Michael Gawenda / Sydney Morning Herald – 2005-02-26 10:20:59
(February 18th, 2005) — Iraq had become a recruiting ground for Islamic extremists who represented a threat to the entire Middle East and beyond, the director of the CIA told a US Senate committee.
Porter Goss’s testimony on Wednesday appeared to contradict Bush Administration claims that the war in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein had made the world a safer place.
“The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become an extremist cause,” Mr Goss told the Senate select committee on intelligence. “Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism.
“They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.”
Mr Goss was appearing before the committee with the FBI director, Robert Mueller, and the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. They warned that despite the many billions of dollars spent on homeland security initiatives, groups associated with al-Qaeda were regrouping and were intent on finding ways of committing terrorist attacks on the US mainland.
From ‘Slam Dunk’ to a Bloody Quagmire
Mr Goss was appearing for the first time before a congressional committee since being appointed to replace the controversial George Tenet, who famously told the US President, George Bush, before the Iraq war that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a “slam dunk”.
In testimony that observers said was unusually frank, Mr Goss said there was nuclear material from the former Soviet Union that was unaccounted for and that this material could have fallen into the hands of terrorists.
“It may be only a matter of time before al-Qaeda or other groups attempt to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons,” he said. “We must focus on that.”
Mr Goss said al-Qaeda was a “patient, persistent, imaginative, adaptive and dangerous opponent” which no longer had command over a widespread geographic network, but was still capable of launching serious attacks across the globe.
Mr Rumsfeld told the armed services committee that “extremists continue to plot … They are at this moment recalibrating and reorganising. And so are we.”
Committee members were more interested in grilling Mr Rumsfeld about whether he had an exit strategy for Iraq, with some members imploring him to give some idea when American troops would “stop paying a deadly price” in Iraq.
Mr Rumsfeld refused to say when Iraqi security forces might be ready to take over from US forces and, when asked whether US troops could still be in Iraq in two years, he agreed that was possible.
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