Twice in the past two days, President Barack Obama has had the core premise upon which the foreign and national security policies of his administration have been based for nearly six years – that the “tide of war is receding” due to the decimation of the terrorist threat and the improved standing of the United States around the world – openly contradicted by two senior members of his administration.
On Monday, it was President Obama’s new FBI Director James Comey who told the New York Times that he just didn’t appreciate how serious a terrorist threat the United States still faced until he began seeing the daily intelligence briefs.
Tuesday it was General Keith Alexander, the recently retired director of the National Security Agency who told Mattathias Schwartz of The New Yorker magazine that not only has the terrorist threat against America not receded, it has gotten worse. Based upon “what I saw at the NSA,” General Alexander is quoted as saying, “there is a lot more coming our way.”
General Alexander should know of what he speaks. In addition to his eight years as the head of NSA, he ran the Pentagon’s Central Security Office as well as commanding the US Cyber Command office.
Despite the tremendous advances made by the US intelligence community since 9/11 and its extraordinary record at disrupting plots, Alexander says the US is at even greater risk. “Look at the way Al Qaeda networks,” he says before citing a growing list of examples. “From Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, and now in Syria, the al-Nusra front.”
The new “decentralized” al-Qaida is not a mark of its weakness, says Alexander, but its strength and resilience. “You can say those are distant countries,” he claimed, “but a lot of these groups are looking to attack the United States.”
Left unremarked was what role, if any, premature US pullouts from Iraq and Afghanistan have upon the renewed capacities, capabilities, and zones of safe operation of America’s most virulent enemies.