Rep. Hoekstra Warns of 'Homegrown Terrorist' Threat in U.S.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., warned on Wednesday that the United States faces a new threat from "homegrown terrorists," in particular Muslim converts or jihadis who have been "recruited in prisons and universities" by organizations loosely affiliated but not controlled by al-Qaida.
Just because we haven't had an attack since Sept. 11 inside the United States doesn't mean we are safe, Hoekstra told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute today. "We know that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are planning other attacks against the United States."
Hoekstra noted a taped message from Osama bin Laden released this January in which he said another Sept. 11 type attack against America "is only a matter of time."
"They [the terrorists] are in the final stages, and you will see them in the heart of your land as soon as the planning is complete," bin Laden said in a message relayed by a jihadi Web site.
U.S. Not Immune
Attacks by homegrown jihadi groups in Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and attempts in Canada and Australia should convince Americans that "we aren't immune from that kind of threat or that kind of development," Hoekstra said.
The intelligence community has "clear indications" that al-Qaida and like-minded groups were "focusing resources" on recruiting potential terrorists in U.S. prisons and at U.S. universities. Americans need to understand that "we are at war with a very dangerous enemy," he said.
The committee's report on al-Qaida, released this week, revealed that the House intelligence committee "is aware of other credible plans by al-Qaida members to attack the United States, but cannot discuss these plans in an unclassified report."
The ranking Democrat on the committee, California Rep. Jane Harman, blasted Hoekstra for releasing a report she claimed was "merely an assemblage of press clippings" and did "not represent effective congressional oversight."
Other Democrats who refused to approve the report claimed it "tells us nothing new" and suggested that Hoekstra had timed its release to coincide with the upcoming congressional elections, an accusation the Michigan Republican dismissed.
Hoekstra said that he and Harman had agreed nearly two years ago to issue a series of reports on intelligence challenges. "This was an agreed-upon strategy that Ms. Harman and I laid out at the beginning of this Congress." The timing of the report was "coincidental" since it was approved in a "partisan vote" in July.
Identifying the Danger
It was important to issue an unclassified report on the evolving nature of al-Qaida to enable the American public to better understand the threat, Hoekstra said. "We are trying to get our assessment out there . . . so that hopefully we can find common ground" with Democrats on the intelligence before another terrorist attack takes place.
Intelligence has become increasingly politicized in Washington, with Democrats accusing the Bush White House of "cherry-picking" intelligence in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
But in a series of reports on pre-war Iraq intelligence released earlier this month by the Senate Select Intelligence committee, Republicans turned that accusation on its head and said the Democrats had fabricated conclusions unrelated to the facts uncovered by the committee.
"I will continue to draw the line when it comes to amending conclusions in a way that mischaracterizes or ignores the underlying facts," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said.
One of the Senate reports found that a former senior CIA official, Tyler Drumheller, had grossly mischaracterized information provided by Iraq's foreign minister before the war in a high-profile interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," in order to smear the Bush White House.
Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Michael Tanji said that the future wars America will have to fight will be against hard targets in countries that are "closed" to the U.S. intelligence community, such as Iran.
Because of this, he predicted there will be "as much ambiguity" about the intelligence in the lead up to the next war as there was in the build-up to the 2003 war in Iraq.
Tanji blasted the director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, for packing his staff with "people who have been recycled from the old system that led us down the path to failure," and warned that "more money to the same old solutions is not going to help us."
Hoekstra said that the United States attack on al-Qaida in Afghanistan had forced the group to change its very structure.
Borrowing a metaphor from the business world, he said that al-Qaida had adopted the model of "participative management," and no longer exerted central control over terrorist operations.
"They have empowered their affiliates to act independently, then they get out of the way," Hoekstra said. "There is no longer any central command structure in al-Qaida today."
This has given the organization "speed and agility," and made it far more difficult for the United States to penetrate al-Qaida affiliates and prevent future terrorist attacks.
Tools for the Job
Congress needs to give the intelligence community "the ability to track finances, to listen into conversations, to get information" on terrorist groups, he said. "We need to design a system that is as quick and as nimble as the enemy."
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence today will mark-up legislation introduced by New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson that would impose new guidelines for the NSA's terrorist surveillance program.
While Hoekstra said he supported the bill, his concern was that other legislation currently under discussion would "lawyer up" the war against terror.
"The fear I have is that our front line folks are going to be more worried about what the lawyers say . . . than about the enemy," he said. "We need to give the people of the intelligence community the tools they need to respond very quickly to evolving threats that will enable them to get the information that keeps America safe."
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