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Intelligence Official Contradicts Bush: ‘Primary’ Terrorist Threat Is From ‘South Asia,’ Not Iraq

By Satyam Khanna  

"Intelligence Official Contradicts Bush: ‘Primary’ Terrorist Threat Is From ‘South Asia,’ Not Iraq"

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On Tuesday, President Bush delivered an address claiming that al Qaeda in Iraq is the central terror threat to the United States:

Here’s the bottom line: Al Qaida in Iraq is run by foreign leaders loyal to Osama bin Laden. … We are fighting bin Laden’s al Qaida in Iraq; Iraq is central to the war on terror; and against this enemy, America can accept nothing less than complete victory.

Top U.S. intelligence officials testifying before the House yesterday explained that Bush’s monolithic conception of al Qaeda does not represent their views. As NPR reported, “none of the officials testifying would put it quite the way President Bush has.”

In rare testimony, Edward Gistaro, “a principal author” of the recent National Intelligence Estimate, said the “primary concern” today comes from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CRAMER: So then, if, as the NIE reflects, we are concerned about a threat to the homeland here, who calls that shot from al Qaeda?

GISTARO: Primary concern is al Qaeda in South Asia, organizing its own plots against the United States.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/07/gistaro83.320.240.flv]

Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) pressed Gistaro to parse out the connections between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a subject of extensive public interest in recent weeks. While Gistaro acknowledged that “al Qaeda n Iraq is an affiliate organization to al Qaeda in South Asia,” he asserted that “we’re dealing with an Al Qaida that has a decentralized command-and-control structure. And I don’t want to leave a false impression that we’re talking about a monolithic organization.”

Spencer Ackerman has more.

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Transcript:

CRAMER: So, based on what I’ve heard so far, are you saying that al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq are one and the same organization?

GISTARO: Sir, the way the relationship is described in the NIE is that al Qaeda in Iraq is an affiliate organization to al Qaeda in South Asia.

CRAMER: So — let me help you with that. Then the answer to that is, yes, they’re basically one and the same organization?

GISTARO: Sir, I think, you know, as the president described yesterday, we’re dealing with an Al Qaida that has a decentralized command-and-control structure. And I don’t want to leave a false impression that we’re talking about a monolithic organization.

CRAMER: So then, if, as the NIE reflects, we are concerned about a threat to the homeland here, who calls that shot from al Qaeda?

GISTARO: Primary concern is Al Qaida in South Asia, organizing its own plots against the United States. What we’re concerned about is that AQI, as the most visible and capable affiliate of Al Qaida, has also expressed an interest in attacking inside the United States.

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