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CQ: McCaul Bashes Obama on Counterterrorism Policy

By Rob Margetta -- CQ

If there was any doubt that Texas Republican Michael McCaul is on a very different page than the Obama administration when it comes to counterterrorism, the House Homeland Security chairman quashed it Wednesday, in a speech where he bashed the president’s handling of everything from the crisis in Syria to the Boston Marathon bombing.

McCaul began by criticizing a May speech by Obama, in which the president said that the war on terror “like all wars, must end.” The congressman said that the sentiment, along with previous administration claims that core al-Qaida has been decimated, is dangerous.

“His rhetoric was both unreflective of the current threat and I believe out of touch with his administration’s current actions,” McCaul said during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

McCaul accused the president of “trying to have it both ways” by claiming that the country is drawing down its war on terrorist organizations while at the same time waging a “covert war” through drone strikes abroad. Such tactics belie the assertion that core al-Qaida has been badly hurt, he said, although he also called the idea of a “core” al-Qaida a false concept.

Activity by al-Qaida affiliates, particularly those in Mali and Northern Africa, could leave the U.S. even more threatened than it was a decade ago, he said.

The congressman said that inaction on the part of the American government has turned Syria into “the Mecca” for jihadists around the world.

“They talked about red lines, and when those lines were crossed, they did nothing,” he said. “The bottom line is, they waited too long.  . . .  Today there are no good options, no good options, for resolving this conflict.”

He also linked the recent Boston Marathon bombing with the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, saying they were not isolated incidents, but part of a larger jihadi movement. Both cases, he said, were breakdowns in the Joint Terrorism Task Forces that connect the FBI to local police.

In Fort Hood, he said, the FBI had relevant info on suspect Nidal Malik Hasan, but did not connect the dots. In Boston, he said, police “were totally cut out of the process on the task force.” Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III has told lawmakers that the FBI did not provide his department with information about a 2011 tip the U.S. government received from Russian intelligence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev could present a danger. FBI officials have said that the information was available through a JTTF office where four Boston officers worked.

“And now today the FBI will not cooperate with this committee’s investigation,” McCaul said.

On Border Security, McCaul called for the continued deployment of surveillance technology the Defense Department used in Afghanistan, particularly an intrusion detection system known as VADER. He also provided something that has seldom come up in the immigration overhaul discussion – a number for an effective level of border security.

“Operational control is a 90 percent apprehension rate,” he said. “Once we’ve achieved that, we can say we have it.”

Getting to that number — or even figuring out a way to figure out if the country has reached it, may be a problem, though, as lawmakers and border security officials alike have talked at length about the difficulty of accounting for how many people make it past U.S. border security and into the country illegally.