Washington, 24 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said today that the war against terrorism has done serious damage to Al-Qaeda, but the network and its imitators remain the greatest threat to America and its allies.
Testifying in Washington before the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee, CIA chief George Tenet said important members of Al-Qaeda have been captured and it can no longer operate with the efficiency that it did before the attacks in the United States of 11 September 2001.
Tenet said Americans and their allies have hurt Al-Qaeda's planning and training, as well as its ability to recruit new members in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. He said the group now is "a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously."
But the CIA director added that, "There are notable strides, but don't misunderstand me -- I am not suggesting Al-Qaeda is defeated. It is not. We are still at war. This is a learning organization that remains committed to attack the United States, its friends, and its allies."
And despite Al-Qaeda's weakened state, Tenet said the group and its leader, Osama bin Laden, remain intent on acquiring and using weapons capable of the kind of devastation that they caused in the attacks 2 1/2 years ago in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania that killed about 3,000 people.
Further, he testified, bin Laden has inspired other Sunni Muslim extremist groups to follow its lead in violently opposing the United States, its allies, and their policies. He called this development "a global movement infected by Al-Qaeda's radical agenda."
"The steady growth of Osama bin Laden's anti-American sentiment through the wider Sunni [Muslim] extremist movement and the broad dissemination of Al-Qaeda's destructive expertise ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future, with or without Al-Qaeda in the picture," Tenet said.
Tenet gave his testimony as the American intelligence services have been coming under increased scrutiny for saying a year ago Iraq had a significant arsenal of unconventional weapons. That was the reason cited by U.S. President George W. Bush for invading Iraq last March. Since major combat was declared over on 1 May 2003, no major caches of such weapons have been found.
Also testifying before the committee was Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the country's federal police and domestic intelligence agency.
Mueller told the senators that the FBI's current chief concerns include security at the Olympic Games in Greece and the conventions of the two leading U.S. political parties this summer, where each will choose its nominee for the presidential election in November.