Attempted Terror Attack Likely, Intelligence Chiefs Warn

Officials say failed Christmas Day bomber continues to yield useful threat info.

ByABC News
February 2, 2010, 7:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2010— -- An attempted al Qaeda attack against the United States is a high possibility in the next 3 to 6 months, the nations' top intelligence chiefs testified today.

"An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

CIA director Leon Panetta and FBI director Robert Mueller both told the committee they agreed with Blair's stark assessment, when asked by committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Blair and Panetta both said it is becoming more difficult to identify the threat posed by an evolving al Qaeda, which has become more reliant on its regional terror networks to conduct attacks.

"We have made the complex, multiple-team attacks very difficult for al Qaeda to pull off," Blair said. "As we saw with the recent successful and attempted terrorist attacks, however, identifying individual terrorists, small groups with short histories using simple attack methods is a new degree of difficulty.

"We did not identify [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] before he boarded Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. We should have," he said.

Panetta shared Blair's assessment of the al Qaeda threat as something that has changed since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when four coordinated groups of terrorists hijacked separate airliners to crash them in New York and Washington.

"My greatest concern and what keeps me awake at night is that al Qaeda and its terrorist allies and affiliates could very well attack the United States in our homeland," the CIA director said. "The biggest threat I see is not so much that we face another attack similar to 9/11. I think the greater threat is that al Qaeda is adapting their methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect."

Al Qaeda has found new safe havens and established "regional nodes in places like Yemen and Somalia, the Maghreb [North Africa] and others," he said.

Panetta also warned that he is becoming increasing concerned about threats from "lone wolf" terrorists who act on their own without any central planning from an established terror network such as al Qaeda.