Ratcheting Up the Fear Factor Another Notch

U.S. intel warns Al-Qaida has rebuilt
By KATHERINE SHRADER and MATTHEW LEE,AP
Posted: 2007-07-11 22:14:47

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press has learned.

The conclusion suggests that the network that launched the most devastating terror attack on the United States has been able to regroup along the Afghan-Pakistani border despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at crippling it.

Still, numerous government officials say they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack on U.S. soil.

A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the new government threat assessment called it a stark appraisal to be discussed at the White House on Thursday as part of a broader meeting on an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate.

The official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the secret report remains classified.

Counterterrorism analysts produced the document, titled “Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West.” The document focuses on the terror group’s safe haven in Pakistan and makes a range of observations about the threat posed to the United States and its allies, officials said.

Al-Qaida is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago” and has “regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” the official said, paraphrasing the report’s conclusions. “They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.”

The group also has created “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives,” the official quoted the report as saying.

At the same time, this official said, the report speaks of “significant gaps in intelligence” so U.S. authorities may be ignorant of potential or planned attacks.

John Kringen, who heads the CIA’s analysis directorate, echoed the concerns about al-Qaida’s resurgence during testimony and conversations with reporters at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” Kringen testified. “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising.”

The threat assessment comes as the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies prepare a National Intelligence Estimate focusing on threats to the United States. A senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while the high-level analysis was being finalized, said the document has been in the works for roughly two years.

Kringen and aides to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell would not comment on the details of that analysis. “Preparation of the estimate is not a response to any specific threat,” McConnell’s spokesman Ross Feinstein said, adding that it would probably be ready for distribution this summer.

Counterterrorism officials have been increasingly concerned about al-Qaida’s recent operations. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he had a “gut feeling” that the United States faced a heightened risk of attack this summer.

Kringen said he wouldn’t attach a summer time frame to the concern. In studying the threat, he said he begins with the premise that al-Qaida would consider attacking the U.S. a “home run hit” and that the easiest way to get into the United States would be through Europe.

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