Image: President Bush
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President Bush denied Tuesday that a declassified report says the Iraq war has worsened terrorism.
updated 9/27/2006 8:57:17 PM ET 2006-09-28T00:57:17

National Intelligence Estimates are notorious for being watered down, partly because analysts spread across 16 different spy agencies often have difficulty settling on just the right words.

That’s what makes the tough language in this week’s terrorism analysis all the more striking. And it has left many puzzling over why the White House decided to release it.

To almost any reader, the assessment of trends in global terror for the next five years looks grim. It warns that most jihadist groups “will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks” on “soft targets.” It cautions that extremists still seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. And it contemplates whether other types of leftist or separatist groups, such as anti-globalism factions, could adopt terrorist methods.

One former insider sees even more. Robert Hutchings, who headed the National Intelligence Council when the estimate was launched in 2004, called the document “a very severe indictment of, not just the administration, but where we as a country have found ourselves five years after 9/11.”

“It says the jihad is spreading, expanding and intensifying,” said Hutchings, who left the council in early 2005 and is now at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Beyond killing, capturing terrorists
Intelligence analysts are trained to avoid policy judgments that would entwine them in politics. But Hutchings noted that the declassified key judgments go beyond normal bounds to make the point that U.S. strategy must do more than killing or capturing terrorists and pressuring the governments that harbor them.

To craft this estimate, he said, the council reached beyond clandestine sources and held conferences with terror experts in the U.S. and Europe, as well as local Muslim communities, including clerics.

The key, Hutchings said, is that the United States needs to address more vigorously the conflicts that jihadists have successfully exploited.

“The administration will say that is what they are doing, but that is not true,” said Hutchings, who has not seen the classified 30-page document, but has read the three pages released publicly on Tuesday.

“We are back to paying no attention to Palestine because we don’t like Hamas,” he said. On Lebanon, “by encouraging Israel to extend its attacks, we have helped destabilize that country.”

“We think we can isolate Iran and are surprised when no one joins us,” he said.

Albright: Foreign policy a 'mess'
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow ridiculed Hutchings’ remarks, and those of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday that the Bush foreign policy is a “mess” because the administration is distracted by Iraq from other problems.

“Surely they jest,” Snow said in an e-mail. “In terms of the accuracy and aptness of their criticisms, they are batting a perfect .000.”

Others said the intelligence judgments in the report cut both ways.

“The good news is that the government has seriously bloodied al-Qaida, and it has dismantled its infrastructure,” said John Brennan, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “The bad news: As a result of the situation in Iraq and political issues in the Middle East, the forces of Islamic extremism have increased.”

Bush said the U.S. was winning the war on terror as recently as Sept. 7, in a speech in Atlanta. “Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, America is safer — and America is winning the war on terror,” he said then.

White House on the defensive
At a White House news briefing Wednesday, Snow found himself on the defensive as reporters pressed him for evidence that the United States is, in fact, safer.

Snow noted that U.S. territory has not been attacked since 9/11 and the government’s anti-terror stance is much more aggressive now than before. He pointed out that intelligence agencies are being built up to make up for cuts in the 1990s at the end of the Cold War.

Without offering specifics, he said that while there are more jihadists in the world, al-Qaida’s “operational capability” has been hurt by the global war on terror led by the United States.

Speaking broadly, he said, the intelligence estimate makes the point that the Bush administration has been making for years: Iraq is key to the war on terror.

“Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves and be perceived to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight,” he said, quoting from the estimate.

Democrats cited the document as evidence the government needs changes in political leadership with the Nov. 7 elections. They continued their push Wednesday for release of the rest of the report.

“The American people deserve the full story, not those parts of it that the Bush administration selects,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Snow rejected that idea, saying it could put lives and intelligence capabilities at risk. And he warned that leaked intelligence estimates will make analysts less likely to make hard calls and then put them on paper.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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