Bruce Hoffman

Where's the Beef?

In the two weeks since the report of the National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG) titled, Assessing the Terrorist Threat, was released by the Bipartisan Policy Center, attention has fastened on three paragraphs of its 42 pages.

The three paragraphs, found on page 16, state the following:

The American “melting pot” has not provided a firewall against the radicalization and recruitment of American citizens and residents, though it has arguably lulled us into a sense of complacency that homegrown terrorism couldn’t happen in the United States. Before the July 7, 2005, suicide attacks on the London transportation system, the British believed that there was perhaps a problem with the Muslim communities in Europe but certainly not with British Muslims in the U.K., who were better integrated, better educated, and wealthier than their counterparts on the Continent.

By stubbornly wrapping itself in this same false security blanket, the U.S. lost five years to learn from the British experience. Well over a year ago, federal authorities became aware of radicalization and recruitment occurring in the U.S. when Somali-Americans started disappearing from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and turning up in Somalia with Shabab. Administration officials and others believed it was an isolated, one-off phenomenon. But it wasn’t -- as grand juries in Minnesota and San Diego can attest, along with ongoing FBI investigations in Boston, two locations in Ohio, and Portland, Maine. The number of Somali-Americans who left the U.S. to train in Somalia turned out to be far higher than initially believed, and once they were in Somalia some were indeed being trained by al-Qaeda.

In sum, the case of the Somali-Americans turned out to be a Pandora’s Box. By not taking more urgently and seriously the radicalization and recruitment that was actually occurring in the U.S., authorities failed to comprehend that this was not an isolated phenomenon, specific to Minnesota and this particular immigrant community. Rather, it indicated the possibility that even an embryonic terrorist radicalization and recruitment infrastructure had been established in the U.S. homeland. Shahzad is the latest person to jump out of this box.

These arguments figured prominently yesterday in the hearings held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The opening statement of Ranking Member Senator Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) zeroed in precisely on these same paragraphs of the NSPG report, which was written by Peter Bergen and myself.

“On the eve of our nation’s 9/11 commemorations,” Senator Collins stated

the National Security Preparedness Group, led by Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean, issued a timely report, “Assessing the Terrorist Threat.”

The report said America continues to face serious threats from al Qaeda affiliates around the world ... and from homebased terrorists.

It warned of an increasingly wide range of ‘U.S.-based jihadist militants,’ who do not fit ‘any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.’

It also sounded this grave warning:

‘The American “melting pot” has not provided a firewall against the radicalization and recruitment of American citizens and residents, though it has arguably lulled us into a sense of complacency that homegrown terrorism couldn’t happen in the United States.’ . . . .

The past two years have taught us, through harsh lessons, that we must increase our efforts. As the Kean-Hamilton report observed: ‘It is fundamentally troubling that there remains no federal government agency or department specifically charged with identifying radicalization and interdicting the recruitment of U.S. citizens or residents for terrorism.’

We must redouble our efforts to better anticipate, analyze, and prepare. We must address what is quickly becoming a daunting and highly challenging crisis. This dangerous reality must be met with better security measures, innovative community outreach, and enhanced information-sharing. Most of all, we cannot risk another failure of imagination.

The written statements of each of the Obama Administration’s three witnesses invited to testify before the Committee—The Honorable Janet A. Napolitano, Secretary U.S. Department of Homeland Security; The Honorable Robert S. Mueller III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation U.S. Department of Justice; and, The Honorable Michael E. Leiter, Director, National Counterterrorism Center Office of the Director of National Intelligence—addressed the growing terrorist threat depicted by both Senator Collins and the NSPG report and also discussed the government’s strategy and countermeasures.

Mr. Leiter presented the most vigorous defense of the Administration’s efforts, arguing that the counterterrorism community has not been lulled into complacency and specifically objecting to notions that either no one is in charge or in the lead or that a comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-radicalization strategy does not exist.