But the finding is not new. Indeed, as U.S. News reported in May, U.S. intelligence officials have been alarmed by the ability of al Qaeda's central leadership to reconstitute a comfortable safe haven in the badlands of western Pakistan. Even more worrying, these top al Qaeda leaders appear to be more operationally involved in planning and assisting active plots around the world.
The nation's top intelligence analysts echoed these concerns in testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, saying that agencies have been watching al Qaeda's activity in Pakistan carefully. "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising," said John Kringen, who heads the CIA's analytic division.
Al Qaeda's ability to operate freely in Pakistan's tribal areas is casting new doubt on the ability--and willingness--of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his government to crack down on those groups. As U.S. News reported in the current issue, some U.S. officials are quietly beginning to question Musharraf's value as an ally in the war on terrorism. One issue is a questionable deal that he struck with tribal authorities to crack down on al Qaeda's activities. Kringen noted that the agreement was "not helpful."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff provoked alarm in Washington earlier this week when he said that his "gut" suggested an elevated risk of terrorist attacks this summer. But the NCTC report was not predicated on any particular threat or plot, and senior U.S. officials said that Chertoff's remarks were not based on any specific intelligence. Indeed, intelligence officials said that while al Qaeda has reconstituted some of its leadership core, they are not currently warning of any elevated threat.
Asked about the al Qaeda threat, President Bush said that the group is not stronger than it was before September 11.
"Because of the actions we've taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been," he said. "They are still a threat. They are still dangerous."
By Kevin Whitelaw