WASHINGTON Al-Qaida is still a threat, CIA chief says

George Tenet received more grilling on faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq.
WASHINGTON -- Despite U.S. success in attacking Al-Qaida's hierarchy, the network is still capable of "catastrophic attacks" against the United States, and acquiring chemical, biological and radiological weapons remains a "religious obligation" in Osama bin Laden's eyes, CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday.
The U.S. assault on Al-Qaida has "transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks working autonomously," Tenet said. The smaller groups "pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks," but they share an anti-American goal.
The most immediate threats include the possibility of "poison attacks" and Al-Qaida's ongoing effort to produce anthrax material, he said. "Extremists have widely disseminated assembly instructions for an improvised chemical weapon using common materials that could cause a large number of casualties in a crowded, enclosed area.
"We are still at war against a movement," said Tenet, appearing with other administration officials to discuss global security threats. "People who say it's exaggerated don't look at the same world I look at. It's not going away anytime soon."
Behind the attacks
In Iraq, most attacks by insurgents have been committed by loyalists of the former government, said Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
He added that "it appears much of the Sunni population has not decided whether to back the coalition or support the insurgents. The key factors in this decision are stability and a future that presents viable alternatives to the Baathists and Islamists."
At the same time, he said, foreign fighters have carried out "some of the most significant attacks," including suicide bombings. "Left unchecked," Jacoby said, "Iraq has the potential to serve as a training ground for the next generation of terrorists."
The testimony came in the administration's annual worldwide threat assessment, which aims to give Congress a broad view of national security threats and the status of U.S. responses to them.
It was the first time Tenet appeared on Capitol Hill since controversy intensified over his agency's prewar assessments of Iraq, and he was peppered with questions by Republicans and Democrats about CIA assertions that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an advanced nuclear program, none of which has been found.
"People voted to authorize the use of force based on what we read in these reports," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. Finding no weapons of mass destruction is "a pretty bitter pill to swallow with respect to the value of intelligence, particularly in a pre-emptive war."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pressed Tenet even harder, saying the decision to go to war in Iraq was based on "either bad intelligence or misleading the people."
Tenet shot back: "We are not perfect, but we are pretty damn good at what we do, and we care as much as you do about Iraq and whether we were right or wrong."
For the past eight months, the House and Senate intelligence committees have been examining the intelligence community's prewar analysis of the Iraq threat.