U.S. and international programs to defeat al Qaeda have limited the terrorist group’s ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the No. 2 U.S. intelligence official said.
Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, said in a recent speech that al Qaeda remains dangerous but has grown more diffuse.
In explaining successes in the global war against terrorists in the past 4 years, Gen. Hayden noted that the United States and its allies “disrupted [al Qaedas] efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”
He and other intelligence officials declined to provide specifics of the disruption.
However, administration officials said operations in Afghanistan and a few recent incidents show that al Qaeda continues to seek nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons.
One official said the killing of al Qaeda explosives specialist Abu Marwan in Pakistan last month was one of the successes. Marwan was thought to be linked to al Qaeda’s efforts to build nuclear and other unconventional explosives.
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have stepped up monitoring of the sale and movement of goods that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction, including high explosives and chemical precursors, the officials said.
The surveillance has led to instances in which al Qaeda members or those linked to its affiliates were spotted making inquiries about purchases, the officials said.
Gen. Hayden also said in the little-noticed speech to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Texas on Wednesday that key successes in the war on terrorism include denying al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan, killing or capturing large numbers of its leaders, cutting funding sources and forcing terrorists to spend more time protecting themselves.
“Most fundamentally, we have prevented any further attacks against the homeland,” he said.
“The global jihadist movement is evolving in many ways,” Gen. Hayden said. “The movement is spreading and adjusting to our counterterrorism efforts, and it is also exploiting the communications revolution, the Internet and media sensationalism.”
A State Department report on terrorism made public last week said the connection between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is one of the “gravest potential risks to the national security.”
Al Qaeda has stated openly its goal of acquiring and using nuclear weapons, the report said. The spread of information about nuclear arms development, including data on the Internet, poses an increased risk that “a terrorist organization with the right material could develop its own nuclear weapon.”
Although making nuclear weapons is likely beyond the capability of most terrorists for the immediate future, “terrorists may seek to link up with a variety of facilitators to develop their own nuclear capability,” the report said.