Homeland Security Experts Tell Congress to Focus on Domestic Threats

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Experts: Invest in local efforts to detect terror (AP):

The U.S. government must shift its terrorism focus and resources away from Pennsylvania Avenue and onto Main Street, several national security experts told Congress on Wednesday.

They had a special message for the American public: Buck up. Overreacting to failed plots and near misses, they warned, only encourages terrorists.

Nine years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the experts told a House committee Wednesday, the federal government’s effort to predict, prevent and respond to terror plots must focus more on local law enforcement, public safety personnel and hometown residents.

To date, said Stephen Flynn, president of the Washington-based Center for National Policy, our effort has been “an away game” that relied on the military and national intelligence agencies to fight the terror threat on distant shores to prevent it from getting here. Now, he said, that threat is here.

“The new front lines are the streets of Bridgeport, Denver, Minneapolis and other big and small communities across America,” Flynn told the House Homeland Security Committee. “We’ve invested in taking it to the enemy. But keeping the threat at arm’s length is not sustainable. We need to focus on the homeland security realm.”

“Assessing the Terrorism Threat: The Implications for Homeland Security”, Dr. Stephen E. Flynn, (Committee on Homeland Security):

Chairman Thompson, Ranking Member King, and distinguished members of the Committee on Homeland Security. I am honored to have this opportunity to testify alongside my National Security Preparedness Group colleagues, Bruce Hoffman and Peter Bergen. Bruce and Peter are two of the top terrorism experts in the world and they have written an outstanding report that provides a timely and comprehensive update of the terrorism threat, nine years after the attacks on New York and Washington. I have been asked to provide my assessment on what the implications of this threat analysis are for homeland security.

In my view, there are five findings that should command the attention of this committee. First, the incidence of radicalization and recruitment on U.S. soil is on the rise. Second, that the Americans that are attaching themselves to al-Qaeda and aligned groups do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile. Third, the frequency of less-sophisticated terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland is likely to grow. Fourth, these kinds of attacks are extremely difficult to prevent. And fifth, this trend reflects a change in al Qaeda’s tactics that arises from their conviction that any terrorist attack on U.S. soil, even a near-miss, will generate a disproportionate political response that will contribute to their strategic objective of sapping the economic strength of the United States. In short, al Qaeda and its affiliates are shifting to a war of attrition rather than concentrating their limited capabilities on organizing and executing catastrophic attacks on the scale of what they carried out on September 11, 2001.

This shift in threat has serious implications for how the United States has been prosecuting the war on terrorism. I need not remind this committee that the overarching emphasis of America’s counterterrorism efforts since 9/11 can be summed up as waging an “away game.” Former-President George W. Bush often expressed it this way, “We fight the terrorists overseas so that we don’t have to fight them here at home.” Former-Vice President Richard Cheney went further, arguing that, “Wars are not won on the defensive. To fully and finally remove this danger (of terrorism), we have only one option—and that’s to take the fight to the enemy.” The Obama Administration has continued this emphasis on overseas operations.

Arguably the strategy of combating terrorism abroad has resulted in an important and constructive outcome that is noted in the NSPG report: it has put al-Qaeda central on the defensive and has eroded its capacity to carry out large-scale attacks using weapons of mass destruction. However, the nation’s post-9/11 strategy has not anticipated and adapted to the change in tactics that this outcome has helped to spawn. Succinctly stated, the homeland security enterprise is currently not up to task of dealing with the terrorism threat we face today.

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