WASHINGTON— High-ranking homeland and national security officials Wednesday discussed a persistent and evolving terrorist threat and provided updated information related to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in testimony before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, heard the testimony during the Committee’s annual hearing on threats to the homeland.

At the hearing, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen clarified that the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens was an act of terrorism and discussed the key issues that the intelligence community was assessing about this attack, including questions as to who carried out the attack and whether it was planned in advance.  Olsen indicated that the intelligence community was looking into the possibility that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, played a role in the attack 

FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins provided an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation of the attack, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discussed potential homeland threat implications of the film that has triggered protests and security breaches at many US embassies and consulates around the world.

 “We have made significant progress since the September 11th attacks toward increasing our security against an unusual and unprecedented threat,” said Sen. Lieberman.  “However, the attack in Libya reminds us that even though the core of Al Qaida has been seriously weakened, we still face threats from an evolving and fractious set of terrorist groups and individuals united by a common ideology, which is that of violent Islamist extremism.”

Collins said:  “Whatever the plots hatched by our enemies, I am also concerned about vulnerabilities that stem from our own the government’s actions or failure to act.  I would note the lack of security in Benghazi, the grave, self-inflicted wounds from intelligence leaks, and the failure to enact a cybersecurity bill.  There is also the genuine danger posed by the automatic, mindless cuts known as sequestration.  Absent a commitment by the President and Congress to avoid this disastrous policy, the budget of every federal agency represented here today – agencies charged with protecting our nation from terrorism and other disasters – will be slashed in an indiscriminate way, by eight percent or more, potentially affecting vital programs such as border security, intelligence analysis, and the FBI’s work.”

The witnesses also discussed growing cyber threats to the homeland.  Perkins noted that the United States is facing “increasingly complex threats” to its cybersecurity, including from nation-states, organized crime groups, and hackers.  He noted that these threats pose “a significant risk to our nation’s critical infrastructure.”  Senators Lieberman and Collins both highlighted the importance of continuing to work to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, given increasing cyber threats to our nation.  Senator Lieberman urged the Administration to issue an Executive Order on cybersecurity given congressional gridlock; witnesses acknowledged that an executive order was being developed but urged the Senate to continue working towards passage of comprehensive cybersecurity legislation