Obama Obscures Threats to Homeland, Lawmaker Says

By Stew Magnuson

The actions of the Obama administration do not reflect the president’s assertions that the war on terror is winding down — and actions speak louder than words, said the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In a May speech, President Obama declared that the war must end and that the core of al-Qaida had been defeated. However, as he delivered the speech, U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East continued, said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

“The president’s use of this campaign undercuts his argument that the core of al-Qaida has been decimated. Al-Qaida is an ideology that cannot be taken out by drone strikes alone,” McCaul said July 31 at a Center for Strategic and International Studies speech.

The terrorist organization has only become more decentralized and geographically dispersed. “The battlefield is now everywhere,” he added.

The national defense platform is focused on returning America to a pre-9/11 mindset. This didn’t work before, McCaul said.

Returning to the pre-9/11 belief that terrorism is a problem that can be tackled by law enforcement investigations, instead of a coordinated effort between the intelligence community and U.S. military, is dangerous, he said.

“We need a multi-faceted approach to being successful in preventing large-scale attacks on the homeland from overseas,” he added.

Eliminating words such as “violent extremists” and “radical Islamists” from the vernacular is not the way to achieve this goal. This softening of the language downgrades the real threat and sends a signal that the United States lacks resolve, McCaul said.  

“The administration may think that taking the war on terror and radical Islam out of the conversation will help end the conflict. But in reality, you cannot defeat an enemy that you are unwilling to define,” he said.

Words, or the lack-thereof, cannot wish away attacks or constitute a counterterrorism policy. There is a lack of clarity on the administration’s policy toward preventing and dealing with terrorist threats, he added.

In addition, important positions in the Department of Homeland Security remain unfilled, he said. This list includes the deputy secretary, undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, Customs and Border Protection commissioner, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the inspector general.

Alejandro Mayorkas, currently the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration  Services, underwent a bruising confirmation hearing in the Senate last week to take the deputy secretary position, and has yet to be confirmed. Moving up would leave his current job open as well.

Secretary Janet Napolitano announced plans to resign Sept. 7, but no nominee to  replace her has been named yet, and Congress is slated to go on its August recess before any action can be taken.

The leadership gaps in the department make it appear to be broken, McCaul said. “Reforming the way they [DHS agencies] are managed and the way they operate is something that we are very interested in trying,” McCaul said.

“It’s difficult with 22 agencies in one, but I think I have a responsibility to fix the system, because ultimately, it impacts American lives,” he said.

The department needs more resources in order to deal with threats, including those along the Southwest border. The less secure the southern border is, the more exposed the United States is to attacks, he added.

“If you don’t know and can’t control who’s coming into your country, then you are vulnerable, and there are groups out there who would like to get in and do us harm,” McCaul said.

There are terrorism groups — such as the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah — operating in Latin American countries. McCaul said DHS should employ assets such as radar technology used by the Defense Department in Afghanistan to better secure the border.

“We need to be able to see from the sky what is coming in and what’s not, so that we can measure what we are apprehending,” he added.

Following the withdrawal of the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, it is imperative that the administration has a functioning counterterrorism policy in place. Obama has left enemies with a timetable, and by doing so has given the Taliban an idea of when to seek retribution, McCaul said.

“If we fail to leave a force capable of conducting counterterrorism operations in cooperation with our Afghan partners, al-Qaida will return — and we will be back to where we were before 9/11,” he said.

“As much as we despise terrorism and want to see it go away, rhetoric has a ripple effect and it impacts the accuracy of counterterrorism efforts. Words do matter, and I believe the president should be more careful with them,” he added.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Leadership

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