Natl. Intel Director Worried About Terror Sleeper Cells in U.S.
Adm. Michael McConnell believes small numbers of al Qaeda fundraisers in U.S.
July 22, 2007 — -- The nation's top intelligence official yesterday went further than ever before in outlining what he described as a heightened threat of an al Qaeda attack on American soil.
"Their attempt is to cause mass casualties," said Adm. Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "Second [priority] is political and possibly economic disruption."
Just days ago, a new National Intelligence Estimate found al Qaeda has strengthened its ability to attack the United States. McConnell said al Qaeda is seeking the means to launch chemical, biological and possibly nuclear attacks. But the likeliest threat is harder to detect.
"What we see currently is primarily a focus on explosives -- explosives that can generate a large explosion, but they're put together with commercially available material," he said.
McConnell says small numbers of al Qaeda operatives are in this country raising funds. But he said he knows of no al Qaeda cells in the country that are capable of launching a strike at this time.
"I worry that there are sleeper cells in the U.S.," McConnell said. "I do not know."
Michael Scheuer, who once ran the CIA's al Qaeda desk, says the Bush administration is not merely fear mongering.
"The intelligence community is being very frank about what it knows so it doesn't get Shanghaied or blamed for something that wasn't its fault, as it did after 9/11," Scheuer said.
The main reason for al Qaeda's resurgence, U.S. intelligence officials say, is a safe haven in Pakistan's lawless Waziristan province, where Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are believed to operate outside the control of Pakistan's government.
"I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan," McConnell said of bin Laden.
Pakistan's government had made an agreement with local tribal officials that the tribal leaders would be responsible for policing the area and ensuring that extremists had no safe haven. U.S. intelligence officials say that policy has been an abject failure.