U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said on September 25 that he rejects any claims the terrorist threat to the U.S. has increased as a result of the Iraq campaign, while opposition Democrats say otherwise.
The fact that portions of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) have surfaced in the U.S. media just six weeks ahead of key Congressional elections makes the issue highly politicized.
Report Remains Classified
Control of the two chambers of the U.S. legislature is at stake in the November poll and the war on terror is playing a key role in many closely fought Congressional campaigns.
It is little wonder then that the leaked intelligence document has ignited such fierce debate among Republicans and Democrats.
The document, which represents the consensus opinion of 16 U.S. government intelligence services, remains classified and its full text has not been made public.
But according to portions published in the press, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the U.S.-led war in Iraq has given birth to a new generation of Islamic radicals and worsened the threat of global terrorism.
The U.S. daily "The New York Times" says it has confirmed the details of the confidential document with more than a dozen government officials and outside experts.
'Self-Generating' Terrorist Cells
According to the newspaper, the document says the radical Islamic movement has now expanded from a core of Al-Qaeda operatives to include a new class of "self-generating" terrorist cells that have no direct ties to Osama bin Laden. The document cites the Iraq war as a reason for the spread of radical Islamic ideology.
Many prominent Democrats have seized on this assessment, saying it backs their contention that the conflict in Iraq has drained U.S. manpower and resources from the war on terror.
U.S. President George W. Bush defending his terrorism policies at a press conference in Washington on September 15 (epa)The intelligence assessment seems to contradict the Bush administration’s central argument -- that the war in Iraq has made the United States safer from future terrorist attacks.
P.J. Crowley, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, says he believes the Iraq war was a strategic mistake that has been a gift to Islamic radicals.
“[Islamic extremists] now have a new training ground, a new rallying point, a new recruiting tool, and because of the occupation or perceived occupation in Iraq, you're seeing the Al-Qaeda movement shift from being a relatively small closely knit cadre of veterans from wars in Egypt and wars in Afghanistan, to almost like a global movement where the recent attacks, and recent plots are less Al-Qaeda supported than Al-Qaeda inspired," Crowley said. "That's the real catalyst that Iraq has given to the Jihadist movement."
U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, a close Bush ally who oversaw the preparation of the NIE, says media reports have distorted the main focus of the report.
"These news stories left the incorrect impression that this NIE dealt principally with the relationship between Iraq and international terrorism," Negroponte said. "In fact, the estimate provides a broad strategic framework for understanding the trends that will define the primary international terrorist threats to United States interests over the coming five years."
Calls For Report's Release
The fact that the full text of the intelligence report has not been made public has further fueled the public debate over where the truth is.
James Carafano, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, notes that many of the commentators and politicians giving their opinion on the report have not read it -- making a meaningful debate impossible.
"These are the worst kind of news stories because it's a bunch of people talking about a classified document that nobody's seen, and they're making public policy announcements about where we should or shouldn't take this," Carafano said.
On September 25, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee urged the Bush administration to declassify the intelligence assessment.
Chairman Pat Roberts (Republican, Kansas) said the American people should be able to see a public version of the report and draw their own conclusions about its contents.
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, the committee's top Democrat, said declassifying the report's conclusions would "contribute greatly to the public debate" on counter-terrorism policies.
Negroponte said he would consider the proposal over the next several days.