Director of National Intelligence James Clapper addressed last week the “teeth gnashing” about terrorists who were previously investigated by federal officials and then cleared — and then went on to commit attacks — telling an event that “we cannot continuously monitor Americans who have done no wrong.”
Addressing a Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) event at the Capitol Visitors Center, Clapper emphasized that “when it comes to groups like ISIS – Daesh – the real problem isn’t their ‘cyber hacking’ capability.”
“It’s how the Internet enables them to recruit and inspire people all over the world. We can monitor and maybe even infiltrate terrorist groups, but it’s very difficult – likely impossible – to expunge the internet of their ideology and their toxic ideas. Preventing the spread of dangerous ideas just wasn’t a consideration as the Internet grew up and became functional,” he said. “And knowing what’s going on inside the heads of people who read extremist propaganda would require, frankly, talents beyond that of our great intelligence analysts. It’s more like clairvoyance.”
The director added that “when it comes to protecting the nation, we also need to factor in the civil liberties and privacy of Americans.”
“I’ve witnessed a lot of teeth-gnashing about people committing acts of terror whom the FBI had previously investigated – and cleared. I think FBI Director [James] Comey precisely described the problem with his analogy that we aren’t expected to just find a needle in a haystack, but are also held to account for guessing which pieces of hay may later become needles,” Clapper said. “And we cannot continuously monitor Americans who have done no wrong. That’s not who we are. So, domestic security, particularly in the [counterterrorism] realm, is a difficult problem. And better integration of our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities is critical to our national security. And that too is a work in progress, and that too will continue until well after I’m ensconced in assisted living.”
Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen had been reported to the FBI by co-workers in 2013 and was also investigated the following year for links to an American suicide bomber who had died in Syria. Mateen was removed from the terror watch list after being cleared. This past June, he killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in the name of ISIS.
Global trends, he said, are driving the terrorism threat “to be even more diverse and diffuse.”
“And one mega-trend that’s making this worse is what I’ve called – in Congress and at the White House – ‘unpredictable instability,'” Clapper continued. “About two-thirds of the nations around the world are at some risk of instability right now, that is, they exhibit some characteristic of instability. But, we can’t predict which specific government will collapse next or when that will happen. That’s why it’s ‘unpredictable.’ And it’s something the whole world is dealing with now.”
Clapper also addressed the WikiLeaks emails and the intelligence community’s confidence that high levels of the Russian government are behind stealing and leaking the DNC correspondence, stressing “the emails released on sites like DCLeaks.com and Wikileaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
“Hopefully, we’ll wake up in 20 days knowing who our next president will be. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean the world. In my travels overseas this year, I’ve been taken aback by the intense interest in this campaign. People everywhere hang on every word of the candidates. And by the way, some try to do more than just listen in,” he added.
“…Going after U.S. political organizations is a new, aggressive spin on the political cycle. Regardless, this election will happen November 8. And also by the way, we assess it would be very difficult for someone – anyone – to alter actual ballot counts or election results with a cyber intrusion, particularly since voting machines aren’t connected to the internet.”