Thursday, August 10, 2006

Are We Safer than Just After 9-11?

President Bush today spoke on the disrupted terrorist plot to blow up trans-Atlantic air flights. In doing so he said:

This country is safer than it was prior to 9-11, we've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people but obviously we're not completely safe. ... It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America.

The president laid the blame for the would-be attack squarely on al-Qaeda-type terrorism.

This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.

Our President likes data, measures to gauge performance and success. How many terrorists were gunning for the U.S. around 9-11? The worldwide outpouring of support seemed significant after the terrorist attack.

The baseline would be the Intelligence analysis from 2002 and its follow up questions. Highlights from this report include:

1. We assess that Iraq retains a small force of Scud-type missiles similar to the type used to strike Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain during the Gulf war. Iraq is capable of producing and delivering both chemical and biological weapons with ballistic missiles, aircraft and artillery. Iraq continues to build and expand an infrastructure capable of producing WMD. Baghdad is expanding its civilian chemical industry in ways that could be diverted quickly to CW agent production, and retains a significant amount of dual-use infrastructure that could support a rejuvenated nuclear program.

2. The nature of post-Saddam Iraq would depend on how and when Saddam left the scene, but any new regime in Baghdad would have to overcome significant obstacles to achieve stability.

3. While we are striking major blows against al-Qa'ida--the preeminent global terrorist threat--the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist. Several troublesome global trends--especially the growing demographic youth bulge in developing nations whose economic systems and political ideologies are under enormous stress--will fuel the rise of more disaffected groups willing to use violence to address their perceived grievances.

4. According to press, in a recent Gallup poll of nearly 10,000 Muslims in nine countries, respondents described the United States as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, and biased." Saudi Arabia was among the countries where the respondents registered the most negative views.

5. CIA's counterterrorist campaign will focus on eliminating the al-Qa'ida terrorist threat while intensifying our operations against other terrorist groups. We will seek to apprehend al-Qa'ida members wherever they might be, to undermine al-Qa'ida's ability to carry out terrorist acts, and to prevent the terrorists from developing more sophisticated means of terrorist attack.

The medal winning George Tenet, CIA Director, gave this assessment in 2004 of America’s terrorist threat.

“…last year I described a national security environment that was significantly more complex than at any time during my tenure as Director of Central Intelligence. The world I will discuss today is equally, if not more, complicated and fraught with dangers for United States interests, but one that also holds great opportunity for positive change.”

The Iraqi debacle becomes clear when his remarks are evaluated in light of current conditions. He speaks of the ongoing search for WMD and of sectarian divisions. We know today that no weapons of mass destruction existed, despite the President’s insinuations otherwise. The degenerating sectarian violence threatens both Iraq’s and the region’s stability as predicted by the Saudi Foreign Minister prior to the U.S. invasion. Mr. Tenet also weighed in eloquently on the Iraqi reconstruction:

But reconstruction progress and Iraq's own considerable assets—its natural resources and its educated populace—should enable the Iraqis to see important improvement in 2004 in their infrastructure and their quality of life.

Over the next few years, they'll open more hospitals and build more roads than anyone born under Saddam has witnessed.

The recovery of Iraqi oil production will help. Production is on track to approach 3.0 million barrels per day by the end of this year. Iraq hasn't produced this much oil since before the 1991 Gulf war. By next year, revenues from oil exports should cover the cost of basic government operations and contribute several billion dollars toward reconstruction.

I tried to get more current speeches or testimony on this issue at the CIA website. The link to the 2005 testimony from Porter Goss did not work. Any particular reason why? Funny how a little keyboard tracked down that missing information. The CIA Director’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2005 doesn’t speak to the size or scope of worldwide terrorist threats to the U.S. However, it did mention Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Mr. Goss said neither currently targeted the United States or its citizens. He noted that could change at any time.

FBI Director, Robert Meuller’s testimony reinforced the small risk from members of Hamas or Hezbollah. Does anyone think our knuckle dragging on the U.N. Resolution calling for cease fire in Lebanon will cause them to change their minds?

Since Porter’s testimony in February of 2005 Afghanistan’s “low level insurgency” has grown substantially. Mr. Goss’s report was much less optimistic on Iraq than Mr. Tenet’s.

The lack of security is hurting Iraq’s reconstruction efforts, and economic development, causing overall growth to proceed at a much slower pace than analysts expected a year ago.”

Reading all the testimony from 2005, the main terrorist threat to the U.S. is al Qaeda and their Sunni allied fringe groups spawned in Iraq. Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups are not aligned with them. How might this change with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

The 2006 assessment came from the third different person in three years. John Negroponte delivered the update to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He stated “Most Muslims reject the extremist message and violent agendas of the global jihadists”.

On Iraq’s reconstruction, Mr. Negroponte seemed rather concerned saying:

“Prospects for economic development in 2006 are constrained by the unstable security situation, insufficient commitment to economic reform, and corruption.”

What a change a few years makes? Despite my research, my questions remain unanswered. How many terrorists have concerns with the United States now? What are the CIA’s estimates? Is that number larger or smaller than just after 9-11?

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