U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte identified terrorism as one of the most significant challenges facing both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. Speaking Friday night (Dec. 1) in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Negroponte cited the intelligence community’s recent successes in the fight against terrorism – last summer’s killing by the U.S. military of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the disruption by British intelligence of a plot to attack multiple Western aircraft.
Future threats remain daunting, said Negroponte, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004. “Highly disciplined terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, other transnational networks, and individual cells have no interest in listening to those they profess to champion,” he said. “This is a decades-long struggle that will see many tactical ebbs and flows even as we make strategic progress.”
Greater effort must be made to neutralize any appeal associated with terrorists’ ideology of hate and violence, Negroponte told the forum audience. Western nations must work more effectively in integrating disenfranchised Muslim communities within its borders. “Some of our closest allies face disillusioned immigrant populations that are spawning violent jihadists,” he pointed out, “These societies must work to ensure that their growing immigrant populations are welcomed, receive equal justice under the law, and incorporate into their lives the fundamental social contract of Western societies, including tolerance, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech.”
In Iraq, he added, jihadists are contributing significantly to ethno-sectarian violence and the region’s destabilization. Violence between the Sunnis and the Shia, he said, “has become self-sustaining and spread to a wider range of confessional groups and actors.”
Nonetheless, said Negroponte, it will be up to the Iraqi leaders themselves to end the violence and create a functioning democracy. “Only if they seek to resolve their differences, reach compromises on important issues, and assert the state’s authority on the full range of political, security, and economic challenges facing Iraq, can they chart a successful path forward,” he said.
Responding to a question from the audience regarding the intelligence community’s failure to apprehend Osama bin Laden, Negroponte replied that while bin Laden remains at large, his actions have been significantly constrained.
“His scope of action has been narrowed; his organization has been degraded; he’s lost many of his closest collaborators. He and Zawahiri probably operate in a very confined kind of environment,” said Negroponte. “Obviously we’re not going to give up on our efforts to track him down.”