Those who want to comprehend the import of the new National Intelligence Estimate on the terrorist threat have two choices. They can look at the dispatch by our Eli Lake on page one of yesterday's Sun, which reported its conclusion that one of two known Al Qaeda leadership councils meets regularly in eastern Iran. Or they can go with the version being retailed by the official briefer of the press, Ted Gistaro, who, when asked about Mr. Lake's report yesterday, went out of his way to mumble something about how he didn't know anything about it.
Our advice is go with Mr. Lake. One of the hottest potatoes in the intelligence community right now is the gathering evidence that not only is Iran operating against us in Iraq but that leaders of Al Qaeda are operating against us from inside Iran. This is not information anyone is eager to put his or her name to, lest they get accused of ginning up support for a war. We'll leave it to those in a higher pay grade to decide whether there ought to be a war. But Mr. Lake's assignment is to cut to the facts, and the fact is that our intelligence community has concluded that Al Qaeda leaders are operating inside Iran.
The intelligence community diverges, as Mr. Lake reported yesterday, on the extent to which the hosting of senior leaders in Iran represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran's Quds Force, the terrorist units that report directly to Iran's supreme leader. But the picture is increasingly clear that one of the two councils that run Al Qaeda — they're known as Shura Majlis — meets in eastern Iran in a network established after Al Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan in 2001. One of participants in the Shura Majlis in Iran is Saad bin Laden.
Recognize the last name? It's one of Osama's sons and is, some analysts believe, his heir apparent. In other words, the maneuverings being carried out in Iran by Al Qaeda are not merely the comings and goings of the odd messenger. It is a far more serious thing, according to the picture being sketched for Mr. Lake. And at some point it is going to have to be confronted, either militarily, by covert means, or — though it's not much of a prospect at the moment — political or diplomatic means. If we've learned one thing from all the intelligence controversies over the years, the worst thing we can do is take the blandishments of intelligence analysts as gospel.