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Special Analysis: The CIA's 2005 Briefing

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CIA Director Porter Goss delivered his Global Intelligence Challenges testimony to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee today and while media reports have contained the basic gist of his statements, I think it's best to view his relevant statements (and those of FBI director Mueller) in their entirety rather than in a sound-byte fashion.

One of the questions I'm often asked about these CIA statements is just how accurate several of these are. By way of contrast, let's look at Tenet's briefing on February 24, 2004 and see how what he said measured up. Then I'll go on to Porter Goss' 2005 comments, and add some thoughts of my own as we do a quick tour of the globe's existing and emerging threats. I'll conclude with some thoughts on intelligence reports, weather reports, and the growing dilemma of the modern age.

Tenet 2004: Iraq

In particular, the following seem to have come to pass:

Iran and Syria continue to support terrorist groups, and their links into Iraq have become problematic to our efforts there.

Heh, that's putting it mildly given what's happened with Sadr and the rebirth of the Baathist central command in Damascus ...

The emerging Iraqi leadership will face many pressing issues, among them organizing national elections, integrating the Sunni minority into the political mainstream, managing Kurdish autonomy in a federal structure, and the determining the role of Islam in the Iraqi state.

Well, the national elections went better than expected, but all those other issues are still with us.

The October detention of AI's deputy leader set back the group's ambition to establish itself as an umbrella organization for jihadists in Iraq.

That would be Aso Hawleri, for those keeping score. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's al-Tawhid wal Jihad mob seems to have filled that role for him.

And hey, take a look at this part:

Iraqi Arabs—and many Iraqi Kurds—possess a strong Iraqi identity, forged over a tumultuous 80 year history and especially during the nearly decade-long war with Iran. Unfortunately, Saddam's divide and rule policy and his favored treatment of the Sunni minority aggravated tensions to the point where the key to governance in Iraq today is managing these competing sectional interests.

Here's a readout on where these groups stand:

  • The majority SHIA look forward to the end of Sunni control, which began with the British creation of Iraq. The Shia community nevertheless has internal tensions, between the moderate majority and a radical minority that wants a Shia-dominated theocracy.
  • The KURDS see many opportunities to advance long held goals: retaining the autonomy they enjoyed over the past twelve years and expanding their power and territory.
  • The minority SUNNI fear Shia and Kurdish ambitions. Such anxieties help animate Sunni support for the insurgents. The Sunni community is still at a very early state of establishing political structures to replace the defeated Ba'th party.

I should qualify what I've just said: no society, and surely not Iraq's complex tapestry, is so simple as to be captured in three or four categories. Kurds. Shia. Sunni. In reality, Iraqi society is filled with more cleavages, and more connections, than a simple typology can suggest. We seldom hear about the strong tribal alliances that have long existed between Sunni and Shia, or the religious commonalities between the Sunni Kurd and Arab communities, or the moderate secularism that spans Iraqi groups.

  • We tend to identify, and stress, the tensions that rend communities apart, but opportunities also exist for these group to work together for common ends.

The social and political interplay is further complicated by Iran, especially in the south, where Tehran pursues its own interests and hopes to maximize its influence among Iraqi Shia after 1 July. Organizations supported by Iran—Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its Badr Organization militia—have gained positions within the Iraqi police and control media outlets in Basrah that tout a pro-Iran viewpoint.

  • Tehran also runs humanitarian and outreach programs that have probably enhanced its reputation among Iraqi Shia, but many remain suspicious.

The most immediate political challenge for the Iraqis is to choose the transitional government that will rule their country while they write their permanent constitution. The Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Ali al-Sistani has made this selection process the centerpiece of his effort to ensure that Iraqis will decide their own future and choose the first sovereign post-Saddam government.

  • Sistani favors direct elections as the way to produce a legitimate, accountable government.
  • Sistani's religious pronouncements show that, above all, he wants Iraq to be independent of foreign powers. Moreover, his praise of free elections and his theology reflect, in our reading, a clearcut opposition to theocracy, Iran-style.

Once the issues involving the selection of an transitional government are settled, Iraq's permanent constitution will begin to take shape. Here the Iraqi government and the framers of the constitution will have to address three urgent concerns: integrating the Sunni minority into the political mainstream, managing Kurdish autonomy in a federal structure, and determining the role of Islam in the Iraqi state.

The Sunni. Sunnis are at least a fifth of the population, inhabit the country's strategic heartland, and comprise a sizable share of Iraq's professional and middle classes. The Sunni are disaffected as a deposed ruling minority, but some are beginning to recognize that boycotting the emerging political process will weaken their community. Their political isolation may be breaking down in parts of the Sunni triangle, where some Sunni Arabs have begun to engage the Coalition and assume local leadership roles. And in the past three months we have also seen the founding of national-level Sunni umbrella organizations to deal with the Coalition and the Governing Council on questions like Sunni participation in choosing the transitional government.

Federalism. The Transitional Administrative Law is just now being completed, and the way it deals with the relationship between the political center and Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious communities will frame the future constitutional debate. To make a federal arrangement stick, Kurdish and Arab Iraq leaders will need to explain convincingly that a federal structure benefits all Iraqis and not just the Kurds. And even so, a host of difficult issues—control over oil and security being perhaps the most significant—may provoke tension between Kurdish and central Iraqi authorities.

Islam. The current draft of the Transitional Administrative Law makes Islam Iraq's official creed but protects religious freedom. It also creates an Iraqi legal system that is a mix of traditions, including Islamic law — but as only one legal element among many. This compromise is already under fire by Sunni Islamists who want Islam to be the sole source of law.

Gee, all of that could have been written as post-Iraqi elections analysis today.

Tenet 2004: Russia

And here are some other gems that look rather prescient in light of recent developments in the Ukraine and Putin's increasingly autocratic rule in Russia post-Beslan:

In RUSSIA, the trend I highlighted last year—President Putin's re-centralization of power in the Kremlin—has become more pronounced, especially over the past several months. We see this in the recent Duma elections and the lopsided United Russia party victory engineered by the Kremlin and in the Kremlin's domination of the Russian media.

Putin has nevertheless recorded some notable achievements. His economic record—even discounting the continuing strength of high world oil prices—is impressive, both in terms of GDP growth and progress on market reforms. He has brought a sense of stability to the Russian political scene after years of chaos, and he restored Russians' pride in their country's place in the world.

That said, Putin now dominates the Duma, and the strong showing of nationalist parties plus the shutout of liberal parties may bolster trends toward limits on civil society, state interference in big business, and greater assertiveness in the former Soviet Union. And the Kremlin's recent efforts to strengthen the state's role in the oil sector could discourage investors and hamper energy cooperation with the West.

He shows no signs of softening his tough stance on Russia's war in Chechnya. Russian counterinsurgency operations have had some success. Putin's prime innovation is the process of turning more authority over to the Chechen under the new government of Akhmad Kadyrov, and empowering his security forces to lead the counter-insurgency.

  • Although this strategy may succeed in lowering Russia's profile in Chechnya, it is unlikely to lead to resolution.

Moscow has already become more assertive in its approach to the neighboring states of the former Soviet Union, such as Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Russian companies—primarily for commercial motives, but in line with the Kremlin's agenda—are increasing their stakes in neighboring countries, particularly in the energy sector.

The Kremlin's increasing assertiveness is partly grounded in a growing confidence in its military capabilities. Although still a fraction of their former capabilities, Russian military forces are beginning to rebound from the 1990s nadir. Training rates are up—including some high-profile exercises—along with defense spending.

Even so, we see Moscow's aims as limited. Russia is using primarily economic incentives and levers of "soft" power, like shared history and culture, to rebuild lost power and influence. And Putin has a stake in relative stability on Russia's borders—not least to maintain positive relations with the US and Europeans.

Russian relations with the US continue to contain elements of both cooperation and competition. On balance, they remain more cooperative than not, but the coming year will present serious challenges. For example, Russia remains supportive of US deployments in Central Asia for Afghanistan—but is also wary of US presence in what Russia considers to be its own back yard.

Tenet 2004: Iran

Then we have the CIA's take on the situation inside of Iran:

On IRAN, Mr. Chairman, I'll begin with a sobering bottom line:

  • With the victory of hardliners in elections last weekend, governmental led reform received a serious blow. Greater repression is a likely result.
  • With the waning of top-down reform efforts, reformers will probably turn to the grass roots—working with NGOs and labor groups—to rebuild popular support and keep the flame alive.
  • The strengthening of authoritarian rule will make breaking out of old foreign policy patterns more difficult at a time when Tehran faces a new geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.

The concerns I voiced last year are unabated. The recent defeats will have further alienated a youthful population anxious for change. Abroad, Tehran faces an altered regional landscape in the destruction of radical anti-Western regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and growing international concern about nuclear proliferation.

  • And, as has so often happened in Iran's history, Iran's leaders appear likely to respond to these challenges in rigid and unimaginative ways.

The current setback is the latest in a series of contests in which authoritarian rule has prevailed over reformist challengers. The reformists—President Khatami in particular—are in no small part to blame. Their refusal to back bold promises with equally bold actions exhausted their initially enthusiastic popular support.

When the new Majles convenes in June, the Iranian government will be even more firmly controlled by the forces of authoritarianism. In the recent election, clerical authorities disqualified more than 2500 candidates, mostly reformists, and returned control of the legislature to hardliners. The new Majles will focus on economic reform, with little or no attention to political liberalization.

  • And with the Majles securely behind the hardliners, we expect to see many of the outlets for political dissent shut down by the clerical regime.
  • The prospect of internal violence remains. Hardliners may now resort to new heavy-handedness that produces public outrage and protest. At least eight people were killed and 30 injured in elected-related violence last weekend.

Although greater repression is likely to be the most immediate consequence, this will only further deepen the discontent with clerical rule, which is now discredited and publicly criticized as never before. In the past year several unprecedented open letters, including one signed by nearly half the parliament, were published calling for an end to the clergy's absolute rule.

  • Iran's recent history is studded with incidents of serious civil unrest that erupted in response to the arrogance of local officials—events like the 1999 student riots that broke out when security forces attacked a dormitory.
  • Even so, the Iranian public does not appear eager to take a challenge to the streets—in Tehran, apathy is the prevailing mood, and regime intimidation has cowed the populace. This mix keeps the regime secure for now.

The uncertainty surrounding Iran's internal politics comes as Tehran adjusts to the regional changes of a post-Saddam Iraq. Because Khamenei and his allies have kept close rein on foreign policy, we do not expect the defeat of the reformists to lead to a sudden change in Iranian policy. Tehran will continue to use multiple avenues—including media influence, humanitarian and reconstruction aid, diplomatic maneuvering, and clandestine activity—to advance its interests and counter US influence in Iraq.

While the CIA seems to have missed the willingness of some of the more ambitious IRGC commanders to challenge the US by proxy inside Iraq using Sadr. But this assessment is pretty much dead-on with respect to the fact that the organized reform movement is dead inside Iran and that Khatami more or selling out to the hardliners (Joe has compared him on occasion to a labor boss who's been bought off by the mob and I tend to agree) is in no small part to blame for what has taken place inside Iran. Popular apathy towards the actual mechanics of government inside Iran is the result and while the regime seems to have very little domestic support (30% is about the highest credible number I've seen it at) a lot of people have been beaten up enough by the Baseej to make them hesitant to openly defy the regime through peaceful protests.

And before anybody asks, I have absolutely no idea what happened yesterday with the reports of an unidentified aircraft opening fire on Bushehr that has subsequently been reclassified by the regime as some kind of fuel explosion. I know it wasn't us or the Israelis - perhaps the mullahs stopped paying the danegeld to all the UFOs their media has reported over the last several months?

Porter Goss on the Future

But having dealt with the past, let us now turn to the future.

Al-Qaeda: Porter Goss' Thoughts - And Mine

Al-Qa'ida is intent on finding ways to circumvent US security enhancements to strike Americans and the Homeland.

Mueller went into this in more detail in his testimony on the subject:

Unfortunately, in spite of these accomplishments, al-Qa'ida continues to adapt and move forward with its desire to attack the United States using any means at its disposal. Their intent to attack us at home remains -- and their resolve to destroy America has never faltered.

Al-Qa'ida's overall attack methodology has adapted and evolved to address the changes to their operating environment. While we still assess that a mass casualty attack using relatively low-tech methods will be their most likely approach, we are concerned that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction including chemical weapons, so-called "dirty bombs" or some type of biological agent such as anthrax.

Tenet mentioned al-Qaeda's anthrax program specifically as a major threat last year, which strongly suggests that it's been reconstituted in at least some fashion after we destroyed their facilities at Kandahar, Darunta, and Herat in Afghanistan as well as at Sergat and Khurmal. It'll be interesting to learn who's running it since Midhat Mursi, the head of al-Qaeda's WMD program, is a chemist rather than a biologist.

Other potential targets:

We continue to be concerned that U.S. transportation systems remain a key target. The attacks in Madrid last March show the devastation that a simple, low-tech operation can achieve and the resulting impact to the government and economy, which makes this type of attack in the U.S. particularly attractive to al-Qa'ida.

Another area we consider vulnerable and target rich is the energy sector, particularly nuclear power plants. Al-Qa'ida planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had nuclear power plants as part of his target set and we have no reason to believe that al-Qa'ida has reconsidered.

My guess is that public transportation is a lot easier go after than nuclear plants, however. Having ridden both the NYC and DC metros since 3/11, I can confirm that both of them are sitting ducks to a Madrid-style attack and I imagine the same is true in most other US cities that have them. Back to Porter Goss...

First is the threat from covert operatives who may be inside the U.S. who have the intention to facilitate or conduct an attack. Finding them is a top priority for the FBI, but it is also one of the most difficult challenges. The very nature of a covert operative -- trained to not raise suspicion and to appear benign -- is what makes their detection so difficult.

Mr. Chairman, while we are proud of our accomplishments this year and the additional insight we have gained into al-Qa'ida's activity, I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing.

Whether we are talking about a true sleeper operative who has been in place for years, waiting to be activated to conduct an attack or a recently deployed operative that has entered the U.S. to facilitate or conduct an attack, we are continuously adapting our methods to reflect newly received intelligence and to ensure we are as proactive and as targeted as we can be in detecting their presence.

I'm also rather concerned by what we're not seeing.

Hardly a month goes by, for example, without the Eurocops busting yet another piece of al-Qaeda infrastructure on the Continent. Australia also appears to host nascent al-Qaeda/JI infrastructure that has been subject to disruption by the authorities, but we haven't seen nearly as much on that level here. While I would generally expect the US to host less al-Qaeda than Europe because of the differences in terms of demographics, the differences in numbers shouldn't be that stark.

Second, because of al-Qa'ida's directed efforts this year to infiltrate covert operatives into the U.S., I am also very concerned with the growing body of sensitive reporting that continues to show al-Qa'ida's clear intention to obtain and ultimately use some form of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-energy explosives (CBRNE) material in its attacks against America.

The day they do, someone needs to make sure to take Sheikh Nasser bin Fahd to the woodshed. I mean, we know where he lives ...

Third, we remain concerned about the potential for al-Qa'ida to leverage extremist groups with peripheral or historical connections to al-Qa'ida, particularly its ability to exploit radical American converts and other indigenous extremists. While we still believe the most serious threat to the Homeland originates from al-Qa'ida members located overseas, the bombings in Madrid last March have heightened our concern regarding the possible role that indigenous Islamic extremists, already in the U.S., may play in future terrorist plots. Also of concern is the possible role that peripheral groups with a significant presence in the U.S. may play if called upon by members of al-Qa'ida to assist them with attack planning or logistical support.

What he's referring to here are local travelers like al-Fuqra, Jamaat Tabligh, or wannabes like al-Muhajiroun and similar organizations. Judging from the hagiographic sketches of bin Laden that Lee Boyd Malvo did while the slammer, it certainly looks as though he and John Mohammed would have qualified as fellow travelers. The good news is that most of our domestic Islamic extremists operate on pretty much the same rules as the Neo-Nazis - they're loud, they're repugnant, they're dangerous, but fortunately they're generally quite lazy and rather incompetent. The bad news is that all it takes is one competent nut to kill a whole lot of innocent people.

In addition, recruiting al-Qaeda members in-country without sending them overseas for training (as was done with all of the supporting cast for the 3/11 plot) also removes a lot of the tell-tale signs that law enforcement uses to detect such individual. Part of the concern over militia groups during the 1990s following the Oklahoma City bombing was generated by just how easy it would be for a small group of people to construct a sizeable amount of explosives from substances that are fairly simple to get ahold of.

The potential recruitment of radicalized American Muslim converts continues to be a concern and poses an increasingly challenging issue for the FBI because the process of recruitment is subtle and many times, self initiated and radicalization tends to occur over a long period of time and under many different circumstances.

That appears to be what happened to Jose Padilla and I doubt he's the only one to go down that road. One of the things they're particularly worried about (though Mueller is too polite to say it in Congressional testimony) is that law enforcement is extremely concerned about al-Qaeda recruiting African Americans because they can infiltrate in and out of the US in fairly short order and blend in easily in most large urban areas relatively undetected. Chechens, Bosnian, Albanian, and other Caucasian converts to Islam are also of concern to authorities because of the enormous potential for easy infiltration. While the majority of al-Qaeda's Chechen members are focused on fighting the Russians at this point, given that Basayev's forces now include fighters from Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria it would seem that there is now a greater pool of people who could potentially attack the US, which is why we need to try to bring an end to the fighting there as quickly as possible.

Al-Qa'ida is only one facet of the threat from a broader Sunni jihadist movement.

Yeah, but it's still the center of it, just like the Soviet Union was the center of the international communist movement.

The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists.

This is an important distinction that a lot of people have missed in their eagerness to blast the Bush administration for entering into the war in Iraq. Zarqawi and most of the groups we are now fighting inside Iraq were already in existence prior to OIF, they've simply moved Iraq to the top of the "lands of jihad" list like Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, and most recently the southern Thailand. There is also something of a cognitive disconnect these types of arguments because they at one point blast the administration for creating more terrorism by invading Iraq but simultaneously blast it for over-hyping the threat posed by Zarqawi, who is currently the undisputed leader on the jihadi side of the Sunni insurgency. Is it that much to ask which is it?

We know from experience that al-Qa'ida is a patient, persistent, imaginative, adaptive and dangerous opponent. But it is vulnerable and we and other allies have hit it hard.

And we need to continue hitting it, especially now that it's reestablished global command and control out of eastern Iran under the patronage of the good people in Qods Force. Ending the Iraqi insurgency and neutralizing the threat posed by Zarqawi is probably the best way to start doing so at this point.

Jihadist religious leaders preach millennial aberrational visions of a fight for Islam's survival. Sometimes they argue that the struggle justifies the indiscriminate killing of civilians, even with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons.

Yeah and their fatwas authorize their followers to use such weapons against us, like the one that the 26 prominent Saudi scholars passed calling for jihad against US forces in Iraq. Perhaps we should do something about al-Hawali and Co to prevent them from issuing any further incitement against US nationals?

Our pursuit of al-Qa'ida and its most senior leaders, including Bin Ladin and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri is intense. However, their capture alone would not be enough to eliminate the terrorist threat to the US Homeland or US interests overseas. Often influenced by al-Qa'ida's ideology, members of a broader movement have an ability to plan and conduct operations. We saw this last March in the railway attacks in Madrid conducted by local Sunni extremists. Other regional groups--connected to al-Qa'ida or acting on their own--also continue to pose a significant threat.

I would say that the 3/11 members were influenced by a little more than ideology - Jamal Zougam, for example, worked for Imad Yarkas, who was the head of al-Qaeda in Spain before he was arrested in November 2001. At any rate, I understand that what Goss is saying here is that there are enough groups out there that are part of bin Laden's terrorist coalition that have enough of an independent command and control for them to operate autonomously of the central core. That's why despite our smashing Afghanistan the GSPC, JI, the LeT, and the Chechen Killer Korps were all able to stay in business and is one of the key marks of al-Qaeda's hallowed decentralization.

In Pakistan, terrorist elements remain committed to attacking US targets. In Saudi Arabia, remnants of the Saudi al-Qa'ida network continue to attack US interests in the region.

The Pakistani mob seems mainly focused on fighting the government in Waziristan at this point with the help of the local Pashtun tribesmen. It's interesting and quite telling to note that the Saudi al-Qaeda are focused on attacking US targets in the Gulf rather than the royal family that they supposedly hate so much.

In Central Asia, the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has become a more virulent threat to US interests and local governments. Last spring the group used female operatives in a series of bombings in Uzbekistan.

I thought that IJG was just another name from the IMU (which I think has officially merged with the IMET. Fellow Winds team member Nathan Hamm will have to correct me on this one), guess I was wrong. Either way, in the last year Central Asian authorities have found a network designed to train Uzbek jihadis in Waziristan and Kazakhstan before sending them back to their homeland to carry out terrorist attacks. If these guys should ever actually succeed in overthrowing Karimov we're going to be in major trouble and he seems to be playing right into their hand with his heavy-handed tactics and political repression.

In Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) continues to pose a threat to US and Western interests in Indonesia and the Philippines, where JI is colluding with the Abu Sayyaf Group and possibly the MILF.

I don't think there's any "possibly" about it given recent events in the Philippines involving the MILF commanders Wahid Khalil Tundok, Abdul Rahman Binago, and Amiril Kato Ombra, but Manila is desperate to push through the peace deal with MILF so the Filippinos are using any and every means at their disposal to split hairs on that account. Still waiting for them to shut down those JI training camps.

In Europe, Islamic extremists continue to plan and cause attacks against US and local interests, some that may cause significant casualties. In 2004 British authorities dismantled an al-Qa'ida cell and an extremist brutally killed a prominent Dutch citizen in the Netherlands.

That would be the Van Gogh killing, of course. What I think was so disturbing about that particular incident was not so much the fact that some nut went out and murdered van Gogh but rather that Bouyeri's cell (which the Dutch refer to as the Hofstadt Group) had a plan to murder a number of controversial Dutch politicians, carry out attacks in Portugal, etc. Cells like Bouyeri's succeeded on 3/11 and the Van Gogh murder and are probably best viewed within the context of the larger al-Qaeda threat given how inter-linked they are rather than as separate networks on their own right.

Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-US jihadists.

We've noticed. The Europeans appear to have done a heavy number on the recruiting infrastructure in Europe, but the complexity of the network makes it difficult to assess just how good a job they've done.

These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups, and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.

Indeed, but the same can be said of those who went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight US troops there. That is why Iraq is best viewed within the context of a campaign in the broader war on terrorism rather than as the sum total of that campaign with itself. As Goss's statement makes quite clear, US withdrawl is not the answer here.

Zarqawi has sought to bring about the final victory of Islam over the West, and he hopes to establish a safe haven in Iraq from which his group could operate against "infidel" Western nations and "apostate" Muslim governments.

We've already gotten a taste of what he has in mind with his failed plot in Jordan and possibly recent Kuwait as well. In truth though, Zarqawi is just following the script laid out by Yousef al-Ayyeri before his death at the hands of Saudi security forces. Democracy cannot be allowed to prevail in the Middle East, but an Iraq "liberated" from US occupation can do to America what Afghanistan did to Russia. The fact that Vietnam parallels abound in the US and international press with regard to discussion of Iraq only encourages this opinion, I might add.

Al-Qaeda's Chemical/Biological Threat

Mr. Chairman, I have consistently warned this committee of al-Qa`ida's interest in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Acquiring these remains a "religious obligation" in Bin Ladin's eyes, and al-Qa`ida and more than two dozen other terrorist groups are pursuing CBRN materials.

We particularly see a heightened risk of poison attacks. Contemplated delivery methods to date have been simple but this may change as non-Al-Qa`ida groups share information on more sophisticated methods and tactics ...

... Extremists have widely disseminated assembly instructions for an improvised chemical weapon using common materials that could cause a large numbers of casualties in a crowded, enclosed area.

Although gaps in our understanding remain, we see al-Qa`ida's program to produce anthrax as one of the most immediate terrorist CBRN threats we are likely to face.

Given what nearly happened in Amman in April 2004 (though that involved poison gas, not anthrax), these warnings seem fairly prescient - and still do.

It may be only a matter of time before al-Qa'ida or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons (CBRN).

Some observers believe that the threat of terrorists using WMD is overhyped. I don't, in large part because I keep reading things like this in reference to al-Qaeda plots:

The raids leading to the initial arrests turned up chemical formulas for explosives and a substance that, when subjected to heat or put in contact with water, would let off a highly toxic gas, judicial officials have said. Lists of chemicals and their price and a suit to protect against chemical attacks were among other items found.

In light of this information, what nearly happened in Jordan last April, Zarqawi's poison plots in Europe in late 2002, the videotapes CNN found of Midhat Mursi gassing dogs at Darunta, et al. I think it's pretty much willful denial to say that believing that terrorists are likely to carry out some kind of mass casualty attack using WMDs in the near future is just playing Chicken Little - it almost happened in France for God's sake. If one desires to wait until somebody pulls off a Halabja in a major Western city before they take that threat seriously, go right ahead, but the CIA doesn't have that kind of luxury.

That said, I think there is some validation to criticism that the radiological threat has been over-hyped. The main reason that the administration seems so obsessive about it, in my view, has to do with the fact that so many senior al-Qaeda figures like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed think it's the perfect "fear" weapon because of how ignorant the general public is with respect to anything to do with radiation. Al-Shukrijumah also looked into the possibility of using such a device, but ultimately seems to have decided against it because it couldn't produce the kinds of body count he was interested in creating.

Goss 2005: Afghanistan

Mr. Chairman, Afghanistan, once the safe haven for Usama bin Ladin, has started on the road to recovery after decades of instability and civil war. Hamid Karzai's election to the presidency was a major milestone. Elections for a new National Assembly and local district councils--tentatively scheduled for this spring--will complete the process of electing representatives.

A process which seems to have been more or less successful, by all accounts. Then again, as a charming Washington Times editor pointed out to me while I was in DC, Afghanistan has always had a far weaker standard for an acceptable central government than have more modern Middle Eastern states like Iraq. Still, I don't think anyone is going to argue that the US isn't leaving Afghanistan in a better state than which we found it.

President Karzai still faces a low-level insurgency aimed at destabilizing the country, raising the cost of reconstruction and ultimately forcing Coalition forces to leave.

Yeah, but despite its support base among some segments of Afghanistan's Pashtuns, the Taliban's continued existence is likely more due to the fact that it has sanctuaries and supporters in northern Pakistan than it is anything else.

The development of the Afghan National Army and a national police force is going well, although neither can yet stand on its own.

That's too be expected, however. And there doesn't seem to have been the same degree of infantile in-fighting over post-war planning in Afghanistan that took place in Iraq, which has probably helped the planning.

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

Amen to that. The regular oil sabotage alone is costing the country billions in potential reconstruction money.

Alternatively, the larger uncommitted moderate Sunni population and the Sunni political elite may seize the post electoral moment to take part in creating Iraq's new political institutions if victorious Shia and Kurdish parties include Sunnis in the new government and the drafting of the constitution.

This seems to be taking place as well, though we'll have to wait and see how willing the Sunnis are to embrace the Iraqi political system.

Goss 2005: North Korea

On 10 February 2005, Pyongyang announced it was suspending participation in the six-party talks underway since 2003, declared it had nuclear weapons, and affirmed it would seek to increase its nuclear arsenal. The North had been pushing for a freeze on its plutonium program in exchange for significant benefits, rather than committing to the full dismantlement that we and are our partners sought.

That's because, to use an analogy coined by the junior senator from New Jersey, the situation in North Korea is akin to one in which there is a gunman holding up a bank teller for cash with a revolver. He is dangerous as long as he possesses the revolver, but once he gives up the gun or uses up his bullets he's through and he knows it. Kim understands this, which is why he isn't likely to give up his nukes for the foreseeable future - they are, after all, the key to his whole shakedown operation.

In 2003, the North claimed it had reprocessed the 8,000 fuel rods from the Yongbyong reactor, originally stored under the Agreed Framework, with IAEA monitoring in 1994. The North claims to have made new weapons from its reprocessing effort.

Sounds reasonable. The more nukes Kim has the more he can always auction off if he finds himself running low on capital.

We believe North Korea continues to pursue a uranium enrichment capability drawing on the assistance it received from A.Q. Khan before his network was shutdown.

Again, sounds reasonable. Kim has always been one to maximize his gains whenever possible, preferably in a covert manner because most of the planet is aware of the Jonestown nature of his regime.

North Korea continues to develop, produce, deploy, and sell ballistic missiles of increasing range and sophistication, augmenting Pyongyang's large operational force of Scud and No Dong class missiles. North Korea could resume flight-testing at any time, including of longer-range missiles, such as the Taepo Dong-2 system. We assess the TD-2 is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload.

I'm a little vague on what Goss is referring here when he's talking about "reaching the United States" here. Most analysts will give Kim the ability to hit into Alaska and even Hawaii if they're feeling generous, but my understanding is that they're more divided about him being able to deliver a nuclear payload to the West Coast. Is anyone aware of whether or not Goss clarified his remark?

North Korea continues to market its ballistic missile technology, trying to find new clients now that some traditional customers, such as Libya, have halted such trade.

I believe they're now selling to Zimbabwe of all places as well as Myanmar. Venezuela could easily emerge as a potential client as well if Chavez continues with his planned defense upgrades. Near as I can tell, Kim is a pretty heartless capitalist when it comes to missile tech - if you've got the cash, he's got the missiles.

We believe North Korea has active CW and BW programs and probably has chemical and possibly biological weapons ready for use.

Again, seems reasonable given Kim's interests in such things. There have been reports that he's experimented on his own people with such substances, which I certainly find rather plausible given everything else he's been willing to subject them to thus far.

Goss 2005: Iran

In early February, the spokesman of Iran's Supreme Council for National Security publicly announced that Iran would never scrap its nuclear program. This came in the midst of negotiations with EU-3 members (Britain, Germany and France) seeking objective guarantees from Tehran that it will not use nuclear technology for nuclear weapons.

  • Previous comments by Iranian officials, including Iran's Supreme Leader and its Foreign Minister, indicated that Iran would not give up its ability to enrich uranium. Certainly they can use it to produce fuel for power reactors. We are more concerned about the dual-use nature of the technology that could also be used to achieve a nuclear weapon.

My honest opinion on this, and I'll probably get into trouble for saying it, is that Iran's situation is a lot like Japan's in that they can produce a nuke anytime they want and they are currently trying to see the maximum of what they can get away with as far as their trade deals with the Euros are concerned.

In parallel, Iran continues its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, such as an improved version of its 1,300 km range Shahab-3 MRBM, to add to the hundreds of short-range SCUD missiles it already has.

They're trying to get their arsenal to the point where they can plausible challenge Israel or at least set themselves up as the undisputed power in the region. Once that's done, they plan on exporting their Islamist revolution to a number of the smaller Gulf states, which is one of the reasons that there's a Saudi Hezbollah to begin with. The hardliners appear convinced that they can weather the storm in terms of their domestic unpopularity given that the available evidence to date suggests Europeans don't care about the Iranian dissidents or their support for anti-Israeli activity and thus far nothing has come up to defy this analysis. Moreover, with the US tied down in Iraq and the Europeans unable or unwilling to support major military operations, it's unclear how to the hardliners how we could stop them militarily even if we were openly seeking to do so.

Iran reportedly is supporting some anti-Coalition activities in Iraq and seeking to influence the future character of the Iraqi state.

We've been noticing that since at least April, though US News and World Report seems to have let most of the more damning intelligence reports out of the bag for now. My guess is that the mullahs have come to the conclusion that they're next for regime change if and when Iraq stabilizes and as a result are trying to delay that eventuality until they are a bonafide nuclear power, hence their support for various elements of the Iraqi insurgency. In the words of top IRGC commander General Suleimani, it serves the "supreme interest" of Iran to turn Iraq into a kill zone for US troops.

Conservatives are likely to consolidate their power in Iran's June 2005 presidential elections, further marginalizing the reform movement last year.

Agreed. We may well see Rafsanjani stage a comeback, though I believe that Hassan Rohani is still the favored candidate in a number of circles.

Iran continues to retain in secret important members of Al-Qai'ida-the Management Council--causing further uncertainty about Iran's commitment to bring them to justice.

A quibble here on translation. What Goss is referring to here is members of the shura majlis, which is probably best rendered into English as "consultative council" but is probably more accurately described as the network's "ruling council." In any event, these are al-Qaeda's board of directors, of whom bin Laden is the chairman. The use of the word retain here is quite interesting, as that's a bit description different than "harbor" but still quite different than "hold" or "detain." My suspicion here, based in no small part on conversations with US officials, is that these individuals still are being allowed to continue to operate in a command and control capacity but at the same time are having their activities curtailed to bring them in line with the "supreme interests" that General Suleimani spoke of earlier.

<a name="pgrussia"Goss 2005: Russia

Astute individuals will note that I skipped the part where Goss talks about China. That's true, in large part because I haven't studied it enough to provide any intelligent commentary on the subject.

The attitudes and actions of the so-called "siloviki"--the ex-KGB men that Putin has placed in positions of authority throughout the Russian government--may be critical determinants of the course Putin will pursue in the year ahead.

That's because they seem to be the new Russian aristocracy these days. We haven't seen anybody crushed to date, which implies that they see their interests as being in line with Putin's, at least for the time being. That could change, however, which may be one of the reasons why Putin has stepped up his cult of personality on a popular level.

Perceived setbacks in Ukraine are likely to lead Putin to redouble his efforts to defend Russian interests abroad while balancing cooperation with the West. Russia's most immediate security threat is terrorism, and counterterrorism cooperation undoubtedly will continue.

That's because he (and us) are smart enough to recognize that Basayev carving out a Caliphate in the Caucasus is going to have the same effect as Zarqawi setting one up in Iraq. That said, I would expect to see Russia strongly resist any Western attempts to democratize or scale up the US military presence in former Soviet republics and also wouldn't completely rule out an invasion of Georgia for the near future under the guise of an anti-terrorist operation.

Putin publicly acknowledges a role for outside powers to play in the CIS, for example, but we believe he is nevertheless concerned about further encroachment by the US and NATO into the region.

If he isn't, the Siloviki are and their concerns have a way of becoming his own. Like I said, he yielded on Ukraine, car bombing aside, but I don't see him being nearly so compliant in the immediate future.

Moscow worries that separatism inside Russia and radical Islamic movements beyond their borders might threaten stability in Southern Russia. Chechen extremists have increasingly turned to terrorist operations in response to Moscow's successes in Chechnya, and it is reasonable to predict that they will carry out attacks against civilian or military targets elsewhere in Russia in 2005.

The problem is that it's no longer just the Chechens, and I'm just talking about the Arab brigade that Basayev has fighting under him. Ever since the sacking of Nazran over the summer and even before that his ranks have been swelled by Ingush and Dagestani Islamists all fighting under the banner of a Pan-Islamic state in the Caucasus. Fortunately, Salafism has penetrated far enough into the Caucasus to have developed a popular following, but should that ever occur it is not improbable that Putin could have a full-fledged insurrection on his hands further on the line, which would of course lead to an upswing in terrorist attacks throughout Russia.

Budget increases will help Russia create a professional military by replacing conscripts with volunteer servicemen and focus on maintaining, modernizing and extending the operational life of its strategic weapons systems, including its nuclear missile force.

Professionalizing their military will also help Russia minimize the incidents of official corruption and human rights abuses that have proved so ineffective to their quelling the insurgency in Chechnya. That still doesn't deal with the state-sanctioned killings, however ...

Russia remains an important source of weapons technology, materials and components for other nations. The vulnerability of Russian WMD materials and technology to theft or diversion is a continuing concern.

Part of this lies in the fact that Russia has a huge military manufacturing infrastructure left over from the Cold War that they desire to maintain, hence they are willing to sell to just about anyone with the need and the capital. As for Russian WMDs, as Goss said this remains an area of concern, but I'm more worried short-term about the theft of such equipment than I am of the expertise falling into the wrong hands because the immense requirements needed even by states to pursue such things.

Goss 2005: Other Threats and Areas of Concern

Mr. Chairman, in the MIDDLE EAST, the election of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, nevertheless, marks an important step and Abbas has made it clear that negotiating a peace deal with Israel is a high priority. There nevertheless are hurdles ahead.

  • Redlines must be resolved while Palestinian leaders try to rebuild damaged PA infrastructure and governing institutions, especially the security forces, the legislature, and the judiciary.
  • Terrorist groups, some of who benefit from funding from outside sources, could step up attacks to derail peace and progress.

That second comment seems more or less to be a reference Iran's ongoing efforts to end the peace process through violence. As for the first one, I'd say that the Palestinian leadership has to build a decent security forces, legislature, and judiciary, as for the last several years the first has functioned as an enabler of terrorism while the other two have been a rubber stamp for Arafat and his cronies. There should also be reference to the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure in the Territories, which needs to occur if we want to keep these organizations from threatening efforts to put an end to the conflict. What people seem to misunderstand is that the Palestinians have not had a pseudo-government since Oslo but rather a pseudo-dictatorial kleptocracy. God only knows what they're going to find if anybody ever does a serious audit of all those millions of dollars in aid money that we sent to the Palestinians ...

Hizballah's main focus remains Israel, but it could conduct lethal attacks against US interests quickly upon a decision to do so.

That's because their organization is a wholely-owned subsidiary of Tehran, so their clandestine cells are designed to be called to act at the behest of Iran if the mullahs want to stir up trouble. They are also readily able to tap into VEVAK's resources when conducting a terrorist attack, as can be seen from what happened in Argentina during the 1990s.

Palestinian terrorist organizations have apparently refrained from directly targeting US or Western interests in their opposition to Middle East peace initiatives, but pose an ongoing risk to US citizens who could be killed or wounded in attacks intended to strike Israeli interests.

Which reminds me - did we ever figure out from a credible source who exactly was behind that attack in Gaza awhile back that killed US nationals?

Extremist groups in Latin America are still a concern, with the FARC--the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia--possessing the greatest capability and the clearest intent to threaten US interests in the region.

Yeah, but FARC is a pseudo-state that is probably best described as an oligarchical plutocracy (which is really ironic given that they are purportedly a communist revolutionary movement) and that is run in a fairly ruthless fashion. Attacking US interests outside of Colombia is a good way to bring our collective wrath down on their Switzerland-sized enclave and while our army is busy over in Iraq I believe our naval and aerial assets are still relatively free. No doubt President Uribe would be only too happy to have us start bombing FARC targets for him.

Horn of Africa, the Sahel, the Mahgreb, the Levant, and the Gulf States are all areas where "pop up" terrorist activity can be expected.

The Levant is currently the biggest center of terrorist training on the planet with respect to the Bekaa Valley. In the Horn, the Sahel, and the Maghreb the problem is more lack of government than anything else. It is precisely this anarchic environment that has allowed al-Qaeda to set up bases in Nigeria (is anyone truly surprised by that one?), Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. As for the source of terrorism in the Gulf, we probably shouldn't speculate too freely ...

In Nigeria, the military is struggling to contain militia groups in the oil-producing south and ethnic violence that frequently erupts throughout the country. Extremist groups are emerging from the country's Muslim population of about 65 million.

Nigeria honestly strikes me as a time bomb that is just waiting to go off, especially now that al-Qaeda has emerged to join the fun in what was already an extremely tense ethno-religious divide in the future. The dead Nigerians who were found fighting with the GSPC when the US, Niger, and Chad are also rather telling that this is no longer just a local problem.

In Sudan, the peace deal signed in January will result in de facto southern autonomy and may inspire rebels in provinces such as Darfur to press harder for a greater share of resources and power. Opportunities exist for Islamic extremists to reassert themselves in the North unless the central government stays unified.

I tend to regard the central government as part of the problem, myself, though I think they've more or less bought off Garang at this point. Darfur remains a killing fields for the Sudanese military and their Janjaweed proxies and they're set to spring Hassan Turabi again. But that's just me ...

Unresolved disputes in the Horn of Africa--Africa's gateway to the Middle East--create vulnerability to foreign terrorist and extremist groups. Ethiopia and Eritrea still have a contested border, and armed factions in Somalia indicate they will fight the authority of a new transitional government.

Somalia is pretty much a diplomatic myth at this point, as can be seen from the fact that their new government has to be based out of Kenya for security reasons. Now I wish the best of luck to the AU folks now heading in to stabilize the country, but there's a part of me that says that holding the country together is a lost cause and we should just recognize Somaliland, Puntland, and any other nickel-and-dime operation in the country as the legitimate government and leave it at that.

In Venezuela, Chavez is consolidating his power by using technically legal tactics to target his opponents and meddling in the region, supported by Castro.

"Technically legal" is a bit of a stretch - I imagine that people here might feel a bit different if Bush or Hillary Clinton used some of the tactics that Chavez has, but what the heck. I'm assuming his Castro-supported meddling would refer to his more or less documented patronage of FARC.

In Colombia, progress against counternarcotics and terrorism under President Uribe's successful leadership, may be affected by the election.

I thought Uribe was favored?

The outlook is very cloudy for legitimate, timely elections in November 2005 in Haiti--even with substantial international support.

That'll work till the next president-for-life comes along once the international troops now overseeing the peace leave. I'm probably being too pessimistic here, but Haiti honestly strikes me as one of the best cases for colonialism that one could possibly ask for. Joe did a detailed piece on Haiti's situation a little while ago, with a title and sub-headers borrowed from Jimmy Buffet songs. "Apocalypso" was depressing reading, but educational.

Campaigning for the 2006 presidential election in Mexico is likely to stall progress on fiscal, labor, and energy reforms.

That's assuming the Gulf Cartel doesn't manage to assassinate Fox in the immediate future. Mexico's democracy is still a nascent enough phenomenon that it could easily slide backwards into authoritarianism under the right conditions.

In Cuba, Castro's hold on power remains firm, but a bad fall last October has rekindled speculation about his declining health and succession scenarios.

My money's still on Mark Falcoff's call.

In Indonesia, President Yudhoyono has moved swiftly to crackdown on corruption. Reinvigorating the economy, burdened by the costs of recovery in tsunami-damaged areas, will likely be affected by continuing deep-seated ethnic and political turmoil exploitable by terrorists.

Recovery from the tsunami is likely to be Yudhoyono's top priority at this point. Bashir is likely to get off on terrorism charges and resume his role as JI's spiritual leader and there are still more than enough ethno-religious friction in Sulawesi and the Moluccas for his gang to exploit for the immediate future.

In the Philippines, Manila is struggling with prolonged Islamic and Communist rebellions. The presence of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorists seeking safe haven and training bases adds volatility and capability to terrorist groups already in place.

This is one area I definitely think that we should be more actively involved in, though I recognize we're hamstrung by Manila's desire to get a definitive peace deal with the MILF. As long as the status quo exists however, JI is always going to be able to regenerate from whatever damage is done to it by law enforcement.

Thailand is plagued with an increasingly volatile Muslim separatist threat in its southeastern provinces, and the risk of escalation remains high.

The southern Thai insurgency honestly strikes me as being fairly low-level at this point, but that's probably because I've been reading too much out of Iraq and Chechnya lately. One of the reasons I think that it has yet to escalate is because the Wahhabi Pattani jihadis appear to hold beliefs at odds with a majority of the people they purportedly seek to liberate. Then again, that never stopped them in Chechnya ...

Some Closing Thoughts

If all of this sounds like a heck of a lot to keep an eye on, it is. Remember, too, that situations can change quickly in any of the major areas of concern Goss discussed - or any of the minor ones - and escalate into a crisis. The long article you've just read is only a set of excerpts from a very condensed briefing, plus some analytical commentary. In the CIA itself, meanwhile, they're dealing with multiple conflicting pieces of information, multiple analyst perspectives on that information, and the age-old problem of trying to pick out the significant pieces from the clutter. That's happening in each of the locations discussed here.

Which is why intelligence reports are like weather reports: useful often enough that they're worth paying attention to, but inevitably disappointing for people who expect perfect prediction or foresight. In a world where the risks and stakes are rising by the day, paying attention is more important than ever - and so is an understanding of the complexity and limitations that Goss and the intelligence community face.

2 Comments

my understanding is that they're more divided about him being able to deliver a nuclear payload to the West Coast

from work experience: not to the West Coast, yet. And there are two reprocessing sites, so double your estimate.

Great, comprehensive, analysis. Porter Goss is my hero too. ;)

Dan, I enjoy your articles and analysis here.

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