TERRORISM SALON: Matthew Levitt on Al Qaeda’s Multi-Pronged Threat


(Matthew Levitt is a Senior fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy).
I do not think we are concentrating too much on terrorism, it legitimately belongs at the very top of the list of national security threats we face today. True, the nature of the transnational threats facing the world today is far different than the ones the U.S. and its allies faced on 9/11. But al-Qaeda itself remains a formidable opponent, with a resurgent core in Northwest Pakistan and affiliates and homegrown cells pose a growing threat as well.
Today, the US and its allies face a three fold threat.
The first is from core al Qaeda. While al Qaeda was on its “back foot” from 2004-2007, it has now “regained its equilibrium,” according to DHS Undersecretary Charlie Allen. NCTC Director Michael Leiter echoed this, warning that “I regret to say that the Al Qaeda threat still looms large.” Deputy DNI Donald Kerr offered a similar assessment, stating that “Al Qaeda remains the preeminent terror threat to the United States at home and abroad.” There are several reasons, in Dr. Kerr’s view, why core al Qaeda continues to pose such a serious threat to the US.
The group has “retained or regenerated key elements of its capability, including its top leadership, operational lieutenants, and a de facto safe haven in…the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to train and deploy operatives for attacks in the West.” Al Qaeda has successfully expanded its reach with partnerships with other organizations throughout the Middle East and North Africa, which Dailey referred to as the “franchising of al Qaeda.” These affiliates include al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Finally, there are today more local groups with less direct ties to al Qaeda. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, there were almost 300 different groups involved in terrorist attacks in 2006 – most of them Sunni. In fact, according to the State Department, the terrorist threat has been transformed to the point that it now is a “form of global insurgency.”
That said, and harking back to an earlier portion of this discussion, I do think it is critical that we leverage all elements of national power to combat this threat at both tactical (thwarting plots) and strategic (engaging in the battle of ideas) levels. It is also true that our focus on the terrorist threat has come at the expense of other important national security priorities, including promoting Arab reform, empowering Arab democrats, and more. Sadly, that did not have to be the case and rectify this imbalance will be a priority for whoever next occupies the White House.
Finally, other issues are creeping up immediate national security threats even as the terrorist threat remains. Consider, for example, the not-unrelated issues of the price of oil, the larger energy crisis, and the state of the economy. But Iran is likely to be the most critical national security threat facing the next administration. The possibility that Iran could reach the point of nuclear weapon self-sufficiency and be able to produce and nuclear weapon to go with its existing ballistic missile delivery systems within the term of the next administration will force this issue even further onto the font burner than it has been over the past few years.
— Matthew Levitt
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.


15 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Matthew Levitt on Al Qaeda’s Multi-Pronged Threat

  1. Kathleen says:

    Code yellow??? Speaking of the DOJ,..Color Me Cynical. I’m betting old “Bridge to Nowhere” Stevens is getting the axe to prove that Busholini’s DOJ is non-partisan… and to deflect attention from Rove’s Contempt of Congress. I think that bridge does go somewhere…just not where he wanted to go.
    Speaking of Congress, Color them Yellow…. too yellow to hold impeachment hearings… they’re trying a splash of green…. introducing legislation to decriminalize the personal use of marijuana….hellooooo, our right to make personal use of anything that occurs in nature is God-given, not State-given… remember that bit about “under God”?


  2. pauline says:

    Jane Mayer, speaking to Bill Moyers, succinctly added —
    “And they were people inside the Justice Department who, one of whom, and I can’t name this one in particular, said when he looked around at some of the White House meetings – he was in where they were authorizing the President, literally, to torture people – if he thought that was necessary, he said, “I can’t, I could not believe these lunatics had taken over the country.” And I am not talking about someone who is a liberal Democrat. I’m talking about a very conservative member of this Administration. . .”
    see —


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “This time around, DHS isn’t changing colors, Thomas reports, because the “do not want to be accused of trying to inject themselves into the presidential campaign.””
    Gee, maybe I’m just dense, but isn’t that stance just as “political”? I mean, hey, what the hell is the point of these colored alerts if public perception is the criteria for pickin’ a color?
    These pieces of shit must think we are all idiots. Gads, is anyone else sick of this horseshit???


  4. pauline says:

    Still at Code Yellow, DHS fears 11 months of ‘heightened alert’
    07/28/2008 @ 12:31 pm
    Filed by David Edwards and Nick Juliano
    With 99 days until the presidential election, the Department of Homeland Security is raising vague concerns about possible terrorist attacks in the US or abroad.
    ABC News’ Pierre Thomas says DHS officials are “quietly declaring” that the US is entering a “Period of Heightened Alert” because of the upcoming Olympics, the Democratic and Republican conventions, the November elections and the fact that a new president will be taking office in January. Officials tell Thomas the next 11 months will be “a time frame when terrorists may have more incentive to attack.”
    Accusations of politicization haunted DHS’s decision to move the nation’s color-coded advisory system from yellow, or elevated risk, to orange, or high risk, just three months before the 2004 election. A week after President Bush was re-elected, the agency returned the advisory back to yellow.
    This time around, DHS isn’t changing colors, Thomas reports, because the “do not want to be accused of trying to inject themselves into the presidential campaign.”
    Instead, apparently, anonymous officials are simply passing unspecific warnings to a correspondent for a national television network.
    Government officials point to the Sept. 11 attacks, which happened just nine months into a new administration, and the Madrid train bombings, which were carried out just three days before Spain’s 2004 general election.
    They say history suggests a need to take potential threats seriously — especially in the very near future.
    At the moment, though, there are “no specifics” indicating an imminent domestic attack.
    from —


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Heres an ad running on the top of Steve’s home page. It seems “Al Qaeda” is a real hot commodity. BOO!!!
    Counter Terrorism Degrees
    Work in Homeland Security and
    Counter Terrorism. Degrees Online!


  6. arthurdecco says:

    John H said: “It escapes me why anybody still provides a forum to neocons except as a way to keep tabs on their lies and bring for the truth as an antidote.”
    I think you stumbled over the only rational explanation for Mr. Clemons to offer a serial liar like Matthew Levitt a forum for his crap – to allow the rest of us the opportunity to monitor the bankruptcy of the latest neo-con rationalizations for the destruction of Israel’s enemies on America’s dime.
    I’m terminally tired of their bullshit. When do we get to overturn their tables and drive them out of the temple?
    It can’t be soon enough.


  7. ... says:

    i would be curious to hear Steves thoughts in response to your last comment JohnH.. i agree with yours and poa’s views on these terrorist forums being a dead end or worse..


  8. JohnH says:

    POA–you nailed Levitt. He’s a neo-con, working for Daniel Pipe’s Washington Institute for Near East Peace, which was originally established as a think tank by AIPAC. He’s also been involved in plotting neo-con strategy for Iran.
    I was already flummoxed by the low level of thinking displayed here on the international terrorism issue (the rare exception proved the rule.) Basically I found a more thoughtful, diverse range of opinion just flipping through my bookmarks (Juan Cole, etc.) I included their opinions in my posts, since their valuable contributions would otherwise have been ignored here. The experts, of course, chose in turn to ignore the opinions of those outside the choir they preach to.
    The best example of an ignored expert was the Pakistani governor, who has tremendous credibility–more than any of these think tank “experts”–because he actually quelled an insurgency in Baluchistan. His approach? HE FIRMLY SUBORDINATED THE MILITARY STRATEGY TO CIVILIAN POLITICS AND NEGOTIATIONS.
    Did we hear any of the panel of experts advocate such a strategy?
    And now I see the problem–Steve treats the likes of Matthew Levitt as expert opinion, not propaganda. Instead of constructive thinking about government policies, we got ideological talking points. The terrorism issue became just another venue–like the corporate media–for ideologues to spew forth with little fact checking or countervailing opinion from credible experts with very different perspectives.
    It escapes me why anybody still provides a forum to neocons except as a way to keep tabs on their lies and bring for the truth as an antidote.


  9. Don Bacon says:

    Levitt: “I do not think we are concentrating too much on terrorism, it legitimately belongs at the very top of the list of national security threats we face today.”
    Horsepucky. The Department of Homeland Security states that there is no current threat. The average American is statistically more at risk from a bath-tub slip or a lightning strike than from a terrorist attack.


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    United States has bigger problems than the war on terror
    Published: July 26th, 2008 12:25 AM
    Climate change, peak oil, scarce water, diminishing food production, a predatory health-care system, huge national debt and world recession are bigger problems than America’s fear-mongering, soul-destroying “war on terror.”
    Our only means of creating real wealth — the machinery, knowledge and expertise to manufacture goods — was shipped overseas after Americans facilitated their own fleecing by electing politicians who hated government “regulation” of business. Corporate outsourcing and looting of America began under Ronald Reagan as a deliberate, organized process financed by wealthy business interests, cloaked in “family values” and legitimized by right-wing “think tanks.”
    Our foreign policy is based on the premise that military force is justified to steal the world’s dwindling oil resources. That Islamists — who sit on that oil– are evil and must be attacked before they attack us. Americans are so scared they believe nations like Iran are crazy enough to send a few missiles sputtering into Israel (possessing 80 nuclear missile warheads) or America (9,900 nuclear warheads).
    The Bush Administration’s humiliating settlement with North Korea demonstrates that weaker nations are wise to develop nuclear weapons to prevent the U.S. from attacking them!
    When George W. Bush became president oil was $27 a barrel. The four U.S. oil companies Saddam Hussein kicked out of Iraq 30 years ago were just awarded no-bid contracts in occupied Iraq. Obviously militarization as an energy security policy has been disastrous for everyone except the energy companies.
    The presidential candidates promise stability in Iraq — but a million lives and a trillion dollars after the reign of George the Simple we’ll be lucky if Iraq becomes half as stable and terrorist-free as it was under Saddam.
    For Bush-Cheney, “stability” always meant permanent American military bases to corral oil supplies. But Iraq has rejected the proposed long-term American-Iraqi hydrocarbon “security pact precisely because it would mean a humiliating permanent occupation (“Iraqis say US wants 58 bases, air space,” Daily News, June 10).
    OK, the economy is wrecked and the government is lying — but at least the homeland hasn’t been significantly attacked since Sept. 11, 2001, say Bush apologists. By that logic we could also say the homeland wasn’t severely attacked until George W. Bush become president.
    We will probably be attacked again. Who knows how many “detainees” are being held in “black sites”– secret prisons the U.S. has scattered around the globe. The McClatchy papers recently published an excellent investigative series explaining how U.S. imprisonment and torture of innocent people actually creates terrorists.
    We commit other unspeakable horrors. In 2006 — with coerced U.N. approval — U.S. military forces supported the overthrow of a reasonably honest, moderate and popular Islamic government in Somalia (falsely labeled “terrorist”).
    And guess what — estimates are that 30 percent of U.S. oil will come from Africa within 10 years. Apparently oil companies thought they could deal better with a corrupt government of warlords.
    Understandably an armed resistance developed and a terrible humanitarian crisis is occurring. In Somalia the U.S. sanctions slaughter or displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians for oil. There is a blood additive in our gasoline.
    So where are America’s “moral” leaders? Most remain silent while our government shoots missiles through doorways, imprisons and tortures innocent civilians and supports dictators who murder and impoverish their own citizens (like Nigeria) to provide our oil.
    Right-wing religionists, however (when they are not busy sniffing out sexual sins), are right there with the corporate power, political influence and military force. Our petroleum wars are well-chaplained because they inflict suffering upon the feared rival — Islam.
    Americans are in a moral coma. Only rising gasoline and food prices have interrupted their consumer feeding frenzy. National bankruptcy, human slaughter and secret prisons are OK — as long as there is gas in the tank, food in the belly and the news is “good.”
    Americans calculate the manhood of presidential candidates by their willingness to blow up people for oil. There is no empathy for the starving poor or slaughtered innocents. To be truly moral is to be called “weak.” Lies are truths if shaded just right or believed real hard.
    It’s the morality, stupid!


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I’m sure he’ll get back to you, Ron. After he “thinks” about it.


  12. PacificCoastRon says:

    Please explain WHY the _possibility_ that Iran will get a few unreliable nukes will become THE number one priority for a foreign policy that is actually oriented towards the interests of the majority of American citizens, and/or a majority of American economic interests.
    I mean I get it that Iran is already the #1 priority for the inside-the-beltway subset that treats any threat to the mythology of Israeli Likudists as being also an equal concern for predictable neocon pundits who determine foreign policy, but how and why could this tiny shadow of a threat be considered a real concern for the average citizen, over the threats of A. American economic collapse/death of the petroleum economy version, B. American economic collapse /dollar crisis version, C. Chinese nukes and ambitions, D. Russian nukes and ambitions, E. Pakistani nukes and unforeseen insanities, F. Israeli nukes and unforeseen insanities, G. Loss of America’s Presitge in the World, H. Loss of America’s Constitution, etc. ???
    Get Real. After we faced down the Soviet Union with thousands of nukes, as we have already for several decades faced, and continue to face China with hundreds or thousands of nukes, as the Bushies ENCOURAGE India to nuke up and show bland unconcern over Pakistani nukes and collaborate in the fiction that Israel doesn’t have hundreds of nukes, how and why am I supposed to care about a few Iranian nukes?
    Why wouldn’t Iran’s nukes be overwhelmingly countered by our nukes and Israel’s nukes ?? What has all the hundreds of billions of defense spending been for, if we’re not already defended against Iran’s putative nukes many times over ???


  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gosh Levitt, are you screaming “BOO!!!” loud enough? I like that zinger you threw in at the last there, making sure to get in the “Iran with nukes” rattler.
    And gosh, we all know that those wackjob Iranians are just crazy enough to commit the suicide action of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Israel or the US, eh?
    You know what? Its you think tank jackasses that got us into this mess. Why in God’s name should we harken to anything you all say at this point? Have you people ever considered that maybe you’re over “thinking” this stuff? Look, I don’t wanna be rude, but the truth is you folks have screwed the pooch here, and maybe you all should just stop fuckin’ around with things. If all you think tanker peeps are so God damned smart, how the hell did we end up here?
    And hey, while I’m ranting, could I ask a favor of you? If you think tankers are going to continue to think, would you try to refrain from sharing your hairbrained schemes with these insane assholes like Bush and Cheney?
    In fact, its my fondest hope that you all just stop thinking, and get a normal job, like the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, without a terror industry, you might just be a little less prone to scream “BOO!!!” at the top of your lungs to us poor unthinking peons. After all, the ‘ol specter of terrorism pretty much guarantees your paycheck, doesn’t it?


  14. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The most convincing truth advocates the fact that the US must review or revisit its policy regarding the war on terror beyond “political altruism”. The ongoing US policy debate regarding the Pakistani government policy in Fata must not keep aside the geopolitical, socio cultural and the ideological convictions/ deliberations that the Pakistani government is bound to percieve.


  15. JohnH says:

    Maybe we should concentrate on terrorism in Northwest Pakistan by leaving it to competent local experts, thereby diminishing the need for ham-handed US involvement.
    “The NWFP governor is responsible for Pakistani counterinsurgency efforts in his province and in the neighboring tribal regions. He is well thought of in Pakistan because of his successes in Baluchistan province, which he governed for five years prior to January of this year, where he combined political negotiations with militants and targeted military action when he felt it necessary. He firmly subordinated the military strategy to civilian politics and negotiations. That is, Ghani is a politician with long experience in dealing with tribal insurgencies.
    The governor, Owais Ghani, immediately spoke out against Obama, saying that the senator’s remarks had the effect of undermining the new civilian government elected last February. Ghani warned that a U.S. incursion into the northwestern tribal areas would have “disastrous” consequences for the globe.
    The governor underlined that a “war on terrorism” policy depended on popular support for it, and that such support was being leeched away by U.S. strikes on the Pakistan side of the border and by statements such as Obama’s. A recent American attack mistakenly killed Pakistani troops who had been sent to fight the Pakistani Taliban at American insistence. The Pakistani public was furious. Ghani complained, “Candidate Obama gave these statements; I come out openly and say such statements undermine support, don’t do it.””


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