In his annual report to Congress, Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 7, 2001 that the "highest priority" threat facing the United States today is international terrorism; and within that category, Usama bin Ladin's global network is "the most immediate and serious threat." The following is an excerpt from "Worldwide Threat 2001: National Security in a Changing World" (as prepared for delivery).We have made considerable progress on terrorism against U.S. interests and facilities, Mr. Chairman, but it persists. The most dramatic and recent evidence, of course, is the loss of 17 of our men and women on the USS Cole at the hands of terrorists.
The threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving. State sponsored terrorism appears to have declined over the past five years, but transnational groups-with decentralized leadership that makes them harder to identify and disrupt-are emerging. We are seeing fewer centrally controlled operations, and more acts initiated and executed at lower levels.
Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat counterterrorism measures. For example, as we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out "softer" targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties. Employing increasingly advanced devices and using strategies such as simultaneous attacks, the number of people killed or injured in international terrorist attacks rose dramatically in the 1990s, despite a general decline in the number of incidents. Approximately one-third of these incidents involved U.S. interests.
Usama bin Ladin and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat. Since 1998, Bin Ladin has declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack. As shown by the bombing of our Embassies in Africa in 1998 and his Millennium plots last year, he is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning.
His organization is continuing to place emphasis on developing surrogates to carry out attacks in an effort to avoid detection, blame, and retaliation. As a result it is often difficult to attribute terrorist incidents to his group, Al Qa'ida.
Beyond Bin Ladin, the terrorist threat to Israel and to participants in the Middle East peace negotiations has increased in the midst of continuing Palestinian-Israeli violence. Palestinian rejectionists-including HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ)-have stepped up violent attacks against Israeli interests since October. The terrorist threat to U.S. interests, because of our friendship with Israel has also increased.
At the same time, Islamic militancy is expanding, and the worldwide pool of potential recruits for terrorist networks is growing. In central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, Islamic terrorist organizations are trying to attract new recruits, including under the banner of anti-Americanism.