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Top security officials to testify about homegrown threats

Wed., Sept. 22, 2010

WASHINGTON – The rising threat from homegrown radicals makes terrorist plots against the U.S. harder to detect and more likely to succeed, top administration officials are slated to tell Congress today.

In written testimony to be delivered before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michael E. Leiter, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, each say terrorist threats have become more complex, with a greater array of plotters inspired by al-Qaida without necessarily being directly linked to the terrorist network.

“Homegrown terrorists represent a new and changing facet of the terrorist threat,” Napolitano said in the testimony, obtained in advance by the Tribune Washington bureau. “The threat is evolving in several ways that make it more difficult for law enforcement or the intelligence community to detect and disrupt plots.”

Citing the November shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, which left 13 dead, and the attempted Times Square bombing in May, Leiter noted that there were more homegrown attacks or attempts in the last year than at any time since Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers crashed airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“Homegrown extremists are increasingly more savvy, harder to detect, and able to connect with other extremists overseas,” Mueller said. “The Internet has expanded as a platform for spreading extremist propaganda, a tool for online recruiting, and a medium for social networking with like-minded violent extremists, all of which may be contributing to the pronounced state of radicalization inside the United States.”

The statements were less clear on how the government intends to counter the domestic threat. A recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the successor to the Sept. 11 commission, called it “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.”

Napolitano’s testimony described new initiatives to encourage tips from the public, including an advertising campaign with the slogan, “See something, say something.” Mueller touted the FBI’s outreach to Muslim communities.

Napolitano noted that the Department of Homeland Security is working with an array of 72 state and regional “fusion centers,” where state and local law enforcement officials with top-secret clearance have access to high-level intelligence and analyze reports of suspicious activity generated by cops on the beat.

The Obama administration has thus far resisted any national program to combat radicalization similar to one undertaken in Britain, which is spending $200 million a year to “challenge the ideology behind violent extremism and support mainstream voices.”

The officials said the good news is that intelligence reports show that al-Qaida is weakened, pummeled by airstrikes from drones and other operations.


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