WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, Wednesday issued the following joint statement in reaction to the Administration’s release of a national strategy to counter violent, homegrown extremism and terrorism.
“Over the past two years, we have seen a sharp escalation in the number of homegrown terrorist plots, in some cases by ‘lone wolf’ self-radicalized Americans, in others by residents who had direct contact with Al Qaeda affiliates. The Congressional Research Service has reported that, between May 2009, and July 2011, arrests were made in connection with 31 ‘homegrown’ plots by American citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States. By comparison, in the more than seven years from September 11, 2001, through May 2009, there were only 21 such plots.
“That’s why we have repeatedly called on the Bush and Obama Administrations to develop an effective plan to deal with homegrown terrorism.
“So, we appreciate the Administration’s new plan to engage communities throughout America in this important aspect of homeland defense, however, we are concerned that the plan does not designate a lead agency – an individual in charge — to ensure accountability and effectiveness.
“The Administration must now quickly produce an implementation plan showing what specific actions should be taken and by whom, who is in charge, what resources are needed, and how to assess progress in countering the terrorist ideology. A detailed implementation plan that focuses on violent Islamist extremism – the greatest threat we face today – is necessary for effective and efficient government action.
“We continue to be disappointed that the Administration remains reluctant to identify violent Islamist extremism as the main cause of the homegrown terrorist threat. To understand this threat and counter it, we must not shy away from making the sharp distinction between a major religion followed by millions of law abiding Americans and a twisted ideology.
“We are also disappointed that the new strategy does not have greater emphasis on the challenges posed by the Internet, which has been a major source for the radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization of recent homegrown Islamist extremists. The Administration’s promised implementation plan should include a significant effort to counter this on-line threat.”
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has a long record of concern about homegrown violent Islamist extremism and terrorism. It has held more than a dozen hearings on homegrown Islamist terrorism over the past five years. It also released a report in 2008 on the role of the Internet in radicalization and recruitment and an investigative report in 2011 detailing the federal government’s failure to prevent the Fort Hood attack.
The 2008 report called on the previous Administration to develop a national strategy to combat violent Islamist extremism, as did the Committee’s recent Fort Hood report, which noted: “…the United States is missing the coherent architecture of policies and programs, partnerships, and resources that will engage in the ideological struggle and counter the growth of homegrown terrorism.”
Based on that finding, the Committee recommended that the U.S. government develop a “comprehensive approach to countering the threat of homegrown terrorism… carefully consider what types of counter-radicalization activity could be effective, and by whom, across federal, state, and local governments and the private sector, and then develop a national approach to this challenge utilizing all relevant federal agencies including those not traditionally part of counterterrorism.”
In April 2011, Lieberman and Collins sent letters to the leaders of eight departments and agencies – Homeland Security, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Education, Justice, Labor, the Treasury, the National Counterterrorism Center – and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan to determine their current and planned actions to counter violent Islamist extremism domestically. Lieberman and Collins continue to argue for integrated government action.
The Administration strategy outlines a community-led approach, with the federal government playing a significant role in fostering partnerships, providing support and sharing information, and helping to build trust between local Muslim American communities and law enforcement. It reaffirms a commitment to promote American ideals as a counter-narrative to the bankrupt ideology of Islamist extremists. And it highlights a concern the Senators have raised recently about the need for effective counterterrorism training that distinguishes violent Islamist ideology from the peaceful practice of Islam.