WASHINGTON – Al Qaeda's leaders have faced increasingly aggressive Pakistani military operations in June and July, a senior CIA official said as the agency came under attack for failing to combat the threat from Usama bin Laden (search) before Sept. 11.
U.S. intelligence officials think bin Laden is hiding somewhere along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border. Military and intelligence agencies from numerous countries, but most significantly Pakistan as of late, have assisted in the search for him over the nearly three years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin (search) has pledged recently that bin Laden will still be caught.
"We have pins on a map. We have reports," said a second senior CIA official, speaking of bin Laden's whereabouts. The officials briefed reporters at CIA headquarters about a highly critical report released Thursday by the presidential commission investigating Sept. 11.
Still, bin Laden remains elusive.
The commission's report detailed a series of strategic and tactical mistakes made by the intelligence community, including missed opportunities to go after terrorist operatives and thwart the attack.
Even today, intelligence veterans have said the agency has no useful idea where bin Laden is.
"It is the same as always. They have a general idea, but they don't have specifics. They can put a pin on a map, but that pin is going to cover 40 square miles, and there is no guarantee he is in the pin area," said Vince Cannistraro (search), a former CIA counterterrorism chief.
Federal officials have warned of a heightened risk of attack leading up to this country's November elections. The first CIA official said credible evidence suggests that bin Laden and other senior leaders called "Al Qaeda central" are thought to be currently planning attacks.
Other groups sharing the same militant ideology are plotting as well.
"You're seeing parallel things going on. You're seeing the continuation of the remnants of the al-Qaida that we began destroying over time," the official said. "At the same time, you're seeing organizations that took ideological inspiration, themselves trying to conduct attacks.
"That gives you a picture of the world."