Iraq War Fueling Terrorism, Intelligence Report Says
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
A new assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies finds that the threat of terrorism has grown since 9/11 and that the war in Iraq has spawned a new generation of violent Islamist extremists. In other words, it finds that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse.
The assessment was first reported by the New York Times.
We're joined now by NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.
First, Mary Louise, can you give us a few more details about this report?
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Sure. This report is a national intelligence estimate, and that means it carries the weight of all 16 U.S. spy agencies behind it. Now, it is still classified. We have not been able to look at a copy.
But I'm told that, yes, it paints a picture of Iraq as a breeding ground, as a place where new radicals are being created so quickly that it's going to be increasingly difficult to kill or capture them as quickly as they are joining up to the jihadi cause.
So overall this report is significant. It is the first formal report since the Iraq war began of the big picture of global terror trends. And there's the element, of course, of having it leak just now with the November elections just around the corner.
ELLIOTT: Now, is the main thrust of this report anything very new? You know, we have heard reports before that Iraq is a breeding ground and motivation for terrorists.
KELLY: Right. That point has been made in a number of reports, and in terms of the link between Iraq and the war on terror, that is hotly debated. But you know, one can note with some irony that the one point of agreement these days between President Bush and Osama bin Laden is that they both regularly describe Iraq as the central front of the war on terror.
But this particular assessment, I think, could be quite damaging politically to the president, and I say that because from what I can glean in talking to officials who are familiar with it, it undercuts the picture that the president has been at pains to create, that progress is being made in Iraq and in the war on terror. If in fact this report concludes, as I'm told it does, that going to war in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position rather than making us safer, rather than helping win the war on terror, that's a very hard thing for the White House to spin in a positive way.
ELLIOTT: Now, what has the White House had to say about this report?
KELLY: We have not heard from the president yet, which is not unexpected on a Sunday. I did speak to a White House spokesman, Peter Watkins. He told me that the feeling there is the assessment as described by the New York Times today is not representative of the complete document. Peter Watkins would not elaborate. But National Intelligence Director John Negroponte has also just put out a statement suggesting the same thing. Negroponte's saying he believes only small portions were selectively leaked. They don't represent the broad conclusions of the document. And he says, no question, the war on terror is an enormous long struggle, but that considerable progress has been made.
ELLIOTT: Thanks, Mary Louise.
KELLY: You're welcome.
ELLIOTT: NPR's intelligence correspondent, Mary Louise Kelly.
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