Counterterror head says US not 'tactically' safer following invasion of Iraq
The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the primary US organization responsible for analyzing terror threats, told NBC News that the nation is probably not "tactically" safer from the threat of terrorism following the invasion of Iraq.
Asked by reporter Richard Engel if the war in Iraq had created a "giant recruiting tool" for terrorists, Center head Scott Redd said that "in the short term, that is probably true. But the question is you've got to look at this, I believe, in the long term strategic view."
"Tactically, probably not," Redd said in response to a question about whether the US is generally safer after having invaded Iraq. "Strategically, we'll wait and see."
An investigation by Engel into the motives of accused terrorists in Iraq -- many of whom previously held ordinary jobs prior to the US invasion -- indicated that America's presence in the country was a motivating factor in inspiring attacks.
Interviewing prisoners at a police detention center in Baghdad, Engel found that "to a man, each one says that it's the American occupation of Iraq that has driven him to violence."
"An aggressor occupied my country, destroyed it and made millions refugees. It is an honor to fight this," said one detainee, a construction company owner who admittedly attacked US troops.
"The US says this is war is part of a global war on terrorism," said another man, an imprisoned engineer. "But people here say the war has increased fanaticism and brought terrorism to Iraq."
"It's the same message Al Qaeda fighters and supporters have told NBC News in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia," Engel's report continued. "But in Washington a month ago, we found a completely different message."
In a conversation with chief White House counterterrorism advisor Fran Townsend, the reporter was told that the US was not at an increased security risk because of Iraq.
"The threat level would have continued regardless of whether or not we were in Iraq, and in some ways I think the threat level would have been worse, because we would have had them there," said Townsend.
"It would have been worse had we not invaded Iraq?" Engel clarified.
"Absolutely," Townsend said.
In an interview with MSNBC about his investigation, Engel said that his conversations with Middle East terrorists indicate that the war has "given a whole new younger generation a fight that they can go to."
"Iraq, they can actually come here, they can take part in it and then go back to their home countries, " he said. "According to analysts we have spoken to and members of the organizations, they say the war in Iraq has helped Al Qaeda tremendously."
The following video clips are from NBC Nightly News, broadcast on October 14, and MSNBC's News Live, broadcast on October 15.