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Terrorists are gaining ground, intelligence committee heads say



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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees said Sunday that terrorists have gained ground in the past two years and that the United States is not any safer than it was at the outset of 2011.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., agreed that despite the death of Osama bin Laden and drone strikes aimed at decimating al Qaeda's leadership, President Barack Obama's administration has lost ground in the ongoing battle with global terrorism.

"Are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago?" host Candy Crowley asked Feinstein on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I don't think so," the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman replied.

"I absolutely agree that we're not safer today," Rogers added.

Rogers warned that the Obama administration's successes against high-value targets have fostered a false sense of security.

"People think that, well, we've got this thing beat," Rogers said. "And that's just not the case."

In the wide-ranging joint interview with Crowley, Feinstein and Rogers detailed an international climate growing more hostile toward the United States.

Feinstein said increasingly fundamentalist Islamist groups are gaining power and winning the minds of the disenfranchised in the Middle East and Near Asia.


Al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different. They've now switched to this notion that smaller events are OK, so if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals.

–Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.


"I see more groups; more fundamentalist, more jihadist, more determined to kill to get to where they want to get," Feinstein said.

As evidence the U.S. is in greater danger, the California lawmaker cited a rise in fatalities from terrorist-related activities and increasingly specialized and dangerous technology available to terrorists. Feinstein specifically highlighted bombs as a growing threat to American security — and not the kind of improvised devices that plagued U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, or rudimentary explosives like the pressure-cooker bomb used by the Boston marathon bombers. She said terror groups had already tried, on four separate occasions, to send these newer, more deadly explosives into the United States.

"There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs," Feinstein said. "There are bombs that go through (metal-detecting) magnetometers."

Rogers said the evolving nature of the terror threat — both an increase in the number of al Qaeda affiliates globally and the group's shifting strategy — has produced an enemy that, even if it's not outright winning, has disproven Obama's claim the group is "decimated."

"Al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different," Rogers said.

Rogers said the terrorist network has changed its modus operandi. Rather than placing a premium on sophisticated, simultaneous large-scale terror attacks — like those of Sept. 11, 2001, and embassy bombings throughout the 1990s — the new breed of al Qaeda is more decentralized, he said, something that will make it "exponentially" harder to stop the next attack from happening.

"They've now switched to this notion that smaller events are OK, so if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals," Rogers said.

Rogers said the potency of the al Qaeda threat comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the American intelligence apparatus working to root out the next terror events.

"The pressure on our intelligence services to get it right, to prevent an attack, are enormous," Rogers said.

Rogers said a wave of disclosures about U.S. intelligence collection — revelations prompted by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — has turned public opinion against agencies that are working to defend the United States.

"Our intelligence services are not the bad guys," Rogers said.

Rogers said the disclosures are not just a source of consternation among counterterrorism officials, but also a serious risk to national security. In describing the headaches posed by the drips from Snowden's spigot of classified documents detailing National Security Agency operations, Rogers said the revelations about the agency's methods of surveillance have already prompted three al Qaeda affiliates to change the way they communicate. With every disclosure, he said, it becomes more and more likely that a planned attack will slip through the intelligence web.

"I can't tell the thousands of man-hours they have spent trying to prepare people to understand fact from fiction, what is happening versus what is not happening," Rogers said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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Jason Seher

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