EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of stories and opinion pieces previewing the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 17-20 in Aspen, Colorado. Follow the event on Twitter under @aspeninstitute and @natlsecuritycnn #AspenSecurity. John McLaughlin was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as deputy director and acting director from 2000-2004. He currently teaches at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
From John McLaughlin, Special for CNN
Terrorism experts inside and outside the government have been caught up in a debate about how close we may be to defeating al Qaeda and associated groups. As events have demonstrated so vividly in recent years, we are living in an era of continuous surprise, making this one of those questions that cannot be answered with confidence.
What can be said with absolute confidence is that today’s al Qaeda is fundamentally different from the one we knew for years. It has evolved from the hierarchical organization of September 2001 into what might be called a “network of networks.”
Interconnected, loosely-structured organizations are run by a series of al Qaeda affiliates scattered across the arc of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Some declare fealty to Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, while others merely take inspiration from the legacy his organization represents.
By Carol Cratty
A convicted terrorist was found guilty Thursday in North Carolina of plotting to kill witnesses who testified against him at his terror trial.
Hysen Sherifi, 28, was found guilty in Raleigh on nine counts of conspiring with his brother and a female friend to hire someone to kill the witnesses in retaliation for their 2011 trial testimony. Sherifi directed the plot from behind bars, prosecutors said.
"The trial evidence and testimony proved that from November 2011 through January 2012, Sherifi conspired to pay a hit man to murder and behead three witnesses and three law enforcement officers who testified against him," according to a news release from the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Prosecutors said Sherifi wanted revenge, hoped to get his conviction overturned and wanted to help one of his alleged terrorism conspirators who had not yet gone to trial.
The scheme was foiled as a result of a sting operation. In October 2011, Sherifi asked a fellow inmate in his North Carolina jail how to hire someone to commit the murders, according to testimony. The inmate told his lawyer and federal law enforcement officers about what Sherifi was up to. The government then secretly taped conversations between Sherifi and his fellow inmate in which Sherifi talked about wanting the witnesses killed.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.
CNN Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly talks with former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on how well the country is prepared for cyber and biological terror attacks. Secretary Chertoff now works in the private sector and as head of The Chertoff Group, which advises clients on current security needs within government.
CNN'S SUZANNE KELLY: What worries you most when it comes to potential terror attacks?
FORMER DHS SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I break it into two categories: things that could easily happen next week or next month, those relatively small scale attacks, for example, like Times Square or a shooting incident like the one involving Nidal Hasan. There is always a persistent threat out there and we know with what's been coming out of Yemen in the last two to three years, that they are still focused on carrying out these attacks.
In past months, dozens of convicted terrorists have been released in the UK, including onto the same London streets. Seldom since 9/11 has al Qaeda, though weakened, had such an opportunity to create carnage on the global stage. At the same time a no-holds barred fight for security is under way. It is unorthodox, but British officials say it is working, producing results which have never been seen before - and at its epicenter is a veteran Muslim cagefighter.
Over the last six months Usman Raja gave CNN's Nic Robertson and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank exclusive access to his pioneering efforts; speaking for the first time about his work with former terrorists.
Read their phenomenal reporting:
Just hours after the shooting spree in Colorado, federal authorities said they did not see any connection to terrorism. But as is often the case in these incidents, the definition of terrorist is maleable. In an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN's State of the Union, the governor of Colorado raised the question of whether the shooter should be considered a terrorist: FULL POST
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.
CNN Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly interviewed CNN contributor Fran Townsend, a former adviser to President George W. for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, on how terror threats are relayed and managed at the highest levels of the White House.
CNN: Describe the role of assistant to the president when it comes to managing issues of counterterrorism on a daily basis.
FRAN TOWNSEND: It's twofold. The first thing is that the individual is responsible for identifying and running a policy process related to that area in coordination with other agencies: everything from transportation security to disaster response, all the way through to interrogations. The whole host of policies related to terrorism is one substantial piece to that job, but then there's also an operational aspect, but not in the sense of directing operations, rather in coordinating them. That job was traditionally brought together by the (intelligence) agencies. Now, you've got an (National Counterterrorism Center) that basically does that for the White House. As a third thing, I would say there is a diplomatic role that that person plays, and that is to meet with senior members of foreign governments to make sure we are getting the cooperation we need. FULL POST
British government ministers fought back Sunday against accusations they had taken their eye off the Olympic security ball, rejecting accusations they were warned nearly a year ago about the security giant contracted to provide guards for the Games.
G4S, the security contractor, admitted on Wednesday that it would not be able to provide more than 10,000 security staffers by the time the Olympics begin in less than two weeks.
The government hurriedly announced it would bring in 3,500 military personnel to boost security for the Games.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of opinion articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.
By Jane Harman
"Too often since 9/11," then-Sen. Barack Obama said during the last presidential campaign, "the extremists have defined us, not the other way around." In a major counterterrorism policy speech at the Wilson Center in Washington, Obama vowed that would change if he became president. "We will author our own story," he said.
Unfortunately, one of the greatest security threats to this country continues to be the hijacking not only of our airplanes, but also of our national narrative.Many Americans think that the United States' primary role in the world is the projection of military might. And while the "hard power" represented by drone strikes and aircraft carriers is essential to our security, living and portraying our values is as - if not more - important in the long run.
The terrorists on the so-called "baseball cards" that the president and his advisers review before authorizing drone strikes are already beyond the point of no return -responsible either for directly killing Americans or inciting others to do so. FULL POST
By Adam Levine
Muslim extremists are more concerned with defending against foreign intrusion than foisting Islam on the world, according to a new study of extremist texts. The study suggests that a Western approach of claiming extremists are seeking world domination is misdirected, and instead should seek to counteract claims of victimhood.
"Continued claims to the contrary, by both official and unofficial sources, only play into a 'clash of civilizations' narrative that benefits the extremist cause. These claims also undermine the credibility of Western voices, because the audience knows that extremist arguments are really about victimage and deliverance," write the researchers, Jeffry Halverson, R. Bennett Furlow and Steven Corman.
By Dan Rivers and Jonathan Wald reporting from London
News that European intelligence agencies are searching for a so-called "clean-skin" al Qaeda operative with a European passport should not be surprising.
It has long been the ultimate terrorist weapon: a convert with no previous convictions, who is not "on the radar" of intelligence agencies. Yemen is currently a go-to destination for young Jihadis and al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula seeks to host clean-skins as it continues to attempt to attack the West. But there is no suggestion that this alleged plot is connected to the Olympics and the perpetrators may already have put their plans on hold, worried they are about to be discovered amid widespread news coverage.
The only tangential connection to Olympics is simply it may have happened in the same year as the games. But with Britain currently experiencing a credible terrorist plot about once a year, according to a recent speech by Jonathan Evans, the director general of Britain's domestic security service MI5, it's likely the authorities will uncover a plot involving Britain at some point in 2012, according to some experts. FULL POST