Top U.S security officials told Congress on Wednesday that organizations like Daesh were using social media to recruit and inspire new followers, while making potential security threats harder to detect.
“Today the global terrorist threat is more decentralized, more complex and in many respects harder to detect. The new reality involves the potential for smaller-scale attacks for those who are either home-grown or home-based not exported, and who are inspired by, but not necessarily directed by, a terrorist organization,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Johnson, FBI Director James Comey and National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen said potential attacks by disparate individuals were harder to predict, as Islamic State expanded its reach through social media.
“ISIL (Daesh) has used that ubiquitous social media to break the model and push into the United States, into the pockets, onto the mobile devices of troubled souls throughout our country in all 50 states a twin message: Come or kill, come or kill. Come to the so-called caliphate, live a life of glory, participate in the final battle between good and evil on God’s side. Come to the caliphate, and if you can’t come, kill where you are,” Comey said.
Comey said many FBI agents had been redirected from criminal work to national security during May, June and July to handle potential Daesh threats.
“Social media works to connect us. It works as a way to sell cars, or shoes or a movie. And so starting in the summer of 2014, they really invested in this, and it works. It led to troubled souls convincing themselves that there was meaning for them in Syria and Iraq, or that they should start to engage in acts of violence in the United States. And that investment started to pay dividends and taxed all of our resources in the spring of this year when suddenly we had dozens and dozens of cases,” he said.
Rasmussen told House members that despite growing attention on Daesh, al Qaeda still remained in focus.
“Specifically right now we’re closely watching for signs that core al Qaeda’s attack capability is potentially being restored ahead of the U.S. military’s draw down in Afghanistan. While the ability of al Qaeda to train recruit and deploy operatives from their safe haven in South Asia has been degraded, we continue to watch for and track indications that al Qaeda is in fact engaged in plotting activity aimed at the homeland,” he said.
Officials said plots by home-grown violent extremists had doubled in a year, and the growing use of encryption made it harder to trace communications online.