Katko Opening Statement In Counterterrorism Hearing
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following opening statement in a full committee hearing entitled, “The Dynamic Terrorism Landscape and What it Means for America.”
Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased that the Committee is holding this important hearing today. Our Committee and the Department of Homeland Security were created to address terrorist threats facing the homeland, and it is incumbent upon us to remember precipitating events, and warning signs, which led to our existence.
In 1993, a van containing over a thousand pounds of explosives was detonated in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring 1,500 others. Ramzi Yousef, one of the plot’s leaders and the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, later told the FBI he had hoped to topple one tower into the other, killing approximately 250,000 civilians.
In 1998, 224 people died, including 12 Americans, when nearly simultaneous bombs blew up in front of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Soon after, these attacks were linked to al Qaeda.
In 2000, the USS Cole was refueling off the coast of Yemen when suicide terrorists launched an attack killing 17 American sailors. The U.S. Government investigation determined that al Qaeda was behind the bombing.
Less than a year later, on a Tuesday morning in September, America learned exactly what al Qaeda was capable of.
And now, twenty years after 9/11, terrorist safe havens still exist in locations spanning from West Africa to, once again, Afghanistan.
I understand that as Americans we are exhausted by “endless wars,” but we must remember – wars are two sided. The terrorist threat will not cease because we pick up and leave. We need to recognize that while it is possible to degrade terrorist operations when we utilize the power of the American intelligence and military enterprises, it is just as easy for terrorism to reconstitute when it is given sanctuary. The war on terror is not a war which is going to end with a treaty signing and a ticker-tape parade. It’s not a war which we have won or lost. In fact, it’s not over. However, the Biden Administration has seemingly disengaged.
The Biden Administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has already cost the lives of 13 U.S. service members and has reinvigorated terrorist networks in the region and around the world. We must be clear-eyed about what is an evolving threat landscape.
There are two lessons we must learn from past experience. The first is, given safe haven, terrorist networks will, undoubtedly, utilize that time and space to plot attacks against the homeland. The second lesson is that we cannot ignore the signals foreign terrorist organizations are sending. Many of these warning signs are seen internationally, but many are also seen here at home.
Just two and a half weeks ago British citizen Malik Faisal Akram barricaded himself, along with several hostages, inside the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Akram demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a terrorist who has been tried and convicted of attempting to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan. As American citizens we are incredibly grateful to our brave federal, state, and local law enforcement agents for their actions during this incident – actions which ensured that there were no casualties. But we cannot take this outcome for granted. Having experienced the Naval Air Station Pensacola shooting just a couple years ago, we know that these attacks can be deadly.
I am, to say the least, concerned about how Akram was able to obtain clearance through the Visa Waiver Program. He clearly had a troubled past, including a criminal record. At a minimum this should have triggered a heightened level of screening and vetting. These are issues which I’m addressing with DHS and their agency partners, but which we all should be considering as we influence homeland security policy. Additionally, the troubling lack of clear communication, information sharing, and effectiveness displayed by DHS among its interagency partners and Congress during recent events such as the one in Colleyville gives me great cause for concern.
The terror threat is one that we face on many fronts. We cannot ignore the battlefields in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa. We must be cognizant of the growth of extremism in the West and work with our international partners to identify and neutralize the threat there. We must arm our homeland security colleagues with the tools they need to recognize the threat at ports of entry and keep those actors from making it to the interior of the United States. And finally, we must combat the threat of terrorism – whether foreign born, homegrown, or domestic – which exists within our borders. If we don’t maintain a holistic approach to combatting this threat, we will face more acts of terror on American soil.