"Make no mistake, they're determined to figure out a way," said Frances Fragos Townsend. "So we work every day to make sure that doesn't happen."
Townsend, who went on the morning news shows to discuss the threat of terrorism a day after the administration released a new National Intelligence Estimate, said, "The question is: Do they have all the capabilities they need to do it? And we don't think they have it yet."
The report concluded among other things that al Qaeda is using its growing strength in Pakistan and Iraq to plot attacks on U.S. soil, heightening the terror threat facing the United States over the next few years.
Prepared for President Bush and other top policymakers, the document lays out a range of dangers — from al Qaeda to Lebanese Hezbollah to non-Muslim radical groups — that pose a "persistent and evolving threat" to the country over the next three years.
The findings focused most heavily on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which was judged to remain the most serious threat to the United States. The group's affiliate in Iraq, which has not yet posed a direct threat to U.S. soil, could do just that, the report concluded. Al Qaeda in Iraq threatened to attack the United States in a Web statement last September.
In an interview Wednesday on The Early Show, Townsend told anchor Hannah Storm, "There's no question that there's a very determined enemy that wants to come back and do us harm. What this report tells us, the American people have to understand, is that al Qaeda is a determined enemy and we have to be equally determined to go after them."
But Townsend vehemently denied Storm's suggestion that the report indicates that nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks — after billions spent and thousands of American lives lost — Americans are not any safer than before the attacks.
"That's not what the report says. What the report tells us is that we have constrained al Qaeda's ability to act against us. That al Qaeda believes, based on billions of dollars that we've spent, that we are a more difficult and less vulnerable target for them."
Townsend also touted U.S. cooperation with Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and said the two countries continue to work closely together on the problem.
'What were doing is working with our partner in Pakistan to either give them the capability or have them exert their own influence in the tribal areas," Townsend said.
The Bush administration has promised $750 million in aid, but says fighting al Qaeda requires in Pakistan military action too, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth. But Pakistan insists it will never allow in foreign troops, as Musharraf made clear in a CBS News interview just three months ago.
"So let us handle our country ourselves. That is all. Nobody comes from outside. We are capable of doing it. We will handle it our way," he said.
The White House now claims Musharraf is changing tactics — in response to a policy that hasn't worked.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the report is unsubstantiated and asked Washington to provide it with "actionable intelligence."
"We would firmly act to eliminate any al Qaeda hideout on the basis of specific intelligence or information," the Foreign Ministry's statement read.
"It does not help simply to make assertions about the presence or regeneration of al Qaeda in bordering areas of Pakistan. What is needed is concrete and actionable information and intelligence sharing," it said.
In the report, analysts argued that crumbling state control of Pakistan's border region allowed al Qaeda an increasingly comfortable hideout from which to plot attacks.
A briefing on the National Intelligence Estimate, prepared for President Bush and other top policymakers, said a peace deal in Pakistan's North Waziristan region lets al Qaeda set up terror training camps, improve international communications and bolster operations.
The Foreign Ministry said Pakistan was "determined not to allow al Qaeda or any other terrorist entity to establish a safe haven on its territory." It also reiterated that no foreign security forces would be allowed to pursue militants in Pakistan.
"We have deployed troops, established checkposts and done selective fencing. Any further action that needs to be taken against terrorist elements will be taken," the ministry said.