Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst who was part of the team that hunted Osama bin Laden for years, told ABC News that any suggestion al Qaeda as a whole was down and out and is now seeing a resurgence is wrong. Instead, she said the group has just been undergoing a metamorphosis.
"An ideology has tentacles. That's why it's hard to predict how or if it will grow," she said. "Each of these groups [al Qaeda affiliates] are funded and operate independently, but they all share the same ideological platform that central al Qeada has propagated since the 1990s."
Seth Jones, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, testified before Congress last month that despite the "weakness" of central al Qaeda, "there has been a net expansion in the number and geographic scope of al Qaeda's affiliates and allies over the past decade, indicating that al Qaeda and its brand are far from defeated."
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who led the hunt for bin Laden before his retirement in 2004, went further, telling ABC News that he believed al Qaeda really hasn't changed since bin Laden's death.
"I think the guys on the ground [local affiliate commanders], day-to-day tactical decisions were made there, where they always have been," he said. "Core al Qaeda lays down the guidelines to keep everybody pointed at the enemy."
Scheuer said he believes al Qaeda is more dangerous under its currently leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, than it was under bin Laden. Zawahiri, Scheuer said, may settle for smaller U.S.-based operations that would have a much smaller body count than a 9/11-type operation that bin Laden aspired to repeat.
Any idea that al Qaeda is on the way out, Scheuer said, is "completely politicking."
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.