CIA official says Syria crisis a top threat to US security

‘Volatile mix of al-Qaeda extremism and civil war’ is most pressing world issue, says intelligence agency’s second in command

Outgoing Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Morell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Outgoing Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Morell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The war in Syria has become a top threat to US security, a top CIA official warned this week, adding that should the country — with its chemical and other advanced weapons — collapse, it could become another safe haven for al-Qaeda, like Pakistan.

“Syria’s volatile mix of al-Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to US national security,” Michael Morell, the Central Intelligence Agency’s second in command told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Morell is preparing to retire from his post Friday after 33 years of service.

He assessed that there were now more foreign fighters joining al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Syria than there were in Iraq at the height of the war there.

The government’s weapons “are going to be up for grabs and up for sale,” just as in Libya, he said.

“It’s probably the most important issue in the world today, because of where it is currently heading,” and the potential for a massive spillover into Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, Morell added.

On al-Qaeda, the top official said that the US has “significantly degraded” the terror group’s capabilities in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The assessment came just a few days after the US extended the closure of some of its diplomatic missions across the Middle East and Africa, following warnings of an al-Qaeda attack.

Intercepted communications between group members triggered the mass closures,a travel warning to US citizens, as well as the order to evacuate all US citizens from Yemen.

Morell acknowledged that the terror group has scored some victories, such as the spread of its ideology and global reach.

“Even while the core al-Qaeda group may be in decline, al-Qaeda-ism, the movement’s ideology, continues to resonate and attract new adherents,” Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, wrote in a research paper this year, quoted by AP.

AP contributed to this report.

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