Entries in Michael Leiter (2)


Top Counterterrorism Official Warns of Potential Attack, 'Innocent Lives Will Be Lost'

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, was arrested for allegedly attempting to detonate a car bomb Nov. 26 at a Portland, Ore., Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Photo Courtesy - Multnomah County Jail(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is due for a deadly terrorist attack that will likely be carried out by a new breed of extremists radicalized in America's cities and towns, the country's top counterterrorism official said Wednesday in an unusually candid press conference.

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, warned that despite a spate of thwarted recent bomb attempts, the country is facing an evolving threat from homegrown terrorists who will one day successfully kill Americans.

"We aim for perfection," Leiter said, but "perfection will not be achieved....Innocent lives will be lost."

"Just like any other endeavor we will not stop all the attacks....To say that we will not successfully defend against all attacks is certainly not to say that we are not trying to stop all attacks, we are. It is certainly not to say that any attack is OK. If there is an attack it may well be tragic," he said.

Last week, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born U.S. national accused of planning to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. Law enforcement officials said Mohamud was one of a growing number of Americans to self-radicalize and choose to carry out terror attacks on their own.

"We have to be honest that some things will get through," Leiter said. "And in this era of a more complicated threat, a more diverse threat and lower-scale attacks to include individuals who have been radicalized here in the homeland, stopping all the attacks has become that much harder."

Many of those Americans find inspiration online from Anwar Al Awalaki, an American radical cleric, who Leiter described as a dangerous threat directly involved in planning attacks on the U.S.

Leiter said Al Awlaki, believed to be hiding in Yemen among a dangerous Al Qaeda cell, had gone from being a propagandist to planning attacks outright. According to The New York Times, the cleric is currently the only American the government admits to having on its hit list.

The strength of Al Qaeda's central leadership, which organized the 9/11 attacks, has diminished, he said, but the group is still capable of carrying out lethal attacks, and pointed to the recent threats in Europe as originating from the group's hideout along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan.

Leiter said other attacks could come from splinter cells, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group affiliated with Al Awlaki, and believed responsible for last year's Christmas Day plane plot, and last month's thwarted printer-cartridge plot.

Leiter also warned against a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of an attack that would slow the country's ability to operate regularly. The country must be prepared to move forward following a deadly incident, including immediately pursuing the responsible terrorists, and reviewing the steps taken by law enforcement agencies.

He said it was essential for the country to show resilience in the wake of an attack, and not assume that terrorists posed an existential threat to the nation.

He said concerns about an impending attack and the ability to move the country forward following an attack were "very much a bipartisan sentiment."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


National Counterterror Director Says Complaints Over Spying Declining Since Ft. Hood

Photo Courtesy - NCTC(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the National Counterterrorism Center expressed frustration Wednesday with critics of domestic spying and said that after recent violent incidents questions about government intrusiveness had turned into complaints that the government wasn't doing enough spying.

"In the months before Ft. Hood I was advocating for the extension of some aspects of the Patriot Act, and I think for very good reasons people have some concerns," said NCTC Director Michael Leiter. "I got a lot of, 'Why should we allow you to keep spying on Americans?"' Leiter was referring to the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood in Texas, which killed 13 people.

"Several weeks later in the wake of Ft. Hood," said Leiter, "I was back on [Capitol] Hill. I tell you a whole lot of fewer people were complaining about me spying on Americans and a whole lot more people were complaining that I wasn't spying enough. It's a tough line to walk." Leiter also said attitudes about terror watch lists had changed after alleged "underwear bomber" Umar Abdulmutallab, who was not placed on a watch list, was allowed to board Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit last Christmas. Abdulmutallab is charged with attempting to detonate a bomb on the plane.

Leiter and other top U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials discussed the balance between security and civil liberties at a conference Wednesday hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said he didn't believe there was "an inherent tension between protecting national security and preserving civil liberties....Yes, we have a right to privacy. But we also have a right to ride the subways without the threat of bombings. It is not a question of conflict; it is a question of balance."

Mueller said wiretap laws and phone and Internet providers have not kept pace with rapidly evolving technology, and that the government needs to improve the ability of law enforcement to monitor terrorist and criminal groups.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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