WASHINGTON – Al Qaeda is believed to be intensifying efforts to smuggle operatives into the United States to launch possible attacks, likely using safe havens in Pakistan as a spring board, the White House reported Tuesday.
The terror group also likely will "continue to enhance its ability to attack America through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups," the 62-page National Strategy for Homeland Security Report reads, pointing in particular to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The report says that while the War on Terror was successful at disrupting Al Qeada's terror network, "the group has protected its top leadership, replenished operational lieutenants, and regenerated a safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas — core capabilities that would help facilitate another attack on the homeland."
The report also notes Al Qaeda's "persistent desire for weapons of mass destruction, as the group continues to try to acquire and use chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material."
White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend pointed to a failed peace agreement as enabling the terrorist network. The United States has been hoping for an accord between the Pakistani government and tribal leaders in the country's northwest region -- where Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden allegedly is hiding.
"I have said repeatedly that the peace agreement with the tribal (leaders) in Pakistan failed Pakistan and it failed us. And obviously, that's one of the fundamental things that Al Qaeda took advantage of to reestablish a safe haven in the tribal areas," Townsend told reporters in a conference call briefing on the report.
But, she added, "We have enjoyed some of our biggest successes with our allies in Pakistan. You know, you've heard the litany of captures that we've had, whether it's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, (Abu) Zubaida. All of these have been the result of cooperation with our Pakistani allies."
The report was crafted with the help of U.S. officials who wrote the National Intelligence Estimate in July, Townsend said. That NIE suggested that increased counterterrorism efforts worldwide over the past five years have curtailed Al Qaeda's ability to attack the United States, but have increased the terror group's desire to hit the homeland.
While the report states Al Qaeda is "the most serious and dangerous manifestation of this (terror) threat", it also points to other terror threats resulting from the emergence "of homegrown radicalization and violent Islamic extremism" within the United States. That could take the form of disaffected U.S. citizens being recruited by Al Qaeda, going to train in terror abroad and then returning to this country to carry out attacks.
But Townsend said the multi-pronged approach to fighting Al Qaeda begins abroad.
"It's a multilayered approach. It starts overseas, with our intelligence efforts and working with our allies around the world. There's then the border security effort, and then there's the internal effort here inside the United States," she said, adding that Pakistan's assistance has been instrumental in preventing terrorists from reaching the U.S..
The new report aims to develop an overall homeland security strategy, not just list threats to the nation.
"This basically charts the course for how the federal government, working with its state and local partners, need to build capability to address the threat that the NIE lays out," Townsend said.
"The strategy will be used by each federal department and agency, as well as state, local and tribal governments, as a tool to help inform budgets and plans and interaction among the various levels of responders. Because what we know for sure is, unless there is seamless synchronization among all levels, then the response isn't adequate and it certainly is not as strong as it could be," she said.
Administration officials said the new National Strategy for Homeland Security report is an update of the report by the same name in 2002. The report is aimed at setting goals for preventing terror attacks, protecting national infrastructure and key resources, responding to incidents and improving strategies. It is related to two reports issued last year as well, the National Security Strategy and the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the document was released Tuesday because it was ready to go. She rejected a reporter's assertion that the report came out to distract from an administration leak about a private agency's efforts to monitor an Al Qaeda Web site.
Aside from terrorism, the strategy document also addresses threats to the homeland from natural disasters, and develops ways to prepare for catastrophic problems of other kinds.
"Many of the threats we face — pandemic diseases, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and natural disasters — also demand multinational effort and cooperation. To this end, we have strengthened our homeland security through foreign partnerships, and we are committed to expanding and increasing our layers of defense, which extend well beyond our borders, by seeking further cooperation with our international partners," President Bush says in a letter to Americans at the top of the report.