Despite recent reports of a wounded al-Qaeda core, the terrorist organization's affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere appear to be gaining strength. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban -- al-Qaeda's close ally -- also continue to pose a growing challenge.
The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence invited Richard Barrett to discuss these issues at a special Policy Forum. This event is part of the Institute's ongoing lecture series with senior counterterrorism officials.
Over the past few years, Mr. Barrett noted, the pace of attacks perpetrated by the al Qaeda network has slackened, due to challenges internal to al Qaeda as well as improvements on the national security front. Most critically, intelligence collection – in particular the ability to penetrate terrorist networks and collect human intelligence —has steadily improved. Counterterrorism officials today have learned from past mistakes, have better intelligence, and a clearer understanding of the threat.
Today, there are fewer individuals engaged in terrorism, and new recruits are often not as skilled or ideologically committed. For al Qaeda, today’s key audience is comprised of young adults now in the late teens and twenties for whom 9/11 was less a personal experience than a learned memory. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s international image has deteriorated into one that is unsustainable.
Groups that subscribe to al-Qaeda’s ideology increasingly preoccupy themselves with parochial concerns that are local, not global. Al-Qaeda’s emphasis of global issues is becoming dated as local issues begin to play a more substantial role in determining the sequence of events. Public opinion, too, has turned against al-Qaeda for the most part. Surveys indicate while anti-Americanism has not decreased in recent years, support for al-Qaeda and its tactics has.
A transcript of Mr. Barrett's full remarks is available here, and an audio of this event is available here.