Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious."

The NIE, whose contents were first reported by the New York Times, coincides with public statements by senior intelligence officials describing a different kind of conflict than the one outlined by President Bush in a series of recent speeches marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Together with our coalition partners," Bush said in an address earlier this month to the Military Officers Association of America, "we've removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they're carried out. We're on the offense against the terrorists on every battlefront, and we'll accept nothing less than complete victory."

But the battlefronts intelligence analysts depict are far more impenetrable and difficult, if not impossible, to combat with the standard tools of warfare.

Although intelligence officials agree that the United States has seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its ability to plan and direct major operations, radical Islamic networks have spread and decentralized.

Many of the new cells, the NIE concludes, have no connection to any central structure and arose independently. The members of the cells communicate only among themselves and derive their inspiration, ideology and tactics from the more than 5,000 radical Islamic Web sites. They spread the message that the Iraq war is a Western attempt to conquer Islam by first occupying Iraq and establishing a permanent presence in the Middle East.

The April NIE, titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," does not offer policy prescriptions.

"What these guys at NIC are supposed to do is to lay it out in very clear, understandable terms," said the intelligence official. "It's not the role of the NIC to offer recommendations." Rather, it "basically states the conditions" as the intelligence community sees them, he said.

This official and others would only discuss intelligence analyses on the condition of anonymity.

The National Intelligence Council is tasked with providing long-term assessments of strategic issues for the president and senior policymakers in the form of National Intelligence Estimates. Composed of current and former senior intelligence and national security officials, it is currently chaired by Thomas Fingar, the former head of the State Department's intelligence bureau and now deputy for analysis to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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