Did FBI Director Mislead on Americans Joining ISIS Before Mid-Term Elections?
For more than a year, U.S. officials have been warning of the potential terror blowback from Americans who have fought in Syria. Senior counter-terrorism officials have repeatedly claimed that more than 100 individuals have traveled from the U.S. to fight with terror groups in Syria and Iraq.
However, FBI Director James Comey began to walk those claims back in late September and early October -- just weeks before the November mid-term elections.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, he claimed that "roughly a dozen" U.S. persons were fighting with extremist groups in Syria.
That was a marked change from his own comments in May, when his own figures were considerably higher:
Comey declined to give a precise figure for Americans believed to be involved in the Syrian struggle but said the numbers are “getting worse.”
“I said dozens last time,” said Comey, referring to an interview with reporters four months ago. “It’s still dozens, just a couple more dozen.”
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official estimated this year that 60 to 70 Americans have traveled to fight in Syria. Comey said that Americans in Syria are actively recruiting other Americans to join the fight.
Several dozen in May 2014 is still considerably more than "roughly a dozen" just a few months later.
An Associated Press article allowed Comey to explain his walk-back on his own numbers:
“When I use a number of more than 100, that means people who have gone and come back, people who have attempted to go and we locked them up, people who have gone and stayed,” Comey said during an interview with reporters at FBI headquarters. “The figure that I’ve been operating with is, ballparkish, a dozen still there fighting with terrorist groups.”
The AP reporters deemed the 100-plus Americans fighting in Syria claim that had been repeated by a number of U.S. senior officials -- including Comey himself -- as having reached "urban legend status."
But once America was past the mid-term elections, the stated numbers provided by senior officials quickly soared.
In early March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed that 180 U.S. persons had traveled to Syria. More remarkably, he claimed that 40 such individuals had already returned to the United States.
According to Reuters, Clapper also said that he was not aware of any plots that anyone who had returned from Syria had been involved in. However, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud had already been arrested on state terror charges at the request of the FBI a week before Clapper made his comments.