CTC: Much of the discourse surrounding the 9/11 anniversary tends to center around questions related to “Are we safer?” You’ve been on the record that our security has improved since that day. So if you look at it from the other side, specifically assessing the strength of our adversary on that day, al-Qa`ida, how would you assess their strength these days?
Brennan: Well, al-Qa`ida today is much different than it was on 9/11. Al-Qa`ida at that time was really based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Afghanistan mostly. And I think what we have done since 9/11 is to dismantle a large part of that core al-Qa`ida organization that was based in Afghanistan and pushed it out, and now it’s scattered in that area. But we have other elements of al-Qa`ida that have sprung up—as you know, al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], we have Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, al-Qa`ida in Syria. And you have al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb that is still out there. A lot of those elements of al-Qa`ida that have sprung up have really adopted much more of a localized agenda, so we see that there are several thousand al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula individuals, but they have been fighting mainly an insurgency down there. But there is still a very lethal terrorist element to it. Same thing with Jabhat al-Nusra; most of that is focused on trying to oust Assad. But we are concerned about their using Syria as a safe haven for attacks outside.
So over the last 15 years, al-Qa`ida has been diminished as a result of the great pressure that we’ve put on them in Af-Pak. However, they were able to gain some strength in some of these other areas. We now see that al-Qa`ida in Iraq has morphed into Daesh, or ISIL. So al-Qa`ida is still a very serious concern and threat, and the core of al-Qa`ida—[current al-Qa`ida leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri and others of that ilk—still think of the West as the major enemy. And as we know from looking at some of the things that came out of [Usama bin Laden’s] Abbottabad compound, I think bin Laden was very concerned about how many Muslims had died at the hands of al-Qa`ida and believed it was really tarnishing their brand and their purpose. So I do believe that they consider the United States to be a principal target.
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