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Tenet Puts Bin Laden First Among a World of Threats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

CIA chief George J. Tenet, presenting the agency’s annual assessment of global dangers, said Wednesday that Osama bin Laden and his worldwide terrorist network pose “the most immediate and serious threat” to the United States.

Tenet, whose report coincided with the trial of four Bin Laden associates in New York, told Congress that the Islamic extremist has continued to develop surrogate groups with sophisticated capabilities.

Growing anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and Central Asia is increasing the pool of new terrorists, Tenet said. He warned that the Bin Laden network has been using the Internet and related technologies to spread its dogma, find recruits, raise money and plan operations.

The group has even developed a “rudimentary” capacity to wage a cyber-attack, he said.

“Since 1998, Bin Laden has declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack,” Tenet said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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U.S. officials have linked Bin Laden to the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, last year’s bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen and foiled plots for attacks in the United States and Jordan to mark the turn of the millennium.

“As shown by the bombing of our embassies in Africa in 1998 and his millennium plots last year, he is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning,” Tenet said.

Addressing other national security risks, Tenet warned that Russia, China and North Korea are accelerating the spread of missiles and chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry through distribution of their technologies. He put particular emphasis on the way Russia has contributed to weapon proliferation in its search for new sources of revenue.

He said Russian businesses and government organizations have supplied ballistic missile parts and know-how to Iran, India, China and Libya. Sales to Iran were “substantial” in 2000, he said, “and in our judgment will continue to accelerate Iranian efforts to develop new missiles and to become self-sufficient in production.”

He said Russia has been a key supplier of equipment for civilian nuclear power programs in Iran, noting that the equipment “could be used to advance its weapons programs as well.” He said Russia also has exported “dual-use” biotechnology and chemical equipment with military and civilian capabilities.

China, meanwhile, has developed the ability to launch intercontinental missiles, and the same is “probably” true of Iran and “possibly” of Iraq, Tenet said.

Tenet said China increased its exports of missile technology to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Libya in recent years and should be watched carefully to see if its leaders will abide by the terms of a nonproliferation pledge they made in November.

Tenet said North Korea, despite a new openness, has actually been increasing its military capabilities.

He was generally gloomy about prospects in the Middle East, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “has grown more confident in his ability to hold on to his power.”

Tenet said there is a serious threat that Hussein will restore his capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, both to enhance his aura of authority and to counter similar programs by other governments in the region. He said the Iraqis have already rebuilt key portions of their chemical production infrastructure.

In Iran, he said, “prospects for near-term political reform are now fading” because of resistance from the nation’s fundamentalist religious establishment.

Tenet expressed concern about growing volatility in Mideast states with endemic poverty and rapidly increasing populations. Egypt, for example, produces 600,000 new job applicants a year in a country where unemployment is near 20%, he said.


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