Iraq is 'Cause Célèbre' for Extremists
KATHERINE SHRADER & JENNIFER LOVEN / AP 26sep2006
The war in Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for Islamic extremists, breeding deep resentment of the U.S. that probably will get worse before it gets better, federal intelligence analysts conclude in a report at odds with President Bush's portrayal of a world growing safer.
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In the bleak report, declassified and released Tuesday on Bush's orders, the nation's most veteran analysts conclude that despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.
Bush and his top advisers have said the formerly classified assessment of global terrorism supported their arguments that the world is safer because of the war. But more than three pages of stark judgments warning about the spread of terrorism contrasted with the administration's glass-half-full declarations.
"If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide," the document says. "The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups."
The intelligence assessment, completed in April, has stirred a heated election-season argument over the course of U.S. national security in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Virtually all assessments of the current situation were bad news. The report's few positive notes were couched in conditional terms, depending on successful completion of difficult tasks ahead for the U.S. and its allies. In one example, analysts concluded that more responsive political systems in Muslim nations could erode support for jihadist extremists.
Bush ordered a declassified section of the secret report released after several days of criticism sparked by portions that were leaked to the news media over the weekend.
At a news conference, Bush said critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism are naive and mistaken, noting that al-Qaida and other groups have found inspiration to attack for more than a decade. "My judgment is, if we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse, because they have ambitions," he said.
The unclassified document said:
- The increased role of Iraqis in opposing al-Qaida in Iraq might lead the terror group's veteran foreign fighters to refocus their efforts outside that country.
- While Iran and Syria are the most active state sponsors of terror, many other countries will be unable to prevent their resources from being exploited by terrorists.
- The underlying factors that are fueling the spread of the extremist Muslim movement outweigh its vulnerabilities. These factors are entrenched grievances and a slow pace of reform in home countries, rising anti-U.S. sentiment and the Iraq war.
- Groups "of all stripes" will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, train, recruit and obtain support.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally in Washington for a Thursday meeting with Bush, found himself drawn into the political dispute. He was asked in a CNN interview about an assertion in his new book that he opposed the invasion of Iraq because he feared that it would only encourage extremists and leave the world less safe.
"I stand by it, absolutely," Musharraf said. "It has made the world a more dangerous place."
White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend took issue with one of the report's most damning conclusions: that the number of jihadists has increased.
"I don't think there's any question that there's an increase in rhetoric," she said. But "I think it's difficult to count the number of true jihadists that are willing to commit murder or kill themselves in the process."
The intelligence assessment also lays out weaknesses of the movement that analysts say must be exploited if its spread is to be slowed. For instance, they note that extremists want to see the establishment of strict Islamic governments in the Arab world — a development they say would be unpopular with most Muslims.
The report also argues that the loss of key al-Qaida leaders — Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — in "rapid succession" would probably cause the group to fracture. Al-Zarqawi was killed in June, but the top two al-Qaida leaders have remained elusive for years.
National intelligence estimates are compilations of the best thinking of U.S. intelligence agencies, meant to provide the broadest guidance to government policymakers.
But they can be wrong. A 2002 assessment, for example, concluded that Iraq had continued its development of weapons of mass destruction, held arsenals of chemical and biological weapons and "probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade." None of those assertions turned out to be true.
Hours before the terrorism report was made public, Democrats seized on the political ammunition. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Carl Levin of Michigan both said release of the key findings alone wouldn't give Americans enough information, and they accused the administration of selective declassification.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sought a rare secret session of the House to discuss the report's classified findings. Her request was rejected — 217-171 — on a nearly straight party-line vote. In an interview, she said the intelligence estimate "is not a corroboration of what the president is saying. It is a contradiction of what the president is saying."
Excerpts of Secret Report Released
TABASSUM ZAKARIA & DAVID MORGAN / Reuters 26sep2006
WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush on Tuesday made public the key findings of a secret intelligence report that concluded the Iraq war had become a "cause celebre" for the jihadist movement.
Democrats had seized on leaked portions of the National Intelligence Estimate to criticize the administration's handling of the Iraq war and members of the U.S. Congress had pressed the White House to declassify the document.
At a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bush said he thought it was "a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there's a leak."
He added: "Somebody has taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes."
The office of U.S. intelligence director John Negroponte released a 3-1/2 page section containing the April report's key judgments, hours after Bush ordered it declassified to counter media reports he said had misrepresented conclusions about Iraq.
"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," the report said.
"Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight," it said.
Democrats, hoping to take control of Congress in the November elections, pounced on media leaks about the report as evidence that Bush's Iraq policy had worsened the global terrorism threat.
Bush is intent on portraying his party as stronger on national security than Democrats and better able to protect Americans.
"But once again there's a leak out of our government, coming right down the stretch in this campaign, in order to create confusion in the minds of the American people, in my judgment is why they leaked it," Bush said.
Bush said he agreed with the report's conclusion that successes against the al Qaeda leadership had led to extremists "becoming more diffuse and independent" and that they were using Iraq as a recruiting tool.
But, he said, "some people have guessed what's in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it's naive."
Bush insists his decision to invade Iraq was necessary to deal with a potential threat. But the American public has become increasingly weary of the war in which about 2,700 American troops have died and sectarian violence is rampant.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there may be another National Intelligence Estimate specifically on Iraq that she had not seen, but "I hear its contents are grim."
White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend defended the decision not to release the whole document, saying the few key judgments held back "go directly to national security concerns" and there were concerns about disclosing sources and methods.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Americans could now decide on the merits of the report, and repeated his party's criticism that the Iraq war had made Americans less safe and in need of a new direction.
"Facts are stubborn things," Dean said in a statement. "Nothing changes the fact that President Bush's failed leadership and war of choice in Iraq have made us less safe and hampered our ability to fight and win the global war on terror," he said.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland
Bush Makes Public Parts of Report on Terrorism
BRIAN KNOWLTON / International Herald Tribune 26sep2006
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration released late this afternoon declassified parts of a major intelligence report stating that intelligence agencies found the Iraq war had become a “cause célèbre” for Islamic militants, and that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups present a serious and continuing threat to the United States.
“The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere,” excerpts from the report said.
“The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”
The excerpts, which were described as declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, were released by the office of the director of national security.
They said American-led counterterrorism efforts had seriously damaged the leadership of Al Qaeda and disrupted its operations. “However, we judge that Al Qaeda will continue to pose the greatest threat to the homeland and U.S. interests abroad by a single terrorist organization,” the excerpts said.
The report warned that “threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.”
It said that if democratic reforms spread in Muslim nations over the next five years, they would probably “drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives.”
“Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit,” the report said.
President Bush said earlier today that he had asked John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, to declassify key findings of the intelligence assessment, which reflects the consensus of the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies.
During a brief news conference with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Mr. Bush was clearly unhappy that findings from the National Intelligence Estimate, completed in April, had made their way into news reports. The New York Times disclosed some of the findings over the weekend.
Noting that evidence-gathering for the assessment had been concluded in February, and that the report itself had been finished two months later, Mr. Bush said: “Here we are, coming down the homestretch of an election campaign and it’s on the front page of your newspapers. Isn’t that interesting?”
Mr. Bush said that people were drawing the wrong conclusion from the leaked news reports.
“Some people have guessed what’s in the report and concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake,” the president said. “I strongly disagree.”
“I think it’s naïve. I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm against the American people makes us less safe.”
The president made it clear that the matter angered him. “I think it’s a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there’s a leak,” he said, before saying that he had told Mr. Negroponte to do so.
“I told the D.N.I. to declassify the document, you can read it for yourself,” Mr. Bush said, adding, “Everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.”
In a highly unusual move, the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, asked her colleagues today to convene a secret session of the House to discuss the full intelligence analysis, which she called “the administration’s worst nightmare.”
No such session has taken place since July 1983, when lawmakers met behind closed doors to discuss American support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua, according to The Associated Press.
But Ms. Pelosi’s request was quickly rebuffed in the Republican-dominated House, which defeated it in a 217-to-171 vote.
Democrats have seized on reports that the intelligence assessment links the war in Iraq to a rising terror threat — a potentially damaging blow to the central administration argument that the war has made Americans safer.
Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, had called earlier today for declassifying the assessment. She said the Iraq war had “made the global jihadist threat more dangerous.”
“We created a failed state by removing Saddam Hussein and established a recruiting tool and training ground for global jihadists,” she said.
Mr. Harman said that the National Intelligence Estimate was “a document everyone should be able to read,” and that she had asked Mr. Negroponte to produce a declassified summary.
The Bush administration had resisted the declassification. But as the security debate has exploded ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 7, the political pressure to respond to Democrats’ furious criticism may have tipped the balance.
Republican lawmakers have not disputed the accuracy of the reports describing the assessment’s findings, but they have said a grave terror threat that predated the Sept. 11 attacks had to be faced head-on.
In its earlier responses, the Bush administration said news reports about the intelligence document did not reflect it fairly or wholly, and gave too little credit to the White House for its understanding of a complex and evolving terror threat.
Mr. Bush also said today that he would not be drawn into an argument with the former President Bill Clinton, who said in an interview shown on Fox News on Sunday that the Bush administration had done too little in its first months in office to counter the threat from Al Qaeda.
While Mr. Bush declined to confront those criticisms, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not shy from doing so in an interview published in The New York Post today.
She directly challenged a claim by Mr. Clinton that he had done more to pursue Osama bin Laden than many of his conservative critics, including some in the Bush administration, had been willing to do before Sept. 11, 2001.
“What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years,” Ms. Rice said, according to a transcript provided by the State Department.
And she rejected Mr. Clinton’s assertion that he had left behind a comprehensive plan to fight Al Qaeda.
Some Republicans have suggested that a furious response by Mr. Clinton to the Fox interviewer’s questioning was more calculated than it might have seemed, aimed at pushing the Democrats to fight back when accused of being weak on terror.
Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, appeared to say as much.
“I just think that my husband did a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take this,” she told Newsday on Monday.
The political adviser James Carville told NBC News today that his former boss had given Democrats “a spinal implant.”
"Trends in Global Terrorism:
Implications for the United States"
dated April 2006
United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.
- Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
- If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
- Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.
- We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland.
- The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
- The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.
- Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq "jihad;" (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims—all of which jihadists exploit.
Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists' radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.
- The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution—an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'a-based governance spanning the Muslim world—is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists' propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.
- Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.
- Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.
If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.
Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.
- The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements. We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qa'ida.
- Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.
- The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa'ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations.
Other affiliated Sunni extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al-Sunnah, and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.
- We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the Homeland than does al-Qa'ida but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.
We judge that most jihadist groups—both well-known and newly formed—will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
- CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups.
While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.
Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
- We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.
source: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/politics/nie20060926.pdf 26sep2006