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September 29, 2006

Missing From the NIE: Afghanistan


by Paul Sperry

The media missed the real story regarding the National Intelligence Estimate of the global terror threat. It's not what's in the declassified executive summary of the report – Iraq, which was unavoidable – it's what's absent from it – Afghanistan, where the Taliban are making a frightening and bloody comeback.

No where in the released "key judgments" of the NIE will you find mention of Afghanistan or the Taliban. Yet the number of suicide bombings and roadside blasts from improvised explosives in Afghanistan has mushroomed by 600 percent this year, according to NATO. The Taliban say they have so many suicide bombers signed up to hit U.S. and other Western forces they can't even arm them all.

Granted, the NIE was written in April. But the resurgence in Afghan violence started well before that. And the NIE – titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" – is supposed to be forward-looking, predictive. Instead it's boilerplate.

The problems in Iraq are obvious. The U.S. intelligence community had no choice but to cite Iraq (no less than six times, in fact) in its NIE.

But tell us something we don't already know, like how the Taliban are retaking parts of southern Afghanistan. How Pakistan is the new base of operations for al-Qaeda leaders. How the invasion and occupation of Iraq has bought the Taliban and al-Qaeda time to regroup and launch new attacks – hitting not just Afghanistan but the heart of London.

The NIE is supposed to be the gold standard of intelligence, the best effort of 16 spy agencies. We pay them a collective $40 billion a year to warn the commander in chief and his security advisers about global threats. And the best they can come up with – after reportedly a year's worth of work – is pedestrian pap like, "We judge that [terror] groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support." Wow, you don't say. Good thing that nugget was classified – could have given the enemy ideas.

Our intelligence about the terror threat is pathetic. We still really know very little about these people and what they're planning.

We thought Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had lost a leg. We thought Osama bin Laden was killed in Tora Bora. We thought he was on the run. We thought he was hiding in a cave. We thought he was on dialysis. We thought he was 6'5". Now the French think he croaked from typhoid.

Please, until we have hard, on-the-ground human intelligence, we will continue to be buffeted by silly rumors. And we won't have hard intelligence until we penetrate al-Qaeda's inner circle, which will never happen while most of our best intelligence assets are bogged down in the false front of Iraq.

If intelligence is our best weapon against terrorism, we are doomed.

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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