WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., heard testimony Wednesday about current terrorist threats and praised the federal government’s top homeland security and intelligence officials for their cooperative work in thwarting several recent attacks planned by homegrown terrorists.
At a hearing entitled “Eight Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland,” Lieberman and Collins nevertheless warned that the U.S. cannot afford to let down its guard because clearly the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States remains as strong today as it was right after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
The FBI last week announced the arrests and indictments of several men in Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, and Illinois who were involved in four separate planned attacks. The arrest of Najibullah Zazi, who planned an attack in New York was the most significant disrupted terrorist case since 9/11, Lieberman said, because Zazi had been a legal permanent resident in the U.S. for years, had returned to his home country of Pakistan where he apparently was radicalized and received al Qaeda training, and then returned to the U.S. to carry out his plot.
“These cases realize our worst fears about homegrown Islamist terrorist attacks in America and in some respects our best hopes for how the government will defend us from them,” Lieberman said. “But this is no time to hold up a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign in our war against Islamist terrorists. Al Qaeda and their ilk continue to maintain a patient and hateful desire to attack the American people as well as most every other segment of humanity that does not share their fanatical theology, ideology, and ambition for conquest and suppression of freedom.”
Collins said: “Eight years removed from the attacks of September 11, 2001, our nation must remain vigilant against the Islamist terrorist threat we face. Recent cases drive home the reality of this threat. Four separate terrorist plots were uncovered in the past month alone. Disturbingly, the perpetrators in these recent cases are mostly homegrown terrorists. Law enforcement must work hand-in-hand with community leaders to understand the factors that caused these young men to travel half-way around the world to participate in terrorist attacks. Without this understanding, we cannot hope to break the cycle of violent radicalization. It is critical that we remain focused on the evolving and persistent threat of terrorism. We must not return to a pre-9/11 mentality.”
The hearing witnesses - Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter – said that communications and cooperation among federal agencies and between federal and state and local agencies had vastly improved since September 11, 2001. In part, the witnesses said, the improvement was due to joint federal, state, and local terrorism task forces and fusion centers and the 2004 reorganization of the intelligence community, which was written by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and sought to address intelligence, operational, communication, and coordination gaps exposed in the 9/11 Commission’s final report.
“The DHS, FBI, NCTC, DNI, CIA, NSA and many others worked smoothly with each other and state and local law enforcement to stop Zazi before he attacked,” Lieberman said. “They brought a wide range of resources – technical and human – brilliantly to bear on this case and literally connected the dots that led from New York to al Qaeda in South Asia and back to New York.”
Since December 2006, the Committee has held eight previous hearings on the threat of homegrown terrorism.