Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Terror Threat to U.S. Airports Said to Grow as al-Qaeda Rebounds

  • Former CIA official sees risk from domestic, foreign paths
  • Terrorists will continue targeting aviation for generations

The threat to U.S. airports from terror groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State is expected to grow because of instability in parts of the Middle East and Asia, a former high-ranking intelligence official said Thursday.

The focus on fighting Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has allowed al-Qaeda and its offshoots to “rebound” in countries including Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

At the same time, as Islamic State loses territory in Syria and Iraq, the tens of thousands of its fighters who poured in from other countries will leave, and some will try to infiltrate the U.S., Morell said.

“The threat is actually going to get worse over the next several years,” Morell said in an appearance at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Summit in Washington.

While the threat emanates from groups based in the Middle East and Asia, Morell said more than 80 percent of the people arrested by the FBI on terrorist-related charges in the past three years were U.S. residents, and the majority of them were citizens.

Airport operators and the Transportation Security Administration need to be aware of insiders, possibly inspired by al-Qaeda and Islamic State, he said.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS often concentrate on attacking symbols of the modern world, and airports are at the “center of that target zone,” he said. So-called lone wolf terrorists may not be as focused on the aviation system, but airports remain a prime target because they draw large numbers of people, he said.

Morell served as deputy director at the CIA from 2010 to 2013. He is a senior counselor at the advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies LLC, according to its website.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE