Terror attack on U.S. ‘certain,’ Senate told

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The five senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate panel Tuesday they are “certain” that terrorists will attempt another attack on the United States in the next three to six months.

The warning came during the annual threat briefing to Congress in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who asked, “What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the U.S homeland in the next three to six months? High or low?”

“An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say,” said Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral.

Four other intelligence agency leaders who appeared at the hearing with Adm. Blair said they agreed with the assessment.

They included CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and John Dinger, the acting assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research.

Adm. Blair outlined the major threats facing the United States in addition to a possible terrorist attack. They include:

— The threat of major attacks on U.S. computer networks and infrastructure.

— The increasingly dangerous Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

— Instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

— Iranian and North Korean missile and nuclear programs.

— China’s military buildup.

— Efforts by the anti-U.S. government of Venezuela to develop closer ties with Iran, China and Russia.

The warning about the threat of another attempted attack, like the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet, was in keeping with the sober public assessment of threats outlined last year by Adm. Blair.

“In our judgment, al Qaeda also retains the capability to recruit, train and deploy operatives to mount some kind of an attack against the homeland,” according to his written testimony. The recent arrests of an al Qaeda cell led by Najibullah Zazi, the attempted bombing of the Northwest Airlines jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting rampage, allegedly by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, all suggest al Qaeda has come close to pulling off mayhem inside the United States.

Adm. Blair’s message was sobering: “Counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda have put the organization in one of its most difficult positions since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom [in Afghanistan] in late 2001,” he said. “However, while these efforts have slowed the pace of anti-U.S. planning and hindered progress on new external operations, they have not been sufficient to stop them.”

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