Top Obama administration officials told a Senate panel Wednesday that the threat of terrorism is increasingly diverse and often comes in the form of homegrown extremists based in the United States. The officials say terrorists now appear to be less focused on spectacular attacks and more on smaller-scale strikes.
The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, had some qualified good news for the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the terrorist threat from al-Qaida in Pakistan, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
"Now today al-Qaida in Pakistan is at one of its weakest points organizationally," said Michael Leiter. "But I would stress a significant however, that the group has time and time again proven its resilience and remains a very capable and determined enemy."
Leiter emphasized that the overall terrorist threat has evolved and become more complex in the nine years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano agreed the threat of terrorism is becoming more diverse, making it even more difficult to detect and prevent attacks.
"It is diversifying in terms of sources, it is diversifying in terms of tactics, it is diversifying in terms of the target being considered," said Janet Napolitano.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent Democrat pointed out that there was a marked increase last year in terrorist attacks and attempted attacks on the United States by Islamic extremists, including the shooting rampage at Fort Hood by Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan that left 13 people dead and 43 injured.
Ranking Committee member Susan Collins, a Republican Senator from Maine said there has been a shift in terrorist strategy away from massive attacks on the scale of September 11, 2001.
"I am convinced that terrorists are beginning to focus their efforts on smaller-scale attacks, with small arms and explosives such as we saw at Fort Hood, Arkansas and in India," said Susan Collins.
Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Robert Mueller said there have also been other shifts in terrorist strategy.
"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, al-Qaida plots and plans focused on using individuals from the Middle East or South Asia for their attacks," said Robert Mueller. "Since 2006 al-Qaida has looked to recruit Americans or Westerners who are able to remain undetected by heightened security measures."
All of the Obama administration leaders present at the hearing agreed that there is an increasing threat from homegrown terrorists in the United States who may become radicalized through contacts on the Internet. Before the Fort Hood attack, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Army Major Hasan and Anwar-al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric in Yemen who supports violence against American targets. Both men are U.S. citizens.
Secretary Napolitano says her department has stepped up efforts to share intelligence with local law enforcement officials. FBI Director Mueller said fighting terrorism is his agency's top priority, and highlighted efforts to reach out to the American Muslim community.