Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A happy ending?

By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
Washington Post
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U.S. and international intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorist organization's effectiveness.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said that the combined advances have led to the deaths of more than a dozen senior figures in al-Qaeda and allied groups in Pakistan and elsewhere over the past year, most of them in 2009. Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks.

The most important new weapon in the Western arsenal is said to be the recruitment of spies inside al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations, a long-sought objective. "Human sources have begun to produce results," Richard Barrett, head of the United Nations' al-Qaeda and Taliban monitoring group, said Tuesday. Barrett is the former chief of Britain's overseas counterterrorism operations.

Current and former senior U.S. officials, who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity, confirmed what one former CIA official called "our penetration of al-Qaeda." A senior administration official said that success had come "because of, first of all, very good intelligence capabilities . . . to locate and identify individuals who are part of the al-Qaeda organization."

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair referred obliquely in an interview with reporters earlier this month to the use of spies, saying that "the primary way" that U.S. intelligence determines which terrorist organizations pose direct threats is "to penetrate them and learn whether they're talking about making attacks against the United States."

Barrett, in a speech Tuesday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that al-Qaeda is "losing credibility" among potential supporters and recruits because its recent efforts "have not awed people" and are "not up to the standard of 9/11."

As the years have passed since the 2001 attacks, he said, al-Qaeda "hasn't really made a connection to a new generation" of young Muslims who have little recollection of the events and are less interested in religion.

In terms of Western efforts, he said, the threat has diminished because "our technical collection," such as intercepts and overhead surveillance, "is much better. We have better human intelligence, [and] they have fewer competent people."

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