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
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
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
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
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.