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al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat

109th Congress
2d Session
Union Calendar No. 355
Report 109-615

al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat







Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has been a nation at war. Our enemy is not a nation, but a political movement that remains determined to destroy our country and kill as many Americans as possible. Followers of Usama bin Laden do not wear uniforms, and seek to remain as inconspicuous as possible until they strike. And, despite suggestion to the contrary, our enemy is in many ways a highly sophisticated adversary that utilizes technology and understands our legal system.

Some months ago I began to observe what I felt to be an alarming trend in the media reporting on the Global War on Terrorism. Journalists and former political officials have begun in increasing numbers to suggest that our nation is not truly at war with terrorism, and that terrorism should more properly be considered a law enforcement matter. Given the absolute commitment of al Qaeda and its affiliates to launch new attacks on America, I find this view to be disturbing, dangerous, and fundamentally incorrect. The fact that the United States has not been successfully attacked since 9/11 does not mean that Usama bin Laden and his followers have surrendered. Quite the opposite, the failure of follow-on attacks reflects our success in a very aggressive war against terrorism. Our nation is blessed with outstanding military and intelligence personnel who, empowered with expanded authorities, have taken the battle to the enemy. We have successfully disrupted much of al Qaedas support structure and eliminated many of their key figures. Despite our successes in the Global War on Terrorism, the enemy remains quite capable of launching additional attacks on the homeland. It is worth repeating -- we remain a nation at war.

How then, can the Committee best convey this concern? Preparing an unclassified document that highlights the continuing terrorist threat requires a delicate balancing act. While the attached report is based on unclassified sources, the data collected by the various elements of the Intelligence Community support its findings. As stipulated by the Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee is routinely apprised of many possible threats to the United States. From entities such as the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the CIA's Counterterrorism Center (CTC) we receive information regarding the plans and actions of terrorists. But to reveal these threats would be to disclose classified information, and could provide our enemy with valuable insights into our collection capabilities. The Intelligence Community already has sufficient problems with the unauthorized leaking of classified information, and the Committee has no wish to compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection.

As a result, the staff drew upon information that has previously been made public by the Executive branch, and is corroborated by information that we have received in the normal course of our oversight activity. For example, the report draws heavily upon information released in the public hearings of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as the annual unclassified worldwide threat testimony of former DCIA Goss and DCI Tenet. The National Counterterrorism Center has also released important and useful information, including key strategic details such as the captured letter from Ayman Al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. For information related to domestic terrorist threats, the report utilizes the annual testimony of Director Mueller and other senior FBI personnel. The Department of justice also has released important information regarding cases that they are prosecuting. The Committee also drew upon the Department of State publications such as the annual Patterns of Global Terrorism as well as speeches by senior officials from the Departments of State and Treasury. Where appropriate, the report cites official reports compiled by key allied partners.

The Committee conducts regular closed-session intelligence updates, at least on a bi-monthly basis, where Members are briefed by NCTC and CTC on the latest information related to the terrorist enemy. The Committee receives annual classified testimony on the worldwide threat, a responsibility that Director Negroponte has now assumed. As was the practice with his predecessors, DCIA Hayden continues to regularly brief the Committee on terrorist activity. In addition, we receive similar briefings on domestic terrorist threats and radicalization within the U.S. prison system from Federal law enforcement officials. The Committee has conducted closed-door hearings on the changing nature of the terrorist threat and the presence of domestic terrorism. The Committee also receives daily intelligence reporting, including detailed reporting on terrorist and counterterrorist activity. We receive lengthier intelligence products on specific aspects of the threat, as well analyses prepared by the National Intelligence Council. And, in a break with past tradition, the Committee has held several public hearings in the 109th Congress, including hearings on the Jihadist use of the Internet for strategic communications, and hearings on global threats to U.S. interests in the 21st Century.

It should also be recognized that Members and staff of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligenge have the privilege to travel to frontline locations in the Global War on Terrorism, where we meet with those exceptional military and intelligence officers whose task it is to ensure American security. Each Member of the Committee has traveled to hazardous locations and discussed various aspects of the counterterrorism mission. We meet with key liaison partners to solicit the views of our allies and to convey messages that support the Executive branch. All of this activity feeds our general understanding of the terrorist threat.

In preparing this report, staff met with various elements of the Intelligence Community, and coordinated closely with the NCTC. Meetings were held to elicit the views of outside experts at the RAND Cooperation and other organizations. In a number of instances, the report cites press reports of on the record briefings provided by senior government oflicials. For example, the White House briefed the press on ten terrorist events that had been interdicted prior to execution - event the Committee know to be accurate.

Every effort was made to ensure that the report was a bipartisan product. Regardless of party affiliation, intcrested staff with appropriate security clearances were invited to participate in briefings, visits, and inquiries. Drafts were circulated to staff at various stages, and Members were provided with two weeks to review and comment upon the document. Minority staff provided valuable input in the drafting phase, and Minority Members offered specific guidance that was incorporated into the report. I thank those who offered their constructive observations.

Questions have been raised as to why the Committee should be releasing an unclassified report on a matter upon which we all agree. The reason is quite simple - because a significant portion of the American public seems to have forgotten that the threat remains. We, as a nation, will he at greater risk if the utter sincerity of our enemy is forgotten.



This paper is not a report of the Committee's work. It is merely an assemblage of press clippings. It is a product of staff, not a bipartisan work product of the full Committee. It does not represent effective congressional oversight.

One of the most critical roles of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is to conduct oversight. In overseeing the Intelligence Community (IC), the Committee ensures that intelligence agencies have effective strategies, produce results, operate within the law, and make efficient use of the resources at their disposal.

It is clear that al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists pose a serious threat to U.S. national security. The American people do not need the House Intelligence Committee to remind them of this fact. But this "threat assessment" adds no new information to the nation's understanding of the challenges or to the U.S. government's ability to address them.

A valuable, bipartisan oversight report would be based on hearings and briefings that address the threat of Islamic extremism and the capabilities employed by the IC to counter that threat. The Committee could then have issued a report of findings and recommendations that the Director of National Intelligence could use as a road map to improve the Community's performance.

To better understand the Islamic extremist threat and the Intelligence Community's collection, analysis, and operational response to that threat, the Committee should evaluate:

    I. The Intelligence Community's efforts to track and disrupt terrorist finance. The Committee must hold hearings on the Administration's terrorist financing programs to assess whether the programs are legal. effective in thwarting al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and adequately protective of innocent citizens' privacy rights.

    II. The implementation of the NCTC National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel. The Committee should assess the execution of directives designed to constrain and detect terrorists' mobility, including hindering travel facilitator building capacity of partner countries, and improving information-sharing.

    III. IC efforts to identify and undermine "homegrown" terrorists. The Community works to identity "homegrown" terrorists who can operate under the radar in their home countries, including the United States. The Committee should assess the effectiveness of these initiatives, focusing on the collection and analysis of information and on collaboration across the U.S. government and with foreign partners.

    IV. The value of the President's Domestic Surveillance Program. The Committee has exercised too little oversight of this program to date. While the legality of the program is itself a matter for debate, other issues also merit aggressive congressional oversight: Has the program produced results? Are the private communications of innocent Americans adequately protected?

    V. Intelligence support to counterterrorism initiatives. the Committee should assess the Intelligence Community's support to counterterrorism analysis and operations and offer the IC recommendations for improvement.

    VI. The impact of intelligence reforms. The Committee must continue to evaluate the stand-up of the DNI to ensure that reforms enhance, rather than complicate, the management of the Intelligence Community as it pertains to counterterrorism.

To date, the Committee's examination of these issues has not been adequate. We urge the Majority to embark upon a serious oversight effort. We are eager to join an effort to produce a public report which accurately and seriously reflects the bipartisan conclusions we reach.


Though I was present for the debate on this report, I was away from the hearing room on Rules Committee business when the vote was taken to adopt the report. Had I been present for the Committee vote, I would have voted "no."


June 29, 2006

This paper tells us nothing new. It reminds the American public that terrorists and religious extremists are a threat. This paper offers no constructive recommendations or solutions, nor is it a tool for the intelligence Community.

Furthermore, as my Minority colleagues have asserted, this paper does not reflect the Committee's work. We are not intelligence analysts. Our job is not to produce threat assessments for the American public, as we cannot be experts on all subjects. Our job is to legislate and conduct oversight. Committee Members and staff have traveled to all corners of the globe and met with representatives of every American intelligence agency to ensure that the U.S. intelligence apparatus functions effectively. Yet the Majority's paper fails to incorporate information about the Intelligence Community's capabilities that the Committee has learned in the course of its oversight efforts. For example:

  • The paper asserts that counterterrorism initiatives and improved U.S. border security have made it more difficult for al-Qaeda to attack the United States. To some extent, this may be true. But no lessons from the Committee's oversight of Intelligence Community counterterrorism capabilities are reflected in the paper.
  • The paper notes in passing that prison extremism represents a security threat. Conunittee Members and staff have held several hearings and briefings with the FBI, Bureau of Prisons, and other agencies on the threat of prison inmates who become radicalized while incarcerated. Yet the paper addresses none of the issues examined by the Committee.
  • Simply repeating Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's rhetoric provides no insight into the United States' ability to address the insurgency in Iraq. The Committee has been repeatedly briefed on terrorist and insurgent activities in Iraq, yet this paper incorporates none of the Intelligence Community's insights about the strength, composition, and financing of the insurgency; the selection of Zarqawi's successor; the disputes between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; and the extent to which U.S. policy failures and missteps - such as the decision to suspend the Geneva Conventions, the policy of endless detention at Guantanamo Bay, and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib - have contributed to the success of insurgents' recruiting and propaganda.

On a positive note, I am pleased the meeting at which the Committee considered this report was held in open session. However, the meeting was noticed as a closed session, precluding the public from attending. Measures to improve the transparency of the Committee's business are welcome, but they should not stop halfway.


June 29, 2006

I concur with the Minority Views submitted by my colleagues.

I would like to emphasize that the best way for this Committee to exercise its oversight responsibilities would be for both Majority and Minority Members to agree on a plan of action, convene a series of hearings and briefings, and issue a joint, bipartisan report that thoroughly analyzes the threat and offers concrete recommendations to the Intelligence Community.

This report, while interesting, is not the product of a thoughtful, bipartisan, collaborative effort.


June 29, 2006

I agree with the views expressed by my Minority colleagues, but I wish to add the following additional thoughts.

First, the Majority made very clear to the Committee that its purpose in drafting this report is to remind the American public that Islamic extremists and terrorists continue to pose a threat to our security. But to repeat platitudes that "the United States must remain vigilant" or that "we remain a nation at war" is to oversimplify the issue. The Majority makes it appear as if the Committee is panicked that the United States will be overcome by a global wave of Islamic extremism, that Iraq will become a terrorist safe haven, or that Osama bin Laden is on the verge of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The real threat is indeed significant but it is our charge to lead a rational, realistic response - not to lead into panic.

Second, the paper offers far too many conclusions based on an unsophisticated analysis of the facts; in some cases, information presented is simply incorrect. In the section on "The Growing Insurgency in Iraq," for example, the majority demonstrates a shallow understanding of the relationship between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

  • The Majority states that while Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "shared a similar ideology," they had "some differences." In fact, they had major differences. Bin Laden focused on the "far enemy" (the United States), while Zargawi's attention was fixed on the "near enemy" (infidels in Iraq and those who collaborated with the U.S.-installed government). Bin Laden also objected to Zarqawi's targeting of Shi'ites, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, strongly criticized Zarqawi's gruesome beheadings of Westerners.
  • The Majority presents Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as fast partners. Yet bin Laden only jumped on the bandwagon in Iraq when he realized that Zarqawi was having a direct, violent impact on the United States for which he would not receive credit

The same section exhibits an incomplete and unimaginative analysis of the insurgency in Iraq.

  • 'Ihe Majority describes the threat posed by battle-hardened foreign jihadis who gain combat experience in Iraq, but it fails to note that foreign fighters represent a small percentage of the insurgents fighting Coalition forces in Iraq. Furthermore, while these foreign fighters might use their training to fight against the United States, as the paper asserts, they are more likely to turn their vitriol against regional governments which they view as insufficiently Islamic.
  • The Majority proposes that extremists could prevent the emergence of a successful democratic government in Iraq and turn the country into "a permanent base for al-Qaeda to recruit, train, and conduct operations." But not all Members of the Committee are such Cassandras. Ordinary Iraqis may eventually tire of the chaos caused by Islamists and foreign fighters and turn against them, as has already happened in parts of western Iraq. The ultimate end state may lie somewhere in between these two outcomes, yet the paper fails even to consider the more optimistic scenarios.

Finally, the paper demonstrates that the Majority's views of the terrorist threat is out of touch with the perspective of mainstream national security experts. The Majority asserts in its paper, for example, that the reorganization of the Intelligence Community has "without question" made the nation more secure; yet in a recent survey (dubbed "the Terrorism Index) published by Foreign Policy magazine, more than half of 100 highly respected national security experts said that "creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has had no positive impact in the war against terror." Perhaps the Committee should consult some of these leading experts to develop a more realistic assessment.

In the course of our oversight work, this Committee has developed a sophisticated appreciation of the nature of the Islamic extremist threat and the Intelligence Community's considerable abilities to address it; neither are effectively characterized in this report.

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