U.S. Inclusiveness Dampens Terror Risks

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 5:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- Though the U.S. is not immune to the grass-roots extremism that has inspired attacks in Europe, the inclusiveness of American society may help against radical Islam's spread here, intelligence officials said Thursday.

Philip Mudd, a senior official in the FBI's National Security Branch, termed the U.S. domestic threat a "Pepsi jihad" _ an outgrowth of extremism he said has spread among young people over the past 15 years and has been popularized by the Internet.

"We see in this country on the East Coast, on the West Coast and the center of this country _ kids who have no contact with al-Qaida but who are radicalized by the ideology," Mudd said.

Dipping into subject matter that is unusual for intelligence professionals, Mudd and CIA Director Michael Hayden agreed that the United States needs to preserve its melting-pot heritage to help reduce the threat.

The country's history as an immigrant nation and its "experience with bringing in various groups and giving them, frankly, more opportunity than they might have elsewhere has helped us immeasurably" in dampening extremism, Hayden said.

The assessment came during the intelligence leaders' wide-ranging annual review of global threats before the House Intelligence Committee. Five top intelligence officials covered issues from Iran and Iraq to government eavesdropping and al-Qaida.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte promised lawmakers that the top analysts across the 16 intelligence agencies will finish a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq by month's end.

He disputed suggestions that it should have been done before President Bush unveiled his strategy for Iraq last week calling for 21,500 additional troops. Negroponte noted that spy agencies have regularly provided Bush and other policy-makers with intelligence assessments and participated in the administration's strategy sessions on Iraq.

Committee members raised questions about the consequences if the U.S. fails in Iraq. "Number one," Hayden replied, it would create "a living hell for the Iraqi people, as the forces that are now out of control there, the self-sustaining violence continues to spill over into the region."

It would also give al-Qaida a safe haven to plot attacks against the West, he added.

The lawmakers pressed the intelligence officials on Iranian intentions.

Hayden said Tehran has a substantial presence in Iraq _ "not just diplomatic or commercial, but representatives of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian intelligence service."

While U.S. analysts once put a less hostile face on Iranian efforts, "I've come to a much darker interpretation of Iranian actions in the past 12 to 18 months," Hayden said.

Now, he believes, the Iranians want to punish the United States and tie it down in Iraq so its options in the region _ and against Iran _ are limited.

Negroponte said Iran since 2003 has been emboldened by the situation in Iraq and the end of Saddam Hussein's rule, its increased oil revenues and other factors. The U.S. believes that Iran still considers the threat of terrorism a key element of its national security strategy.

He said Iranian-backed Hezbollah has "licked their wounds" from the conflict this summer with Israel, and he doesn't believe the group has had trouble resupplying its weapons stocks in Lebanon.

But, Negroponte noted, Hezbollah is not as visible on Lebanon's southern border with Israel as it was prior to last summer's conflict.

"The outposts there don't have the Hezbollah flag flying anymore. There's a more robust U.N. presence. And for the first time in many, many years there's also a Lebanese army presence," Negroponte said. "They're probably not in quite as advantageous a position in the south as they were previously, although I don't doubt there's a lot of political sympathy for them down there."

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, acknowledged that Hezbollah is replenishing its arsenal, particularly those stocks. Long-range missile capabilities are "probably very high on the list of capabilities that they want to replenish," he added.

© 2007 The Associated Press