THE NEW NIE….The U.S. intelligence community released a new NIE today about terrorist threats, and it turns out to say….nothing. Really. It’s less than 800 words long, and basically says that al-Qaeda’s operational capability is “constrained” but they still hate us and will mount an attack on the American homeland if they can. That’s about it. Read it yourself if you think I’m exaggerating.

So what’s the point? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling the whole thing might be nothing more than a setup for the final paragraph:

The ability to detect broader and more diverse terrorist plotting in this environment will challenge current US defensive efforts and the tools we use to detect and disrupt plots. It will also require greater understanding of how suspect activities at the local level relate to strategic threat information and how best to identify indicators of terrorist activity in the midst of legitimate interactions.

Translation: we need more surveillance capability, more data mining capability, more federal control, and expansions of the Patriot Act that lower the bar for searches and seizures. That’s my guess, anyway. But maybe I’m just being paranoid.

Also worth noting: No mention anywhere of Iran as a source of terrorist threats. Pakistan is mentioned, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is mentioned, but that’s about it. In other words, the main continuing threats to the American homeland come from (a) tribal areas near Afghanistan that became al-Qaeda strongholds due to our failure to prevent their retreat five years ago, and (b) AQI, which is largely a creation of the invasion of Iraq. Our war plans aren’t going so well under President Bush, are they?

UPDATE: Richard Clarke says you have to understand what’s missing from the report to understand what it’s really saying:

The 2006 version of the National Intelligence Estimate claimed U.S. efforts had “seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations.”

“That’s no longer the case in 2007, and you have to read between the lines to understand how we have lost ground,” Clarke says.