President Bush on Tuesday attempted to blunt criticism that the Iraq war has emboldened a new generation of terrorists, ordering the release...

Share story

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Tuesday attempted to blunt criticism that the Iraq war has emboldened a new generation of terrorists, ordering the release of a carefully screened summary of a classified document that concluded U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts have “seriously damaged” the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations.

While reports about the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published in some Sunday newspapers focused on the Iraq war serving as a recruiting and breeding ground for Islamic radicals, Bush said the summary released Tuesday supports his contention that the United States and its allies have succeeded in weakening terrorist networks, dispersing their operatives and undermining their plans.

The summary says the jihadist movement is potentially limited by its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam and could be slowed by democratic reforms in the Muslim world, and asserted that if jihadists are perceived to be defeated in Iraq, “fewer fighters would be inspired to carry on the fight.”

But it also concludes a holy war in Iraq is “shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.” It says the conflict has become “the ’cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Consensus report

The intelligence community’s assessment that the Iraq war has spawned new terrorism and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world buttressed opposition to the war in Congress as the critical Nov. 7 elections approach.

For reasons that aren’t clear, the declassified summary doesn’t mention Afghanistan, where the war against al-Qaida began five years ago, but where the Taliban have rebounded in parts of the country and reconstruction efforts have flagged.

What is an estimate?

National intelligence estimates are compilations of the best thinking of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, meant to provide the broadest guidance to government policymakers.

But they can be wrong. A 2002 assessment, for example, concluded Iraq had continued its development of weapons of mass destruction, held arsenals of chemical and biological weapons and “probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.” None turned out to be true.

The Associated Press

The intelligence estimate is a consensus report of 16 government intelligence agencies. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte released a four-page summary, although the White House had described the still-classified summary of the report’s “key judgments” as a nine-page document.

Citing unnamed government officials, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media outlets characterized the report’s conclusions Sunday without quoting directly from the classified document. The Seattle Times published a version of The New York Times story Sunday.

The report’s most alarming finding — that the Iraq war has generated new terrorism — serves as a powerful challenge to the president’s insistence that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq made the world safer.

This is the argument Bush has embraced for the U.S.-led invasion since prewar intelligence about suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proved wrong.

“Some people have, you know, guessed what’s in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake,” Bush said during a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “I strongly disagree. I think it’s naive.

Some “key judgments”

Among key findings in the intelligence assessment released Tuesday:

U.S.-led counterterrorism has “seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations,” but al-Qaida continues to pose the greatest threat to the United States.

The global jihadist movement is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts, and should this continue, “threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.” Yet the movement is “decentralized, lacks a coherent strategy and is becoming more diffuse.”

The Iraq jihad is “shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives,” and perceived success there would inspire more fighters elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become “the ’cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

Al-Qaida, merged with the network of then-elusive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, is “exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors.” Al-Zarqawi was later killed.

As jihadist groups use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks in urban centers, fighters with experience in Iraq are “a potential source of leadership” for jihadists, and with anti-U.S. sentiment on the rise, this could prompt other groups to adopt terrorist methods for attacking the United States.

This “radicalization … is occurring more quickly, more widely and more anonymously in the Internet age,” making the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups more likely.

Source: National Intelligence Estimate via Chicago Tribune

“To suggest that, if we weren’t in Iraq, we would see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement requires us to ignore 20 years of experience.”

Bush cited a series of terrorist attacks that occurred before the invasion of Iraq, including the 1993 and Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Bush also denounced the leak of the estimate.

“You know, what’s interesting about the NIE … it was an intelligence report done last April,” Bush said. “And here we are, coming down the stretch of an election campaign, and it’s on the front page of your newspaper. Isn’t that interesting? Somebody’s taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes.”

The White House complained that news reports focused on one paragraph taken “wildly out of context.” Still, much of the four-page summary released Tuesday focuses on the role Iraq has played in fomenting terrorism.

Negroponte maintained that “characterizing only a small handful of those judgments distorts the broad strategic framework the NIE is assessing, in this case, trends in global terrorism.”

“The full story”

Bush’s critics contended that releasing select portions of the estimate, “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” withholds information that would enable the public to judge the report fully.

“For more than three years, President Bush and the Republican Congress have repeatedly claimed the war in Iraq is making America safer,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. “The American people deserve the full story, not those parts of it that the Bush administration selects.”

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., moved to put the House into secret session to discuss the estimate, but the motion was defeated along party lines.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally in Washington for a meeting today with Bush, was drawn into the political dispute. He was asked in a CNN interview about an assertion in his new book that he opposed the invasion of Iraq because he feared it would only encourage extremists and leave the world less safe.

“I stand by it, absolutely,” Musharraf said. “It has made the world a more dangerous place.”

Democratic claims of an administration cover-up seemed less justified as it became apparent that the complete classified report had been made widely available to lawmakers within days of its completion in April.

Copies were sent to the House and Senate intelligence, armed-services and foreign-affairs committees at the time, through normal electronic-information channels available to all members, intelligence and congressional sources said. It arrived at the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 26.

In the House, however, “there was a bit of a snafu with this particular document,” said a spokesman for Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. “We had a massive computer failure on our classified side.” The first that committee knew of its existence, he said, was late last week, when “it was requested specifically by a member. That was when it was found and scanned into our system.”

Whether the document was ignored or disappeared into cyberspace, however, it seemed to have made little impact on Capitol Hill at the time. No one in either chamber, on either side of the aisle, requested a briefing or any further information on its conclusions until now, the sources said.

While complaining of election-season politics in the leak, the president was asked if his release of a summary also was a political act.

“I want you to read the documents, so you don’t speculate about what it says … as opposed to relying upon gossip and somebody, you know, who may or may not have seen the document trying to classify the war in Iraq one way or the other,” Bush said.

“I guess it’s just Washington — where … there’s no such thing as classification anymore, hardly.”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, meanwhile, said the Justice Department will follow standard procedures in determining whether to investigate the leak.

That procedure requires the agency that classified the document to request a criminal investigation and then to answer 11 questions from the Justice Department about how widely the document was circulated and how much the agency is willing to divulge in court if a case is brought to trial. The answers to the questions usually determine whether an investigation is opened.

Information from The Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Post is included in this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.