Transcript: Testimony of NCTC Director Matthew Olsen before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of remarks by National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on Sept. 19, 2012:

National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen. SOURCE: Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

“Thank you very much, Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member Collins and members of the committee. I really appreciate this opportunity to be here this morning. I also want to express my appreciation to your committee for its leadership on national security matters and certainly your support of NCTC from its inception. And I thank you for your kind comments this morning about our work and I accept those on behalf of the men and women at NCTC.

“And I’m also very pleased to be here with Secretary [Janet] Napolitano and Associate Deputy Director [Kevin] Perkins. We are close partners in the fight against terrorism.

“In my brief remarks this morning, I will focus on recent events and highlight a few areas of real key concerns for us. And then I’ll take a moment to highlight our efforts at NCTC to analyze and share critical threat information.

“Certainly, the attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi last week that took the lives of 4 Americans, including Ambassador [Chris] Stevens, is proof that acts of terror and violence continue to threaten our citizens and our interests around the world.

“As the President said of these Americans just this past Friday, they didn’t simply embrace the American ideal – they lived it.

“It’s now our responsibility to honor them by fulfilling our mission to combat terrorism and to combat violent extremism. The intelligence community, I can tell you, is working as one to determine what exactly happened in Benghazi, to uncover new threats in the region, and then to identify and bring to justice those who are responsible for this attack.

“Last week’s attacks, I think, should be viewed in the context of the evolving threat landscape that we face that you’ve spoken about as well as the ongoing unrest and political transition in the region.

“More than a decade after Sept. 11 attacks, we face a dynamic threat from Al Qaeda, from it’s affiliates as well as those who follow Al Qaeda’s ideology.

“There’s no doubt that over the past few years, our government working with our allies has placed relentless pressure on Al Qaeda’s core leadership. We have denied the group safe haven, we denied the group resources and the ability to plan and train.

“In short, the intelligence picture shows that Al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan is a shadow of its former self.

“But even as Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan struggle to remain relevant, the terrorist threats that we face have become more diverse.

“Al Qaeda has turned to other groups to carry out attacks and to advance its ideology. These groups are based in an array of countries including Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and in Iraq.

“In particular, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the group that is most likely, we think, to attempt attacks against the United States. We saw this in May with the disruption of an AQAP plot to take down an airliner.

“Other affiliates and related groups – such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as militants based in Pakistan – all pose threats to our citizens and interests in those regions of the world.

“We’re also focused on threats posed by Iran and by Hezbollah. Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and over the past year, the threat from Iranian-sponsored terrorism has increased.

“Inside the United States, we remain vigilant to prevent violent extremists from carrying out attacks in the name of Al Qaeda. This past week, the FBI arrested a Chicago man after he allegedly tried to blow up a crowded bar in the city. Also last week, a federal judge sentenced a Virginia man to 30 years in prison for plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol. These plot highlight the danger that Al Qaeda inspired extremists pose to our country.

“And beyond these threats, we face a period of unrest and a period of transition in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Arab Spring or Awakening – now in progress for well over a year – has led to fundamental reforms in the region. Al Qaeda was not part of this change but the group is seeking to take advantage of the unrest in some areas – seeking to establish safe havens and to recruit extremists where security is diminished.

“Now, if I may, turning to the role of the National Counter-Terrorism Center. Congress and this committee created NCTC to help lead this effort to combat these threats. Our founding principle is the imperative to integrate all terrorism information and to share that knowledge with those on the frontline of this fight.

“I will take a few moments to describe the ways in which we are seeking to achieve this goal every day at NCTC.

“First, intelligence information and state-of-the-art analysis. NCTC serves as the primary organization in the government for integrating and assessing all intelligence relating to international terrorism. We have a unique responsibility to examine all terrorism issues spanning geographical boundaries to identify and analyze threat information regardless of whether that information is collected inside or outside the United States.

“At NCTC, our culture is defined by collaboration. Nearly every NCTC analytic product is coordinated throughout the intelligence community, therefore reflects multiple perspectives for policymakers and operators alike.

“Secondly, access to data and technological innovations. We are promoting information integration and sharing with the development of a counter-terrorism data layer. This approach to data allows our analysts to access terrorism information that we have collected from across the government in a single place and it allows us to do that without having to manually search multiple networks.

“Here, if I may, I would like to make a point about the FISA Amendment Act – a law that’s set to expire at the end of this year. As this committee knows, this law authorizes the government to collect valuable intelligence involving international terrorists and other enemies by targeting non-Americans who are overseas. These provisions were carefully crafted and carefully implemented to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans and should remain law.

“Thirdly, NCTC has enhanced its focus on tactical intelligence and developing leads involving threats to the United States. We established a pursuit group – analysts from across the counter-terrorism community who have unparalleled data access and expertise. Their mission is to focus on information that could lead to the discovery of threats, to connect those dots, to identify actionable leads for agencies such as the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA.

“Finally, NCTC provides situational awareness and intelligence support to the broad counter-terrorism community. Our operations center, which is co-located with the FBI’s Watch, provides around-the-clock support to counter-terrorism agencies. We also maintain the government’s central repository for terrorist identities. This enables us to provide near real-time watch list data to support screening and law enforcement activities across the government.

“In addition, the Inter-agency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group or ITEAC-G, which is located at NCTC and is led by senior DHS and FBI officers, brings federal and state and local officers together in one place at NCTC.

“This group is dedicated to providing relevant intelligence on terrorism issues to state, local, and tribal and private sector partners, helping to ensure that information is shared with public safety officials, including police officers and firefighters. Faced with the possible loss of funding, we are working closely with DHS and FBI to retain this capability. Mr. Chairman, you’ve been a strong supporter of ITAC-G and have noted its successes, and I’m personally committed to working with DHS and FBI to sustaining this initiative, to finding ways to do so in a cost-effective way, and we’re working closely together to chart a way ahead.

“I just want to close by identifying our most important asset and that’s our people. NCTC is working to meet the many challenges ahead but that effort is really dependent on our diverse and dedicated workforce. Maintaining this workforce through the continued commitment and support of agencies like DHS, the FBI and other organizations is a priority for me at the center.

“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the committee, thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you this morning and thank you for your continued support of NCTC. I look forward to answering your questions.”

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