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Intelligence czar hypes terror threats on Super Tuesday
Michael Roston
Published: Tuesday February 5, 2008

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(Update: CIA director publicly confirms waterboarding)

As voters flock to the polls in twenty-four states this Super Tuesday, the Director of National Intelligence and outside groups issued stark warnings about the dangers faced by America and the international community from terrorists.

"Al-Qaeda is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the US- the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the Homeland," warned the US intelligence community in an annual threat assessment.

Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, went to Capitol Hill and presented the threat assessment to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He described an influx of "western recruits" into Pakistan's tribal area, suggesting that such operatives would attack targets in the United States.

"We assess that al-Qa'ida's Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population," McConnell explained.

Still, the intelligence director made it clear that US-based terrorists were more virtual than real in the danger they posed.

"To date, cells detected in the United States have lacked the level of sophistication, experience, and access to resources of terrorist cells overseas," he told the Senate panel. "Their efforts, when disrupted, largely have been in the nascent phase, and authorities often were able to take advantage of poor operational tradecraft."

The intelligence czar wasn't the only source of warnings on Super Tuesday. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London issued its annual report on the world's military forces. It praised President Bush's troop surge in Iraq, and suggested danger could result from the reduction of US troops in the country.

"[Director-general John Chipman] said U.S. troop levels had to stay high to prevent an increase in Shia military activity, provide security for any provincial elections and keep violence in Kurdistan from increasing," according to an AP account.

Looking at Iraq, McConnell suggested that the local Qaida-affiliate was able to mount attacks outside the country in spite of setbacks to the group caused by Bush's escalation.

"I am increasingly concerned that as we inflict significant damage on al- Qa'ida in Iraq, it may shift resources to mounting more attacks outside of Iraq," he noted.

While McConnell was issuing warnings about threats, he also took time to flack the Bush administration's policy priorities.

"Before I talk about specific threats, I want to raise an issue of immediate importance for the functioning of the Intelligence Community and protection of the nation," he said at the start of his testimony. "The authorities granted by the Protect America Act (PAA)-which temporarily closed gaps in our intelligence collection and allowed the Intelligence Community to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance-are critical to our intelligence efforts to protect the Nation from current threats."

CIA director publicly confirms waterboarding

At the same hearing, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly confirmed for the first time the names of three suspected al-Qaida terrorists who were subjected to a particularly harsh interrogation technique known as waterboarding, and why.

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

Hayden said that Khalid Sheik Mohammed - the purported mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States - and Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subject to the harsh interrogations in 2002 and 2003. Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that critics call torture.

Waterboarding induces a feeling of imminent drowning with the restrained subject's mouth covered and water poured over his face.

"Waterboarding taken to its extreme, could be death, you could drown someone," McConnell acknowledged. He said waterboarding remains a technique in the CIA's arsenal, but it would require the consent of the president and legal approval of the attorney general.

With wire services