President Barack Obama repeatedly asserted during the 2012 campaign that al-Qaida had been "decimated" and was "on the run," but according to remarks made by a senior intelligence official, "it's exponentially growing."
"It's not on the run, and that ideology is actually ... sadly, it feels like it's exponentially growing," Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said Saturday
at the Aspen Institute's Security Forum.
Flynn said the current terrorist threat is not coming from a collection of lone actors, but from a well-financed and cohesive group that is effective at exploiting young jihadists.
"These organizations that are out there that are well-organized, they are well-funded, they reach into these young people and they pull them in," Flynn said. "And there seems to be more and more of them today than there were when I first started this thing in post 9/11."
Flynn has served as the assistant director of national intelligence for partner engagement; the top intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the director of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command.
In August 2013, Obama was challenged during a press conference
about his contention that core al-Qaida had been decimated.
"So it's entirely consistent to say that this tightly organized and relatively centralized al-Qaida that attacked us on 9/11 has been broken apart and is very weak and does not have a lot of operational capacity, and to say we still have these regional organizations like AQAP [al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula] that can pose a threat, that can drive potentially a truck bomb into an embassy wall and can kill some people," Obama said.
Flynn took issue with use of the term "core al-Qaida" when differentiating between current threats and those that existed in the period immediately after 9/11.
Rather than core al-Qaida representing individuals, Flynn said that it is much broader, encompassing the "core belief" that the terrorists hold.
"My belief — so this is Mike Flynn — core al-Qaida is the ideology. Al-Qaida command and control is where the senior leadership resides. So al-Qaida command and control resides today — [Ayman] Zawahiri — over in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], Pakistan," Flynn said.
Addressing the intelligence community's apparent lack of awareness concerning the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Flynn said the speed of the incursion into Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, "caught us by surprise."
But, he added, the "warning signs were there and I know that we saw this for the last couple of years."
Also attending the Aspen Conference was Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
, who was asked how his department was working to ensure that no terrorists were crossing the border along with the thousands of Central American immigrants. He said there was "very, very little indication" of threats entering the United States.
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