Tenet Briefs Senate on Terror Threats

By Jim Garamone

The al Qaeda is "seriously damaged," but the main threat facing the United States remains terrorist groups armed with catastrophic weapons, said George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence.

Tenet testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, today. He said even if al Qaeda is defeated tomorrow, other groups have been infected with al Qaeda’s brand of hatred and are targeting the United States as part of a "global jihad."

Tenet said Osama bin Laden formed al Qaeda to spread the anti-western, anti- U.S. jihad around the world. "To bin Laden and his cohorts, Sept. 11 was the shining moment, their "shot heard `round the world," and they want to capitalize on it," he said. "And so even as al Qaeda reels from our blows, other extremist groups within the movement it influenced have become the next wave of the terrorist threat. Dozens of such groups exist."

The groups are under the rubric of Sunni extremism and many have benefited from al Qaeda links. "They include groups as diverse as the al-Zarqawi network and the Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," he said.

Another grouping includes small local groups that work with international terrorist groups in their own countries, Tenet said. These include the Salifiya Jihadia, a Moroccan network that carried out the May 2003 Casablanca bombings, and similar groups throughout Africa and Asia.

"These far-flung groups increasingly set the agenda, and are redefining the threat we face," he said. "They are not all creatures of bin Laden, and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks."

Tenet said that military and intelligence operations by the United States and its allies overseas have made progress against al Qaeda leaders. "Local al Qaeda cells are forced to make their own decisions because of disarray in the central leadership," he said.

"Over the past 18 months, we have killed or captured key al Qaeda leaders in every significant operational area – logistics, planning, finance, training – and have eroded the key pillars of the organization, such as the leadership in Pakistani urban areas and operational cells in the al Qaeda heartland of Saudi Arabia and Yemen."

He said killing or capturing these al Qaeda leaders "unquestionably" stopped plots that would have killed Americans. Tenet said bin Laden has gone deep underground. "We are hunting him in some of the most unfriendly regions on earth," he said. "And we follow every lead."

The United States works with friends and allies around the world to take down al Qaeda cells, and Tenet said he is pleased with the progress made to date. But al Qaeda is still dangerous.

"I am not suggesting al Qaeda is defeated," he said. "It is not. We are still at war. This is a learning organization that remains committed to attacking the United States, its friends and allies."

He said the pressure the anti-terrorist coalition has put on al Qaeda has changed the organization "into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously." These cells have launched attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Afghanistan in the past year.

"You should not take the fact that these attacks occurred abroad to mean the threat to the U.S. homeland has waned," Tenet said. "As al Qaeda and associated groups undertook these attacks overseas, detainees consistently talk about the importance the group still attaches to striking the main enemy: the United States."