The LWOT: House fails to pass Patriot Act extensions; Top officials testify on terrorist threat

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Editor's note: The LWOT is one year old this week. Thank you for your readership, feedback, and help in making this brief a success! 

House fails to pass Patriot Act extensions

The House of Representatives on Feb. 8 failed by seven votes to pass an extension until December  of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to loosen restrictions on surveillance and terrorist investigations (AFP, VOA, LAT, The Hill). The final vote, 277 for and 148 against, included 26 Republicans voting against the extension; the provisions required a two-thirds vote to pass, and are currently set to expire February 28.

Editor’s note: The LWOT is one year old this week. Thank you for your readership, feedback, and help in making this brief a success! 

House fails to pass Patriot Act extensions

The House of Representatives on Feb. 8 failed by seven votes to pass an extension until December  of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to loosen restrictions on surveillance and terrorist investigations (AFP, VOA, LAT, The Hill). The final vote, 277 for and 148 against, included 26 Republicans voting against the extension; the provisions required a two-thirds vote to pass, and are currently set to expire February 28.

These provisions allow the FBI to seize "any tangible items" relevant to a terrorism investigation, including business records and library records; use "roving wiretaps" to tap several different telephones; and investigate foreign "lone wolf" terrorist suspects who are not linked to any terrorist organizations (Washington Post, BBC). President Obama supported the December extension, but said he preferred that the provisions be extended until 2013. House Republicans, chastened by the defection of Republicans in the vote, announced their intention to put the extension to a simple majority vote later this month.

Top officials testify on terrorist threat

In testimony before two key congressional committees this week, top administration officials detailed the threats from terrorism facing the United States, describing a diverse environment that includes a weakened al Qaeda organization in Pakistan, strengthened al Qaeda affiliates, and an increased risk of homegrown terrorism (NYT, Telegraph, BBC, CNN, WSJ). 

Speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that the combination of threats meant that the risk of attack to the United States was potentially at its most "heightened state" since the 9/11 attacks (Washington Post, AFP, NPR). Napolitano and Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, also expressed concern about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) due to a growing series of plots and attacks allegedly linked to the organization, including the deadly shootings at Fort Hood in November 2009, an attempt to bomb Northwest Airlines Flight 253, and more recent attempts to ship bombs on cargo planes.

Leiter told the committee, "I actually consider Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with [radical American-born cleric Anwar] Al-Awlaki as a leader within that organization probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland" due to his alleged involvement in plots and recruitment involving Americans (Fox News, National Journal).  

Still, Napolitano added, "we cannot guarantee that there will never be another terrorist attack, and we cannot seal our country under a glass dome" (Telegraph).

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seconded this concern in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, adding that groups aligned with al Qaeda ideologically but not necessarily operationally also pose a significant threat (McClatchy, New York Daily News). And in testimony Feb. 10, FBI director Robert Mueller indicated that the FBI is closely monitoring Iraqi refugees to prevent infiltration from former Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters (AP).

The Homeland Security Committee hearings are part of a series announced by committee chairman Peter King (R-NY), with the next and more controversial hearings in early March set to deal specifically with the threat from domestic radicalization. King this week again resisted calls to broaden the hearings’ scope to address all types of domestic violent extremism, indicating the hearings would only focus on the radicalization of Muslim Americans (LAT, The Hill, ABC News, The National).

NC man pleads guilty to plotting terrorism

American Daniel Boyd, a North Carolina resident and convert to Islam charged with plotting to carry out terrorist attacks at home and abroad, pleaded guilty Feb. 9 to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, maim, kidnap and murder people (AFP, Reuters, BBC). Boyd led a cell of six others, including two of his sons, who allegedly amassed firearms, attempted to travel to the Middle East and allegedly scouted the Quantico Marine base in Virginia (AP). Boyd first traveled to Pakistan in 1989, where he received training and eventually engaged in combat, experience that would reportedly later gain him influence and the chance to push several young Muslim men in his community towards violent jihad (AP).

Former bin Laden cook gets reduced Gitmo sentence

The U.S. military announced Feb. 9 that it had reduced from 14 to two years the sentence for Guantánamo Bay detainee Ibrahim al-Qosi, a former cook for Osama bin Laden who pleaded guilty to war crimes before a military commission last July, under a still-secret plea deal (AJE, AP).The first Guantánamo detainee to make a plea deal with the Obama administration, Qosi admitted to providing material support to al Qaeda and helping bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in 2001. Qosi could return to his native Sudan by 2012, where he will undergo a government-run deradicalization program (McClatchy).

The lawyer for Canadian Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty to war crimes at Guantánamo last October, indicated this week that he will soon file a plea for clemency with the convening authority at the prison (Globe and Mail). The authority has the power to set aside Khadr’s conviction by plea or shorten his sentence. 

The Pentagon suddenly canceled hearings planned for next week in the war crimes trial of Noor Uthman Mohammed, indicating a possible plea deal in the case (Miami Herald, Lawfare Blog). In an interview with Fox News this week, former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Guantánamo is, "one of the finest prison systems in the world" (AFP).And officials in the California city of Berkeley are considering inviting two Gitmo detainees to live in the city (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • In a must-read story this week, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press report on the CIA’s failure to punish or even address mistakes made by officers, some of which resulted in the improper imprisonment and abuse of detainees, among other incidents, since 9/11 (AP).
  • Russian authorities on Feb. 9 formally named Magomed Yevloyev as the suicide bomber responsible for killing 36 at Russia’s Domodedovo Airport last month (BBC, AP, TIME). Authorities also arrested Yevloyev’s teenage brother and sister, charging them with involvement in the attack.
  • A key British government adviser on preventing Muslim radicalization in the country, Asin Hafeez, will reportedly leave his post soon as part of a series of changes in how the government deals with Britain’s Muslim communities (Guardian).
  • The U.S. Treasury Department on Feb. 9 listed two Afghans, Said Jan Abd Al-Salam and Khalil Al-Rahman Haqqani, as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists" for their alleged roles as fundraisers for al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network (Treasury, WSJ, AFP).
  • German prosecutors on Feb. 8 announced charges filed in January against a German-Turkish citizen, Adnan V., charged with recruiting for terrorist organizations and keeping bomb-making components in his apartment (Deutsche Welle).
  • An Indonesian court has postponed until Feb. 14 the trial of radical cleric Abu Bakr Bashir, charged with seven terrorism-related offenses (CNN).

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