The head of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, is warning that the al-Qaida terrorist network remains a threat, despite the U.S.-led military campaign against al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan. He made his comments in open testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
Mr. Tenet cites progress in cracking down on al-Qaida, saying 1,000 terrorist operatives have been detained in 60 countries, since the September 11 attacks on the United States.
But he says the terrorist network remains a threat. "Al-Qaida has not yet been destroyed," said Mr. Tenet. "It and other like-minded groups remain willing and able to strike at us. Al-Qaida's leaders, still at large, are working to reconstitute the organization and resume its terrorist operations."
The United States has blamed Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network for the September 11 attacks.
Mr. Tenet says al-Qaida remains interested in attacking what he calls 'high-profile' targets, including possibly the Olympic games that open later this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.
According to Mr. Tenet, al-Qaida has plans to strike against U.S. and allied targets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. "American diplomatic and military installations are at high risk, especially in East Africa, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey," he said. "Operations against U.S. targets could be launched by al-Qaida cells already in place in major cities in Europe and the Middle East. Al-Qaida can also exploit its presence in connections to other groups in such countries as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines."
The CIA director says al-Qaida could launch new operations using chemical and biological weapons, as well as what he called 'radioactive dispersal devices'. He says al-Qaida and other groups have been seeking to acquire such weapons.
Mr. Tenet underscores a growing missile threat, saying by the year 2015, the United States could face intercontinental ballistic missile threats from North Korea, Iran and possibly Iraq. He is also concerned about tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, saying the escalating violence is fueling terrorism.
Besides detailing future threats, Mr. Tenet also defended his agency's role in thwarting terrorism. U.S. intelligence agencies have come under fire from lawmakers for failing to stop the September 11 attacks.
Mr. Tenet said they had no specific information about the attacks on New York and Washington before they happened. But he says agencies thwarted three or four attacks on U.S. targets overseas last year, and disrupted a number of other attacks since September 11.
He says expecting intelligence agencies to stop all terrorism is unrealistic. "Intelligence will never give you 100 percent predictive capability on terrorist events," he said.
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are to open hearings later this year on why intelligence agencies failed to prevent the September 11 attacks.