Admiral says smaller-scale terror plots a big concern for U.S. military

Published 20 April 2010

The future commander of U.S. Northern Command says that the U.S. military is increasingly concerned with small, hard-to-detect terror plots; the nation’s most serious challenge, he added, is protecting the country from extremists using weapons of mass destruction

Small, hard-to-detect terror plots are an increasing concern for the military command responsible for protecting the U.S. homeland, according to the top Navy officer tapped to take over U.S. Northern Command.

Vice Adm. James Winnefeld Jr. did not refer directly to the Christmas attempt to take down a Detroit-bound airliner, but he told senators in a congressional document that the evolving move by extremists to wage smaller-scale attacks is a key worry. “This threat is determined and patient, will attempt to use our freedoms against us, will search for any path to produce violent events and harbors no qualms about killing innocent men, women and children to achieve its objectives,” Winnefeld said in a Senate questionnaire obtained by the APs.

Winnefeld has been nominated to take over the U.S. Northern Command as well as the North American Aerospace Command, or NORAD, which defends against air, space, and maritime threats. Both are headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

AP reports that Winnefeld, a naval aviator who has been serving as the commander of U.S. 6th Fleet in Europe, also singled out escalating drug trafficking and violence on the U.S. southern border as a priority.

The nation’s most serious challenge, he added, is protecting the country from extremists using weapons of mass destruction.

Winnefeld was responding to questions from the Senate in advance of a hearing Thursday on his nomination. If confirmed, he would become the fourth officer — and second Navy admiral — to lead U.S. Northern Command.

The command was set up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to coordinate America’s homeland defense and support for state and local agencies in the event of attacks or natural disasters. Northern Command has played a key role in assisting states, including during Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires, and has played a lead role in the development of new teams designed to respond to chemical and biological incidents.

Pointing to the increase in drug-related violence along the Mexican border last year, Winnefeld said the U.S. government should continue to help Mexico improve its security forces. Northern Command, he said, must help stop the flow of drugs coming into the U.S. and weapons and money

flowing from the U.S. into Mexico.