"The U.S.'s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that an attempted al Qaeda attack on the U.S. in the next three to six months was 'certain,'" the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.[1]  --  However, what Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair really told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was that "The priority [of an attack by al Qaeda during that time frame] is certain, I would say," the New York Times reported.[2]  --  COMMENT: U.S. officials and media seem intent in terrorizing the U.S. population in comments and reports like these.  --  A priority is "a right to precedence over others in obtaining, buying, or doing something," and in its nature it cannot be said to be "certain"  three to six months in advance of a date.  --  Perhaps Blair meant that "the present aim is certain," based on his intelligence sources.  --  But that is still very different from the idea expressed in the Wall Street Journal's headline:  "Officials Warn Al Qaeda 'Certain' to Try Attack Soon."  --  NewsMax went one better, with a headline reading "Terrorist Attempt 'Certain' in Months" and a lead sentence saying that "The five senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate panel Tuesday they are "certain" that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States in the next three to six months."[3]  --  But at least NewsMax gave Blair's entire, rather incoherent, sentence:  "An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say."  --  The Wall Street Journal stripped away everything but the word "certain."  --  BACKGROUND: See here for a synopsis of John Mueller's Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them (Free Press, 2006).  --  Mueller is a professor of political science (and also an unrivaled expert on the films of Fred Astaire) who shows how "our reaction against terrorism has caused more harm than the threat warrants" and that most Americans have "a false sense of insecurity." ...


U.S. news


By Siobhan Gorman and Evan Perez

Wall Street Journal
February 3, 2010


WASHINGTON -- The U.S.'s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that an attempted al Qaeda attack on the U.S. in the next three to six months was "certain."

An official also said the Nigerian who allegedly attempted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was again cooperating with federal investigators.  Republicans have accused the administration of squandering a chance to gain valuable intelligence from the suspect by using the civilian court system to charge him, instead of declaring him an enemy combatant and subjecting him to more interrogation.

Al Qaeda remains a significant threat to the U.S., the officials said, and the group's recent evolution in tactics includes dispatching individuals who can enter the U.S. without arousing suspicion, such as the man accused of attempting the Christmas Day attack.

Such tactics have created "a new degree of difficulty" for U.S. spies seeking to thwart the next attack, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Al Qaeda will remain intent on attacking in the U.S. at least until Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, are killed or captured, Mr. Blair said.

Al Qaeda's many affiliates are also of great concern to the spy agencies.  The Yemeni affiliate, which is believed to have directed the attempted Christmas Day attack, will continue to attempt additional attacks on the U.S., Mr. Blair said.

Militant groups in Pakistan are also coordinating their attacks with al Qaeda, which has led to an increase in terrorist attacks inside Pakistan as well as rising concerns the groups may expand their ambitions to attack outside Pakistan, officials said.

Republican lawmakers also pressed Mr. Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller on the decision to read Miranda rights to the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, rather than submit him to further interrogation.  Both officials said that decisions on whether to read a terror suspect his rights or interrogate him to collect intelligence should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Abdulmutallab was interviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Christmas Day as he underwent treatment following the botched bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  He stopped cooperating after about an hour, U.S. officials said.

However, last week federal agents began talking to Mr. Abdulmutallab again.  "He's been talking for a number of days," a law enforcement official said.  "Has provided actionable intelligence that we're following up on."

Mr. Blair previously said that the suspect should have been questioned by a special interrogation group that is still under development.  But Tuesday he appeared more supportive of the FBI's decision to read Mr. Abdulmutallab his rights.  "The balance struck in the case was a very understandable balance," Mr. Blair said.  "We got good intelligence."

In addition to terrorism, cyberattacks are the other key threat Mr. Blair emphasized, saying that "American efforts are not strong enough" to combat cyber threats.  The recent cyberattacks on Google Inc. were a "wake-up call" that the attackers are outstripping U.S. defenses, he said.

Sensitive information is stolen on a daily basis from government and company networks, he said, adding that it isn't certain that U.S. computer networks would remain available in a time of crisis.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the intelligence panel, said the cyber threat had reached a point where countries should consider "the value of a cyber treaty with built-in mutual assurances of behavior."  U.S. officials have in the past resisted such proposals out of concern that they would limit its options to maneuver, attack, and spy in cyberspace, but the Obama administration has expressed some openness to the idea.

--Write to Siobhan Gorman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Evan Perez at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





By Mark Mazzetti

New York Times

Feburary 3, 2010 (posted Feb. 2)


WASHINGTON -- America’s top intelligence official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil within the next six months.

The assessment by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, was much starker than his view last year, when he emphasized the considerable progress in the campaign to debilitate Al Qaeda and said that the global economic meltdown, rather than the prospect of a major terrorist attack, was the “primary near-term security concern of the United States.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked Mr. Blair to assess the possibility of an attempted attack in the United States in the next three to six months.

He replied, “The priority is certain, I would say” — a response that was reaffirmed by the top officials of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.

Citing a recent wave of terrorist plots, including the failed Dec. 25 attempt to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit, Mr. Blair and other intelligence officials told a Senate panel that Al Qaeda had adjusted its tactics to more effectively strike American targets domestically and abroad.

“The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11,” said Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director. “It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect.”

As the C.I.A. continues its drone attacks aimed at Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, the officials also said that the network’s splinter groups in Yemen and Somalia were taking on more importance.

But Mr. Blair began his annual threat testimony before Congress by saying that the threat of a crippling attack on telecommunications and other computer networks was growing, as an increasingly sophisticated group of enemies had “severely threatened” the sometimes fragile systems undergirding the country’s information infrastructure.

“Malicious cyberactivity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication,” he told the committee.

His emphasis on the threat points up the growing concerns among American intelligence officials about the potentially devastating results of a coordinated attack on the nation’s technology apparatus, sometimes called a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”

He said that the surge in cyberattacks, including the penetration of Google’s servers from inside China, was a “wake-up call” for those who dismissed the threat of computer warfare. “Sensitive information is stolen daily from both government and private-sector networks, undermining confidence in our information systems, and in the very information these systems were intended to convey,” Mr. Blair said.

In another departure from last year’s testimony, Mr. Blair appeared alongside other top intelligence officials, including the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Last year, the intelligence director sat alone before the committee, a partly symbolic gesture intended to demonstrate the authority of the director, whose office has been criticized for commanding little power over America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At times, the senators seemed more interested in debating one another than in hearing testimony from witnesses. Midway through the hearing, partisan bickering broke out about whether terrorist suspects ought to be tried in civilian courts and whether the man charged as the Dec. 25 bomber should have been given Miranda rights that could protect him against self-incrimination.

As senators traded barbs, the intelligence officials stared stonily ahead or shuffled their notes.

The intelligence chiefs also raised warnings about nuclear proliferation, particularly focusing on Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Blair said that Iran “has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons,” and that the discovery of a secret enrichment plant near Qum heightened suspicions about Iran’s intentions to build a nuclear bomb.

Still, he said that Tehran was following a “cost-benefit approach” to its nuclear decision-making and that it remained unclear whether Iran’s leadership would make a political calculation to begin producing weapons-grade uranium, allowing other nations to “influence” that decision through diplomatic steps.



By Eli Lake

February 3, 2010


The five senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate panel Tuesday they are "certain" that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States in the next three to six months.

The warning came during the annual threat briefing to Congress in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who asked, "What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months?  High or low?"

"An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say," Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral, said in response.

Four other intelligence agency leaders who appeared at the hearing with Mr. Blair said they agreed with the assessment.

They included CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and John Dinger, the acting assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research.

Mr. Blair outlined the major threats facing the United States, in addition to a possible terrorist attack.  They include:

• The threat of major attacks on U.S. computer networks and infrastructure.

• The increasingly dangerous Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

• Instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

• Iranian and North Korean missile and nuclear programs.

• China's military buildup.

• Efforts by the anti-U.S. government of Venezuela to develop closer ties with Iran, China and Russia.

The warning about the threat of another attempted attack, like the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet, was in keeping with the sober public assessment of threats outlined last year by Mr. Blair.

"In our judgment, al Qaeda also retains the capability to recruit, train, and deploy operatives to mount some kind of an attack against the homeland," according to his written testimony.

The recent arrests of an al Qaeda cell led by Najibullah Zazi, the attempted bombing of the Northwest Airlines jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage, with which Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is charged, all suggest al Qaeda has come close to pulling off mayhem inside the United States.

Adm. Blair's message was sobering:  "Counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda have put the organization in one of its most difficult positions since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom [in Afghanistan] in late 2001," he said.  "However, while these efforts have slowed the pace of anti-U.S. planning and hindered progress on new external operations, they have not been sufficient to stop them."

The testimony specifically warned that al Qaeda is capable of another attack on the United States, marking a change from the 2009 assessment that emphasized the group's intentions to attack U.S. soil but said their capabilities to launch an attack on the homeland were limited.

Meanwhile, Metro Transit Police on Tuesday conducted an anti-terrorist exercise at a busy underground Metro station.

Mr. Blair testified that al Qaeda is eyeing targets the group in the past attempted to attack, including commercial jets and financial institutions in New York City, and the Washington Metro system.

Mr. Blair's testimony also focused on al Qaeda's continuing efforts to obtain biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, but he said he would discuss details only in a closed session.

In testimony after Mr. Blair's, Mr. Panetta pointed out that the biggest problem for U.S. spies is tracking the "lone wolf" operative who has no background in terrorism.

Mr. Blair said part of the problem is that al Qaeda has switched tactics from spectacular "multiple-cell-based attacks" to smaller-scale operations that are harder to detect.

"The recent successful and attempted attacks represent an evolving threat in which it is even more difficult to identify and track small numbers of terrorists recently recruited and trained and short-term plots than to find and follow terrorist cells engaged in plots that have been ongoing for years," Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Blair's written testimony touched on a wide range of topics -- from Latin America to the effects of climate change on U.S. strategic interests in the world.

He began his testimony with a stark warning to Congress about the devastating capability of hackers to attack U.S. computer networks.

"Malicious cyber-activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication," he said.  The director added that the technology today favors hackers and other criminals and not nations to protect their networks.

On Iran, Mr. Blair said the intelligence community suspects that Iran was preparing the groundwork for building nuclear weapons, but that to date Tehran had made no political decision to build the arms.  Despite political turmoil that has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets since the June 12 presidential elections, Iran's decision-making process would remain the same, he said.

Overall, Mr. Blair said, he gave he protesters little chance for success.  "Strengthened conservative control will limit opportunities for reformers to participate in politics or organize opposition," he stated.  "The regime will work to marginalize opposition elites, disrupt or intimidate efforts to organize dissent, and use force to put down unrest."

The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to foresee political events in Iran.  For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution.  That prediction proved wrong within five months.