Last month the President and I received the latest National Intelligence Estimate. That report finds a "persistent and evolving" threat from terror groups, in particular al Qaeda. Their objective, as the NIE summary puts it, is to seek "prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the U.S. population."
We know, from tough experience and from ongoing intelligence activities, how this enemy aims to proceed -- by plotting in secret, by slipping into the country, exploiting any vulnerability that they can find, and by using every form of technology they can get their hands on. And this makes the war on terror as urgent and time-sensitive as any task the nation has ever taken on. As the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral McConnell , said recently, "The time needed to develop a terrorist plot, communicate it around the globe, and put it into motion has been drastically reduced. The time line is no longer a calendar, it is a watch."
The NIE summary also finds that the terrorists now consider our homeland to be a "harder target to strike than on 9/11." It's a relief that this country has been able to prevent further attempts to attack us here at home. Nobody can guarantee that we won't be struck again. But the fact that we've been this safe is not an accident of history or just a stroke of luck. It's because of a broad-based, unrelenting effort to protect this country -- an effort set in motion and led forward by the President of the United States , and by the tremendous work of some outstanding individuals in the Armed Forces, in the intelligence services, and in law enforcement.
Our government has used every legitimate tool to counter the activities of an enemy that likely has cells inside the country. We've improved security arrangements and reorganized the intelligence community. We've worked closely with friends and allies to track terrorist activity. And, yes, we have surveilled and interrogated the enemy. We will continue to do so, and for good reason. With our country targeted by terrorists, our government has a pressing duty to find out the intentions and the movements of these killers before it's too late.
That's a commitment President Bush has made, and we're pleased that Congress, this past weekend, approved legislation to give intelligence professionals the tools and the authority they need to operate for the next six months. But Congress needs to complete the task on a permanent basis before the end of the year. We must and we will keep this commitment for the clearest and simplest of reasons: It's our duty.
We have understood from the beginning that this is a different kind of war. It's not going to involve great air, sea, and land battles, where you advance over a line, take a city, raise the flag and have a surrender ceremony. This is a shadowy enemy, unbound by morality or the rules of war, operating in stealth, and setting up networks within networks. And so we have to proceed on many fronts and go on the offense against this danger -- to track it down and kill it wherever it grows.
The central front in the war on terror is Iraq . We are there because it is where lethal enemies have gathered. We are there because, after 9/11, we decided to deny terrorists any safe haven. We are there because, having removed Saddam Hussein, we promised not to allow another brutal dictator to rise in his place. And we are there because the security of this nation depends on a successful outcome -- an Iraq that can defend itself, govern itself, sustain itself and be a ally in the global war on terror.
The main battle in Iraq today is against al Qaeda. This, at times, is denied by those who are demanding an American retreat. They overlook the basic facts of the matter.
Our military estimates that 80 to 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda-sponsored terrorists. Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by a Jordanian named Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Before 9/11, Zarqawi ran a training camp in Afghanistan . After 9/11, he fled Afghanistan and went to Iraq . In 2004 he allied himself with al Qaeda and pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi was killed by American forces a year ago June. He was replaced by an Egyptian named Abu Ayyub. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a group founded by foreign terrorists. The leaders of this group have been the primary enemy of this country since the day we began fighting this global conflict.