Bush releases classified report

U.S. spy agencies conclude efforts have hurt al-Qaida

September 27, 2006|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- President Bush tried yesterday to blunt criticism that the war in Iraq has emboldened a new generation of terrorists, ordering the release of a summary of a classified National Intelligence Estimate which concludes that U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts have "seriously damaged" the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations.

At the same time, a carefully screened summary of the report concludes that a holy war in Iraq is "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives." It says the conflict has become "the `cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

While weekend newspaper articles based on the report focused on the war in Iraq serving as a recruiting and breeding ground for Islamic radicals, Bush said the assessment released yesterday supports his contention that the United States and its allies have succeeded in weakening terrorist networks and undermining their plans.

Nonetheless, the intelligence community's assessment that the Iraq war has spawned new terrorism and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world served to buttress opposition to the war in Congress as Nov. 7 elections approach.

The NIE is a consensus report of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte released a four-page summary after screening it for sensitive intelligence, though the White House had described the still-classified summary of the report's "key judgments" as a nine-page document.

The report's most alarming finding - that the war in Iraq has generated new terrorism - serves as a powerful challenge to the president's insistence that removing Saddam Hussein from power has made the world safer. This is the argument Bush has embraced for the U.S.-led invasion since pre-war intelligence about suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proved to be wrong.

"Some people have, you know, guessed what's in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake," Bush said during a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "I strongly disagree. I think it's naive.

"To suggest that, if we weren't in Iraq, we would see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement requires us to ignore 20 years of experience," Bush said. He noted a series of terrorist attacks that occurred before the invasion of Iraq, including the 1993 and Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

The revelation of first a portion of the NIE that was produced in April and now the broader, declassified summary is likely to stir new debate over the war in Iraq at a time when the president and other Republicans are attempting to keep control of Congress in November, contending that the GOP is the party most committed to national security.

Pointing to the intelligence estimate as evidence, Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said, "Iraq was a strategic mistake. The Bush administration's mishandling of the war has increased the number of radical Islamic fundamentalists and resentment and hatred of the United States."

Bush denounced whoever leaked the report's findings before he decided to declassify a summary of it.

"What's interesting about the NIE, ... it was an intelligence report done last April," Bush told reporters in the East Room. "And here we are, coming down the stretch of an election campaign, and it's on the front page of your newspaper. ... Somebody's taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes."

The White House complained that news reports focused on one paragraph taken "wildly out of context" from a nine-page summary of the NIE known as the "key judgments." Still, much of the four-page summary released yesterday focuses on the role that Iraq has played in fomenting terrorism.

Among the judgments in the April report released by Negroponte:

U.S.-led counterterrorism has "seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations," but it continues to pose the greatest threat to the United States.

The global jihadist movement is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts, and should this continue, "threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide." Yet the movement is "decentralized, lacks a coherent strategy and is becoming more diffuse."

The Iraq jihad is "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," and perceived success there would inspire more fighters elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become "the `cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

Al-Qaida, merged with the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is "exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors." Al-Zarqawi was later killed.

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