Iran Nukes: Outgoing Intel's Top Concern

Also confirms release of bin Laden's son from Iranian custody.

Jan. 16, 2009— -- The outgoing director of national intelligence told reporters today that he worries Iran eventually will acquire a nuclear weapon, a development he believes would further destabilize the Middle East and perhaps the world.

"I am very concerned that Iran will continue down a path that will result in a nuclear weapon," said National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, who also discussed reports that Iran had released one of Osama bin Laden's sons from custody.

"If you think about it ... if Iran gets nuclear weapons, what's going to be the response of their neighbors?" he asked.

McConnell said that while the Cold War allowed for a world that created a standoff among the world's nuclear powers, the volatility of the Middle East -- if Iran were to develop a nuclear device -- would present a more complex scenario.

"I don't have any confidence," he said, "[that] the players in that region of the world, as volatile as it is, that you'd have mutual deterrence.

"Their behavior says they are continuing to get fissile material, continuing to build these long-range missiles," McConnell added. "If they get them, that's my biggest worry."

Where Is Sa'ad bin Laden?

McConnell also addressed reports today that Iran has released Sa'ad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's son, from house arrest.

A U.S. counterterrorism official told ABC News that Sa'ad bin Laden's possible departure from Iran was unclear, but McConnell told reporters that "he is probably in Pakistan, but he has left Iran."

On Friday, the Treasury Department announced financial sanctions on three al Qaeda associates believed to be in Iran, and also announced sanctions against Sa'ad bin Laden.

While not a major figure in the ranks of al Qaeda, it is believed by U.S. intelligence that bin Laden's son had facilitated travel of bin Laden family members to Iran in late 2001 and that he had managed some al Qaeda operations from 2001 to 2003.

Bin Laden's son and former al Qaeda operations manager Saif al Adel, an Egyptian, were detained by Iranian authorities in 2003 and were believed to be living under house arrest.

A senior al Qaeda associate, Mustafa Hamid, was part of the Treasury sanctions announced Friday. Hamid is Adel's father-in-law and had arranged for many al Qaeda members and their families to reside in Iran in late 2001.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps had sheltered Hamid and other al Qaeda associates before they were detained by the government of Iran.

The release of bin Laden's son follows reports from ABC News' Jonathan Karl in 2008 that there had been secret contacts between Iran's government and al Qaeda's leadership.

Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement Friday: "It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al Qaeda."

How the incoming Obama administration will deal with Iran has been a matter of high interest during the campaign and in recent months.

McConnell said he currently briefs the outgoing president six days a week, and added that Obama was going to receive an intelligence briefing seven days a week at the beginning of his term.

McConnell will remain as an adviser to Obama on the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, but will be replaced by Adm. Dennis Blair pending Senate confirmation.