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Wednesday, January 27, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Report: Al Qaida still focused on WMD strike as 'worthy follow-up to 9/11'

WASHINGTON — Al Qaida has become the only insurgency group advancing toward an unconventional weapons attack capability against the West, a report said.   

The report by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs said Al Qaida was steadily heading toward a mass-casualty strike through the use of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

[On Jan. 26, a panel established by Congress asserted that the United States was not prepared for a biological weapons strike. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation said the administration of President Barack Obama has failed to appoint an official responsible for defending the United States against a BW insurgency attack.]

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Authored by a former U.S. intelligence veteran, the report argued that Al Qaida was refraining from conducting anything but a spectacular attack in the United States that would exceed that in 2001.

"It would surely be hard for Al Qaida to lower the bar they set on 9/11: what would constitute a worthy follow-up to 9/11, on their terms?" the report asked. "What would they achieve through another attack? There are few weapons that would meet their expectations in this regard."

Titled "Al Qaida Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?" the report cited the prospect of Al Qaida's use of anthrax or biological pathogens. Another attack option was the use of a nuclear weapon acquired by Al Qaida.

"To complicate matters further, an attack on the scale of 9/11 is more difficult to accomplish in an environment of heightened security and vigilance in the U.S.," the report by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs said.

Author Rolf Mowatt-Larssen spent about 25 years in the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA and Energy Department. In 2001, following the suicide air strikes in New York and Washington, Mowatt-Larssen was directed to launch a study to determine whether Al Qaida could acquire or develop nuclear weapons. Two years later the U.S. intelligence community intercepted communications by Al Qaida operatives in Saudi Arabia that spoke of the acquisition of several nuclear weapons.

The report stressed that Al Qaida's intentions to use weapons of mass destruction did not constitute mere rhetoric. Osama Bin Laden was said to have made the acquisition of biological weapons a priority of the leadership.

"Al Qaida's patient, decade-long effort to steal or construct an improvised nuclear device flows from their perception of the benefits of producing the image of a mushroom cloud rising over a U.S. city, just as the 9/11 attacks have altered the course of history," the report, released on Jan. 25, said. "This lofty aim helps explain why Al Qaida has consistently sought a bomb capable of producing a nuclear yield, as opposed to settling for the more expedient and realistic course of devising a 'dirty bomb,' or a radiological dispersal device."

Mowatt-Larssen said Al Qaida deputy chief Ayman Zawahiri, who at one point hired two Asian scientists, has been responsible for the development of the movement's anthrax program. The report said anthrax marked an alternative to a nuclear attack should Al Qaida determine that an atomic bomb could not be assembled.

The report said the Al Qaida leadership was not believed to have been involved in chemical weapons strikes, such as a plot to emit cyanide gas in the New York City subway system in 2003. Such attacks, the report said, were not regarded as strategic.

"On the contrary, Zawahiri canceled the planned attack on the New York City subway for 'something better,' suggesting that a relatively easy attack utilizing tactical weapons would not achieve the goals the Al Qaida leadership had set for themselves," the report said.

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