There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about al-Qaida and its workings. Those two realities have changed."

Hayden said that Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- the purported mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States -- and Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subject to the harsh interrogations in 2002 and 2003. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that critics call torture.

Waterboarding induces a feeling of imminent drowning with the restrained subject's mouth covered and water poured over his face.

"Waterboarding taken to its extreme, could be death, you could drown someone," McConnell acknowledged. He said waterboarding remains a technique in the CIA's arsenal, but it would require the consent of the president and legal approval of the attorney general.

In other troubling parts of the world, the intelligence director said North Korea was proceeding with a nuclear program despite an agreement last year to suspend operations and Iran was "keeping open the option" of building nuclear weapons.

The United States remains "uncertain about Kim Jong Il's commitment to full denuclearization, as he promised in the six-party agreement," McConnell said, referring to the North's leader and to the nuclear talks involving the U.S., the Koreas, Japan, China and Russia.

Increases in military spending have enabled Russia to reverse deterioration of its military forces that set in as the Soviet Union collapsed, McDonnell said, and China's military modernization "will put American forces at greater risk."

Also testifying, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Al Qaeda continues to present a "critical threat to the homeland" and warned that "homegrown terrorists" not directly linked to Al Qaeda posed a threat as well.

After terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, McConnell said the threat from cyberattacks to U.S. information systems is the most pressing issue. President Bush signed a classified directive in January outlining steps the federal government is taking to protect its networks.

"It is no longer sufficient for the U.S. government to discover cyber intrusions in its networks, clean up the damage and take legal or political steps to deter further intrusions," McConnell said.

On Cuba, he said the intelligence community is not expecting an immediate political convulsion if ailing President Fidel Castro dies.

"We assess the political situation in Cuba will at least remain stable in the first few months after Fidel's death," McConnell said.

But policy missteps on the part Castro's successor could lead to mass migration of Cubans to the United States, he said.