Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in an exclusive interview today that he is increasingly concerned about Americans becoming radicalized and turning to terrorism.
"I mean, that's one of the things that's particularly troubling: This whole notion of radicalization of Americans," Holder told ABC News during an interview in his SUV as his motorcade brought him from home to work. "Leaving this country and going to different parts of the world and then coming back, all, again, in aim of doing harm to the American people, is a great concern."
Holder said the ever-changing threat of terror and the pressure to keep up with it weighs heavily on his mind as he tries to ensure that the government has done all it can to anticipate the moves of an unpredictable enemy.
"In some ways it's the most sobering part of the day," Holder said of his morning intelligence briefing, in which he gets the latest report on the landscape of "the organizations, the people who are bound and determined to do harm to our nation."
Recent events, such as the arrests of alleged members of a home-grown terror cell in North Carolina, the return of several Somali-American men to their home country under questionable circumstances and the filing of charges against a New York man who allegedly received al Qaeda training in Pakistan and took part in a rocket attack against U.S. forces, bring the threats to national security into sharp focus.
"But, you know, in the hierarchy of things, it's hard to figure out how to prioritize these things in some ways," he said. "The constant scream of threats, the kind of things you have to be aware about, the whole notion of radicalization is something that didn't loom as large a few months ago ... as it does now. And that's the shifting nature of threats that keeps you up at night."
He noted, however, that the Bush administration "left us an infrastructure that I think is very good," and that national security officials are constantly striving to put the country in a safer position.
"The American people would be surprised by the depth of the threat, but also reassured to see the assets that have been deployed around the world," Holder said, adding that the United States interacts closely with its foreign partners.
Yet, terrorism is just one of the major issues Holder has on his plate. ABC News spent the day with Holder, from a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill, to his daily walk up the five flights of stairs to his office where he works as the nation's top law enforcement official.
He's just shy of six months into his job as the nation's top cop, and has already been tasked with overseeing the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, dealt with the continuing fallout from some unpopular Bush administration policies and jumped headfirst into the issue of race relations in America.
As the summer races by, Holder faces a series of critical decisions. The investigation into the Bush administration's policy on the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists, Holder said is still a real possibility -- regardless of the political fallout.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent of Americans oppose such an investigation.