WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday heard from top government leaders about the increasing and evolving threat of violent Islamist extremism.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter confirmed what has become evident to the Committee over the past several years: the pace of homegrown and foreign-inspired terror incidents has increased dramatically.

“The threat to the homeland is evolving and in some sense is increasing,” Lieberman said. “But our defenses are evolving too. We are in a fight that we did not start. But now that we’re in it, we’re damn sure not going to lose it.

 “I have three observations about the evolution of homegrown and foreign-inspired radicalization. First, there has been a dramatic increase in the pace of homegrown and foreign-based incidents; second, more and more Americans are being recruited and are  joining the leadership ranks of al Qaeda and its affiliated groups; third, the internet has become the preferred way for American citizens to self-radicalize and for terrorists to indoctrinate and recruit new soldiers.

“The attacks that have occurred in the last year show the full range of threats we now face – from lone wolves motivated by terrorist leaders from abroad – as was the case of Nidal Hasan who killed 13 people at Fort Hood; to homegrown terror cells, such as the Raleigh Seven and the Fort Dix plotters; to inexperienced but potentially deadly operatives, including American citizens, who were directly trained by al Qaeda or its affiliates around the world, as was the case for the Christmas bomber and the Times Square bomber.

 “Our defenses are evolving to meet these new threats, and I am grateful for the 24/7 work, 365 days a year, that hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout government do to keep the American public secure at home. This is the greatest security challenge of our age and it will go on for a long time. We will not give up until we have defeated terrorism.”

 Collins said: “Today, nine years after the attacks of September 11, our government is challenged by the evolving nature of the terrorist threat. This Committee sounded the alarm regarding home-based terrorism in 2006 and has held 11 hearings on that topic since then.

 “Senator Lieberman and I warned that individuals within the United States could be inspired by al Qaeda’s violent ideology to plan and execute attacks, even if they do not receive direct orders from al Qaeda. Unfortunately, our warnings proved prescient.  In the past two years, our nation has seen an escalation in the number of terrorist attacks with roots based in our own country.  In fact, the Congressional Research Service found that since May of last year, arrests were made in 19 plots by U.S. residents, compared to 21 plots from 9/11/01 to last May.  That is an alarming increase.

“We must see the disparate attacks and changing tactics for what they are – separate parts of a greater, more dangerous pattern. The past two years have taught us, through harsh lessons, that we must increase our efforts. As the Report of the National Security Preparedness Group  report observed:  ‘It is fundamentally troubling’ that there remains no federal government agency or department specifically charged with identifying radicalization and interdicting the recruitment of U.S. citizens or residents for terrorism. We must redouble our efforts to better anticipate, analyze, and prepare. We must address what is quickly becoming a daunting and highly challenging crisis.”