RRW goes to Washington for Senate Homeland Security hearing

I got up very early yesterday and joined thousands of commuters from western Maryland to make the trek to Washington, DC (lucky for me it’s only the rare occasion that I join them!)    As I reported here last night, Senator Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the missing Somali “youths”, former refugees or the children of refugees, who have reportedly left the US to join the terrorist group al Shabaab.

I arrived early enough to have chosen a seat anywhere in the room but foolishly sat near the back.  When the room quickly filled to standing room only and the hearing began, my choice of a seat turned out to be a rotten one because I couldn’t see which witness was speaking.

A little aside:  The press tables on both sides of the room were soon filled with journalists from all sorts of media outlets.  They signed in and received a copy of  each of the witnesses written testimony (not available to the public but supposedly will be on line).  I wondered if the time would come when bloggers would be official journalists.  After giving it some thought, I realize that I don’t want that time to come.  We know that some leftwing bloggers have become not only journalists but advisors to Presidential campaigns and I think that is a mistake.   There is enormous freedom with blogging— to be only a lowly citizen reporting what one learns and sees is a good thing.  I want to keep it that way, at least for me.

Now, back to the hearing.  I’m going to just have to give you bullets of information as they occured in the hearing and throw in my observations from time to time.  If I write this as a reporter might, it will take me all day and you would be bored with too lengthy a narrative (it will be long enough even in the bullet format).

I’ve already mentioned Senator Lieberman.  Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was a key player and very knowledgeable.   Entering a little later three other Senators showed up for brief visits:  Senator Rowland Burris (D-IL), Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah).    Excepting Lieberman in Connecticut, all of the other Senators have significant Muslim Immigrant populations in their states.   I wondered if Senator Collins was thinking about Portland and Lewiston throughout and whether this could happen to her Somali population.

So here goes:

* Senator Lieberman in opening remarks said this was the most significant case of terrorist recruitment in the US, although a less severe case than Europe is experiencing.

* He said the American Somali community members are “victims” of recruitment (you will see this developed into a recurring theme).

* Then this was another recurring line of questioning, Lieberman asked if the Somali al Shabaab-trained terrorists would return to the US to carry out attacks.

*  Why would al-Shabaab need a few (we are assuming it’s only a few) Americans when it is obvious there are plenty of young men in the Horn of Africa ready and willing to be fighters, asked Lieberman.

* Then it was Senator Collins turn to speak and she made the statement that the most effective border system in the world wouldn’t protect us from homegrown terrorists.

* She said the suicide bombing death of American citizen, Shirwa Ahmed, got the committees attention because he was radicalized in Minnesota.  We first wrote about Ahmed when he was buried back on December 4th.   Ahmed actually died in October.  Only took the committee 3 months since the burial to get concerned.

Come to think of it there was no Senator from Minnesota in attendance.  We know why in the Franken/Coleman conflict, but where was Minnesota’s other Senator Amy Klobucher (D), especially since she had contituents testifying.

* Collins also commented that radicalized individuals with US passports pose a threat (yes indeed).

The first panel included J. Philip Mudd, long title, FBI, and Andrew Liepman, Deputy Director of Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center.   (I’ll use abbreviations, FBI and NCTC when I report on what they said.  As I mentioned sometimes I couldn’t see who was speaking so I’ll just use FBI/NCTC especially since they were in agreement throughout.)

Note:  a couple of days later….I think I am completely confused about which guy, FBI or NCTC was speaking throughout, but it really doesn’t matter because their testimony seemed to have been coordinated.   If you really need to know who said which thing exactly please check the hearing record linked below.

* NCTC (or FBI):  Somalis are located in significant numbers in Minnesota, Columbus, OH, Seattle, WA and San Diego.  He didn’t mention Maine but yesterday’s Washington Post story did.  We know there are also many other cities with large populations.   NCTC said the size of the US Somali population is 70,000 to 200,000 and that is where the credibility of this guy went out the window for me.  The Deputy Director of Intelligence doesn’t know what we know, that the Refugee program alone has brought over 80,000 Somalis to the US for over 25 years and they now have several generations of families that average 6 kids.   So, the US population is way higher than he reports to the committee.  Incidentally, there was not one word uttered about the State Department’s Refugee Resettlement Program.

* Why are Somalis susceptible to radicalization?  NCTC says its because they live in insular communities, young men are disenfranchised, religious ideology is appealing, they are confused and torn between tribal identification and US society where they don’t have enough faith in our civil liberties.  Oh boy, this was only the beginning of the ‘victim’ theme.

*  NCTC also concluded that they were NOT signing up for the global jihad, just interested in the future of Somalia.  FBI made this point too—the missing youths were fighting for their country.    Jumping ahead I’ll mention here that Sen. Lieberman later in the hearing said he attended an Armed Services Committee hearing in the last week where he heard that Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda were planning to formally merge.  Oh, now that really scares everybody.  It annoys the heck out of me when I see these defenders of our security not getting worried about Islamic extremism until they can somehow link it to Al Qaeda.

* Why are these youths being radicalized?  Here we go with the FBI’s list:  Somalis are here escaping trauma, working in nasty jobs like meatpacking, live in single parent homes with Moms, no men around, don’t speak English well.  Because men are lacking the youths are easily taken in by charismatic recruiters.   This just all strikes me as too pat an answer.   Later in the hearing we learn from a Somali man whose nephew is missing that he had all the support he needed, was getting all A’s in school and wanted to go to Harvard.   Also, the youth had been in the US since he was a baby and obviously had an uncle (this man testifying) who was articulate and cared about the boy’s future.

Readers:  Are you getting bored yet? I am, but its important that I get all this on paper for future reference.

* FBI:  No community wide radicalization, just “cluster” radicalization.  Not connected city to city.   FBI is on the ground and working with local law enforcement.  But, here he only mentioned Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus, Ohio.    Senator Lieberman chimed in at one point that his staff was in Minneapolis recently and heard complaints from the local police that they were not getting enough support/feedback from the FBI.

*  Lieberman asked again why they need Americans in Somalia and FBI answered so they can say they have a “multi-national force.”

* Lieberman then said they have US passports, are they coming back and do we have a special filter in place to catch them if they do.    Shockingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), neither FBI or NCTC could give Lieberman a straight answer.   There was much yakking about the “thousands” of Americans going to places like Kenya each year and you couldn’t interfere with their civil liberties to go in and out of the US.  How is that for comforting!

* Senator Collins, noting I suppose the lack of an answer to that question about whether our agencies responsible for our safety were flagging these people  (leaving the country) in some way, asked the question again.    She also threw in  a line about drug-resistent TB, almost implying that the disease could come back into the US with the newly trained terrorists, but she never went anywhere with the comment.  Are they being flagged, she asked?  FBI/NCTC once again expressed concern for our (their!) “civil liberties.”

* Collins:  Minneapolis police are providing federal officials with information and why are they getting none back?   FBI thanked the Minneapolis police (and Columbus police) but did not answer Collin’s question.

* Collins asked about Somali gang violence and if there was any connection.  No, said FBI/NCTC, reiterating that it was the result of a “charismatic” male figure recruiting “vulnerable” kids.

* Senator Voinovich then got a chance to ask questions and he wanted to know if al-Shabaab was on the record with any threats to the US.  I don’t know if it was NCTC or FBI (I think it was NCTC) said emphatically NO!  The threat was specific to the unrest in Somalia.     I wanted to jump up and shout, you are wrong!    We reported here that al Shabaab has threatened to wipe us out and create a worldwide caliphate or here where they said they wanted to “throw the West into hell.”   Aren’t we part of the West?   And, not one word was mentioned (in the entire hearing!) about al Shabaab threatening to disrupt Obama’s inauguration, here.

* Senator Voinovich seemed relieved when FBI/NCTC said there is no formal linkage to al Qaeda and no credible body of information to confirm that the missing youths are being trained to return.  Then Voinovich made a completely off the wall comment/ question about whether we might make it a self-fullfilling prophesy if we talk about all this too much, huh?

* Senator Burris wanted to know if he understood it correctly that these youths were returning to Somalia voluntarily.  FBI/NCTC said once again that the youths are attached to their homeland and are living isolated in the US therefore they were easy marks for recruiters.

*  FBI/NCTC said the American Somalis are really just cannon fodder. Dr. Ken Menkhaus went into further explanation about the “usefulness” of the recruited Americans in his testimony.  They don’t have the fighting skills of Africans who had not been in the US, they often don’t speak the language, they require some babysitting, they get sick, but they serve a PR purpose (you know multi-national force) and they make potentially good suicide bombers because they are now at the mercy of their al-Shabaab handlers. 

* I didn’t write down who asked this, it might have been Burris, if “kids” come back to the US, are they de-radicalized, implying they got disillusioned about fighting in Africa.  NCTC/FBI:  that is a problem we won’t know, and might not know for years.

* Lieberman (again):  Is it worldwide Jihad that al-Shabaab is involved in?  NCTC/FBI:  we see Shabaab focused only on the Horn of Africa.

* Collins:  It costs around $2000 for a plane ticket to Somalia, where is the money coming from?  FBI:  Remittance money, not that expensive, “terrorism is cheap.”  By the way, remittances came up again and someone said that $1 billion is sent back to Somalia every year in remittances worldwide from the Somali Diaspora.

* Collins asked if al-Shabaab sought out Americans for recruitment just as a divisive thing, so they can say “we have Americans” as part of our cause?   FBI/NCTC: Yes, it broadens the base, but again it’s focused on the Horn of Africa, the homeland, not part of the global jihad.

*  Later in the hearing FBI/NCTC said if these American “youths” end up in Pakistan then that is a problem.  No kidding.

Two Somalis also testified representing the Somali community of Minneapolis. One, Osman Ahmed, is the uncle of one missing teen and also is President of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association.   The other was Abdirahman Mukhtar, the youth program manager of the Brian Coyle Community Center and a highschool classmate of Shirwa Ahmed, our first Somali-American suicide bomber.

About a third of the audience left when the FBI and NCTC guys left and did not return for the testimony of the second panel.  To their credit, I didn’t see any reporters leave.

* Osman Ahmed told about his nephew’s disappearance on election day, Nov. 4th, 2008.  We have read about this straight A student (who came to the US as a baby) on several previous occasions.  I couldn’t hear most of Ahmed’s testimony but when answering questions he put the blame for recruitment squarely on the local mosque.

* Mr. Mukhtar made sure to clarify Ahmed’s criticism of the mosque and said the blame is not on the mosque but on “individuals” affiliated with the mosque.   After talking rather at length about how he, Mr. Mukhtar, turned out pretty good he couldn’t really explain how his suicide bomber classmate went wrong.   One came away with the impression he was saying two people in the same situation, one turns out good, one doesn’t—just like in all of human nature no matter what color you are or your economic circumstances. 

*  Asked if they had any idea this was going on, one of the Somali men said they were too focused on the Somalis murdering Somalis in Minneapolis to see it coming.

Well, you get the drift.  I am running out of steam writing and if you’ve made it this far you are likely getting sick of reading. 

My general impression was that the entire event oozed with politically correct mumbo jumbo.   You know, poor unassimilated youths became pawns for terrorist recruiters implying if they had  better living conditions they wouldn’t be so tempted to leave the US.  Nevermind any discussion about the Islamic imperative to wage Jihad.  I was disappointed in the FBI and NCTC bigwigs lack of information in some key areas.   And, then the Senators were playing nice-nice and didn’t call them on anything.

I was impressed that the two Somali men were pretty brave to come to DC and call out the mosque.  

I’ve got lots more, so maybe I’ll be able to bring it up in future posts on this subject because you know this isn’t going away anytime soon.

For more information:  Go to the website for the Senate Homeland Security Committee and read all the written statements of witnesses here.

The stories about yesterday’s hearing are coming in:

Here is the Boston Globe.

Here is Reuters.

Here is what AP said.  Another version of the AP story has this paragraph inserted:

On Tuesday, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told senators that al-Shabab is poised to merge formally with al-Qaida, strengthening al-Qaida’s foothold in East Africa. Asked about that assertion on Wednesday, Mudd said a merger doesn’t necessarily mean that al-Qaida would immediately gain control of al-Shabab’s operations.

CBN was there, see report with film here.

Patrick Poole has a must-read article at Pajamas Media about what the Senators did not hear at the hearing.

Here is a story from Portland, ME

Here is the UK Guardian’s version of the story.

Here is an update from me on the press coverage.

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