The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has taken up the issue of the terrorist threat to the United States eight years after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The hearing comes during a month where four separate terrorist plots have been uncovered and disrupted within the United States.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Independent Democrat from Connecticut, said recent weeks have shown very clearly that there is no room for complacency eight years after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.
"Al-Qaida is still out there, and in fact they are in here. And they maintain a patient and hateful desire to attack the people of the United States," he said.
Lieberman said although the United States has made enormous progress in boosting its defense of the homeland since 2001, the war against terrorist groups is not over and will not be over for a long time. He thanked law enforcement officials and the men and women who work in the intelligence community for their successful efforts to disrupt four recent plots.
Lieberman said the case of the 24-year-old Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi, who has been ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to planning a terrorist attack on New York City, appears to be the most serious and substantial plot within the United States since the September 11 attacks.
Michael Leiter is the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He said al-Qaida remains a robust enemy, but that the terrorist group is more vulnerable and under more pressure now than at any time since the 2001 attacks.
"Most importantly, al-Qaida's safe haven in Pakistan is shrinking and becoming less secure, complicating their ability to train and recruit people and move them within Pakistan. Al-Qaida and its allies have suffered significant leadership losses over the last 18 months, interrupting training and plotting and potentially disrupting plots," he said.
Despite those successes, Leiter said he is worried about al-Qaida affiliate groups in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and Iraq.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said recent terrorist plots that were uncovered and disrupted right here in the United States show that there is also danger from within.
"Since 2001 we also face a challenge in dealing with homegrown extremists in the United States. These individuals are not formally part of a terrorist organization, but they accept the ideology and wish to harm the United States, often that ideology is a result of their interest in what they see on the Internet," he said.
Mueller said he is concerned about Americans and other Westerners traveling to Pakistan and Somalia to receive terrorist training, and said that some of them are recruited over the Internet.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said officials from her department do important outreach work with members of Arab American and Somali-American communities and with Muslim leaders across America, to prevent immigrants and minorities from feeling isolated and alienated.
"Within these communities, we are working to help preempt the alienation that many believe is the necessary precursor to violent extremism," she said.
She said the department has engagement teams that are now active in eight metropolitan areas and that they are also working to improve their team members' cultural awareness and competence. Napolitano said that fighting terrorism is a shared responsibility, with local and state law enforcement officials working hand in hand with federal officials. She also asked all Americans to try and make sure their communities are not the kinds of place where violent extremism is likely to occur.