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CIA Chief Says Al Qaeda Still Greatest Threat to U.S.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2002 – Despite the progress in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terror network remains the greatest danger confronting the United States, CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Tenet said his agency has evidence indicating that Al Qaeda is actively trying to gain weapons of mass destruction including nuclear or radiological weapons.

The director said that in 1998 Bin Laden publicly declared that acquiring unconventional weapons was "a religious duty." He said U.S. officials know that al Qaeda was working to acquire some of the most dangerous chemical agents and toxins.

"Documents recovered from Al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan show that Bin Laden was pursuing a sophisticated biological weapons research program," he said.

"We also believe that Bin Laden was seeking to acquire or develop a nuclear device," he continued. "Al Qaeda may be pursuing a radioactive dispersal devicewhat some call a 'dirty bomb.'"

Failing this, he said, Al Qaeda or other terror groups might also try to launch conventional attacks against U.S. chemical or nuclear plants to cause widespread toxic or radiological damage. He said that Al Qaeda cells already in place could launch attacks against U.S. targets in Europe and the Middle East.

"Al Qaeda can also exploit its presence or connections to other groups in such countries as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines," Tenet said. U.S. officials estimate that Al Qaeda may have cells or infrastructure in more than 60 nations.

Tenet said the war on terrorism has dealt severe blows to Al Qaeda and its leadership. A number of senior Al Qaeda have been killed. Others are on the run. Efforts of the U.S. government or friendly governments have choked off funds the terror cells need to operate. Countries have also arrested nearly 1,000 Al Qaeda terrorists.

"The group has been denied its safe haven and strategic command center in Afghanistan," Tenet said. "We are uncovering terrorists' plans and breaking up their cells." He said the U.S. effort has disrupted terrorist operations and potential terrorist attacks worldwide.

"Bin Laden did not believe that we would invade his sanctuary," Tenet told the senators. "He saw the United States as soft, impatient, unprepared, and fearful of a long, bloody war of attrition."

Tenet said Bin Laden underestimated the United States, and now we should not underestimate him. "I must repeat that Al Qaeda has not yet been destroyed," he said. "It and other like-minded groups remain willing and able to strike us.

"Al Qaeda leaders still at large are working to reconstitute the organization and to resume its terrorist operations," Tenet continued. "We must be prepared for a long war, and we must not falter."

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