Radical Islamic terrorists will continue to attack the United States and the world in the coming two decades and are likely to obtain and use biological weapons, according to a new intelligence report made public yesterday.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) report, based on more than 1,000 interviews with U.S. and foreign specialists, said extremist Muslims pose the greatest danger of terror attack because their “religious zeal” has pushed them to conduct mass casualty attacks.
“The most worrisome trend has been an intensified search by some terrorist groups to obtain weapons of mass destruction,” the report said. “Our greatest concern is that these groups might acquire biological agents or less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass casualties.”
The report, “Mapping the Global Future,” projects future threats and trends to 2020, and concludes that globalization is creating a new era of world insecurity.
“Our starting point is that we are facing a more fluid and complicated set of international alignments than any we have seen since the creation of the Western alliance system in 1949,” said Robert Hutchings, NIC chairman.
The NIC is a group of forecasting intelligence analysts under CIA Director Porter J. Goss. It is not formally part of the CIA.
Mr. Hutchings told reporters at CIA headquarters that the risk of global conflict among states is low, although Islamic terrorism and the rise of China pose new challenges for the future.
The main worry is that smaller and better informed terrorist groups will resort to the use of biological weapons, the report said.
“Indeed, the bioterrorist’s laboratory could well be the size of a household kitchen, and the weapon built there could be smaller than a toaster,” the report said. “Terrorist use of biological agents is therefore likely, and the range of options will grow.”
The report said inability to rapidly detect anthrax, smallpox and other diseases could lead to a “nightmare scenario” of a terrorist biological attack that could be carried out before authorities recognize it.
Regarding al Qaeda, the report said the group headed by Osama bin Laden will change in the coming years.
“The core al Qaeda membership probably will continue to dwindle, but other groups inspired by al Qaeda, regionally based groups, and individuals labeled simply as jihadists — united by a common hatred of moderate regimes and the West — are likely to conduct terrorist attacks,” the report said.
Al Qaeda members trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s will dissipate and “be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq.”
“We expect that by 2020 al Qaeda will have been superseded by similarly inspired but more diffuse Islamic extremist groups, all of which will oppose the spread of many aspects of globalization into traditional Islamic societies.”
The report said Iraq and other wars in the future could provide recruitment and training grounds for a new class of “professionalized” terrorists “for whom political violence becomes an end in itself.”
The key factors that inspired international terrorism “show no signs of abating over the next 15 years,” the report stated.
Terrorists will continue to use car bombs as “asymmetric weapons” but extremists also are expected to step up their use of higher-technology weapons, including advanced explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles.
As for targets, the report stated that the United States and its interests abroad will remain “prime terrorist targets,” with other terrorist attacks aimed at Middle Eastern regimes and against Western Europe.