Al Qaeda and other terrorists are trying to infiltrate the U.S. armed forces, which makes military facilities in the U.S. dangerous for American troops, lawmakers said Wednesday.
"The Department of Defense considers the U.S. homeland the most dangerous place for a G.I. outside of foreign war zones — and the top threat they face here is from violent Islamist extremists," Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said during a special joint House-Senate hearing.
Military officials testified about the homegrown terrorist threat at U.S. military bases in the wake of several attacks, including the November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 41, has been charged in the killing of 13 people and wounding of 29 others in the worst shootings ever to take place on an American military base.
"The Fort Hood attack was not an anomaly," said Mr. King, New York Republican. "It was part of al Qaeda's two-decade success at infiltrating the U.S. military for terrorism — an effort that is increasing in scope and threat."
The Congressional Research Service has identified 54 homegrown terrorism plots and attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. Of those, 33 were directed against the U.S. military, said Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security Committee.
"The American service member is increasingly in the terrorists' scope and not just overseas in a traditional war setting," said Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent.
The publicly disclosed plots and attacks by military insiders "represent the leading edge of al Qaeda's ongoing effort to infiltrate the U.S. military and to recruit or radicalize vulnerable servicemen to commit future acts of terror," according to a report published Wednesday by Mr. King's staff.
There is "reason to believe that the actual number of radicalized troops is far more than publicly realized or acknowledged," the report states.
Officials and lawmakers went into a closed session to discuss radicalized troops and other matters at the conclusion of the hearing.
After the Fort Hood shooting and a similar, attempted attack in 2010, the Pentagon has developed a series of "behavorial indicators" for radical motivations that troops will be encouraged to report if they detect them in their comrades, Paul N. Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said at the joint hearing.
"Expressing sympathy or support for a violence-promoting organization, associating with terrorists, having a copy of [al Qaeda's] Inspire magazine on your desk — these are behavioral indicators that we apply to focus on the primary threat," he said.
Mr. Stockton denied charges from several Republican lawmakers that the military's approach is hamstrung by political correctness.
"We know who the adversary is. The primary threat is al Qaeda and its affiliates. And everything that we are doing in terms of primary focus of our efforts concentrates on that threat," he said.
Asked repeatedly by Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, California Republican, about his refusal to use the word "Islamic" or "Islamist" when describing al Qaeda, Mr. Stockton said branding terrorists as Muslims plays into their narrative that the United States is at war with Islam.
"Sir, with great respect, I don't believe it's helpful to frame our adversary as 'Islamic' with any set of qualifiers that we might add, because we are not at war with Islam," he said.
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