THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Al Qaeda attack on US expected soon

Intelligence chief reports growing cyberthreat, too

Intelligence officials (from left), John Dinger, Leon Panetta, Dennis Blair, Robert S. Mueller, and Ronald Burgess testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on Capitol Hill, saying Al Qaeda operatives are being deployed to the United States. Intelligence officials (from left), John Dinger, Leon Panetta, Dennis Blair, Robert S. Mueller, and Ronald Burgess testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on Capitol Hill, saying Al Qaeda operatives are being deployed to the United States. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Pamela Hess
Associated Press / February 3, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Al Qaeda can be expected to attempt an attack on the United States in the next three to six months, senior US intelligence officials told Congress yesterday.

The terrorist organization is deploying operatives to the United States to carry out attacks from inside the country, including “clean’’ recruits with a negligible trail of terrorist contacts, CIA Director Leon Panetta said. The chilling warning was made amid news that Umar Farouk Abdulmutullab, suspected of trying to blow up a plane on Christmas, is cooperating with investigators.

Al Qaeda is also inspiring homegrown extremists to trigger violence on their own, Panetta said.

The annual assessment of the nation’s terror threats provided no startling new trends, but amplified growing concerns since the failed Christmas Day airline attack in Detroit that militants are growing harder to detect and moving more quickly in their plots.

“The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11. It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect,’’ Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Dennis Blair, director of National Intelligence, said that with changes made since the Dec. 25 attempted attack, US intelligence would he able to identify and stop someone like that suspect before he got on the plane. But he warned that a more careful and skilled terrorist might not be detected.

Blair also warned about the growing threat of cyberattacks, saying they have become more frequent, dynamic, and malicious.

President Obama has promised to make cybersecurity a priority in his administration, but his new budget asks for fewer funds for that division of the Homeland Security Department.

The government’s first quadrennial homeland security review states high consequence and large-scale cyberattacks could massively disable or hurt international financial, commercial, and physical infrastructure.

The report said these types of cyberattacks could cripple the movement of people and goods around the world and bring vital social and economic programs to a halt. Smaller attacks are commonplace now, Blair said.

“Sensitive information is stolen daily from both government and private-sector networks, undermining confidence in our information systems,’’ he said.

Organized criminal groups are developing more sophisticated software to infiltrate networks, he said, and targeting such devices as smart phones.

Such groups also are expanding their reach by forming ties with corrupt government officials and drug traffickers, he said.

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.