Rudy Giuliani, New York's mayor during the 2001 terror attacks, said US "political correctness" may have contributed to failures in stopping Islamist extremists like the accused Boston bombers.
"You can't fight an enemy you don't acknowledge," Giuliani told a House panel, warning that the United States is failing to directly address the nature of the terror threat.
"In order to confront this threat effectively, we have to purge ourselves of the practice of political correctness when it goes so far that it interferes with our rational and intellectually honest analysis of the identifying characteristics that help us to discover these killers in advance."
Failure to do so, he said, leaves the United States in a "very, very dangerous state of denial."
Some lawmakers, mainly Republicans, say President Barack Obama has sought to avoid blaming extremist threats to America on religious zealotry.
They believe the administration has wrongfully toned down the nature of the threat, and warn that attacks such as the 2009 Fort Hood massacre in which a gunman killed 13 people should be identified as an Islamist-driven terrorist attack.
Giuliani, a Republican who briefly ran for president in 2008 on the strength of his handling of the 9/11 aftermath, pointed to US failures to connect the dots about the two Tsarnaev brothers accused of carrying out the deadly Boston marathon bombings.
"There would have been a much greater chance of preventing Fort Hood and possibly... the Boston bombings if the relevant bureaucracies had been less reluctant to identify the eventual killers as potential Islamic extremist terrorists."
He said "the fear of incorrectly identifying (Tamerlan) Tsarnaev as a suspected Muslim extremist might have played a role in not taking all the steps that seemed prudent given his suspicious behavior," including monitoring him more closely when he returned from Boston to Russia, where authorities now believe he may have met with underground extremist groups.
"He obviously wasn't going back to listen to the Moscow symphony," Giuliani said.
The ex-mayor's testimony comes as Tamerlan Tsarnaev's younger brother Dzokhar, 19, appears in court for the first time Wednesday following his arrest for the April bombings that killed three people.
As Giuliani sounded the political correctness alarm, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, stressed that US counter-terrorism efforts have worked.
"Our record is far from perfect, but it's pretty good," he said, arguing that the 18 deaths from terror attacks on US soil since 9/11 are far fewer than what many Americans would have predicted years ago.
Leiter pointed to vastly improved information sharing and intelligence gathering, expanded checks at ports and border points, and broader community engagement, especially in the Muslim American community.
© AFP 2014