Top intel analyst: Pakistan new home base for Al Qaeda

Tom Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, is delivering a “global security assessment” to the House Armed Services Committee today. In his prepared remarks, just released, Fingar singles out Pakistan as the current home base for Al Qaeda, which he calls “the terrorist organization that poses the greatest threats to U.S. interests, including to the homeland.”

We have captured or killed numerous senior alQaida operatives, but we also have seen that alQaida’s core elements are resilient. They continue to plot attacks against our Homeland and other targets with the objective of inflicting mass casualties. They continue to maintain active connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders hiding in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North and East Africa, and Europe.

Fingar’s remarks echo the assessment senior intelligence officials have put out—on background with journalists—in the past few months: Al Qaeda has re-grouped, with a new cadre of middle and senior management, in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The foiled plot to blow up multiple passenger jets flying from the U.K. to the U.S. last year was linked back to Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, intelligence officials have said.

The political ramifications of a resurgent Al Qaeda in Pakistan are huge for the Bush administration. One need only imagine the political price the president would have paid had Al Qaeda succeeded in its attempts to kill thousands of airline passengers , and if the brain trust for that plot were found to have been hiding out in Pakistan, with the full knowledge of the White House and our intelligence service. The planes bombing plot was designed to rival, if not exceed, the 9/11 attacks, at least in terms of human casualties.

In his prepared remarks, Fingar added, rather ominously, that “Pakistan, despite its ongoing efforts [to crack down in Islamic militants], continues to face terrorism’s many challenges, while that country also raises other concerns for us.” He also said Pakistan can expect harder times to come:

With tribal opposition to the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq widespread and elections expected later this year, the situation will become even more challenging—for President Musharraf and for the US.

• Moreover, democracy has not been fully restored since the Army took power in 1999 and Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s Chief Justice in March has brought thousands of protesters into the streets and increased public demand for a fully democratic system.

It’s important to remember that, last February, Vice President Cheney made an unannounced visit to Islamabad to show the United States’ displeasure with Musharraf’s apparently deficient efforts to squelch the Al Qaeda resurgence. Who did Cheney take with him? The CIA’s No. 2, Steve Kappes, a beloved career operations officer who has worked in Pakistan and knows the Middle East intimately. Undoubtedly, along with the United States’ insistence that Pakistan do more was an offer to help them do just that, through increased participation with our clandestine service.