Official says security threat harder to tackle

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 22, 2010 5:20pm EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (L), FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on ''Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland'' on Capitol Hill, September 22, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (L), FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on ''Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland'' on Capitol Hill, September 22, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities are having a harder time detecting terrorism threats on American soil, top officials said on Wednesday, more than nine years after the September 11 attacks thrust the United States into a global struggle with Islamist militancy.

The officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller, told a Senate panel that al Qaeda and its affiliates have shifted over the past year to plotting smaller-scale attacks, such as shootings and car bombings, that can be carried out inside the United States with greater frequency and against a broader range of targets.

The danger of homegrown militancy has also spiked, with efforts through English-language propaganda to recruit American operatives capable of penetrating the U.S. security cordon.

"These elements, which make the terrorist threat more diffuse, also make it more difficult for law enforcement or the intelligence community to detect and disrupt," Napolitano said at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The sobering assessments come at a time when U.S. authorities have been criticized after being caught off-guard by a failed attack on Times Square in May and the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner last December.

"Increasingly, we can see ... that our enemies in the war with Islamist extremism are bringing the fight to the homeland in the United States with greater frequency," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who chairs the panel.

The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington killed about 3,000 people in 2001, prompting U.S. officials to fear al Qaeda was plotting other mass casualty events, possibly including the detonation of a nuclear device.

GROWING THREAT FROM AL QAEDA AFFILIATES

Officials said the central branch of al Qaeda that carried out the attacks is now at its weakest point since 2001 due to joint U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism efforts along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

But Mueller told lawmakers that al Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq now pose a growing threat to the United States.

The list includes the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and other groups that have been involved in cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As a result, Napolitano warned that the United States faces increased danger from roadside bombs, as well as small arm attacks of the kind used to devastating effect in the 2008 Mumbai rampage that killed 166 people in India.

The list of potential targets now includes hotels, sports stadiums and other public areas as well as famous landmarks, airliners, chemical plants and ports.

Underpinning U.S. concerns is a rise of homegrown militants including about two-dozen U.S. citizens who have trained with Islamist militants in Somalia. Officials said U.S. citizens have also assumed a growing number of leadership positions within militant networks, including radical imam Anwar al-Alawki, an al Qaeda militant in Yemen.

About 20 U.S. citizens and resident aliens aligned with violent Islamist extremists have been arrested or convicted of terrorism this year in the United States and elsewhere, vs. 43 in 2009.

"While it is not clear if this represents an actual increase in violent radicalization ... it is nonetheless evident that over the past 12 months efforts by violent extremist groups and movements to communicate with and recruit individuals within the United States have intensified," Napolitano said in her testimony.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Jerry Norton)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
Kevin5069 wrote:
This sounds like a plea for more destruction of civil liberties. I think they took this right out of the Bush administrations fear campaign. Get everyone running scared about an invisible or false threat, then you have the authority for any kind of wire taps, secret prisons, etc.

Sep 22, 2010 1:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
iflydaplanes wrote:
@kevin5069, I would gladly allow for some “destruction” of my civil liberties in the form of more security at airports or maybe a wire tap or two if it meant less destruction of actual people. To me if I have to wait a little longer to get on a plane so be it, and if any security administraton wants to waste their time listening in on any of my boring a** phone conversations so be that also.

Sep 22, 2010 2:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
rdinTempe wrote:
Let’s start with fixing the borders.

We don’t know for sure what kind of threats are coming in through Mexico. And Canada has tighter resrictions on people going into their country than we have.NAFTA hasn’t helped us a bit up there.

Repeal NAFTA! Protect our borders.

Sep 22, 2010 4:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.