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CIA Director Says al-Qaida Remains Top Threat

Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden says al-Qaida remains the top priority for U.S. intelligence agencies. Speaking in Los Angeles Tuesday, Hayden said Iran and North Korea also remain threats because both have the capability of producing nuclear weapons. Mike O'Sullivan has details from Los Angeles.

The CIA director says al-Qaida and its associates pose the greatest security threat to the United States because al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has clearly said he intends to attack the country.

"Bin Laden has said repeatedly that he considers acquisition of nuclear weapons a religious duty," said Michael Hayden. "And we know that al-Qaida remains determined to attack our country in ways that inflict maximum death and destruction."

In remarks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the CIA director said North Korea poses a threat because its nuclear programs endanger stability in northeast Asia and it serves as a black market supplier of nuclear technology. He says a nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel in the Syrian desert last year was similar to one in North Korea. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied allegations that his government was pursuing nuclear weapons, and North Korea denied that it provide Syria with nuclear technology.

Hayden says Iran remains a threat because it has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons, and at the very least, is keeping open its option to do so.

A U.S. intelligence assessment last year said that until late 2003, elements of Irans military were working to develop nuclear weapons and a warhead, and that the weapons program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Iran has also denied any intention of developing nuclear weapons, and the CIA official said current intelligence still supports the conclusion that an Iranian nuclear weapons program has not resumed. But he said Irans failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency raises suspicion.

An IAEA report released to the media Monday said Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and news reports Tuesday quote diplomats as saying that the U.N. monitoring agency shared intelligence that purports to show Iran has tried to refit a long-distance missile to carry a nuclear payload. An Iranian official said the data was fabricated.