- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An angry President Bush said yesterday that a secret terrorism assessment had been leaked for “political purposes” and disputed that the classified report had concluded the Iraq war is spreading Islamic extremism across the world.

But despite misgivings that it “would be a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there’s a leak,” the president ordered National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte to declassify key judgments on terrorism in Iraq from the 30-page document, drafted by the nation’s top analysts in 16 spy agencies.

The four-page section declassified yesterday calls the Iraq war a “cause celebre” for Islamic terrorists and says that despite U.S. troops’ wreaking serious damage on al Qaeda leadership, the number of terrorists is spreading in number and geographic dispersion.

“If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide,” the document says. “The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.”

Although the report — completed in April and based on data collected through February — states that the “global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy and is becoming more diffuse,” the document also says that new jihadist networks are increasingly likely to emerge and that they will be harder to track or infiltrate.

But at the White House, the president called critics who say the Iraq war was a mistake “naive.”

“I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe,” he said.

He also took issue with the conclusion that the Iraq war is responsible for creating new terrorists, saying that those who “see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement” if not for the Iraq war are ignoring 20 years of history.

“We weren’t in Iraq when we got attacked on September 11. We weren’t in Iraq when thousands of fighters were trained in terror camps,” Mr. Bush said. “We weren’t in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. We weren’t in Iraq when they bombed the Cole. We weren’t in Iraq when they blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”

At a joint press conference with Mr. Bush, Afghan President Hamid Karzai echoed the president’s sentiment.

“They came to America on September 11th, but they were attacking you before September 11th in other parts of the world. We are a witness in Afghanistan to what they are and how they can hurt. You are a witness in New York. Do you forget people jumping off the 80th floor or 70th floor when the planes hit them? Can you imagine what it will be for a man or a woman to jump off that high?” he said.

In a pointed jab at Democrats just six weeks before the midterm congressional elections, Mr. Bush said that politics was behind the sudden leaking of a five-month-old document.

“Here we are, coming down the stretch in an election campaign, and it’s on the front page of your newspapers,” the president said. “Isn’t that interesting? Somebody has taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes,” he said of the story, which first appeared Sunday in the New York Times.

Mr. Bush charged that political opponents had disclosed only select parts of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the administration’s assessment on global terrorism. To counter those opponents, the president announced in the East Room that he would declassify the document “because I want you to read the documents so you don’t speculate about what it says.”

“We’ll stop all the speculation, all the politics about somebody saying something about Iraq, somebody trying to confuse the American people about the nature of this enemy,” Mr. Bush said. “Then everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, failed to win a motion for a closed House session to discuss classified intelligence from the NIE. The proposal from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was denied by a vote of 217-171.

Key Democrats issued a slew of coordinated statements calling on Mr. Bush to declassify the entire report, not just the portions that help the administration’s position.

“The American people deserve the full story, not those parts of it that the Bush administration selects,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said. “The last thing we need is another selective declassification of portions of the report in a desperate attempt by the administration to avoid disclosing the truth.”

“It’s high time for this administration to … acknowledge that Iraq is undermining the security” of Americans, said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat.

Mrs. Harman, the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, also said she hears there is a second, more recent NIE report and that “its contents are grim.”

Although the redacted report had several bleak assertions, it also said:

• “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”

• “The underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the” next five years.

• A newly increased role of Iraqis in fighting al Qaeda could lead the terror group’s veteran foreign fighters to focus their efforts outside the country.

• Iran and Syria are the most active state sponsors of terror, but many other countries will be unable to prevent their resources from being exploited by terrorists.

• Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement — entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; the Iraq war; the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims.

“Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade,” the report says.

Looking ahead, the report also predicts that the loss of key leaders — Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and Abu Musab Zarqawi, killed in June — in “rapid succession” would likely split central leadership and cause the group to fracture.

• Charles Hurt and Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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