WASHINGTON – Al Qaeda's embrace of violence may be undermining the terrorist group's support in the Muslim world, the nation's top intelligence official said Thursday.
"The question becomes, are we reaching a tipping point to witness the decline of this radical behavior?" said Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell at a House Intelligence Committee hearing. "We don't know but we are watching it very closely."
Most victims of Al Qaeda bombings and attacks are Muslims, McConnell said. In Iraq, the violence perpetrated against Iraqis by insurgents associated with Al Qaeda pushed local tribes to turn against the group and has led to improved security, he said, adding that the same pattern may take hold elsewhere.
"In the last year to 18 months, Al Qaeda has had difficulty in fundraising and sustaining themselves," McConnell said.
CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said there seems to be increasing willingness in the Islamic world to question al-Qaida's vision. As evidence, he pointed to the fact that Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, now has a Web site to which readers can submit questions.
"I think it is a remarkable step and I don't think reflective of overconfidence on the part of Al Qaeda leadership," Hayden said.
More than 1,300 Pakistanis — civilians and troops — were killed in terrorist attacks and armed clashes in 2007, more than in the six previous years combined.
"Pakistanis have generally viewed (Al Qaeda) to be more a threat externally, to us, for example, than it is to them. They no longer see that. What we have is a nexus of Al Qaeda and Pashtun separatists and extremists," Hayden said. "This is a threat to the identity and stability of the Pakistani state. That's new."
The United States is helping to train Pakistani special forces, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.
"The dialogue we are engaged in now is, how do we help them help themselves?" McConnell said.
Also in the hearing — an overview of global threats to the United States — McConnell said North Korea is continuing to enrich uranium and proliferate nuclear technologies despite its stated commitment to full denuclearization. Pyongyang missed a December 31 deadline for a full declaration of its nuclear program, he said.
He said the intelligence community has "medium confidence" North Korea is still enriching uranium, down from "high confidence" last year.
Russia and China are investing heavily in space, McConnell said, and may be developing a capability to strike U.S. satellites, including those that make up the global positioning system, or GPS.
"If the trend continues, Russia and China will have an increased ability to target ... navigation systems, and the effort will be to control our ability to use precision-guided munitions," McConnell said.