The warning comes at a time when the United States is involved in two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, sending troops to Haiti to aid victims of the earthquake disaster, and the Congress has been stalemated on matters of budget spending.
A new twist will likely take place in the type of attack from Al Qaeda, the Hill reported Panetta told Congress. He believes an attack is imminent and maintains Al Qaeda will use recruits that are said to have "low or clean profiles." In other words, the folks signed up for potential attack will be the kind that could more easily slip through the nation's security nets.
Panetta said this on Tuesday at the Senate Intelligence Committee's annual threat assessment hearing. His warning is supported by FBI Director, Robert Mueller, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Both agencies believe attacks will take place within the next three to six months. The failure to "connect the dots", according to Panetta, on the failed attack that occurred on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit shows how some people will be able to get past security to find ways to cause terror.
The problem of coordinating information, especially when it is known and available, is a key concern for security officials. As Newsweek's Mark Hosenball reported
A single intelligence community database operated by the CIA, known by the code name "Hercules," held all the "bits and pieces" of intelligence that White House officials believe could have led U.S. authorities to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before last Dec. 25, according to current and former counterterrorism officials. However, even though all the raw information was in a single computer system, "all source" intelligence analysts at the CIA and National Counterterrorism Center, which both had access to "Hercules," were unable to assemble the intelligence scraps in time to prevent Abdulmutallab from boarding his Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underpants.
As the CIA underlines the serious potential for a terrorist attack,
there have been other warnings issued that spell out how complex and worrisome the threat really is. The link established between Al Qaeda and drug trafficking reflects concern about the money flow in support of terrorism, a problem that is growing and continuing to threaten the nation's security according to an Algerian security specialist. The alliance between drug barons and Al Qaeda has been spelled out by security officials in Africa and the Middle East reports Magharebia, an online Algerian news source that writes,
"The involvement of al-Qaeda in the drugs trade does not come as a surprise," Maghreb affairs expert Nasr El Din Ben Hadid told Magharebia. "They adopt the principle of 'the ends justify the means'."
"The fact that terrorist groups have resorted to the trafficking of drugs is an open secret," agreed Amine Kirem, an Algerian researcher on Islamic movements.
"Investigations carried out by the special services in Algeria have highlighted a very close relationship between terrorist groups and drug barons," he explained, adding that terrorists are using the illegal drug trade to buy weapons and explosives.
A major problem in all this is the concern that while the U.S. now focuses its attention on Haiti, security issues could slip past. As Homeland Security Watch
The devastation in Haiti remains at the front of media and human attention.
But homeland security does not allow one to pay attention only to one issue at a time.
Panetta made it clear in his report the risks of not paying attention, especially when an attack is imminent. He and others remind us that while we worry about Haiti and other problems in the world, we need to know that Al Qaeda has the financial resources, connections, determination and ideas to carry out its plans.