CAPITOL HILL — The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center gave an optimistic assessment of the progress made in fighting terrorism since the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on the United States. But the top Obama administration officials also came under pressure from U.S. lawmakers Wednesday about the recent visit of an Egyptian politician to Washington.
Top Obama administration officials had some good news for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.
"Following the death last year of Osama bin Laden, several of his top lieutenants have been eliminated. The leaders that remain lack experience and are under siege. They have limited ability to recruit and communicate with other operatives. In short, the intelligence picture shows that al-Qaida's core is a shadow of its former self, and the overall threat from al-Qaida in Pakistan is diminished," said National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen.
But Olsen cautioned that smaller, splinter groups of al-Qaida are plotting to carry out attacks, saying that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, is the most capable of attacking the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also cited progress in efforts to train law enforcement officers to deal with terrorist threats. "We are also in the final stages of implementing a countering violent extremist curriculum for federal, state, local and correctional facility law enforcement officers. It is focused on community-oriented policing, which will help frontline personnel identify activities that are potential indicators of potential terrorist activity and violenc," Napolitano said.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King questioned Napolitano about the recent visit to the United States of Egyptian politician Hani Nour Eldin. King said that Eldin is a self-professed member of a banned Egyptian Islamic militant group. Eldin was cleared by the State Department before being granted a visa.
Napolitano said Eldin was also vetted by the Department of Homeland Security before being allowed into the country, and that he was screened a third time by the Secret Service before he was granted access to the White House.
King said that giving a visa to a member of a State Department-designated "foreign terrorist organization" without first informing Congress violated federal law.
Napolitano responded by saying that some leaders emerging from the Middle East pro-democracy movement come from organizations that might have evolved into political parties, and that no mistakes were made in allowing Eldin to come to the United States because he was not deemed to be a threat. Eldin recently was elected as a member of Egypt's parliament.