Two of the most prominent legislators on terrorism — Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers — teamed up to tell the world that the threat of terrorism is up in the U.S., and that we’re not any safer than we were a couple of years ago.
On State of the Union with Candy Crowley on Sunday, Feinstein responded to Crowley’s question: “Are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago? In general?” with a rather resounding ‘no’:
I don't think so. I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups that ever and there's huge malevolence out there.
Oh, I absolutely agree that we're not safer today for the same very reasons. So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it's getting more difficult because we see the al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different, more affiliates than we've ever had before, meaning more groups that operated independently of al Qaeda have now joined al Qaeda around the world, all of them have at least some aspiration to commit an act of violence in the United States or against western targets all around the world. They've now switched to this notion that maybe smaller events are okay. So if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals. That makes it exponentially harder for our intelligence services to stop an event like that.
The Boston Marathon attack in April raised concerns that more strikes would be executed by individuals at home, possibly sympathetic to Islamist extremists, but not necessarily affiliated with larger groups, and they would do so using crude, homemade arms. Such attacks would be difficult for authorities to anticipate, or safeguard against. Even traditional communication among operatives — via, for example, a conference call or expense reports — has become more difficult to trace, according to Rogers. He said to Crowley, “We have now three al-Qaeda affiliate groups have changed the way they communicate, which means it's less likely that we're going to be able to detect something prior to an event that goes operational, meaning that they've already started the final planning stages to blow something up or shoot someone.”
Feinstein went on to mention concerns over failed states in the Middle East, regional spread of anti-Western sentiment, and the Syrian civil war’s contribution to a strengthening al-Qaeda network. However, Feinstein also put in a good word for U.S. intelligence officials, who have gotten some negative attention for a pervasive snooping habit and keeping tabs on the virtual sexual histories of ‘radicalizers,’ while reminding us all just who the bad guys are:
We've got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys. The bad guys, the al Qaeda affiliates, Russian intelligence services, Chinese intelligence services, the Quds force that operates terrorism events all around the world, those are the folks we need to focus our attention and our energy on in order to keep America safe.
Last week, the ACLU filed a brief on behalf of three Senators who argue that bulk collection of personal information does not aid anti-terrorism efforts.