Seriously, why Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) still the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs? I totally get his desire to be the chair of a major Senate committee - he gets to make broad, somber statements about "protecting the homeland" and holds these open meetings to ensure that the press gets to headline his concerns. But he's really not doing anything to either improve homeland security or to boost the Democratic platform (other than providing the occasional vote in cloture calls that still fail to move legislation forward).
On Wednesday, Lieberman and fellow moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) held a hearing titled "Nine Years After 9/11: How Can We Keep Fear Alive Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland"(also see WaPo coverage here). Featured witnesses included DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and NCTC Director Michael Leiter. Here's a summary of their talks:
Sen. Lieberman: "Thank you for being here to remind the American people about Teh Terrorist Threat. So let me point out the concern over the 'home-grown' threat of 63 Americans arrested in 2009 on terrorist-related issues amidst our population of 310 million people."
Sen. Collins: "I, too, am worried about the possibility of Americans being recruited and trained to use automatic rifles and explosives against our populace. No, I didn't mean the Tea Party activists and white militia groups, only the brown people who speak with accents."
Sec. Napolitano: "We're just now figuring out that terrorists do, in fact, prefer small arms and explosives to CBRN hazards. We're still paying out billions in grants to state and local agencies, because you like us to do that. And we intend to make travel on America's rails just as painful as flying."
Dir. Mueller: "Since it is the FBI's job to counter 'home-grown' terrorists as well as look out for the foreign-based terrorists, let me assure you that we are on top of things. But rest assured, we're not going to bother watching those Tea Party activists until they shoot someone."
Dir. Leiter: "There are lots of flavors of al Qaeda out there. We're watching them all, but don't blame us if another 'underwear bomber' slips through. And we're intent on retaining the Cheney doctrine on WMD terrorism - maximum focus on the lowest probability events."
I jest - a little. But I find it curious that the three witnesses want to promote this common thesis that "al-Qa‘ida, and its affiliates and allies, will attempt to conduct smaller-scale attacks targeting the Homeland but with greater frequency." Is it really a general trend, or are they projecting their fears that they might miss another "lone wolf" who flies into the United States with a bulge in his pants?
I'm going to just suggest here that the general foreign terrorist community was always focused on small-scale attacks - that 9/11 was a "black swan" and future terrorist incidents may never be repeated on that scale. Small arms and explosives remain easy to purchase and easy to master. We're FINALLY getting acknowledgment that WMD terrorism is overblown and is not in fact the future mode of attack for terrorists coming to the United States (but we're still going to spend a lot of time and money on countering WMD terrorism, just in case).
If there is an increase in frequency of attacks, maybe, just maybe that's because of a general failure in US strategic communications and the extended period of US military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention increased "kinetic" involvement in Yemen and Somalia. These events tend to foster AQ's recruiting drive. I know that's difficult for some to believe, but I'm just putting it out there as a possibility.
Finally, note these witnesses and their organizations. Did you see any DOD officials there? Protecting the homeland from foreign terrorists is not a military-led activity. It's a law enforcement and intelligence activity. Add the State Department when you want to talk about preventing terrorist growth overseas. Let's just get past the chest-thumping and try to develop coherent government policy based on that understanding, and we'll be a whole lot better off.