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United States Government Accountability Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, 
Committee on Homeland Security House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Friday, June 3, 2011: 

Combating Terrorism: 

U.S. Government Strategies and Efforts to Deny Terrorists Safe Haven: 

Statement of Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers:
Managing Director, International Affairs and Trade: 


Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Keating, and Members of the 

I am pleased to be here to discuss the report GAO is releasing today 
on U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens.[Footnote 1] 
Terrorist safe havens provide security for terrorists, allowing them 
to train recruits and plan operations. U.S. officials have concluded 
that various terrorist incidents demonstrate the dangers emanating 
from terrorist safe havens, such as the November 2008 attacks in 
Mumbai, India, planned, in part, from safe havens in Pakistan, 
[Footnote 2] and the attempted airliner bombing on December 25, 2009, 
planned from safe havens in Yemen. The discovery of Osama Bin Laden in 
a compound in Pakistan, from which, according to U.S. officials, he 
played an active role in al Qaeda focused on attacking the United 
States, makes this hearing particularly timely. 

My testimony today focuses on (1) U.S. national strategies related to 
addressing terrorist safe havens, (2) terrorist safe havens[Footnote 
3] identified by the Department of State (State) and the threats 
emanating from these havens, and (3) the extent to which the U.S. 
government has identified efforts to deny terrorists safe havens. 

In our report, we found that U.S. national strategies emphasize the 
importance of denying safe haven to terrorists and that, since 2006, 
State has annually identified terrorist safe havens in its Country 
Reports on Terrorism. However, we also found that, although there are 
multiple reporting requirements, the U.S. government has not provided 
to Congress a comprehensive, governmentwide list of its efforts to 
address terrorist safe havens. We made recommendations to both State 
and the National Security Council to improve reporting on U.S. efforts 
to address terrorist safe havens. State agreed with the importance of 
comprehensive information regarding U.S. efforts to address terrorist 
safe havens, but did not agree that this information needs to be 
included in the Country Reports on Terrorism. The National Security 
Council reviewed the report but provided no comments on the 

U.S. National Strategies Emphasize the Importance of Denying Safe 
Havens to Terrorists: 

The United States highlights the denial of safe haven to terrorists as 
a key national security concern in several U.S. government strategic 
documents. For example, National Security Strategies released in 2002, 
2006, and 2010 emphasize the importance of denying safe haven to 
terrorists. The current National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 
which was last updated September 2006, also stresses the importance of 
eliminating terrorist safe havens. The document identifies eliminating 
terrorist safe havens as a priority action against which all elements 
of national power--including military, diplomatic, financial, 
intelligence, and law enforcement--should be applied. According to 
National Security Staff officials, an updated National Strategy for 
Combating Terrorism is currently being drafted and its release is 
expected in the coming months. However, these officials stated that 
denying safe haven to terrorists will remain an important element of 
U.S. counterterrorism strategy. 

In addition to national strategies, plans issued by various U.S. 
agencies, such as the Departments of Defense (DOD), Justice (DOJ), and 
State/U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as 
the National Intelligence Strategy issued by the Office of the 
Director of National Intelligence, include language emphasizing the 
importance of addressing safe havens. Figure 1 shows excerpts from 
these documents, which discuss terrorist safe havens. However, other 
agencies that are involved in U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe 
havens do not include specific language on safe havens in their 
strategic plans. For example, the Department of Homeland Security 
(DHS)--which contributes to the law enforcement element of U.S. 
national power--does not specifically address safe havens in its 
strategic plan but does have a goal to "protect the homeland from 
dangerous people," which includes objectives related to effective 
border control. 

Figure 1: Selected U.S. Government Strategic Documents Emphasizing the 
Importance of Denying Safe Haven to Terrorists: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Selected national strategies: 

2010 National Security Strategy: 
Deny safe havens and strengthen at-risk states: 
“Wherever al-Qa’ida or its terrorist affiliates attempt to establish a 
safe haven...we will meet them with growing pressure...These efforts 
will focus on information-sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and 
establishing new practices to counter evolving adversaries. We will 
also help their capacity for responsible governance and 
security through development and security sector assistance.” 

2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism: 
Eliminate physical safe haven: 
“The War on Terror...involves the application of all instruments of 
national power and influence to kill or capture the terrorists; deny 
them safe haven and control of any nation; prevent them from gaining 
access to WMD; render potential terrorist targets less attractive by 
strengthening security; and cut off their sources of funding and other 
resources they need to operate and survive.” 

Selected agency strategic documents: 

National Military Strategic Plan: 
“One of the most important resources to extremists is safe haven. Safe 
havens provide the enemy with relative freedom to plan, organize, 
train, rest, and conduct operations.” 

Strategic Plan: 
“The most intractable safe havens exist astride international borders 
and in regions where ineffective governance allows their presence; we 
must develop the means to deny these havens to terrorists. 

Intelligence community: 
National Intelligence Strategy: 
“Failed states and ungoverned spaces offer terrorist and criminal 
organizations safe haven and possible access to weapons of mass 
destruction (WMD)." 

Strategic Plan: 
“Deny safe havens to criminal organizations involved in drug-related 
terrorist activities.” 

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. and agency strategic documents. 

[End of figure] 

State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism coordinates 
policies and programs of U.S. agencies to counter terrorism overseas. 
According to State, the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism 
works with all appropriate elements of the U.S. government to ensure 
integrated and effective counterterrorism efforts that utilize 
diplomacy, economic power, intelligence, law enforcement, and military 
power. These elements include those in the White House, DOD, DHS, DOJ, 
State, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), USAID, and the 
intelligence community. For instance, State funds programs to build 
the capacity of U.S. foreign partners to counter terrorism financing 
implemented by agencies such as DHS, Treasury, and DOJ. 

Since 2006, State Has Annually Identified Terrorist Safe Havens Posing 
Risks to U.S. National Security: 

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) 
[Footnote 4] requires State to include a detailed assessment in its 
annual Country Reports on Terrorism with respect to each foreign 
country whose territory is being used as a terrorist sanctuary, also 
known as a terrorist safe haven.[Footnote 5] State defines terrorist 
safe havens as "ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed areas of a 
country and non-physical areas where terrorists that constitute a 
threat to U.S. national security interests are able to organize, plan, 
raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, and operate in relative 
security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or 
both." Since 2006, State has identified existing terrorist safe havens 
in a dedicated chapter of its Country Reports on Terrorism.[Footnote 
6] As shown in figure 2, State identified 13 terrorist safe havens in 
its August 2010 report. 

Figure 2: Terrorist Safe Havens Identified in State's Country Reports 
on Terrorism released in August 2010: 

[Refer to PDF for image: world map] 

Location of terrorist safe havens depicted on the map: 

Colombia Border Region (Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela); 
Northern Iraq; 
Southern Philippines; 
Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral (maritime boundaries of Indonesia, 
Malaysia, and the Philippines); 
Trans-Sahara (Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger); 
Tri-Border Area (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay); 

Sources: Department of State’s August 2010 Country Reports on 
Terrorism; Map Resources (map). 

[End of figure] 

Terrorist safe havens pose a threat to U.S. national security. The 
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 
Commission) noted that safe haven in Afghanistan allowed al Qaeda the 
operational space to gather recruits and build logistical networks to 
undertake planning for the attacks on September 11, 2001. State 
reports that denying safe haven is central to combating terrorism, 
which it cited as the United States' top security threat. According to 
U.S. agencies, a variety of groups that pose threats to the United 
States operate in countries identified by State as terrorist safe 
havens. For example: 

* Pakistan: Various terrorist organizations operate in Pakistan. 
First, al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was located in a compound in 
Pakistan from which U.S. officials have stated he was actively 
involved in planning attacks against the United States. Additionally, 
according to State, al Qaeda also uses the Federally Administered 
Tribal Areas (FATA) to launch attacks in Afghanistan, train and 
recruit terrorists, and plan global operations. State also reports 
that the Pakistani Taliban has used the FATA to plan attacks against 
civilian and military targets across Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban 
have claimed responsibility for several attacks against U.S. 
interests, including an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in 
April 2010. Moreover, according to the National Counterterrorism 
Center (NCTC), the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly threatened to 
attack the U.S. homeland and claimed responsibility for the failed 
vehicle bombing in New York City's Times Square in May 2010. In 
addition, according to State, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba--the group responsible 
for attacks in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, which killed at least 
183 people--continues to plan operations from Pakistan and views 
American interests as legitimate targets. 

* Yemen: The foreign terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Arabian 
Peninsula (AQAP) is based in Yemen. According to the NCTC, AQAP is 
pursuing a global agenda. For example, the group attempted to bomb a 
plane headed to the United States on December 25, 2009. AQAP also 
claimed responsibility for the attempted package bombings of cargo 
planes in October 2010. More recently, in response to the killing of 
Osama Bin Laden, AQAP issued a press release vowing revenge against 
the United States. In addition, members of AQAP have been named 
Specially Designated Nationals by the United States government. In 
July 2010, the United States designated Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. 
citizen and key leader for AQAP, for supporting acts of terrorism and 
for acting for or on behalf of AQAP. 

* Somalia: Al-Shabaab is a foreign terrorist organization active in 
Somalia. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for several bombings 
and shootings throughout Somalia, as well as the July 2010 suicide 
bomb attacks in Kampala, Uganda, which killed more than 70 people. 
State reports that rank-and-file members of al-Shabaab are 
predominantly interested in issues within Somalia, rather than 
pursuing a global agenda. However, NCTC and State note that al-
Shabaab's core leadership is linked ideologically to al Qaeda and that 
some members of the group previously trained and fought with al Qaeda 
in Afghanistan. In 2009, the Deputy Director of Intelligence at the 
NCTC testified that a number of young Somali-American men traveled to 
Somalia, possibly to train and fight with al-Shabaab, including one 
who conducted a suicide bombing attack. While noting there is no 
specific evidence that the Americans previously trained in Somalia 
planned to conduct attacks inside the United States, the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has expressed concern that this threat 
remains a possibility. In August 2010, the FBI arrested two U.S. 
citizens and indicted 12 others, including five U.S. citizens, on 
charges of providing support to al-Shabaab. 

The U.S. Government Has Not Fully Addressed Reporting Requirements to 
Identify Efforts to Deny Terrorists Safe Haven: 

The U.S. government has not fully addressed reporting requirements to 
identify U.S. efforts to deny safe haven to terrorists. Congress 
required the President to submit reports outlining U.S. government 
efforts to deny or disrupt terrorist safe havens in two laws--the 
IRTPA and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal 
Year (FY) 2010. 

The IRTPA required the President to submit a report to Congress that 
includes an outline of the strategies, tactics, and tools the U.S. 
government uses to disrupt or eliminate the security provided to 
terrorists by terrorist safe havens,[Footnote 7] and recommended that 
State update the report annually, to the extent feasible, in its 
Country Reports on Terrorism.[Footnote 8] In response to these 
provisions, State submitted a report to Congress in April 2006, which 
it has updated annually as part of its Country Reports on Terrorism. 
These reports include a section on U.S. strategies, tactics, and tools 
that identifies several U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens. 
In the Country Reports on Terrorism released in August 2010, State 
identified several U.S. efforts for addressing terrorist safe havens, 
including programs such as State's Regional Strategic Initiative and 
Antiterrorism Assistance programs. 

However, State's August 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism does not 
fully identify U.S. efforts to deny terrorists safe haven. For example: 

* Some State-funded efforts are not included: Selected State strategic 
documents[Footnote 9] identify efforts funded by State that may 
contribute to denying terrorists safe haven--such as Foreign Military 
Financing activities and USAID development assistance--that were not 
included in the August 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism. In addition, 
agency officials identified additional State-funded efforts that may 
contribute to addressing terrorist safe havens--such as activities 
funded through State's Peacekeeping Operations and State-funded DHS 
training to combat money laundering and bulk cash smuggling--but were 
not included in the report. 

* Efforts funded by other U.S. agencies are not included: For example, 
according to DOD officials, the Department's Afghanistan and Iraq 
Security Forces Funds and Section 1206 program efforts to train and 
equip the security forces abroad address terrorist safe havens but are 
not included in State's report. Additionally, according to DOJ and 
Treasury, their training programs to build the capacity of foreign 
partners to counter terrorism financing address terrorist safe havens, 
but they are also not included in State's report. 

In the IRTPA, Congress noted that it should be the policy of the 
United States to implement a coordinated strategy to prevent 
terrorists from using safe havens and to assess the tools used to 
assist foreign governments in denying terrorists safe haven. State's 
report is incomplete without a comprehensive overview of its own 
contributions and those of its various interagency partners to address 
terrorist safe havens. 

To enhance the comprehensiveness of State's reporting on U.S. efforts 
to deny safe haven to terrorists, we recommended that State include a 
governmentwide list of U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens 
when it updates the report requested under the IRTPA.[Footnote 10] In 
response, State concurred that reporting on U.S. efforts to deny 
terrorist safe havens should be more comprehensive. However, State did 
not agree that such a list should be part of its annual Country 
Reports on Terrorism, citing the fact that they have completed other 
reporting requirements related to counterterrorism. We maintain that 
the provisions in the IRTPA recommend annual updates related to U.S. 
efforts to address terrorist safe havens be included in the Country 
Reports on Terrorism. Moreover, while it is possible that other 
reports produced by State address IRTPA provisions, the antiterrorism 
report cited by State in its comments does not constitute a 
governmentwide list of U.S. efforts to address terrorist safe havens 
as the report does not include the contributions of key agencies, such 
as DOD. 

In addition to the provisions in the IRTPA, Congress demonstrated an 
ongoing interest in the identification of U.S. efforts to deny 
terrorist safe havens in the NDAA for FY 2010. The conference report 
accompanying the act noted that existing executive branch reporting on 
counterterrorism does not address the full scope of U.S. activities or 
assess overall effectiveness. The NDAA for FY 2010 requires the 
President to submit to Congress a report on U.S. counterterrorism 
strategy, including an assessment of the scope, status, and progress 
of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in fighting al Qaeda and its 
affiliates and a provision to create a list of U.S. counterterrorism 
efforts relating to the denial of terrorist safe havens. The required 
report is intended to help Congress in conducting oversight, enhance 
the public's understanding of how well the government is combating 
terrorism, and assist the administration in identifying and overcoming 
related challenges. As of March 2011, no report had been submitted to 
Congress. While National Security Staff officials taking the lead on 
the report stated they were working on a draft, they were unsure when 
it would be completed. 

To address this reporting gap, we recommended that the National 
Security Council, in collaboration with relevant agencies as 
appropriate, complete the requirements of the NDAA of FY 2010 to 
report to Congress on a list of U.S. efforts related to the denial of 
terrorist safe havens.[Footnote 11] The National Security Council 
reviewed our report but provided no comments on the recommendation. 

Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Keating, and members of the 
Subcommittee, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy 
to respond to any questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

Scope and Methodology: 

This statement is based on our body of work examining U.S. 
counterterrorism policies and efforts, particularly those regarding 
terrorist safe havens and reported in GAO-11-561 to be released today. 
To address our objectives, we reviewed and analyzed relevant national 
strategies, key congressional legislation, State's Country Reports on 
Terrorism, and other documents related to U.S. efforts to address 
terrorist safe havens. Additionally, we discussed U.S. strategies and 
efforts related to terrorist safe havens with U.S. officials from DOD, 
DHS, DOJ, State, Treasury, USAID, the National Security Staff, and the 
intelligence community. We also spoke to subject matter experts from 
academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations. We performed 
our work in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit 
to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
We believe that the evidence we obtained provides a reasonable basis 
for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For questions regarding this statement, please contact Jacquelyn 
Williams-Bridgers at (202) 512-3101 or or 
Charles Michael Johnson, Jr. at (202) 512-7331 or 
Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public 
Affairs may be found on the last page of this statement. Jason Bair, 
Assistant Director; Christy Bilardo, Kathryn Bolduc, Lynn Cothern, 
Martin de Alteriis, Eileen Larence, Mary Moutsos, John Pendleton, and 
Elizabeth Repko made key contributions in preparing this statement. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, Combating Terrorism: U.S. Government Should Improve Its 
Reporting on Terrorist Safe Havens, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 3, 

[2] See GAO, Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks 
Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe 
Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 17, 

[3] The 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism states that, in 
addition to physical terrorist safe havens in geographic territories, 
terrorist safe havens can also be nonphysical or virtual, existing 
within legal, cyber, and financial systems. In this statement, 
however, we focus on physical terrorist safe havens. 

[4] P.L. 108-458, section 7102. 

[5] We use the term terrorist safe haven, which, according to State, 
has the same meaning as terrorist sanctuaries. 

[6] State annually releases the Country Reports on Terrorism. State's 
August 2010 report includes a strategic overview of terrorist threats 
and country-by-country discussions of foreign government 
counterterrorism cooperation. While released by State's Office of the 
Coordinator for Counterterrorism, the Country Reports on Terrorism 
incorporates the views of the National Counterterrorism Center and 
National Security Staff, as well as key agencies involved in 
addressing international terrorism. 

[7] P.L. 108-458, Section 7120(b). 

[8] P.L. 108-458, Section 7102(d)(2)(E). 

[9] We reviewed the FY 2012 Mission Strategic and Resource Plans 
(MSRP) for the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen, submitted in April 
2010, which included program funding information for goals related to 
addressing terrorist safe havens for fiscal years 2009 through 2015. 

[10] [hyperlink,]. 

[11] [hyperlink,]. 

[End of section] 

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