Last week, Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, Director Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), testified in a closed session before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security on the threat posed by IEDs in the United States.
Lt. Gen. Barbero knows better than anyone how the knowledge and experience of bomb makers in Afghanistan and Iraq can be easily transferred here to conduct attacks in the United States. U.S. and coalition forces were devastatingly targeted by Al Qaeda using highly effective but relatively unsophisticated and inexpensive IEDs. As an example, in 2007 alone, there were 33,900 IED attacks against U.S. troops.
We know Al Qaeda is adaptable. There was a decrease in IED attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq as the U.S. drew down its forces there. There was a corresponding increase in IED attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in response to the surge. To counter the effectiveness of IEDs, the Department of Defense created the JIEDDO in 2006. In FY11, the JIEDDO’s budget was $2.8billion.
The U.S. government has very effectively decimated the Al Qaeda leadership, but regrettably, the actors capable of conducting these type of attacks in the United States need neither leadership nor a significant amount of support to be successful. Nor is the threat from IEDs uniquely within the domain of Al Qaeda. Drug cartels, criminal groups, and domestic extremists have demonstrated their capability and intent of using IEDs.
The methods of constructing IEDs are available on the Internet and the materials can be commonly purchased in hardware and drug stores and agricultural distributors. Yes, there are some controls and reporting mechanisms for incidents in which purchases of large amounts of IED ingredients would be reported to law enforcement. There are examples where this has worked and prevented incidents. However, as we have seen, Al Qaeda is also innovative. Our homeland security efforts are still severely lacking in this area.
DHS’ office of Bombing Prevention has a budget of less than .05 percent of JIEDDO’s. We still lack a coherent program for addressing the IED threat to mass transit and soft targets (such as malls, sporting venues, etc.). The air transit and cargo system is still vulnerable, evidenced by the October 2010 printer cartridge attempt and the recent underwear bombing sting.
Lt. Gen. Barbero’s testimony is chilling. The trend is clear – we need to take this threat as seriously as we are taking the cyber threat. In fact, the combined threat from a cyber attack on our emergency communications or power systems followed by a kinetic attack on our infrastructure is real and has significant consequences on our national security. The United States has learned many valuable lessons and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop technologies to counter the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those lessons are invaluable to helping law enforcement prepare and respond as the threat migrates to the United States. The administration needs to put the same level of attention on the threat here as it did in theater and we need to do it now while we can still prevent these incidents, instead of reacting to them.