Taking the Hill

Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security and described the terrorist threat as potentially at its most “heightened state” since 9/11. In particular, the threat of homegrown terrorism and al-Qaeda’s recruitment efforts in the United States are on the uptick. Also testifying yesterday, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, touched on the threat abroad. He described al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan as being “at one of its weakest points in the past decade” and said that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is “probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.” Today, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will be on the Hill to appear before the House Intelligence Committee. He’s also expected to focus on al-Qaeda as the top threat to the United States.

North Korea’s military-to-military talks with the South were short-lived. Pyongyang walked out of the meeting and no further discussions have been scheduled. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley stayed positive though. He said he wouldn’t characterize the collapse of the talks as a failure, calling it a “missed opportunity” for “North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity.” Crowley also noted, “It’s hard at this point to really assess what the meaning of that is.”

Meanwhile, Ambassador Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, was in Seoul yesterday meeting with the South Korean national security adviser. And Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and special envoy Stephen Bosworth were at the State Department for a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Ministry Director-General Shinsuke Sugiyama. The focus of the talks yesterday was North Korea.

The Obama administration has been frequently calling on the leaders of the Arab world to open up. Syria it seems is making a small step in that direction. For the first time in four years, Facebook and YouTube are now available to the Syrian people. Fittingly, on Twitter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior adviser for innovation, Alec Ross, welcomed the news but said the administration was worried that the “freedom puts users at risk” because there isn’t freedom of expression to go along with it.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had a meeting yesterday with Secretary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. The three discussed Egypt, Iran’s nuclear desires and the “need to move forward on Middle East peace” according to a White House statement.