Islamist terrorists are adapting to global counterterrorism efforts, as the “jihadist movement” is becoming more decentralized and spawning offshoot organizations with anti-American agendas, according to a declassified intelligence document released Tuesday.
The movement lacks a global strategy, but new terror cells are likely to emerge, making it “harder to find and undermine jihadist groups,” states the National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism trends.
The report adds that that the U.S.-led Iraq war has become a “cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”
If it is perceived that the jihadists in Iraq are succeeding, it will fuel more extremism. But if the jihadists are perceived to have failed, “we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight,” the report states.
Read the declassified NIE here.
Earlier Tuesday, President Bush angrily lambasted a media report that said the document asserted the Iraq war had increased the terrorist threat to the United States.
He added that media accounts of the leak of the National Intelligence Estimate were meant to “create confusion in the minds of the American people” and promised to push Director of National Security John Negroponte to declassify the findings.
“He’ll do so in such a way that we’ll be able to protect sources and methods … that our intelligence community uses,” Bush said during a joint White House press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “and then everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.” (Watch U.S. to declassify terror report — 2:03)
The NIE findings state that U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts have “seriously damaged” al Qaeda’s leadership and operations, but that the group still poses “the greatest threat to the homeland and U.S. interests.”
It adds that the number of Muslims who describe themselves as jihadists is increasing, and that “if this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.”
The report credits four factors with facilitating the spread of the jihadist movement: 1) “entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination;” 2) jihad in Iraq; 3) the torpid pace of economic, social and political reforms in Muslim nations; and 4) a “pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims.”
The solution requires more than killing or capturing al Qaeda leaders, the estimate states, but “the loss of key leaders, particularly Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups.”
The NIE was issued in April, several weeks before al Qaeda in Iraq leader al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike.
Among ways to combat the growing Islamist terror movement are exposing the jihadists’ radical ideology and urging respected Muslim leaders to denounce terrorist tactics, according to the report.
For instance, the idea of a government based in ultra-conservative Islamic law, or Sharia, doesn’t sit well with the majority of Muslims, the report states. Exposing the jihadists’ “ultimate political solution” would help divide jihadists “from the audiences they seek to persuade.”
Also, condemnations of violence by notable clerics signal a trend from terror to peaceful political activism, the report states. The rejections of violence reduce “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.”
The U.S. also must focus its efforts on stopping jihadists from obtaining chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, and on the increased use of the Internet to “communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support,” the report states.
The full findings are posted at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Web site. (www.dni.govexternal link).
Bush said he agreed with the report’s conclusions that al Qaeda is becoming more diffuse and decentralized but rejected the interpretation that the Iraq war had made the U.S. less safe.
“The best way to protect America is to defeat these killers overseas so we do not have to face them here at home,” Bush said. “We’re not going to let lies and propaganda by the enemy dictate how we win this war.” (Watch Bush call critics of war ‘naive’ — 3:10)
On Monday evening, Negroponte rejected the argument that the Iraq war had increased the terrorist threat against the United States.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, was one of the first to contest Bush and Negroponte’s interpretation of the report, saying the NIE shows that the Iraq war has stretched the U.S. military too thin, reduced military readiness and misguided resources for the war on terror.
“The intelligence community — all 16 agencies — believes the war in Iraq has fueled terrorism,” he said in a statement. “But it is the mistakes we made in Iraq — the lack of planning, the mismanagement and the complete incompetence of our leadership — that has done the most damage to our security.”
“The reality is, the war in Iraq has inflamed Islamic extremism and hatred toward the United States. It has given the terrorists a centralized place to attack and kill Americans, and it has created a training ground for the next generation of terrorists,” Rockefeller said.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had a different take, saying the NIE shows the U.S. not only damaged and disrupted al Qaeda operations, “but that U.S. success in Iraq is the key to ensuring that this terrorist threat does not grow.”
The diffusion of terrorists have made organizations like al Qaeda less effective “because President Bush and Republicans rightly chose to confront these challenges directly, seeking to destroy their sanctuaries, terrorist financing and planning networks,” Boehner said in a written statement.
He added, “We know that these terrorists are intent on attacking America. But that should not be used a reason for retreat. Instead, it should serve as a dire warning of just how daunting a challenge this is, and just how important it is that we continue to confront these terrorists bent on destroying our American way of life.”
On Tuesday, congressional Democrats put pressure on the administration to disclose more analysis by the intelligence community on Iraq and the new generation of Islamic terrorists. (Watch Iraq at the center of a highly charged day in Washington — 2:23 external link)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, asked that the chamber go into secret session to discuss the intelligence reports, something the House has not done since 1983. The proposal was denied by a vote of 171-217 along mostly party lines.
Senate Democrats also demanded Tuesday that Negroponte testify about the report and fully declassify not only the portion leaked over the weekend but also all intelligence estimates dealing with terrorism.
Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called on the White House to release a second, previously unknown national intelligence document that focuses solely on Iraq. Harman insists there is a draft NIE that has not been revealed to the public.
“I have learned there is an NIE on Iraq, specifically on Iraq, that has been left in draft form at the National Intelligence Council,” the California congresswoman said at a news conference, adding that the document was kept in draft form so that it won’t be seen before midterm elections.