- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Senior al Qaeda leaders are increasing preparations for an attack on the United States, keeping true to Osama bin Laden’s request in 2005 to initiate an attack on the White House or other large-scale public venues, senior intelligence officials told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today.

“Al Qaeda is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S. the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the homeland,” said Michael McConnell, director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. “While increased security measures at home and abroad have caused al Qaeda to view the West, especially the U.S., as a harder target, we have seen an influx of new Western recruits into the tribal areas since mid-2006.”

Mr. McConnell was seated along side CIA Director Michael Hayden; FBI Director Robert Mueller; Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Randall Fort, assistant secretary of state for intellignce and research.

Mr. McConnell added that although al Qaeda absorbed vast resources in “the ongoing conflict in Iraq,” the terrorist organization has leveraged broad “external networks” as far as Europe to support their goals.

“It probably will continue to devote some effort towards honoring bin Ladin’s request in 2005 that al Qaeda attempt to strike the United States, affirmed publicly by current al Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri in a November 2006 threat against the White House.”

According to the intelligence community internal al Qaeda documents obtained in Iraq by U.S. intelligence officials suggest that “fewer than 100 [al Qaeda] terrorists have moved from Iraq to establish cells in other countries.”

The most active al Qaeda affiliate in north western Africa is the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, which intelligence officials said poses a “significant threat to U.S. and European interests in the region.”

Later in the hearing, Mr. Hayden said his agency’s use of “lawful interrogation” methods on three high level al Qaeda members [-] subjected to waterboarding was necessary to gain critical information on the organization after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Hayden added that waterboarding was only used those three times as a necessary measure to handle the imminent threat posed by the terrorist organization.

“We used it against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time,” Mr. Hayden said. “There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about al Qaeda and its workings. Those two realities have changed.”

The three al Qaeda detainees were Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks; Abu Zubayda, an early member of al Qaeda and close associate of Osama bin Laden and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, behind the USS Cole bombing and who headed al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf before he was captured in November of 2002.

The three captives were interrogated in 2002 and 2003 and waterboarding has not been used since, Mr. Hayden said. Waterboarding was used only on the three captured al Qaeda leaders in 2002 and 2003, Mr. Haydan added.

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