Today, we welcome Ambassador Benjamin back to the Subcommittee for our yearly look at the State Department’s handling of counterterrorism issues. While al-Qaeda has taken major blows in the past year, the terrorism threat remains very real.
Late last year, the Committee was notified that the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism – in existence since 1972 – would transform into the Bureau of Counterterrorism. According to the State Department, this elevation was natural, as the office's responsibilities had outgrown the "coordinator" title.
When reported to Congress, the State Department noted that only existing funds would be required to create the new Bureau, and any changes in personnel would be "marginal." Well, for this fiscal year, the Bureau is seeking to increase staffing by 17 percent. Seventeen percent is a rather unorthodox definition of "marginal."
The State Department would like for this new Bureau to be headed by an Assistant Secretary, specifically, today's witness. The Department could have made that move on its own. But it chose to make the heads of its new energy and post-conflict bureaus assistant secretaries instead. Making that choice, and now facing a statutory cap for Assistant Secretary positions, the State Department is seeking legislative relief to allow the Counterterrorism Bureau also to be headed by an Assistant Secretary. Most members of Congress probably think the State Department can be run well enough by the 24 assistant secretaries and the dozens of special envoys it already has.
But more critical than title, it is the control of resources that will seal this new bureau’s fate. While a few hundred million dollars in counterterrorism assistance money flows through the State Department, less than half is controlled by Ambassador Benjamin’s bureau. Posts and regional bureaus control the rest. If the Bureau of Counterterrorism is to play as robust a role as envisioned, which I support, that equation must change.
The counterterrorism landscape has changed substantially since the Ambassador’s testimony a year ago. Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki are now dead. But senior Obama Administration officials have gone so far as to declare that the United States is "within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda." Yet just weeks before Bin Laden’s death, Ambassador Benjamin testified to this Subcommittee that, "we continue to see a strong flow of new recruits into many of the most dangerous terrorist organizations." We'll hear if that's still the case today.
A year has brought other changes. Radical elements have Egypt looking into the abyss. Armed militias have Libya deeply factionalized. There are concerns over foreign fighters in Syria. It's hard to see how some of these developments have not harmed U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Other regions, like Africa and the Western Hemisphere, are of concern. Earlier this year, this Subcommittee moved legislation focused on Iran’s growing role in the Western Hemisphere.
Pakistan – specifically, its security services' backing of an array of militant groups - is a perennial concern. Just the other week, the State Department announced a reward for information leading to the conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out the Mumbai rampage. That this individual continues to operate freely inside Pakistan certainly is an indictment of Islamabad as a counterterrorism partner. Unfortunately... there are many others.
We look forward to discussing these and other issues with Ambassador Benjamin.