WASHINGTON, March 30, 2008— -- The nation's spymaster said the United States faces an imminent threat of attack from al Qaeda fighters training today along Pakistan's mountainous frontier with Afghanistan.
And the attackers, he says, will look like many of us.
"It's very clear to us that al Qaeda has been able, over the past 18 months or so, to establish a safe haven along the Afghan/Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before," CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
"That they are bringing operatives into that region for training, operatives that ... wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the customs line at Dulles with you when you're coming back from overseas," he said.
U.S. intelligence analysts say al Qaeda knows it can't return again with an attack by 19 Arabs, as they did during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Instead, former senior U.S. officials say, these days they favor blond-haired, blue-eyed recruits.
Former senior U-S officials say the Bush administration is particularly concerned that attackers bearing European passports would breeze through U.S. airports.
"The use of Europeans and Americans makes travel much easier, the passports they carry make entry much easier," said Michael Sheuer, former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and author of "Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq."
"And I think the fact that their current rhetoric is much more aggressive and confident, than it had been over the past year or two suggests they have the operatives they want to attack the United States," Sheuer said.
The Pakistani government has always had trouble controlling the restive territory that borders Afghanistan. In late 2006, U.S. intelligence and military analysts say, Pakistan privately concluded it had failed in a military campaign to control the territory along its border with Afghanistan.
So President Pervez Musharraf agreed to let the tribal leaders -- who are accused of sheltering bin Laden -- essentially police themselves.
The result, Hayden says: an "absolute disaster" that presents a "clear and present danger" to the west, particularly the United States.
Hayden said the United States is doing everything it can to capture or kill bin Laden and al Qaeda's top leaders.
To find them, amid reports of intensified U.S. air strikes, today the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan opened the first of six joint military intelligence centers along the lawless border.