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Security officials look ahead to '09

The transition to a new president could present vulnerabilities for terrorists to exploit.

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With the nation's intelligence analysts warning that a resurgent Al Qaeda could attempt another strike in the United States, homeland-security officials are refocusing on some of the nation's most apparent vulnerabilities.

At the top of the list is the January 2009 transition to a new administration – when a changing of the guard may leave the country less able to respond quickly and decisively to an attack.

The issue has gained urgency with last month's attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow, which occurred just days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown assumed power.

Homeland-security and intelligence analysts in the US are analyzing the factors that have allowed Al Qaeda, characterized as "on the run" by President Bush last year, to recover enough to allow it to continue to be a serious threat to the next administration.

"Our preoccupation with Iraq provided Al Qaeda with breathing space at probably what was the most critical time for them to enable them to reconstitute themselves," says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University in Washington. "The other question boils down to our relationship with Pakistan: Al Qaeda would not have been able to revive had they not had the safe haven that they seem to enjoy in these tribal areas of Pakistan." [Editor's note: The original version misstated Mr. Hoffman's institutional affiliation.]

To cope with a reconstituted threat, homeland-security and intelligence officials are working to ensure an experienced set of civil servants are at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security's 30 agencies as well as in US intelligence agencies on Jan. 20, 2009. The goal is to ensure that the handoff of power to a new administration is as smooth as possible.


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