How’d they do it? You already know how.

The threat assessment says that al Qaeda stepped up efforts to “improve its core operational capability” in late 2004 but did not succeed until December of 2006 after the Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with tribal leaders that effectively removed government military presence from the northwest frontier with Afghanistan.

That’s from the AP report on the threat assessment. Isikoff and Hosenball have a tip on the new National Intelligence Estimate, which is two years in the making and due out soon. Surprise:

The primary development that has allowed all this to happen, U.S. officials say, was the peace agreement signed last year between the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf and pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the remote region of North Waziristan. The withdrawal of Pakistani troops under that agreement gave Al Qaeda leaders new freedom to operate with relative impunity, officials said. “Clearly, they are resurgent,” said one senior U.S. intelligence official about Al Qaeda. (The official, who is familiar with the NIE’s findings, asked not to be identified because the document remains classified.)

I&H also independently confirmed the truth of this Blotter report from earlier today about dozens of FBI agents being sent out into the field to run down 700 leads gathered during this, ahem, “summer of chatter.” At least 100 of them come from the New York City area. The concern may or may not have to do with the report of a “small” AQ cell arriving in, or on its way to, the U.S. from — where else? — Pakistan. Supposedly Germany is worried too, but they have their eye on a different country:

A similar concern about possible threats from Iraqi jihadis seems to have prompted the recent decision by the German government’s Joint Counterterrorism Center (known in Germany as GTAZ) to set up an “Iraq travel movement project.”

German sources, who agreed to discuss the matter in exchange for anonymity, said the number of suspects whose movements are being tracked by the project is classified; that figure is also the subject of some debate in government circles. But it is “more than a handful,” according to one source. Another source said German authorities know “for sure” that there have been movements from their country to areas in Iraq where jihadi groups like AQI are believed to hold sway. “A number” of jihadi suspects who have returned to Germany after spending some time in Iraq are on the travel project’s radar screen, the source says…

Some suspects known to the project who have visited Iraq are believed to have “got a very good education” in jihadi ideology and tactics while there, one of the German sources said. Still, German authorities do not believe that jihadis returning from Iraq pose immediate attack threats. At the moment, said one source, known Iraq returnees appear to be “very calm.”

Regular HA readers had a heads up on this angle too going back to early May. One rumor claimed Ansar al-Sunna, a Wahhabist terror outfit based in Iraq, was targeting U.S. military bases, another had it that an Uzbek group was involved. Either way, trouble for Germany means trouble for us: according to the AP story, it’s one of four countries jihadis may be trying to infiltrate because of its participation in the U.S. visa waiver program.

Exit question: How does all this shake out for the left? Grim victory insofar as it proves Bush hasn’t done enough dismantle to AQ (irrespective of whether there’s anything else he could have done) or inadvertent defeat insofar as it reminds people of the threat from both branches of Al Qaeda just as the withdrawal debate is hitting the floor of the Senate? If you see more than the usual amount of questioning the timing among the paranoiac nutroots blogs, you’ll know it’s the latter.