The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is holding a major hearing on whether the United States is safer ten years after the September 11th attacks. Homeland Security Department Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen will be testifying before the committee.
A letter sent by Lieberman and ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan indicates the hearing may be used to advance an agenda against “Internet radicalization.” It will also be another opportunity for Lieberman to continue his crusade against the Obama administration’s broad definition of America’s “enemy.”
The Obama administration recently released a “framework for countering domestic radicalization.” It was titled, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” Lieberman & Collins do not like calling it “violent extremism”:
Our enemy has a distinct ideology, and that ideology has a name: violent Islamist extremism. The Framework, however, refuses to state this clearly. First, it says that we are at war with “al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents” and later more generally talks about countering “violent extremism.”
Ten years later is a good milestone to reflect on privacy violations in airports, warrantless wiretapping, repression of activists, racial and religious profiling, torture, renditions, the use of secret prisons, the targeted killing program, endless wars, etc. Rest assured, the hearing will probably focus on how best to define America’s “enemy,” instead of how America is committing inhumane and illegal acts that infuriate and inflame populations, which become “enemies” of America. And, Lieberman will likely discuss how best to expand the “global war on terror” into cyberspace.
I’ll be live blogging this hearing, which begins at 10:00 am ET. To watch the hearing, go here.
12:40 PM Lieberman says we are in time of pessimism. He mentions there are allies or other countries that haven’t done what needed to be done. Hearing adjourned.
12:37 PM So this section of the hearing could be called: “Where Were You When a Specific, Credible But Unconfirmable Threat was Made Public Last Week?”
12:33 PM Mueller: If I get one criticism from state and local law enforcement, it is why do I have to find out about an action on CNN?
12:28 PM Cyber arena will be a growth area for DHS, says Napolitano.
Collins addresses the decision to make public threat of last weekend.
Sergeant of Arms was first told information was classified and close held but then decision to go public caught them off guard. They learned it about on television and were out of loop. What is Napolitano’s response to this critique? Sergeant was surprised.
No public elevation of threat because actions were already being taken. There was no press release. Information shared through channels.
12:23 PM Cyber attacks, homegrown terrorism and bio/chemical weapons top my list of threats we are failing address. She alludes to a note from Mike Hayden that we may be too secretive about threats in a way that makes it harder for the private sector to respond.
Collins advocates for more information on cyber threats being shared with private sector. What does Mueller see as impediments on sharing breach information?
Mueller acknowledges private sector may not want to disclose information on security breaches. He smiles at irony of Hayden’s position. He says it is a difficult balancing act to push out information on threats because you don’t want to detail tools available to combat threats.
12:21 PM Collins calls framework “sketchy.” Olsen says the NCTC will not be doing operational implementation. White House has lead role in developing policy, NCTC develops plan for putting into place. Various agencies will be in charge of operations.
Collins is concerned there is not one person accountable to Congress who is in charge of strategy.
12:19 PM NCTC will develop implementation for the administration’s new framework for countering “violent extremism.” They’ve helped develop “understanding” on the “radicalization process.”
Lieberman mentions letter he and Collins sent expressing disappointment. Lieberman said they were disappointed with lack of clarity.
12:16 PM Napolitano says DHS will be expanding information sharing. Cybersecurity will be area of focus. Program for passengers being fine-tuned and making DHS more cohesive will be necessary.
Mueller talks about improving databases and explains FISA intercepts are governed by procedures that prohibit certain information from being moved into other databases (for privacy probably). Mueller says cybersecurity will be critical. “In response to court order giving right to obtain communications, will we be able to obtain?” from Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. One of the challenges we have is making sure agents are focused on substance and not administrative burdens.
Olsen says theme of information sharing will be important as well.
12:12 PM Lieberman: “FBI was right out after 9/11” with positive outreach to Muslim communities.
12:11 PM Levin celebrating program in Michigan with law enforcement working in Arab-American communities against radicalization.
12:08 PM Napolitano lauds a “beyond the border strategy” with Canada which takes pressure off border patrol agents.
12:02 PM Sen. Carl Levin asks about gun laws. Olsen reluctant to comment on gun laws after only being with NCTC for four weeks. Mueller addresses question and says he would support measure to track gun sellers at private gun shows.
Levin addressing issue of terrorism financing by private corporations. Levin introduced a bill to deal with this and US Treasury was very supportive. He wants to know if Napolitano supports going after shell corporations that launder money for nefarious purposes. Napolitano does support.
We need to get shell corporations on record so we know who owns these companies. On the northern border, the GAO found DHS said risk of terrorism is higher than on southern border.
11:59 AM Napolitano says we accept the point about low-risk travelers. She reiterates restrictions are being loosened. But, I would caution when you say do it in a month — “We need to move at a deliberate pace but careful pace.” Adversaries very determined with respect to aviation system.
Paul has quick follow-up: I agree it is never good to say we are never going to inspect. I don’t mind if you inspect 8-year old from Kandahar or Pakistan.
11:53 AM Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t understand why Iraqis need to be admitted into the United States, especially if we have established democracy there.
Napolitano says people who qualify for refugee status under the law will be admitted. Paul says that the Obama administration can set the number.
“It’s an insult to our troops” — Our soldiers are over there protecting the country but it is so unsafe that they are allowed to come over here. It’s an insult and now they come over and use food stamps.
Paul now recounting times when invasive searches have taken place by TSA. He says Pistole says they would rethink but he wrote letter and said because an 8-year-old blew up bomb in Kandahar they have to investigate. He doesn’t think they have much similarity — 8-year olds here and 8-year-olds there besides age.
Even if we do things perfectly, the haystack is so big. We have people joining Afghan police forces that attack us.
“We don’t need to be admitting the world’s poverty problem.” Move forward on a frequent flier program.
11:51 AM Akaka asks about security for upcoming Asian Pacific Cooperation meeting. She references security at UN General Assembly meeting.
11:47 AM Sen. Akaka of Hawaii now raising the issue of why there is no Privacy & Civil Liberties Board and why there have been no nominations. Why hasn’t a full board been nominated?
Napolitano does not know status of board itself. We have presidentially appointed officer who runs a privacy office. They are integrated into all of our program planning. They make sure that MOUs with NCTC include limitation on uses and users.
Mueller — (1) We have Attorney General guidelines (2) We have individual for overseeing particular initiatives for impact on privacy and civil liberties and we do panel reviews.
Olsen doesn’t know status of board — Three layers of oversight: internally we have privacy and civil liberties officer, have attorneys in general counsel’s office. Second, all reviews are done pursuant to AG guidelines. FISA court has role in oversight. We are subject to robust congressional oversight.
11:40 AM Sen. John McCain now asking Napolitano about DoD’s concern about absence of a comprehensive strategy for southwestern border security. Napolitano disagrees with DoD “vehemently.” McCain says he has failed to see one. Napolitano says she is willing to come brief McCain. He says there was one meeting that was “highly unsatisfactory.” McCain combatively says she may want to broadcast to the residents of the southwest who do not see a strategy.
McCain now addressing Operation Fast & Furious. McCain now making clear for record that weapons were being transported from state of Arizona to Mexico with serious flaws without Napolitano being aware.
Napolitano not entirely certain but when agents died in Arizona she became aware of Operation Fast & Furious. Prosecution into the death was pursued and she met with FBI agent in charge.
McCain: “When were you made aware that guns were used in death of Bryan Terry?” Napolitano not sure, could supply info.
McCain moving to find out about FBI investigation, wants to know if any conclusions have been made. He says he is not “privy.” Mueller was concerned about the extent of FBI involvement. He says he believes there was not FBI involvement in operation. Mueller says ATF was involved and was principle organization.
McCain says “So we leave it all to the Inspector General as to their conclusions?” Mueller says we do not have a role in that investigation. We have a role in investigation of death of border patrol agent. And what conclusions have you arrived at, McCain asks. Mueller hesitates… Will have to get back.
McCain doesn’t understand why Mueller would like to “get back to me.” Mueller says we have information related to individuals that were there. We’ve done forensics and pursued weapons.
When will that information be made available to American people? Mueller says that will be made available in criminal proceedings.
11:35 AM Sen. Moran now speaking says there is a real threat posed from disease being introduced into our food supply.
Napolitano updates on status of that threat. She is concerned that Congress is not funding DHS properly so this can be addressed. $150 billion was proposed in FY12 budget. House marked in $75 and Senate marked in $0.
11:33 AM Johnson uses earthquake on East Coast to get Napolitano to address whether disaster response is up to par, particularly whether communications are good enough in the event of disaster.
11:25 AM Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin now wants to know how much of Homeland Security is bureaucracy versus putting programs into place.
Napolitano says we are trying to keep administrative arm as thin as possible.
Johnson wants to go back and look at the head count of those consolidated. Johnson now asks Mueller if there are frustrations about resources.
Very detailed discussion on the nature of the bureaucracy being had here. Hard to understand if you do not work in these agencies, departments or for government.
Mueller says he had to build capability to coordinate actions. In cyber arena you can affect persons in all 50 states — it takes headquarter managed oversight to manage. We try to stay as flat as we can be.
Johnson wants to know if NCTC could have been used. Mueller says no because they cannot immediately respond to threats, they are an analytical agency.
11:24 AM Carper quotes Vince Lombardi: “If you’re not keeping score, it’s just practice.”
Carper wants to push to give the president the power of a line-item veto.
11:20 AM Mueller says FBI looking at cutting costs internally. Cheaper contractors. “The ability for information technology to provide us the information need and pull out information we really do need” being perfected. Developing that capability will save money and give analysts the kind of ability to not have to do multiple searches in separate databases.
11:17 AM Sen. Carper now asking questions. He’s spinning a long yarn about doing what works on health care. He is talking about the deficit and red ink. Eventually, he might get into what is about the hearing and… Okay, now here it is: He wants to know about money being spent and what it is doing to help the country (I think).
Napolitano says “resist notion that some redundancy is wasteful.” Always possible someone or something will get through many layers. She adds plan for human error. Who or what can get in the country? And how do we know?” So, we merge more and more databases to look at travel patterns, etc.
11:13 AM Lieberman explains there are limits on federal government but major sites like Google, Youtube, etc – if individual citizens complain about a particular site having violent site … They have people who review complaints. On many occasions — Let’s just say I have one staff member who has exercised his private citizen rights and they take it down. There is that ability even though it might be taken down.
Lieberman encouraging citizens to let others know when they don’t like material that is “violent.”
11:12 AM Napolitano now affirming her commitment to “Secure Communities.”
Brown says we are all Americans first, especially when we work together we usually prevail. Brown hopes others will remember we are Americans first and work on threats.
Napolitano says “Secure Communities” has deployed in 1,200 some sites. We will have it in every jurisdiction by FY13.
11:09 AM Sen. Scott Brown – Brown wants to know if Yemen is on its way to becoming a safe haven like Afghanistan for terror attacks. He also wants to know about how much of a threat AQAP poses to “homeland.”
Olsen says yes a significant threat. AQAP is bothersome because of its propaganda efforts. Awlaki can speak English and can potentially radicalize Westerners.
Information on bomb-making materials being put out in Inspire is “quite basic.” It doesn’t require someone to be sophisticated (Olsen responds to Scott Brown’s follow-up on how information makes it into online magazine).
Olsen says we put extreme pressure on senior leadership.
Mueller says that we are not without tools but once you upload something it is simply impossible to eradicate it. Mueller says it is virtually impossible. The extent that we have some capability is something to talk about in a closed session.
11:03 AM Mueller explaining that in Bowling Green case they had to go back and check. Collins says that depends on getting a lede as opposed to DHS being able to run fingerprints against complete database. Mueller says that they could but it would not have information or data from third-tier or lower tier and that is the tier the individual with fingerprints on IED were located.
Napolitano now being asked by Collins about fusion centers. She says she is a supporter but her enthusiasm is not shared by everyone. There are people in both parties that think they are “duplicative” of Joint Terror task forces already in operation. So, based on budget constraints, there is dispute over whether they are necessary.
Napolitano explains why the fusion centers are needed: “They do not duplicate JTTFs.” We are dealing with growth of homegrown terrorism or “lone wolf” threats. It is not just sharing information that is important but expanding analytic capability to different levels of government. Moved our own analysts into these centers. Look at Zazi and Shahzad — cases where fusion centers were helpful. Ongoing threat has been addressed by centers as well.
10:59 AM Sen. Collins now speaking again about what has become a pet security issue for her: the presence of Iraqi refugees in this country who may threaten the homeland. She is scrutinizing the program that approves resettlement of refugees here in the US. She wants to know about vetting them when they come to America.
Napolitano says with regard to 56,000 resettled they have now been re-vetted against all new updated FBI, DHS and NCTC databases. “Nobody will be resettled without going through the same kind of vet.”
Collins addressing Mueller says lack of resources and fact that this is not an easy task wonders if there is a backlog of fingerprints to update into these databases. Mueller confirms there is a grouping not yet looked at.
10:55 AM Lieberman asks Napolitano about presence of TSA at airports. He says it is “an annoyance” but people put up with it. Pistole has indicated they would like to move away from “one-size-fits-all” approach. Are there moves to implement “risk-based” strategy?
Napolitano says we are moving to more “risk-based.” This would enhance our ability to focus on “high-risk” passengers. “Global entry” expanding, which pre-screens passengers crossing borders. Piloting programs to deal with children under the age of 12 [To not traumatize them?]. There will always be random checks even for groups we look at differently, such as children under age of 12.
So, in the future, children may not have to be pat-down. Lieberman says “excellent.”
10:53 AM Deputy National Security Adviser Brennan is in charge of coordinating assets. NCTC provides a support role. Olsen says Brennan played a coordinating role in response to the “unconfirmed threat.” Some information coming from CIA, FBI, lots from DHS on “threat.” We analyze all the information at NCTC.
Napolitano says it is right. She thinks it is “an amazing coordination” and would not have been accomplished ten years ago.
10:51 AM Lieberman impressed by how all agencies in charge of security came together on tenth anniversary to carry out security measures.
10:50 AM FBI and DHS directors say the “unconfirmed” threat continues to be persistent and real.
Lieberman says it remains unconfirmed but the intelligence stream was “specific and credible enough” that they are not prepared to dismiss. They are going to keep analyzing it, the directors say.
Mueller says since detecting threat ledes have been pursued, hundreds interviewed. We have eliminated areas where we had to look to see if valid.
10:48 AM NCTC works to improve “watchlisting” and build “more complete terrorist identities.” Olsen says they work to develop plans into US government coordinated efforts against “terrorism.”
Most important resource: our people. (Seems like an argument against cutting the budget of NCTC in these tough economic times.)
NCTC analyzes intelligence regardless of whether it is collected domestically or abroad.
10:47 AM Proliferation of radical extremist English content online.
10:43 AM Olsen continues: Over the weekend, we responded to “unconfirmed intelligence” that al Qaeda might be launching a plot. Times Square attempted bombing shows the threat we continue to face.
Affiliates of al Qaeda threaten us — single most capable affiliate is AQAP. Yemen’s government challenges have strengthened AQAP.
AQAP’s attempted attacks in 2009 and 2010 – attempted Christmas Day bombing and attempt to down US cargo planes show a threat
10:40 AM NCTC’s Olsen now speaking. “Ten years after 9/11 are we safer?” Yes — Al Qaeda continue to pose significant threat. Diplomats, law enforcement and men and women in uniform are responsible.
DHS, FBI and NCTC has made pressure possible too.
Core al Qaeda is weakend. “It’s a resilient and adaptive adversary.” We remain threatened by its adherents.
10:38 AM 2001 – 1000 intelligence analysts. Now the FBI has more than tripled that number.
FBI has played a key role in cyber attacks. Bureau is positioned to disrupt cyber intrusions. This cuts across all programs.
In 2007, we established cyber task force that has been used to prosecute an unprecedented number of intrusions.
Addressing this cyber threat will be among bureau’s highest priorities.
10:35 AM Mueller mentions establishing a National Intelligence Director and training thousands of new agents.
10:34 AM Individuals may be radicalized over the Internet, says Mueller. “Increasingly many are acting alone.” For that reason violent extremists are hard to disrupt.
He also mentions Anwar al-Awlaki. He talks about how he affirmed his commitment to sending explosive packages to US from AQAP.
Economic and political issues could motivate white supremacist groups to violence.
Threat environment evolved significantly. Requires FBI to change, adapt constantly
10:30 AM FBI director Mueller now speaking (about how FBI has become a massive domestic “counterterrorism” agency or spying agency). It has undergone “unprecedented transformation.” Updated tech structure and made changes while continuing to “safeguard American civil liberties.” [Yes, he said that.]
10:29 AM Lieberman approves of Napolitano’s statement — “Vindicates” the conclusion I have come to, which is that 9-11-01 could have been prevented. If tried today, it would be prevented.
10:26 AM Napolitano celebrating fusion centers and how they are able to help provide intelligence to fight terror plots.
TSA also now screens all foreign students seeking to join pilot training. She also lauds “Secure Flight” program, which checks people against government watch lists. TSA officers now screen all checked and carry-on bags for explosives and weapons using “cutting edge” tech.
9/11 hijackers still made it on to plane despite “behavior detection officers” on duty. Napolitano claiming there’s been improvement.
With respect to airplane security, all commercial aircraft have “hardened cockpit doors.” Air marshals are deployed now.
10:23 AM 9/11 terror plot began overseas, which means our homeland security work must begin there, says Napolitano. All of the hijackers applied for visas overseas. Now, in-depth targeted visa reviews take place. She describes further enhancements to screening.
Eighteen countries share information with US about potential terrorists.
After 9/11, government discovered information existed on hijackers prior to 9/11 but had not been shared. Private sector and government has made strides to enhance sharing and analysis.
10:22 AM Napolitano giving statement. “We must remain vigilant.” 9/11 tenth anniversary also a time to consider progress made. “We bounced back from the worst attack on our soil.” We used experience to become resilient to not just terror attacks but also disasters.
10:18 AM Movie time. DHS video with their version of “history” of 9/11 and the department’s creation. Lieberman found it inspirational.
10:16 AM Collins mentions 31 arrests made in homegrown plots. About that.
10:12 AM Collins talks about “See Something, Say Something” law/program, how they continue to make it possible for Americans to provide information that would give authorities information to go after people who look suspicious. They want to ensure those who give invalid information don’t face lawsuits.
Collins again talking about Iraqi bombmaker entering the country and being detained in Kentucky. She says this reflects “kind of lack of imagination” that 9/11 Commission found.
“Are there other Iraqi nationals granted asylum that were involved in attacking our troops?” Collins clearly opposes reconciliation with Iraqis who may fought back against US occupation.
10:09 AM Sen. Collins briefly recaps what happened when America was attacked on 9/11 specifically highlighting hijacker Atta (in case, you weren’t already aware of how the events unfolded). She goes on to talk about giving agencies the tools to connect dots so attacks could be stopped.
Operation that killed bin Laden represented the kind of information sharing across agencies that the Committee envisioned.
Just last week DHS & FBI announced “specific, credible but unconfirmed threat” to homeland in conjunction with the anniversary. It shared intelligence with state and local law enforcement in targeted areas. Must consider whether this particular threat has passed or if the terrorists have gone to ground. We must evaluate how long we must remain on high alert.
“Terrorists have not abandoned their quest” to attack. They continue to probe “our vulnerabilities,” says Collins.
10:07 AM Today we’ve asked our witnesses to help us answer three big questions: (1) look at what agencies have done since 9/11 (2) discuss status of the threat of Islamist terrorism to our homeland (3) discuss what our country is doing to counter the threat.
The question is not “Are we safer?” It is self-evidently clear we are safer, states Lieberman. The question is what do we have to do to be “greater” than the threat we face. Public and media attention to homeland security will fade.
10:02 AM This “annual status of the homeland threat” against our country is a tradition of our committee. We wanted to hold it after the anniversary to “look forward” and make clear work protecting country goes on, says Lieberman. Even though we had “fresh warnings” of specific credible although unconfirmed threat, Americans are beginning to forget how real the threat of violent Islamist radical extremism happens to be. Last week CATO Institute called for abolition of DHS — would return us to where we were pre-9/11.
We are victim of the success of DHS since there has not been a mass casualty attack on the homeland since 9/11. Some have taken lack of another large scale attack as evidence US government “exaggerated the danger posed by Islamism” in the wake of 9/11. Irresponsible conclusion, claims Lieberman. “Our enemies are not vanquished.” We must remain vigilant.