Officials Warn al Qaeda ‘Certain’ to Try Attack Soon

February 3rd, 2010 by

WASHINGTON (WSJ)—The U.S.’s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that an attempted al Qaeda attack on the U.S. in the next three to six months was “certain.”

An official also said the Nigerian who allegedly attempted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was again cooperating with federal investigators. Republicans have accused the administration of squandering a chance to gain valuable intelligence from the suspect by using the civilian court system to charge him, instead of declaring him an enemy combatant and subjecting him to more interrogation.

Al Qaeda remains a significant threat to the U.S., the officials said, and the group’s recent evolution in tactics includes dispatching individuals who can enter the U.S. without arousing suspicion, such as the man accused of attempting the Christmas Day attack.

Such tactics have created “a new degree of difficulty” for U.S. spies seeking to thwart the next attack, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Al Qaeda will remain intent on attacking in the U.S. at least until Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, are killed or captured, Mr. Blair said.

Al Qaeda’s many affiliates are also of great concern to the spy agencies. The Yemeni affiliate, which is believed to have directed the attempted Christmas Day attack, will continue to attempt additional attacks on the U.S., Mr. Blair said.

Militant groups in Pakistan are also coordinating their attacks with al Qaeda, which has led to an increase in terrorist attacks inside Pakistan as well as rising concerns the groups may expand their ambitions to attack outside Pakistan, officials said.

Republican lawmakers also pressed Mr. Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller on the decision to read Miranda rights to the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, rather than submit him to further interrogation. Both officials said that decisions on whether to read a terror suspect his rights or interrogate him to collect intelligence should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Abdulmutallab was interviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Christmas Day as he underwent treatment following the botched bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. He stopped cooperating after about an hour, U.S. officials said.

However, last week federal agents began talking to Mr. Abdulmutallab again. “He’s been talking for a number of days,” a law enforcement official said. “Has provided actionable intelligence that we’re following up on.”

Mr. Blair previously said that the suspect should have been questioned by a special interrogation group that is still under development. But Tuesday he appeared more supportive of the FBI’s decision to read Mr. Abdulmutallab his rights. “The balance struck in the case was a very understandable balance,” Mr. Blair said. “We got good intelligence.”

In addition to terrorism, cyberattacks are the other key threat Mr. Blair emphasized, saying that “American efforts are not strong enough” to combat cyber threats. The recent cyberattacks on Google Inc. were a “wake-up call” that the attackers are outstripping U.S. defenses, he said.

Sensitive information is stolen on a daily basis from government and company networks, he said, adding that it isn’t certain that U.S. computer networks would remain available in a time of crisis.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the intelligence panel, said the cyber threat had reached a point where countries should consider “the value of a cyber treaty with built-in mutual assurances of behavior.” U.S. officials have in the past resisted such proposals out of concern that they would limit its options to maneuver, attack, and spy in cyberspace, but the Obama administration has expressed some openness to the idea.

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