Intelligence Briefing on the Hill Today

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The top intelligence analysts for the CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) provided a Global Security Assessment to the full House Armed Services Committee today. Committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri) presided at the hearing briefed by ODNI deputy director for analysis Thomas Fingar (.pdf), CIA director for intelligence John Kringen, and DIA deputy director for analysis Robert Cardillo.

It was sobering. Some key points:

–Concern that Al Qaeda is getting more comfortable in “ungoverned spaces” of Pakistan, due to various factors, including a recent agreement by the Pakistani authorities with tribal leaders to leave Islamic militants in Waziristan alone. Intelligence community seeing more signs Al Qaeda is regrouping, able to train, and communicate in Pakistan (also of Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan). US policymakers have been reluctant to intervene in a major way in a sovereign country, especially as Musharraf’s position is vulnerable, and out of the concern that what is now a problem in corners of Pakistan could explode across the whole country of 169 million people. There are a lot of potential terrorist recruits in Pakistan, one of the analysts said. (This focusing one’s attention more by Pakistani analyst on BBC this morning comparing US relationship with Musharraf to “Shah of Iran” syndrome). Translation: duck.

–Expect a new National Intelligence Estimate on terrorist threats to the homeland (this is not yet officially out or “known” — a couple journalists grabbed one of the CIA analysts during the break, his press aide politely monitoring the conversation), which Fingar rated the greatest threat to US national security. Al Qaida remains the greatest threat to the country. US intel community is increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan using Europe, and in particular the UK, as a gateway to target the US homeland. Thwarted airplane plot last summer “very sophisticated” and of the type that concerns them, with its mix of UK and Pakistani-based terrorists working together on a plot to target the US.

–US intel community has recently acquired more intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. A consequently slightly delayed NIE on Iran’s nuclear program should be delivered before the 110th Congress is out (slightly more harried DNI press aide trying to shepherd him away from us).

–Iraq — Fingar suggested the US could control the “modalities” of how it spun say an eventual drawdown or withdrawal from Iraq. “It is too early to assess whether the new strategy being implemented in Iraq will allow lasting improvements to the situation. If violence is reduced and a window for political compromise is created, increased stability in Iraq will depend on how several issues evolve.” Go read his briefing for more. (Also see this Woodward piece on what CIA director Mike Hayden really told the Iraq Study Group: Iraq instability seemed “irreversible.”)

— bin Laden is alive, the CIA analyst said, and he is deferring public relations to Zawahiri for a while now, as he’s done at other points. Are they together, someone asked him. He didn’t know. If he knew, he’d be on a plane over there, he said.

Just something to keep in mind from your reporter here. Iraq: 20-25 million people. Iran: 65 to 70 million people. Pakistan: 170 million people. And Pakistan is the one with the precipitous situation for its military government, widespread sympathies for the Taliban and Islamic jihadis, and the historical relationship with the UK whose citizens have easier access to US visas and entry. Oh yeah, and the bomb. Perhaps it’s a good thing the USS Stennis carrier group is sailing back from the Persian Gulf to Hawaii. Sometimes, you don’t get to choose your enemies, but they choose you.

Update: The new threat assessment, “Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West,” will be briefed to the White House today. LAT: “Its conclusions will be incorporated into a more comprehensive and formal National Intelligence Estimate that is scheduled to be released this summer after two years of preparation.” More from the AP.

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