- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2015

The directors of the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency said Thursday they have seen no specific or credible threat to the American homeland in connection with the 14th anniversary of 9/11 — despite a surge of digital and audio propaganda circulated in recent days from both al Qaeda and its growing rival on the global jihadi stage, the Islamic State.

Appearing together for a rare panel discussion at an intelligence community conference in Washington, the directors also touted dramatic improvements in cooperation between U.S. agencies during the years since 19 al Qaeda operatives killed nearly 3,000 people by slamming hijacked commercial airliners into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field.

CIA Director John Brennan, who spoke alongside Michael Rogers of the NSA, James Comey of the FBI and other top intelligence officials, said that the increased intelligence coordination has occurred “not just on the U.S. side,” but also “with our partners internationally.”

“Compared to where we were 14 years ago, that intelligence work is light years ahead of where it was,” Mr. Brennan said. “And, in addition, strengthening the defenses of this country from 2001 to now — this is a much more difficult environment for terrorist groups to operate in.”

FBI Director Comey, meanwhile, said the original “al Qaeda core” created by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a 2011 U.S. Special Forces raid in Pakistan, is increasingly in conflict with the Islamic State, the extremist outfit also known as ISIS and ISIL that controls swaths of territory in Syria, Iraq and North Africa.

Mr. Comey’s assertion came a day after the circulation of an new audiotape in which al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri leveled a blistering attack at Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to a report by ABC News, al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor, specifically accused the reclusive Iraqi-born terrorist of “sedition” and insisted that he’s not the leader of all Muslims as “caliph” of the Islamic State — as al-Baghdadi had claimed 14 months ago in a Mosul mosque.

Despite the lack of signs of a 9/11-linked attack this year, the latest issue of al Qaeda’s digital magazine “Inspire,” which surfaced on the Internet Wednesday, called for more “lone wolf” attacks — specifically targeting such U.S. economic leaders as Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Charles and David Koch, as part of a larger goal of derailing the “revival of the American economy.”

Separately, the Islamic State said this week that it is searching for a buyer for two hostages — one of Norwegian and the other of Chinese descent — that the extremist group claims to have in captivity.

But U.S. intelligence officials played down any tangible connection between the 9/11 anniversary and this week’s propaganda blitz.

“Clearly 11 September is a date that resonates with a lot of people for different reasons,” said the NSA’s Mr. Rogers, adding of the terrorist “chatter” picked up by the agency, “I wouldn’t say that it’s as high as I’ve seen it other times over the past 14 years.”

The FBI remains vigilant about a 9/11-linked attack, Mr. Comey said.

“We’ve long found, as you know with al Qaeda, an organization trying to motivate acts in association with that date,” he said. “And we’ve seen some focus on date in [the Islamic State’s] efforts to motivate violence in the homeland.”

The comments came as part of a panel discussion at a conference sponsored by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and the Armed Forces Electronics Communication Association.

Kellen Howell contributed to this report.

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