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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Full Text: July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Al Qaeda Threat To U.S. Homeland

By J.M. Berger

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released
a summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of
al Qaeda's current threat to the U.S. Homeland. The full text
of the NIE is reproduced below.

Key Judgments We judge the
US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat
over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic
terrorist groups and cells, especially al-Qa’ida, driven by
their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued
effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their
capabilities. We assess that greatly increased worldwide
counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have
constrained the ability of al-Qa’ida to attack the US
Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the
Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These
measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United
States since 9/11.

  • We are concerned, however, that this level of international
    cooperation may wane as 9/11 becomes a more distant memory and
    perceptions of the threat diverge.

    Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist
    threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to
    plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni
    communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its
    capabilities. 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. Although
    we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United
    States with ties to al-Qa’ida senior leadership since 9/11,
    we judge that al-Qa’ida will intensify its efforts to put
    operatives here.

  • As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in
    a heightened threat environment.

    We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its
    capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation
    with regional terrorist groups. 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. We assess that al-Qa’ida’s Homeland plotting
    is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic,
    and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass
    casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic
    aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population. The group is
    proficient with conventional small arms and improvised explosive
    devices, and is innovative in creating new capabilities and
    overcoming security obstacles.

  • We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to try to
    acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear
    material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it
    develops what it deems is sufficient capability.

    We assess Lebanese Hizballah, which has conducted anti-US attacks
    outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to
    consider attacking the Homeland over the next three years if it
    perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the
    group or Iran. We assess that the spread of
    radical—especially Salafi—Internet sites,
    increasingly aggressive anti-US rhetoric and actions, and the
    growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western
    countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the
    West’s Muslim population is expanding, including in the
    United States. The arrest and prosecution by US law enforcement
    of a small number of violent Islamic extremists inside the United
    States— who are becoming more connected ideologically,
    virtually, and/or in a physical sense to the global extremist
    movement—points to the possibility that others may become
    sufficiently radicalized that they will view the use of violence
    here as legitimate. We assess that this internal Muslim terrorist
    threat is not likely to be as severe as it is in Europe, however.
    We assess that other, non-Muslim terrorist groups—often
    referred to as “single-issue” groups by the
    FBI—probably will conduct attacks over the next three years
    given their violent histories, but we assess this violence is
    likely to be on a small scale. We assess that globalization
    trends and recent technological advances will continue to enable
    even small numbers of alienated people to find and connect with
    one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize
    resources to attack—all without requiring a centralized
    terrorist organization, training camp, or leader.

  • The ability to detect broader and more diverse terrorist
    plotting in this environment will challenge current US defensive
    efforts and the tools we use to detect and disrupt plots. It will
    also require greater understanding of how suspect activities at
    the local level relate to strategic threat information and how
    best to identify indicators of terrorist activity in the midst of
    legitimate interactions.


    Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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    INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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