The Obama administration’s top intelligence officials on Tuesday described it as “certain” that al-Qaeda or its allies will try to attack the United States in the next six months, and they called for new flexibility in how US officials detain and question terrorist suspects.
The officials, testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, also warned of increased risk of cyberattacks in the coming months, saying that the recent China-based hacking of Google’s computers was both a “wake-up call” and a forerunner to future strikes aimed at private businesses or intended to cause economic disruption.
“Al-Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland — preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the US economy or both,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the committee in a hearing convened to assess looming threats against the country.
Blair, flanked by the directors of the CIA and FBI and the chief intelligence officers of the State and Defence departments, put al Qaeda at the top of a threat list that also included the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, criminal cartels and the potential for economic collapse in developing countries hard-hit by recession.
The notable positive trends over the past year, he said, were the continuing security improvements in Iraq and the signs of economic recovery in developed countries.
“Missteps could set back the recovery, particularly if inflation or political pressures to consolidate budgets emerge before household consumption and private investment have begun to play a larger role in the recovery,” Blair said.
Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta warned of new threats from al-Qaeda’s regional allies, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Panetta noted that al-Qaeda-inspired groups had successfully “deployed individuals to this country,” citing recently disrupted terrorist plots in Colorado and Chicago.
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