The US Central Intelligence Agency has warned that US counterterrorist operations around the world may not eliminate the threat of future attacks because they fail to address the root causes of terrorism, according to new documents.
In an unusual display of candor, the CIA pointed out that continued instability in Afghanistan, challenges facing Saudi rulers and the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict were likely to fuel radicalism in the Muslim world.
The grim assessment was made in a series of written answers to questions posed by members of the US Congress last April that were released to the general public on Tuesday.
It is likely to reinforce the emerging view that the CIA may have had a falling out with some members of the administration of President George W. Bush on key foreign policy issues.
Earlier this month, CIA Director George Tenet caused a stir here by predicting that, if cornered, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was more likely to resort to weapons of destruction -- the very outcome a proposed US invasion of Iraq is meant to ward off.
But as the administration continued to flesh out plans to use Iraqi dissidents in toppling the Baghdad government, the CIA cautioned in its answers to lawmakers that the Iraqi army remains "capable of defeating more poorly armed internal opposition groups."
As for hopes that members of the Iraqi elite will revolt against Hussein as soon as the United States launches an invasion, the agency pointed out that senior Iraqi officials "view their fortunes as tied to Saddam and their allegiance is probably bolstered by the regime's decade long propaganda campaign against UN sanctions and the West."
The CIA has been at the forefront of the war on terror launched by Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks blamed on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.
But as it ferreted out terrorist cells, the agency appeared to sound a pessimistic note about the general direction of the effort.
"While we are striking major blows against al-Qaeda -- the preeminent global terrorist threat, the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist," the CIA said.
"Several troublesome global trends -- especially the growing demographic youth bulge in developing nations whose economic systems and political ideologies are under enormous stress -- will fuel the rise of more disaffected groups willing to use violence to address their perceived grievances," it added.
More than 1,300 Islamic radicals suspected of association with al-Qaeda have been arrested in over 70 countries since the beginning of the war on terror, according to US officials.
These successes notwithstanding, the CIA expressed doubt about the US ability to stabilize Afghanistan and choke off terrorist finances any time soon.
It said the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda were "well-placed to co-opt local or tribal leaders and use them to re-establish a base from which to challenge" the central Afghan government.
As for the terrorists' financial base, CIA officials warned it was broader that previously described and concluded: "we will never be able to stop all terrorist money flows."
With violence raging in the Middle East, Bush is also pushing for leadership change in the Palestinian Authority, accusing its leader, Yasser Arafat, of failing the peaceful aspirations of his own people.
But according to the CIA, Arafat's departure will have quite the opposite effect.
It said a successor to Arafat "will have neither the power base nor the leadership qualities necessary to wield full authority."
"Challenged to consolidate control and unable to match Arafat's ability
to unite Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Diaspora, a new
leadership would be more beholden to the sentiment of the Palestinian "street"
and less likely to show moderation toward a Palestinian-Israeli peace process,"
the CIA warned.