WASHINGTON – National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said Monday the jihad in Iraq is shaping a new generation of terrorist operatives, but rejected assertions, stemming from a leaked intelligence estimate, that the United States is at a greater risk of attack than it was in 2001.
“We are certainly more vigilant. We are better prepared,” Negroponte said. “We are safer.”
Negroponte’s words came at a dinner at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center after the weekend disclosure of a high-level National Intelligence Estimate. The document gave new fervor to an election-year debate about how the Iraq war has affected national security threats.
The report, Negroponte said, broadly addressed the global terrorist threat, not just the impact of Iraq.
He told the audience that radicalism is being fueled by entrenched grievances in the Arab world, the slow pace of social and political reforms there and anti-U.S. sentiment.
In addition, he said, “the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee urged the Bush administration Monday to declassify the intelligence assessment.
Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the American people should be able to see a public version of the report and draw their own conclusions about its contents. So far, he said, the public discussion has given the “false impression” that the National Intelligence Estimate focuses exclusively on Iraq and terrorism.
“That is not true,” Roberts said, noting that the committee has had the report since April. “This NIE examines global terrorism in its totality.”
In a letter to Negroponte, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the committee’s top Democrat, said declassifying the report’s conclusions would provide a complete picture of the report and “contribute greatly to the public debate” on counterterrorism policies.
Negroponte said he would consider the proposal in the next several days, given the interest in the document.
The report distills the thinking of senior U.S. intelligence analysts working throughout the nation’s 16 spy agencies. Its conclusions are considered to be the voice of the U.S. intelligence community.
The New York Times first reported Saturday that the highly classified assessment finds that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has helped fuel a new generation of extremists and that the overall terror threat has grown since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a conclusion at odds with President Bush’s assertions that the nation is safer.
But Bush administration officials including Negroponte are contesting the media accounts, saying they describe only a portion of the conclusions and therefore distort the analysts’ findings on trends in global terrorism.
As the November election approaches, the report has touched off an intense political debate about the impact of Iraq on U.S. security and the Bush administration’s ability to go after terrorists.