The assessment by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, was much starker than his view last year, when he emphasized the considerable progress in the campaign to debilitate Al Qaeda and said that the global economic meltdown, rather than the prospect of a major terrorist attack, was the “primary near-term security concern of the United States.”It is highly unusual that the CIA and national security establishment would provide such a specific timeframe for their analysis.
Citing a recent wave of terrorist plots, including the failed Dec. 25 attempt to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit, Mr. Blair and other intelligence officials told a Senate panel that Al Qaeda had adjusted its tactics to more effectively strike American targets domestically and abroad.
“The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11,” said Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director. “It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect.”
As the C.I.A. continues its campaign of drone attacks aimed at Qaeda operatives in the mountains of Pakistan, the officials also said that the network’s splinter groups in Yemen and Somalia were taking on more importance.
But Mr. Blair began his annual threat testimony before Congress by saying that the threat of a crippling attack on telecommunications and other computer networks was growing as an increasingly sophisticated group of enemies had “severely threatened” the sometimes fragile systems undergirding the country’s information infrastructure.
Yet, the DHS advisory system is unchanged: it's yellow generally and orange for flights. It would behoove DHS to increase the threat levels so as to increase scrutiny on those areas it considers to be possible targets if they're really contemplating that a terror attack would be attempted within the next six months.
At the same time, the intel services are concerned that there may be a cyberattack that could result in crippling damage of some form.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the underwear bombing suspect Abdul Mutallab is talking to investigators and giving valuable intel. That could be part of the reason that the intel services believe that al Qaeda is threatening an attack within the next six months.
In recent days, two law enforcement sources said, Abdulmutallab has told authorities more about where he trained overseas and others he met there -- leads that the FBI has shared with other members of the U.S. intelligence community. Investigators are following up to corroborate the information.The best advice is to remain vigilant and to watch for unusual behavior and items that seem out of place.
U.S. investigators flew members of Abdulmutallab's family from Nigeria to the United States on Jan. 17, the senior administration official said. The family members have proved vital in getting Abdulmutallab to talk, he said -- indicating that it would have been counterproductive to interrogate him under military rules, as some have suggested.
The president is getting briefings on the interrogations of Abdulmutallab, the official said.
All three sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Officials are continuing to flesh out Abdulmutallab's contacts with radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who allegedly met with the suspect before the bombing, one source said.
No plea deal between Justice Department lawyers and federal public defender Miriam Siefer is imminent, the sources said, but both sides began negotiating last week, as reported by The Washington Post.
If convicted, Abdulmutallab faces a virtual life sentence on six criminal charges, including using a plane as a weapon of mass destruction. In exchange for his renewed cooperation, authorities could recommend that a federal judge reduce any prison sentence Abdulmutallab might face, a common occurrence in the criminal justice system.