WASHINGTON — Small and disparate groups of terrorists and individuals radicalized by militants over the Internet will be major challenges for the U.S. intelligence community in coming years, the nation's top intelligence adviser said Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said he is confident U.S. spy agencies can detect and prevent a Sept. 11-style attack. But stopping smaller, more piecemeal attacks will be harder, he said.
"We've got to raise our game," Blair said.
Radicalization is becoming a bigger problem, he said, including efforts aimed at Americans attracted to extremist ideologies through the Internet.
Blair's comments come as the intelligence community and other government agencies are still contending with criticism in the wake of the Christmas Day airliner attack. The incident is seen as a strong indicator of the kind of small, quickly designed plots that could pose trouble in the future.
Intelligence agencies are also dealing with the fallout from the devastating suicide bombing inside a CIA base in Afghanistan that killed seven agency employees last December.
Counterterrorism officials say that as al-Qaida's Pakistan-based core struggles to get financing and recruits, smaller offshoots in places like Somalia and Yemen are gaining support and followers. Those franchises are more likely to plot and wage smaller, less sophisticated attacks that are harder to detect and prevent.
Asked about federal agencies' ability to monitor or target Americans suspected in national security matters, Blair said that "on the domestic side, we have a lot more responsibility" to follow the law and careful procedures when Americans are involved.
But, he added, "we've got to go across that divide just as our enemies do. National intelligence includes what goes on in this country as well as what goes on overseas that threatens the United States."
U.S. officials created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to better coordinate the nation's intelligence agencies.
Blair spoke to reporters after a short ceremony marking the office's fifth anniversary. The heads of all 16 intelligence agencies, including those from the CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department, gathered for the event after their regularly scheduled meeting on national intelligence matters.