Michael Leiter's confirmation hearing, Tuesday, for the post of director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was about as warm and collegial as confirmation hearings get in Washington, but it did address some interesting challenges ahead in terms of dealing with two major fronts in the war on terrorism outside of Iraq: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
After several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asked about last year's National Intelligence Estimate, which found that al Qaeda has "regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability" due to the safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), Leiter said, "We have clearly not succeeded in stopping core al Qaeda plotting ... there is more that the government of Pakistan can do."
Currently, the new Pakistani government is engaged in negotiations with some extremist groups in Pakistan's FATA; some counterterrorism analysts believe this will allow al Qaeda and associated groups to rebuild and further regroup.
During the public session, Leiter declined to address more specific threats that U.S. intelligence officials are watching in Central Asia and North and East Africa. Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Leiter described his view on counterterrorism efforts as the "ability to fight a full spectrum war ... from law enforcement... to kinetic force."
When asked what he meant by kinetic force, Leiter said, "Kinetic force is high explosives... It's going out and killing people."
Last week, U.S. forces used five Tomahawk missiles to target the leader of the al-Shabaab network in Somalia, which U.S. officials believe had become closely linked with al Qaeda in recent years.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., voiced concern about Saudi Arabia funding terrorist groups and its inability to clamp down on financing of Sunni extremists groups.
Last month before the Senate Finance Committee, Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said Saudi Arabia "remains the location where more money is going to terrorism, to Sunni terror groups and to the Taliban than any other place in the world."
Leiter deferred to Levey on the issue but acknowledged that, "The problem of funding of terrorism, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, is one that we have to pursue... I think the Saudis have made great progress in some areas, and in other areas, like other countries, they have likely fallen short."
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., asked Leiter if there was any concern about not having the CIA's Counterterrorism Center's analysts located at the NCTC facility with the FBI's Counterterrorism Watch operators. Leiter declined to address the issue in detail but said that the FBI, which handles domestic terrorism threats, is able to have their operators and analysts be in the same building while CIA assets are spread around the globe.
"The CIA strongly supports NCTC's analytic mission, as evidenced by the fact that, between 50 and 60 percent of NCTC analysts are CIA officers," CIA spokesman George Little told ABC News.
At the hearing, Leiter addressed the need to have more resources looking toward new terrorist safe havens and long-term strategic threats, instead of expending so many resources on current crises.
Leiter has served as acting director of the NCTC since November 2007, and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as early as next week.