Bleak New World

April 1, 2003
George J. Tenet, as the director of central intelligence, is the head of the Intelligence Community. On Feb. 11, he delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee his annual threat briefing. What follows are excerpts from his prepared statement, “The Worldwide Threat in 2003: Evolving Dangers in a Complex World.”

Al Qaeda’s “Expectation”

“ The threat from al Qaeda remains. … The network is extensive and adaptable. It will take years of determined effort to unravel this and other terrorist networks and stamp them out. …

“ Al Qaeda is still dedicated to striking the US homeland. … Until al Qaeda finds an opportunity for the big attack, it will try to maintain its operational tempo by striking ‘softer’ targets, … those targets al Qaeda planners may view as less well-protected.

“ Al Qaeda has also sharpened its focus on our allies in Europe and on operations against Israeli and Jewish targets. …

“ Al Qaeda is also developing or refining new means of attack, including use of surface-to-air missiles, poisons, and air, surface, and underwater methods to attack maritime targets. …

“ The bottom line here, … is that al Qaeda is living in the expectation of resuming the offensive.”

Toward Mass-Murder Weapons

“ Al Qaeda still seeks chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. The recently disrupted poison plots in the UK, France, and Spain reflect a broad, orchestrated effort by al Qaeda and associated groups to attack several targets using toxins and explosives. These planned attacks involved similar materials, and the implicated operatives had links to one another. …

“ Bin Laden has a sophisticated BW capability. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda succeeded in acquiring both the expertise and the equipment needed to grow biological agents. …

“ Last year I also discussed al Qaeda’s efforts to obtain nuclear and radiological materials as part of an ambitious nuclear agenda. One year later, we continue to follow every lead in tracking terrorist efforts to obtain nuclear materials. In particular, we continue to follow up on information that al Qaeda seeks to produce or purchase a radiological dispersal device. Construction of such a device is well within al Qaeda capabilities—if it can obtain the radiological material.”

The Search for Safe Havens

“ Al Qaeda’s loss of Afghanistan, the death and capture of key personnel, and its year spent mostly on the run have impaired its capability, complicated its command and control, and disrupted its logistics. …

“ Al Qaeda will try to adapt to changing circumstances as it regroups. It will seek a more secure base area so that it can pause from flight and resume planning. We place no limitations on our expectations of what al Qaeda might do to survive.

“ We see disturbing signs that al Qaeda has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq. In addition, we are also concerned that al Qaeda continues to find refuge in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Watching the No-Law Zones

“ [The US faces] challenges such as the world’s vast stretches of ungoverned areas—lawless zones, veritable ‘no-man’s-lands’ like some areas along the Afghan–Pakistani border—where extremist movements find shelter and can win breathing space to grow. …

“ We know from the events of Sept. 11 that we can never again ignore a specific type of country: a country unable to control its own borders and internal territory, lacking the capacity to govern, educate its people, or provide fundamental social services. Such countries can, however, offer extremists a place to congregate in relative safety.

“ Al Qaeda is already a presence in several regions that arouse our concern. The Bali attack brought the threat home to Southeast Asia, where the emergence of Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region is particularly worrisome. And the Mombasa attack in East Africa highlights the continued vulnerability of Western interests and the growing terrorist threat there.”

Wartime Successes

“ We are having success on many fronts. More than one-third of the top al Qaeda leadership identified before the war has been killed or captured. … The number of rounded-up al Qaeda detainees has now grown to over 3,000—up from 1,000 or so when I testified last year—and the number of countries involved in these captures has almost doubled to more than 100. …

“ [T]he worldwide rousting of al Qaeda has definitely disrupted its operations. And we’ve obtained a trove of information we’re using to prosecute the hunt still further. …

“ Combined US and allied efforts thwarted a number of al Qaeda–related attacks in the past year, including the European poison plots. We identified, monitored, and arrested Jose Padilla, an al Qaeda operative who was allegedly planning operations in the United States and was seeking to develop a so-called ‘dirty bomb.’ And along with Moroccan partners we disrupted al Qaeda attacks against US and British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar.”

Help From the Muslim World

“ Muslim governments today better understand the threat al Qaeda poses to them and day by day have been increasing their support.

“ Ever since Pakistan’s decision to sever ties with the Taliban, … Islamabad’s close cooperation in the war on terrorism has resulted in the capture of key al Qaeda lieutenants and significant disruption of its regional network. Jordan and Egypt have been courageous leaders in the war on terrorism. A number of Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates are denying terrorists financial safe haven, making it harder for al Qaeda to funnel funding for operations. Others in the Gulf are beginning to tackle the problem of charities that front for, or fund, terrorism.

“ The Saudis are providing increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts—from arrests to sharing debriefing results.

“ Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, with majority Muslim populations, have been active in arresting and detaining terror suspects.”

“ New World” of Nuclear Peril

“ For 60 years, weapon-design information and technologies for producing fissile material—the key hurdles for nuclear weapons production—have been the domain of only a few states. These states, though a variety of self-regulating and treaty based regimes, generally limited the spread of these data and technologies.

“ In my view, we have entered a new world of proliferation. In the vanguard of this new world are knowledgeable nonstate purveyors of WMD materials and technology. Such nonstate outlets are increasingly capable of providing technology and equipment that previously could only be supplied by countries with established capabilities. …

“ With the assistance of proliferators, a potentially wider range of countries may be able to develop nuclear weapons by ‘leapfrogging’ the incremental pace of weapons programs in other countries.”

Market for Nukes

“ The example of new nuclear states that seem able to deter threats from more powerful states, simply by brandishing nuclear weaponry, will resonate deeply among other countries that want to enter the nuclear weapons club.

“ Demand creates the market. The desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge. Additional countries may decide to seek nuclear weapons as it becomes clear their neighbors and regional rivals are already doing so. The ‘domino theory’ of the 21st century may well be nuclear.”

Biological Threats

“ Biological warfare programs have become more technically sophisticated as a result of rapid growth in the field of biotechnology research and wide dissemination of this knowledge. Almost anyone with limited skills can create BW agents. The rise of such capabilities also means we now have to be concerned about a myriad of new agents.

“ Countries are more and more tightly integrating both their BW and CW production capabilities into apparently legitimate commercial infrastructures, further concealing them from scrutiny.”

The Missile Problem

“ In addition to the longstanding [missile] threats from Russian and Chinese missile forces, the United States faces a near-term ICBM threat from North Korea. And over the next several years, we could face a similar threat from Iran and possibly Iraq.

“ Short- and medium-range missiles already pose a significant threat to US interests, military forces, and allies as emerging missile states increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories.

“ Several countries of concern remain interested in acquiring a land-attack cruise missile capability. By the end of the decade, LACMs could pose a serious threat to not only our deployed forces but possibly even the US mainland.”

Missile Proliferators

“ North Korea … continues to export complete ballistic missiles and production capabilities along with related raw materials, components, and expertise. Profits from these sales help Pyongyang to support its missile and other WMD development programs and, in turn, generate new products to offer to its customers. …

“ China vowed in November 2000 to refrain from assisting countries seeking to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and, last August, Beijing promulgated new missile-related export controls. Despite such steps, Chinese firms remain key suppliers of ballistic- and cruise missile–related technologies to Pakistan, Iran, and several other countries. …

“ We are also monitoring Russian transfers of technology and expertise. Russian entities have cooperated on projects—many of them dual-use—that we assess can contribute to BW, CW, nuclear, or ballistic- and cruise-missile programs in several countries of concern, including Iran.”