Michael Chertoff's gut is about to get some competition. The office of the Director of National Intelligence just gave word that it will declassify and release the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaeda tomorrow morning at 11. While a lot of speculation
has appeared over the last week over what the NIE assesses about al-Qaeda's regained strength in its safe haven of Waziristan, the estimate is titled "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland" -- suggesting that its focus is something short of a complete evaluation of al-Qaeda circa 2007.
To the extent that the NIE -- at least in public -- attempts to evaluate that threat, look to see how it weighs in on a key dispute. Among terrorism analysts, there's debate over whether al-Qaeda is more dangerous as a discrete network with some command elements still emanating from Osama bin Laden or as a global movement where any "franchisee" can take up the al-Qaeda banner and attack. Those on the Network side of the debate contend that al-Qaeda still requires experienced leadership and operatives to pull off catastrophic assaults (9/11, for instance), while those on the Movement side believe that what a more amorphous al-Qaeda is much harder to detect and disrupt, even if it doesn't have the same capabilities (the London and Madrid bombings, for instance). A subsidiary point of contention? Which model is more appropriate for the organization known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Perhaps tomorrow we'll start to get some answers.