Internet Anthropologist Think Tank: National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), 10.01.09

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    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), 10.01.09

    September 30, 2009
    Hearing before the Senate
    Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
    Eight Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland
    Mike Leiter
    National Counterterrorism Center

    Chairman Lieberman, Ranking Member Collins, distinguished Members of the Committee,
    thank you for the opportunity today to discuss the current state of the terrorist threat to the
    Homeland and the U.S. Government’s efforts to address the threat. I am pleased to join
    Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Director of the Federal Bureau of
    Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller—two of the National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC)
    closest and most critical partners.

    Nature of the Terrorist Threat
    The Current Threat from Al-Qa‘ida. Al-Qa‘ida is under more pressure, is facing more
    challenges, and is a more vulnerable organization than at any time since the attacks on 11
    September 2001. For eight years, the United States and its allies have mounted a robust and
    multi-front offensive against al-Qa‘ida, as well as sustained an effective defensive program,
    making it more difficult—although still quite possible—for terrorists to attack the US Homeland
    and US interests abroad.

    • Most importantly, al-Qa‘ida’s safehaven -- where they are hosted by Taliban and
    Pakistani militants -- in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is shrinking and
    becoming less secure, complicating the group’s ability to plan, train, and move within
    Pakistan’s tribal areas.

    • Al-Qa‘ida has suffered significant leadership losses during the past 18 months,
    interrupting training and plotting, potentially disrupting plots that are under way, and
    leaving leadership vacuums that are increasingly difficult to fill.

    Despite our counterterrorism (CT) progress, al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and allies remain resilient
    and adaptive enemies intent on attacking US and Western interests—with al-Qa‘ida’s core in
    Pakistan representing the most dangerous component of the larger al-Qa‘ida network. We assess
    that this core is actively engaged in operational plotting and continues recruiting, training, and
    transporting operatives, to include individuals from Western Europe and North America.

    • Three years ago the British, with United States help, disrupted a plot in its late stages that
    could have killed thousands of people flying from Europe to the US Homeland. Two
    years ago we helped disrupt a credible plot in Germany that was very near execution.

    • The recent arrest and indictment of Najibullah Zazi on a charge of conspiracy to use
    weapons of mass destruction (explosive bombs) against persons or property in the United
    States is an example of the strong teamwork needed between local police departments
    and federal departments and agencies that is critical to protecting our country from
    potential terrorist attacks. As stated in the indictment, Zazi is alleged to have knowingly
    and intentionally conspired with others to use explosive bombs and other similar devices
    against persons or property within the United States

    • We assess that al-Qa‘ida continues to pursue plans for Homeland attacks and is likely
    focusing on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets designed to produce
    mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or
    fear among the population. The group also likely remains interested in targeting mass
    transit systems, and other public venues, viewed as relatively soft targets as evidenced by
    past al-Qa‘ida attacks in London.

    Al-Qa‘ida Affiliates. As al-Qa‘ida’s affiliates continue to develop and evolve, the threat posed
    by many of these groups to US interests abroad, and potentially to the Homeland, has grown.
    The affiliates possess local roots and autonomous command structures and represent a talent pool
    that al-Qa‘ida core may tap to augment operational efforts. The affiliates have proven capable of
    attacking Western targets in their regions and they aspire to expand operations further.

    Yemen. We have witnessed the reemergence of al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),
    with Yemen as a key battleground and potential regional base of operations from which al-
    Qa‘ida can plan attacks, train recruits, and facilitate the movement of operatives. We are
    concerned that if AQAP strengthens, al-Qa‘ida leaders could use the group and the growing
    presence of foreign fighters in the region to supplement its transnational operations capability.

    Al-Qa‘ida Operatives in Somalia and Al-Shabaab. East Africa is an important locale for
    al-Qa‘ida. The leaders of the Somalia-based insurgent and terrorist group al-Shabaab are
    working with a limited number of East Africa-based al-Qa‘ida operatives. Al-Shabaab has
    actively conducted terrorist style attacks in Somalia against the Somali Government and its
    perceived allies or supporters, including African Union peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab’s rank and
    file fighters—who are predominantly interested in removing the current government of Somalia
    vice pursuing al-Qa’ida’s global agenda—have gained control over specific locations in central
    and southern Somalia, in an effort to create an Islamic state throughout greater Somalia.

    Training programs run by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia have attracted hundreds of violent
    extremists from across the globe, to include dozens of recruits from the United States. We assess
    that U.S. persons – the majority of whom are ethnic Somali -- who have traveled to Somalia to
    fight and train with al-Shabaab have been primarily motivated by nationalism and identification
    with the Somali cause, rather than by al-Qa’ida’s global agenda. However, the potential for al-
    Qa‘ida operatives in Somalia to commission Americans to return to the United States and launch
    attacks against the Homeland remains of significant concern. The recent death of East
    Africa-based senior al-Qa‘ida operative Saleh Nabhan could disrupt for the time being al-
    Qa’ida’s linkage with al-Shabaab and hinder external attack planning in the region.

    • Although al-Shabaab has not yet conducted an attack outside of Somalia, we have
    identified several potential transnational terrorist plots involving individuals trained in
    Somalia. For example, Australian police in August arrested four men involved in
    plotting an attack against an Australian Army base, two of whom reportedly trained at
    camp in Somalia.

    North Africa and the Trans-Sahara. AQIM has expanded its operational presence in North
    Africa beyond Algeria, using a safehaven in Northern Mali and increasing low-level operations
    in Mauritania and has conducted more than a dozen attacks against Western interests in the
    region. We have seen increased interest by the group to conduct attacks in Europe—to include
    public statements threatening France and other European powers—as well as the United States.

    AQIM’s increased focus on kidnap-for ransom operations, particularly of Western hostages, has
    allowed for the group’s expansion, helping fund recruitment, training, propaganda and terrorist

    Iraq. Counterterrorism success in Iraq has lowered the external threat from al-Qa‘ida in Iraq
    (AQI)—a key al-Qa‘ida affiliate in the region—and has damaged the al-Qa‘ida brand, with many
    donors reticent to support the kinds of gruesome attacks that became the hallmark of AQI.
    Although AQI’s leaders continue to publicly threaten the West, to include the Homeland, we
    assess that their ability to do so has been substantially diminished by Coalition military and Iraqi
    security operations. However, the group remains the largest and most operationally active of al-
    Qa‘ida’s affiliates and continues to threaten Coalition forces in the region.

    Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Pakistan-based Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT)—an
    al-Qa‘ida ally—poses a threat to a range of interests in South Asia. Their attacks in Kashmir and
    India have had a destabilizing effect on the region, increasing tensions and brinkmanship
    between New Delhi and Islamabad. The group’s attack last year in Mumbai, India, resulted in
    US and Western casualties, and the group continues to plan attacks in India that could harm US
    citizens and damage US interests. LT’s involvement in attacks in Afghanistan against US and
    Coalition forces and provision of support to the Taliban and al-Qa‘ida extremists there pose a
    threat to US and Coalition interests. We assess that LT—or LT-trained individuals—could pose
    a direct threat to the Homeland, especially should they collude with al-Qa‘ida operatives.

    Homegrown Violent Extremists. Homegrown Muslim extremists who have little if any
    connection to known terrorist organizations have not launched a successful attack in the United
    States. The handful of homegrown extremists who have sought to strike within the Homeland
    since 9/11 have lacked the necessary tradecraft and capability to conduct or facilitate
    sophisticated attacks.

    Al-Qa‘ida’s Media Campaign. Al-Qa‘ida propaganda statements this year have provided
    valuable insight into the group’s strategic intentions and have reiterated their commitment to
    attacking US and Western interests worldwide. Public al-Qa‘ida statements rarely contain a
    specific threat or telegraph attack planning.

    • The recently released statement that threatens Germany with near-term attacks if the
    election fails to favor the candidate who will withdraw German troops from Afghanistan
    is an exception to standard al-Qa‘ida practice as it features a specific threat timed to
    influence the German elections scheduled for 27 September.

    • Al-Qa‘ida statements have addressed three main themes this year—first, the group’s
    continued desire to attack US interests; second, the group’s claim that it has inspired or
    partnered with emerging and sometimes more successful fronts in Somalia, the Sahel, and
    the Arabian Peninsula, which it says serves the same purpose and achieves the same aims
    as past major operations; and third, al-Qa‘ida’s claim that its actions on and since 9/11
    have caused significant damage to the US economy.

    • Al-Qa‘ida has also released a number of statements this year directed at Pakistan. We
    assess that this is in direct response to Pakistani military actions against their safehavens
    in the tribal areas and nearby settled areas such as the Swat Valley. Despite increasing
    pressure on their safehaven this year, al-Sahab, the al-Qa‘ida media arm, is still rapidly
    producing propaganda and will probably outpace lasts year’s production.

    Violent Shia Extremists. While not aligned with al-Qa‘ida, we assess that Lebanese Hizballah
    remains capable of conducting terrorist attacks on US and Western interests, particularly in the
    Middle East. It continues to train and sponsor terrorist groups in Iraq that threaten the lives of
    US and Coalition forces, and supports Palestinian terrorist groups’ efforts to attack Israel and
    jeopardize the Middle East Peace Process. Although its primary focus is Israel, the group holds
    the United States responsible for Israeli policies in the region and would likely consider attacks
    on US interests, to include the Homeland, if it perceived a direct threat from the United States to
    itself or Iran. Hizballah’s Secretary General, in justifying the group’s use of violence against
    fellow Lebanese citizens last year, characterized any threat to Hizballah’s armed status and its
    independent communications network as redlines.

    WMD-Terrorism. The threat of WMD terrorism to the Homeland remains a grave concern.
    Documents recovered in Afghanistan indicated that al-Qa‘ida was pursuing a sophisticated
    biological weapons program and testing chemical agents. Since 9/11, we have successfully
    disrupted these and other terrorist efforts to develop a WMD capability. However, al-Qa‘ida and
    other groups continue to seek such a capability for use against the Homeland and US interests
    overseas. While terrorists face technical hurdles to developing and employing WMD, the
    consequences of a successful attack force us to consider every possible threat against the
    Homeland, even those considered low probability.

    Coordination of Counterterrorism Efforts
    US Government Strategy to Counter Terrorism. The 9/11 Commission, reflecting on the
    paucity of joint action and planning that characterized the US Government’s approach to
    terrorism before the 2001 attacks, recommended the creation of a “a civilian-led unified joint
    command for CT,” combining both strategic intelligence and joint operational planning. The
    Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) brought this
    recommendation to life through legislation, creating NCTC and its strategic operational planning
    authorities. For the first time, an organization outside the Executive Office of the President was
    given the responsibility for government-wide coordination of planning and integration of
    department and agency actions involving “all elements of national power,” including
    “diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, Homeland security, and law enforcement activities
    within and among agencies.”

    Pursuant to this authority, the Director of NCTC is responsible for providing strategic CT plans
    and for effectively integrating CT intelligence and operations across agency boundaries, both
    inside and outside the US.
    The baseline US Government strategy for countering terrorism is the NCTC-authored and
    Presidentially-approved National Implementation Plan for Counterterrorism (NIP). The NIP
    consists of four “pillars” that correspond to national policy: 1) protect and defend against
    terrorists; 2) attack their capacity to operate; 3) work diligently to undermine the spread of
    violent extremism and retard radicalization around the world; and 4) prevent terrorists from
    utilizing WMD.

    The NIP establishes a firm strategic foundation for action by requiring that each department and
    agency work collectively to achieve the endstates described in the objectives and sub-objectives
    of each pillar. However, without a sustained, focused effort to implement the NIP—a process
    that brings together lead and partner departments and agencies and the NSC to actively work to
    overcome the operational, legal, resource, and policy impediments to achieving the NIP’s
    strategic objectives—the plan would be of limited value. Although I am unable to speak to all of
    our efforts or provide extensive detail in an unclassified setting, below I offer a few examples of
    the more granular synchronization efforts we are pursuing in conjunction with the White House
    and Departments and Agencies throughout the US Government.

    Interagency Task Force (ITF). The ITF, established in June 2007, is charged with ensuring that
    US Government CT activities—and the resources to support them—are correlated rapidly with a
    constantly evolving threat picture and level of risk. The ITF may focus, as directed by the NSC,
    on an individual threat, but more typically it seeks to develop and coordinate overall strategic
    interagency action appropriate to the aggregate threat picture. Led by NCTC, the ITF comprises
    a core group of department and agency representatives who constantly examine current
    intelligence to ensure ongoing prevention efforts are synergistically executed. If additional,
    more alarming intelligence is obtained, the ITF formulates domestic and overseas options for
    senior policy makers to enable an appropriately tailored US Government response to any given

    Exercises. NCTC also develops and facilitates national and local exercises to improve domestic
    preparedness at all levels of the US Government, as well as that of our international partners.
    The most recent capabilities review exercise hosted by NCTC tested the federal response to a
    Mumbai-style attack in an urban environment. These exercise “lessons learned” have been
    shared, in coordination with DHS and FBI, with other federal, state and local authorities in an
    effort to bring our law enforcement and homeland security communities closer together.
    Global Engagement. NCTC continues to play a large role in interagency efforts to counter
    violent extremism, both around the world and at home. For example, NCTC coordinated the
    development of a strategic communications strategy for the interagency to support efforts led by
    the President’s Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) and Central
    Command in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Working with these partners, plus others in the State
    Department, Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community, NCTC produced a
    coordinated interagency plan that is now being used by, the State Department and commanders
    in the field.

    NCTC has also developed an analytical tool that is providing, for the first time, a deep look at
    ongoing US Government programs that seek to build ties with the Afghan and Pakistani people.
    This tool is helping senior government leaders evaluate the efforts that have been made in the
    past and identify new types of programs that should be pursued.
    On the domestic front, NCTC enables, informs and supports federal, state and local government
    efforts to engage with communities across our country. Central to this effort is NCTC’s
    leadership of an interagency group to coordinate engagement projects and activities conducted
    by the FBI, DHS, State, Justice, Treasury and others. In particular, NCTC has worked diligently
    through this group with its partner agencies to enhance the level of engagement between the US
    Government and Somali Americans and build communities that are increasingly resistant to the
    threat posed by extremism.

    Afghanistan/Pakistan. Working closely with SRAP, NCTC has coordinated CT-related
    planning efforts designed to support development and implementation of a broader US
    Government strategy in this key region. NCTC led an interagency effort to refine specific
    counterterrorism objectives and develop measures of performance, as well as to identify and
    synchronize associated department and agency actions and initiatives to achieve these strategic
    objectives. NCTC also assisted departments and agencies with identifying associated resource
    requirements and implementation timelines.

    Region-specific efforts. Outside of South Asia, NCTC is working with our interagency
    partners—such as the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, and Treasury, and key members of
    the Intelligence Community—to develop and coordinate the implementation of plans designed to
    disrupt and diminish the capability of specific terrorist organizations and their networks, and to
    eliminate identified regional safehavens. Planning efforts include the development of whole-ofgovernment
    strategic objectives; interagency synchronization of initiatives designed to achieve
    those objectives; the identification of necessary resources and key milestones; and development
    of potential foreign partner actions.

    Budget. Working with our mission partners, we have helped develop a methodology for
    departments and agencies to use in aligning their resources for counterterrorism. As a result, we
    were able to align CT resources to the strategic objectives of the National Implementation Plan,
    as well as provide recommendations for new areas of emphasis in the FY11 budget build.
    Subsequently, OMB and the NSC issued budgetary guidance to the interagency to implement
    these recommendations.

    Assessments. In order to successfully guide development of strategies and plans to counter an
    active and agile enemy, NCTC monitors and assesses overall NIP implementation as well as the
    impact of subordinate CT plans and guidance. NCTC’s strategic impact assessments are
    designed to provide a tangible and well-understood “feedback loop” to CT planners and policy
    makers that takes a wide variety of vital factors into consideration, including strategic and
    operational outcomes arising from US Government and partner nation counterterrorism programs
    and activities; developments in enemy strategy and actions; and changes in the operating
    environment. The goal is to provide a useful tool that may be used to refine and guide the next
    generation of CT strategy and plans.

    Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member Collins, I want to conclude by recognizing this
    Committee for the role it played in the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center.
    Without your leadership the strides we have jointly made to counter the terrorist threat would not
    be possible. Your continued support is critical to the Center’s mission to lead our nation’s effort
    to combat terrorism at home and abroad by analyzing the threat, sharing that information with
    out partners, and integrating all instruments of national power to ensure unity of effort. I look
    forward to continuing our work together in the years to come.


    Note the absence of any mention of Iran.



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