Porter Goss, in his first public statements since taking up the post of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said US citizens and interests across the globe remain at risk, particularly in the Middle East and Asia.

He also said terrorists, hardened by their experience of fighting in Iraq, are regrouping for possible new strikes.

Giving few specific examples, he backed claims by the administration of President George W Bush that Iran poses a serious security threat to US.

“Iran continues its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in Congress.

“Iran continues to support terrorist groups in the region such as Hezbollah,” he said.

According to Mr Goss, Tehran is sheltering key al-Qaeda members and has been supporting “anti-coalition activities in Iraq in seeking to influence the future character of the Iraqi state.”

A week after North Korea publicly acknowledged it had nuclear weapons, Mr Goss warned the North could resume long range missile testing.

“North Korea continues to develop, produce, deploy and sell ballistic missiles with increasing range of sophistication,” he said.

He added “North Korea has active (chemical weapons) and (biological weapons) programs … ready for use.”

He also claimed the al-Qaeda network remains a serious terrorist threat, but is vulnerable after “serious blows” by the CIA.

“Despite these successes, however the terrorist threat to the US in the homeland and abroad endures,” he warned.

He said it is a “matter of time before al-Qaeda used chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons in an attack.”

“We know from experience that Al-Qaeda is a patient, persistent, imaginative, adapted, dangerous opponent – but it is vulnerable and displaced.”

It was a message echoed by senior members of the government.

While he offered few specifics, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned the government could reasonably predict attacks would come from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other means.

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