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Feds: Times Square Mastermind Bigger Threat Than Bin Laden

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- A terror power shift leads to a stunning warning from the Department of Homeland Security.

The American-born cleric behind the attempted Times Square bombing has now eclipsed Osama bin Laden as the biggest threat to American security, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.

Say sayonara to Osama. Anwar al-Awlaki is now the "boss of all bosses" of the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The feds said Wednesday he is now the number one threat -- the most significant risk -- to United States security.

National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter told the House Homeland Security Committee that America's war on bin Laden has allowed others to come to the forefront.

"It allows the franchises to innovate on their own … and in the case of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen, and folks like Anwar al-Awlaki, they've been quite successful at being innovators and that makes our jobs more challenging," Leiter said.

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Al-Awlaki's actions in masterminding attacks like the attempted Times Square bombing, the Fort Hood massacre, the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines fight by a man with a bomb in his underwear prompted Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano to say that the threat to our shores is the highest since 9/11.

"The threat continues to evolve. And in some ways the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago," Napolitano said.

The threat is so great because al-Awlaki was born here, recruits here and has a different strategy than bin Laden.

"They have adapted their strategy and their tactics, so they are now recruiting from within the country, and they are looking for people who are under the radar, screen people who are living here legally, people who have green cards, people who are citizens, people who have no known terrorist activity," Long Island Rep. Peter King told Kramer.

Bin Laden hasn't gone away and is a "very determined enemy," authorities said. But his group is the weakest it's been in a decade. There have been five disrupted al Qaeda plots in Europe in the last five years.

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