Iran, North Korea and Al Qaeda are still in, but Iraq is out of the list of top 10 national security threats the United States is likely to face in the coming year.
As Leon Panetta faces a Senate confirmation hearing this week to be the next CIA director, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden says several regions and disputes could create serious headaches for the intelligence community in 2009.
Hayden, a Pittsburgh native, put together his list on the way back from a recent Steelers game. It will not be formally presented to his successor, but it does represent the top issues Hayden anticipates will be faced in 2009.
“This is an informal list that I kind of jotted down, what are the things I would fret about over the next 12 months,” he told FOX News in the second of two interviews about the nation’s greatest security challenges.
“I don’t want to get in the business of suggesting ways to threaten the well-being of the planet, but frankly that is what we are in the business of thinking about every day here with our analytic workforce.”
Hayden said top of the list is still Al Qaeda, which has been working on expanding its associations with other groups around the world. Hayden said this development is particularly troubling because groups like Lashkar-i-Tayyiba, which was responsible for the attacks in Mumbai last November, start to think outside their region and focus on the United States and elsewhere.
“There was a migration in Lashkar-i-Tayyiba thinking over the past six, 12, 18 months, in which they began to identify the United States and Israel as much as being the main enemy as they have historically identified India. That is a troubling development. And now suggests that this migration of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba to a merge point (with Al Qaeda) is probably taking place,” he said, noting that the CIA could not confirm with confidence that Americans were specifically targeted during the Mumbai attack.
“As Al Qaeda has become more franchised — whether it is in Yemen or Somalia or in North Africa — you’ve got other people working, and if these truly are franchises, these aren’t people who accept fully … operational plans from Al Qaeda central. And therefore you might see a greater variety of approaches, a greater variety of threats, based upon the thinking of each of these local groups,” Hayden warned.
Hayden said he didn’t include Iraq in the top 10 because things are looking up in that country, which just held peaceful, provincial elections this weekend.
“Iraq is there. And if I did this two or three years ago, it would have been up there right under Al Qaeda. And I don’t mean we don’t have to worry about it. And I don’t mean that we don’t need to be careful as to how we draw down coalition forces. But when I look at what is going on there, there are a fair number of positive trend lines that have to continue to be nurtured. But they are positive trend lines,” he said.
“I don’t mean to ignore it. I don’t mean to suggest that this is something in which you can turn off the lights. What I mean to suggest is, this is a success. This is something different than it was a year or two ago,” Hayden continued.
Below is Hayden’s top 10 list gathered from the two interviews, with warnings and explanations for his concerns.
1. Al Qaeda: “It is the organization that has the capacity to most threaten the physical safety of America and Americans. So it remains job No. 1. And we have talked about some successes and so on, but it is resilient, and therefore we have to continue to keep an eye on Al Qaeda,” he said.
2. Violence in Mexico: “Our good friend and neighbor Mexico had this horrible surge in violence that may cause — in fact has caused — us to talk with our Mexican friends, in more meaningful and deeper ways, to discover ways that we can cooperate against what we now view to be, and has always been, a common problem. …
“What you’ve got is President Calderon, very heroically, taking on drug cartels that I think everyone agrees threaten certainly the well-being of the Mexican people and the Mexican state, and taking them on in a very, very progressive way. Now, it is not quite the same thing as Colombia, where you had a politically motivated movement, the FARC, merging with narcotics organizations. Here it is largely in the business of crime but the effects could be just as dangerous, certainly to the well-being of the Mexican people.”
3. Iran’s nuclear program: “I included Iran, in terms of as they move forward in their own decision-making process, as they continue to churn out LEU, low enriched uranium, they do it at great cost, diplomatically and economically with regard to sanctions. They seem to be doing it with a purpose. As that quantity of that stockpile grows, you would think that at some point in that process, they are going to have to make a decision as to what it is they are going to do with it. So that is something we have to keep a close eye on as well.”
4. Europe and the War on Terror: Hayden said he believes that real substantive issues separate the U.S. and Europe in executing the War on Terror. He said “growing daylight” separates the allies and it’s not a question of “personalities.”
5. Instability caused by the low price of oil: “The price of oil is another thing that is not quite a crisis, but it is destabilizing,” he said. “As oil goes under about $40 a barrel, it probably doesn’t have a big impact in Russia, which has a large (economy) and frankly invested pretty wisely. I’m not sure that it doesn’t have more of an impact in Iran and in Venezuela. When (global) oil is about $40 a barrel, their heavy crude is about $30 a barrel. And that really creates stresses inside the (Hugo) Chavez regime. So again, these are not threats, but they will create torque, and may then suggest some instability.”
6. Pakistan: “I don’t want to get into the business of commenting on the internal politics of a good friend. But Pakistan is in a very difficult circumstance right now,” Hayden said. “You do have the after-effects of Mumbai. You do have what is happening in the tribal region. You do have the instability along the Afghan-Pakistan border. You do have very serious economic problems with the Pakistani state. And you do have a new government, attempting to establish its legs and to build a democratic Pakistan for the future. That is a real devils brew of issues. And President Zardari and Prime Minister Galani have their hands full trying to deal with that. You mentioned nuclear weapons, and clearly, should they ever fall into the wrong hands, it would greatly concern us.”
7. Afghanistan: “The closer you get to that Afghanistan-Pakistan border area — the factors of geography, of history, of culture — all become more and more important, larger factors, in any kind of calculus. If you ask me if there is a disappointment in my time here, it is that we have not killed or captured #1 or #2 (of Al Qaeda). But there have been measurable successes in the war on terrorism.”
8. North Korea:”North Korea is always a wild card. It’s almost a gimme that sooner or later, they are going to try to stir the pot, and try to destabilize things.”
9. China: China is the emerging superpower, and as such is in more influential economically. China has always been seen through the prism of expanding markets, Hayden said, and it remains to be seen how this communist nation will weather an economic downturn and what conditions global recession will create internally.
10. The Middle East: As instability continues in the Middle East over a Palestinian-Israeli peace most recently complicated by an Israeli offensive in Gaza against terror group Hamas, Hayden said the region will continue to be a flash point that can’t be ignored.