TODAY’S TERRORIST THREAT: A National Intelligence Estimate
On Tuesday, we joined with the entire U.S. intelligence community in issuing what’s called a “National Intelligence Estimate”—the most authoritative written judgment on national security issues—on the current terrorist threat to the homeland.
The estimate says that “increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts” have disrupted plots and “constrained” al-Qa’ida’s ability to strike the country; at the same time, it says that because of terrorists’ “undiminished intent” to attack the U.S., our nation will “face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years” and that the U.S. is currently in “a heightened threat environment.”
Our role in shaping the document? Fairly substantial. An FBI analyst on detail to the National Intelligence Council was the principal drafter of the estimate, and our analysts played a key role throughout the process, including drafting one of the foundational assessments that went into it.
The following are among its key judgments:
… “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.”
… “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 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.”
The estimate is just that—our best collective judgment on the likely course of future events, not a definitive statement on what will happen. It is carefully prepared and vetted, with input from across the intelligence community as well as outside experts.
To read the entire report, go to the Director of National Intelligence website (pdf).