Senate Panel Hears Assessment of Threats to U.S.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: This was John Negroponte's first public appearance before a congressional panel since accepting the position as National Director of Intelligence last April. His 25-page report, which took well over an hour to read, was a laundry list of all the threats the United States faces. At the very top of the list is al-Qaeda. Negroponte says the terror network is hobbled but still dangerous.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: The organization's core elements still plot and make preparations for terrorist strikes. They also have gained added reach through their merger with the Iraq based network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi which has broadened al-Qaeda's appeal within the Jihadist community and potentially put new resources at its disposal.
NORTHAM: Negroponte said terror networks in areas such as Africa and Southeast Asia also present a threat, as do nuclear concerns over Iran and North Korea. Narcotics, even an influenza pandemic, also made the list. Republican senators were quick to praise Negroponte for the breadth of his report. But with the cream of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies sitting before them, Democrats didn't want to squander the opportunity to ask about President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program. Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin wanted to know how many conversations had been monitored.
CARL LEVIN: Is it a few or is it thousands?
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sir, I'd, I'd be very uncomfortable talking about it in, in open session.
LEVIN: Do you know?
HAYDEN: I can't give you a precise --
LEVIN: I didn't ask for a precise one, General. You keep saying precise and I keep saying estimate. General Maples, do you know?
MICHAEL MAPLES: Sir, we do not.
LEVIN: Do you know, Ambassador Negroponte? Do you have an estimate of the number of those communications?
NEGROPONTE: No sir.
LEVIN: All right.
NORTHAM: Negroponte, like the other intelligence officials defended the program and appeared concerned that the existence of the warrantless wireless tap program had been leaked to the press. CIA Director Porter Goss said he feared there was an erosion in the culture of secrecy that's so important in intelligence gathering.
PORTER GOSS: And I'm sorry to tell you that the damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission. I use the words, very severe, intentionally.
NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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