National Intelligence Estimate ”Trends in Global Terrorism

As promised, the White House has declassified portions of the controversial National Intelligence Estimate that reportedly says the Iraq War has worsened the terrorist threat. The declassified portions, in their entirety:

Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States”

dated April 2006

Key Judgments

United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al- Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.

• Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

• If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.

• Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists. We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.

• We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland.

• The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings. We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

• The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight. We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.

• Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims—all of which jihadists exploit.

Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.

• The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution— an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world— is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

• Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

• Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.

Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

• The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements. We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qa’ida.

• Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.

• The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa’ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations. Other affiliated Sunni extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al-Sunnah, and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.

• We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the Homeland than does al-Qa’ida but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.

We judge that most jihadist groups—both well-known and newly formed—will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.

• CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups. While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.

Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.

• We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.

These findings are much less controversial taken in their entirety than the “Iraq War equals more terrorists” meme seized on by the NYT and WaPo when they reported on this. Indeed, my reaction to the “key findings” is basically, “Well, yeah. We’re actually paying people to come up with this?!”

UPDATE: While I frequently disagree with Hugh Hewitt, he nails it on this one: “The Times’ reporters and editors that ran Sunday’s stories were either chumps who got played by anti-Bush leakers, or purposefully deceptive agenda journalists from the anti-Bush fanatics division.”



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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Col. Clayton says:

    The NY Times shut be shut down and their editors thrown in jail.

  2. Bithead says:


    How many times over the last six years have we seen this kind of thing occur, where the actual report once released, didn’t live up to the headlines generated by the leak?

  3. Cernig says:

    Notice, please, that the great vulnerabilities the report identifies in the global jihadist movement are all areas where tanks, guns, bombers and big bludgeoning sticks are, contra uber-right recieved wisdom, absolutely useless. (Not that there is actually one global conspiracy, as the report points out – so much for the Clash of Civilizations conspiracy nuts.)

    Instead we have areas ideally exploited by either a conservative ethos of “ethical realism” or a moderate left “progressive realism”. Both share a preference for international cooperation, “hearts and minds” initiatives and repairing America’s bruised image abroad.

    Far from being “appeasement”, such realist but ethically-based versions of foreign policy are the only hope for success. The neocon “more war” method is destined to fail. That, my friends, is news. No matter what the neocons wish.

    Regards, C

  4. Tano says:

    Hey Col.

    Great address, given your comment. Imperial logic indeed. Methinks you’ve stumbled into the wrong country bud. I hear your ilk just took over Thailand. Maybe you would find that more hospitable. Great R&R too!

  5. legion says:

    Bear in mind, Bithead, that this is only the summary, as proffered by the Administration. I am withholding judgement until we see more of the _actual report_.

  6. Bithead says:

    Bear in mind, Bithead, that this is only the summary, as proffered by the Administration. I am withholding judgement until we see more of the _actual report_.

    An interesting idea, given so many were willing to operate based on the leak, as offered by anti-Administraton types, instead of waiting for the entire report.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Nice going Legion! Set up a condition that you know will not be met (for the next 25 years, anyway) and reserve your right to be indignant.

    How do they play football on your planet, what with the ever-moving goalposts?

  8. cian says:

    Good point James-

    “Well, yeah. We’re actually paying people to come up with this?!” –

    Even the guy on my local corner, the one with the involuntary twitch, who spends all day talking into his shoe, understands clearly that America fought a war it didn’t need to and lost the peace it had to win.

    However, he’s not yet demented enough to join with those who continue to believe the Bush admin is doing a good job. He’d need to stop taking his pills to master that one.

  9. LaurenceB says:

    It needs to be emphasized that this is only a redacted version of the NIE. These are the parts of the NIE that the Administration wants us to see.

    And conversely, the NY Times report naturally focused on the more sensational parts of the NIE – where it contradicts the Administration’s policy.

    That being the case, I think I’ll just stick to the position I held before the NIE report made the news – which is that it’s pretty obvious that terrorism has gotten worse as a result of the Iraq War.

    ‘Nuff said.

  10. madmatt says:

    So you seem to be all for publishing the fear sowing parts of the nie but not the competence aspects?

  11. legion says:

    You, over on your world, ‘know’ that anything published by the NYT is biased against Bush, regardless of the facts. I, over in my world, ‘know’ that anything released by the Bush administration is equally-spun the opposite direction. We can either stick to our pre-judged positions, or we can seek out more information.

    Many people in Congress are actually trying to get the rest of this NIE brought out into the light, and others, like Rep Harman of CA, are trying to get more actual info out of the intel community and into public debate.

  12. Vigilante says:

    This (partially de-classified) NIE certifies the un-provoked, unnecessary, largely unilateral invasion and unplanned occupation of Iraq (UULUIUOI) as a shipwreck in progress. Time to throw the deck furniture overboard.

  13. Anderson says:

    See Dan Drezner (who notes that Jane Harman calls the excerpt “broadly consistent” with the whole):

    Based on this NIE fragment … there is simply no way to claim, ceteris paribus, that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States more secure against terrorist attacks.”

    And that’s Drezner’s emphasis, not mine. Poor “chump.”

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Having read all of these comments, it is plain to see that many on the left side of the debate still use the previous administration as a template for this one. They used spin on everything, therefore Bush must be. Not. Those that think a socio-economic fix is in order do not understand the nature of the enemy. These are people who will sacrifice their children in there cause of spreading Islam globally. This fight started around 620 AD and reached the shores of the United States in 1993. Those who oppose war, any war will never find a reason to fight. That sad part is they spread their treason to others and lie their asses off. It is idiotic to claim the war in Iraq increased terrorism. During the 90’s the United States interests were struck time after time with little response. A lesson could have been learned from an earlier period of time, the 1930’s when another bad idea was expanding its territory and no action was taken against it. Since 9/11, the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, notice no further attacks on CONUS (continental United States). History judges results not rhetoric.

  15. Bithead says:

    “Based on this NIE fragment … there is simply no way to claim, ceteris paribus, that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States more secure against terrorist attacks.”

    And that’s Drezner’s emphasis, not mine. Poor “chump.”

    Poor Anderson, you mean.
    Because based on Drezner’s read, there is also no way to make the claim that we are NOT more secure, either… the paper comes down firmly on both sides of that fance, at least insofar as we’ve been able to see it, yet.