The White House allowed declassification of portions of the National Intelligence Estimate -- an assessment of the effects of the Iraq war on terrorism -- after parts were leaked to the media earlier in the week. Counterterrorism analysts Daniel Benjamin and Michael Rubin discuss the report's findings.
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What exactly does the National Intelligence Estimate say about Iraq and terrorism? In response to the ongoing controversy, a small portion of the report, called "key judgments," was declassified by the president last night.
We'll take up four of its findings with two analysts. Daniel Benjamin was a counterterrorism official on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton. He's co-author of the book, "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right."
Michael Rubin worked on Iraq policy in the Defense Department from 2002 to 2004 and advised the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq. He was last there in June.
Well, the first judgment, gentlemen, that comes in the declassified document says, "Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion."
Do you agree with that, Michael Rubin?
MICHAEL RUBIN, American Enterprise Institute:
I do agree with that. However, to put it in perspective, back in 1946, the predecessor of our intelligence agencies issued a report which said that the greatest threat over the horizon was the growth of radical Islam.
Then, 46 years ago, to the day — to yesterday — you had Abdel Nasser, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, you had Khrushchev hanging on the U.N. podium, and you had Fidel Castro making a four-hour rambling speech at the United Nations, and the headlines were about how the United States was losing all public opinion throughout the world. Sometimes it's the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Do you agree with that assessment in the first judgment, David?
DANIEL BENJAMIN, Former NSC Director for Counterterrorism: Absolutely. I think the evidence is quite clear. We see, essentially, three new categories of terrorists out there: home-grown, or self-starter terrorists, who have become particularly well-known in the United States because of their activities in Europe, but they've also shown up in the Middle East, in the Maghreb, in Pakistan, and many other places.
We have the foreign fighters who are in Iraq, most of whom come from the immediate neighborhood and predominantly Saudi Arabia. None of these people — not none of them, but most of them were not involved in Islamic radicalism before.
And we also have thousands of Iraqi jihadists who were not there before.
Now, part of that same first key finding also said that the efforts of the United States have seriously damaged al-Qaida's leadership and disrupted its operations. Do you have any quarrel with that?
No, I don't. I think that's correct.
No, I don't have any quarrel. I think the key point is that jihadists aren't just spontaneous. What's important are the financial networks which support them that provide a template upon which they grow, which is why it's not enough just to say, "Oh, jihadists are everywhere." Who's funding them? Who's training them? Who's allowing them to increase their lethality?