The following news story is provided by the 13,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul held a hearing this week to examine worldwide threats and homeland security challenges. Members heard testimony and questioned witnesses from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) on the growing threat America and the West face from ISIS and other terrorist groups, the actions of Russia and Iran in Syria, the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe on America’s security, homegrown terrorism, cybersecurity, and other threats to the homeland.
Worldwide terrorism is surging, largely driven by the growth of ISIS. “I predict this year could exceed the last to become the most violent year on record for global terrorism,” Chairman Michael McCaul explained.
In the United States, there have been more terrorist cases in 2015 involving homegrown jihadists than any full year since 9/11. Extremists are “crowd-sourcing” new recruits online. “ISIL has used the used ubiquitous social media to break the model and push into the United States on the mobile devices of troubled souls in all 50 states a twin message: come or kill,” said FBI Director James Comey. “Come to the so-called ‘caliphate’…and if you can’t come, kill where you are.”
This year the FBI has been forced to confront “dozens, dozens, and dozens of cases” related to terrorism in every single U.S. state, according to Director Comey, straining law enforcement resources. “We had to surge hundreds of people from criminal cases—which are important—and move them over to the national security side,” he noted.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson expressed concern that Islamist terrorist groups might be trying to infiltrate operatives into the West by posing as refugees. “We know that organizations such as ISIL might like to try to exploit this program,” he explained. Witnesses echoed concerns that limited intelligence on the ground in Syria makes it difficult to weed out refugee applicants with ties to terrorism. “It is true that we’re not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process,” Secretary Johnson noted. “That definitely is a challenge.”
“We do see a risk,” Director Comey added. He later explained that “we can query our databases until the cows come home but…you can only query what you have collected.”
When addressing the range of threats to the homeland – as well as around the world – NCTC Director Nick Rasmussen noted that “today there are more threats originating in more places and involving a more diffuse and disparate set of individuals than at any time previously.”
While the rate of Americans trying to travel to Syria to join groups like ISIS is starting “to flatten a little bit,” Director Comey stated that the foreign fighter threat is still a major concern.
Secretary Johnson praised the Committee’s recent task force report on the subject as “spot-on” and agreed with the Committee’s recommendation that the United States needs a broader strategy to combat terrorist travel. “We should have a comprehensive, overall strategy for dealing with it,” he acknowledged.